Friday, March 30, 2012

GUEST BLOGGER: Debbie Weinkamer on Lucretia Garfield, “The Vanishing First Lady” – or Am I?

Former First Lady Lucretia Garfield (seated center) with thirteen of her sixteen grandchildren in Mentor, Ohio, summer 1906.
Left to right –Standing (back row): Newell Garfield, Lucretia Garfield, James Garfield, Rudolph Hills Garfield (in sailor suit w/teddy bear), John Garfield, Rudolph Stanley-Brown.  Seated (front row): Margaret Stanley-Brown, Stanton Garfield, Edward Garfield, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield (Mrs. James A. Garfield), Mary Louise Garfield, Ruth Stanley-Brown, Mason Garfield, and James A. Garfield.
First Lady Lucretia Garfield lived for 36 years after her husband, President James A. Garfield, was assassinated in 1881 by Charles Guiteau. During that time, she became a beloved figure in America, though she shunned publicity. She created the first Presidential Memorial Library and became the matriarch of a large, close-knit and affectionate family. Debbie Weinkamer, who portrays Lucretia, is a Garfield researcher and first-person living historian. Here she presents how Lucretia would speak for herself in answering the critics if she had the chance. Not always self-assured, except in the company of friends and family, nevertheless, Lucretia had always met adversity head on, facing her responsibilities.

Lucretia as First Lady, 1881.

Before Women’s History Month marches away, I would like to contribute to Mr. Ackerman’s Viral History blog in order to clear up some misconceptions about me. Many of you have not heard much about me since my husband’s assassination and death in 1881. Even the newspapers have called me the “Vanishing First Lady” and “Discreet Crete.” I must admit: I have ducked all publicity, for I feel that in no way am I personally famous. The name I bear is honored and honorable, but I am just an ordinary woman devoted to her husband and children.

I did enjoy my husband’s rise to prominence in politics, contrary to many historians’ opinions of me. At the beginning of his political career, I wrote to him that, “I feel so much anxiety for you that your public career be never marked by the blight of a misdirected step. I want you to be great and good.” I was one of his most-trusted confidants and advisors. I didn’t expect him to be nominated for President in the political climate of 1876-1880, but thought that his time would eventually come. However, after he received the “dark horse” nomination at the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago, I wanted him to win the election – even though I knew that it would bring political difficulties to my husband and a terrible responsibility to our entire family.

Lucretia with husband and future president James A. Garfield, circa 1853.
 My quiet, shy nature made me very reluctant to take over the social duties of First Lady, even though I had been a Congressman’s wife for 17 years and had lived in Washington with my husband and family during sessions of Congress since 1869. However, I was very fortunate to receive the good advice and assistance of my friend Harriet Blaine, wife of my husband’s Secretary of State and “an experienced Washington grande dame.” I came to rely on her fine judgment regarding many etiquette matters, including how to establish my calling hours at the Executive Mansion, and effective ways to handle newspaper correspondents and petty criticisms.

(Here, I must pause to reveal some interesting correspondence regarding the Blaines…In April 1875, I received a letter from my husband concerning a rumor that when James Blaine was getting married to Harriet, the couple’s “warm blood led them to anticipate the nuptial ceremony,” and their first child was born about six months after their marriage. My husband asked, would this fact “have weight with the people in the Presidential Campaign?” [Mr. Blaine was being considered by some for the presidency.]

Debbie as Lucretia Garfield, looking at a
picture of her late husband.
 I replied, “It was a queer piece of gossip you gave me of Mr. Blaine. I scarcely believe it. But if it is true, it ought not to affect the voters very much unless it would have been considered more honorable by the majority to have abandoned the woman—seduced. My opinion of Mr. Blaine would be rather heightened than otherwise by the truth of such a story: for it would show him not entirely selfish and heartless.”)

During his brief presidency, my husband paid me the best compliments a political wife can receive: that I was discreet and wise, that my “role as his partner in the presidential enterprise was essential to him,” and that I “rose up to every occasion.”

I have led a quiet, yet social, life since that terrible tragedy in 1881. I created a “country estate” from my farm property in Mentor, Ohio and embarked on several building projects. A “Memorial Library” addition was built onto the back of the farmhouse, complete with a fire-proof vault to hold my husband’s papers from his public career (and more than 1,200 letters shared between us). I’ve been told that it may inspire others to create presidential libraries one day!

My children have completed college, married, and now have children of their own. I am so pleased to say that they have grown up to be distinguished citizens in their own right. We all gather at the Mentor farm every summer, and I can be found wintering in South Pasadena, California. I love to travel to New York City for the opera season and to visit my 16 grandchildren at least once a year.

I try to keep well-informed of science, cultural, and political events, both at home and abroad. I have co-founded a ladies’ literary group (based on one that my husband and I attended in Washington) called the Miscellany Club, where monthly meetings are held in members’ homes and we take turns speaking on subjects related to a year-long topic, like “American History.” I often correspond with my oldest sons about political matters, which can get quite interesting since one is aligned with Woodrow Wilson and the other with Theodore Roosevelt!

My five children have been a continual joy and inspiration to me. And with the memory of my dear Husband and our little ones who didn’t stay with us very long…I have had a remarkable life. For does not life grow richer as the years go by? Even our losses lead us into wider fields and nobler thoughts.

Very respectfully,

Lucretia R. Garfield

Post Script: Lucretia Garfield, wife of 20th U.S. President James A. Garfield, died at her winter home in South Pasadena, CA on March 13, 1918, just a month shy of her 86th birthday. She never remarried and had a full life after her husband’s untimely death. I have the privilege of portraying her and “bringing Lucretia to life” for various groups in Northeast Ohio – and beyond.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

GUEST BLOGGER: Diana Parsell on Eliza Scidmore, the woman behind the planting of Washington's cherry trees in 1912.

Japanese girls in a tea ceremony, a hand-colored photo by Eliza Scidmore from early 1900s, 
included in an exhibit of her work on display at the National Geographic Society in Washington through Labor Day.
This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival is underway in Washington, D.C., and it’s a special one because March 27 marks 100 years since the first trees from Japan were planted in Potomac Park. The anniversary has brought attention to a long-overlooked woman who played a key role in that historic event: Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore.

It was Eliza’s suggestion to First Lady Helen Taft in 1909 that set the events in motion. Several times over many years Eliza had approached federal park officials to propose a park of cherry trees along the Potomac, much like those she saw during her travels in Japan. She envisioned people in Washington coming together in the springtime in a spirit of goodwill, as the Japanese did at their hanami, or blossom-viewing parties. Mrs. Taft took up the idea because she too had seen cherry trees flowering in Japan and understood what a lovely sight they were.

If Google had existed a century ago, a search for the name “Eliza Scidmore” would have brought hundreds of hits. A prolific journalist, the author of eight books, a popular lecturer and a world traveler, she was so well known that newspapers regularly noted the comings and goings of “Miss Scidmore.”

I stumbled upon her several years ago through a reprint of her 1899 travelogue on Java. Surprised to learn the author (“E.R. Scidmore”) was a woman, I headed to the Library of Congress to find out more. Her remarkable list of achievements astonished me.
Flowering cherries along the Sumida River in Tokyo, known as Mukojima, circa 1897. 
Eliza Scidmore wanted to create a "Mukojima on the Potomac."

She broke the “glass ceiling” long before the term was invented, when elected the first female board member of the National Geographic Society. For nearly two decades she contributed to National Geographic as editor, writer and photographer. The Society is now displaying two dozen of her hand-colored photos as part of an exhibit running to September.

Eliza Scidmore was one of the growing number of women in the late 19th century who followed their own course, fashioning an independent life outside the normal Victorian template of marriage and motherhood.

Eliza Scidmore, probably in her late 30s or early 40s.
She was born in 1856 in Clinton, Iowa, but spent part of her early childhood in Madison, Wisc., among her mother’s progressive-minded family. Life changed dramatically when her parents split after the outbreak of the Civil War. Her father went West to join a cavalry unit; her mother took young “Lillie,” as she was called, and her older brother George to live in Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Catherine Scidmore ran a boarding house and sent her children to private schools. Eliza attended Oberlin College for two years. George became a lawyer and U.S. consular official. Eliza and Mrs. Scidmore, a socially ambitious woman, became regulars at official teas and receptions around town.

Eliza’s knowledge of Washington society opened doors to journalism. She started as a society reporter and became a correspondent for many newspapers and magazines. Much of her writing shows a fluidity of style, strong powers of description and very thorough research, characteristics that earned her wide respect for her work.

In the mid-1880s, while still in her 20s, she went to frontier Alaska on a mail steamer. (See video about the trip, below.) A book about that experience launched her 40-year career as a travel writer. She developed in particular a love of Japan, where her brother served most of his diplomatic career. Eliza, her brother and her mother are all interred at a cemetery in Yokohama.

She remains an intriguing figure to me in part because she achieved all she did largely through the force of her own talent and determination, without great wealth ― or a husband or father ― to back her up. She straddled different worlds with ease and self-assurance: moving in the worlds of eminent people such as John Muir, the Tafts and Alexander Graham Bell, but also living out of hotel rooms and modest apartments, packing and unpacking steamer trunks for her constant life on the road.

A woman of strong convictions, she spoke out passionately against anti-Japanese sentiment in Congress and on the West Coast. Her fierce loyalty to Japan led the Japanese government to award her several honors. Late in life she became a champion of the International Red Cross and the League of Nations. In 1919, a year before women got the vote, the precursor of George Washington University awarded Eliza Scidmore an honorary doctorate.

She was, I believe, a woman guided heavily by inner-directed values, someone who found an affinity with Japanese culture for its emphasis on simple living, artistic achievement and spiritual connection with nature. Though not an artist herself in the traditional sense, I think she achieved the ultimate creative act: self-invention.

Diana Parsell, an independent writer in Washington, D.C., is working on a biography of Eliza Scidmore. Visit her website on the project at

Monday, March 26, 2012

POLITICS: What today's Republicans need - A good strong dose of Theodore Roosevelt

TR prepares to face a yet-unpicked Democratic opponent in 1904, drawn by Joseph Keppler for Puck.
Are you like me?  Do you feel distinctly annoyed and disheartened watching the final stages of this year's pathetic contest for the Republican presidential nomination?   Then remember this:  2012 is not the first time the Party was this stupid!!  Exactly 100 years ago, in 1912, this same Republican Party rejected Theodore Roosevelt as its nominee, despite Roosevelt's having won most of that year's Republican primaries and having the support of most of the party's own members across the country.  

Instead, meeting in Chicago, a small circle of "stand pat" Bosses and insiders insisted on giving the nod to incumbent President William Howard Taft, forcing Roosevelt to bolt and run as a third party candidate.  Roosevelt ran for President in 1912 as a Progressives or Bull Moose-er.  He easily beat Taft in the 1912 popular vote, but Democrat Woodrow Wilson took advantage of the split and won the White House that year.  Click here for full results.     

If Theodore Roosevelt were alive today, would Republicans in 2012 reject him again?   I have no doubt.  TR believed in the party of Lincoln, a party of ideas and progress and equality.

Just for nostalgia, here are a few favorite cartoons, just to remember how good a Republican president used to be able to be.   Enjoy.

Roosevelt seen conquering New York State Republicans at their 1910 convention in Saratoga, winning the convention chairmanship over the party's own sitting Vice President, James S. Sherman.  Drawn by W.A. Carson of the Utica Post. 

Another Puck cartoon show TR as president in his bid to drive corruption from the US post office.

Lions, tigers, zebras and all the other African animals run for the lives on hearing the TR  plans to visit for a hunting trip after leaving office in 1909.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

GUEST BLOGGER David Taylor on the War of 1812 - Before the SEALs: When America Faced the Water

This print by T. Buttersworth depicts the January 1815 battle between President and Endymion that led to the capture of Commodore John Rodgers’ cherished frigate. Courtesy, U.S. Navy Art Collection. (p. 194)

Our generation’s images of the military have been dominated by the land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so many Americans have lost sight of the Navy. Act of Valor, the Hollywood film in theatres this month, reminds us of the Navy with the story of a SEALs Special Operations team like the one that caught and killed Osama bin Laden.

Two centuries ago and for much of early U.S. history, reminders were unnecessary. Americans grew up on the water, made their fortunes and risked their lives there. That was where our opportunities and risks lay. Nobody from that time speaks to ours more vividly than Joshua Penny, a sailor-turned-spy: Special Ops, 1812 style.

Penny’s saga dumbfounded me when I stumbled on it while researching The War of 1812 and the Rise of the U.S. Navy. He sought his fortune at sea as a boy, got kidnapped by the British, fought his way back home, and ultimately served as a spy against his old nemesis, the British Navy. For that service he did time as a prisoner of war, and came out unbowed.

Penny knew his story spoke for many others. Every town up the East Coast had at least a few vessels in the maritime trade, and for decades boys saw it as their ticket out of poverty. In New England “few of the boys would reach manhood without having made at least one voyage to the Newfoundland Banks after codfish,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his history The Naval War of 1812, “and in the whaling towns of Long Island it used to be an old saying that no man could marry till he struck his whale…” Roosevelt himself hailed from Sag Harbor near Joshua Penny’s hometown, and as a boy was captivated by 1812 sea stories.

Penny, one of nine children from a hardscrabble family, went to sea to seek his fortune.

He learned the nautical life and where each rope belonged, as Herman Melville would a generation later. He learned the three-watch system (dividing up the day into three shifts or “watches”), how to handle a ship’s sails, and how to scramble up into the “trees” ten stories above the water without being tossed into the rolling depths. Like the others, Penny trained his bare hands and feet to grip the ropes even in bitter cold. (“Sailors, even in the bleakest weather, never wear mittens,” Melville noted; they literally held their lives in their hands and didn’t want anything getting in the way.)

Penny suffered most brutally from a prominent cause of the war: the British Navy’s practice of kidnapping U.S. seamen and pressing them into the imperial navy. The British stopped hundreds of American ships and in the decade before 1812 “press-ganged” roughly 10,000 American seamen, claiming they were British deserters. Even sailors holding papers proving their American citizenship weren’t safe. “I had frequently seen the papers of neutrals torn in pieces by the press gang, and thrown in the fire,” Penny reported. The U.S. went to war with “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights” flying on banners from American sails.

Penny fell into the hands of press gangs and was held by the British navy for years. His first mission, as he saw it, was to escape. He called British warships “nefarious floating dungeons.” After being shanghaied the first time by British conscription officers as a teenage sailor onshore in Ireland, he managed to escape -- only to be snared again. He was forced onto a 28-gun frigate along with three other Americans, several Danes and Swedes. He tried another escape, and was captured and flogged as a lesson to the others. He deserted once more and spent 14 months hiding in the caves of South Africa’s Table Mountain, surviving on honey and meat.

Finally back in Long Island, he resumed life and built a business with his small boat, with a bitter eye trained on finding “the first opportunity of doing mischief to those who had so long tortured me.” When the War of 1812 came, he had his chance.

By the summer of 1813, Penny was on his next mission: to infiltrate and sabotage the British blockade that stopped all sea traffic up the coast. He got aboard the British ship Ramillies posing as a local vendor of produce and clams. The ship’s officers later realized he was “of course a spy to collect information on our movements,” and that he was preparing a torpedo “to destroy this ship.” They tracked him to his home and ambushed him at dawn. After firing at him, they seized him and hustled him, still in his pajamas, under guard to the Ramillies. There he was locked in irons on the bare deck all day in the August heat. For 18 days he survived on bread and water until the ship reached Halifax, where he was jailed as a prisoner of war.

In a few weeks, the story of his harsh treatment outraged the highest levels of the U.S. government. President Madison ordered retaliation. It took nine months before Penny was released and made his way home again, with the war in its final months. He had just one regret.

“It was never my good fortune to command a torpedo,” he recalled, “but I should be pleased to have the privilege of terrifying John Bull…” An attitude worthy of Act of Valor.

David Taylor, in addition  is author of The War of 1812 and the Rise of the U.S. Navy and also Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America. Visit him at his Amazon page.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Guest Blogger: David Durkin on Saint Patrick’s Day in America – Where Did This Come From?

Saint Patrick's Day in New York's Fifth Avemue, 1909.

What has become of “my people’s” annual national and cultural holiday, Saint Patrick’s Day? Americans of Irish ancestry (and, ‘tis said, those who wish to be Irish) attempt to honor their heritage on a Catholic feast day, March 17, but the day now is as Irish as the Great Saint was himself, that is to say, NOT.

Saint Patrick in traditional blue. 
The green came later.

Saint Patrick, the actual man, was a 5th century Welsh son of a Roman Empire functionary, kidnapped and sold into slave labor across the Irish Sea. After escaping, he became a priest and bishop, returned to Ireland, and worked to convert the heathen in the last wild west of Europe. This conversion – led by Ireland’s three patron saints, Patrick, Brigid of Kildare (Feast Day February 1), and Columba (Feast Day June 9) – gave the Irish people a faith and culture to survive repeated deprivations, preserve in manuscripts the Scriptures, literature, and theology of the Western Church after the fall of Rome, and eventually flourish in a now 1500-year diaspora spanning not only the United States but also Canada, the United Kingdom, most of the rest of the British Commonwealth, and even Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Traditional iconography depicts Patrick in blue, not green. 

Green beer and rivers? Rivers of green beer? Leprechauns, big green hats with buckles, green tinsel wigs, and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” tee-shirts? What do any of these things – as offensive as a Washington Redskins jersey to a member of the Lakota people – have to do with Patrick, Ireland, or the sons and daughters of Erin’s green shore?

The Irish began showing up in America long before the Great Famines of the mid-19th century. As one example, the Carrolls from County Tipperary played important roles in the American Revolution. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland, was the only Catholic signator of the Declaration of Independence. His cousin Daniel Carroll, became a Maryland state senator after laws against Catholics holding office were repealed in 1776, signed the Articles of Confederation and Constitution, and pushed Thomas Jefferson to sack Pierre L’Enfant as the designer for the Federal City when L’Enfant knocked down an addition to the Daniel Carroll manse. (The house allegedly encroached on a planned but yet un-built street that is now New Jersey Avenue, S.E. on Capitol Hill). Daniel’s younger brother, John Carroll, a Jesuit priest, founded Georgetown University, and became the first bishop in America in Baltimore in 1789 (during the time of the Jesuit suppression in Europe of 1773-1814).


Baltimore Archbishop John Carroll,
as painted by Gilbert Stuart.
But I digress, being proud of my Irish heritage (and that was just one family! Wait until Ken lets me post about me own!).

Like most immigrant groups, we Irish have sought to retain memories though groups and events celebrating our origins and identity. Some Bostonians claim credit for the first Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in 1737, organized by Boston’s “Irish Society” as a political protest against low social status and scarce jobs. After 1776, Bostonians began coupling the Saint Patrick’s Day celebration with the March 17 anniversary of the British leaving town after the Siege of Boston that year. What makes a better pan-historical mix than being Irish and/or beating the English in Beantown?

In New York City, the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade came on March 17, 1762, staged by Irish soldiers then serving in the British Army. Parade organizers claim that today’s, in 2011, marks the 250th time the grand procession will march up 5th Avenue. With its formal review by New York’s Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan from the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (considered by New Yorkers the mother church in the United States – Baltimoreans may quibble), the New York Parade is certainly one of the largest by number of participants in the world. (See photo from the 1909 parade above.)

In 1780, General Washington himself formalized the celebration by issuing an order allowing his troops to celebrate on March 17 “as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence” and commended the Irish Parliament in their attempts “to remove those heavy and tyrannical oppressions on their trade” imposed by Great Britain.  (Click here to see the handwritten original.)

Maryland Governor  Martin O'Malley with his band.
Saint Patrick’s Day parades have been established in cities across the country, from Alexandria to Baltimore, Buffalo, Charleston, Cleveland, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Saint Paul, San Francisco, Savannah, Scranton, Seattle, Syracuse, and many, many more. And these parades quickly became grand stages for the practice of one of America’s great home-grown sports – politics. Candidates came to march and wave at the crowds, kiss babies, slap shoulders, and refine the art of person-to-person organizing that was the lifeblood of American elections from before the time of Tammany Hall in the 1800s to the present Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley (who also has his own Celtic rock band).

In New York, even the Stock Exchange closed on Saint Patrick’s Day up until the mid 20th century, by tradition to accommodate the largely-Irish back-office staffs that left for the parade at lunchtime and did not come back. Since 1991, the United States Congress has built March 17 into a full Irish Heritage Month and Presidential Proclamations follow suit.

In recent decades, the same relentless force of American commercialism that has turned Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even Halloween (all originally more solemn religious or national holidays) into shopping opportunities has focused on this observance of my heritage. It’s annoying and distracting, but some of us remember what the Great Saint brought to our forbearers.

The several strains of my family came to America, struggled, and (Deo gratia) succeeded, like many other immigrants. Today I am tremendously grateful for that, inordinately proud of my family and my people, and finally look forward to peace and prosperity on the entire island of Ireland. That party we throw with all of the Guinness and whiskey every year? We’re just trying to do our part for the Irish economy. Lord knows it could use the help.

David Durkin, a Washington attorney and cultural savant, hosts the best Saint Patrick's Day bash in DC.  Visit him at his web site at 

Friday, March 9, 2012

GUEST BLOGGER: Phil Olsson on attacking Iran. Is the USA Being Played the Fool?

Iran's President Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility south of Tehran. AP
 In their recent Opinion piece in the February 27, 2012 Wall Street Journal, Frederick Kagan and Maseh Zariif postulate that "Americans are being played for fools by Iran-and fooling themselves," asserting "There is no case to be made that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons capability." While expressly not recommending a military strike on the Iranian nuclear program, the authors challenge “those who oppose military action against Iran under any circumstances [to] say so, and [to] accept the consequences of that statement."  (See Israel's attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor, Osirak 1981. A model for Iran 2012?  February 9, 2012.)

Whether or not Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, there is a strong case that Iran is pursuing Osama bin Laden’s game of solidifying political support by provoking US military threats, economic sanctions and bluster.  Where Americans are actually being played the fool is by not realizing that this kind of provoked polarization creates much larger risks than an Iranian nuclear weapon.  The difficult challenge is to reorient American foreign policy to address this polarization trap

There are a number of reasons not to take military action against Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.

First, nuclear weapons are relatively useless to Iran except to the extent they provoke an American reaction which enhances Iran's prestige.

Second, Islamic nuclear weapons from Iran (or Pakistan) are highly unlikely to be targeted against the holy places of Jerusalem or the parts of Israel with significant Arab and Palestinian populations.

Third, an American strike against Iran's nuclear capabilities is likely to further the alienation of Pakistan and make Pakistan's weapons available to Iran.
Huge crowd in Teheran protests allleged election fraud in August 2009.

Fourth, Iran is unlikely to achieve a first strike capability which would provide the confidence to attack another nuclear power .

Fifth, during the past half-century American military action, military threats and economic sanctions have only increased the power and prestige of incumbents in targeted nations such as Cuba, Iraq and North Korea.

Sixth, during the past five years, support among the Iranian people for development of a nuclear weapon has increased at the same time that the United States has increased military and economic pressure against that development. (Click here for the actual poll numbers.)   There are serious domestic political issues within Iran, but support for development of a nuclear weapon does not appear to be one of them.  A strike against Iran's nuclear infrastructure is likely to increase President Ahmadinejad's support.

In order to oppose military action, there must be some constructive alternative.  That alternative should address the pattern of provocation and polarization which have made the United States more rather than less vulnerable to terrorism.  Provocateurs, such as Osama bin Laden on September 11,2001 and now President Ahmadinejad, seek to elicit hostile American military and economic actions in order to provoke political hostility against the United States.  These provocateurs take advantage of the Information Age, where power is dependent upon broadly dispersed public opinion in a sort of rolling, global daily plebiscite.  Just as mainframe computers have given way to the dispersed computing power of the Internet, so the mainframe foreign policies of sovereign states are diluted by the People Nets of CNN, Al Jazeera, Facebook and twitter.  National power and prestige is increasingly driven by the respect a nation enjoys in this people-wired world.  The United States needs foreign policies which will "friend" these People Nets.

Key American foreign policy successes during the late 20th century were based on people-to-people, civilian engagement.  China and Russia are examples.

In 1972 at the conclusion of President Nixon's visit to China the two nations signed the "Shanghai Communiqué," and agreed to immediately facilitate a wide variety of “people to people” business and cultural contacts.    It said: 

"The two sides agreed that it is desirable to broaden the understanding between the two peoples. To this end, they discussed specific areas in such fields as science, technology, culture, sports and journalism, in which people to people contacts and exchanges would be mutually beneficial. Each side undertakes to facilitate the further development of such contacts and exchanges.
 Both sides view bilateral trade as another area from which mutual benefit can be derived, and agreed that economic relations based on equality and mutual benefit are in the interest of the peoples of the two countries. They agreed to facilitate the progressive development of trade between the two countries.[1]

President Richard M. Nixon with China's Zhow Enlai in Peking, 1972.
The agreements reached in the Shanghai Communiqué have provided the basis for four decades of peace and economic growth in both China and the United States.

Trade, cultural exchanges, and educational exchanges flourished between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.  In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, not because East Germans were intimidated by NATO weaponry, but because they could see and respect a lifestyle which they wished to share.

Proponents of military intervention and economic sanctions will argue that only "strong" government actions can minimize the risk of terrorism.  Absent the threat and use of military and economic force, America will be seen as weak.  But the use of interventions and sanctions during the past decade has only increased the risk of terrorism. In countries where United States and foreign citizens enjoy open relationships of mutual respect, the risk of terrorism has been much better controlled.

A military strike against Iranian nuclear capability would provoke and polarize civilians in Iran and elsewhere against the United States and eliminate the opportunity for the kind of civilian, people-to-people relationships which six decades of U.S. diplomatic history have shown will deter terrorism and protect the United States.

The United States will continue to need military capability to contain military threats. But this containment should be consistent with Theodore Roosevelt's advice to "walk softly, but carry a big stick."  We live in a PeopleNet world and we should not allow Iran or any other nation to provoke us into playing the fool.

[1] Joint Communiqué of the United States Of America and the People's Republic of China, February 28, 1972, 5/8/04
Phil Olsson is a founding principal of the Washington law firm Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz PC.  Visit him at the firm website,