When Sandy and I dropped off Chaney at West Point last year for R-Day (the day the new cadets start their basic training) we strolled around the campus. A few months earlier a new statue had been dedicated on the plain where the cadets do their parades and ceremonies. For those of you who have seen the iconic images of West Point, the castle structure is the Cadet Mess Hall, with two barracks attached to either side. Standing directly in front of the mess hall, looking towards Trophy Point, is a statue of George Washington. The grass field in front of him where the cadets parade (called the “second most expensive lawn in America”) is flanked by statues of Eisenhower, MacArthur, Patton and, now, Grant.
I thought the inclusion of Grant was interesting. True, he was a West Point graduate, Commander of the Army of the Potomac, and President of the United States… but his mark on history has been… well, perhaps “marginalized” is the most appropriate word.
I knew very little about Grant beyond what I had briefly learned in history classes. Typically, a professor would lead with the missive that he was “drunk” most of the time. They would also speak in glowing terms of his chief opponent Robert E. Lee…
“General Lee was a brilliant tactician!”
“He was an honor-bound gentleman tirelessly working for the welfare of his men.”
“Grant simply overwhelmed him with numbers.”
“Grant had no hesitation of sending men into a meat-grinder for the purposes of a victory.”
“Grant’s presidency was riddled with scandal.”
“Now let’s move on to more important matters like women’s suffrage and the development of labor unions.”
Since this was my limited understanding of Grant (and the fact that I felt no real motivation to explore deeper), the fact that a statue of him being dedicated sort of made sense (after all he graduated from West Point, and became a President)… it just seemed… well… odd.
One of our members, Dan Gwaltney, and I were having dinner about a month ago and he asked me if I had watched the History Channel miniseries on Grant. I had not. He asked me what I knew about him, and I confessed limited knowledge, save what I have articulated above. He nodded and stated that his understanding of Grant was similar, but that the show he had watched showed a far more complex character than what our history teachers had presented. In some cases we had been given flat-out wrong information. He suggested that I look more deeply into this interesting General / President.
So I began reading Ron Chernow’s book, Grant. Candidly, I am only a few hundred pages into it, but my respect for Grant has grown dramatically, not just as a superior tactician and war-fighter, but as a human being. What has been the most interesting is, as a society, our deeper understanding of the genetic dispositions behind alcoholism. This, of course, has me thinking about gun control.
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For generations we looked at alcoholism as a failure of self-control. People who are habitually drunk have made a conscious decision to ingest alcohol, to the expense of their bodies, and the lives and well being of those around them. In the modern age of motorized travel this has had catastrophic effects on complete strangers. Thousands of lives are lost each year when someone gets behind the wheel of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol.
To be sure, behavioral issues are in play here… but we now know that so are genetic ones. Grant had a family that struggled with alcoholism. During times of extreme depression, and usually when deployed remotely, Grant gravitated to alcohol. When he was at home with his family he actually swung in the other direction, preaching extreme temperance. He was not at all a hypocrite. He was very forthcoming with his own experiences, and his repeated failures to stay “on the wagon”.
For the majority of the human population, use of alcohol does not translate to unbridled alcoholism, quite the opposite. Most people are able to responsibly use alcohol without any long-term consequences. In fact, most are freely able to “quit” alcohol at pretty much any time.
For others, giving up drinking is a far more difficult journey.
Tobacco is similar.
I have struggled with nicotine addiction since law school. For some, it is relatively easy to “quit”… for others, like myself… well… not so much.
So… how does this translate to firearms?
The vast majority of Americans who own firearms are law-abiding, responsible users of these inanimate products. They are safe and safety-conscious, just like those who consume alcohol.
Imagine a modern temperance movement:
“Alcoholism is a failure of the individual, to check impulse control! The impact of alcohol on others is simply too great. We must make all alcohol and alcohol consumption illegal!”
Most people would scoff at this suggestion.
“I drink wine quite frequently! In fact, I am quite the connoisseur! I haven’t been ‘drunk’ since college… how dare you suggest that I am not capable of regulating my consumption!”
“But think of the lives lost! If we just banned alcohol, no one would be killed by a drunk driver!”
“No… the alcoholic will still find a way. He will make his own. Nothing is going to prevent that from happening. In order to punish those who drive drunk, you want to target those who don’t. Your proposal is both preposterous and arrogant.”
Yet, we have no hesitation on using the exact same logic with firearms. Murder is not caused by a firearm. Murder is caused by a defective mind. Banning the tool, and not addressing the actor, is also preposterous and arrogant.
Oh yeah… it is also a sacred, specifically-enumerated individual right.