The Best Defense

Are you one of those hard-core types who can't get enough of Robert S. McNamara?

C'mon, you know who you are. The National Archives has just the session for you, on Tuesday April 10:

The Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense and the National Archives invite you to a panel program discussing Robert S. McNamara's most controversial years as Secretary of Defense (1965-68), and Clark Clifford's brief but significant successor tour as Secretary (1968-69). The event will take place at noon on 10 April 2012 at the McGowan Theater, National Archives, located at 7th and Constitution, NW, Washington, DC. 

Discussion will be based on the Historical Office's recent publication, McNamara, Clifford, and the Burdens of Vietnam, 1965-1969, by Edward J. Drea. Panel speakers will focus on the work of Secretaries of Defense McNamara and Clifford and the Vietnam War, but they will also address the impact of Vietnam on American defense interests in other parts of the world.

David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, will convene the panel and introduce Dr. Erin Mahan, Chief Historian, Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense. Dr. Mahan will introduce the panelists and lead the panel. Harold Brown, Air Force Secretary under McNamara and later Secretary of Defense under President James E. Carter, will talk about working with McNamara. Professor Emeritus George C. Herring of the University of Kentucky, one of the nation's foremost experts on the history of the Vietnam War, will review the book. The author, Dr. Edward J. Drea, currently a contract historian in the Office of Joint History, Joint Chiefs of Staff, will respond to Secretary Brown's and Professor Herring's comments. The speakers' presentations will be followed by a question and answer session and then a reception.

The event is free; reservations are not required. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. For this McGowan Theater event, doors to the building will open 30 minutes prior to the start of the program. Use the Special Events entrance on Constitution Avenue.

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The Best Defense

Blogging Thucydides (II): Pericles' funeral oration & the Gettysburg Address

It seems to me, reading Pericles' funeral oration (431 BC), that it clearly provided the inspiration for Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Pericles begins by dismissing his own speechmaking ability: "[I]t is hard to speak properly upon a subject where it is even difficult to convince your hearers that you are speaking the truth." That reminded me of Lincoln's "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."

Pericles then dwells on what we might call "Athenian exceptionalism": "Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves." A bit later, he adds, "In short, I would say that as a city we are the school of Hellas." This brought to mind Lincoln's beginning, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."

Most striking of all, both speeches conclude by challenging the living to live up to the standard set by the fallen. "So dies these men as became Athenians," says Pericles. "You, their survivors, must determine to have as unaltering a resolution in the field." I think Lincoln expresses that thought better: "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

(After writing this I did some quick Googling and saw that the comparison between the two speeches is apparently a major theme of Garry Wills' book on the Gettysburg Address. So clearly I am not the first to come across this.) I knew that Lincoln was into Shakespeare and the King James Bible, but I hadn't realized he also absorbed the Greeks.

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