Tag Archives: US Civil War

Follow The ( American) Leader

What IS a modern leader? A – a politician with pots of money and a longing for power?  B – an idealistic altruist who wants to help humanity?  C – a petulant six year old wanting to play with grownup toys?

Frequently A and C are combined, and it seems to me that this is the sort of leader most of us get these days. I read a report the other day that the most successful leaders also have the character traits of a psychopath. This certainly explained a lot to me.

But do we really need leaders who are psychopathic, spoiled rich men, politicians who’ve compromised and bent their principles until they haven’t got any? Bring back The West Wing I say, at least we had decent men then, even if half of them were alcoholics, workaholics and egotists of various shades. Oh gosh isn’t it possible to think about leaders and leadership without thinking negative thoughts like that?

I’ve thought of other leaders, people like US Grant, who right at the beginning of the Civil War, on his first march with the civilians he’d trained, found that few of them were ready for the first stage of the march. The next day was the same. The third day he set off at the agreed time, leaving the stragglers behind. No threats, no harangues, just marched off without them. Boy, did they scramble to catch up, and he never had any trouble again. A man of his word, and one who never wasted them. (Also a man who loved animals, never went shooting, punished his men if they ill-treated their horses, and refused to attend a bull fight in his honour in Mexico when he was president)

But great soldiers don’t seem to make great heads of state. Grant made a hash of his presidency because he didn’t understand power games and trusted corrupt politicians. Eisenhower was not as successful a president as he was a genertal (towards the end of his presidency when he spent most of it on the golf course, the joke was that the White House was known as the Tomb of the Well-Known Soldier). Even the Duke of Wellington, when he was made prime minister, made a mess of it.

Interestingly, none of these leaders seemed to show the psychopathic traits that successful heads of state are supposed to need (presumably, Hitler, Stalin and Mao were role models for this type of leadership – and I wonder about Putin).  Lyndon Johnson would have been a prime example of this sort of leader in the west, with his iron controlling will and ambition, which is not the same as wisdom and judgement. Jimmy Carter by contrast, a reasonable man who was the exact opposite of Johnson, didn’t make a second term.

The whole world is watching the contest going on in the US at the moment, and yet after having watched the West Wing, we are now so savvy about the constraints and checks on a president’s power from his lobby groups, senators and congressmen, and their need for votes from satisfied voters, that we know that maybe the man is not who matters , but the party and its policies.

And yet at the same time, thanks to TV and media outlets, we still see the parties’ figureheads as personifying the policies. So when one hasty or ill-chosen word can trigger riots and violence all over the Middle East, and terrorism in our own countries, it matters terribly who is speaking for America and by inference, for the West.

So we all have our preferences, hoping that the man we think thinks most like us will win. One of the things that made non-Americans love John Kennedy, regardless of his politics, was that he seemed to value the rest of us all around the world, and to see us as partners in the progress of the planet.

Since then, other presidents have often seemed to us outsiders as thinking that America matters more than the rest of us. Yet the day of 9/11 actually showed us how the world is a village, that we are all connected, and people shared and grieved collectively all around the world. And people all around the world also grieved for loved ones they too had lost in New York that day. So it’s never been possible to think since then, that what happens anywhere doesn’t affect us all.

What happens anywhere does matter to us all, whether it’s the third year of drought affecting American farmers, and the consequent drop in their earnings, and the raising of food prices around the world, to honour killings in Pakistan and the ripples of hostility that go round the world, raising levels of distrust.

So when America chooses its leader, we long for a man who can see the rest of us as valuable inhabitants of our world, not just fodder for American corporates peddling pesticides, milk powder, GM foods or arms.

Many of us are beginning to understand Nurse Edith Cavell’s words. She was the English nurse executed by the Germans for nursing wounded soldiers of all nationalities, whom they shot as a spy in 1915. Her last words were: “Patriotism is not enough”. We are beginning to understand that if something doesn’t work for one country, then it will affect us all; that western countries can’t go on supplying arms or polluted goods or subversion in the name of diplomacy to other parts of the world and not be harmed ourselves eventually.  ‘My country right or wrong’ is now an outmoded concept for the citizens of the twenty-first century.

Most importantly in a world where nuclear arms are commonplace, is to know that our leaders are not ambitious patriots, or frightened six year olds who can press a nuclear button without thinking it through. Tsutomu Yamaguchi who survived Hiroshima, and then dragging himself to his family in Nagasaki, survived a second atom bombing, said before his death in 2010, that: ‘Nations with nuclear armaments should be lead only by women who are breast-feeding.”

I’d go further than that, and say that maybe all nations would be better led by mothers who are breast-feeding. And I don’t need to explain why, do I?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This recipe comes from a little book of risottos by Anna del Conte. The page is badly thumbed and stained, and it’s one of my favourites, though I’ve adapted it slightly. Risotto al Limone, risotto with lemon.

Simmer five cups of vegetable or chicken broth, and keep it simmering all the time. Sauté an onion and finely chopped celery stalk in two tablespoons of butter. When they’re soft mix in a cup and a quarter of Arborio rice or similar, and stir for a few minutes till the rice is translucent. Stir in two thirds of a cup of broth until it’s absorbed, and continue to do this until the rice is cooked. You may not need all the broth.

While this is cooking, thinly pare the zest from an unwaxed lemon, and chop it into six fresh sage leaves and the leaves from a small sprig of rosemary. Stir this into the rice halfway through cooking. Squeeze half the lemon into a small bowl, and combine with an egg yolk, quarter to half a cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, quarter of a cup of cream, a little salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Mix with a fork.

When the rice is cooked, add this to it, plus another two tablespoons of butter. Cover and let it rest for a minute or two. Give it a stir and serve immediately with more Parmesan if you want. Serves two greedy people over-generously, three well behaved people comfortably, and four as a starter. If I have any left over, I mould it into patties, sprinkle with flour, and fry to make a delicious light meal.

Food for Thought

Prayer obviously produces results, otherwise millions wouldn’t pray.                                                                                                                       Krishnamurti    1895 – 1986  Indian spiritual thinker and teacher

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