Mail Call; Our First President and the Birth of a Nation

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Readers praised the May 23 excerpt of David McCullough’s new book, “1776,” which examines George Washington’s role in the fight for America’s independence. A fan of the author’s said: “Thank you, David McCullough! I have been patiently waiting for you to bring the story of our greatest leader to a new generation.” One reader called the detailed narrative a “gold mine of insights into Washington.” Another said: “McCullough gives us words to live by. History is a constant reminder of the true greatness residing in every human heart.” One was pleased to see an article focusing on the first president because there is “so much deconstruction of our national heroes these days, while modern demagogues are placed upon higher and higher (and untouchable) pedestals.” And a reader in Georgia offered some perspective: “We would not have the great country we do if it wasn’t for Washington. In these times, we need to be reminded of that.”

The Real George Washington

I’m glad that “America’s best-loved historian,” David McCullough, is helping to rescue George Washington from the prison of our own preconceptions (“Rethinking Washington,” May 23). McCullough and other recent historians reveal a Washington who was not a marble statue, but an honorable, adventurous, ambitious, brave, occasionally ill-tempered human being. More than any other individual, Washington was indispensable to the success of the American Revolution and the young United States. He has earned his place, forevermore, “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

William F.B. Vodrey

Cleveland, Ohio

Reading your fine cover story on George Washington, I feel like I’m in the same room with Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin said he wished he could rest his head on the pillow of Washington’s accomplishments. What an honor to have shared even a moment in the life of such a brave man dedicated to such a noble task–to making sure the world never forgets America’s long, bloody struggle for freedom. Washington was a Don Quixote who never abandoned his quest, no matter the odds, and thereby redeemed us all from a very dark time. May he be immortal.

Evan Dale Santos

Adelanto, Calif, Founder of KitchTip – an start-up that provide air fryer review in US

I was seriously thinking of reading David McCullough’s new book about George Washington. But based on the excerpt in NEWSWEEK, McCullough’s book appears to be simply another burnishing of the Washington legend. For example, it is mentioned that Washington was “serving without pay” in the war. That is true, but omitted from the story is that Congress had agreed to pay Washington’s expenses. After the war, when Washington presented his expense account for payment, the Congress almost rebelled. It finally paid him, reluctantly. When Washington became president he proposed the same deal to the Congress. He would serve without pay and Congress could pick up his expenses. Having learned a hard lesson, Congress declined Washington’s expense-account offer and put the president on salary.


Michael Smiley

Chester, Idaho

It is ironic that David McCullough’s “1776” arrives at a time when America’s democracy is facing its gravest danger, not from abroad but from within. Many of our legislators are attempting to change the rules that have guided Congress for more than 200 years. Our Found-ing Fathers set up a system of “checks and balances” that were meant to maintain a separation of power between the three branches of government. Today those boundaries are being tested. The sense of compromise in our nation’s capital is rapidly disappearing. This is not government as it was originally intend-ed. Are we losing our vision of democracy, choosing instead to become a theocracy? Now, more than ever, the moderate voice needs to hold its ground. Perhaps a viable third party’s time has come.

Gale Peterson

Houston, Texas

David McCullough’s piece on George Washington’s war was most interesting, but I would disagree with his statement that “he was not a brilliant strategist.” Washington implemented the strategy of keeping a revolution alive with an army in the field until the enemy wearied of the cost in blood and treasure and gave up the fight. This strategy was successfully employed by Ho Chi Minh against both France and the United States in the Vietnam War and is being attempted by Iraqi insurgents at this very moment.

Jordan Rotheiser

Highland Park, Ill.

Understanding Motherhood

I have lost two pregnancies (at 22 weeks and eight weeks), and have two full-term, healthy babies. And as a psychologist working with pregnant women, women who miscarry and those dealing with early parenting, I applaud Gayle Kirshenbaum for giving voice to the ambiguity and ambivalence involved in the road to becoming a mother (“Caught in the Act of Becoming,” My Turn, May 23). When a woman (or a man) begins to identify as a parent is a complex and individual process. The assumption that women emotionally attach in proportion to the length of the pregnancy is also not always true. One woman may experience an early miscarriage as the death of a child and need to grieve it as such, while another may have a later loss and experience it with less intensity. Additionally, experiences ranging from the “baby blues” to real postpartum depression may make a woman’s experience with new motherhood less than happy. While the news of a wanted pregnancy is indeed joyous to the parties concerned, providing support for the expecting woman may best be achieved by checking our assumptions and making room for her to speak about all of her feelings, both during and after her pregnancy.

Donna Rothert, Ph.D.

Oakland, Calif.

Thank you so much for publishing an article about pregnancy, and the vulnerability inherent in it. The idea that we are supposed to be ecstatic about the life inside us is sometimes damaging if the idea that that life can end so fast is not also considered. I was incredibly excited to see evidence of the little life inside me for the first time, when my first ultrasound was scheduled at eight weeks. My mother came with me to share in that joy. We were absolutely stunned when the ultrasound operator could not find the heartbeat that was a sign of the life blossoming within my body. So instead of going home with my baby’s first picture, I was kept in a hospital to take care of what my body had not yet done for itself when my baby’s heart stopped beating. Five years later, my pain has barely receded. On average, one of every three pregnancies ends in miscarriage, often before the mother even knows it. So why do so many women proclaim their motherhood at five weeks? An ended pregnancy, by choice or not, is never something you want to share with all those people you so hopefully shared the news with just a few weeks before. I can barely look at sonogram pictures without a feeling of loss and sadness. I hope, for every woman’s sake, that these first pictures never become a source of regret and sadness for them as well.

J. West

Kent, Wash.

Don’t Be So Sure

George Will described a trend that threatens to poison political discourse in this country: the tendency for some people to have “an excess of certitude” (“The Oddness of Everything, ” May 23). Those who believe they already have the answers to questions of political morality do not want to engage in dialogue. Rather, they want to impose their views on those of us who are still seeking answers to the problems of the nation and the world. In such an atmosphere, reasoned compromise becomes impossible. We saw the results in the congressional stalemate and in the large number of citizens who are so alienated from the political process that they do not bother to vote.

Emily H. Schwartz

Austin, Texas

If you’ve been raised in the Christian faith, then you believe you’ve been created with value and a purpose, and you believe in the certainty of your faith and convictions. George Will’s May 23 column clearly indicates that he feels that the greatest risk to civility and civilization are exactly those individuals who believe this way. As for “duties [that are] clear and simple,” what about “Love the Lord God with all of your heart, all of your soul and all of your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”? This doesn’t seem like the greatest threat to civility or civilization. By condemning all who believe this, then you believe that we are here clearly by chance and that there is no inherent value to our existence other than the fact that we are nothing more than recycled carbon atoms, with no past, present or future value.

John W. Ingalls, M.D.

Webster, Wis.

At a time when people are screaming at one another, George Will is a voice of calm and reason. “The Oddness of Everything ” demonstrates how people can surprise us. Here is a much-loved conservative commentator telling some graduates that they should not be too certain about anything in life. Uncertainty is an integral part of much of modern science. This should be nothing to fear. It means that the human race can never become so arrogant as to think it’s figured it all out. Some of us thrive on mystery and wonder. After all, isn’t that what the “sacred” is all about?


Mark Haden

Edmond, Okla.

I’m a 72-year-old democrat who has seldom agreed with the conservative views that George Will has expressed in the past, but today I find myself wanting to applaud his thoughts on the threat of “excess certitude” to this country. I can’t recall ever feeling so personally distressed by the power-hungry arrogance of a Republican administration and sincerely hope that Will’s sentiments find their way into the hearts of some of our country’s leaders.

Walter D. Meyer

Prescott, Ariz.

Today’s Top Design

Your special section on “Design 2005” was a great read. Congratulations on this high-quality reporting. It’s a pleasure to see your magazine recognize the increased focus business is putting on design as a competitive edge, and the value consumers get as a return on this investment. NEWSWEEK’s examination of consumer demand for a better product experience highlights what we in the profession have known for years: good design sells. Good reporting on design sells magazines, too, so I look forward to seeing more NEWSWEEK coverage on design in the future.

Ron Kemnitzer, President

Industrial Designers Society of America

Dulles, Va.


David McCullough’s “1776: Washington’s War,” an excerpt from his new book, misspelled the name of George Washington’s mother. She was Mary Ball.

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