We at CFIF have repeatedly highlighted America's desperate need for more skilled science, technology…
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America Desperately Needs More Skilled STEM Workers, and We Should Steal Them from Russia

We at CFIF have repeatedly highlighted America's desperate need for more skilled science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers.  In an increasingly information-based global economy, legal immigration by people with advanced degrees and valuable expertise to the United States must be encouraged, as even President Donald Trump advocated.

In that vein, we've also highlighted how desirable a destination the U.S. is to STEM talent, and how many openly seek to come to our shores, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which was named the top defense and national security think tank in the world.  "Only about 10 percent of international scientists and engineers seemed open to moving to China," CSIS found, "compared to nearly 60 percent for the…[more]

May 25, 2022 • 07:38 PM

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Lessons from 1815 Print
By Quin Hillyer
Thursday, November 10 2011
The heart of the United States is not its government, but its culture and free commerce.

Sometimes writers can get too fond of metaphors. A visit to the site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, however, seemed to offer metaphorical lessons for current politics so appropriate as to demand attention.

The lessons include worthwhile considerations of positioning and tactics and the importance of culture, freedom and commerce.

Also perhaps of symbolic importance, the battlefield visit on Nov. 7 coincided with the disembarkation of a tour group from the Creole Queen riverboat that included visitors from not just all over the union – Virginia, New Jersey, Michigan, Texas, New York, Connecticut, California – but also from foreign climes such as Canada, Australia, and even Turkey. The ideals of freedom travel well.

As the War of 1812 is perhaps, in the American public consciousness, one of the historical episodes most badly overlooked in comparison with its actual importance, a review is in order.

The most crucial of the reasons for the American declaration of war was Great Britain’s practice of “impressments,” meaning it would board American ships and forcibly seize American citizens to serve on British ships of war against the Napoleonic French. Those violations of both sovereignty and freedom, of course, could not be allowed by any self-respecting nation.

Early on, things did not go very well for the Americans, with defeats aplenty. Significantly, though, not even the successful British assault on, and burning of, the American seat of government in Washington, D.C., gave the Brits overall victory in the war. Lesson Number One: The heart of the United States is not its government, but its culture and free commerce.

After D.C. was razed, the Brits realized that only bringing the United States to its knees economically would suffice for victory. Hence its assault on our commercial center of Baltimore not long after the D.C. episode failed to break American spirits. In the battle ever memorialized in the Star Spangled Banner, Baltimore repelled the invaders. The Brits, regrouping, figured that another way to absolutely hobble the American economy would be to close off the Mississippi River, and thus the vast bulk of the trade from the U.S. interior, by seizing New Orleans.

The trick to seizing the Crescent City was that it had to be taken by land. Before the days of steam ships, vessels under sail up the Mississippi River, against the current, would be slowed so greatly as to be sitting ducks for heavy artillery firing from both sides of the river. So the Brits, with a force of 7,000, were forced to march upriver. That’s where Lesson Number Two comes in: He who holds the only defensible high ground wins. That’s what Andrew Jackson, leading a rag-tag bunch of defenders, did. The Brits forcibly took a plantation nine miles south of New Orleans. Three miles further upriver, six miles south of the otherwise barely defended city, Jackson found the place to make his stand.

The considerations were the same as those that became evident nearly 200 years later in Hurricane Katrina: the highest ground is along the river, where the eons of spring floods deposited enough silt to raise the ground level. Anyway, what Jackson did was to find the narrowest area of high ground along the whole southern approach to New Orleans. Bordered by the river on one side and impenetrable marshes on the other, Jackson’s position in what is now the town of Chalmette was along a small canal on otherwise dry ground only some 500 yards across. Earthworks raised behind the canal provided cover. Even though Jackson’s largely volunteer, undisciplined force was just half the size of Britain’s professional expeditionary army, the Brits were forced to funnel through that 500-yard spit of land, over open fields.

The result was something that Robert E. Lee should have remembered before ordering Pickett’s Charge 48 years later: A direct frontal assault over open ground, against well-fortified and slightly higher ground, is a recipe for disaster for the attackers. The Brits’ advantages in training and professionalism made not a bit of difference. The Redcoats suffered 2,000 casualties, the Americans only 20. The Brits were routed, New Orleans was saved and the young nation celebrated a remarkable victory.

It mattered not that the official peace treaty already had been signed, across the ocean, a few weeks earlier, without word yet reaching the former colonies. There was still plenty of play in the joints of the treaty not yet officially ratified by either side. Had the Brits taken New Orleans and controlled its port, it would have been loath to relinquish it regardless of some words on parchment. And without a Mississippi River all its own, the United States’ economy, and its westward expansion, would have been grievously harmed.

Indeed, until the Civil War the victory at New Orleans was commemorated each Jan. 8 in a nationwide celebration second only to the annual festivities on the Fourth of July.

The victory they celebrated, however, was more of a close-run thing than many people realized. Lesson Number Three was that only a unified culture of freedom can prevail. The truth was that New Orleans was in panic, its civil government all but paralyzed, by the British invasion and seizure of the plantation. Yes, a can-do Jackson had arrived in time with his army of Tennesseans, Kentuckians and Carolinians. But most of them were lightly armed or even without arms at all. Their provisions were scarce. And their numbers were almost miniscule.

They were able to fill the lines only because a motley group of Orleanians ignored all class divisions and responded to Jackson’s rallying cry. Many of them were culturally French or Spanish, barely accustomed to being “Americans” after less than 12 years in the U.S. orbit. But those old-line Creoles grabbed their pistols and rode out to Chalmette. So did the Uptown upper-crust of more recent “American” settlers, reinforcing a key redoubt right along the riverbank just in the nick of time. So too, in a remarkably bi-racial fighting force, did a large group of free blacks and mixed-race Orleanians, who manned the area of heaviest fighting closest to the marshes. Black slaves, on a purely volunteer basis, even pitched in as well.

Most remarkable, so did the Baratarian pirates loyal to the dashing privateer Jean Lafitte. The British had offered Lafitte astonishing riches to join their effort, but he instead emerged from the marshes to warn Jackson of the British whereabouts and provided huge stores of weaponry and powder for Americans use. Lafitte apparently decided he would rather be an American, even with warrants out for his arrest, than a vassal of the British. The American Idea was just that strong. (As it was, all outstanding charges against Lafitte and his men were dropped after the battle, in gratitude for their service).

Whereas the government of New Orleans had failed to provide for the city’s defense, the citizenry rose up and answered the call. And in this new culture of Americanism, social divisions were less important than the unifying idea of men joining together under freedom’s banner.

Conservatives, including Tea Partiers, should remember those lessons. Politically speaking, too often we want to launch full-frontal assaults over what amounts to unprotected ground. (Balance the budget in a single year, anyone? Force a government default?) Too often we fail to appreciate the virtues of positioning and the advantages of defending the (metaphorical) high ground. And – even as advocates of smaller government – we too often forget that a culture of freedom, more than the formal apparatus of the state, is the ultimate guarantor of our liberties. Chief among those liberties is the freedom of commerce backed by the sanctity of contract, without the threat of confiscation.

The American Idea cannot be extinguished unless Americans fail to defend it and its essential features.

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