Posts Tagged ‘history’

Christmas Is Too …

Culture | Posted by Shannon
Dec 21 2016

Christmas FireplaceIf you listen long enough, you will discover that Christmas is too much of many things. It is too commercial, too materialistic, too Christian, too pagan, too saccharine and nothing but an excuse for shameless capitalistic mongering. These opinions will be with us until the end of Christmas, and I have no ambitions of dislodging them. But there is one I would like to dispute.

Christmas is a pagan holiday. I’ve heard this a lot, from people who approved and people who did not, and I’ve grown ever more skeptical. The historicity is vague at best, the thinking is demonstrably sloppy at times, and I see a fundamental confusion of the past and present tenses.

The historical details of the claim are often hazy. For example: Which pagan holiday? Saturnalia? The winter solstice – and if so, whose? Because strictly speaking, the winter solstice is an astronomical event and a good number of cultures have made it a holiday. More importantly, when and where did Christmas first begin to be celebrated? What descriptions of it, or commentary on it, exist in ancient sources? Is the “Christmas is a pagan holiday” claim really just an inference from general facts?

And this leads into the thinking that is, shall we say, less than rigorous. Very little is proved by the fact that Christmas takes place at roughly the same time as Saturnalia and several European solstice holidays (not to mention Hanukkah and Sanghamitta Day!). A midwinter feast is not a terribly original idea and it is quite possible that Christmas and Saturnalia both began in the Roman Empire and were still entirely distinct. That Christmas existed in the same time periods and cultures as pagan holidays may suggest associations, but it does not prove them.

Another idea in need of debunking is the notion that anything used as a symbol by pagans is forever a “pagan symbol.” Among my favorite instances of this are the Advent wreath, supposedly pagan because it is a circle and circles are a pagan symbol for eternity, and the Christmas Tree, which reputedly has its antecedent in pagan use of evergreens as symbols of life and fertility.

Part of the fallacy in this is the evident assumption that anything pagan is by definition anti-Christian. And this assumption is false; the divide between Christian and pagan may be large but it is not total. It is further obvious, as soon as you think it through, that the circle as a symbol for eternity and the evergreen as a symbol for life aren’t derived from some intrinsically pagan belief. They are derived from the nature of the things and from the universal cast of the human mind. A circle is endless, like eternity; an evergreen tree is living green when everything else is dead brown and gray. Pagans turned them into symbols before Christians did; there were, after all, pagans before there were Christians. But that does not make the symbols false or bad.

Another part of the fallacy, and perhaps the most significant part for this discussion, is that symbols change with culture. It’s likely that pagans had, in evergreen and holly, associations that Christians do not. It’s possible that certain Christmas rituals were adapted, long ago, from customs with pagan religious meaning. And so what? Who has those associations or cares for those meanings now?

And here we reach the confused tenses. Though I’ve never seen a compelling historical case for it, perhaps Christmas was pagan. It still wouldn’t mean that Christmas is pagan. No one can imagine that, if an ancient Roman were sucked through a time portal to our modern Christmas, he would say, “Why, it’s the Saturnalia!!!” Things change, sometimes beyond recognition. Their meanings change. Consider the symbols of Christmas – whether snowflakes and reindeer and Santa, or angels and the manger and the star – and it is plain that neither Saturn nor the sun-gods have anything to do with it.

What matters is not what Christmas was centuries and millenia ago, but what it is today.

So Merry Christmas.

Never Forget

Culture, History | Posted by Shannon
Sep 11 2016

(Excerpts from President Bush’s address at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001.)

 

 

We are here in the middle hour of our grief. So many have suffered so great a loss, and today we express our nation’s sorrow. We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead, and for those who loved them. On Tuesday, our country was attacked with deliberate and massive cruelty. We have seen the images of fire and ashes and bent steel.

Now come the names, the list of casualties we are only beginning to read:

They are the names of men and women who began their day at a desk or in an airport, busy with life.

They are the names of people who faced death and in their last moments called home to say, be brave and I love you.

They are the names of passengers who defied their murderers and prevented the murder of others on the ground.

They are the names of men and women who wore the uniform of the United States and died at their posts.

They are the names of rescuers — the ones whom death found running up the stairs and into the fires to help others.

We will read all these names. We will linger over them and learn their stories, and many Americans will weep. …

War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others; it will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing. Our purpose as a nation is firm, yet our wounds as a people are recent and unhealed and lead us to pray. In many of our prayers this week, there’s a searching and an honesty. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, on Tuesday, a woman said, “I pray to God to give us a sign that He’s still here.”

Others have prayed for the same, searching hospital to hospital, carrying pictures of those still missing. God’s signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that His purposes are not always our own, yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral are known and heard and understood. There are prayers that help us last through the day or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers that give us strength for the journey, and there are prayers that yield our will to a Will greater than our own.

This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end, and the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn.

It is said that adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of a nation as well. In this trial, we have been reminded and the world has seen that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave. …

America is a nation full of good fortune, with so much to be grateful for, but we are not spared from suffering. In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America because we are freedom’s home and defender, and the commitment of our Fathers is now the calling of our time.

 

On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask Almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.

As we’ve been assured, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth can separate us from God’s love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country.

God bless America.

Extraordinary Men (An Independence Day Reflection)

History | Posted by Shannon
Jul 04 2016

One of the most striking aspects of America’s founding is how many men of such great quality joined in the enterprise. They were men of different talents, different temperaments, different classes, different places. And thus they fitted together almost perfectly, certainly better than some of them knew.

In Boston – then, believe it or not, the hotbed of radical, revolutionary zeal – they made the first stand against Great Britain. For more than a decade they forded the turmoil of a rebellious colony and a grasping empire, stood in one challenge after another against King and Parliament. Samuel Adams was one of their leaders, preaching natural rights while rallying his fellow politicians to oppose Britain. Paul Revere was there, too; his Midnight Ride was the apotheosis of his work as a courier for the seditious patriots of Boston.

Although now mostly forgotten, James Otis – a lawyer, author, and legislator – played a powerful role in those early years. John Adams (a man by no means easy to impress) called him “a flame of fire”, and testified: “I have been young and now I am old, and I solemnly say I have never known a man whose love of country was more ardent or sincere, never one who suffered so much, never one whose service for any 10 years of his life were so important and essential to the cause of his country as those of Mr. Otis from 1760 to 1770.”

John Adams himself, so inspired by James Otis’ oration against Britain’s writs of assistance, would pour years of determination, and energy, and vigorous intellect into the making of America – a writer of pamphlets, a delegate to both Continental Congresses, an ambassador to France, Holland, and Britain, the author of Massachusetts’ constitution, vice-president, president.

Virginia supplied its own share of heroes. Patrick Henry – “a son of Thunder”, as one admirer called him – made common cause with the common people, challenged the powers-that-were in Virginia, and in word and deed stirred the fire that would blaze to independence.

Thomas Jefferson gave the gift of an immortal Declaration of Independence; James Madison helped to write the seminal Federalist Papers and in the Philadelphia Convention – creating the Virginia Plan, tirelessly and masterfully advocating for the new government – he earned the title of the Father of the Constitution.

Among Madison’s strokes for the Constitution was persuading George Washington to attend the Philadelphia Convention. Washington’s preeminence among the Founders is deserved, but also curious; he lacked the scholarly background so many of them possessed, and put to such remarkable use. His intellect did not burn with the brilliance of Hamilton’s or Madison’s, but they needed him. He was steady and wise, and the sheer respect he commanded could keep people united – and the cause in motion.

Alexander Hamilton came out of the West Indies, born out of wedlock and later orphaned. The primary author of the Federalist Papers, the first Secretary of the Treasury, chief military aide to George Washington during four years of the Revolutionary War, and close advisor while he was president – Hamilton was a man of great capability, and great accomplishment.

In history, as in the human heart, good and evil entwine, and nothing is quite pure. These men had enemies among each other as well as among the British, and they committed an ample share of mistakes and sins. Some kept mistresses; some kept slaves. They were all flawed men. But they were extraordinary men. They were extraordinary in their abilities, they were extraordinary in what they dared and what they achieved.

They were extraordinary in how they arose, at the right time and in the right places, and joined together to create a nation. I would call it serendipitous, except that I don’t believe in fate.

Neither, for that matter, did many of them. Shortly after the Declaration of Independence was published, before anyone knew whether it would end in freedom or disaster, John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?”

Happy Independence Day.

Review: Imbeciles

Book Reviews, History | Posted by Shannon
Jun 06 2016

See if you can follow this chain of logic. Human defects – mental, physical, and moral – are carried through heredity. In order to eliminate these defects from the human race, the genes that cause them must be eliminated from the gene pool. In order to eliminate such bad genes, the carriers of those genes – that is, people – must be eliminated from the gene pool. To put it simply, the defective must not reproduce.

There are three ways to ensure that the defective do not pass on their genes and so continue to drag down humanity with the unfit. The first is to segregate them in institutions where they will not have the opportunity to reproduce. The second is to sterilize them. The third is wholesale slaughter. Which door do you choose to enter a brave, new world?

Eugenicists chose door number two, mass, forced sterilization of people deemed unfit by the powers that be.

All this sounds like science fiction, but in sad truth, it’s history – American history. In Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck, Adam Cohen tells the nearly-forgotten story of eugenics in America. He focuses his account on the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, which challenged Virginia’s eugenic sterilization law. 

Cohen tells the story of eugenics through Buck v. Bell, and he tells the story of Buck v. Bell through its major figures. Each chapter of the book is named after one of them: Carrie Buck, the victim; Dr. Albert Priddy, superintendent of Virginia’s Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded; Harry Laughlin, head of the Eugenics Record Office and leading advocate of eugenic sterilization; Aubrey Strode, the lawyer who wrote Virginia’s eugenic sterilization law and defended it up to the Supreme Court; and Oliver Wendell Holmes, the famed Supreme Court justice who coined the epigram from which the book’s title is taken: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

This book is structured almost like a series of biographical essays, as the author reaches back into the life-stories of the players in Buck v. Bell and tries to define their motivations. The great strength of this structure is that it makes the book accessible, easy to read, and focused on the individual, human side of the drama. As a way of relating the history of American eugenics, it works surprisingly well, at least in the earlier chapters. The careers of prominent eugenicists like Albert Priddy and Harry Laughlin dovetail nicely with the story of eugenics in America.

The chapter devoted to the lawyer Aubrey Strode is, in this respect, more uneven. Much of it is relevant to the book’s topic, but the author wanders on side trails that are not. It is even worse with Oliver Wendell Holmes. The author is clearly fascinated with Holmes’ background as a Boston Brahmin and whether or not he can be rightly regarded as a liberal judge. No doubt some readers will be as well. But these things, which take up page after page of Imbeciles, have nothing to do with eugenics.

Indeed, it is difficult to justify Holmes’ inclusion in the book purely on the book’s proclaimed subjects. Holmes’ life crossed the eugenics movement in no significant way until Buck v. Bell, and even in Buck v. Bell, his importance is minimal. True, he wrote the majority opinion and made it clever, sharply expressed, and cruel. But although he expressed the Court’s decision, there is no reason to believe he had any special role in making it. The author speculates on how he may have influenced his fellow judges, but there is no evidence that he actually did. The Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell was 8-1. Oliver Wendell Holmes was just another vote in an overwhelming majority.

Although Imbeciles lost focus in evaluating the life and career of Oliver Wendell Holmes, it remains a highly informative book on a fascinating, neglected piece of American history. It is also skillfully written, being lucid and articulate without being showy. The information is, moreover, well-chosen and well-presented, and the sources are varied and reliable. I highly recommend Imbeciles to all lovers of history.

We Are (Not) the Hollow Men

Culture, History | Posted by Shannon
May 30 2016

In the last year of the Civil War, Confederate leaders in Charleston, South Carolina turned the city’s horse-racing track (the Race Course, they called it) into a prisoner-of-war camp. They herded Union soldiers into the track’s interior, forcing them to live there without any shelter. In these miserable conditions, 257 Union soldiers died. The Confederates buried them in unmarked graves at the Race Course.

On February 18, 1865, the mayor of Charleston surrendered to Union forces. A mass exodus of white citizens surrounded the fall of Charleston, but thousands of blacks remained in the city, most of them newly freed slaves. And they remembered the suffering of the soldiers at the Race Course.

In April of 1865, twenty-eight black men from one of Charleston’s churches re-buried the dead, turning the hasty graves into neat rows. They erected a fence around the gravesite, ten feet high, and whitewashed it; over the gate they built an arch and inscribed on it: “Martyrs of the Race Course”.

On May 1, a procession of 10,000 people marched to the graveyard and dedicated it with prayers, Bible readings, and songs. They laid spring blossoms on the graves until “the holy mounds – the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them – were one mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond … there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy.” (a newspaperman who witnessed the event, quoted by David W. Blight)

There were other ceremonies, other commemorations of the Civil War dead, and in 1868 Major General John Logan established Decoration Day. In his order to his posts to decorate the graves of the fallen, he wrote, “Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Like the freed slaves of Charleston, he not only gave recognition to the soldiers’ suffering; he gave it meaning.

An effective, if grim, teacher of how vitally that matters is the special bitterness of those wars regarded as pointless – the Vietnam War, for example, or the First World War. Rightly or wrongly, but undeniably painfully, the dead in such wars are felt to be not only lost but “wasted” (as one Vietnam veteran put it).

Paul Johnson captured the bitterness of apparently meaningless suffering in his essay on T.S. Eliot:

It [WWI] was a war without hope or heroic adventure – just a dull misery of loss and pain – which induced in the participants, serving in the trenches or suffering vicariously at home, an overwhelming sense of heartache. The times seemed to have no redeeming feature; mankind appeared to be undergoing the agony of the war with no compensating gain in virtue but merely the additional degradation that the infliction of death and cruelty brings. It was unmitigated waste. So, equally, was Eliot’s marriage, both parties to it enduring suffering without a mitigating sense of redemption, just two wasted lives joined in sorrow. [Paul Johnson, Creators]

Which I bring up not to make a historical statement on the meaning or consequences of any war, let alone to make valuations of suffering; I only want to show how the human heart recoils from suffering without meaning.

Conflict is vital to stories. So, in a way, is suffering, however slight it may sometimes be. The very nature of the story pulls to give it meaning – by giving the root and final end of the suffering, by weaving it into a much greater whole.

This is one of the great satisfactions of fiction. All too often, in the real world, suffering has no point anyone can see and struggles are barren, yielding no fruit. But we hope – sometimes we can even believe – that if the whole story of the universe were told, if the tapestry of the million threads could be unrolled, then maybe we could find some redemption for the things that have none.

Decoration DayOf course, that story isn’t told; it isn’t even over yet. But in the finished stories of fiction, we see the ultimate ends and, with them, the ultimate meaning.

Not, of course, that all stories do end with redemption of suffering, or hope; some storytellers prefer the poetry of World War I, the mood caught by T.S. Eliot. (“We are the hollow men …”) But the greatest beauty is found in, well, the freed slaves’ memorial to the Union soldiers – where suffering has meaning and tears are iridescent.

Summer, Intellectuals, Imbeciles

History, Misc., Personal | Posted by Shannon
May 16 2016

Summer is here early, and I don’t say that because of the weather, which is, at this particular place and time, overcast, rainy, and certainly no warmer than 60. I say it because the school year is over and done, and I’m settling into summer routines. My job takes less time than the classes, with attendant tests and papers, I’ve been occupying myself with since January, so now I’m turning to other things. Writing queries, a short story or two, an epic hermit crab essay. This blog.

I also have a summer reading list, which consists solely of books that possess these two qualities: (1) I choose them; (2) I don’t have to write papers about them. The first of these books is Imbeciles, which is not what it sounds like.

The book title is taken from a declaration made by Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes regarding the case Buck v. Bell: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” With the ruling of Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court upheld the forced sterilization of the socially unfit – those deemed criminal, insane, or “feeble-minded”. This is eugenic sterilization, the elimination of undesirable genes through sterilizing undesirable people, and it is now largely forgotten. A hundred years ago, however, it was being mandated in American law.

I am about one third of the way through Imbeciles. I’ve just finished reading about an expert witness called in to support the forced sterilization of Carrie Buck, the young woman at the center of Buck v. Bell. This expert never met, let alone examined, Carrie, or her mother and daughter – the first and third of the supposed three generations of imbeciles. He did, however, request comprehensive data regarding her genealogy, blood relatives, and their literacy, social status, mental test records, and physical and mental development.

What strikes me is that, before testifying that a young woman should be sterilized by the government, he wanted to see her family records, but he never wanted to see her. He was interested only in data, facts and figures about people without faces. It occurs to me that it is through this divorce between data and people that intellectuals get themselves into trouble.

And their victims.

Review: James Madison – A Life Reconsidered

Book Reviews, History, Politics | Posted by Shannon
May 11 2015

James Madison, more than a Founding Father, is the father of the Constitution – the author of that document, less dazzling but more solid, more worthwhile than the Declaration of Independence. In her new biography of our fourth president, Lynne Cheney asks us to consider again James Madison, his achievements and their meaning.

James Madison: A Life Reconsidered is a beautifully written book. Lynne Cheney acquits history of the old charge (made credible by many textbooks) of being dry. With an eye toward evocative details, with flowing prose, she artfully tells Madison’s story and captures, in him, the humanity that is the heart of history.

Cheney puts forth the theory that Madison suffered from complex partial seizures and builds a strong case for it – a substantial contribution to the study of James Madison. Future writers will do well to consider it, even though Cheney seems, at times, to make too much of Madison’s epilepsy. She gives it, without support, as the reason why Madison became an advocate for religious liberty. Also without support, she speculates that it was why Madison’s first love broke off their engagement and why Madison once rejected the idea of becoming president. Cheney even speculates that a rather involved criticism of Madison, comparing him to a peddler selling ineffectual medicines, was in fact a veiled attack on his epilepsy.

This is, indeed, one of the faults of the book: a little too much theorizing, a few too many unproven assertions. Doubtless Madison read this book, probably he thought this, and no doubt this is what happened. These phrases, put to good employment by Mrs. Cheney, show at least that she is sensitive that these are not proven facts. Yet they are so recurrent that one wishes she had more often left the silence of history undisturbed.

But the primary fault of James Madison is that it is a little too uncritical, a little too biased in favor of its subject. Mrs. Cheney never does justice to Madison’s opponents. She takes an irritated tone toward Patrick Henry, stabs at Alexander Hamilton, and criticizes James Monroe for entering a presidential race that Madison was already in. Even Thomas Jefferson, generally well-treated, is pointedly put down for Madison’s benefit.

And this hurts her book. Her account of the vital political struggle between Madison and Hamilton never cuts to the core because it can never see Hamilton’s point. One cannot fully capture the stakes and meaning of such a great debate when one will not credit the other side. Cheney’s treatment of the War of 1812 is likewise hobbled by her unwillingness to critically question Madison’s assumptions – that America had to choose between France and England, that it ought to choose France.

So James Madison: A Life Reconsidered does not go as deep as it could. But as far as it does go, it is first-class. A telling of Madison’s life, with heart and a certain artistic skill, it is recommended for anyone interested in the Founding Fathers or the beginning of America.

The Northmen

Through the Valley (of Decision), Writing | Posted by Shannon
Mar 10 2015

I am bringing down hobgoblins from the mountains, Men from the Coldlands. The Valley of Decision


The Men of the Coldlands were barbarians. That is the first thing to understand. They wore animal skins, sang of their war gods, and knew nothing of letters or runes. They forged bronze rather than iron into weapons, and decorated their chiefs’ tents with colored cloth and animal skulls.

And they were light-haired and light-eyed and fair-skinned, true children of the cold North.

The Men of the Coldlands are loosely based on the pre-Christian Scandinavians. The Roman Empire had conquered the British Isles, bringing civilization by the edge of the sword; many centuries later, long after the Roman Empire had turned to ashes, Winston Churchill declared, “We owe London to Rome.” In time, Christianity followed Rome, and it, too, taught and civilized.

But not in Scandinavia – at least not for centuries yet. The Viking Age began when the Vikings attacked the Holy Island, off the coast of England, from which missionaries had gone into Europe. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that “the ravaging of wretched heathen people destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.” At Charlemagne’s court, the scholar Alcuin lamented, “The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God.”

Heathen and wretched are minor insults compared to the judgment given by the Muslim scholar Masudi in the tenth century. After describing “the people of the northern quadrant”, with their “excessively white” coloring, he wrote: “The farther they are to the north the more stupid, gross and brutish they are.” Those in the “sixth climate .. are reckoned among the beasts.” (source: Bernard Lewis, The Muslim Discovery of Europe)

In L.P. Hartley’s immortally wise words: “The past is a foreign country.”

When I wrote The Valley of Decision, this notion of the pale barbarians from the north guided my characterization of the Men from the Coldlands. I called them the Northmen, an old name for the Vikings, and gave the three chiefs Norse names: Volund (in legend, the name of a great smith), Brandr (meaning sword), and Hrolfr (meaning wolf).

Volund was the leader, and he called Brandr and Hrolfr his earls – a detail inspired, I admit, by the Viking earls of Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse. These names were also a kind of inside joke: Hrolfr was the earl who draped himself in the pelt and fangs of a wolf, and when Volund passes the iron sword to Brandr … yes, that was a deliberate pun.

The Northmen had little presence in The Valley of Decision, being the coming stormclouds of the story: growing nearer, darkening the landscape, but not yet here. When I finally made their acquaintance at the end of the book, I wished they had arrived sooner. There was no space left in the story to do justice to the pale barbarians and their collision with the more sophisticated – but still so fallibly human – southern people.

But such unexplored side-paths are what sequels are for.

Review: Outpost

Book Reviews, History | Posted by Shannon
Nov 06 2014

Christopher Hill spent a lot of time in the world’s hotspots – Kosovo, Bosnia, North Korea, post-surge Iraq. If you have never heard of him, I’m not surprised. Diplomats are rarely household names.

Outpost: Life on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy is Christopher Hill’s memoir. He had many consequential jobs: working on the negotiations that ended the Balkan wars, leading diplomat in the Bush administration’s talks with North Korea, ambassador to Iraq. And yet he remained outside the nexus of power that fascinates the media and public alike: the president, the vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, even national security advisor.

This is a different sort of memoir, America’s foreign policy from a viewpoint I had never fully seen before. I found it very informative. I learned a great deal about the North Korean negotiations and America’s involvement in the Balkans, though I wish Ambassador Hill had dealt with Kosovo and Bosnia in even greater depth. He never explained why, exactly, America was invested in those conflicts to the point of bombing campaigns. If it was a matter of violence, or human rights violations – well, there’s a lot of that in the world, and the Serbs were hardly the leading villains. Saddam Hussein, to take one not-so-random example, certainly had them beat. And if it was a matter of American interests – I can’t think of any American interests, nor does the book provide any, except that our involvement was good for our “transatlantic relationships”.

In fact, reading Hill’s account, one is left with the impression that our military-level involvement just sort of happened. America was trying to negotiate an end to the war, and the Europeans had peacekeepers in blue helmets and white tanks there, and it was all very difficult, and since America would have to intervene militarily to help extract the Europeans, it might as well intervene militarily to enforce peace, and so we bombed the Serbs. And maybe it really was no more deliberate than that.

The Iraq section was informative, too, providing a closer and somewhat dreary look at Iraq. Hill portrays attitudes in Washington toward Iraq that ultimately contributed to the present debacle: disinterest, neglect, a hurry to get out with little attention paid to the consequences.

I learned lighter things from this book, things from the world of diplomacy. I learned, for example, that ambassadors may judge you on how many lunch options you need for a visit to their country. I learned that calling Macedonia “Macedonia” can be a minor act of rebellion. I learned that diplomats will not only lie in the course of duty, they will openly admit it in their memoirs.

Unfortunately, Ambassador Hill cheaply caricatures the “neocons” as warlike, aggressive, and imperialistic. The book’s only justifications for these insults are that neoconservatives opposed Hill’s negotiations with North Korea (oh, the aggression!) and urged the Iraq war. Hill also mentions “liberal war hawks”, though how he distinguishes them from the warlike neocons is entirely unexplained.

Along with its accounts of vital negotiations and ambassadorships in nations such as Poland and Macedonia, Outpost paints some very human portraits and some poignant moments. Recommended to anyone who is interested in diplomacy, history, or the controversies and conflicts of the past twenty years.

Blog Tour: A Different Kind of Courage

History, Literature | Posted by Shannon
Sep 11 2014

Who Was Dr. Joseph Warren?
A Guest Post by Sarah Holman

The early years of the American Revolution have been almost completely forgotten. Actually, the entire history of that war is often condensed down to these events: The Boston Tea Party, The Midnight Ride/Lexington and Concord, the Declaration of Independence, 1776, Americans win the War. Some of us know a few more details, but what do you know about the people who lived during those times? Don’t be too embarrassed. I am also describing myself a little over a year ago before I started working on A Different Kind of Courage.

It all started many years ago, when one of my favorite movies was Johnny Tremain. Being the child I was, my favorite character was the calm and kind Dr. Joseph Warren. I wanted to know more about him, but quickly found few people knew about him and there were virtually no resources on him. Years later, when reading a reference to a speech that Warren made, my interest was sparked again. This time, I had the World Wide Web at my disposal.

For the first time in years, I found myself spending hours researching. I found letters to Warren and by Warren. I found interesting facts, old books that told his story, and much more. I knew I just had to write a fictional account where Dr. Joseph Warren had a huge role.

So who was Joseph Warren? Here are a few facts:

  • He was a devoted father of four.
  • He was a writer. He drafted many documents that fueled the Revolution (just take a peek at the Suffolk Resolves or his Massacre Day speech).
  • He was a confidant of many.
  • He was a leader of the Sons of Liberty.
  • He was a man of faith (he makes many references to God and honoring Him in his letters).

To learn more about Dr. Joseph Warren, go to www.adifferentkindofcourage.blogspot.com – or you can read my historical fiction book, A Different Kind of Courage.


Sarah Holman is a not so typical mid-twenties girl: A homeschool graduate, sister to six awesome siblings, and author of five published books and counting. If there is anything adventuresome about her life, it is because she serves a God with a destiny bigger than anything she could have imagined.

Sarah’s Blog

Sarah on …

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Goodreads
Linkedin



A Different Kind of Courage
by Sarah Holman

July 4, 2014
202 pages

“Why did my life have to be full of secrets?”

After three years in England, William Landor returns to Boston in 1774, little knowing the events that are about to unfold.

England has issued an ultimatum: Pay for the tea that was destroyed in the Boston Tea Party, or the Port of Boston will be closed. William knows that this will have a devastating effect on his hometown, which is so dependent on the sea. However, he finds himself in the middle of the political struggle he wanted to avoid.

William’s father is a merchant and loyal to the king and is furious at what the rebels of Boston have cost him. He would like nothing more than to rid the city of their poisonous influence. Meanwhile, William’s best friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, is one of the leaders of rebels, or Whigs as they call themselves.

As if his life was not complicated enough, he meets a fiery indentured servant who tugs at his heart as well as his loyalty. When he is confronted by the consequences of his many secrets, he has to make a choice whether or not to tell the truth. Does he have the kind of courage it will take?



a Rafflecopter giveaway