I had a dream last night where I was walking down a street lined with average American homes. As I passed one home, I saw a naked baby crying in a puddle in the lawn just outside the front door, which I found to be very perplexing. And then I passed another, then another. Then I saw a front door open and a mother walked out onto the porch carrying a tub of water and tossed the contents out into the grass. With a loud splash, a baby landed in the grass with the water and began crying. The door slammed behind the mother as she went back inside, oblivious to the fact that she had thrown her baby out with the bathwater.
Before I make my point, I’d like to share some quotes with you from some famous people. Try to guess who they sound like when you read them. I’ll add who I think some people might attribute them to just for the fun of it. So here we go.
“Never do a wrong thing to make a friend–or to keep one.” – Socrates
“I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” – Gen George S. Patton
“What a cruel thing war is… to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages.” – Frederick Douglas
“While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is onward, & we give it the aid of our prayers & all justifiable means in our power, we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands who sees the end; who chooses to work by slow influences; & with whom two thousand years are but as a single day.” – Abraham Lincoln
“The war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” – George Washington
“The trite saying that honesty is the best policy has met with the just criticism that honesty is not policy. The real honest man is honest from conviction of what is right, not from policy.” – Mark Twain
“We should live, act, and say nothing to the injury of anyone. It is not only best as a matter of principle, but it is the path to peace and honor.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I can only say that I am nothing but a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone for salvation.” – The Apostle Paul
“My chief concern is to try to be an humble, earnest Christian.” – Pope Paul II
“If a friend asks a favor, you should grant it if it is reasonable; if not, tell him plainly why you cannot: You will wrong him and wrong yourself by equivocation of any kind.” – Jesus Christ
“The enemy never sees the backs of my Texans!” – Sam Houston
“Alabama soldiers, all I ask of you is to keep up with the Texans!” – Stonewall Jackson
“Why, it appears that we appointed all of our worst generals to command the armies and we appointed all of our best generals to edit the newspapers. I mean, I found by reading a newspaper that these editor generals saw all of the defects plainly from the start but didn’t tell me until it was too late. I’m willing to yield my place to these best generals and I’ll do my best for the cause by editing a newspaper.” – General Blackjack Pershing
“I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation.” – Abraham Lincoln
“They do not know what they say. If it came to a conflict of arms, the war will last at least four years. Northern politicians will not appreciate the determination and pluck of the South, and Southern politicians do not appreciate the numbers, resources, and patient perseverance of the North. Both sides forget that we are all Americans. I foresee that our country will pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation, perhaps, for our national sins.” – General Ulysses S. Grant
“There is a terrible war coming, and these young men who have never seen war cannot wait for it to happen, but I tell you, I wish that I owned every slave in the South, for I would free them all to avoid this war.” – Abolitionist John Brown
“There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.” – Plato
“So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that Slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interest of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully lost all that I have lost by the war and have suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained.” – General Robert E. Lee
So what were your guesses? My suggestion on the last one was quite ridiculous, wasn’t it? The correct answer is that all of them came from one, and only one person. General Robert E. Lee. Are you surprised? Go back and read them again keeping in mind that he said them.
Now for my point. If you study the writings of this man and how he lived his life you will see that he truly believed what he said, and what he said was how he lived. Does that make him a saint? Of course not! He had his faults and shortcomings just like every other human being that has walked the face of this earth. Was he an American of his time who had certain prejudices and outlooks commensurate with many other Americans? Of course he was. And yet a large segment of the U.S. population has demonized him without knowing anything about him. And that’s a real problem as far as I’m concerned.
Is this a defense of Robert E. Lee and slavery and “The South Will Rise Again”? Absolutely not! But the current actions of Cancel Culture in this country are akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The whole point of studying history is to learn the good and bad things that were done and to learn from them. We want to replicate and build on the good and determine to never repeat the bad. And if we erase certain people from history, we lose those valuable lessons.
Any decent military organization does after-action analysis which is an attempt at lessons learned. Even the Air Force does it in all sorts of areas. Pilots do a debrief and even the groups responsible for fielding new aircraft compile lessons learned for future aircraft programs. Do new programs always read these reports? Of course not. But let me give you an example of what can happen when an aircraft program office throws out the baby with the bathwater.
More modern aircraft have computers that perform navigation functions rather than the old way of having a human navigator on board. This is all well and good as long as the software is written correctly. The B-2 Spirit bomber has such a computer-based navigation system and in its early life, the Air Force decided to send some B-2’s west across the Pacific and the International Date Line.
The aircraft launched and headed on its merry way, and if memory serves me right, the plane stopped at Hickam AFB in Hawaii for an overnight. The next day the crew went to leave on their next leg and programmed in Andersen AFB Guam as their next destination. But the computers kept rejecting the input. Why? Because the computer “KNEW” that you couldn’t arrive the day before you departed. What was the problem?
The programmers hadn’t taken the International Date Line into account when writing the code for the software. Oops! Big egg on the face of the Air Force. They had to rewrite the code to get the aircraft to cross the International Date Line. Big consequences had we needed to bomb, oh let’s say Russia, North Korea, or China! Yeah oopsie!
Fast forward a few decades and mother Air Force decides to send F-22 Raptors to Andersen AFB Guam for the first time as a show of force of our new air superiority fighter. Wanna guess what happened? Yep. Landed at Hickam and they were stuck there until the software code was modified. Again, what if a war had broken out and we needed those jets overseas? Lives could have been lost. A war could have been lost. All because the lessons weren’t learned.
The current violence in our country reminds me of what happened during the French Revolution. By all accounts, many innocent people went to the guillotine due to the mindless mobs with rabid dog mentalities. Even people who actively supported cultural and governmental change were decapitated by the mob. It only stopped when people got sick of the blood.
How much blood is enough? How much hatred is enough? How do you cure a rabid dog?
I’d like to close with a few more quotes from General Lee, just to try to un-demonize the guy.
“All I ever wanted was a Virginia farm, no end of cream and fresh butter and fried chicken – not one fried chicken, or two, but unlimited fried chicken.”
“We must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them.”
“A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday does not know where it is today.”
Tearing down statues, burning history books, changing street names, and banning flags do not erase the past. But it does make it harder for us as a nation to learn from our mistakes. And that could result in our ultimate downfall.
But then again, I think some people don’t care if the nation falls, as long as they get a pair of Nike shoes for free.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on September 1, 2020.
Dave Chamberlin holds a Master of Aeronautical Science in Aviation Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is currently a senior maintenance training manager for Republic Airways. He is also a retired CMSgt, having served 4 years on active duty in the USAF and another 34 years in the Air National Guard. Dave has held a wide variety of technical, instructor, consultant and leadership positions in his nearly 40 years of civilian and military aviation experience.