June 24, 2004

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Why Does Richard Cohen Still Have a Job? Department)

Can anyone tell me why Richard Cohen still has a job at the Washington Post? He appears to know nothing of history--not even the history he lived through:

Grand 'Oprah,' Poor History (washingtonpost.com): To a large extent, Ulysses S. Grant's presidency was rehabilitated by his memoirs, written as the Civil War general was dying of cancer. Richard Nixon, virtually banished from Washington, wrote book after book from his exurban Elba in New Jersey. Watergate haunted him, as it should have, but slowly we came to realize that he possessed a first-class mind, keenly analytical, occasionally wise. No one could say that Nixon did not have gravitas.

Rehabilitate Grant's presidency? Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant told the story of Grant the general and rehabilitated the reputation of Grant the man. It did nothing to rehabilitate Grant's presidency.

Richard Nixon? Gravitas? From his early claims that Helen Gahagan Douglas did the will of the Kremlin and denunciations of "Dean Acheson's cowardly college of communist containment" (meaning "let's start World War III right now!"); through his commands to H.R. Haldeman to bomb the Brookings Institution and plant evidence that the left had done it; up to his last hysterical intervention in U.S. politics: "The hot-button issue in the 1950s was, 'Who lost China?' If Yeltsin goes down, the question of 'Who lost Russia?' will be an infinitely more devastating issue in the 1990s"--the one thing Richard Nixon never possessed was gravitas.

IIRC, Nixon's estate is still fighting to keep elements of his presidency secret to try to protect his shredded reputation.

Posted by DeLong at June 24, 2004 06:46 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

Regarding Nixon (who was, I believed as a conscription-age male during the unpleasantness in SE Asia, seeking personally to reserve me a spot on Maya Lin's future memorial), I softened on him a bit during the last decade of his life, reasoning that a nation gets the elder statesmen it deserves.

Posted by: Rand Careaga on June 24, 2004 07:06 AM


Sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks in 1968 in order to protect his election prospects wasn't cricket either.

Not to mention Salvadore Allende.

Not to mention Cambodia.

But, hey, burglary, WOAH! That's where we draw the line buddy!

Posted by: james on June 24, 2004 07:07 AM


Nixon was a deeply corrupt man, detested by many (including myself). But if you line up subsequent presidents in a row, minus Bill Clinton, Nixon had way more intelligence and smarts than all of them put together. The same thing is true of Henry the K.

I think we have to move past either/or-think to a level where we understand that people can be highly intelligent and occasionally even valuable to their nation in some way while being venal shits.

Posted by: Bean on June 24, 2004 07:28 AM


Thank you for remembering Helen Gahagan Douglas! Nixon's infamous 'Pink Lady' campaign against her gave everyone fair warning about the sort of man he was.

Posted by: Matt on June 24, 2004 07:37 AM


But enough about Nixon. Richard Cohen reviews a book without reading it - summary judgements aren't what they once were. Yeah, he confused Grant with Grant's presidency. He also confused having something to say with having nothing to say, but filling up a column anyway. His review consists of asserting that other reviewers didn't like Clinton's book. He noted that things he would expect to see in Clinton's book weren't mentioned in any reviews, so guesses they must not be there. Just to keep his credibility, the man lets us know he actually read a few pages. Man, I want a job with standards that low!

Posted by: kharris on June 24, 2004 08:02 AM


At least Richard Cohen has published something over the past 10 years.

Posted by: Chance Smith on June 24, 2004 08:25 AM


Cohen has probably been mailing it in for quite a while. I think he's brilliant when he writes something that's congruent with my views of course but that doesn't happen often. When's he off the mark, he's really bad.

Nixon will never be rehabilited in my estimation. The crook nearly took down the republic in his administration and there's no recovering from putting us in that kind of peril. Until George W. Bush came along, I thought Nixon was the worst POTUS in my lifetime.

Posted by: Mushinronsha on June 24, 2004 08:34 AM


I am shocked, shocked, to find criticism of Richard Nixon going on here.

Seriously, compared to W, the man indeed had gravitas. His idiosynchrasies were even heavy. Give him at least that much.

Posted by: Jim Harris on June 24, 2004 09:06 AM


Speaking of "Grant's presidency"?

Now THERE'S a subject LONG overdue for some historical (AND political/economic) reconsideration and "revisionism"...


"...Much of what has been passed down as an objective appraisal of Grant's presidency more closely resembles the partisan critiques that were produced by a relatively small group of performers [SIC should probably read: "'reformers'"] during the 1870's-- in many ways the intellectual ancestors of the present historical profession. Although such a minority can sometimes be a source of enlightenment, in this case, it has contributed a monolithic picture of a complex era that is about as depressing as it is inaccurate...

...It is the centrality of Reconstruction issues in Grant's political situation that has led to a great deal of oversight by historians. Grant's years in office cannot be understood if the politics of the Gilded Age is separated from the politics of Reconstruction. Both were primary features of the 1870's, and in order to understand Grant's political situation, historians must recognize how fundamental the inconsistency was between the reformers' revered conception of government by the best educated and the notion of black rule in the South, the latter being an essential part of Grant's program. The president's dedication to Reconstruction, which endured even after most national leaders declared it misguided, produced a civil rights record which, according to Richard N. Current, made Grant, 'in a certain respect, one of the greatest presidents' with whom 'only Lyndon B. Johnson can even be compared...'

A look at all of the pressing issues during the Grant administration, but especially Reconstruction, clearly indicates that the portrait of politics during the 1870's as a mere matter of who practiced a less desirable system of patronage and who advocated civil service reform is seriously distorted. The traditional verdict on the Grant presidency does not even begin to appear logical until one accepts the flawed assumption that the corruption / civil service reform issue was more important than such issues as Reconstruction, international crises, Indian affairs, and the multitude of economic matters, all combined. As William B. Hesseltine admits in his definitive study of President Grant, 'Grant's enemies....stuffed the ballot boxes of history against Grant...'"

The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant

(by Frank Scaturro, President of the Grant Monument Association)



...Especially when you consider the "eerie" paralells which certain events in our own time AND what followed his "flawed" presidency...


"In 1876, the two major candidates running for President were Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, and Samuel J. Tilden, a Democrat. The first returns indicated a victory for Tilden, who had won the popular vote with 4,284,020 votes to Hayes' 4,036,572. But Tilden's 184 electoral votes -- the votes that would decide the Presidency -- were still one short of a majority, while Hayes' 165 electoral votes left him 20 ballots away. The votes of three Southern states and one western state still had not been counted...

...The Electoral College controversy would drag on for months, not reaching resolution until almost the eve of the scheduled inauguration on March 5, 1877. To break the deadlock, Congress appointed an Electoral Commission, made up of five Senators, five members of the House of Representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. Congress originally hoped to have seven Republican members of the Commission, seven Democrats, and one independent. As it turned out, however, the actual membership turned out to consist of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. The Commission voted along straight party lines 8 to 7 to accept all of Hayes' electoral votes and reject the Democrat's claims. The night before President Grant's term expired, the Senate announced Hayes had been elected President. The deadlock was broken behind closed doors when Southern Democrats agreed to support Hayes' claim for the Presidency if he would support increased funding for Southern internal improvements and agree to end Reconstruction, thus guaranteeing home rule -- meaning white control -- in the South. Hayes became President and the Southern Democrats could reverse with impunity the gains that blacks had made during Reconstruction.

-- Richard Wormser

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow



Speaking, now, of "'eerie' (historical) parallels", did anybody else here see this in the LA Times this morning?


Look to 1777 and Learn, Mr. Bush

By David Bromwich

Edmund Burke, the greatest British political writer of the 18th century, was a principled opponent of wars and revolutions. Hatred of violence and love of liberty were the central motives of his work, and sudden political change, whether imposed from above or below, from within a country or by an external force, inevitably produced an increase of violence and a loss of liberty. Above all, Burke opposed wars that were entered into from choice and not necessity.

The pertinence of Burke's thinking to the crisis in Iraq, as the United States seeks to impose a good revolution by force of arms on a large portion of the Arab world, requires little comment in view of the startling aptness of his words.

A "Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol," from which all of the passages below are taken, was composed in early 1777...


Posted by: Mike on June 24, 2004 09:11 AM


BUT, since today's subject is Washigton-Posters Who-Richly-Deserve-to-be-Standing-in-the-Unemployment-Line, let the record show that I nominated George Will for THAT "honor".

Indulge me. Insert the word "Muslim" (or "Arab") where George Will uses the word "terrorist" and I think SOME of you MIGHT see what I've been driving at here today.

Hell, you never know, SOMEBODY might even second my motion....


December 27, 2001

Civil war should teach us lesson for Afghanistan

George Will

"America's Civil War provides many analogies by which we measure--and sometimes misunderstand--today's military developments, and American ways of waging war....

...Donald Rumsfeld says his preference is for al Qaeda fighters to surrender rather than fight to the death: 'It ends it faster. It's less expensive.' Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, says: 'This is not a war of extermination.' Such statements are perhaps obligatory and even sincere.

However, is surrender really less expensive in the long run? It is a reasonable surmise that a reformed terrorist is a very rare terrorist, and that the rate of recidivism will be high among terrorists who are forced to surrender but continue to believe they are doing God's will when they commit mass murder of infidels. So, as far as is consistent with the rules of war and the husbanding of the lives of U.S. military personnel, U.S. strategy should maximize fatalities among the enemy, rather than expedite the quickest possible cessation of hostilities.

Many Americans will vehemently reject any analogy between Confederate and al Qaeda elites. But Sherman might have felt vindicated by a postwar letter from one former Confederate general to another, D.H. Hill to Jubal Early:

'Why has the South become so toadyish & sycophantic? I think it is because the best and noblest were killed off during the war.'"


Posted by: Mike on June 24, 2004 10:01 AM


Reporters during the 90s must have been so busy reporting on non-scandals like Whitewater that must have forgotten what the Clinton presidency was really about.

The Clinton presidency was not about the elites. It was about the average American. Perhaps that is why the Washington elites don't get it. The Clinton presidency was not about them.

Posted by: bakho on June 24, 2004 10:19 AM


All presidencies are about elites. Clinton's as much as anyone else's.

Posted by: Mandos on June 24, 2004 10:38 AM


I found a lot of food for thought in Nixon's later books on foreign policy. And the writing was simple and clear.

Posted by: Lee A. on June 24, 2004 10:42 AM


Here's a list of WaPo columnists:

Ranking them would be an interesting exercise. Suffice it to say that Cohen's far from the worst on that list. Not when the competition includes Broder, Will, Samuelson, Novak (not listed, for some reason), and Krauthammer.

Posted by: RT on June 24, 2004 10:55 AM


George Will does not understand his military history and certainly does not understand Sherman. More than any other Civil War general, Sherman adopted modern techniques that avoided direct combat and casualties. Combat deaths under Sherman paled in comparison to the losses sustained by Grant and Lee. Sherman perfected the modern flanking maneuvers used to bypass entrenched defenders.

Sherman disabused the South of the belief that the Confederate army was invincible or capable of protecting its citizenry from the ravages of the Union armies. While there were "gallant elite" still present in the South at the end of the Civil War, Sherman had destroyed the faith of the Southerners in their leadership.

At the end of the Civil War, Sherman did not want it to continue and the Confederate Army dissolve into bands of partisans that would have to be hunted down in an ongoing warfare. Sherman was so afraid of an ongoing guerrila war (after all, he fought in the Seminole Wars) that he gave surrender terms to Johnston that were much to leinient for the Washington politicians. Grant was sent to personally order Sherman to negotiate tougher surrender terms, which Sherman then did.

Sherman had a much clearer vision of succession and its ultimate outcome than any other political or military leader of his time. Sherman predicted that it would be a long war. He was considered crazy for stating that several hundred thousand soldiers would be required to win the war in the West. Sherman more than any other general implemented Lincoln policies. A master of logistics, Sherman understood total war.

Sherman never believed that all the soldiers of the South could be eliminated and killed. Sherman understood that the will of the South to fight must be broken. Sherman was an adamant believer in law and order. Upon capture of Savannah, he did not kill the leaders or even turn out the government (as we did in Iraq). Sherman demanded that the mayor and police stay on the job and maintain law and order in the best interests of the people of the city and the occupying army. Sherman kept most of his troops out of the city.

State capitals as symbols of "illegal acts" and politicians flaunting the law were another matter. The home of Jeff Davis, Jackson, MS, Milledgeville, Ga, Columbia, SC all saw the torch. This was another demonstration that politicians that resorted to violence to resolve disagreement would be punished.

Posted by: bakho on June 24, 2004 10:56 AM


Brad -don't know if you read your comments but this is the only way I know to contact you.

Our local Newspaper rightwinghack David Rhienhard; Portland , Oregonian, used the discredited piece by Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post to attack Kerry -http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/david_reinhard/index.ssf?/base/editorial/1088078272268430.xml.

The Oregonian offers guest columnsby email @-oped@news.oregonian.com.


Posted by: Don beal on June 24, 2004 10:57 AM


The main point about Cohen (just like the NYT's Thomas Friedman, and countless other journalists) is that he's not very bright.

Posted by: liberal on June 24, 2004 10:58 AM


"All presidencies are about elites. Clinton's as much as anyone else's."

Posted by: Mandos on June 24, 2004 10:38 AM


I wonder....

As much as Lincoln's presidency, Mandos?


"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

-- U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864
(letter to Col. William F. Elkins)



As much as FDR's?


"The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S.
since the days of Andrew Jackson."

-- Franklin Roosevelt, November 21, 1933 (letter written to Colonel E. Mandell House)



Posted by: Mike on June 24, 2004 11:10 AM


Here's to second the previous post to the effect that journalists today seem to be a bit dim.

In these dark days, remembering the depths of Nixon's viciousness helps us to recall that the Republic has endured worse than the incompetents currently isolating America, ruining the foundations of our economy and shredding our freedoms.

Read Wes Swearingen's book, reviewed in part as "Some of his stories (i.e., the Bureau's harassment of Jean Seberg) are familiar, but Swearingen is more explicit than most on the FBI's role in the police raid that killed Chicago Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark [killed 12/4/69, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Hampton]and in the framing of Los Angeles Panther Geronimo Pratt for a crime he didn't commit." http://fbilibrary.fbiacademy.edu/Templates/B=fbi.htm

While Nixon's role in such killings is debatable as are the numbers of people who died (http://edwardjayepstein.com/archived/panthers.htm), there is no doubt that Nixon's "law and order" speeches established the environment in which some members of law enforcement felt free of legal restraints. Of course, one cannot entirely blame Nixon, because there were deaths in 1968 as well, but these seem to have been mostly local police actions, while Swearingen documents killings by the FBI.

We don't know about an American citizen assassinated by George W. Bush, at least not y....

Posted by: Charles on June 24, 2004 11:21 AM


To say W is worse than Nixon is, IMHO, very indulgent and/or very ahistorical.

And I've always sort of liked Cohen.

Posted by: james on June 24, 2004 11:30 AM


Ah, geez, not the bogus Lincoln quote about corporations again. Snopes is your friend:


Apparently even Kevin Phillips fell for this one, but it's still phony. Go and sin no more.

Posted by: Rand Careaga on June 24, 2004 11:47 AM


"Regarding Nixon (who was, I believed as a conscription-age male during the unpleasantness in SE Asia, seeking personally to reserve me a spot on Maya Lin's future memorial)..."

Then you weren't paying attention. Nixon inherited 540,000 Americans in Vietnam, very quickly announced his program to begin withdrawing them and replace them with South Vietnamese, and to end the draft.

Which he accomplished. Brilliantly. Anyone of draft eligible age during the Nixon presidency ought to thank their lucky stars for him.

Of course, his economic policy was something else entirely.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 24, 2004 12:39 PM


There's a word for Cohen (in addition to "phoning it in".) It's called "retiring in place". He has that feeling of entitlement based on past work. It's like the columnist job is his own personal property, to do with as he likes. And he's effectively right about that.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on June 24, 2004 12:42 PM


Patrick R. Sullivan loftily advises us that "Anyone of draft eligible age during the Nixon presidency ought to thank their lucky stars for him."

I assume that "anyone" excludes the approximately 20,000 draft age males who died there while Nixon prolonged the conflict for the whole of his first term, accomplishing...what, exactly?

But, hey, viewed against the ninny who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania this year, Nixon was a philosopher-king.

Posted by: Rand Careaga on June 24, 2004 01:08 PM


go to
for a further example leading one to say "Why, oh, why can't we have a better press corps?"

Posted by: Redbeard on June 24, 2004 01:18 PM


Patrick R. Sullivan wrote, "Which he accomplished. Brilliantly. Anyone of draft eligible age during the Nixon presidency ought to thank their lucky stars for him."

Except that many US soldiers still died on Nixon's watch. Not to mention he and Kissinger spreading the flames to Cambodia.

(Rand Careaga: are you sure you have the right number?)

Posted by: liberal on June 24, 2004 02:32 PM


Here are the American troop levels in Vietnam:

1960 900
1961 3,205
1962 11,300
1963 16,300
1964 23,300
1965 184,300
1966 385,300
1967 485,600
1968 536,100

Here's where Nixon takes over:

1969 475,200
1970 334,600
1971 156,800
1972 24,200
1973 50

Here are the KIAs:


1961-65 1,864
1966 5,008
1967 9,378
1968 14,594


1969 9,414
1970 4,221
1971 1,380
1972 300

Any of the usual suspects notice a trend?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 24, 2004 02:58 PM


My cousin died in Vietnam in 1969, and three close friends from high school died in 1970. Several others were wounded or screwed up following 1968. See the trend Patrick.

Posted by: Lawrence on June 24, 2004 04:02 PM


"Ah, geez, not the bogus Lincoln quote about corporations again..."

Rand Careaga on June 24, 2004 11:47 AM


Ah geez Rand, I don't put a whole lot of stock that "that Lincoln quote is bogus" argument.

Yes, I've seen the case for its alleged bogusicity--



--And yes, I know Robert Todd Lincoln--


--SAID he didn't believe a word of it, and furthermore, he had never even heard of William Elkins--



--And no, I don't believe him--


--And YES, I tried--SEVERAL TIMES--to correspond about this matter with Thomas Schwartz: You could put everything HE had to say to me in the space between these parantheses ().

So finally, I'm here to tell both you AND "snopes" (and anyone else who gives a damn about it) one thing FOR SURE:

On THIS subject, Schwartz is as hard to round up as that ALLEGEDLY forged letter he (and Robert Todd Lincoln) wrote so much about...

Posted by: Mike on June 24, 2004 04:48 PM


Short version of Mike's defense of the spurious Lincoln quote:

"I wanna believe he said it because it dovetails with my own sentiments, and nothing anyone from Robert Todd Lincoln forward says will convince me otherwise."

Fine, sweetheart. I can't stop you from promulgating this meme, but I think that you really ought to mention whenever you cite it that its provenance is, to put it mildly, contested.

Posted by: Rand Careaga on June 24, 2004 05:07 PM


Short version of Mike's reply to

Rand Careaga on June 24, 2004 05:07 PM:

Look at the FACTS, sweetheart: Like I DID.

THEN give us YOUR fatuous "sentiments" about MY conclusions.

Posted by: Mike on June 24, 2004 05:14 PM


Of course had Congress not betrayed South Vietnam by cutting off funding for ammunition, there was a very good chance that Nixon's strategy would have left a free and independent South Vietnam. The South lost because its Army ran out of bullets and the Soviet-supplied NVA didn't. And considering the differences between W Germany vs E Germany, S Korea vs N Korea, and Taiwan vs PRC, South Vietnam would have turned out well.

What would be the benefits of an independent South Vietnam today? It would obviously be more prosperous and free than its people are now. No boat people. And probably no Cambodian genocide.

Likewise, a free South Vietnam would have retained American prestige. Would the terrorist attacks and Iranian hostage situation happened if the US had won Vietnam? Probably not.

And if you want to blame anyone for prolonging the war, the correct blame goes to the "well meaning" but ultimately wrong anti-war movement and a panicked national media/elite. The "disastrous" Tet offensive was actually a gigantic American/ARVN military victory. Public perception, created by the anti-war movement, of the war was the only thing that kept North Vietnam in the war. I think archives and interviews of the old North Vietnamese leadership proves that.

Of course, had Tet been seen as a victory, Hubert Humphrey would have been President instead of Nixon.

So than you Vietnam War Protestors for giving us Nixon!

Posted by: Chris Durnell on June 24, 2004 05:15 PM


Chris Durnell recycles the old "protesters lost the war" argument. Haven't seen that one in years. Review about the past thousand years of Vietnamese history and ask yourself, young wanker, whether they'd have rolled over for our clients.

Posted by: Rand Careaga on June 24, 2004 06:07 PM


Mike, without an actual copy of the letter, the quotation is apocryphal. Sorry. This isn't a very difficult concept. And you really ought to say something like "The authenticity of this quotation is severely contested." Always ask yourself this: What would Wikipedia say?

Posted by: Paul on June 24, 2004 06:11 PM


Paul on June 24, 2004 06:11 PM:

Sorry back. Emanuel Hertz--

Abraham Lincoln, a new portrait
ē By: Emanuel Hertz; Abraham Lincoln
ē Publisher: New York, H. Liveright, Inc. [©1931]


--SAYS he saw the letter. He examined LOTS of Lincoln's letters.

Col. Elkin was an old and trusted friend (and political ally) of Lincoln-- Exactly the sort of person in whom a man in Lincoln's position WOULD confide.

I have no reason to believe Hertz lied about seeing the letter (or was "taken in" by a "fraud" as Robert Todd Lincoln would have us believe).

I'd LOVE to see it myself. BUT "the burden of proof", in a case like this, IS AND OUGHT to be on those who ALLEGE the letter to be "bogus". NOT the other way around.

Posted by: Mike on June 24, 2004 06:38 PM



Sorry, but that's just not the way archival history works. The person making the hypothesis against the judgment of the community of scholars has to be able to adduce proof. I'd be more than willing to accept the Lincoln letter, but I'd like to have more than a single source for it. (What if it's a forgery?)

Again, even if YOU support the letter & believe it to be genuine, that's (apparently) a minority position within the community, and should be flagged as such. If, for instance, I said that Bill Clinton ran a drug-running operation out of Mena, Arkansas, academic integrity would demand that, at the very least, I cite my sources and flag the position as "controversial." (Uh, to put it lightly.)

You've done a fair job of putting it to the message board that there was an Elkin(s), and that it's plausible that such a letter could have been written. (I think that what you've shown has proved that there was a lacuna in the Robert Todd Lincoln anecdote.) But it's hard for the rest of us to treat it as established fact.

Posted by: Paul on June 24, 2004 07:41 PM


So Paul on June 24, 2004 07:41 PM:

What you're saying is, in spite of everything I HAVE shown you, since I CAN'T show you the ACTUAL "Elkin letter", it's "okay" for Thomas Schwartz to tell everybody else it's "bogus"?

Posted by: Mike on June 24, 2004 09:06 PM


The most effective Clinton policies had little effect on the elites. For instance, the EITC. It only benefits the poor. Clinton made the top bracket elites pay a higher income tax percentage. That is one reason the elites hated him.

Posted by: bakho on June 24, 2004 09:32 PM


Of course had Congress not betrayed South Vietnam by cutting off funding for ammunition, there was a very good chance that Nixon's strategy would have left a free and independent South Vietnam.

I'm going to give Nixon one plus: his Vietnamization policy was a good idea. It would have been better if the US had done it from 1964.

Unfortunately, he (or to be exact, Kissinger) sold out the South Vietnamese when negotioating the ceasefire. Basically, he ceded the areas in guerilla hands to the rebels. And without telling the South Vietnamese.

After that, it would have been hard for the South Vietnamese to do well out of the affair. But then they had their own faults. They did not run out of bullets: there was about a couple of hundred million dollars worth of ammunition and aircraft that was stockpiled without being used, or even accounted for. Still, they would have enough to keep going until 1976.

The interesting thing about the fall of Sai Gon was that the North Vietnamese weren't even expecting it, at first. They decided to send the NVA into Buon Ma Thuot, seeing if the US did anything. Zilch. Then the South Vietnamese general on the spot decided to retreat down what they assumed to be a "highway", but was more like a dirt track. Being bogged down, the NVA found it easy to defeat. The morale of the South Vietnamese Army just cracked like that...

Posted by: Peter Murphy on June 24, 2004 09:37 PM


Am I Thomas Schwartz? Damn, I thought I was Fafnir...There I am! I was Fafnir all along!!

Excuse me.

If he knows of the evidence you've presented, and he's not qualifying statements he's making now, then he's wrong. He has a duty to say that, in his judgment, this is very likely a forgery or a fraud. If he's not saying this (at least in a footnote), and the best evidence has been brought to his attention, well, then....he's not doing his job.

But without the actual letter, your assertion that there was an actual letter is simply not going to sway the bulk of people who study this subject. In the same way, if I claimed that Theodore Roosevelt was a staunch pacifist in 1898, I'd have to have a very good amount of evidence to prove my point.

I'm not trying to be aggressive here. I think that by showing that Robert Todd Lincoln made a mistake, you've made a good contribution toward resolving this. But it's not enough to point to a few scraps of evidence to prove this. You just need more to support your position--or, rather, to sway others to support your position.

Posted by: Paul on June 24, 2004 11:26 PM


I have a suitable-for-framing historical newspaper with 'Nixon resigns' on the cover. Any takers? Twenty bucks, come on...

Posted by: paper boy on June 24, 2004 11:55 PM


Damn back:
Paul on June 24, 2004 11:26 PM

Excuse ME.

But it's not MY "assertion" that the letter is or was ("real" OR genuine). AND I'm not "trying to be aggressive here" EITHER.

Just reasonable.

Theordore Hertz (deceased) said: There IS (or was) an "Elkins letter". HE included it in his rather exhaustive biography of Lincoln.

Thomas Schwartz (very much alive) came along 70 years later and said (based upon impeachable evidence): There NEVER WAS an "Elkin letter".

DO tell, Paul:

WHY would you (or ANYBODY) in "the historical community" (OR beyond it) "support" Schwartz's version of THESE facts?

Posted by: Mike on June 25, 2004 05:23 AM


a) Because he has a nifty credential which has admitted him into the ancient and universal company of scholars.

b) Because there is, still, no proof.

c) Because there are sources, also apparently credible, stating that Hertz was taken in by a forgery.

d) Because the people who are promoting the Lincoln quotation as genuine are ideologically biased in favor of the sentiments expressed therein.

e) Because the sentiments expressed therein really are very, very anachronistic.

f) Because the sentiments expressed therein are not, apparently, consistent with other, more obviously truthful, pieces of evidence as to Lincoln's belief.

Do you have some kind of personal vendetta against Schwartz?

Posted by: Paul on June 25, 2004 06:19 AM


At the risk of reapproaching the topic I'll second the rehabilitation of Grant.

In fact, there may be grounds for consideration in considering the complicatins of the Reconstruction period and our own plight in Iraq and the world community today.

If for nothing else, Grant deserves our thanks for having helped establish the folk-wisdom that good generals make bad presidents.

We might not even be here to write this if Douglas MacArthur had been able to become president in 1948.

Posted by: serial catowner on June 25, 2004 06:36 AM


"We might not even be here to write this if Douglas MacArthur had been able to become president in 1948"

very possible....

Posted by: Paul on June 25, 2004 06:43 AM


"Review about the past thousand years of Vietnamese history and ask yourself, young wanker, whether they'd have rolled over for our clients."

You only need to review the history of the Vietnam War to see that the North DID roll "over for our clients". The South Vietnamese military soundly defeated the North's invasion of 1972. After which defeat, General Giap was relieved of command, and the North signed the peace treaty.

Only after Nixon resigned under pressure of impeachment did the North try again. Thanks to the anti-war movement's strength in Congress--Case-Church Amendment--Gerald Ford was powerless to help, and that's how we "lost" the war.

John Kerry and friends virtually handed South Vietnam to the Communists on a silver platter. Those are the cold hard facts.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 25, 2004 07:46 AM


"Sentiments" aside, Paul on June 25, 2004 06:19 AM:

The "proof" that's lacking HERE has to do with the "assertion" (or "meme") that the Elkin letter is (or was) a fraud (AND/OR that Hertz was incompetent).

As I noted above:

"...'the burden of proof', in a case like this, IS AND OUGHT to be on the person who ALLEGES fraud. NOT the other way around."


Just to be sure I understand your "f" point:

Are you referring there to ABRAHAM or ROBERT TODD "Lincoln's belief"?

Posted by: Mike on June 25, 2004 07:50 AM


"My cousin died in Vietnam in 1969, and three close friends from high school died in 1970. Several others were wounded or screwed up following 1968. See the trend Patrick."

Hmm, so the U of Hawaii econ dept is comfortable with reasoning that makes 4 deaths out of 50,000 a "trend", but tens of thousands of deaths avoided aren't?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 25, 2004 07:51 AM


Patrick Sullivan: "John Kerry and friends virtually handed South Vietnam to the Communists on a silver platter. Those are the cold hard facts." No, Pat. Those are your warm fuzzy delusions. You're quite welcome to them, but don't expect the grownups to take you seriously.

Posted by: Rand Careaga on June 25, 2004 09:08 AM


Here's a (g) for Paul's list:

g) Because there are no other personal letters written by Lincoln to Elkin.

I dropped by the library and checked the index of "The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln." In eight volumes of Lincoln's letters, there were NO personal letters to Col. Elkin. The closest was a letter addressed to about a dozen military commanders, with Elkin being about #8 on the list, asking who they would recommend as a new Quartermaster. (Also, the index listed him as "Elkin" and not "Elkins," although the latter spelling appears to be the *far* more prevalent spelling nowadays, even in this thread.)

My library, unfortunately, does not have a copy of EMANUEL Hertz's book. Other than these three sentences, what exactly did Hertz say that Lincoln wrote in this letter? That's assuredly not the full text of the letter, but I can't find a full text anywhere online; just the excerpt.

The library does, however, have a copy of Hertz's 1939 book "Lincoln Talks," which is a collection of Lincoln quotes on various subjects. Neither "Elkin" nor "corporations" appear in the index.

Posted by: Loren on June 25, 2004 02:05 PM


"Patrick Sullivan: 'John Kerry and friends virtually handed South Vietnam to the Communists on a silver platter. Those are the cold hard facts.' No, Pat. Those are your warm fuzzy delusions. You're quite welcome to them, but don't expect the grownups to take you seriously."

Sightings of grown-ups on SDJ are few and far between. However, you are invited to offer any evidence of which you aware that contradicts my history.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 25, 2004 02:34 PM


Loren--good find.

The preponderance of evidence, so far, tilts toward the consensus view...

Posted by: Paul on June 25, 2004 03:27 PM


You are too close to Clinton to see his historical role clearly, Brad. Iíd say begin with the Reagan TV miniseries, which CBS canceled after hundreds of thousands of emails and telegrams. The same culture that gave so much attention to Laci Petersen and Chandra Levy dwells on personality and avoids any issues which take more than 20 seconds to explain. The media went way over the top on the Reagan funeral, his pleasing personality and communication skills. Bill Clinton also had unusual personal skills. Neither is a president for the 21st century. Reagan and Gorbachev brought the cold war down more easily than anyone expected, but asked Americans to look back to a Golden Age for wealthy whites, and colluded in mass murder in Central America. Clinton frittered away his personal skills on mostly symbolic victories, never confronting the realities of the modern age, Rwanda, the need to curb Big Oil, instead of doing its bidding.
Grantís autobiography sold well and improved his popularity among ordinary Americans, not among historians. Clintonís biography seems to be selling well, but I doubt that it will win him new friends or even the grudging approval that Nixon received for his many books on international relations.
Nixon was a complex man whom I disliked. He was our last liberal President as Marty Nolan loves to say. Clinton (and Carter)was more conservative than Nixon, as Max Boot said in an LA Times op-ed. Just to refresh your memory about the difference between Nixonís economic policy and Clintonís, Iím pasting in this Figure from Piketty and Saez. You will see that the share of GDP going to the richest 0.1% plunged in the 1930s and stayed down until the 1980s when it began to climb- that climb has continued and didnít slack off in the Clinton years. Clinton was intelligent and personable but no friend of the average man and unwilling to face the realities of a harsh new world. Of course, George W. Bush is much more dangerous than Clinton; my point is that Clinton did many favors for big oil and the upper income people, although he did increase some taxes. The superrich did not gain an increased share in France- in England they had a small improvement in the 90s, but the US differs from France, England and Germany and treats average people less well.
Your software won't let me paste in a figure, but you can find it in Piketty and Saez, Income inequality in the United States 1913-1998, Quarterly J Econ 118:1, 2003 which has many figures and tables

Posted by: Anciano on June 25, 2004 05:37 PM


Gee, Loren on June 25, 2004 02:05 PM:

I'm not an expert on 19th century Illinois Republican intraparty politics OR Robert Todd Lincoln. Never claimed to be. So I won't speculate (here) about why you can't find those "other" Lincoln/Elkin letters, whether or not they exist, OR where you might look for them, if they do.

I WILL tell you this much (again) though:

a) There most certainly WAS a Col William Elkin:


b) He WAS an old (and continuing) friend of Abraham Lincoln:


c) And Robert Todd Lincoln most certainly DID know OF him:


Don't you let HIM (or Thomas Schwartz) tell you otherwise:


Posted by: Mike on June 25, 2004 07:13 PM



First, I'm not sure why you think Col. Elkin's existence is a matter of dispute. My own post acknowleged that he was a real person.

Second, the "Long Nine Museum" link you provide states that Lincoln and Elkin served together in the Illinois General Assembly in 1836-1837. That's 27 years before this letter was supposedly written. It says nothing about their relationship afterward. There was the appointment in 1861, but I see no evidence of an ongoing friendship or correspondence. I've already demonstrated a lack of a letter-writing relationship between the two. What evidence are you basing this "continuing" friendship on?

Third, Paul has already addressed the matter of RTL, and I agree with him. But I don't see this as being as strong a point as you do. For starters, RTL was writing in 1917, some 56 years after the letter you cite. If you're accusing him of lying, it's just as likely that after half a century, he forgot about a political letter written to him when he was 17. We have no indication he ever heard of Elkin again. Also, Gourley's letter identifies Elkin as "a rich man as you well know." Not as a friend, or his father's friend, but merely as "a rich man." This reads to me that RTL knew Elkin by reputation. Gourley's letter doesn't wholly discount RTL's statement that he has no recollection of a "personal friend of my father named Elkins." (And to nitpick, that's technically correct regardless of circumstances, because Lincoln once knew an "Elkin," not "Elkins.") So the most you can conclude is that, when he was a teenager, RTL knew "OF him."

If I were even to try to prove the letter bogus, I'm not sure where to begin. There is no physical letter, nor copy of said letter. As yet, there does not even appear to be a full text of the letter to provide context. How does one *prove* something ethereal to be fake? It can only be done through methods of historical analysis and deduction, which, as Paul has already illustrated, suggest that the quotation is fabricated.

Posted by: Loren on June 26, 2004 12:26 AM


"...I see no evidence of an ongoing friendship or correspondence..."

Loren on June 26, 2004 12:26 AM:

Maybe Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois wasn't (exactly) "the center of the universe" in February of 1861:


And maybe Col William Elkin (being nearly 70 years old by that time) wasn't (exactly) the "center of political gravitas" in Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois in February of 1861 EITHER:


Still Loren, I can't help thinking that Col William Elkin MIGHT WELL have been ONE of the people on Lincoln's mind when he gave his Farewell Address to Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois in February of 1861:



Maybe I'm just naive.

Posted by: Mike on June 26, 2004 03:03 AM


I am a subtitle translator in The Netherlands. I am translating Mel Brooks's History of etc. In this weblog I found the phrase 'When you die at the Palace, you really DIE at the palace', which is a quote from that movie. I don't know the expression, but it seems to contain a hidden pun, which eludes me. Could anybody clarify that for me.

Posted by: Jan Tazelaar on June 29, 2004 12:11 AM


Jan Tazelaar on June 29, 2004 12:11 AM:

Maybe this will help:



"4 a : to cease functioning : STOP b : to end in failure "

(From Merriam-Webster Online)


"...Vaudeville was divided into circuits. A circuit was a chain of vaudeville theatres in different cities and towns that would band together and hire the same group of acts from the same booking agents. The theatres on a circuit would usually all have the same name. Some of the best known vaudeville circuits were the Orpheum, Pantages, Palace, Paramount, Keith, and Hammersteinís...."





"The program cover for Keith's Palace Theater in New York City, the most desired booking in all vaudeville."

A History of The Musical: Vaudeville

by John Kenrick



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