That mad world of blood, death, and fire

Each March, someone on Facebook posts a video of Liam Clancy singing “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” for St. Patrick’s Day. The song’s protagonist is an Australian World War I soldier and its writer is Scottish-born, but Irish singers seem to do it the most justice. Written in 1971, you’d be excused for categorizing it with the anti-war songs of its era. But give it a listen after you’ve spent about 24 total hours listening to Dan Carlin talk about World War I, or read any of the grisly accounts from the era, and the song takes on a much different tone.

World War I was called “The War to End All Wars” because of the near-universal realization that modern warfare sucks. As the song alludes, killing technology has been getting much more efficient in the past century and a half, and WWI was the first chance to observe that trend.

Since World War I, most long-term conflicts have had some sort of moral reasoning. World War II fought Adolph Hitler’s plan for world domination; the Cold War fought the Soviet plan for World world domination; the War on Terror fights jihadis who use radicalized Islam to justify their plan for world domination, and so forth. World War I was, in many ways, a local territorial war that expanded because of alliances and agreements among great powers. For example, if France and Russia didn’t have an “I Got Your Back If You Got Mine” treaty, Germany might not have invaded France – heck, maybe Great Britain wouldn’t have been in the war at all.

When you think about how much of that war was triggered by paper and handshakes, and then read or listen to how ill-prepared the military leaders and troops were for the shift from horses and swords to tanks and machine guns, “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” becomes that much more more sad.

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CPAC 2015: George Washington ate here

Much of the attention CPAC earned came from the annual straw poll results or sound bites from the candidate speeches. I’ll remember none of that.

I made it to CPAC for exactly one day this year, which was luckily all I needed to meet with my “CPAC friends” – fellow consultants, bloggers, or activists who I tend to bump into once a year, only at CPAC. That day was Friday. Late in the afternoon, I realized I 1) hadn’t eaten a full meal yet and 2) needed to go someplace quiet to get some work done. Off to the National Harbor McDonald’s I went, for a Friday Filet-o-Fish and some time away from CPAC, I thought.

I was only partly right: Soon after sitting down in a booth in the nearly deserted McDonald’s, I spied George Washington walk in. As regular CPAC goers can attest, there’s always a guy there dressed like Washington, so there was no mystery about where he came from.

Some of the other conference goers came in after him and struck up a conversation as they all waited for their respective orders. (I eavesdropped, of course. How often do you get to listen in on a conversation with George Washington? It wasn’t rude, it was history, so back off.)

They had apparently seen him join a group of people who walked out during Jeb Bush’s speech earlier that day. Yes, the Washington impersonator replied, he had participated but hadn’t organized it. Curious, the other attendees asked who he would vote for among the Republican contenders.

“Well,” he replied thoughtfully, “Scott Walker is probably the one I identify with the most. I didn’t finish college, either, you know – though I did receive a certificate as a surveyor from William and Mary.”

Surveyor? Suddenly, I realized: He’s interacting with everyone as if he actually is George Washington. Either this dude is committed to staying in character, or everyone in the McDonald’s is going to end up with the title, “Victim of a Bizarre Murder Spree.”  I’m not sitting in a spot where I could dodge musket fire at that point so I listen up and hope for the best.

President Washington introduces himself to a family sitting two booths over. The daughter, Alexandria (“How lovely,” Washington exclaimed at hearing her name. “They named a city after you, you know!”) had encouraged him to join her, her father, and her siblings. During their conversation the Father of Our Country mentioned that he does do school visits. It’s a bit tough to get him though. He explains: “My website is down but it will be up soon. In the meantime, Dr. Franklin gave me this wind whispering device – you speak into it and it carries your voice into the wind.” President Washington hold up his “wind whispering device,” which is a mobile phone. Ben Franklin understood cell phones but apparently couldn’t figure out GoDaddy.

Washington gets up to leave and runs into some more kids, siblings from another family that happened into this now-historic McDonald’s. Seeing their red hair, he pointed out that both he and his pal Thomas Jefferson had red hair in their younger years. “That means you have revolutionary hair!” he told them.

And just like that, he donned his tri-corner hat and off he went; the great George Washington was spirited away by either the mists of the late afternoon Potomac or a Honda Accord – I didn’t get a great look into the parking lot.

You know what the best part about it was? The kids ate it up! Those red-haired kids bragged to their Dad about having revolutionary hair for the rest of the time they were there, just like Alexandria seemed genuinely excited about interacting with a Founding Father. Even while was chowing down french fries or talking with college-aged CPACers who are obviously messing with him, he refused to admit that he wasn’t George Washington or act like anything was amiss.

In the context of CPAC, the guy walking around like George Washington can be a bit of an embarrassment to the younger, comparatively hipper attendees. This year, I was happy he came – even if it was just for a side trip to McDonald’s.

(Since I know you’re wondering: Yes, some of these interactions were with black people; No, the issue of slavery did not come up.)

History Repeating

New Russian history textbooks are drawing criticism for claiming Joseph Stalin acted “entirely rationally” in exterminating an estimated 20 million people. I have no problem with that assessment. If you have a problem with potential dissidents, murder is the simplest and most direct remedy.

Earlier textbooks have called Stalin an “effective manager.” Again, this makes sense; one would have to possess stellar management skills to maintain a system of governance that flies in the face of human nature.

But hey, thank goodness Russians no longer consider mass extermination of opponents a rational and acceptable course of action, right?