“by the better angels of our nature.”

President Abraham Lincoln delivering his first Inaugural Address

In your hand, my fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend” it…We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

— U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861.

155th Anniversary of the End of the American Civil War

Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia

155 years ago today Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to United States General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, ending the American Civil War.

Lee had held the trenches at Petersburg for 10 months before he had abandoned his untenable position and marched his army west in an attempt to shake the federals and hopefully get reenforced by another confederate army marching north through North Carolina.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was, by this time, hollowed out by desertions and in no shape to take on the much larger federal army pursing them. Knowing this, Lee did the honorable thing and surrendered his army to Grant at Appomattox. The contest had been decided.

With Lee’s surrender the Civil War was effectively over and the Confederacy was no more.

These are challenging times, but try to keep it all in perspective

Besides being one of the best liberal arts educations you can get, the study of history is also quite therapeutic. The ancient Stoics had a technique for helping individuals deal with the vicissitudes of life, called negative visualization. Basically it’s about preparing your mind for the worse by imagining, beforehand, that things could be a lot worse. Well socially speaking the study of history pretty much provides the same therapy. We may think the current coronavirus epidemic and all that’s happening are really bad, but as any good student of history would tell you, “True, these are not the best of times, but believe me our societies have faced situations far far worse.”

It’s only in modern times, with the advances of modern medical science, like vaccinations, antibiotics, and antiviral drugs, that societies have been able to save millions of lives ultimately from deadly bacterias and viruses that regularly emerge within populations. I would say the discovery of the vaccine should be rated the greatest life saving discovery in medical science history. Before vaccines any new toxic bacteria or deadly virus disappeared only after it had burned through a population.

For example, when the bubonic plague (known as “the Black Death”) was ravaging Europe during the 14th century some regions, towns, and cities, had well over 50% of the population whipped out. It’s estimated that two-thirds of the approximately 660,000 deaths of soldiers during the American Civil War were caused by uncontrolled infectious diseases. Upwards of 2 million soldiers died of infectious diseases during WWI. During the 1918-1919 Spanish influenza epidemic, the world’s death toll was somewhere between 50 and 100 million dead. In the United States alone we had about 675,000 deaths caused by the Spanish flu.

History provides something needed by individuals and societies during difficult and challenging times, and that’s perspective.

The current coronavirus epidemic is a very challenging situation. No one should downplay the long term damage and disruption to our society. But while we’re lamenting how bad this situation is we should try to remember that many past generations in history experienced far worse and ultimately recovered, rebuilt, and thrived. We will too.

We should have been more prepared but we weren’t.

This current coronavirus pandemic was probably one of the most predicable things that could happen. In 2015, Bill Gates talked about this very concern and that we, as a society, weren’t prepared. Throughout history viruses have emerged and decimated societies with lethal regularity. It has only been with the emergence of modern medical science that we’ve been capable of tamping down or getting some control of these outbreaks. In today’s world we have more tools—science and technology—to fight the spread of a virus, but their are two things that remain the key variables in success. One, maintaining a robust pandemic response structure so it’s in place and ready, and two, this is critical, quickly and decisively acting to slow and contain the spread of the virus.

The United States is now the epicenter of a global pandemic that began in China in mid January. There are a lot of questions that need answering. We knew China had a serious outbreak in mid January…and yet our government wasn’t on war footing. This lack of proactiveness meant we lost a month or more of time preparing for this virus and putting in place measures to slow and contain its spread. This epic failure will extract a massive cost on our country, both economically and socially.

This morning I recommend you read an Atlantic piece entitled How the Coronavirus Became an American Catastrophe.

As the authors explain, there were a number of system failures to be sure. The principal failure was not having adequate testing in place which would have aided us in slowing the spread of the virus once it hit the U.S. But in the larger picture there was a failure of leadership. A leader’s principle task is to look ahead and see potential problems and quickly navigate to a better, more safer, course. That simply didn’t happen in this case. Before and during a crisis a competent leader quickly detects potential threats and problems, leans forward, studies the situation aggressively, and then actively engages his assets and capabilities to ensure everything possible is done to avoid a catastrophe.

In this case our national leadership was negligent in preparing this country for our greatest challenge since probably WWII. We will, eventually, beat this virus and life will slowly return to normalcy. But we cannot forget how important (how critical!) competent government leadership is for the survival of our way of life.

Remember this at the next election.

Hammer down now and get control fast, then slowly open back up

Here is a very interesting and informative piece on the implications of 3 approaches to how governments may choose to handle the coronavirus pandemic. As you can tell, most governments are trying to impose the Hammer.

“What if you were about to face your worst enemy, of which you knew very little, and you had two options: Either you run towards it, or you escape to buy yourself a bit of time to prepare. Which one would you choose?”