History Gives Us Hope

by DL Adams (July 2010)



The following is a speech delivered by Mr. Adams to the New English Review Symposium, “Decline, Fall & Islam,” June 19th, 2010.

The crises of today are not unprecedented. They all have understandable and definable origins rooted in history.


In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Frodo the Ring Bearer says, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf the wizard replies: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”


We here have all decided to take a stand in defense of our country – to learn- to share our knowledge, analysis, and recommendations – though sometimes it seems as if we are standing against an enormous wave.


Our past lights our path.


After the United States declared its independence from England all British naval protections for American vessels understandably ceased. Thus came independent America’s first international crisis; the crisis was jihad.


Attacks by the Barbary States on American shipping – which included capture of American merchant ships, enslavement of their crews and passengers, and the payment of large bribes (jizya) to stop these attacks – would eventually result in the creation of the US Navy during Jefferson’s presidency – and war. The “Shores of Tripoli” in the Marine Corps hymn is a reference to this war.[i]


The feelings of disgrace, frustration, and helplessness that these jihad attacks caused across this country prompted Washington to write to Lafayette, “Would to heaven we had a navy to reform those enemies to mankind, or crush them into non-existence.” [ii]


Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, then ambassadors to France and England, met with Tripoli’s ambassador to England in 1786. They asked for explanations.


The response of Tripoli’s ambassador illuminated a dark world – our world. He told Adams and Jefferson

It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.[iii]

Could this early American experience with Islamic jihad have been to what President Obama was referring when he said in Cairo last June that,

. . . throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.[iv]

 Or, this:

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s story.[v]


So, we are today, much to our dismay, still suffering the effects of this extremely long historical cycle–a long wave of jihad.


But something has happened here in America that prevents us now from learning the lessons of our history, acknowledging again this devastating scourge of jihad (as the founding generation did), and taking appropriate and concrete actions to minimize and defeat the threat.


Our poor national response to jihad indicates a crisis of meaning and values in our culture; the timing could not be worse.


Bad timing is not unknown in American history. Lincoln saw a fork in the road in 1858 when he said in his “house divided” speech, “I do not expect the house to fall –but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”[vi] Lincoln was referring to slave states and free states prior to the Civil War. Today, the situation is uncomfortably similar, we can remain a free people or become dhimmis – we cannot be both.


This ongoing denial of the nature of the ideological and jihad forces arrayed against us–from the failure to acknowledge Hassan at Fort Hood as a jihadist despite the fact that he had told his colleagues quite clearly that he was in fact a jihadist[vii][viii] demonstrates a stunning lack of understanding and a self-destructive view of the world that sees it not for how it actually is but rather how many of us prefer it to be.


The core of postmodernism is the notion that everything in the world of ideas and beliefs is equivalent in value. If all concepts are equal in value what then could be the purpose in defending one idea or concept or belief over another? Post-modernism and multiculturalism are the enemies of knowledge, understanding, freedom, and truth; these failed intellectual frauds must be discredited and abandoned.


The wide-ranging acceptance of equivalence and post-modernism in our culture must result in a kind of radicalized “tolerance.” But there must be also a denial of the truth, and even a denial of the ability to identify “truth.”


The rise of anti-intellectualism is another crisis we now confront, and the politicalization of knowledge which obstructs our ability to understand.


Let me illustrate: Keith Windshuttle in his 1996 book, “The Killing of History” cites a book reviewer in the 1982 “Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism” who dismisses a critic of the post-constructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida, because of

‘his unproblematic prose and the clarity of his presentation, which are the conceptual tools of conservatism.’

If simplicity of presentation and clarity of argument are considered by some otherwise apparently intelligent people as valid bases for criticism then surely we will have great difficulty discussing complex matters of history, culture, religion, philosophy, politics, ideology, etc.


Our inability to think clearly directly relates then to our ineffective response to the domestic and international challenges we face today.


And what of radical tolerance? The philosopher Karl Popper wrote in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945):

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them… We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”


Crisis is not new to Americans.

After the fall of Atlanta in September, 1864 Confederate authorities knew that they could not oppose General Sherman in Georgia or prevent the pending “March to the Sea.” They instead determined on a new bold strategy, they would send the Army of Tennessee north under John Bell Hood to liberate Nashville.

At the time, Nashville was the most heavily fortified city on the continent second only to Washington DC. Wounded in the arm at Gettysburg and suffering the loss of his right leg at Chickamauga, when General Hood travelled on horseback he had to be strapped to his saddle.


Sherman’s response to Hood’s move north was to order the 25,000 man Army of the Cumberland under John Schofield (Hood’s former West Point roommate) to return to Nashville from Chattanooga and join General Thomas (Hood’s former West Point tutor) here in defense of the city. Hood’s immediate mission then was to destroy Schofield’s army with his own 27,000 men before Schofield could reach the Nashville defenses. The great race for Nashville thus began. It would end at Franklin, and finally here – less than a mile from this hotel.


Late in the afternoon of November 30, 1864 Hood and his army marched across the low lying Winstead Hill ridge that defines the southern boundaries of the valley in which the village of Franklin, Tennessee resides. Franklin is 18 miles south of here. Through his field glasses Hood could see that Schofield’s army was entrenched on the outskirts of Franklin, two miles from his position at Winstead Hill. The Union works were formidable with solid 6-feet high breastworks protected by artillery.


Against the advice of his two top commanders Nathan Bedford Forrest and Patrick Cleburne, Hood ordered a frontal assault on the Union lines at Franklin. It was late in the afternoon of November 30, 1864 when Hood announced on Winstead Hill, “We will make the fight.”


For the Army of Tennessee, Franklin and Nashville was home ground – they would do everything they could to prevent the Yankees escaping to Nashville and safety. The battle that followed was one of the most savage of the entire American Civil war, fought almost entirely in darkness.


For the Confederates the attack was not an unexpected decision; for the Union army at Franklin it certainly was. The Confederates were itching for a definitive showdown with Schofield before he could reach Nashville – with the Union army’s back to the swollen Harpeth River and only one functional bridge available to cross – Franklin would be the place. As 100 regiments of the Army of Tennessee formed up for the assault, and Confederate bands began to play, the Union reaction behind the barricades at Franklin was… awe.[ix]


At 4.00 in the afternoon 20,000 Confederates, Americans in gray, in three lines 2 miles long charged[x] across 2 miles of open ground without cover or artillery support into Union breastworks protected by obstructions and artillery. The initial charge at Franklin was larger than Pickett’s famous charge on the 3rd day at Gettysburg and covered double its length of ground. At Gettysburg the largest cannonade of the entire war preceded Pickett’s Charge;[xi] at Franklin the Rebel artillery were still on the road and had not deployed – there would be no cannonade for the Army of Tennessee at Franklin.


The center of this savage combat was the Carter House a private home still today pockmarked with cannon shot, shrapnel, and bullet holes. It is the most battle damaged building on this continent and stands today still on the Columbia Pike 16 miles from this building. When you tour the Carter House, you will see blood in the floors.


13 separate charges were made against the Union lines at Franklin.


Major Arthur MacArthur in command of the 24th Wisconsin Volunteers fought at Franklin. A Medal of Honor winner for his actions at Missionary Ridge a year before, MacArthur would meet a Confederate officer in personal combat in the midst of the hand-to-hand fighting around the house. On the Columbia Pike across from the Carter’s front door, MacArthur was wounded at least twice, the Confederate officer was not so lucky. MacArthur was in hospitals for months. Had he been killed, his son Douglas MacArthur would not have been born.


The fighting tapered away past midnight as the Federal army abandoned Franklin in the darkness for the Nashville works, several miles north of this building. 7 thousand men were wounded or killed in 5 hours at Franklin, TN. Six Confederate Generals were killed including Patrick Cleburne who had proposed in January, 1864 the abolition of slavery across the Confederacy. His last words before the initial charge in which he was killed were “If we are to die, let us die like men.”


The next morning General Hood rode into Franklin in the darkness of the early hours; when he saw the horror of this most costly “victory,” he sat on his horse and cried.


The next day, instead of retreating south, Hood and his less than 24,000 survivors of the Army of Tennessee, despite devastating losses at Franklin, advanced north to liberate Nashville; at least 50,000 Federal soldiers were waiting for them here.


The first Confederate line at Nashville was placed one half mile from here to the east along Woodmont boulevard & Hillsboro pike. On December 15th, two weeks after the battle of Franklin, a massive Union attack of infantry and cavalry driving from west to east – over the land on which this building now stands – shattered Hood’s line less than ½ mile from this building and forced him to retreat a mile south to a new line along Harding pike. There on the 16th Hood’s 3 mile wide 2nd line was attacked at both flanks, front and rear and driven away in confusion, route and defeat.


The Army of Tennessee, the largest Confederate army in the west, was completely defeated here in this city on that day, never to fully recover as a substantial fighting unit. The war would be over five months later.


The men in blue and gray of the Nashville campaign are now remembered for their selflessness, sense of duty, compassion, and bravery.


Men such as these have no confusion as to meaning and values – we should heed their example of definitiveness and be inspired by them.


While doubt and confusion mark the nature of our crisis today it unfortunately does not for those whose purpose is our destruction. 


Omar Hammami is a young man from Alabama with a Syrian father and an American mom. He was profiled in an extensive article in the New York Times in January of this year.[xii]


Omar Hammami went from a boy-next-door American to a serious practitioner of Islam, so serious that he accepted and acted on the Islamic obligations for jihad. He made his way to Somalia to eventually become a leader of the al-Shabab jihad group there.

“Human rights,” he said in an audio recording released by the Shabab last July, is “the Western form of democracy which cannot be reconciled with Islam.”
. . .

“They can’t blame it on poverty or any of that stuff,” he continued. “They will have to realize that it’s an ideology and it’s a way of life that makes people change.”[xiii]

Meaning is fundamentally important; it was important for our heroes of the Civil War and for the founding generation in their opposition to Barbary brutality and jihad. But the loss of meaning and the loss of the ability to discriminate between good and evil, and take a stand against what is wrong to defend what is right is not unknown – it is a constant struggle that all free and just societies must face.

General Douglas MacArthur in a speech to the Texas Legislature in June, 1951 identified the problem as a universal one that faces all free societies. 

“This moral deterioration does not occur through evolutionary change in human thought but rather from the relentless war being waged by a fifth column within the ranks of every free society.”

“This is a far greater threat to the free world than is the advance of a predatory force. Its very purpose is to destroy faith in moral values, to introduce cynicism in human thought, and to transform tranquility into confusion, disorder, and dismay.”[xiv]


The battles of Franklin and Nashville remind us is that ours is a culture of moral certitude, courage, and meaning, and – through the multi-generational drama of the MacArthurs–that the continuity of fundamental concepts of value within a culture is of great, if not existential, importance.  

IF the founding principles of freedom, courage, justice, and tolerance that launched this country are carried across generations as they always have been and should continue to be, we can effectively confront this old enemy now resurgent.


IF we are now engaged in some great new civil war–one of meaning vs. non-meaning; certitude and truth versus post-modernism, cynicism, confusion, dismay, ignorance, and nihilism then the lessons of our past and the examples of our heroes can be our guide to a successful resolution.


It is altogether fitting and proper[xv] that we identify and understand the events, contexts, and people of our past so that our current challenges are best illuminated and understood.


IF we accept once again that some concepts are better than others, that tyranny in whatever clothing or language should be opposed–and if we acknowledge that truth can be known and is definitive–and that every issue of debate is not simply a matter of opinion or of cultural “filters;” that there is evil, and that tolerance for such things is a dangerous vapidity–only then can we confront this great challenge that threatens our societal existence.


John Adams understood this when he wrote in a 1780 letter to his wife Abigail,

I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain..[xvi]


We are all caught up in a great wave of history, a wave that shaped the early years of the United States and now deeply shatters the longed for peace, prosperity, justice, and fellowship that all of us desire.


There must come a time soon in our country when we present a united front of opposition to those ideologies–their slaves and killers, whose purpose is our destruction. Our current domestic national rancor serves the purposes of our enemies but provides us with nothing.


Several years after the end of the War Between the States a former Union officer and survivor of the Battle of Franklin came to Nashville. He requested a meeting with Frank Cheatham, once a Confederate general and corps commander at Franklin. Cheatham warmly greeted his former enemy and said, “Welcome to Tennessee; any man who was in the battle of Franklin, no matter which side is my friend.”[xvii]


Robert E. Lee, the great commander of the Civil War and still a shining light of the qualities of character that make America so special became an educator after the war, and the president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia – now called Washington and Lee University.


Lee understood that education was the only way for the South to ever recover from devastation and defeat. So too, for us, successfully educating the people of our country is critical to our future existence.


Lee’s deep insight, humility, compassion, and understanding of the human condition are evident in this letter that he wrote to his former chief of staff in September, 1870, a month before his death:

The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.[xviii]


While the waves advance and we stand against the ignorance, rancor and ongoing decline around us, it is important to keep a longer view – a wider context in which our own efforts, our culture, and the great history and character of our people all come together to form a singular concept of continuity.


The foundations of American life and national character have not been over-turned nor should they be as we labor to educate and bring the lessons of yesterday to illustrate the crises of today – so that solutions for tomorrow can be found. 

It is history that gives us hope–because we have seen these crises before, and overcome them all.


Thank you. Thank you for your important work, and God bless you all.


[i] Marine Corps Hymn (http://www.usmcpress.com/heritage/marine_hymn.htm)

[ii] Oren, Power, Faith, and Fantasy (Norton, 2007), p.29.

[iii] Kemp, Jihad: Islam’s 1300 Year War Against Western Civilization (Lulu.com, 2008 ), p. 42.and Oren, Ibid., pg. 27

[iv] President Obama speech at Cairo, June 4, 2009 (text: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04obama.text.html)

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Lincoln, House Divided speech, June 16, 1858, Springfield, Illinois. (http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/divided.htm)

[vii] Hassan’s powerpoint presentation, http://www.thejidf.org/2009/11/nidal-hasans-powerpoint-presentation.html

[viii] Janet Napolitano, Interview, Der Spiegal, 3/16/2009, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,613330,00.html

[ix] “It was a grand sight! Such as would make a lifelong impression on the mind of any man who could see such a resistless, well-conducted charge. For the moment we were spellbound with admiration, although they were our hated foes; and we knew that in a few brief moments, as soon as they reached firing distance, all of that orderly grandeur would be changed to bleeding, writhing confusion, and that thousands of those valorous men of the South, with their chivalric officers, would pour out their life’s blood on the fair fields in front of us.”
Scofield, Retreat from Pulaski, (Caxton, 1909), p. 34.

[x]“Our forces advanced in three lines of battle, apparently about 300 yards apart. Our bands played ‘Dixie’, ‘Bonnie Blue Flag’ and the ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’. This was the first and only time I ever heard our bands playing upon a battlefield and at the beginning of a charge.”
-Dr. Phillips, Surgeon, 22nd Mississippi quoted in Logsdon, Eyewitnesses at the Battle of Franklin, (Kettle Mills, 2000), p. 13.

[xi] “Over 140 Confederate cannons then opened up on the center of the Federal line. Close to 80 northern guns answered as the two lines pounded each other while the men of both sides hugged the trembling, shuttering ground.” http://www.brotherswar.com/Gettysburg-3k.htm

[xii] “Jihadist Next Door” by Andrea Elliott, New York Times, January 27, 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/magazine/31Jihadist-t.html)

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] General MacArthur, Wisdom and Visions, compiled by Edward T. Imparato (Turner, 2000), p. 126; Address to the Texas Legislature, June 13, 1951.

[xv] Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863 (http://americancivilwar.com/north/lincoln.html)

[xvi] The Letters of John and Abigail Adams, Frank Suffelton, editor (Penguin, 2004), p. 378.

[xvii] Scofield, Retreat From Pulaski, (Caxton, 1909), p. 39.

[xviii] RE Lee, Letter to Lt. Col. Charles Marshall (September 1870) as quoted in DS Freeman, RE Lee (Scribners, 1934), p.484.

Mr. Adams’ post speech interview is here:

DL Adams is an American historian.


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