Sunday, February 22, 2015

George Washington: The man and the movies

"Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country."

- George Washington's "Newburgh Address," the speech where he first refused to be king

He is a celebrated American general, who lost more battles than he won. Like America itself, he allied with the British to fight the French, and then allied with the French to fight the British. And he wanted to be a political leader, but turned down the chance to be a king.

George Washington before the Revolution

Friday, February 6, 2015

A review of PBS's "Ronald Reagan" movie

"One of my favorite quotations about age comes from Thomas Jefferson. He said that we should never judge a president by his age, only by his work. And ever since he told me that, I've stopped worrying. Just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all thirteen states."

- Ronald Reagan

Hatchet job

PBS made a four-hour documentary about the life of Ronald Reagan. The documentary could be described as somewhat of a hatchet job. It does reluctantly admit that Reagan's defense buildup succeeded in its goal of hastening the fall of the Soviet Union, though it follows this admission with a left-wing talking head saying this enormous accomplishment was not worth its financial price, and then blaming the deficits of those years on Reagan, rather than on the spendthrift Democrat Congress of the time (where the blame really belongs). They also said that the most controversial speech of Reagan's presidency was the "Evil Empire" speech, implying that they disagree with this assessment of the Soviet Union. (How anyone, even an ardent communist, can deny that the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire is beyond me.)

Monday, February 2, 2015

A review of “The U.S.-Mexican War 1846-1848” (PBS series)

"The occupation, separation, and annexation [of Texas] were, from the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union."

Ulysses S. Grant, in "Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant," Chapter III

I live in a region of the United States that was once controlled by Mexico (in the state of Arizona), so I live daily with the effects of a war from the 1840's. Few people could put this war in the right half-century, let alone the correct decade; and fewer still could name any major battles or players in this war. Nonetheless, the effects of the war are all around us, and it has entered discussions about contemporary politics on more than one occasion. On topics ranging from illegal immigration to anti-Hispanic racism to foreign policy towards Mexico, we in the American Southwest are often reminded of this war; and in less controversial ways, we are reminded of it in the many place names of Spanish origin that surround our homes. From names of streets to names of cities to names of entire states, the influence of Spanish place names are all around us, which were often borrowed in their turn from the native peoples of the region. Mexican culture is all around us, from Spanish taught in schools to the remarkable Mexican food that many of us eat; and the region would belong to Mexico still, if not for a long-ago war from the 1840's.

Mexico lost half its territory to the United States in this war ...

The war was, of course, fought between the United States and Mexico, and was the only major war between our two nations. There have been border skirmishes since then (notably one in the 1910's), but nothing on the massive scale of this one from the 1840's. Mexico lost half its territory to the United States in this war, and several American states were formed out of the land transferred in the peace treaty. The war was undoubtedly an act of imperialist aggression motivated (to some degree, at least) by racism, but there's more to the story than that. Imperialism and racism are favorite topics of liberal PBS; but surprisingly, the network manages to tell the story in a documentary for television with a minimum of political correctness, and manages to stick to the facts about this topic most of the time. My judgments might not completely agree with theirs, but I have to hand it to them that their documentary about this war is extremely interesting, and it is of tremendous value to the student of American history, particularly those who (like me) live in the Southwest. Thus, I thought I would offer my review of this documentary here.

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