Thursday, June 26, 2014


            As the first President of the United States of America stood before an admiring public in New York City to share his thoughts on his inaugural day on April 30th, 1789, he said “There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness.”  Retired General George Washington then went on to explain what his administration would be all about: “Our national policy will be laid in the powerful and immutable principles of the private morality of its citizens”.
            One of my favorite series of lectures on our nation’s founding, given by Professor Daniel N. Robinson of Oxford University is in fact titled American Ideals: Founding a “Republic of Virtue”.
The word virtue as used here, and understood by our founding fathers, referred to the individual character of people willing to set aside self-interest in favor of the daily living of Christian (Puritan) principles in the interest of “each other”. For the founders, Robinson says, “there was an inextricable connection among moral freedom, political liberty and that form of self-cultivation that results in a person of virtue.”
            From the first permanent English colonies in 1620 to the first revolutionary gunfire at Lexington and Concord, 155 years of salutary neglect by Parliament had permitted American colonists time and space to grow into a very different people than those first settlers experimenting with self determination and local decision-making by common consent. Reluctant revolutionaries though most of them were, circumstances conspired to overcome a host of regional jealousies and cultural differences in bringing together thirteen often-rival colonies in a loose confederation unlikely – without a series of “miracles” – to incubate into a single nation.
            That all of this happened – including the “miracles” – amazed Europeans, watching from afar. It was this curiosity which brought the young brilliant French scholar and attorney Alexis de Tocqueville to the shores of the New World. Traveling with his friend  Gustave de Beaumont, Tocqueville spends much of 1831 and into 1832 visiting America’s cities and centers of government and culture, and its small towns, villages and frontier fringes hoping to learn something about that infant democratic experiment which might prove meaningful to the “revolution” going on in France. His astute and far-reaching observations would see light in his two-volume study, Democracy in America, published in France in 1835 and 1840. (It has been said that these works constitute “the best book ever about America”, and “the best book ever about democracy”.)

:      Still intact today, an original hand-written manuscript page of Tocqueville’s notes on 19th Century                                  America.                                                                    Courtesy Yale University Rare Book Library

            Among Tocqueville’s observations was that in America, democracy trickled “up” rather than “down”, beginning with the people, who were long accustomed to participating in local and regional government up close. There, he opined that the jury system likewise played an important role in familiarizing the population with the justice system in a very personal way; virtually every adult having served on a jury and being immersed in what we so oft-handedly describe as “the rule of law” at work. He was further impressed by the presence of three important and revealing objects he would find in every home he visited, whether a town house or a pioneer cabin: an axe, a bible, and a newspaper. Americans were accustomed to hard work, were invested in their religious faith and were educated and informed. (Frontier Americans as a matter of fact read more books each year than their “cultured” cousins in London by more than one account of the time.)
            Tocqueville was quick to notice that unlike European church-goers, Americans – regardless of specific denomination – took their faith very personally, assuming the view that every person had the right to speak to, and seek help and inspiration directly from their God. The relatively-smaller Jewish enclave in the young Republic was no different.
            In the end, the perspicacious Alexis de Tocqueville doubted that the unique form of democratic freedom which had developed in America could be easily duplicated anywhere else. And as we observe one more Independence Day, it is worth reminding ourselves that most of our founding fathers worried that with the feared growth of factionalism and a diminution of that personal and individual morality Washington so cherished, our Republic of virtue might one day itself be at risk.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014



            If asked to name one of the most important, but under-celebrated, American Military leaders of all time, I would posit that Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold is such a figure. Born in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania to a farm family on June 25, 1886, “Harley”, as he was known to his Physician father and other family members entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at the Age of 17, fulfilling a family tradition of military service.
            Commissioned into the Infantry and serving in that department of the U.S. Army for a time, he caught sight of the French pilot Louis BlĂ©riot flying his fragile monoplane while passing through Paris. The spark ignited by that exposure led to the young officer’s request for transfer to the Signal Corps where initial interest in military aeronautics occupied a tiny compartment. Traveling to Dayton, Ohio where the Wright Brothers held classes, the young Lieutenant became one of the first members of the U.S. Army to earn “wings”, being issued Military Aviator certificate No. 2 flying the Wright Model B biplane under the guidance of Wilbur himself.
            Even after the close of World War I – in which Henry helped to shape the infant “flying service” but only got to France himself at the tail end – U.S. Generals and Admirals steeped in long tradition saw only a minor future role for aviation. An early disciple of the outspoken Billy Mitchell, Arnold developed a clear-cut vision of that future, with an almost-devout belief that the victor in any future conflict would  be the protagonist able to gain and maintain air supremacy.
            Unlike Mitchell whose views (later to be proven correct) got him ridiculed by his military foes and finally court-marshaled, Hap Arnold took a different route. With his winning personality, and surrounded by a carefully-crafted network of close friends, like Carl “Tooey” Spatz, Ira Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle, (all of whom were destined to play key roles in the war to come), he quietly carried out a marketing campaign designed to foster a national interest in aviation and the field of aeronautics, and a cadre of recruits for the small but dedicated band of flyers who became the backbone of the Army Flying Corps. With a life-long interest in science and engineering, he made friends with the likes of William E. Boeing, Glen Martin and Donald Douglas, absorbing a keen knowledge of aircraft design and manufacturing, believing that a healthy and vibrant aviation industry was an essential ingredient in the   military capabilities necessary to hold the winning cards in any future conflict.
            These friendships were deep and abiding, and in my view answer the question of how one man was able to accomplish so much in so short a military epic. One of his closest and most enduring friendships was with the man who would become the U.S. Army Chief of Staff and later Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, without whose confidence and support, World War II in the air might have played out very differently. And in the case of Donald Douglas, whose airplanes changed aviation for ever, his daughter would later become the bride of Arnold’s son William Bruce Arnold.
            General Henry “Hap” Arnold was in command of the U.S. Army Air Corps at the outbreak of WWII, and thanks to his foresight, the Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” and B-24
“Liberator” 4-engine bombers were rolling off America’s assembly lines, a reflection of his belief that only by the destruction of an enemy’s industrial capacity would defeat “on the ground” take place. It was Arnold whose imagination spawned the timely Doolittle Raid on Japan at a time when the Allies had tied themselves to a “Europe First” war strategy, and whose commitment to the doctrine of “Daylight Precision” bombing eventually led to the destruction of Germany’s war-making infrastructure, a concept “vetoed” by Winston Churchill but “saved” by its author’s personal persuasiveness in a fierce meeting with the British wartime leader. It was Arnold who fostered the design and construction of the B-29 “Super Fortress” whose utter devastation of Japan’s industrial, manufacturing and transportation resources had spelled the end for the Rising Sun Empire even before the dropping of atomic weapons by those same B-29s.
            By war’s end, the USAAF was flying 63,715 aircraft, and five-star General of the USAAF “Hap” Arnold commanded nearly two-and-a-half million uniformed men and women. That part of his legacy of which he would have been most proud was the creation of what stands even today as the world’s “largest airline”, with 10,456 transport aircraft flying regular passenger and cargo service between bases and depots on six continents.

            The most cherished of all Arnold’s wishes would come true after his retirement, when in September, 1947 a new and independent United States Air Force would be given official life. He would come out of retirement long enough to be presented with a new blue uniform, and to be named General of The Air Force with a five-star rank; the only American officer to have held such rank in two services: General of The Army, and General of The Air Force.
            There was one battle even this warrior could not win. His relentless workload and endless world travel took a heavy toll, with four heart attacks chalked up along the way. General Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold lost his life, every bit a casualty of war, at his ranch in Sonoma, California on January 15, 1950 at the age of 63
            . [Every time I look at my own blue uniform, issued first  in 1950 and hanging proudly in my closet, I whisper a word of thanks to this “god father” of so many of us who have called The U.S. Air Force “Home”.]

Thursday, June 12, 2014


            Like the old argument about chickens and eggs, one sometimes hears a similar rhetorical discussion about the relative supremacy of roots and branches. Being both a would-be orchardist and lover of trees, and a father, grandfather and great grandfather, I find the implications not just fascinating, but profound. A not-so-long-ago experience brought me some new insights on the subject which may be worth sharing.
            It was a warm New England Summer day, and random circumstances made it possible for us to make a visit to a weathered white farmhouse on a green hill overlooking the Vermont village of East Braintree (also known as Snowville). We were connected by marriage and long, enduring friendships to the family for whom this place was “home”. Some of them had been school-mates and even class-mates, and one of them was my sister-in-law. Because the matriarch of this family had just marked her 103rd birthday, we were met by numerous members of the extended clan. As we joined them beneath the spreading mantle of the huge tree which dominated the home’s front lawn, I counted five generations in happy attendance, including one 83-year old daughter of Grandma Jarvis who danced for us.
            After paying our respects to the now bed-confined, but thoroughly lucid and even exuberant grand dame, obviously thrilled to be surrounded by her family and loved ones, we repaired to the picnic table situated in the shade of the old tree. Sitting there and listening to the happy memories being recounted by the assembled offspring of that one, pioneering family, I was struck by the significance of the occasion, and the very place in which we met.
            Grandma Jarvis had been born Blanche Alta Carpenter on May 7th, 1897 in the nearby town of Randolph, shortly after William McKinley had been inaugurated as the nation’s 25th President, and as the first shipment of Yukon gold was about to ignite the great gold rush of 1898. Since that time – except for a few brief years – she had lived in this same white farmhouse, overlooking these same green fields and wooded hilltops. In this same home, she had given birth to all but two of her nine children, and it would be here that she would finally pass from this world just a few months short of her 105th birthday, having lived to see the closing days of the 19th century, the war-torn years of the 20th, and the birth of the 21st. In all, she would have seen the reins of government pass between the hands of eighteen Presidents and witness the assassinations of two of them.
            For the last twenty-seven years of her life, Grandma Jarvis would live as a proud and independent widow, continuing to work the family farm and milk her herd of cows right up until the age of 96.
            And then there was the tree.
            To mark her 16th birthday in May of 1914, as Europe began to slip into World War I, Blanche was presented with an unusual gift: a young tree. A Carolina Poplar to be exact, and I can picture the occasion as the family gathered to see its planting, right there in the front yard of the Jarvis homestead, under a Vermont summer sun, much like the one shining down on our celebratory gathering nearly nine decades later. Now it took eight of us adults, joining hands to circle the tree’s circumference, a distance measuring twenty-three feet, eight-and-three-quarters inches. Now, Blanche Alta Carpenter Jarvis was the mother of nine, grandmother of 31, great-grandmother to 54, and great-great grandmother to another 9!
            My mind was filled with a picture of all the history which had passed during the life of that tree, and that of the lady now lying in that faded farmhouse, and the way in which their lives had been linked together. The tree somehow surviving years of summer drought and winter blizzard, its roots tapping into unseen sources of strength, and Grandma Jarvis, whose life straddled three century marks and whose branches reached now across generations of human time.