Sunday, March 23, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Ragtime at Cultural Arts Playhouse by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the musical Ragtime at the Cultural Arts Playhouse was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Ragtime
Cultural Arts Playhouse (625 Old Country Road, Plainview, NY)
Reviewed 3/23/14

Ragtime is a musical with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty. Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, it tells the story of three groups living in the early 20th century: African-Americans, represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Harlem musician; upper-class white suburbanites living in New Rochelle, represented by Mother; and Eastern European immigrants, represented by Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia. Historical figures appearing in the musical include Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Admiral Perry and Emma Goldman. The music includes marches, cakewalks, gospel and ragtime.

The musical opened on Broadway on January 18, 1998 as the first production in the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. It closed on January 16, 2000 after 834 performances. It was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won for Best Featured Actress, Original Score, Book and Orchestrations. A 2009 Broadway revival opened to critical acclaim at the Neil Simon Theatre on November 15, 2009 but due to high weekly running costs, it closed on January 10, 2010 after only 65 performances. Nevertheless, it received 7 Tony nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Direction, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

If you haven't seen Ragtime, I highly recommend you catch this production at the Cultural Arts Playhouse. It is exceptionally well-done with fine performances by talented actors. The message of justice and of changing times is universal and the story, set in the first fourteen years of the 20th century is as relevant today as it was then and for every generation in between. The longer you live, the longer you hear "strange new music" and wonder "when they changed the song." Insightful people also realize "you can never go back to before" nor would you want you. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."

Christopher M. Cooley brought substance and gravitas to the character of Harlem ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr., who risks everything to obtain the justice he feels he deserves as a man. Steffy Jolin puts in a fine performance as Sarah, his girlfriend and the father of his child, whose sad story results in an even more tragic ending. Carmela Newman plays Mother, an upper-class white woman from a traditional family who undergoes the most radical change in perspective as she decides, while her husband is away on a year-long trip, to take in an abandoned black baby, and later, that baby's mother. In a subtle but powerful performance, Ms. Newman seduces and invites you to join Mother on her journey of discovery and enlightenment. Mike Newman more than holds his own as Tateh, a Latvian Jew seeking the American Dream for his daughter. The unexpected "happy family" that forms in the end will surprise you but reflects the norms bound to have resulted out of the "mosaic" culture that is now our own.

Two additional cast members are worthy of note. Jill Wilson Cohen shines as Emma Goldman. I felt as if I had met Emma Goldman personally after seeing Ms. Cohen's portrayal of her. I was also impressed with Ashley Nicastro in the role of Evelyn Nesbit, the "girl on a swing" who became infamous when her husband shot her lover. There are many excellent, songs in this musical including "Goodbye, My Love", "Henry Ford", "New Music", "The Wheels Of A Dream", "The Night That Goldman Spoke At Union Square", "Till We Reach That Day", "What A Game", "Atlantic City", "He Wanted To Say", "Back To Before" and "Make Them Hear You".

Make an effort to see Ragtime at the Cultural Arts Playhouse. You will not be disappointed. While there, if you run into Harry Houdini, don't forget to tell him to WARN THE DUKE!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Her by Andrew P. Clunn

This review of the movie Her was written by Andrew P. Clunn and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Her
Directed & Written by Spike Jonze
Reviewed 2/17/14

It’s hard to say whether Her (directed and written by Spike Jonze) is a romantic comedy, morality play, or science fiction story. While it deals with the complexities of relationships and marriage of today, it does so safely through an imagined future. It speaks to today’s court battles over same sex marriage seeking to legally define love and relationships, but with a premise of the isolated but deeply thoughtful Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falling in love with his Artificial Intelligence Operating System Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).

I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It's a crazy thing to do. It's kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity. - Amy

For the main character of Theodore, the only real forays into the notion of marriage are a blind date, where a woman presses him for a commitment in a passive aggressive manner that is all too realistic. The other is his clinging to his own failed marriage by constantly delaying signing his divorce papers (much to his ex’s frustration). To him the marriage document is a symbol of their relationship and love, and if he lets it go then he lets her go. 
Theodore is only able to do so after his relationship with Samantha comes to fill the gap, and though his ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) seems willing to forgive him for delaying their divorce so long, she lashes out at him when she learns that he’s replaced her with a computer program. It’s from this encounter that Theodore comes to question and doubt his relationship and becomes fearful of how others might judge him.

At one point Theodore and his friend Amy (Amy Adams) are discussing their lives since their marriages fell apart (Amy’s somewhat more recently). Both withhold that they’ve found companionship (in Amy’s case platonic friendship) with their OS. Both fear the judgment of their friend, but when they reveal themselves, Amy laments that it took her so long to end her stifling marriage. Fear of others’ judgment, fear of feeling like a failure, had kept her from ending it for so long. When they both come clean about their present relationships, the acceptance and genuine pleasure at each other’s happiness is palpable.

The recently divorced Amy is a video game programmer. In the game she’s working on the player who takes on the role of a traditional mother. The player scores points by doting on her kids, making baked goods for school events, and picking up her children from school on time. The clear contrast within the world of Her between how people actually live their lives and the way that “normal” people are portrayed is one of the many ways in which it feels so real. Of course Amy puts in a hidden glitch where the super mother avatar begins humping the refrigerator, and how Her manages to be both so crude and touching is perhaps its strongest point.

Dear Catherine, I've been sitting here thinking about all the things I wanted to apologize to you for. All the pain we caused each other. Everything I put on you. Everything I needed you to be or needed you to say. I'm sorry for that. I'll always love you 'cause we grew up together and you helped make me who I am. I just wanted you to know there will be a piece of you in me always, and I'm grateful for that. Whatever someone you become, and wherever you are in the world, I'm sending you love. You're my friend to the end. Love, Theodore. - Theodore

While the film’s story is science fiction, the realism makes that a forgettable afterthought. At one point Theodore and Samantha go on a couple’s picnic with a co-worker and his girlfriend. The fact that she isn’t human is incidental, serving as little more than dinner conversation. When a little girl asks why Theodore’s girlfriend is in a computer, Samantha responds, “Because that’s where I live.” No further explanation is needed. The notion that people and relationships come in all forms seems so natural, and the acceptance that how others define love has no bearing on how we define it is made to appear so obvious and intuitive that, by contrast, it’s our dogmatic judgmental society that seems out of place.

Traditional relationships exist in Her, as well as imagined possibilities of relationships that do not yet exist. The new form of relationships don’t mean that the old form go away, and each is left to thrive, fail, or change according to the desires of the participants. It’s so elegant an idea that people should be in relationships with whoever they want to be because they want to be. And best of all, it makes for one hell of a romantic comedy.

You know what, I can over think everything and find a million ways to doubt myself. And since Charles left I've been really thinking about that part of myself and, I've just come to realize that, we're only here briefly. And while I'm here, I wanna allow myself joy. So fuck it. - Amy

Applause! Applause! Review of The Electric Indian at The Invisible Dog Art Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Electric Indian at The Invisible Dog Art Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Electric Indian
The Invisible Dog Art Center (51 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY)
Reviewed 2/16/14

Conceived & directed by JJ Lind, The Electric Indian successfully combines storytelling, ritual, dance and song with 19th century historical texts, 20th century popular media and 21st century technologies to tell the story of the American Indian (and specifically the Cherokee nation) using the life of Elias Cornelius Boudinot, a controversial Cherokee who served as a Confederate Army colonel during the Civil War, as the linchpin. Also appearing in the production were four other characters, the Sculptress, the Missionary, the Surveyor and the Entertainer, who each represent different aspects of White Society during the 19th century. A main source for the script was The Manners, Customs, Traditions and Present Condition of the Civilized Indians of the Indian Territory, an informational lecture for white audiences by Col. Elias C. Boudinot. The Electric Indian was the name of a studio band created in the 1960s that sought to capitalize on the "native sound" used at the time. The title is a metaphor for the American (and capitalist) impulse to fetishize and commoditize an idealized image of native people. The director, JJ Lind, who identifies as a Cherokee, comes from Vinita, Oklahoma, a town founded and named by Elias Cornelius Boudinot. 

I felt the play fairly and objectively depicted the plight of the American Indian during the 19th century as well-intentioned European-Americans and American Indians sought to find policies that would be in the best long-term interests of the Native Nations in an atmosphere where a number of other Whites sought to take every advantage, legal or illegal, of any Indian or Tribe standing in their way. 

Elias Cornelius Boudinot was born on August 1, 1835, the son of Elias Boudinot, a Cherokee National leader who was editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper. His mother, Harriet Ruggies Gold, a woman of English decent from Cornwall, Connecticut, died in 1836, several months after her seventh child was stillborn. His father and some other relatives were assassinated in 1839 as retaliation for signing the Treaty of New Echota, ceding the remainder of Cherokee lands in the Southeast in exchange for removal to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. For their safety, Boudinot and his siblings were sent back to Connecticut to their mother's family. The Golds ensured the children received good educations. Boudinot studied engineering, became an attorney, and co-founded The Arkansan, a pro-slavery newspaper that favored railroad construction into Indian Territory. In 1860, he was chosen as the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic State Central Committee and in 1861, he served as Secretary of the Secession Convention as the territory determined whether it would leave the Union. In 1863, Boudinot was elected a delegate to the Congress of the Confederate States of America, representing the majority faction of Cherokee who supported the Confederacy. During the Civil War, he served as a Colonel in the Confederate Army and after the war, he was chairman of the Cherokee Delegation to the Southern Treaty Commission, which negotiated treaties with the United States.

The Electric Indian depicts Boudinot struggling to do what is best for his people. Will civilizing the "savage beast" prevent their extinction? Will learning English and becoming American citizens help? Will embracing development and supporting integration through the presence of railroads make a difference? Will abandonment of communal lands and the granting of parcels to individual households of tribal members teach them to be industrious and responsible? Will making Oklahoma a state dominated by Native American politicians help preserve the future of the Native Nations in this country? All of these efforts were supported in one way or another by Boudinot but the results were disappointing to say the least. Was the outcome for the American Indian predictable from the beginning as The Missionary character in the play observes? Was the death of their culture inevitable? Was the American Indian destined to become as the play suggests - a modern day unicorn - magical, mystical and rarely seen? Perhaps.

The Electric Indian tells an important story in an unusual and entertaining manner. It was produced by Immediate Medium and the performers included James Allerdyce, Max Dana, Brady Jenkins, Julie Stainer-Loehr and Siobhan Gandy. The ensemble cast worked well together and pulled off an unconventional piece of theater that educated its audience while taking them on a wild ride. I was particularly impressed with the stage presence and performance of James Allerdyce, who played the Surveyor, and by the charismatic and talented Brady Jenkins, who was the Entertainer. After Boudinot is transformed on stage into a modern day Unicorn, the final scene of the play is a patriotic red, white and blue light display symbolizing the ultimate triumph of the White Man over the Red Man in America - just a matter of fact by this point in the story. I very much enjoyed the production and if the run is extended, I urge you to see this interesting and creative presentation of a slice of our country's history.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Death Should Not Be Used To Fuel The Failed Drug War, Say Libertarians

Andrew P. Clunn, Chair of the Saratoga-Capital District Libertarians, a chartered chapter of Empire State Libertarians, says “the tragic death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, allegedly as a result of a heroin overdose, should not be exploited by local law enforcement officials to perpetuate and expand the failed war on drugs. In the wake of sympathetic news coverage of Hoffman’s substance abuse issues, New York Police Department investigators have aggressively and vindictively arrested several parties possibly connected to Hoffman on drug possession charges. Others have suggested that those who sold illegal drugs to Hoffman should even be held criminally responsible for his death, the way some bars are now being held liable if a patron leaves an establishment drunk and then gets into a car accident. A drug seller should not be responsible for the consequences of a user’s use or abuse, unless what he or she sold was substandard or adulterated in some way. No one is to blame for Hoffman’s death other than himself. I find it abhorrent that Hoffman’s passing and personal tragedy is being used by some media outlets, politicians and law enforcement officials as supposed evidence for staying the course with the increasingly unpopular war on drugs. The emphasis should be on expanding the number of opportunities available for those seeking rehabilitation, not on increasing prosecution rates and creating convicted felons out of those who sell or use drugs.”

“The old authoritarian formula of ‘more bans, more arrests’ for dealing with the drug problem clearly hasn't worked,” says New York State Libertarian Party Political Director John Clifton, a former County Chair of the Libertarian Party of Queens County and a former three-term State Chair of the New York Libertarian Party. “Putting more people in a cage is not the answer. Mr. Hoffman was clearly a very productive person, yet had he been caught with drugs in his possession, he without doubt would have been prosecuted, sent to prison, and labeled a felon. Some people can handle drug use and never get addicted, stopping on their own when it suits them. Others get addicted and seek help and a small minority of drug users, unfortunately, die. But one thing is true of all drug users. They voluntarily chose to engage in that personal behavior and in ours, the most informed society of all time, there should be no laws controlling what people choose to ingest at their own risk or benefit.”

Empire State Libertarians was founded on July 4, 2010 by Thomas Robert Stevens (current Chair of the Libertarian Party of Queens County) to encourage New York State residents who share libertarian ideals and principles to become politically active and to seek out avenues to promote a pro-liberty agenda; to endorse candidates seeking elective office who support smaller government, lower taxes and more individual freedom; to encourage patriotism, respect for our Founding Fathers, and a deep appreciation for the United States Constitution; and to organize and charter chapters of Empire State Libertarians in order to promote local activism. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Queens Libertarians Call For The Legalization Of Mixed Martial Arts In New York State

On February 2, 2014, the Libertarian Party of Queens County voted unanimously to support the legalization of Mixed Martial Arts in New York State.

Natale Corsi, Liberty Outreach Coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Queens County, speaking in support of the position taken by the Queens Libertarians, commented as follows:

"Liberty is defined in the dictionary as the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views. The ban of professional Mixed Martial Arts in New York State is the exact example of taking away liberty from its citizens. New York State feels in its misguided belief that it knows what's best for the citizens of New York and must protect us. New York State is one of only two states in the United States of America that bans professional Mixed Martial Arts. I, as Liberty Outreach Coordinator for the LPQC, feel that this ban is a direct offense against our liberties as citizens and we must support New Yorkers who want to legalize Mixed Martial Arts. The right of two consenting adults to engage in a sport that is less dangerous than already legal sports like Boxing should not be infringed. I am not only a supporter. I am a practitioner of Mixed Martial Arts for 8+ years and have been involved in the fight to legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York State. I have attended rallies, expos and seminars and participated in the first legally sanctioned Amateur Mixed Martial Arts bout in New York State as a coach. I specifically want to thank Dr. Tom Stevens, the newly elected LPQC Chair, for championing this worthy cause and placing it near the top of his political agenda.

Mixed Martial Arts is the fastest growing sport in the United States of America; it has generated more pay per view sales than any other event. Mixed Martial Arts competitions are hosted nationwide in the country's most iconic arenas. It has even invaded our pop culture with numerous movies, TV shows, and celebrities rising from its ranks. Famous Mixed Martial Artists are staring in movies, visiting troops overseas and headlining as guests on talk shows. You cannot go to a sports bar on Saturday night without seeing crowds of people gathering to watch Mixed Martial Arts. However, despite the overwhelming success and stardom of the sport, New York State is one of only two states in the nation that bans Mixed Martial Arts matches within its borders.

The ban of professional Mixed Martial Arts is a direct attack on the personal liberties of the citizens of New York. The state has deemed the sport too dangerous and prohibits consenting adults from participating in the sport. This ban is another example of a Nanny State deciding for its citizens what is best for them. There is no evidence in support of the allegation that Mixed Martial Arts competitions are dangerous for its participants. Since the first sanctioned Mixed Martial Arts bout in 1993 to the present, there have been only 5 Mixed Martial Arts related deaths with only one being a direct result of injuries sustained during a match. In comparison, Boxing, which is legal in all states including New York, has recorded over 146 deaths since 1990 and over 1,000 since records have been kept. A recent Sienna Poll showed that only 30% of New Yorkers oppose the legalization of Mixed Martial Arts with 45% in favor and 25% without an opinion. Mixed Martial Arts was once illegal in 49 states in 1993 and now is only illegal in two states because of the will of the people. It is time for the New York State legislature to ignore union lobbyists and listen to the will of its citizens and restore one more piece of our freedom that has been taken from us.

Dr. Tom Stevens, LPQC Chair, has made me the point man on this issue. I will continue to fight until millions of participants and fans are restored their freedom to engage in competitions and to watch Professional Mixed Martial Arts bouts in New York State and, specifically, in the most famous arena in the world - Madison Square Garden."

Natale Corsi was appointed Liberty Outreach Coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Queens County on January 21, 2014.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

John Clifton Says Using High Profile Individuals As Libertarian Party Candidates Can Be Useful & Effective

John Clifton, former Chair of the New York Libertarian Party and Libertarian Party of Queens County who ran for Governor and for United States Senate against Hillary Clinton, recently commented on the history of using high profile individuals as Libertarian Party Candidates. His statement is as follows:

"The concept of a LP-led 'stunt' candidacy with a high profile person has been seriously considered by the party in past years, and is relevant to our attempting to shake things up (in a precision way) to gain press for the party's agenda. The concept was tried successfully by the New York Green Party in '98 when running 'Grandpa' Al Lewis for Governor, and in Minnesota when outright electing Jesse Ventura Governor there that same year. The LP originally tried the idea with the fabled Howard Stern candidacy in '94.

The idea is that instead of starting from a candidate pool that has zero regular resources (no substantial name recognition, no serious money, no organized base) to run in a major race, we make a temporary alliance with someone who does, while living with the imperfections of the deal. Certain celebrities, retired public figures, or 'notorious' personalities may be situationally motivated at a certain point in their lives to act as candidates or endorsers on issues where we are in alignment, and may fit many of the demographics needed for the cause. They can be open to a wooing process we pursue at that time, should we have the foresight to mount an effort, and not insist on a perfect fit. 

In 2005, I contacted Monica Lewinsky to run for Senate (at the same time I also contacted Cindy Sheehan, and William Weld for Governor), based on the suspicion they might be interested in running with the Libertarian Party based on their individual circumstances. In the case of Weld, this turned out to be correct. With Lewinsky, the theory was she was young enough to perhaps appeal to the youth vote based on a left-libertarian campaign (e.g., to promote personal freedom issues of strong interest to young voters (18-34) and civil liberties topics that the Libertarian Party uniquely addresses, in a campaign that would be largely college-campus oriented). 

I think she was a more moral, more authentic and less scandal-prone woman than the then incumbent United States Senator (Hillary), thus might have had an axe to grind against her, and so could pass as an 'anti-fraud' libertarian candidate. If she had run, the media would have positively ate it up. Alas, she was not interested/did not reply, and suddenly got an all expenses paid gig overseas (as if somebody wanted her out of the way while Hillary was getting re-elected, and preparing to run for President). 

Sometimes approaching high profile people does work if there is a purpose and plan behind it, and this strategy could be useful to the LP, past and present."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Was The Father Of The United States Military A Gay Baron, Who Hosted Underwear Parties For His Low-Ranking Male Friends?

The below article on Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, is a compilation of two columns written by Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal, who is the nation's most award-winning commentator in GLBT media.

"After years of studying almost anything available on Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the material suggesting that von Steuben was gay is so overwhelming that the only thing that can be asked of anyone who doubts it is, "Prove to me he’s not". There is literally not room in this article to list all the facts that point to a practice of homosexuality on the part of von Steuben.

On the other hand, there is only one thing historians can point to that suggests von Steuben was heterosexual, and it comes from the first biography on the baron in 1859, The Life of Frederick William von Steuben by Fredrich Kapp. At the end of the 700-plus-page bio, Kapp writes, "Steuben was never married. It seems, however, that he met with disappointment in early life. While preparing to remove to his farm, the accidental fall of a portrait of a most beautiful young woman from his cabinet, which was picked up by his companion and shown to him, with the request to be told from whom it was taken, produced a most obvious emotion of strong tenderness, and the pathetic exclamation, ‘O, she was a matchless woman!’ He never afterwards alluded to the subject". This flimsy story is one of the few items in the book with no attribution. It has since been attributed to a host of the baron’s acquaintances. But most interesting of all is that each time von Steuben encountered the charge of being “homosexual", he never denied it or defended himself, he just moved on.

There are few historians today who would doubt that Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was gay. That is the notion this writer has argued for the past two years, and no accredited historian has refuted its main theme that, without von Steuben, there would be no United States of America and that von Steuben, in today’s terms, would be considered a gay man.

To appreciate the contributions von Steuben (1730-94) made to the American Revolution, consider this: Before his arrival in Valley Forge in 1778, the Revolutionary Army had lost several battles to Great Britain and the colonies were on the path to defeat. Without his leadership, the United States of America might still be the British colonies.

Before von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge, the Revolutionary Army was a loosely organized, rag-tag band of men with little military training or discipline. The military fumbled through the beginning of the war for independence lacking training and organization. Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress knew that without help from additional seasoned military experts, the colonies would clearly lose.

Since Washington himself was the best the colonies had, they looked to Europe for someone who could train the troops. To that end, Washington wrote the colonies’ representatives in Paris, among them Benjamin Franklin, to see what he could come up with. Franklin, a renowned inventor, was treated as a celebrity in the French court. This would be pivotal in achieving his two major objectives in France: winning financial support for the American Revolution and finding military leaders who could bring a semblance of order to the Revolutionary Army.

Franklin learned of a “brilliant” Prussian military genius, Lt. Gen. Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who had a string of successes across Germanic Europe. But there was one problem. He’d been asked to depart many of those states and countries because of his “affections for members of his own sex", according to biographer Paul Lockhart’s The Drillmaster of Valley Forge.

This became urgent in 1777 when he literally escaped imprisonment in what is now Germany and traveled to Paris. In Paris, Franklin was interviewing candidates to assist Washington back in the colonies when his fellow Colonial representative Silas Deane, a former representative to the first Continental Congress and a friend of Franklin, brought von Steuben to his residence for an interview in June. Deane is best known for recruiting the Marquis de Lafayette.

During the interview process, Franklin discovered von Steuben’s reputation for having “affections” with males and the issue became pressing, as members of the French clergy demanded the French court, as in other countries, take action against this sodomite, whom they considered a pedophile. They had decided to make their effort a crusade and run him out of France.

Lockhart’s biography tells of von Steuben’s being summoned from Paris to Karlsrube, at the court of the Margrave of Baden, for a military vacancy. But, Lockhart notes, “what he found waiting for him at Karlsrube was not an officer’s commission but a rumor, a horrible, vicious rumor” that the Baron had “taken familiarities with young boys".

Those allegations were fueled by von Steuben’s close ties to Prince Henry and Frederick the Great, also “widely rumored to be homosexual".

Von Steuben returned to Paris, and Franklin had a choice here – and he decided von Steuben’s expertise was more important to the colonies than his sexuality. While it can be debated how much a part Franklin played in the recruitment of von Steuben, one cannot doubt that one of the most informed people at the French court would know of the allegations against the baron. With that knowledge, and with von Steuben about to be jailed, Franklin, along with Deane, wrote what must be the nation’s first example of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as they mutually signed a recommendation letter to General Washington that embellished von Steuben’s military expertise and titles and suggested he had been recommended by various princes and “other great personages". Most surprisingly, it remarked that “his distinguished character and known abilities were attested to by two judges of military merit in this country".

The judges of character that Franklin referred to were two of the four involved in the plot to bring von Steuben to America, along with Franklin and Deane, and personal friends of the baron: Pierre Beaumarchais, author of the Figaro plays and an arms dealer who supplied arms for the ship von Steuben eventually sailed on, and Claude Louis, Comte de Saint-Germain, the minister of war under Louis XVI.

What the letter didn’t mention was that he was about to be arrested and appear before judges in France.

Franklin, working with Deane, decided von Steuben’s “affections” were less important than what he, Washington and the colonies needed to win the war with England. Deane learned of von Steuben’s indiscretions — and that the French clergy was investigating — as evidenced from a letter to the Prince of Hechingen, his former employer, which read in part:

It has come to me from different sources that M. de Steuben is accused of having taken familiarities with young boys, which the laws forbid and punish severely. I have even been informed that that is the reason why M. de Steuben was obliged to leave Hechingen and that the clergy of your country intend to prosecute him by law as soon as he may establish himself anywhere.

Deane, along with Franklin, acted quickly before the clergy could deport or imprison von Steuben and plotted to send him to the colonies to serve with Washington. The proof of Franklin and Deane’s knowledge lies in the letter to Washington recommending von Steuben and their quick action to secure the baron from France. So, in September 1777, von Steuben boarded a 24-gun ship named Heureux – but, for this voyage, the ship’s name was changed to Le Flamand, and the baron’s name was entered onto the captain’s log as “Frank.” And he was on his way to the colonies. Von Steuben was given an advance for passage to America and began as a volunteer, without pay.

Once the general had arrived in Valley Forge, Washington was concerned about von Steuben’s inability to speak English, so he appointed two of his officers who spoke French to work as his translators. One of those officers was Alexander Hamilton and the other, his close friend John Laurens. Within months, von Steuben gained Washington’s confidence and began to transform the colonial army.

Washington and Franklin’s trust in von Steuben was rewarded. He whipped the rag-tag army of the colonies into a professional fighting force, able to take on the most powerful superpower of the time, England. Some of his accomplishments include instituting a “model company” for training, establishing sanitary standards and organization for the camp, and training soldiers in drills and tactics such as bayonet fighting and musket loading. According to “The Papers of Von Steuben,” the following is a timeline of his achievements.

February 1778: Arrives at Valley Forge to serve under Washington, having informed Congress of his desire for paid service after an initial volunteer trial period, with which request Washington concurs.

March 1778: Begins tenure as inspector general, drilling troops according to established European military precepts.

1778-79: Writes “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States,” which becomes a fundamental guide for the Continental Army and remains in active use through the War of 1812, being published in over 70 editions.

1780-81: Senior military officer in charge of troop and supply mobilization in Virginia.

1781: Replaced by Marquis de Lafayette as commander in Virginia.

1781-83: Continues to serve as Washington’s inspector general, and is active in improving discipline and streamlining administration in the army.

Spring 1783: Assists in formulating plans for the postwar American military.

Washington rewarded Von Steuben with a house at Valley Forge, which he shared with his aide-de-camps Capt. William North and Gen. Benjamin Walker. Walker lived with him through the remainder of his life, and von Steuben, who neither married nor denied any of the allegations of homosexuality, left his estate to North and Walker. There wasn’t much else to claim, as the baron was in debt at the time of his death, according to both Kapp and Lockhart. His last will and testament has been described as a love letter to Walker and has been purported to describe their “extraordinarily intense emotional relationship", yet that line was not in the Kapp biography of 1859. Both North and Walker are featured in the statue of von Steuben in Lafayette Park across from the White House.

Speculation over who von Steuben slept with abounded from Prussia to France to the United States. Yet he never once denied it. The closest he came to the topic was to ask Washington to speak on behalf of his morals in a letter to Congress so they would authorize the disbursement of his pension. And why did he ask Washington?

Since his arrival in Philadelphia to assist the Revolution, von Steuben had financial issues caused by a Continental Congress that often didn’t keep its funding promises, a challenge compounded by his own personality: Von Steuben at times could be cold and aloof, which was problematic when diplomacy was needed with an important member of Congress. He also had a tendency to live and spend extravagantly, especially on his uniforms, which were often emblazoned with epaulets and medals of his own design.

Due to his financial picture — and misconceptions about his association with Deane, who, along with Franklin, brought him to the Revolution, but who was later disgraced as traitor to the United States — von Steuben had to fight for his pension.

Adding to that were the constant rumors about his sexuality, which by 1790 had reached one of the revolution’s first families, the Adamses of Massachusetts.

Charles, the son of John and Abigail Adams — the second president and First Lady of the new union — was what today would be called the black sheep of the family. Early on, Abigail considered him “not at peace within himself". His biggest problem was alcoholism but, as revealed in letters among the various members of the family, the Adamses had other concerns.

As John Ferling wrote in the biography John Adams: A Life, “There are references to [Charles’] alleged proclivity for consorting with men whom his parents regarded as unsavory". One of these men was von Steuben, who, as Ferling writes, many at the time considered homosexual. Charles had become infatuated with and adored Von Steuben. It is clear in the family letters that the Adamses were concerned about a relationship between Charles and the baron. Von Steuben’s sexuality was an open secret, one that he himself never challenged, other than to ask Washington to defend his moral character.

Washington, always the diplomat, wrote of the general and friend rather than of von Steuben’s personal life, practicing today’s notion of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

It’s hard to question von Steuben’s importance – especially as Washington’s last official act as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army was to write a letter to the baron. Sent from Annapolis and dated Dec. 23, 1783, Washington wrote:

My dear Baron: Altho’ I have taken frequent opportunities, both in public and private, of acknowledging your great zeal, attention and abilities in performing the duties of your office; yet I wish to make use of this last moment of my public life, to signifie (sic) in the strongest terms my entire approbation of your conduct, and to express my sense of the obligations the public is under to you, for your faithful and meritorious services.

I beg you will be convinced, my dear sir, that I should rejoice if it could ever be in my power to serve you more essentially than by expression of regard and affection; but in the meantime, I am persuaded you will not be displeased with this farewell token of my sincere friendship and esteem for you.

This is the last letter I shall ever write while I continue in the service of my country; the hour of my resignation is fixed at 12 this day, after which I shall become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomack, where I shall be glad to embrace you, and to testify the great esteem and consideration with which I am, etc.

The Baron is a puzzle. At first, I really didn’t like him: The man himself was pompous, cold and theatrical, and his uniforms and title were stage props for an officer who didn’t even speak English when he got to Valley Forge. But I respected him for what he did to help Washington’s rag-tag army to defeat the British, eventually leading to the creation of our country. His knowledge created the first sense of military discipline in the colonies. My appreciation for him came from his most recent biographer, Paul Lockhart, whose book The Drillmaster of Valley Forge offers a complete look at von Steuben’s work.

There is one story in the book that could be considered rather scandalous in today’s terms: Von Steuben most likely threw the first underwear party in the United States military, at his house in Valley Forge.

As Lockhart writes, “The Baron hosted a party exclusively for their lower-ranking friends. He insisted, though, that ‘none should be admitted that had on a whole pair of breeches', making light of the shortages that affected the junior officers as they did the enlisted men".

The nation that von Steuben helped found has memorialized him with numerous statues, including those at Lafayette Square near the White House and at Valley Forge and Utica, N.Y. (where he is buried), and German Americans celebrate his birthday each year on Sept. 17, hosting parades in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago.

It was von Steuben who played a giant role in not only the creation of our military, but the idea of military academies, a standing army and even veterans organizations. If George Washington was the father of the nation, then von Steuben, a gay man, was the father of the United States military."