The American Civil War: Motivations, soldier parole, and the Supreme Court

I recently attended a lecture at the Huntington by Prof. Emeritus Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia. He is visiting the Huntington and doing research for his next book. His lecture was on the Civil War, one of his personal areas of expertise. And let me tell you, it is so fun to listen to someone who sincerely *gushes* about their area of expertise. Prof. Gallagher has spent decades studying and sharing his analysis of the Civil War. He’s written eight books so far and is still going strong. Prof. Gallagher lectured without any visual aids, reading from sheets of notes – but the lecture was far from boring. It is clear that he *loves* talking about the Civil War! So passionate!

I took away several interesting thoughts from his lecture. First, he exhorted us not to refer to the “North” and the “South” but instead to “The United States” and “The Confederacy.” Think for a bit about what that means. :)

He also argued that the Civil War was primarily fought over the issue of Union, not Abolition (slavery), although over time historians have shifted to placing more weight on the latter. “Union” here refers to philosophy and politics. One might reasonably ask, if 10 or 11 states wanted to leave the Union, why not just let them? Why did the United States go to bloody war to fight to keep states that didn’t want to be there? Because, he argued, the United States’ “Great Experiment” was threatened. What is a democratic republic if members can simply opt out when they don’t like the outcome of an election? Wouldn’t that prove that our form of government was unworkable? People fought to keep the nation together, which on the face of it sounds a bit abusive. But then again, what war isn’t?

There was also an economic rationale. The Confederacy consisted of the richest states (in terms of per-capita white wealth). South Carolina and Mississippi between them controlled $3B of the economy, while northern industrial activity collectively spanned only $2B. Letting the Confederacy secede would be an economic blow.

Another fascinating topic covered in this lecture were the “parole” arrangements. Neither side wanted to take or be burdened with prisoners of war. So after each battle, they would tally up how many each side captured, and if the numbers were equal, they exchanged prisoners back; but if they were unequal, the extra prisoners would be returned as parolees. These men signed agreements that they would become non-combatants. They were kept in prison camps *on their own side*. They could be re-activated as combatants if their side captured more men from the other side (since then they could be “exchanged”). Imagine!

And finally, Prof. Gallagher noted in passing that President Abraham Lincoln appointed no less than *five* Supreme Court Justices during his presidency. The first was due to a vacancy when he assumed office. Then Justice McLean died and Justice Campbell resigned to join the Confederacy. In 1863, Congress apparently expanded the court to hold 10 Justices (!! The Constitution does not dictate the size of the Court) so he got to appoint another one. Then Justice Taney died, bringing the total Lincoln appointments to five. This is astonishing, and no doubt fueled the Confederacy’s ire. Consider the implications of such an occasion in the light of today’s politics.

Trump and Clinton and general aviation

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is one of my favorite organizations, mainly due to their intense dedication to ongoing education and pilot safety. They also do a lot of advocacy for the general aviation (GA) community.

This AOPA article provides a fascinating glimpse into the intersection of the current presidential election and GA:

Election 2016: Plane Politics

Wow, both Trump and Clinton have already spent millions of dollars to cover their campaign travels. Even more wow: it costs them “between $5,000 and $14,000 per flight hour” (!!). My brain boggles at this. I pay $105 per hour to fly a Cessna 172. You wouldn’t want to tour the country for a campaign in it, but still…

The biggest wow? To fly Air Force One, “the government places the price tag at $206,337 per flight hour.” (!!!) You could just buy a new plane every hour and have money to spare. (This figure includes security costs and presumably the staffing as a whole as well as the plane itself, fuel, etc.)

The article also reports on the results of several questions AOPA posed to both presidential candidates. Only one candidate replied. Guess which one?

Both candidates’ campaign planes

The Tea Party… in space?

The Tea Party has appeared in the media for a variety of reasons, but I was surprised to come across an article about their desire to support space exploration. In fact, they have articulated a Tea Party Space Platform, which enumerates their space-related goals and priorities. This seems rather perplexing, since the Tea Party is quite vocal about shrinking government and limiting taxes, and it seems rather out of character to promote an expensive national priority when (as some argue) we have so many urgent domestic problems that should be addressed first.

“Our goal is nothing less than the expansion of American civilization into the solar system,” declares the Tea Party Space Platform. They advocate achieving this through the stimulation of private industry and the free market, with limited government participation. And this will succeed due to fundamental “American exceptionalism”:

“It was American individuals and businesses who pioneered the wilderness, built a continent-spanning nation, and created the most prosperous economy in the history of humanity. […] The United States will settle space as it settled the American continent. The days of Lewis and Clark, and Apollo, are over. This is the Oregon Trail space policy.”

The individual planks of their platform propose first to relax ITAR regulations as they relate to space activity, allowing greater international cooperation, which seems very reasonable. Beyond that, the larger shape of their priorities takes form: reducing taxes and liability for space-related industries; free-market competition for space funds; and requiring NASA to partner with industry (seems a little at odds with “free market”?). Finally, the platform lists areas of technology development for which NASA must work with private companies to bring those technologies to “a commercial operational market”. If I understand this, the platform seeks to funnel technology development funds into private companies to develop and mature those capabilities. It’s not clear to me how much of a change that would be from the status quo; NASA centers do conduct much of the space-related technology development that is needed, but NASA also sends a lot of money to private companies and universities to support innovation and development outside of the agency.

More broadly, I still don’t see why this issue would be one that the Tea Party would find important enough to push for. If implemented, the platform could well lead to increased funds going to the private sector, but there are surely other ways to funnel national funds in that direction. Could space exploration itself be the driving motivation?

“Whether it’s timidity from the White House or Congress’ earmark-laden ‘compromises’, our space dreams will be stuck on this planet unless someone articulates a vision based on economic and technical reality, so that’s what we’ve done.” (Andrew Gasser, President of TPIS)

The elusive Fish Canyon waterfall

All unknowing, on Monday I walked into a controversy that’s been raging since the 1980’s. I set out for a hike, and ended up driving over to Duarte and up a likely-looking road, then finding a trailhead marked “Fish Canyon.” There was no route map, but I was prepared with hat, water, snacks, and camera, and enjoyed the idea of striking out into the unknown. Plus, someone had signed the log book ahead of me and noted that they’d come for the waterfall — an excellent enticement!

I started up the trail, which switchbacked up and up and up a rather steep hill. I began to be glad I’d started in the afternoon, because the trail was on the east side and therefore protected from the direct glare of the sun. I saw a lot of blooming flowers and thistles, and lizards were everywhere, affording lots of photo opportunities. Although there were a few other cars in the parking lot when I arrived, the trail itself was delightfully deserted. I climbed along in high spirits and, over a mile later, crested the hill. The trail then undulated over much greener and wetter terrain, resulting in a severely overgrown path. A few times I wasn’t sure I was still on the path, since I couldn’t see it, but I kept going as the grass and mustard bending over the path rose to my waist, then my elbows, then my shoulders. I pressed on and reached the top of the ridge, where the path parallels a fenceline, and then climbed past it to a view down into the next canyon west (Van Tassel Canyon). By that point the sun was starting to go down, and I’d had a good climb, so I let the waterfall go and headed back down.

At home, I started poking around to figure out what trail I’d been on, and to learn more about its elusive waterfall. The background reading on this area is fascinating. It’s worth browsing the details, but as a quick summary it seems that originally there was a beautiful, shady, gentle path up Fish Canyon to the waterfall, which was enjoyed by many residents. Then Azusa Rock moved in and created a rock quarry that blocked the path to the waterfall. Instead, a new trail was blazed: up the mountain, along the crest, and then back down the same mountain, simply to avoid the quarry! The new trail has been criticized for being too steep, treacherous, full of poison oak, and badly maintained, to boot. Plus, it involves 3000 feet of elevation change, compared with the original path’s 900 feet. It is now also twice as long (10 miles round-trip instead of five). Good thing I turned back where I did (not even halfway there), and before running into any poison oak.

More research informed me that Vulcan Materials is now offering a shuttle service on some Saturdays to take hikers through the quarry and let them out on the other side, to hike the remaining 2 enjoyable miles to the waterfall. (This may be in response to the protests from locals over losing the original trail, which was starting to lead to trespassing, quarry equipment going missing, and grumblings over environmental impact of the query itself.) Here are all the details of the true hike to the waterfall, which is described in glowing terms. Contrast that with the same hiker’s description of the trail I actually hiked which includes the words “ridiculous,” “brutal,” and “absurd.” Of course, there was also much beauty. I’d like to see the waterfall itself someday — but shall I go shuttled (and likely crowded) or take the high, hard road?

Can Gibbon change my life?

It’s the story of a world superpower that reached its height and then was felled by corruption (from its extreme wealth) and inattention to local threats (due to embroilment in the Middle East). Not contemporary news, not science fiction, but Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. I haven’t read this book, but after a fascinating lecture on it today, I’m eager to get my hands on a copy.

This lecture, by Dr. J. Rufus Fears, comes from the “Books that have made history: Books that can change your life” course that was included on a sampler CD I recently received from The Teaching Company. In my opinion, the lecture is polished and engrossing enough to elevate it above “lecture” to “oration.” Dr. Fears posits that Gibbon identified two causes for the Empire’s fall, as noted above. (The “local threats” were the incursions by the Teutons (pre-French, pre-Germans) who, along with Iran’s religiously fanatical hordes, invaded the Roman Empire). These factors alone would make for relevant reading, but there may be more to it. The wikipedia page on The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire claims instead that Gibbon attributed the decline to 1) a “loss of civic virtue” in its citizens (brought on by wealth and prosperity) 2) the influence of Christianity (belief in an afterlife rendering citizens less concerned with the present, and pacifist tendencies weakening the “Roman martial spirit”). The latter seems to have made him especially unpopular (despite the otherwise runaway success of the book). Now I definitely want to take a look myself and see where he most strongly attributes the blame.

Dr. Fears also cites the work as being worth reading for the quality of its prose, noting that Winston Churchill claimed to have “learned to write” by reading Gibbon. High praise indeed!

Gibbon himself presents an interesting historical figure. He decided to write on the subject of Rome in the years before the American Revolution, and he was writing during the Revolution itself, and also serving in the British Parliament. He seems to have had some strong views about how England should be handling the situation (based on what can be seen in similar historical situations, and particularly that of the Roman Empire), but rarely spoke out about them in public, and always voted with Lord North (then the Prime Minister of England, and a strong force in opposition to the colonies). He also felt that if civilization ever failed in Europe, at least it could be carried forward in America.

This one definitely goes on my “to-read” list (or at least “to-sample”). You can read it yourself starting with Chapter 1 from Project Gutenberg or listen to Chapter 1 from librivox (19 hours, 50 minutes running time). And then I want to go back and re-read Sheri Tepper’s book, “Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.” Enjoyment is all the richer when you have the full context.

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