US Grant – America’s Unlikely Hero – Part 1

A long time ago, my good friend Chuck asked me an interesting question. “Jon do you have a favorite author that writes like a fine wine or a three-star Michelin restaurant? I honestly had no answer to this detailed inquiry. At that time I was just starting on my journey of reading, and I couldn’t distinguish an average author from a great author. My palate was not entirely up to par, and my neural taste buds were still in an immature state. I finally have an answer for my friend after being exposed to so many different writing styles – the author Ron Chernow. Chernow writes biographies in such a detailed way that the reader feels like a fly on the wall of history. He is most famous for his book on Alexander Hamilton which became a hit Broadway play and his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on George Washington.

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His books regularly make appearances on the New York Times bestseller list even though they are on antiquated topics and extremely large in breadth. I picked up his most recent book Grant, which is 1100 pages and a fascinating tale of 19th-century history. I would argue that any person who dislikes history would love this book and find newfound interests. Think of Chernow as a gourmet chef and Ulysses S. Grant as a prized but unknown ingredient. Through excellent writing, Grant’s powerful life hits you in the mouth like Emeril Lagasse throwing spice into a hot skillet.

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US Grant was born in Ohio on April 22, 1822. His father was a tanner and he grew up as a shy boy underneath an outspoken father and overly standoffish mother. Grant was described as silent, modest, respectful of women, and courageous against neighborhood bullies. From a young age, he stood up for the underdog and spoke few words of malice towards even his most ardent detractors. He was sent off to West Point by chance since a cadet was kicked out at the same time Grant’s father requested his son’s admittance. While at West Point, Grant excelled at horsemanship but was no star pupil. He did excel at mathematics, but his career in the military did not look promising. Upon graduation, he was stationed in Missouri where Grant met his future wife Julia Dent and his future Confederate father-in-law Colonel Dent.

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During this time, America entered into war with Mexico and Grant was jettisoned into combat – an environment he excelled in. He served as a logistics specialist and honed critical military strategies during this conflict. Grant also learned something even more indispensable while in Mexico: the characteristics of the future generals of the Confederacy. Upon the completion of hostilities, Grant was stationed in the burgeoning gold rush town of San Francisco and Northern California. This was a difficult time for Grant because he missed his new wife and his family. He took to drink and was reprimanded for drinking by a persnickety leader – eventually leading to resignation and a marred reputation for the rest of his life. Grant did have a drinking problem, but it never got in the way of his leadership. If it had, he would not have achieved his remarkable feats after leaving the military in 1854.

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Civilian life was hard for Grant and he struggled to find his place in society. At one point he was so economically distraught he had to pawn his watch for Christmas presents and take a job at his Dad’s tannery store as a simple clerk. He walked around Galena, Illinois with his old military jacket and an unkempt beard – most people astonished to see his state of poverty. Compounding his problems, both his Father and Father-in-Law saw him as a failure and regularly forced their views upon him as if he were a child. He was a beaten man during this time, and his woes continued to worsen after his former California business speculations soured; these speculations were undertaken because Grant overly trusted acquaintances and people in general.

1867 Chromolithograph of Ulysses Grant by Fabronius, Gurney & Son.

He had such high integrity for himself that he couldn’t understand how other people could be cruel in their business dealings. When all seemed lost in Grant’s life, the most significant conflict in American history broke out – the Civil War. As if awakened by a jolt of electricity, Grant felt it was his chance to use his former military talents and serve the Union. The only problem was that no one wanted him because of his previous drunkenness and his paltry political connections. Not receiving any worthy commissions, Grant decided he would bake bread for the soldiers. Just before applying for this culinary position, fate opened up her doors. To be continued…Part 2 next week.

The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.
– Ulysses S. Grant

Heil Hitler: The Nazi’s Drug Addiction

Today, I saw the WWII movie Dunkirk directed by Christopher Nolan. It’s an exceptional movie, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about one of the most important events in the war. What made this film exciting for me was the knowledge that hard-core drugs made Dunkirk a possibility. Did you know that Hitler was a hardcore drug addict? Did you know the blitzkrieg was only possible because of meth? Did you know Nazis were given speed balls before kamikaze submarine missions? All of these questions are explained in the international bestseller Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler. I highly recommend this book because it completely changed my perspective on Nazi Germany. Up until this book, I saw the Nazis as superhuman- zealot nationalists who performed their tasks through the spirit of their beliefs; now I understand that their relentless drive came from drugs which kept them motivated, alert, and addicted to the war machine.

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In 1938, the German pharmaceutical company Temmler introduced Pervitin to the market. Pervitin was marketed as a magic medicine that provided energy, happiness, and the work ethic needed to expand the Third Reich. The magic of Pervitin lied in its main ingredient – methamphetamine aka Crystal Meth. This meth was available to all Germans and was given to soldiers in healthy doses during the blitzkrieg invasion of France. The blitzkrieg was only possible with Pervitin because the soldiers were able to go three days without sleep – the French soldiers couldn’t comprehend the artificial stamina of their opponents. The German tanks kept rolling because of the drugged soldier’s synthetic feelings of invincibility, and they ended up surrounding the Allies like a boa constrictor. The only escape route available for over 300,000 Allies was the coastal city of Dunkirk, France.

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Hitler, early on in his power, suffered from a host of stomach ailments which were probably due to stress and his diet. He searched for a doctor to help him, but no expert could help his infirmities; there was one doctor however that tried a different approach – his name was Theodor Morell. Morell gave Hitler vitamin injections which helped Hitler’s stomach issues – these injections quickly secured him as the Fuhrer’s personal physician. At the time of Dunkirk, Hitler was being lifted up by these daily vitamin injections which propelled his ego and narcissism – he halted the blitzkrieg because he didn’t want the military acting without his orders – in the end allowing all the allies to escape. By 1941, Hitler was in need of stronger drugs; Morell began a regimen of vitamins, animal hormones (Hitler was a strict vegetarian), and Eukodal. Eukodal is better known today as oxycodone – the fraternal twin to heroin.

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It didn’t take long before Hitler was addicted to these injections and by 1943 he was receiving even more drugs several times a day – high-grade cocaine, morphine, testosterone, and meth. Most of the high ranking Nazi staff were receiving similar injections from Morell while statewide propaganda ironically decried the drugs as “Jewish” poison not fit for the Aryan race. By the time of Hitler’s suicide in 1945, Morell had injected the “role model of Nazi health” over 800 times with 74 different substances. In the last years of his life, Hitler was receiving so many injections that he had track marks running up and down his veins. It was said that when Hitler received his injections, a cracking noise could be heard from his damaged vasculature and his blood oozed like gelatin because of its continuous exposure to animal hormones.

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The German army as a whole continued to receive state sanctioned meth throughout the war. The Third Reich would eventually experiment with cocaine and heroine – soldiers were given combinations of these three drugs to keep them fighting even when faced with utter defeat. Drugs were a tool for the Nazis and helped them accomplish superhuman tasks like the blitzkrieg, but in the end, both leaders and soldiers became burned out by their fleeting effects. Hitler was fueled by drugs, but drugs did not lead to the events of the Holocaust. Hitler’s hatred of the Jews began long before his first injection – as a healthy young man he dreamed of their extermination. The drugs hurt the Nazis more than anything. If Hitler weren’t addicted to drugs, he would have made less poor military decisions and prolonged the war – allowing greater time to kill victims in the concentration camps. Drugs in the Third Reich provided the energy for terror at the beginning of the fight but not the stamina needed for marathon fighting – oddly enough,  Morell was the Allies best weapon. 

“Hitler would go as white as a sheet and tightly clench his jaws, while his eyes would dilate. Everyone in his entourage would get panicky because these fits were always followed by an order to dismiss or to execute somebody.”
-Theodor Morell

The Upside of Down

What makes America great? Is it the people? The beautiful landscape? The election process? I think a lot of citizens define the greatness of America through her economic and military prowess. Over the past 10 years there has been a lot of news about America’s dominance fading in the world. I hear things like, “China owns half of our country!” “Their is a new Cold War with Russia!””There are going to be taco stands at every corner!” “All of our jobs are being shipped overseas!” I never really looked into these claims before so I wanted to read a book about the true economic status of the developed world compared to the developing. I picked up The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West by Charles Kenny. Kenny was previously a senior economist at the World Bank and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and writes for Bloomberg Businessweek and Foreign Policy magazines. To put it simply, this guy knows his stuff.

First off, China is definitely going to surpass the United States economy very soon – some economists argue that is has already happened. The math is simple: China has 1.3 billion people and the United States has roughly 350 million people. That is a billion more workers and consumers with an ever widening middle class that is ready to spend.

“…by 2030 the world will have four major economic players. China will be the heavyweight, with a share of global GDP around 24 percent (measured at purchasing power parity). Next will be India, the European Union and the United States – each with 10 to 12 percent of the global output. Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan will each control a little more than 3 percent of global GDP.”

Should this fact worry the United States? Not at all. It is great news. For one, the average Chinese or Indian will one day be able to buy more products from the United States. With more money flowing into America, there will be more jobs created and more services needed. Second, countries with large economies love trade agreements – allowing them to easily import and export. This increases alliances and decreases the risks of wars. Thirdly, with greater partnerships with other countries, the United States can reduce military spending and focus more on improving quality of life measures for her citizens (health care, infrastructure, worker benefits, etc.).

Now what about all the worries of immigration and jobs being taken by the “rest” of the world.

“…US offshoring may have been responsible for a 1.6 percent decline in manufacturing jobs over the period 1997 to 2007, but the impact on long-term productivity may actually increase employment (which may also be better paid). The idea is that firms save money by offshoring, which, by allowing them to sell more for less, increases both their own revenues and the revenues of those that purchase the goods they sell. As a result, they can hire more people, or their shareholders have more money to buy goods and services from other Americans.”

Yes, America has lost jobs overseas but the economy as a whole has benefited immensely from affordable goods and greater domestic purchasing power – the result being a net increase in job creation. So what about jobs at home being taken by immigrants? The United States attracts some of the best and brightest students from around the world. Our universities, with the help of foreign students, foster innovation that continues to make America a leader in patents and technology. Immigrants are vital to our growing economy, because as earlier explained, the number of people in a country is one of the biggest factors in economic health. With an aging population and a decreasing birth rate, the United States should be happy to take all the skilled labor she can get. What about the “illegal” immigrants? Shouldn’t we build a wall? It was found that immigrants from Mexico do not take jobs from Americans but rather help create new jobs (click here for clear example). By paying less for labor, businesses have more money for investments, purchases, and new job creation. Furthermore, between 2009-2014 there was net loss of Mexicans leaving the United States. This is due to an improving Mexican economy and better family reunification programs. It was found that increased border control actually increased the number of illegal immigrants in the country; due to the fact that it was harder for Mexicans to reenter their country.

All of this points to the need for more investment and economic teamwork throughout the world. We should not become a isolated country that is afraid of immigrants or the success of other countries. We need to remember that immigrants founded this country and that the rise of the rest is good for the west. If you liked this article please a related post, The World is Flat.

 

The Last Samurai

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My wife and I are planning a trip to Japan for August 2017. It is a celebratory occasion because that month will mark my wife’s completion of her doctoral program to be a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Christina is working her butt off to finish this degree and I personally feel a lot of the stress that emanates from her little body. School by itself is terrible, but to make matters worse she is studying, working, and interning at the same time. I thought that I wanted to go back to school to study History or Religion but I have come to my senses and just want to keep writing my blog posts. To prepare for my trip, I wanted to read more about Japanese History-leading me to read The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigō Takamori.

Saigō Takamori was born in 1828 to a Japan that was on the cusp of national change. Japan was divided into classes of status that essentially preordained a person’s role in life. One of those classes included samurai, which in Japanese translates to, “those who serve in close attendance to the nobility.” Samurai only made up about 10% of the Japanese population and were trained in military skills for the protection of their clan or lord. Many samurai lived on menial stipends and practiced farming to make ends meet. Think of Samurai as the Army Reserves-loyal fighters who could be called to service at anytime. During most of Saigō’s lifetime, Japan was divided between domains that were somewhat autonomous-samurai did not fight for the “nation” of Japan but rather the lord of their domain. A similar situation can be seen in the US during the Civil War-Robert E Lee fought for his “domain” of Virginia over that of the “nation” of the United States. Samurai were taught to have the utmost virtue in obeying their lord and it was common practice to use ritual suicide if they were wounded/defeated in battle or if they were disobedient in their service.

Saigō, during his adult life, was used by his Lord to ascertain political information in the modern day city of Tokyo. This job led Saigō to make many important connections and would subsequently get him exiled two times because of political fallout related to his Lord. While in exile, Saigō’s popularity in Japan soared and on his return he was one of the most well known individual’s in the country due to his resiliency, virtue in service, and overall strength. Saigō was influential in helping Japan convert a divided island of domains into a united modernized country. Japan had to change their political system because western countries, like America, were much stronger militarily and Japan felt threatened by the tides of modernization crashing upon its shores. The Meiji Restoration in 1868 brought back imperial rule and drastically changed Japan’s feudal system to a modern-western system. Saigō, inadvertently, helped promote the eventually death of the samurai class and all classes for that matter. After the Meiji Restoration, all people were citizens of a “united” Japan and could move up the ranks of society based on their personal successes. In 1877, Saigō led a rebellion against the central government because of oppressive military policies against his domain. This was one of the last stands of a samurai class that was “technically” no more. In the end, Saigō was killed but was turned into a national hero because of his moral acumen against corruption, his unfaltering leadership, and his status as Japan’s “Last Samurai.”

 

 

 

The General, The Tank, The William Tecumseh Sherman

After quite a long moving process, I am finally settled into my “Moby Dick” house and quite happy. The process of furnishing, organizing, and copious hours of cleaning left me without much time to read or write. Thankfully, the project is winding down and I have been masterfully avoiding my wife’s “To-Do” list that was placed on the refrigerator like a black spot of death. Tomorrow, I am going to a Civil War reenactment in celebration of the 150th anniversary since the bloody war ended at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th, 1865. My high school education on the Civil War was quite shallow and I believe we spent about a week on the entire subject. Desiring to expand my knowledge before the reenactment, I checked out Fierce Patriot:The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L O’Connell. I picked this book up because the cover looked cool and I knew absolutely nothing about General Sherman and his role in the Civil War.

Sherman was a West Point graduate with fiery-red hair and a strong sense of pride in the ever expanding United States. He took many different jobs throughout the country and displayed a sense of desire for adventure and career advancement. When very young, his father died and was subsequently adopted by the wealthy Ohio senator-Thomas Ewing. He ended up marrying his foster sister Ellen Ewing but spent most the time away from her because she preferred being in Ohio with her father. Sherman was first appointed to colonel of the 13th U.S. Infantry regiment and with his brave performance at the First Battle of Bull Run was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers by Abraham Lincoln. After a nervous breakdown and a bout of mental illness while in Kentucky, Sherman was able to find his military-sweet spot working under Grant’s command in the battles of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta among others. Sherman is best known for his fierce psychological warfare against the south in his March to the Sea campaign. After burning most of Atlanta, Sherman marched through Georgia foraging, burning, and looting civilian property. This march culminated with the capture of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina-both capitols burned and ransacked to crush all confederate hopes. Sherman was a strategic genius and ushered in a new era of warfare in which civilian supporters were fair game in the hazards of war (think Hiroshima during WWII). Beyond just strategy, Sherman was a gregarious general who was given the nickname “Uncle Billy” because he was extremely approachable and friendly to all his soldiers. His later life was filled with a celebrity untainted by the smearing affects of politics (unlike the fate of Ulysses S. Grant) and a quite prominent career completing the transcontinental railroad.

Sherman by no means was not a perfect man: black equality was not a concern to him, he wanted all the buffalo extinct so that the Native Americans would be forced to move to reservations, and he had a fair share of affairs with various women. I admire Sherman in his career accomplishments more then his personal accomplishments. The man knew how to get the job done and was extremely confidant in himself while not being overly pretentious. Thankfully, he had a strong desire to keep the Union together because if he fought for the Confederacy the outcome of the Civil War may have been different; this being a strong possibility because he actually was the founder of a military school in Louisiana when the war first broke out. Sherman in the end helped shape the physical and ideological America we know today-uniting North, South, East, and West with an uncompromising vision of progress.

A Shadow of the Dead in the Concrete Wall: Hiroshima August 6th, 1945

At 8:15 AM on August 6th, 1945 the first ever atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” detonated above the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The blast ended up killing an estimated 100,000 people in the city either from direct force, indirect injuries, or radiation poisoning. In addition to the dead, over 100,000 were left injured and exposed to radiation which would wreak havoc on their life-long health. The book Hiroshima by John Hersey is a morose but real look on the effect of that fateful day for those in the city and their lives thereafter. The book is full of gruesome anecdotes about the aftermath of the bomb. One was about a group of officers who were looking towards the light created by the explosion-their faces burned instantly and the eyes melted leaving empty-bloody sockets. The light that was created from the reaction was so intense that it discolored the concrete in the city. This discoloration created the effect of preserving the shadows of certain individuals in the cement facades; shadows of people painting and riding horses at the very moment they were disintegrated. Holy cow! These facts truly scare me and make me realize how much I never wish to experience a nuclear bomb. 

The radiation sickness that resulted from “Little Boy” caused terrible scarring, infertility, cancer, malaise, decreased life span, decreased immunity, stomach pain, awful bouts of headaches, and countless other ailments. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were known as Hibakusha which literally means “explosion-affected people.” The Hibakusha were not given any health assistance by the government until 10 years after the bombings. Overall, it was not a great honor to be a Hibakusha. It was difficult to find a husband for female survivors and male survivors often were stricken with malaise that prevented them from steady work. The survivors, in a way, felt guilty for not dying because those, who did meet their demise, provided the greatest sacrifice for their country. 

The ultimate question is whether the atomic bombs were necessary and/or ethical? First off, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were major wartime manufacturing cities which were crucial for Japanese military production. The rationale by the United States was that bombing these cities was ethical because the civilians were involved in the advancement of war and hence were pseudo-military. If the atomic bomb did not work, the US would have to invade Japan which had an estimated soldier death toll of 5 to 10 million (between the Japanese and the Allies). The US also gave multiple opportunities for the Japanese to surrender-warning that complete destruction would come if they did not oblige. Furthermore, the long-term effects of radiation sickness were not well known at the time and President Truman was known to be a strong detractor of chemical warfare. The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in my opinion were the only way to psychologically kill the pride of the Japanese Empire. The Emperor would not surrender to the Allies through conventional warfare and that is why the complete threat of atomic destruction was necessary. Although I believe that the A-bomb was ethical, in this specific situation, I do disagree with war in general. War is fought by young men at the hands of old prideful politicians. I wish there were no bombs or guns. If only we used our brains and the knowledge of the past so the pursuit of power would not result in the deaths of millions of people.