Although we both were recognized as grandsons of Dr. Howe at the formal celebration of the Centennial on October 13, 2023, only my brother was present. I absented myself from any participation in that event for the reasons set forth in my email to Bev Coughlin dated August 25, 2023:
Hi Bev: As you know, in connection with the Centennial, I have been writing some articles about the School and posting them at my website, www.goldensextant.com. The most recent set of three, posted between July 31 and August 23, include one on the subject of character dated August 9 under the title “Distinguished Alumnus; Four Star Failure”. It addresses General Milley’s role as the West’s top military commander in its proxy war against Russia, a war where the West’s strategy of “fighting to the last Ukrainian” against an overwhelmingly superior Russian force has at latest estimates resulted in nearly 400,000 Ukrainian KIAs.
I have not seen any published program for the Centennial celebration on October 13, but Greg’s remarks night before last suggested that Gen. Milley is expected to be among the principal speakers. In that event, it would be impossible for me to participate in the program in any way, by video as you have asked or otherwise.
The military incompetence and pointless slaughter presided over by Gen. Milley recalls the worst trench warfare of World War I. Before founding Belmont Hill, one of my grandfather’s last projects at Middlesex was the preparation of a memorial volume to its alumni lost in the Great War. He would have been intimately familiar with the expression “Lions led by donkeys” and its roots in the Battle of the Somme, the worst day in British military history.
Were he alive today, Dr. Howe would recognize, as I and many others do, the profound immorality—not to say criminality—of the strategy pursued in Ukraine under Gen. Milley’s command. Were the School truly committed to developing character in young men, its students and faculty today would be devoting the same energy and debate to rescinding his Distinguished Alumni Award as they did a couple of years ago to removing the bell.
cc: Bill Achtmeyer
However, since the event was live-streamed in its entirety up to the closing fireworks, I was able to watch from the comfort of my living room. The fireworks, of course, I could see from the backyard. And my brother brought me a copy of the Centennial book: A Century of Character. It includes a page devoted to Gen. Milley, the event’s cleanup speaker, with his observations on the importance of character.
Since publication of my first piece on Gen. Milley, Ukraine has suffered the loss of another 100,000 KIAs. What is more, Ukrainian officials have further confirmed (see here and here) earlier reports that by April 2022 they had negotiated and initialed a provisional peace treaty with the Russians, a “good deal” in their estimation, but were prevented from finalizing it by the West. “Don’t sign anything; just keep fighting.” Those were the instructions from the White House relayed by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his much publicized visit to Ukraine in April 2022.
Had Gen. Milley possessed the intellect and experience to understand the military and human realities of Ukraine’s situation at that time, and had he then possessed the “moral courage [to] speak truth to power” as praised in his entry in A Century of Character, U.S. and U.K. rejection of the Ukrainian/Russian peace agreement should have finally provoked his resignation if not previously tendered.
But far from a principled resignation in support of peace and a rational foreign policy free from delusional fantasies, Gen. Milley’s legacy is a textbook lesson in hypocrisy along with regret for a lost opportunity to avoid the inevitable and now ongoing collapse of the Ukrainian armed forces, with all that implies for the bleak and uncertain future of Ukraine.
Intellect and courage are cardinal virtues, but as Cicero observed: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” At the opposite pole, Dante’s Inferno ranked ingratitude as the worst of all sins. So while disappointing, the selection of Gen. Milley to carry the flag for a century of character development at Belmont Hill was not the most glaring faux pas in the Centennial celebration.
The shame of that distinction falls on the failure of anyone from the podium, at any point in the evening, to acknowledge the critical role played by Mrs. Atkins during the School’s formative years. See Mrs. Atkins, Beloved Benefactor and Citizen Extraordinaire. Save my grandfather, she is the only person but for whom Belmont Hill School would not exist.
As my father recounted in his Memories (at p. 7): “For the first few years of the school, Dad used to have the boys go into the woods with Mr. Iness, the manual training teacher, to cut about a six-foot-long Yule log. It was then delivered to Mrs. Atkins for Christmastime by the entire school.”
That was Dr. Howe’s way of inspiring character: to teach by example or demonstration, not simply to talk about its importance. Hard to believe that he would have shown much patience with the inflamed but passing passions that precipitated removal of the bell and continuing offense to the School’s earliest friend and most consequential benefactor.