Who Said It? (10.21.2014)

…Aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged ultimately leads to war.

On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced an air and naval blockade of Cuba, following the discovery of Soviet missile bases on the island. This is the New York Times report of the speech.

President John F. Kennedy (1961)

President John F. Kennedy (1961)

“Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Soviet Arms Buildup in Cuba” (October 22, 1962)

The 1930’s taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged ultimately leads to war. This nation is opposed to war. We are also true to our word. Our unswerving objective, therefore, must be to prevent the use of these missiles against this or any other country, and to secure their withdrawal or elimination from the Western Hemisphere.

Audio recording and complete transcript: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum 

The Kennedy Library and Museum offered a special exhibit called “To the Brink” with more details of this dangerous moment in Cold War history.

Pop Quiz: What did Washington want from the British when they surrendered at Yorktown?

Answer: All of the enslaved people in Yorktown who had escaped to the British in hopes of freedom.


Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull (Source: Architect of the U.S. Capitol)

When the British forces under Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington and his French allies on October 19, 1781, the terms of capitulation included the following phrase

It is understood that any property obviously belonging to the inhabitants of these States, in the possession of the garrison, shall be subject to be reclaimed.

(Article IV, Articles of Capitulation; dated October 18, 1781. Source  and Complete Text: Avalon Project-Yale Law School)

Thousands of  escaped enslaved people had flocked to the British army during Cornwallis’s campaign in Virginia in what has been called the “largest slave rebellion in American history.”

They had come in the belief  that the British would free them. Cornwallis had put them to work on the British defense works around the small tobacco port, and when disease started to spread and supplies ran low, Cornwallis forced hundreds of these people out of Yorktown. Many more died from epidemic diseases and the shelling of American and French artillery during the siege.

The African Americans in Yorktown included at least seventeen people who had left Mount Vernon,  Washington’s plantation, with the British, as well as members of Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved community captured earlier in 1781.  They were all returned to their enslavement, along with thousands of others as Virginian slaveholders came to Yorktown to recover their “property.”

The Battle of Yorktown and role of African-American soldiers there –as well as the fate of the enslaved people in the besieged town — are featured in my forthcoming book; THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah (May 5, 2015-Hachette Books and Random House Audio)

“A fascinating exploration of war and the myths of war. Kenneth C. Davis shows how interesting the truth can be.” –Evan Thomas, New York Times-bestselling author of Sea of Thunder and John Paul Jones

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Don’t Know Much About® “Ike”

Born on October 14, 1890 in Denison, Texas, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States.

The greatest hero of World War II as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe and architect of America’s victory over Germany, Eisenhower was sought by both political parties, which hoped that he  would join their ticket in 1948. President Truman even offered to run in second place as vice president if Eisenhower would join the Democratic ticket. He turned Truman down and then ran as a Republican in 1952, winning the first of two terms.

President Eisenhower (Courtesy: Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum)

President Eisenhower (Courtesy: Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum)


Milestones in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Life

October 14, 1890 Born in Denison, Texas

1917–1918 Commander, U.S. Army Tank Training School

1932–1935 Senior military assistant to General Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Army chief of staff

1935–1939 Senior military assistant to General MacArthur in the Philippines

1941 Chief of Staff, Third Army

1942 Commanding general, U.S. Forces in Europe

1943–1945 Supreme commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe

1945–1948 Chief of staff, U.S. Army

1948–1950 President of Columbia University

1951–1952 Supreme commander of NATO Forces in Eu rope

1953–1961 Thirty- fourth president

March 28, 1969 Died at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., aged seventy- eight. (Eisenhower’s New York Times  obituary)

In early October 2014, a planned memorial to Eisenhower in Washington, D.C., which has been the subject of an ongoing controversy over its design and size, received final approval from the National Capital Planning Commission.

Eisenhower at Camp Meade (US Army, Public Domain Source: Eisenhower Presidential Library  and Museum)

Young Eisenhower at Camp Meade (Photo: US Army, Public Domain Source: Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum)

The Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum  is located in Abilene, Kansas.

Fast Facts

✱ Eisenhower was the last president born in the nineteenth century.

✱ Ike played army football, but his career was cut short by a broken leg, and so he became a cheerleader instead. No pom-poms.

✱ Eisenhower was the first president to be constitutionally prevented from standing for reelection following ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment; the amendment originated, according to journalist Tom Wicker, “in the Republican Eighty- second Congress as partisan, posthumous revenge against a hated Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his four terms.”

✱ The last two of the fifty states were admitted under Eisenhower: Alaska (January 1959) and Hawaii (August 1959).

✱ At seventy, Eisenhower was the oldest president at that time; the youngest elected president, John F. Kennedy, succeeded him.

✱ During his presidency, Eisenhower suffered both a heart attack and a stroke, and was temporarily incapacitated. However, news of both health problems was made public, unlike Woodrow Wilson’s stroke. The Twenty- fifth Amendment, which revised and clarified the rules of presidential succession and allowed for temporary disabilities, was not ratified until 1967, and while Vice President Nixon was acting as executive, he lacked real constitutional authority to do so.

Initially dismissed by historians as a complacent, “do-nothing” president who slept through eight years in office, Eisenhower has moved up the ranks in more recent historical judgments. In Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents, he received a “A” grade, although he is most faulted for his reluctance to be more forceful in the area of civil rights.

Read more about Eisenhower’s life and administration in Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents. Eisenhower plays a prominent role in a chapter of my forthcoming book, The Hidden History of America at War: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah (Coming May 5, 2015 from Hachette Books and Random House Audio)

Don't Know Much About® the American Presidents (Hyperion Paperback-April 15, 2014)

Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents (Hyperion Paperback-April 15, 2014)

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“A fascinating exploration of war and the myths of war. Kenneth C. Davis shows how interesting the truth can be.” –Evan Thomas, New York Times-bestselling author of Sea of Thunder and John Paul Jones

Who Said It? (10/13/2014)

Answer: John F. Kennedy

On October 14, 1960, at 2 a.m., Senator John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 10,000 cheering students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during a presidential campaign speech.

President John F. Kennedy (1961)

President John F. Kennedy (1961)

In his improvised speech, he asked:

“How many of you, who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”

Source: “Peace Corps,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library 

“Just two weeks later, in his November 2, 1960, speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Kennedy proposed “a peace corps of talented men and women” who would dedicate themselves to the progress and peace of developing countries. Encouraged by more than 25,000 letters responding to his call, Kennedy took immediate action as president to make the campaign promise a reality.” (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Pop Quiz: When was the Pledge of Allegiance written?

Answer: in 1892 to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America. The original pledge attributed to Edward Bellamy, a minister, read:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Source: US Histoy.org

It did not include the words “under God,” added in 1953 as a reaction against the Cold War threat of “godless communism.”


San Francisco, Calif., April 1942 - Children of the Weill public school, from the so-called international settlement, shown in a flag pledge ceremony. Some of them are evacuees of Japanese ancestry who will be housed in War relocation authority centers for the duration (Library of Congress)

San Francisco, Calif., April 1942 – Children of the Weill public school, from the so-called international settlement, shown in a flag pledge ceremony. Some of them are evacuees of Japanese ancestry who will be housed in War relocation authority centers for the duration (Library of Congress)


This photograph is attributed to Dorothea Lange, the famed photographer, who died on October 11, 1965.

For more on Columbus Day, see my previous post “The World is a Pear.”

The World is a Pear: Columbus Day 2014

(Video edited and produced by Colin Davis; originally posted October 2011)

“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two/Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

We all remember that. But after that basic date, things get a little fuzzy. Here’s what they didn’t tell you–
*Most educated people knew that the world was not flat.
*Columbus never set foot in what would become America.
*Christopher Columbus made four voyages to the so-called New World. And his discoveries opened an astonishing era of exploration and exploitation. But his arrival marked the beginning of the end for tens of millions of Native Americans spread across two continents.

In 1892,  the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus inspired the composition of the original Pledge of Allegiance and a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison describing Columbus as “the pioneer of progress and enlightenment.” (Source: Library of Congress, “American Memory: Today in History: October 12”)

That was the patriotic American can-do spirit behind the Columbian Exposition—also known as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

In 1934,  the “progress and enlightenment” celebrated in the Columbus narrative was powerful enough to merit a federal holiday on October 12 – a reflection of the growing political clout of the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal organization that fought discrimination against recently arrived immigrants, many of them Italian and Irish.
Once a hero. Now a villain. Cities and states around the country are changing the name of the holiday to “Indigenous People’s Day” or Native American Day” to move this holiday away from a man whose treatment of the natives e found  included barbaric punishments and forced labor.
You can read more about Christopher Columbus, his voyages and their impact on American history in Don’t Know Much About History and Don’t Know Much About Geography.

The story of “Isabella’s Pigs,” and the role of Queen Isabella in the making of the New World, is depicted in America’s Hidden History

Don't Know Much About® Geography (Revised and Updated Edition-Harper Perennial and Random House Audio)

Don’t Know Much About® Geography (Revised and Updated Edition-Harper Perennial and Random House Audio)


Don't Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition (Harper Perennial and Random House Audio)

Don’t Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition (Harper Perennial and Random House Audio)


Pop Quiz: Who first used the words “Wall of Separation” in talking about church and state?

Answer: Roger Williams, the dissident minister banished by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 9, 1635.  Williams was told to leave the colony within six weeks. If he returned, he risked execution. He eventually went on to found Rhode Island, with a written constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion, approved by Parliament in 1644.



Williams died in Rhode Island in 1683. Learn more at the Roger Williams National Memorial (U.S. National Park Service).

As Williams biographer John M. Barry wrote:

Williams described the true church as a magnificent garden, unsullied and pure, resonant of Eden. The world he described as “the Wilderness,” a word with personal resonance for him. Then he used for the first time a phrase he would use again, a phrase that although not commonly attributed to him has echoed through American history. “[W]hen they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world,” he warned, “God hathe ever broke down the wall it selfe, removed the Candlestick, &c. and made his Garden a Wildernesse.”

Read more: “God, Government and Roger Williams’ Big Idea” by John M. Barry in Smithsonian magazine




The phrase, “wall of separation between church and state” does not appear in the United States Constitution as many people think. But it was used in a famous letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802.

According to the Library of Congress:

This phrase has become well known because it is considered to explain (many would say, distort) the “religion clause” of the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …,” a clause whose meaning has been the subject of passionate dispute for the past 50 years.

Read more about Jefferson’s letter and the phrase: “A Wall of Separation” by James Hutson, a curator at the Library of Congress

Who Said It? (9/29/14)

“A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined”

President George Washington, “First Annual Message to Congress [State of the Union]” (January 8, 1790)


On September 29, 1789, Congress passed legislation establishing the armed forces of the United States. 

Congress did so rather reluctantly after repeated urging from President Washington.  Adopting the 1st American regiment and artillery battalion raised during Shays’s Rebellion, the uprising that helped prompt the Constitutional Convention, Congress later increased the army  to 1,216 men.

But more than a year later, when Washington delivered the first Address to Congress,  America’s military forces were still practically nonexistent and performing poorly in conflicts with Native Americans.

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

The proper establishment of the troops which may be deemed indispensable, will be entitled to mature consideration. In the arrangement which will be made respecting it, it will be of importance to conciliate the comfortable support of the officers and soldiers with a due regard to economy.There was reason to hope, the pacifick measures adopted with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians, would have relieved the inhabitants of our southern and western frontiers from their depredations. But you will perceive, from the information contained in the papers, which I shall direct to be laid before you, (comprehending a communication from the Commonwealth of Virginia) that we ought to be prepared to afford protection to those parts of the Union; and, if necessary, to punish aggressors…

Full Text and Source: Avalon Project-Yale Law School


In 1792,  the Calling Forth Act  and the Uniform Militia Act required universal military service. but failed to establish a true national militia.

“Switching” and Slavery-A Tragic Connection

Switches, Whips and Chains-The tool sof American Slavery (Image Courtesy of Smithsonina Museum of AMerican History)

Switches, Whips and Chains-The handtools of American Slavery (Image Courtesy of Smithsonian Museum of American History)

IN the tidal wave of commentary washing over the country since Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson was indicted after reportedly using a switch on his four-year old son, a number of commentators have commiserated, revealing similar treatment in their own childhoods. A few athletes, such as NBA star Charles Barkley, have asserted that what Peterson had done was a familiar part of their cultural upbringing.

“Whipping. We do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances,” Barkley told interviewer Jim Rome on CBS’ “NFL Today” on Sunday, September 14.

But where did generations of African-Americans, especially in the South, learn to use a switch?  Anyone familiar with the literature of slavery in the United States will be familiar with switching. Fredrick Douglass, for instance, vividly described the method when, as a teenager in 1833, he was the property of a Mr. Covey:

“He then went to a large gum-tree, and with his axe cut three large switches, and after trimming them up neatly with his pocket-knife, he ordered me to take off my clothes…Upon this he rushed at me with the fierceness of a tiger, tore off my clothes, and lashed me till he had worn out his switches, cutting me so savagely as to leave the marks visible for a long time after…. During the first six months of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me.”[1] 

Of course, Frederick Douglass’s treatment at the hands of Covey was far from unique. Witness this young runaway’s recollection of life as an enslaved child.

"A white woman whipping a slave girl." (Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA)

“A white woman whipping a slave girl.” (Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA)

“Mistress was very strict, and if we did not do every thing exactly to please her we were sure to get a whipping. An old man whipped us on our bare flesh with hickory switches. A school-master named Cleeton, boarded with her, and used to bring home a great many of them and put them in the chimney to dry. He called them ‘nice switches to whip the little niggers with.’ A good many of us were entirely naked and the rest had nothing on but shirts. I never wore any clothes till I was big enough to plough. When they whipped us they often cut through our skin. They did not call it skin, but ‘hide.’ They say ‘a nigger hasn’t got any skin.’ “[2]

In the full spectrum of cruel punishments and discipline meted out to enslaved people, of course, switching would rank towards the less fatal end of the scale –one reason it was used frequently on children, no doubt. To teach them a good lesson.  And the degrees of severity of punishment and discipline went up with the severity of the offense. Severed toes and ears for repeat runaways. Branding and scarring. Execution and heads-on-pikes for insurrection. And, of course, the ever-present lash, as anyone who seen 12 Years a Slave must know. 

While touring through the South in 1854, famed architect and social critic Frederick Law Olmsted witnessed the severe whipping of a young enslaved woman at the hands of an overseer.  

“The screaming yells and the whip strokes had ceased when I reached the top of the bank. Choking, sobbing, spasmodic groans only were heard. I rode on to where the road, coming diagonally up the ravine, ran out upon the cotton-field. My young companion met me there, and immediately afterward the overseer. He laughed as he joined us, and said: ‘She meant to cheat me out of a day’s work, and she has done it, too.’ “ [3] 

The point is that the tradition of “switching” –American Heritage defines it as “Chiefly U.S. Southern” –is a vestige of American antebellum slavery, a brutal form of power and punishment exerted by the strong over the weak, the powerful over the powerless. For centuries, the enslaved people of this country knew the switch, the lash, the cat-o-nine tails and worse. That was what made a “good” slave. That was how a human being was broken.

It is surprising that in nearly all of the recent discussion of “switching,” this “parenting technique” has not been recognized for what it is — a sad, ugly remnant of the violent maelstrom that was American slavery.  This brutality against the powerless is not some biblical rod applied to keep children from being “spoiled.”  It is the cruel aftermath of a system of inhuman treatment that flowed down through generations. 

“We have descriptions,” wrote David Brion Davis in a history of New World slavery,  “of slave children pretending to be drivers or overseers, whipping one another.” [4] (Emphasis added)

Switching is by no means peculiar to African-Americans. Whipping and beating children knows no bounds of color or creed. But carry that idea down over centuries. Children pretending to whip one another. Fathers switching sons. Grandmothers switching their charges –just as they and generations before them had been switched to teach them a lesson. The violence of slavery moving to the post-Civil War era and the Klan’s murderous beatings and burnings. Generations learning that violence was the means of exerting power.

Perhaps if more people, especially those in the African–American community, understood that “switching” is merely a short step in history from the bondsman’s lash or lynching, we might view this form of punishment for what it is.



[1] Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, p. 47.
[2]  Recollections of Slavery by a Runaway Slave (journal title) The Emancipator A Runaway Slave 5 p. August 23, September 13, September 20, October 11, and October 18, 1838 Call number Microforms Serial 1-1308 (Davis Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
[3] Olmsted, Frederick, Law, (Arthur M. Schlesinger ed.), The Cotton Kingdom (1953); Nevins, Allan, Ordeal of the Union (1947); 
Life on a Southern Plantation, 1854″, EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/> <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com> <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/>  (2005)
[4] David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage. New York: Oxford, 2006, p. 199.


Pop Quiz: How many times did Nixon and JFK debate in 1960?



Answer: Four, although the first was the most watched and the most memorable. The first debate was held on September 26, 1960.

Read more about presidential debates in the Smithsonian article: Eight Lessons for Presidential Debates (October 2, 2012) and in Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents.

Don't Know Much About® the American Presidents (Hyperion Paperback-April 15, 2014)

Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents (Hyperion Paperback-April 15, 2014)