Daily Archives: 19 September 2014

September 19, 1796 (a Monday)

On this date, President George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address to the People of the United States:

…[A]void the necessity of those overgrown Military establishments, which, under any form of Government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty.

Although it is by all accounts the most famous and best-known of Washington’s speeches, it was never actually delivered orally by Washington. It was first published in David C. Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia) on 19 September 1796 under the title “The Address of General Washington To The People of The United States on his declining of the Presidency of the United States.”  It was almost immediately reprinted in newspapers across the country and later in a pamphlet form.

Page 1 of Washington's handwritten so-called Farewell Address (1796).

Notwithstanding his role as the nation’s foremost military man, Washington consistently showed little enthusiasm for the idea of a standing army.  He often reflected the perspective taken by Madison, Franklin, and others, who saw ample historical precedent for the deterioration of a republic into an authoritarian regime when a leader used threats from abroad as a means of augmenting his authority as a military leader and undermining the authority of the other departments.

And as the above quote indicates, long before President Dwight Eisenhower warned the nation about the dangers of “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” in the Farewell Address he delivered over 50 years ago, Americans were familiar with the threat of “overgrown military establishments” to liberty.

In the early days of the United States, Americans, having just thrown off the yoke of the British empire, were understandably suspicious of standing armies in peacetime. The national army was kept intentionally small in peacetime, expanded in times of war, and reduced to prewar levels at the end of hostilities.

That was the pattern followed through the end of World War I, a time when many were beginning to question why America had entered the war in the first place, thereby entangling the country in the political, economic, and ethnic rivalries of Europe.  However, although America began to demobilize after World War II, there was no “return to normalcy” as President Harding had called for at the end of the previous war. The beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the fall of China to the communists, and the Korean War put America on a wartime footing that has become more or less permanent, whether we are in undeclared “shooting wars,” as in Korea, Vietnam, or our current wars in the Middle East, or in times of relative peace, most notably during the decade between the breakup of the Soviet Union and the terrorist attacks of September 11.

Today America resembles a worldwide garrison state, with our 1.5 million military personnel scattered over more than 4,500 military sites in our own country and more than 700 bases in 130 foreign lands. (The number of bases may actually be higher, since the Pentagon does not count bases with a “Plant Replacement Value” of less than $10 million.) Add to that all the billions awarded in defense contracts each year and the large number of people employed in defense-related industries, and Washington’s and Eisenhower’s words, which may have seemed dramatic at the time, seem more like an understatement today.

Between elections, members of the weapons industry sit in high places, bringing to the “councils of government” that “unwarranted influence” of which Eisenhower warned. Former Lockheed Martin Chief Operating Officer Peter Teets was appointed Under Secretary of the Air Force and Director of the National Reconnaissance Office during the Bush the Second’s administration. The Secretary of the Air Force was James Roche, a former vice president at Northrop Grumman. Secretary of the Navy Gordon England was vice president at General Dynamics. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had been a member of Raytheon’s board of directors and a consultant to Boeing. Senior Advisor to the President Karl Rove, who encouraged Republican candidates to support the Iraq War nine months before it started, owned between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of Boeing stock, according to his disclosure forms. By happy coincidence, Boeing has sold at least 40 commercial planes, worth nearly $4 billion, to Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled.

There is no time in the nation’s history in which Washington’s and Eisenhower’s warning has sounded more clearly and powerfully than the present.

Suggested reading:

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September 19, 1864 (a Monday)

Carl Erich Correns

On this date, the German botanist and geneticist Carl Erich Correns was born. He is famous for rediscovering, independently of but simultaneously with the biologists Erich Tschermak von Seysenegg and Hugo De Vries, Gregor Mendel’s historic paper outlining the principles of heredity.

In 1892, while at the University of Tübingen, Correns began to experiment with trait inheritance in plants. On January 25, 1900, he published his first paper, “G. Mendel’s Law Concerning the Behavior of the Progeny of Racial Hybrids”, in which he restated Mendel’s results and his law of segregation and law of independent assortment. Although the paper cited both Charles Darwin and Mendel, Correns did not fully recognise the relevance of genetics to Darwin’s ideas.

In attempting to determine the extent to which Mendel’s laws are valid, Correns undertook a classic study on heredity in the four-o’clock plant (Mirabilis jalapa). The blotchy leaves of these variegated plants show patches of green and white tissue, but some branches carry only green leaves and others carry only white leaves. Whether a tissue is green or white depends on whether there are green or white chloroplasts in the cytoplasm of its cells. Flowers appear on all types of branches, and Correns performed a variety of crosses.

Two features of his results were surprising. First, unlike what Mendel had observed, Correns found that there was a difference between reciprocal crosses, that is, leaf color depended greatly on which parent (i.e., flower’s branch) had which trait. Such results are normally encountered only for sex-linked genes, but Correns’ results cannot be explained by sex linkage. Secondly, the phenotype of the maternal parent was solely responsible for determining the phenotype of all progeny, that is, the phenotype of the male parent appeared to be irrelevant, making no contribution to the progeny at all! Although the white progeny plants did not live long because they lacked chlorophyll, the other types of progeny did survive and could be used in further generations of crosses. The same patterns of maternal inheritance always appeared in these subsequent generations.

Maternal inheritance can be explained if the chloroplasts are somehow genetically autonomous and furthermore, are never transmitted via the sperm. This is reasonable since the chloroplasts come exclusively from the mother in most angiosperms. In his 1909 paper, Correns established variegated leaf color as the first conclusive example of cytoplasmic inheritance (cases in which certain characteristics of the progeny are determined by factors in the cytoplasm of the female sex cell), also known as extrachromosomal or non-Mendelian inheritance.

Unfortunately, most of Correns’ work went unpublished and was destroyed in the Berlin bombings of 1945.