Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Great Jackasses of History


Are there any historical folks that you just can't stand?  One of these days I plan on writing a book called Great Jackasses of History in which I will write about some of the ones that I despise.  However, I see no reason why not to give a brief preview of my thoughts on the matter here.  I do know that one man's jackass is another man's hero and so I'm sure this post might offend some and make others very happy.  Spare me the hate mail.  This is just my opinion.  You are welcome to start your own blog devoted to worshiping the people that I think are jackasses if you are so inclined.  Seriously.  Go ahead.  Blogger is waiting for you as are legions of adoring fans.  Well, maybe.

I believe I should first give you the criteria that I have used.  This is not a list of evil people.  Hitler, Stalin, Himmler are not jackasses.  I have another term for them but I do not use that term in mixed company.  This is a list of stubborn, arrogant, contemptible, or otherwise unlikable people.  

Shall we begin?  I'll list them in reverse order with the biggest jackass (who will grace the cover of my book) last on the list.  No cheating and skipping ahead!  If you do, you'll end up having to work for a jackass or have one as your history professor.

5.  Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery

I can already hear an angry chorus of voices (with English accents) raised in protest over his inclusion on the list.  I do not seek to take away anything from his military accomplishments.  However, Montgomery was arrogant and a Machiavellian schemer.  Not to mention, in his memoirs he attacked many of his former comrades, including General Eisenhower.  The Operation Market Garden fiasco was his idea.  He convinced Eisenhower to adopt his plan and then the British went ahead with it despite evidence that there were German tanks in Arnhem.  So yes, General Montgomery was a jackass.

4.  Alexander Hamilton

Today, I think you would be hard pressed to find an American who would support revoking the Bill of Rights.  Not so for Mr. Hamilton.  This is what he had to say on the topic in The Federalist 84.  "I go further, and affirm, that Bills of Rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous."  The Bill of Rights is dangerous?  Say it ain't so, Mr. Hamilton!  This is the same guy who argued with James Madison over the concept of a National Bank and insisted that it was an implied power.  Madison, the Father of the Constitution, said it wasn't.  Hamilton said "I know what you meant when you wrote it, Little Jimmy."  Or something to that effect.

And for added jackassery, we have the affair.  Hamilton, who was married, had a three year long affair with Maria Reynolds, also married.  When her husband found out about it, he approached Hamilton and told him that he would allow Hamilton to continue the affair if he paid a certain amount of money each month.  Hamilton did.  So just to be clear on this, he paid a guy so that he could sleep with the guy's wife.  That, dear friends, is the mark of a jackass.  When Maria Reynolds finally filed for divorce, her attorney was none other than Aaron Burr!  Burr would later ensure that Dick Cheney was not the first Vice President to shoot someone.

3.  General Benjamin F. Butler

Maybe it isn't really his fault.  After all, Lincoln made him a general for political reasons, not because Butler had any real military background.  When he landed in New Orleans, he immediately grew unpopular with the citizens.  One of their favorite pastimes was to empty their chamber pots from a second story window onto the heads of unsuspecting Yankees.  All is fair in love, war, and fecal matter, after all.  In response, Butler issued General Order Number 28 which stated that any female inhabitant of New Orleans who in any way insulted the United States or any Union soldier or sailor would be treated "as a woman of the town plying her avocation."  In other words, she would be treated as a prostitute.  This drew outrage from near and far, including in Europe.  To further his war on freedom of speech, Butler also shut down newspapers and had a man hanged for tearing down a United States flag.  Historians have speculated that the fortune that Butler acquired during the war came from his conducting an illegal cotton trade in New Orleans because no other source for it is known.  Rumor has it that he also stole silver spoons from wealthy mansions in the city giving rise to his nickname, "Spoons" Butler.

His time as the military commander in New Orleans was immortalized by the citizens of that fair city when they started making chamber pots with his likeness in them.  What better way to show your......affection......for General Butler!  I'd really like to get an original one.  That would be quite the conversation piece to have on the bookshelf.  I wouldn't use it, of course.  Well, probably not.

2.  Oliver Cromwell

I don't consider Cromwell a jackass for anything that he did in England.  But a lot of people don't realize what he did in Ireland.  After sacking the town of Drogheda, Cromwell called it "the righteous judgment of God on these barbarous wretches."  He instituted a policy in Ireland of forced evictions.  Irish men, women, and children were sold into slavery in the West Indies, giving rise to the phrase "To Hell or to Barbados."  Those who refused to adopt English instead of, you know, their own language, were driven into the west of Ireland.  Whole parts of the country were depopulated.  Actually, I should say the Catholic areas were depopulated.  Of course, Cromwell has his fanboys who claim that since he wasn't physically present during some of the atrocities that he wasn't responsible for them.  Well, those armies would not have been in Ireland in the first place had he not led them there.  Others justify it by saying that Catholics had attack Protestants in Ulster before Cromwell's arrival.  That is also true.  But why were the Protestants there in the first place?  They were sent over by Elizabeth to drive the Catholics out of the North.  When the Irish fought back, Cromwell used that as justification to invade the country and attempt to eradicate the Irish people from the face of the earth.  Up yours, Cromwell.  We are still here.

And let us not forget the Irish curse: mallacht Chromail ort.  The curse of Cromwell upon you!

And last, but certainly not least as history is full of jackasses:

1.  General George Armstrong Custer

Why do I consider Custer to be my number one jackass?  His arrogance.  I do not suffer arrogant people gladly.  It is a bad habit, but one I find difficult to break.  I HATE arrogant people.  Be confident in your abilities.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Do not cross the line into arrogance.  Unfortunately, the world is full of arrogant people, many without reason to be.

There are some who consider Custer to be the greatest cavalry commander of the 19th Century.  They are wrong.  Lets us consider the finer points of his jackassery.  First, he abandoned his troops in the field as they were operating against hostile Indians to go and visit his wife.  For this he was court martialed and relieved of duty for one year.  I don't care if you are married to the most beautiful redhead in the world, it is inexcusable for a commander to abandon his troops while they are on combat operations to go and visit her.  That alone should have gotten him kicked out of the army had it not been for friends of his in Congress.  Second, he publicly criticized President Grant's Indian policies while still on active service.  The President is the Commander-in-Chief.  He makes the policy.  The army's job is to follow it.  That doesn't mean that Custer could not have an opinion.  Of course he could.  But don't criticize your boss in public and then go crying to your General when the President won't let you command an expedition, which is exactly what Custer did.

And what then can we say about the Battle of Little Big Horn?  Do you believe in Kama?  I do!  It caught up with Custer eventually.  You know, when your scout Mitch Boyer who spent his life on the plains tells you "I've never seen this many Indians in one place", then perhaps attacking them without support might not be a good idea?  Maybe?  Custer launched his attack at Little Big Horn because he wanted all of the glory for himself and he did not want to share with the rest of the column.  Let us also consider the fact that he was told to wait for the entire column to come up before attacking and he didn't.  We call that disobeying orders.  Custer was pretty good at that.  Sometimes it worked and well sometimes it didn't.  General/President Grant had this to say about the battle: "I regard Custer's Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary--wholly unnecessary."  

I have a framed print of the Edgar Paxson Last Stand painting hanging in my living room.  Any day that starts off with seeing Custer's demise is bound to be a good one.

These are my great jackasses of history.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a half a$$ (not a jackass) historian.  

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