August 09, 2019

“Our long national nightmare is over.”

In August of 1974, faced with Congressional hearings, a mountain of bad press and the looming threat of impeachment over the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign.

His official letter of resignation was delivered at 11:35 a.m. Eastern Time on August 9, 1974.

A half-hour later, Nixon’s Vice President Gerald Ford took the Presidential Oath and was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Ford gave a brief acceptance speech that was broadcast live on radio and television.

He acknowledged that he was taking office “under extraordinary circumstances” and urged Americans to “go forward now together.”

He then made a remark that became — and remains — a famous political quotation:       

      “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

Following that, Ford alluded to another famous political quote.

“Our Constitution works.” he said. “Our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

The phrase “a government of laws, and not of men” reflects a political idea that dates back as far as the ancient Greeks.

But it was enshrined in quotation history by John Adams in one of his Novanglus letters, published in the Boston Gazette in 1774.

Written anonymously under the pen name “Novanglus,” these letters argued that Great Britain’s treatment of American colonists violated their rights under British law.

In the seventh Novanglus letter, Adams wrote that “the British constitution is much more like a republic than an empire...a government of laws, and not of men.”

By the 20th Century, British monarchs had virtually no real power.

In contrast, American presidents have many significant powers under the law.

One of them is the power to pardon criminals, both after or even — as Ford showed — before they are convicted.

On September 8, 1974, President Ford announced that he had granted Richard Nixon a “full, free, and absolute” pardon for any crimes he “has committed or may have committed” while president.

Since shortly after Donald Trump became president there has been speculation about whether he had committed crimes that could land him in jail after he leaves office or is forced out by impeachment.

Some political pundits have suggested that Vice President Mike Pence would pardon him if that happens or that Trump might even give himself a pardon.

Either way, whenever Trump does leaves office, those Americans who hate him — and those who are simply tired of the constant heated news coverage and arguments he generates — are likely to feel like another national nightmare is finally over.

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July 22, 2019

“Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

In 1209,
Pope Innocent III decided it was time to crack down on followers of a religious sect that had become popular in Southern France.

Originally called Albigensians, they came to be more widely known as the Cathars.

Cathars were Christians. But they rejected the authority of the Pope and other key aspects of Catholicism, so they were deemed heretics by the Catholic Church.

This apparently didn’t matter much to most people living in the French town of Beziers.

Catholics and Cathars had lived there together for many years in relative harmony.

On July 22, 1209, they were celebrating the annual Feast of Mary Magdalene together, a religious holiday observed by various Christian religions.

Suddenly, the festivities were cut short when an army of “Crusaders” sent by Pope Innocent III  showed up outside the walls of the town.

The military leader of the army was Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman highly motivated by the Pope’s promise that he could keep the land of any heretics he killed.

The Crusaders were accompanied by an official representative of the Pope, a French Cistercian monk named Arnaud Amalric (also variously referred to as Arnald Amalric and Arnauld-Amaury).

De Montfort demanded that the leaders of Beziers turn over the town’s Cathar heretics to him. They refused. The Crusaders attacked.

According to accounts written decades later, as the attack began, a soldier asked Amalric how they would be able to tell which Beziers townspeople were Catholics and which were Cathars.

Amalric supposedly answered (in French):

       “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

Some sources give the alleged quote as “Kill them all, for the Lord knows his own” or as “Kill them all. The Lord knows his own.”

It eventually came to be most commonly paraphrased as:

       “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

Scholars have debated whether Almaric actually said anything like those words.

But there’s no question that they reflect what happened that day.

De Montfort’s army killed virtually every man, woman and child in the town — estimated to be as many as 20,000 people — and burned Beziers to the ground.

The Beziers Massacre was just one of the first of many atrocities that occurred during the Albigensian Crusades.

Over the next four decades, roughly a million more people were killed during those bloody religious conflicts.

Amalric’s infamous quotation was updated during the Vietnam War, when the saying “Kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out” became popular among American Special Forces troops.

That “witticism” was put on unofficial Special Forces military patches, pins and t-shirts that are now sold as “collectibles” on eBay.

More recently, American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan updated the saying again in the form: “Kill ‘em all. Let Allah sort ‘em out.”

T-shirts and bumper stickers using this newer variation are sold on various Internet sites.

It’s disconcerting that anyone can blithely talk about killing innocent people and letting them be “sorted out” later.

But as they used to say in ‘Nam — there it is.

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July 15, 2019

Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise Speech” (which didn’t include the word ‘malaise’)...

On the night of July 15, 1979, in the midst of his third year as president, Jimmy Carter gave a televised speech from the White House that is often called his “Malaise Speech.”

Malaise is a French word meaning a feeling of uneasiness or discomfort, adopted into English long ago.

It definitely fit the timing of Carter’s speech. In 1979, most Americans were very unhappy about an energy crisis that had caused huge lines at gas pumps, spiraling inflation and a high unemployment rate.

Rightly or wrongly, Americans tended to blame the president for those problems.

Polls showed that voter approval of Carter had sunk to 30% — lower than the worst rating of any recent President except Richard M. Nixon or Harry S. Truman.

Carter decided to try to address the country’s energy and economic problems and voter attitudes toward him in a speech that was intended to be part inspiring pep talk and part grand vision. (The full speech is online here.)

Foreshadowing Bill Clinton, Carter said he was a president who “feels your pain.” He also acknowledged voters’ unhappiness.

In the policy part of the speech, he said he was setting a goal of cutting America’s dependence on foreign oil in half over the next ten years by increasing the use of domestic energy sources. And, although he did mention increasing energy conservation and solar power, his primary “solutions” would probably be viewed as shocking by today’s progressive Democrats.

He argued that America needed to increase the use of energy from US sources of coal, oil shale, and gasohol. He said he would ask Congress “to require as a matter of law, that our nation’s utility companies cut their massive use of oil by 50 percent within the next decade and switch to other fuels, especially coal, our most abundant energy source.”

Much of the rest of the president's speech was preachy and meandering. He said it was “clear that the true problems of our nation are much deeper — deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession.”

Carter cited the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, America’s defeat in Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal as some of the reasons Americans were suffering from what he called “a crisis of confidence.”

“It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will,” Carter said. “We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.”

His rhetoric about how to deal with that “crisis” sounds almost Trump-like. He noted some of the great accomplishments of America’s past, then said what was needed was “the restoration of American values.”

Carter ended his speech with words he undoubtedly hoped would be uplifting, memorable and quotable.

“Whenever you have a chance, say something good about our country,” he urged. “With God’s help and for the sake of our Nation, it is time for us to join hands in America. Let us commit ourselves together to a rebirth of the American spirit. Working together with our common faith we cannot fail.”

Unfortunately for Carter, the speech was an epic fail, a widely-panned downer that seemed to blame Americans for causing the country’s problems by having bad attitudes.

However, nowhere in the speech did he use the word malaise.

So, why is it called the “Malaise Speech”?

Carter laid the groundwork for that in an address he gave in Bardstown, Kentucky two-and-a-half weeks later, on July 31. It was essentially a campaign appearance since, at the time, he was running for reelection against former California Governor Ronald Reagan.

In his opening remarks in Bardstown, Carter referred to the July 15 TV speech, saying:

“I thought a lot about our nation and what I should do as president and Sunday night before last I made a speech about two problems of our country — energy and malaise.”

For some reason, the term malaise and the phrase “national malaise” had been floating around in 1979, even before Carter made his remarks on July 31.

For example, in a widely-read article published in the June 1979 issue of The Futurist, Herman Kahn, Director of the Hudson Institute think tank and his colleague John Phelps, warned that the US and other “advanced nations” were facing “a period of malaise” marked by slow economic growth and social clashes.

On July 12, three days before Carter’s televised speech, political pundit and language maven William Safire predicted in an essay in the New York Times that President Carter “will try to transfer the wide dissatisfaction with his own performance into a ‘national malaise.’”

When Carter himself described his July 15 address as a speech “about…malaise,” Republicans pounced on it. It was an egg-heady, foreign word and the speech seemed like a criticism of the American people.

Reagan and other Republicans began using the word derisively and suggested that Carter was wrongly trying to blame Americans for the problems caused by his failure as a president.

Reagan played the malaise card throughout 1979 and 1980. He used it to paint Carter as a snooty critic of America and working class Americans and to make himself seem like their defender.

“There is nothing wrong with the people of this country,” he said in a typical attack on Carter in 1980. “There’s no malaise.”

The “great malaise debate” helped seal Reagan’s victory in the November 1980 presidential election, which he won by a landslide.

It was so effective that he kept using it when he ran against Carter’s former Vice President Walter Mondale, during the campaign leading up to the November 1984 presidential election.

In 1983, Reagan started mocking Mondale by calling him “former Vice President Malaise.” He warned that electing Mondale would mean a return to the type of economic problems experienced during Carter’s presidency.

On election day, Reagan crushed Mondale in another landslide victory.

Today, most people don’t remember or are too young to know about “the great malaise debate.” And, many of those who do know about it think Carter used the word malaise in his July 15 speech.

He didn’t. But because, shortly thereafter, he described it as a speech “about…malaise,” he gave Republicans a term and a theme that helped Ronald Reagan win two presidential elections.

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June 30, 2019

“Houston, we have a problem” — but “failure is not an option”…

On June 30, 1995, the movie Apollo 13 was released to theaters in the US.

This epic film about the near-disastrous Apollo 13 lunar mission in April 1970 was directed by Ron Howard, using a screenplay by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert.

Two lines from the film soon became famous quotations: Houston, we have a problem and Failure is not an option.”

Howard and the scriptwriters strove to make the movie fact-based and realistic. And, for a Hollywood movie, it is.

However, the line Houston, we have a problem, which was also used as the movie’s poster tagline, is a misquote of what was actually said. And, Failure is not an option was made up by Broyles.

Here’s the backstory…

Apollo 13 was intended to be the third landing on the moon by American astronauts. The first was Apollo 11 in 1969.

On that mission, when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface, he uttered the memorable words that have traditionally been quoted as: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong has always claimed that he actually said “That’s one small step for a man...” and that the word a was lost in transmission. A high tech digital analysis of the recording done decades later suggests Armstrong was right.

The commander of the Apollo 13 mission, James A. Lovell, might have said something equally memorable if his mission had succeeded in landing on the moon.

Unfortunately, as Apollo 13 approached the moon on April 13, 1970, an oxygen tank on the craft exploded.

In the movie, Lovell, played by Tom Hanks, tells the Mission Control team at the NASA Space Center in Houston Houston, we have a problem right after the explosion.

That’s close to the facts, but not exactly correct.

As official NASA recordings show, when the explosion occurred, Apollo 13 crew member John L. “Jack” Swigert announced: “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

Astronaut Charlie Duke, who was working in the Control Center that day, responded: “This is Houston. Say again please.”

Then, Lovell repeated: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” He added: “We’ve had a main B bus undervolt [an electrical problem].”

So, although the film doesn’t show Swigert (played by Kevin Bacon) saying the line first, the words spoken by Hanks are very close to what Lovell said.

Soon after the movie became a huge hit, Houston, we have a problem became — and remains— an idiomatic expression used to indicate any type of problem.

The movie line Failure is not an option is not based on something that was actually said by anyone during the tense four-days it took to bring the Apollo 13 Command Module and its crew safely back to earth.

In the movie, those words were put into the mouth of NASA’s Chief Flight Director Gene Krantz, played by Ed Harris.

They certainly reflect the tireless, dogged determination and efforts of Krantz and the rest of the Houston Mission Control team to bring the Apollo 13 astronauts home safely. And, after the movie made the line famous, Kranz adopted it as the title of his autobiographical memoir.

But, in fact, it’s a fictional quote coined by scriptwriter Broyles.

In an interview years later, Apollo 13 Flight Dynamics Officer Jerry Bostick, recalled his memory of the origin of the phrase.

Bostick said:

In preparation for the movie, the script writers, Al Reinart and Bill Broyles, came down to Clear Lake to interview me on ‘What are the people in Mission Control really like?’ One of their questions was ‘Weren’t there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked?” My answer was ‘No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution.’ I immediately sensed that Bill Broyles wanted to leave and assumed that he was bored with the interview. Only months later did I learn that when they got in their car to leave, he started screaming, ‘That's it! That’s the tag line for the whole movie, Failure is not an option. Now we just have to figure out who to have say it.’ Of course, they gave it to the Kranz character, and the rest is history.”

The explosion in the Apollo 13 oxygen tank blew away much of the crew’s oxygen supply. It also knocked out one engine and the craft’s main supply of electric power.

The story of how the Apollo 13 and Houston crews worked together to find solutions to these problems and successfully sent the craft around the moon and back for a safe landing on April 17, 1970 is truly amazing — and well told in the film.

With just a little less luck and skill, the crew could have suffocated, frozen, been lost in space, or crashed to their deaths.

Fortunately, those failing options were avoided.

The efforts that helped avoid them are memorably heroic. And, the Apollo 13 movie quotes Houston, we have a problem and Failure is not an option have become memorable, oft-used sayings.

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June 18, 2019

Famous war-related and “fighting words” quotes uttered on June 18…

By an odd coincidence, a number of famous war-related quotations were uttered on the date June 18.

On June 18, 1757, at the Battle of Kolin, Prussian King Frederick the Great urged his hesitant troops to attack the larger Austrian army by shouting:

       “Rascals, would you live forever?”

Thousands of those rascals didn’t live much longer. The Prussians were defeated and nearly 14,000 were killed or wounded. 

On June 18, 1798, at a dinner in Philadelphia honoring future Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall, a group of U.S. Congressmen were discussing a recent demand made by the government of France.

French vessels had been plundering American ships in a piratical manner. French foreign minister Talleyrand informed American officials that the attacks would be stopped if the United States paid him $250,000 and gave France 50,000 pounds sterling and a $100 million loan. 

As toasts were made at the Congressional dinner, South Carolina Congressman Robert Goodloe Harper sent his own defiant reply to the French with this toast:

      “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.”

Harper’s famous quote is sometimes attributed to South Carolina politician Charles C. Pinckney, who denied saying it.

Seventeen years later, it was a French leader’s turn to utter famous words of defiance.

On June 18, 1815, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s Imperial Guard, led by General Pierre Cambronne, was surrounded by combined British and German forces at the Battle of Waterloo.

When asked to surrender, Cambronne reportedly replied:

       “The Guard dies but never surrenders.”

The French lost at Waterloo, ending Napoleon’s reign as Emperor. And, historians have questioned whether Cambronne actually uttered those famous fighting words. Some reports claimed he simply said “Merde!” (“Shit!”)

On June 18, 1901, German Emperor and King of Prussia Wilhelm II (dubbed “Kaiser Bill” by British and Americans), gave a rousing speech to the North German Regatta Association.

In that speech, he famously used the phrase “a place in the sun,” a German nationalistic phrase first given notoriety by German Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow.

In 1897, von Bulow had defended Germany’s right to a colonial empire by saying that Germans “demand our own place in the sun.”

“Kaiser Bill” consciously echoed those words in his speech on June 18, 1901, saying:

“We have conquered for ourselves a place in the sun. It will now be my task to see to it that this place in the sun shall remain our undisputed possession.”

Flash forward to World War II, when some other famous fighting words were uttered on June 18th.

In the spring of 1940, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi troops invaded and conquered France, setting up a puppet government under Marshal Philippe Pétain.

French General Charles de Gaulle, and other “Free French” forces refused to recognize Pétain’s “Vichy” government and vowed to fight on.

In exile in London, de Gaulle made a radio address on June 18, 1940, famously saying:

      “France has lost a battle. But France has not lost the war!”

On that same day, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave one of his most memorable speeches in the House of Commons.

After discussing the fall of France and the recent evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk, Churchill noted that Hitler now had England in his sights.

“I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin,” Churchill said. “The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war.

If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

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