Friday, May 13, 2016

Obama, Truman and Hiroshima

There’s zero reason to apologize for the atomic bombing, which forestalled invasion and saved lives.

By Wilson D. Miscamble
May 11, 2016
President Obama speaks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in March during their meeting at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The White House announcement Tuesday that President Obama plans to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park during his trip to Japan later this month undoubtedly will prompt much debate over President Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons in August 1945.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, wrote online Tuesday that the president will reflect on the site’s significance but “will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II.” That claim is disingenuous. To be the first U.S. president to visit Hiroshima is to spark re-evaluations of Truman’s action and invite speculation that Mr. Obama will apologize, at least implicitly.
One can only hope that Mr. Obama grounds anything he might say on a sound historical knowledge of the situation Truman confronted and the basis for his decision. The president certainly should distance himself completely from the specious interpretation of the “atomic diplomacy” historians, who disgracefully allege that Truman, hoping to intimidate the Soviet Union in the already-developing Cold War, dropped two atomic bombs on a Japan that he knew was on the verge of surrender.
Mr. Obama, as well as his Japanese hosts, should appreciate that Truman authorized the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both major military-industrial targets, to help win the gruesome Pacific War as quickly as possible and with the loss of the fewest American lives—and, as it turned out, the loss of the fewest Japanese lives.
His goal was to avoid an invasion of Japan’s home islands, which Truman knew would mean, in his words, “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.” For those who need reminding, the battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest, most ferocious engagements of World War II, with Allied forces—most of them American—suffering more than 65,000 casualties, including 14,000 dead. Truman’s intentions and assumptions were legitimate.
Despite the damage inflicted on Japan by mid-1945 from conventional air attacks and a naval blockade, its leaders, and especially its military, clung fiercely to a plan called Ketsu-Go, or decisive battle. The aim was to inflict such punishment on invaders that they would sue for peace. The Japanese government had mobilized a large part of the population into a national militia to defend the home islands. The twisted samurai-types who led the Japanese military geared up with true banzai spirit to use their people in a kind of national kamikaze campaign.
Even after the atomic bombs were dropped, and following the Soviet attack in Manchuria on Aug. 8, 1945, the Japanese military leadership wanted to fight on. Yet Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Emperor Hirohito to understand clearly that defending the homeland was hopeless. It took his unprecedented intervention to break the impasse in the Japanese government and finally to order surrender.
Mr. Obama should appreciate well that all the viable alternative scenarios to secure American victory—continued conventional bombing of Japanese cities and infrastructure, a choking and lengthy naval blockade, the likely terrible invasions involving massive firepower—would have meant significantly greater casualties on both sides. They would have included thousands of Allied prisoners of war whom the Japanese planned to execute in the event of invasion.
American military estimates at the time were for over half a million U.S. casualties alone. And hard as it may be to accept when one sees the terrible destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese losses would have been far greater without the bombs.
Using these weapons also freed innocent peoples throughout Asia from Japanese oppression. Japan’s murderous rampage from Manchuria to New Guinea killed 17 million to 24 million. Estimates are that for each month of 1945 the war continued, upward of 250,000 innocents died. These facts surely shouldn’t be forgotten when President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lay their wreaths.
Truman’s authorization to use the A-bombs should be seen as his choosing the least awful of the options available. He didn’t turn his back on some obvious and feasible “moral” course of action that would have secured a Japanese surrender. Even in retrospect, far removed from the pressures that Truman faced in 1945, his critics can offer no serious and persuasive alternatives.
Harry Truman of Independence, Mo., tried to live by a moral code grounded in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Yet he also knew that statesmen must make difficult decisions in the fog of war. Perhaps Truman had the A-bomb in mind when he wrote 15 years later that “sometimes you have a choice of evils, in which case you try to take the course that is likely to bring the least harm.”
One suspects that Mr. Obama will have regular recourse to Truman’s defense when responding to the critics who blame him for the costly failure of his policy in the Syrian civil war, in which 400,000 lives have been lost, or his inability to halt the terrible genocide of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.
However that may be, when Mr. Obama visits Hiroshima on May 27 he should place no distance between himself and Harry Truman. Rather he should pay tribute to the president whose actions brought a terrible war to an end.
Father Miscamble is a history professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of “The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs and the Defeat of Japan” (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Millennials Embrace Socialism, but Do They Know What It Is?

By Jonah Goldberg
May 13, 2016

Supporters cheer as Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally Monday, March 21, 2016, in Salt Lake City.
 (John Locher, AP)

Socialism is having a moment.

I’m not just referring to Bernie Sanders’s surprisingly strong showing in the Democratic primaries. Various polls show that Millennials have a more favorable view of socialism than of capitalism. And Millennials generally are the only age group that views socialism more favorably than unfavorably.

Some conservatives aren’t surprised. Schools have been force-feeding left-wing propaganda to kids like it was feed for geese at a foie gras factory.

On the other hand, what are we to make of the fact that only a fraction of the young people who say they like socialism can explain what it is? If left-wing indoctrination is so effective at getting kids to like socialism, you’d think it would have more success at getting kids to at least parrot back a serviceable definition.

Regardless, this is a familiar tale. Young people have a well-documented tendency of skipping facts and arguments and going straight to conclusions.

Writing in The Federalist, Emily Ekins and Joy Pullmann note that many of these young people think socialism is federally mandated niceness. A 2014 Reason-Rupe survey asked Millennials to define socialism. They had in mind a more generous safety net, more kindness and, as one put it, more “being together.”

But when asked if they agreed with a more technically accurate definition of socialism — government control of the economy — support dropped considerably (though not nearly enough). Given a choice between a government-managed economy and a free-market economy, Millennials overwhelmingly chose the latter. It seems young people realize that putting bureaucrats in charge of Uber wouldn’t work too well.

Still, it boggles the mind that anyone can see the folly of having the government take over Amazon or Facebook but be blind to the problems of having the government run health care.
More intriguing to me is the fact that kids who don’t know what textbook socialism is actually have a better understanding of what drives socialism in the first place.

Karl Marx was one of the worst things to ever happen to socialism, and not just because he set the world on a path to the murder, oppression, and enslavement of millions upon millions of people. It was Marx and his confreres who persuaded the intellectual classes that socialism was a strictly “scientific” doctrine. For generations, economists — real and so-called — worked on the assumption that the economy could be run like a machine. Just as engineers had mastered the steam engine and the transistor, they could do likewise with supply and demand.

For generations, intellectuals — real and so-called — argued that economics was best left to “planners.” Time and again, reality — specifically, the reality dictated by human desires — refused to be bent to neatly arrayed columns of numbers and well-stacked slips of paper. The philosopher-economist Friedrich Hayek long ago explained that planners suffer from what he called “the knowledge problem.” Even the best bureaucrat couldn’t know what customers, suppliers, and managers on the ground wanted or needed.

And each time the planners insisted that if they just had a little bit more power, a bit more data, a few more resources, they could make planning work. When all you have is a hammer, you’re inclined to believe that there’s no problem a few more nails won’t fix.

The Soviet Union and its various cousins did much to discredit “scientific socialism,” what with all the killing and totalitarianism. The fact that it didn’t seem to make people richer also undermined its appeal. “Scientifically,” people didn’t want to be bullied, oppressed, or impoverished.

The unrealism of socialism spelled its undoing — for a time.

The dilemma is that there is a reality underneath the fraud of scientific socialism. The first socialists were not economists or technocrats. They were romantics and nostalgists. They loathed the relentless logic of the market and its reward of merit and efficiency as judged by the marketplace.

They wanted to return to the imagined Eden of the noble savage and the state of nature. They wanted to live in a world of tribal brotherhood and mutual love. Long before the math of “scientific socialism” there were the emotions of socialism, both light and dark: egalitarianism and envy.

Young people understandably are drawn by the promise of “being together.” But they think the federal government can make it happen. If government planners can’t even provide goods and services efficiently, how will they ever provide togetherness?

— Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review​. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2016 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Kardashians Do Cuba: The World's Coolest Place

Shooting the next show at a Stalinist death-camp.

May 12, 2016

Kourtney, Khloé and Kim smoke cigars with pal Malika.
Photo: Khloé Kardashian / Instagram

Thanks largely to Obama’s recent “engagement,” Stalinist Cuba has quickly become the absolute coolest place on earth.

Close on the heels of Katy Perry, The Rolling Stones and the Obama family itself, this week Karl Lagerfeld showcased his Chanel “cruise line” with a fashion-show extravaganza where Havana’s Prado Street served as the catwalk/runway for the world’s coolest models. Gisele Bundchen, Tilda Swinton and Vin Diesel monkey-shined for the paparazzi on the sidelines.
Not to be outdone, the Kardashians just arrived in Havana to shoot their next show.   
Attaining such status for coolness among the world’s coolest people is not easy. Such coolness does not just land haphazardly in the lap of any random society. It must be worked on. So let us briefly peruse the societal and political characteristics that the cool and beautiful people (all liberals, needless to add) make a big media show of denouncing.
With this list in hand, we shall scan the world looking for the places where the political authorities most scrupulously eschew such wickedness and thus escape the vilification from cool people that befell such places as Apartheid South Africa; Pinochet’s Chile; Baltimore, Maryland; Ferguson, Missouri or —please give me a second to reach for the smelling salts here--the state of North Carolina. 
Firstly, do not mistreat blacks. For heaven’s sake! Do not even jail blacks if they are convicted (by an independent jury during an internationally monitored trail) of being communist terrorists. South Africa learned this bitter lesson with Nelson Mandela.
In fact, the strictures of cool people stipulate that governmental authorities must not kill blacks even in self defense.Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland recently had this valuable lesson driven home by many cool people. 
Given the above guidelines, you would certainly not want the distinction of having jailed and tortured-- without even rudimentary due process-- the most and longest suffering black political prisoners in the modern history of the Western hemisphere; many more political prisoners than were jailed by Apartheid South Africa, in fact. 
And you certainly do not want videos going viral that show veritable lynchings by your white firing squads of untried black men who were tumbled into a mass grave by the volley and buried with bulldozers.
And don’t let word get out that your KGB-trained police make a weekly habit of savagely attacking -- with truncheons, tire irons and machetes -- helpless black women who are carrying flowers and reciting the words of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.
Whoops! Sorry!  Above I just described Castro’s Cuba, the world’s coolest place.  
Another area where cool people are very sensitive is the issue of “gay rights.” And as we’ve recently learned in the cases of Indiana and North Carolina, in the view of cool people, the very definition of “gay rights” can be pretty broad.
So you do not want the distinction of being the only regime in the history of the Western hemisphere to have herded tens of thousands of men and boys into forced labor camps at Soviet bayonet-point for the crime of being gay, genuine or suspected. You especially do not want the International Court of Justice in The Hague to have this on file: “Castro’s Cuba is responsible for the persecution, imprisonment in forced labor concentration camps, torture, banishment, and death of thousands of gays, transvestites and lesbians."  This was filed only a few years ago by one of the world’s biggest gay rights groups, Brazil’s “Grupo Gay da Bahía.”
Whoops! Sorry again! Seems I just described Castro’s Cuba, the world’s coolest place.  
“Women’s rights” are also important for cool people. These “rights”—we’ve recently been given to understand by the ultra-cool Sandra Fluke –are extremely far-reaching and should include taxpayer-subsidized contraceptives for women. 
So you do not want the distinction of having jailed and tortured 35,150 women and girls for political crimes, a totalitarian horror utterly unknown in the Western Hemisphere until Gisele Bundchen’s fashion icon co-founded a regime with Karl Lagerfeld’s gracious host this week.
The prison conditions for these poor women and girls were described by former political prisoner Maritza Lugo thusly: "The punishment cells measure 3 feet wide by 6 feet long. The toilet consists of an 8 inch hole in the ground through which cockroaches and rats enter, especially in cool temperatures the rats come inside to seek the warmth of our bodies and we were often bitten. The suicide rate among women prisoners was very high."
Whoops! Sorry.  Above I again described Castro’s Cuba, the world’s coolest place.
Cool people also make a big show of promoting “peace.” To hear them babble, armed conflict between nations has always been a historical abomination. So you definitely do not want to be on record as being modern history’s most crazed warmongers, to the point of wantonly bringing the world to the very precipice of nuclear war.
We reject any peaceful approach! Violence is inevitable! To establish socialism rivers of blood must flow! If the nuclear missiles had remained (in Cuba) we would have fired them against the heart of the U.S. including New York City. The victory of socialism is well worth millions of atomic victims! Hatred is the central element of our struggle!
And you certainly do not want to make an icon of the racist, mass-murdering warmonger responsible for the hate speech quoted above by plastering his image all over your fiefdom.  Cool people might get the wrong idea and start mimicking the fashion sense of modern history’s most crazed nuclear warmonger by adopting his berets as the coolest fashion item for the coolest fashion show in the world.
And if anyone should expose the atrocities above with thorough documentation in a series of internationally-acclaimed books your KGB-founded and mentored media should denounce him as a “scoundrel and traitor.”
 Tags: CastroCubaHollywood

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme

within BioethicsCultureScienceSexuality
June 10, 2015

Photograph: FRF/Getty
For forty years as the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School—twenty-six of which were also spent as Psychiatrist in Chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital—I’ve been studying people who claim to be transgender. Over that time, I’ve watched the phenomenon change and expand in remarkable ways.
A rare issue of a few men—both homosexual and heterosexual men, including some who sought sex-change surgery because they were erotically aroused by the thought or image of themselves as women—has spread to include women as well as men. Even young boys and girls have begun to present themselves as of the opposite sex. Over the last ten or fifteen years, this phenomenon has increased in prevalence, seemingly exponentially. Now, almost everyone has heard of or met such a person.
Publicity, especially from early examples such as “Christine” Jorgenson, “Jan” Morris, and “Renee” Richards, has promoted the idea that one’s biological sex is a choice, leading to widespread cultural acceptance of the concept. And, that idea, quickly accepted in the 1980s, has since run through the American public like a revelation or “meme” affecting much of our thought about sex.
The champions of this meme, encouraged by their alliance with the broader LGBT movement, claim that whether you are a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, is more of a disposition or feeling about yourself than a fact of nature. And, much like any other feeling, it can change at any time, and for all sorts of reasons. Therefore, no one could predict who would swap this fact of their makeup, nor could one justifiably criticize such a decision.
At Johns Hopkins, after pioneering sex-change surgery, we demonstrated that the practice brought no important benefits. As a result, we stopped offering that form of treatment in the 1970s. Our efforts, though, had little influence on the emergence of this new idea about sex, or upon the expansion of the number of “transgendered” among young and old.
Olympic Athlete Turned "Pin-Up" Girl
This history may clarify some aspects of the latest high-profile transgender claimant. Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion, is turning away from his titular identity as one of the “world’s greatest male athletes.” Jenner announced recently that he “identifies as a woman” and, with medical and surgical help, is busy reconstructing his physique.
I have not met or examined Jenner, but his behavior resembles that of some of the transgender males we have studied over the years. These men wanted to display themselves in sexy ways, wearing provocative female garb. More often than not, while claiming to be a woman in a man’s body, they declared themselves to be “lesbians” (attracted to other women). The photograph of the posed, corseted, breast-boosted Bruce Jenner (a man in his mid-sixties, but flaunting himself as if a “pin-up” girl in her twenties or thirties) on the cover of Vanity Fair suggests that he may fit the behavioral mold that Ray Blanchard has dubbed an expression of “autogynephilia”—from gynephilia (attracted to women) and auto (in the form of oneself).
The Emperor’s New Clothes
But the meme—that your sex is a feeling, not a biological fact, and can change at any time—marches on through our society. In a way, it’s reminiscent of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. In that tale, the Emperor, believing that he wore an outfit of special beauty imperceptible to the rude or uncultured, paraded naked through his town to the huzzahs of courtiers and citizens anxious about their reputations. Many onlookers to the contemporary transgender parade, knowing that a disfavored opinion is worse than bad taste today, similarly fear to identify it as a misapprehension.
I am ever trying to be the boy among the bystanders who points to what’s real. I do so not only because truth matters, but also because overlooked amid the hoopla—enhanced now by Bruce Jenner’s celebrity and Annie Leibovitz’s photography—stand many victims. Think, for example, of the parents whom no one—not doctors, schools, nor even churches—will help to rescue their children from these strange notions of being transgendered and the problematic lives these notions herald. These youngsters now far outnumber the Bruce Jenner type of transgender. Although they may be encouraged by his public reception, these children generally come to their ideas about their sex not through erotic interests but through a variety of youthful psychosocial conflicts and concerns.
First, though, let us address the basic assumption of the contemporary parade: the idea that exchange of one’s sex is possible. It, like the storied Emperor, is starkly, nakedly false. Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men. All (including Bruce Jenner) become feminized men or masculinized women, counterfeits or impersonators of the sex with which they “identify.” In that lies their problematic future.
When “the tumult and shouting dies,” it proves not easy nor wise to live in a counterfeit sexual garb. The most thorough follow-up of sex-reassigned people—extending over thirty years and conducted in Sweden, where the culture is strongly supportive of the transgendered—documents their lifelong mental unrest. Ten to fifteen years after surgical reassignment, the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to twenty times that of comparable peers.
How to Treat Gender Dysphoria
So how should we make sense of this matter today? As with any mental phenomenon, what’s crucial is noting its fundamental characteristic and then identifying the many ways in which that characteristic can manifest itself.
The central issue with all transgender subjects is one of assumption—the assumption that one’s sexual nature is misaligned with one’s biological sex. This problematic assumption comes about in several different ways, and these distinctions in its generation determine how to manage and treat it.
Based on the photographic evidence one might guess Bruce Jenner falls into the group of men who come to their disordered assumption through being sexually aroused by the image of themselves as women. He could have been treated for this misaligned arousal with psychotherapy and medication. Instead, he found his way to surgeons who worked him over as he wished. Others have already commented on his stereotypic caricature of women as decorative “babes” (“I look forward to wearing nail polish until it chips off,” he said to Diane Sawyer)—a view that understandably infuriates feminists—and his odd sense that only feelings, not facts, matter here.
For his sake, however, I do hope that he receives regular, attentive follow-up care, as his psychological serenity in the future is doubtful. Future men with similar feelings and intentions should be treated for those feelings rather than being encouraged to undergo bodily changes. Group therapies are now available for them.
Most young boys and girls who come seeking sex-reassignment are utterly different from Jenner. They have no erotic interest driving their quest. Rather, they come with psychosocial issues—conflicts over the prospects, expectations, and roles that they sense are attached to their given sex—and presume that sex-reassignment will ease or resolve them.
The grim fact is that most of these youngsters do not find therapists willing to assess and guide them in ways that permit them to work out their conflicts and correct their assumptions. Rather, they and their families find only “gender counselors” who encourage them in their sexual misassumptions.
Those with Gender Dysphoria Need Evidence-Based Care
There are several reasons for this absence of coherence in our mental health system. Important among them is the fact that both the state and federal governments are actively seeking to block any treatments that can be construed as challenging the assumptions and choices of transgendered youngsters. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama.
In two states, a doctor who would look into the psychological history of a transgendered boy or girl in search of a resolvable conflict could lose his or her license to practice medicine. By contrast, such a physician would not be penalized if he or she started such a patient on hormones that would block puberty and might stunt growth.
What is needed now is public clamor for coherent science—biological and therapeutic science—examining the real effects of these efforts to “support” transgendering. Although much is made of a rare “intersex” individual, no evidence supports the claim that people such as Bruce Jenner have a biological source for their transgender assumptions. Plenty of evidence demonstrates that with him and most others, transgendering is a psychological rather than a biological matter.
In fact, gender dysphoria—the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex—belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it. With youngsters, this is best done in family therapy.
The larger issue is the meme itself. The idea that one’s sex is fluid and a matter open to choice runs unquestioned through our culture and is reflected everywhere in the media, the theater, the classroom, and in many medical clinics. It has taken on cult-like features: its own special lingo, internet chat rooms providing slick answers to new recruits, and clubs for easy access to dresses and styles supporting the sex change. It is doing much damage to families, adolescents, and children and should be confronted as an opinion without biological foundation wherever it emerges.
But gird your loins if you would confront this matter. Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle.
Paul McHugh, MD, is University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is the author of The Mind Has Mountains: Reflections on Society and Psychiatry.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Nathaniel Philbrick on His New Book, ‘Valiant Ambition’

Nathaniel Philbrick discusses Benedict Arnold, George Washington and the winning of the American Revolution

By Steve Dougherty
May 4, 2016

Mr. Philbrick portrays Arnold as a somewhat sympathetic character.

Nathaniel Philbrick in his home in Nantucket, Mass. PHOTO: TONY LUONG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Benedict Arnold is a name like Judas or Iago, synonymous with treason and evil incarnate. Yet through much of historian Nathaniel Philbrick’s new book, “Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution,” the man who betrayed his country is a largely sympathetic character.
The Nantucket-based author is best known for maritime histories like “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,” which won the 2000 National Book Award, and “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War,” a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2007. His last book, “Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution” covered the first stages of the rebellion.
After three years of war, with his finances ruined and his leg shattered by a musket ball at Saratoga, Arnold grows embittered by the machinations of his political enemies and frustrated by what Mr. Philbrick describes as a dysfunctional Continental Congress.
“Arnold felt underappreciated and underpaid and that the country was falling apart around all of them,” says Mr. Philbrick.
The book opens in New York in the aftermath of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Washington faces the invading British armada sent to crush the rebellion; Arnold counters the British attempt to split the colonies by moving in from Canada via Lake Champlain.
“Valiant Ambition” ends in 1780 with Arnold’s betrayal as he attempts to surrender to the enemy the key American fortress at West Point on the Hudson River. Edited from an interview:
If not for his treason, how would Arnold be remembered today?
As a hero of the War of Independence and, absolutely, our best field general. He was wired to be a battlefield commander. He was aggressive. He could see the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy and read topography amazingly well. And he was charismatic. If you were fighting by his side, you were with him all the way. And the fact of the matter is that at a very critical time in the country’s history, when we had lost New York and if the British had punched through from Canada, we basically would have lost the war. Arnold went at them like a hellion.
Arnold himself had reason to feel betrayed by higher-ups in the Army and in the Continental Congress. Were reports he was out of control at Saratoga and may even have been drunk, part of a smear campaign?
There are accounts of him slashing the head of an American officer and not realizing it, he was so into [the battle]. And some said he rode around like a crazy man. But it was Arnold who saw [one particular] British officer in the distance and said if we can get him, the enemy line will collapse. He instructed a sharpshooter up in the trees to get him. He did and that turned it all around. So yes, he’s a little unhinged but you can’t argue with results.
Why was the naval battle at Valcour Island on Lake Champlain so pivotal?
Most Americans have no clue that before there were highways, there were only waterways to get through the wilderness. If you weren’t on a lake or a river, you were in a jungle. Arnold was thinking strategically from the very beginning. He said we need to control this corridor of water in order to stop the British.
How did he manage to fight British warships to a standstill with what you call a “mosquito fleet” of what were essentially rowboats?
There’s a replica of one of Arnold’s “gondolas” at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. It’s just a great big rowboat with a mast in the middle and a lot of oars. The breezes on Lake Champlain are often fickle and when the wind is uncooperative, being able to row is useful. But compared to what the British had, the odds were very much against Arnold. What he did was really brilliant. Back then square-rigged vessels could not sail against the wind with any effectiveness. So he hides his fleet inside Valcour Island and uses [a tactic which] is called the weather gauge to his advantage. He lets the British sail by, then says, “Here I am, come and get me.”
When Arnold grows so disillusioned with the American cause that he decides to betray it, does he balk when he realizes his treason won’t simply involve information but putting the lives of the troops he led at stake?
In battle there was always a coldness about him. One of the things that resonated with me was one of his adjutants who described how Arnold forced him to shoot his horse before they climbed onto the last boat out of Canada [earlier in the war]. That’s Arnold: This is what we have to do, it’s what’s required. I think it was the same with his treason. If he decided this was the right thing to do, it was the right thing to do. I don’t think there was a lot of introspection.
The British attacked with what ranked, until World War I, as the largest invasion armada in the history of the empire. How did they not win the war?
It’s kind of like “War of the Worlds” or “Star Wars” where this invasion force arrives and they are fully capable of just annihilating you. [British General William] Howe makes an absolute fool out of the Americans at the Battle of Long Island but never delivers the knockout blow. He and his [British admiral] brother had real affection for the colonies. They felt that annihilating the American army would be a bad way to reconcile all of this. They wanted to bring the Americans to the negotiating table, so no knockout blow. You could argue that the Howe brothers were America’s greatest asset.
How did the vastness of the American continent thwart the British?
Remember, these are Europeans who are used to an established country that has a capital; if you take that capital you basically have the country. America is this great wilderness and even when you take Philadelphia, it doesn’t mean the enemy is defeated. They just move away. I remember when thermometers used to have mercury in them and trying to squeeze a piece of mercury with my fingers and it always squished away. That’s kind of what was happening with the British pursuing the Americans: You beat them here, beat them there, but you haven’t eliminated them.
It’s well known that George Washington had false teeth, but who knew that a lifelong habit of cracking walnuts with his teeth was the cause?
For me, details like that turn a fossilized Washington into someone real. It speaks to who he is. Someone who’s cracking nuts with his teeth has experienced sustained tension. Most of us look at the one-dollar bill and see that staid rock. The reality was he had his own inner Arnold, if you will. His natural proclivities were very much like Arnold’s. He was naturally aggressive but he learned to control that aggression because he knew it was best for his country. Arnold could never do that.
At the end of the book, Arnold is in New York, preparing to lead an army south to fight his own countrymen. Are you at work on a sequel?
Yeah. We think of the revolution ending in Yorktown, Va. The fact of the matter is that the French defeated the British in a naval battle right in the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Because the British fleet was coming to rescue Cornwallis, the British general, Washington was able to surround Cornwallis. So this almost-unknown naval battle was absolutely critical in winning the revolution.
Your book includes little-known characters like Joseph Plumb Martin, who first appears at 15 years old as a volunteer at a battle in Manhattan, then shows up at Valley Forge and even runs into Arnold in the woods near West Point. Where did you find him?
He’s someone who wrote an account late in life of his experiences in the revolution. And what a treasure trove. This guy was smart, funny and he had a very good sense of skepticism when it came to his military superiors. He was Forrest Gump in a way, always there at key points. For me he became a sort of Greek chorus for the book.