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I Will Bear True Faith and Allegiance: Patriotism and Protest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past month I have been watching and occasionally commenting on the kneeling during the National Anthem controversy on my social media accounts but not here. But tonight I want to share a few thoughts on the actions of NFL players who have protested continued inequities, injustice, evil, and racism in the United States by choosing to kneel during the National Anthem.

The fact is these players as much as their critics claim otherwise are not protesting the Flag, nor are they insulting the troops. They are doing what all true American patriots have done since the beginning of our American experiment. They are being as patriotic as our founders were when they not only criticized, but took up arms against England. After all as Adlai Stevenson once said “Do not… regard the critics as questionable patriots.  What were Washington and Jefferson and Adams but profound critics of the colonial status quo?”

They are acting in the best tradition of America, they are peacefully protesting. They are not committing violence, they are using their position to draw attention to things in our society which must be addressed if we are in the words of the Preamble of the Constitution “to form a more perfect Union.” They are speaking of how we as Americans still fail to live up to the promise embodied but never perfected in the words“we hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal…” From our earliest days as a nation we as a people have struggled with that ideal and at every point in our there have been Americans who have, often much to the chagrin of others have protested in some way how we failed to live up to that ideal.

When freshman Congressman Abraham Lincoln spoke up against James K. Polk’s invasion of Mexico in 1848 he was condemned as unpatriotic by many and was not returned to the House of Representatives, but he was heard. When Henry Clay, a slave-owner himself condemned that war as a means to expand slavery he lost his last chance to gain the Presidency. When Stephen Douglas opposed the attempt by pro-slavery partisans to use an illegitimate election in Kansas to have that territory admitted as a slave state he lost his chance to win the Presidency in 1860. I could go on with hundreds of examples, from the Suffragettes of the early Women’s rights movement who fought for the right to vote and equality in the workplace; the abolitionists, white and black, who resisted laws which enslaved Blacks in the slave states and enabled slave owners to go into Free States and avoid U.S. courts to re-enslave any Black be they a former slave or not solely based on the word of a slave holder; Civil Rights leaders who were imprisoned, beaten, and sometimes killed for defying unjust laws…

I am sorry but the list could go on and on and on. In every case they were declared by their opponents to be both unpatriotic and lawbreakers. Today, many are saying those things about those who protest during the National anthem at sporting events while defending people who are working day in and day out to roll back the rights of other Americans, and sadly, that does include the President and many members of his political party. When I say sadly, it is because I belonged to and supported that party for 32 years until after my tour in Iraq, when I saw the lies of how the war had been sold by my party, lies which I believed in spite of evidence to the contrary. The last part was my fault, I should have known better, yet I condemned the war’s opponents as being unpatriotic only to find that they were right.

So now, nearly a decade later I support the right to protest as I would not have before Iraq. While I would not take a knee at the National Anthem even if I wasn’t still in the military I cannot condemn those who do. Patriotism involves much more than respecting the Flag, it means respecting and honoring the principles and ideals in Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream and re-dedicating ourselves to the “new birth of freedom” that Lincoln alluded in the Gettysburg Address. To do that we must remove the blinders from our eyes, to re-look at our own history to get past the myths and untruths that have been used to buttress the the claims of those who want to squelch unpopular dissent and uncomfortable truths.

Mark Twain said some words that all should hold dear:

“Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way accordng to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country—hold up your head.”

One cannot sit in silence while Americans, particularly racial or religious minorities, women, and gays are threatened through legislation and sometimes violent action by other Americans who for whatever reason want to return the country to a place where those people cannot exercise those rights. If we do what good are we? If we do are we any better than those who looked the other way in the Third Reich when Jews, Gypsies, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Handicapped, and others were marched off to Concentration Camps?

When I salute the Flag I salute the symbol of ideals not yet fully realized, and when I do so I pay honor and respect to all of those whose patriotism was lived out over a lifetime, and while I include the men and women who served in the military in that, I also include all of those dissidents whose sacrifice paved the way for every new advance of freedom in this country. Likewise, I remember the times that we as a nation have fallen short of those ideals and I recommit myself to my oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same…

As I do that I have to stand for the right of the players and others to peacefully protest anywhere and by whatever means they choose no matter how unpopular it is or how uncomfortable it makes us. Frederick Douglass said:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The NFL and the Problem of Patriotism versus Nationalism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I thought that the controversy over the peaceful demonstrations of athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial prejudice and violence committed against African Americans and other people was beginning to die down. That was before today when Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Indianapolis allegedly to watch a football came and see former Indianapolis Colt’s quarterback Peyton Manning be honored by the team. Instead, taking his orders from President Trump, the Vice President traveled to the game and walked out when members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the National Anthem. Thereafter the Vice President and the President went to Twitter to castigate the players and using taxpayer money, in this case over $200,000 to make their point, condemning the protesting players as being disrespectful to the flag and to the military. As labor leader Eugene Debs noted in 1918: ““In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.”

The act was an act of craven political nationalism disguised as patriotism, and there is a difference between the two. George Orwell noted this when he wrote “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.” Sadly I fear that the vast majority of Americans do not know the difference.

For those who don’t know I’m a veteran. In fact I’m a combat veteran. Not only that I am basically a dinosaur in today’s military as I’ve been serving continuously in some component of the military since I enlisted in August 1981. My oath is to the Constitution and that document enshrines the right of free speech and political protest, even of people that I may disagree with, and to see the President and Vice President flagrantly demonizing people for peacefully expressing their beliefs, and exercising those Constitutionally protected rights by kneeling during the national anthem not only offends, but angers me. Likewise the fact that the President found every way he could to avoid military service and openly mocked combat wounded veterans as losers during the Presidential campaign demonstrates the President’s hackneyed understanding of what he calls patriotism. 

My dad also served a full career in the U.S. Navy including a combat tour in Vietnam where he was assigned to an emergency airstrip in the city of An Loc, surrounded by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong for 80 days.

I also had relatives fight in both World Wars and one of my great uncles, a brother of my dad’s mother was killed in action serving as an infantryman during World War Two. Over the last sixteen years of war I have had a good number of friends and comrades die or suffer so much from the psychological and spiritual wounds of war that they later ended their lives.

As such, I have the highest regard for the armed forces of the United States and those who have served in them whether they be volunteers or if they were drafted. At the same time I don’t think that simply being a veteran makes one any more patriotic than someone who hasn’t served in uniform and I find it disgraceful that the military and those that serve are all too often reduced to stereotyped symbols that are used for partisan political causes which are not at all related to patriotism, but instead the most base and banal forms of nationalism, often paid for at sporting events by the Department of Defense.

Please understand that patriotism and nationalism are two different things. One can be a patriot and not a nationalist. That difference was first shown by the members of Congress and other elder statesmen of the country who between 1846 and 1848 opposed President James K. Polk’s unjust and shameful war against Mexico who included John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and a freshman Congressman named Abraham Lincoln. All were called traitors by Polk and his supporters. Military men serving in Mexico found the war criminal and the actions of state volunteers abominable. Ulysses S. Grant, then a young Lieutenant wrote that the Mexican war was “as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

Patriots want the country and our leaders to live up to our highest ideals. Patriots actually believe the words of the Declaration of Independence which state “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” A patriot believes and works for what the founders wrote in the First Amendment to the Constitution regarding freedom of speech, religion, association, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances, and yes, that includes kneeling during the National Anthem.

Likewise a patriot is committed to building upon those foundations as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

While those who served in the military and those who have died to protect this county and honored the Constitution are worthy of respect, there have been far to many other patriots who have sacrificed themselves for the ideals of the country and have been treated as criminals for doing so. Those who fought against slavery and who defied the law to fight against it and to protect African Americans from slave owners who were backed by the government were patriots. Women who fought for the right to vote were patriots. Workers who fought for fair wages and safe working conditions. Men and women who protested and opposed unjust wars against Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the Spanish American War, the Vietnam War and the U.S invasion of Iraq were all patriots. Likewise the men and women who have stood up for the civil rights of all citizens often in the face of violent opposition from police were patriots too. 

This list could go in and on listing the patriotic endeavors of Americans of all races, all genders, and all religions to promote the liberty of all, whether they had ever served in the military. Frederick Douglass wrote: “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason… Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

However, nationalism is not the same as patriotism even though a fervent nationalists will without hesitation co-opt the symbols of the nation for purposes that were feared by our founders. Historian Timothy Snyder makes a good comparison of patriotism and nationalism:

“A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.”

One can have honest disagreement as to what they think of the actions of the protesting players, but to deride them as being unpatriotic even as they use the flag as a campaign fundraising tools as the President did in an ad last week and the Vice President’s cynical move Sunday were shameful. Their nationalism reminds me of what Mark Twain called “Monarchical Patriotism” which he noted was different than republican patriotism. Twain wrote:

“There are two kinds of patriotism — monarchical patriotism and republican patriotism. In the one case the government and the king may rightfully furnish you their notions of patriotism; in the other, neither the government nor the entire nation is privileged to dictate to any individual what the form of his patriotism shall be. The gospel of the monarchical patriotism is: “The King can do no wrong.” We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: “Our country, right or wrong!” We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had:– the individual’s right to oppose both flag and country when he (just he, by himself) believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism.”

We as a people have become so hopelessly confused as to the meaning of patriotism that we as Twain noted, are throwing away the most valuable assets we have, the right of the individual to oppose both flag and country when they believe them to be wrong. We have allowed the President and those like him to turn the protests regarding injustices that bring shame to our republic to be attacks on the flag and the military, and that is grotesque. We are throwing away our birthright as Americans to protest wrong in our land and are embracing the creed of tyrants. If we continue down this path we will lose our republic. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on Labor Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was Labor Day and sadly many people don’t really understand its significance. For decades organized labor has been demonized by the descendants of people who died to secure decent working conditions, wages, and benefits for regular hard working people. But most of the people lucky enough not to have to work on Labor Day really don’t know why it it matters, and whips in spite of those who despise labor and care not a whit about working people, who simply to use business terminology are simply human capital or resources.

So today I am digging into the vault to explore why Labor Day and what it represents matters to us now. This article is one that I have taken the time to edit and update.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our only President who was a real working man once said, “If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.” Likewise, Adam Smith wrote:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

It seems that nothing about humanity ever changes, even so it is hard to believe that at one time American workers had no rights and I am not talking about African American slaves who as slaves didn’t even count as human beings. No I’m talking about the people Mel Brooks called in Blazing Saddles: “the white God fearing citizens of Rock Ridge” and for that matter every place and every race in America.

It was not until the mid-1800s in the United States and Europe that workers began to organize and protest for the right to decent wages and working conditions. But this came at a cost; the loss of jobs, homes, property, prison, deportation, deportation, and death.

There were many instances when this cost workers and labor organizers their lives. Employers, often backed by heavily armed private security contractors like the Pinkerton Agency, used deadly force to break up peaceful strikes. In the days of the Robber Barons, when business ran the government at almost every level, employers frequently called in local and state law enforcement, as well as the National Guard, and occasionally Federal troops to break strikes. They played various ethnic and racial groups off of each in order to divide the labor movement. There are hundreds of instances of such violence being used against workers, in some strikes the dead numbered in the hundreds.

Some of these attacks on workers occurred in major cities, others at isolated work sites and factories. Some are famous, the Haymarket Massacre of May 4th 1886 in Chicago, the Pullman Strike Massacre of 1894, the Homestead Strike and Massacre of 1892, the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, and the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927.

Others less so, but there was more. In the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 1300 striking miners and their families were deported from their homes in Bisbee Arizona by 2000 armed deputies, put in box cars and transported 200 miles to the New Mexico desert, where without food, water or money they were left. There was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where managers locked the doors in order to ensure that the fleeing women workers did not put anything unauthorized in their purses. One hundred forty-four workers, mostly young women died, many jumping from the burning building to their death.

Early labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor led the effort to bring about better conditions. For doing so they were labeled subversive and even called communists. Their meetings were often attacked and the leaders jailed and some lynched.

The sacrifices of those early workers, and organizers are why we have Labor Day. One of the early American labor leaders was a man named Eugene Debs. Debs eventually became a Socialist, but he said something remarkable which still is as timely as when he uttered the words:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

I wish that wasn’t true but it is. The Social Darwinists who follow Ayn Rand as if she were the Prophet and who populate Wall Street boardrooms and every major school of business ensure that it is. The disparity between wage laborers and CEOs is higher than it has ever been. But I digress…

On September 5th 1882 the first Labor Day was observed when members of several Unions in New York City organized the first Labor Day parade. The police came armed and ready to intervene if the workers got out of hand, but the parade was peaceful. It ended and the marchers moved over to Wendell’s Elm Park where they had a party. Twenty-five thousand Union men and their families celebrated, with hundreds of kegs of lager beer.

Within a few years many states began to institute Labor days of their own. In 1894, just days after the violent end of the Pullman strike in which Federal troops and Marshalls killed 30 workers and wounded 57 more, Congress and President Grover Cleveland rushed through legislation to establish a Federal Labor Day.

My Great Aunt Goldie Dundas was a labor organizer for the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union in West Virginia in the 1920s – 1950s. I wish I had gotten to really know her, but she died when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Sadly the workers represented by that Union have had almost all of their jobs in the textile industry outsourced to China, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Bangladesh where cheaply made garments are produced, and workers abused. The examples of mass deaths due to safety issues and fires in Bangladeshi factories are too numerous to list. But then who cares? The fact is you can drive through many parts of the South and see the poverty created by the exodus of these Union employers, the textile industry, which was part of the fabric of the South is gone. Empty factories and poverty stricken towns dot the countryside. I saw a lot of them living in Eastern North Carolina, towns that once thrived are ghost towns, riddled with crime, unemployment and no hope, unless Wal-Mart opens a store in town. Ironically it sells the clothing made overseas that used to be manufactured by the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the people who live there today.

Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism understood it in a very different manner than those who claim to be Capitalists today. He wrote in his magnum opus, The Wealth of All Nations:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

The fact is that today, labor is under threat. Unions have been demonized by politicians and pundits and their power and influence much reduced. Some of this was due to their own success in improving conditions from workers, and not just Union workers. When my dad retired from the Navy in 1974, he went to work at one of the few non-Union warehouses of the John Deere Company in Stockton, California. While they were not union, the workers received every benefit won by the majority of the workers in the company who were members of the United Auto Workers Union. Due to that my dad had high wages, excellent working conditions and benefits. The company had a program for the children of workers, which allowed them to work in the summer in the warehouse and receive incredibly high pay and benefits while in college. I did that for two years, and it helped pay for much of my college. I was not a union member but I benefited because Union men and leaders did the hard work to make that job happen.

However, in many places, Unions and labor are under attack, sometimes not just by corporations, but also by state governments. Job security and stability for most American workers is a thing of the past. Federal and State agencies charged with protecting those rights, including safety in the workplace are being cut in the mad rush to reduce government power. Corporations are offshoring and outsourcing jobs without regard to American workers or the country itself. Part of that is due to globalization and I understand that, but these companies frequently relocate jobs to places where they can exploit workers, deny them benefits, pay them less, and suffer no penalty for ignoring safety procedures or harming the environment. It seems to me that we are returning to the days of the Robber Barons. I wonder when violence against workers and those who support them will be condoned or simply ignored.

Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical Renum Novarum:

“The following duties . . . concern rich men and employers: Workers are not to be treated as slaves; justice demands that the dignity of human personality be respected in them, … gainful occupations are not a mark of shame to man, but rather of respect, as they provide him with an honorable means of supporting life. It is shameful and inhuman, however, to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy.”

He also wrote:

“Equity therefore commands that public authority show proper concern for the worker so that from what he contributes to the common good he may receive what will enable him, housed, clothed, and secure, to live his life without hardship. Whence, it follows that all those measures ought to be favored which seem in any way capable of benefiting the condition of workers. Such solicitude is so far from injuring anyone, that it is destined rather to benefit all, because it is of absolute interest to the State that those citizens should not be miserable in every respect from whom such necessary goods proceed.”

But sadly there are far too few church leaders of any denomination who will take the side of workers or the poor, and when they do they are either condemned by the disciples of Ayn Rand or politely thanked and ignored by politicians and corporate leaders.

So please, when you celebrate Labor Day, do not forget that it is important, and that we should not forget why we celebrate it. If we forget that, it will become a meaningless holiday and our children may have to make the same sacrifices of our ancestors.

Labor Day is a day to remember the men and women, some of them former soldiers, workers, labor organizers, and leaders; some of whom were killed by National Guard and Federal troops for their effort, who paved the way for workers today. We cannot forget that. So when you see a politician attacking Labor and seeking to diminish workers rights or benefits ask them what Abraham Lincoln or Adam Smith would think. If they can’t answer, turn your backs on them and start fighting for what is right.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who always stood for the rights of workers no-matter what their race, creed, or color, said: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

This my friends is why Labor and the protection of working people from those who abase them, mistreat them, and exploit them is so important.

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They Silently Gather Around Me: Walking the Antietam Battlefield


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As you know from yesterday’s article I am taking an extended weekend in the D.C. area and yesterday I took a trip up to the Antietam Battlefield which surrounds much of Sharpsburg, Maryland. It was a time of quiet reflection on a battle, on the lives of soldiers, and on our country. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day in American military history, more Americans were killed and wounded on that day than any other single day. While the battle was a draw from a military point of view it was singularly important in that it stopped Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North and gave Abraham Lincoln enough of a victory to announce the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The announcement of that, and creative Union diplomacy helped turn the tide of the war by helping to keep England and France from recognizing the Confederacy.


It was my intention to walk as much of the battlefield as I could and I did. The weather was good but a bit warmer and sunnier than what the soldiers who fought there experienced on September 17th 1862. Even so it is my opinion that walking battlefields, be it on a staff ride, reenactment, or simply doing what I did yesterday helps one put the battle into a human context especially if one has a fair amount of historical knowledge and familiarity with a given battle. Being hot, sweaty, feeling ones legs, feet, and back hurt, dealing with waterlogged shoes, being assaulted by swarms of insects, and fighting your way through thrushes, reeds, and high grass along the banks of a creek or river, and drinking the bare minimum of water, and getting a little bit sunburned, is a good way to get a feel for what the soldiers experienced at Antietam or other Civil War battles. I am just glad that I was not wearing a wool uniform, carrying a heavy rifle, 60 rounds of ammunition and cartridges, and all my kit wearing what we would no call substandard shoes, if like the Union soldiers did we even had them. If you were a Confederate soldier at Antietam you might have been barefoot. Since I have been to war and lugged heavy amounts of gear around Iraq I can imagine that, even though I never had to walk as far there as I did today. That’s a good thing.


In his book The Forgotten Soldier, Guy Sajer wrote:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”

I am sure that many a Civil War soldier would agree with him. The fact is that reading the history of various wars is important, but whenever possible it is good to experience some of the discomfort of those who fought the battle. When I finished the last part of my battlefield experience my feet hurt and when I took off my shoes they looked pretty bad, but much of that was from the dirt, grass, and moisture that had found its way into my shoes. But unlike the soldiers at Antietam I could return to a safe and dry place and care for my feet, they couldn’t.


We are fortunate along much of the east and central parts of the United States to have many well preserved battlefields. I highly recommend those who have not gotten out to see them, walk them, and to remember those who were killed, wounded, or emotionally scarred for life. Walking the Antietam battlefield for the first time since 2001 I was able to sense the terrible reality that that battlefield was the bloodiest single day of fighting in American history. Depending on the estimate some 22,000 to 27,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded on that one day. As I walked through the Cornfield and the West Woods I tried to imagine how over 13,000 troops were killed or wounded in that part of the battlefield alone. I felt the same way along the Bloody Lane, near the Dunker Church, at the Burnside Bridge, and along the furthest point of the Union advance. Of course this is hallowed ground and the National Cemetery has in it the remains of over 5,000 Union soldiers.


The remains of nearly 3,000 Confederates were interred in a new cemetery on the outskirts of Hagerstown which was dedicated in 1877 as well as two other cemeteries. This is interesting to me because at Gettysburg the Confederate dead were exhumed and taken back to the south with many buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.


The National Cemetery is guarded by Old Simon a massive granite statue of a representative Union soldier. The monument is 44 feet tall, and Old Simon, designed and sculpted by James Batterson is 21 1/2 feet tall and weighs 30 tons. The inscription is appropriate. It simply reads: Not for themselves but for their country, September 17, 1862.



The graves of the soldiers are laid out around the statue grouped in the states from where they came. There are a few individual monuments and a monument erected by the survivors of the 20th New York, a unit primarily composed of German immigrants that also has a monument not far from the Dunker Church. The inscription on one side has in German the words Zum Andenken an unsere Gefallenen Kameraden, errichtet von dem Ueberlebenden des Regts. (Erected to our fallen comrades by the survivors of the regiment)


As far as battlefield monuments are concerned there are comparatively few, just 96 as compared to Gettysburg which has some 1,300 of all types. Almost all of the monuments at Antietam, with the exception of the ubiquitous bronze markers that show the positions of units and describe their actions, are dedicated to units of the Army of the Potomac. These were erected by states, communities that contributed troops and veteran associations. There are only six monuments specifically honoring Confederates with Maryland having a monument to its soldiers of both sides.


 Of the Confederate monuments most are of fairly recent import. Georgia and Texas have monuments to all of their soldiers, while Mississippi has one dedicated to the 11thMississippi Infantry. All three of these stand within a hundred yards of each other on the southern edge of the Cornfield.


There is a monument to Robert E. Lee near the new Burnside bridge off Maryland Highway 34 as you cross Antietam Creek. It too is a rather new addition, being funded by William F. Chaney and dedicated in June 2003. Chaney had noted that he just wanted “even things up a bit.” The inscription on it furthers the Lee myth promoted by the purveyors of the Lost Cause and the Noble South saying “Although hoping for a decisive victory Lee had to settle for a military draw, Robert E. Lee was personally against secession and slavery, but decided his duty was to fight for his home and the universal right of every people to self-determination.”


A monument on the northern edge of the Cornfield is dedicated to Clara Barton who along with other nurses helped to care for the wounded of the battle and one near the Burnside Bridge to President William McKinley who was a Sergeant in the 23rd Ohio Infantry. Six monuments each with a cannon placed upside down into a stone, these are mortuary markers noting where six Generals were killed or mortally wounded. They include Union Generals Joseph Mansfield, commander of XII Corps, and division commanders Israel Richardson and Isaac Rodman. Three Confederate brigade commanders, George Anderson, William Starke, and Lawrence O’Brien Branch are marked by identical monuments.


There was an eerie pristine feeling when I walked the battlefield yesterday. There were not many people on it, especially compared to Gettysburg. This led to a rather solitary experience amid the quite, only punctuated by the calls of birds, the chattering of squirrels, and the assorted buzzing, chirping, and humming of insects. As I walked the Cornfield, the West Woods, the Sunken Road and Bloody Lane, crossed the Burnside Bridge, made my way to the furthest point of the Union advance, and paused in the cemetery I was continually reminded of Walt Whitman’s poem, Ashes of Dead Soldiers:

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”


Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Stand by Those Principles, Against All Foes, At Any Cost: Independence Day 2017


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is July 4th and the 241st anniversary of the declaration by the leaders of 13 colonies of their independence from Britain and the founding on a new nation. It was a nation founded on a principle of the Enlightenment, the principle that all men are created equal, and as their Declaration of Independence noted that as such are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

That founding principle was revolutionary and regardless of how badly it was many times lived out in the history of our nation, it was and still is the first time that a nation was not founded on the basis of ethnicity or religion, but rather a principle, a proposition that no matter how noble was, and still is often despised by Americans. 

One of the most notable was George Fitzhugh, a major Southern slaveholder and apologist for not only slavery but the inequality of poor whites and women wrote: 

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.

Fitzhugh also wrote: 

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.”

But he was not alone. In 1860 South Carolina led a procession of 11 states out of the Union based on the proposition that only certain men were created equal. Every declaration of secession had at its heart the statement that the institution of slavery was to be protected and expanded with the implication that African American slaves could never be equal, free, or enjoy the slightest legal protections of citizenship. These states were willing to fight a war for this and even at the end of that war many of their leaders resisted any call for granting emancipation to blacks, and then when that was over use terrorism and law to again strip away the rights from newly freed blacks through lynching, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow. 

In 1852 not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included an enhanced Fugitive Slave Act which dictated that Northerners had to cooperate in the recapture and reenslavement of blacks residing in their free states, Frederick Douglass preached one of the most damning sermons about what July 4th meant to slaves. He said:

“I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.” 

Even so men like Fitzhugh would proclaim: “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.”

Of course such is not liberty, it is tyranny and it is the seedbed of dictatorship. The word liberty is often abused by those who seek total power and control over the lives of others. Abraham Lincoln said as much when he noted: 

“We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” 

The proposition in the Declaration that all men are created equal is essential to understanding or appreciating liberty. If we view others as below us, as even less than human then we cannot say that we believe in liberty. If we decide to limit the right of citizens to speak out because of their color, their national origin, their race, their religion, their gender, or sexual identity then we are not for liberty, we are no better than George Fitzhugh or others, even the Nazis, who enslaved, imprisoned, and exterminated others in the name of their power, and their right. 

If our concept of liberty is so limited by our ideology that we cannot accept others having it or being equal to us then we stand against the very proposition that the United States was founded and we should bury the American experiment and stop lying about a proposition that we no longer believe in. The eminent American jurist wrote these words, which for me are like the Declaration, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech are secular scripture that are sacred to my understanding of being an American, and something that I will never yield. Judge Hand said: 

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

So today, on this 241st anniversary of our independence when the rights of citizenship, the rights of suffrage, the rights of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech are under assault for the man occupying the highest office in the land I do not despair. I do not despair because the spirit of liberty still lives in my heart as it does many others who still believe in that sacred and revolutionary proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

In the darkness of 1852 Frederick Douglass said these words to people who at the time were refused citizenship and who were enslaved:  

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

May we not forget those words on this day when the founding proposition of our country is under attack. 

Cherish our independence and never stop believing in or fighting for liberty. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In a few days we as Americans will be celebrating the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As the day approaches I’ll be writing more reflections on what it means even as I intersperse some articles on the Battle of Gettysburg, a victory that helped ensure that the Union would survive and that helped to pave the way for the understanding that the Declaration must be understood in its universal sense. In a day like ours where many localities, states, and even the Federal government appear to be working to limit those rights, often based on the religious beliefs of a powerful, well-funded and militant minority of conservative Christians, this all the more important.

For me it is the truth both of a concept of Liberty which must continuously be advanced or expanded, and the still imperfect embodiment of that concept in the land that it was born. The authors of the declaration wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”  Eighty-seven years later while dedicating the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg noted that the new nation was “conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

Lincoln understood from the reality of war, and the statements of European leaders that the whole concept of a country being founded on a proposition like this, not race, not class, not religion, not station in life, was bound to be opposed, and was incredibly fragile. He confronted a rebellion which based itself on the belief that African Americans were less than equal, in fact subhuman and deserving of being enslaved by a superior race. Likewise, there were those in Europe who cheered the rebellion and believed that it proved that such experiments were doomed to failure, a belief that is still widely held, but more often by American elites than others.

But like it or not, the proposition that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights; a concept so imperfectly practiced by the very men who drafted it and those who followed them, still is right. That proposition was universalized as a political philosophy by Abraham Lincoln, is the basis of all hope for humanity. Tyrants, despots, dictators, terrorists, religious zealots of every sect filled with messianic visions, as well as madmen all desire to trample this proposition. Some desire to believe that those rights can simply be maintained by the power of a Constitution, but unless the people who swear to uphold that Constitution are dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal that very Constitution can be perverted and used to enslave people, as it was by the men who drafted the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Fugitive Slave Laws, and the Supreme Court decisions in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson cases ruled that African Americans were less than equal as human beings, and therefore not entitled to the same rights and liberties as were white people. It is the same constitution and laws that were used to deny citizenship and rights to Chinese immigrants until 1942, that were used by the government to interment native born Japanese American citizens in concentration camps during the Second World War, which drove Native Americans off their ancestral homelands, massacred them by the tens of millions, and placed them on reservations without any rights of American citizens until 1924; and which denied suffrage to women until 1919, and denied basic civil rights to LGBTQ people until recently; rights that in many states are still denied by state legislatures. But without equality, freedom is an illusion.

Judge Learned Hand, perhaps the best qualified man ever to not serve on the Supreme Court wrote,

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of othe men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.” 

That is why the proposition in the Declaration which was universalized by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address is still of the utmost importance. It is why it must be fought for, especially when politicians like Donald Trump and others threaten its very existence, and whose followers see it as only as Liberty for themselves and their interests. That proposition is under duress today, there are millions of followers of Trump and the demagogues who would deny Liberty to others based on race, religion, ethnicity, economic status, gender, or by them being LGBTQ. But, Liberty is a perilous thing, but once that proposition of Liberty dies in our hearts, there is nothing that can save it, no constitution, no law, no court; and those who place their trust in it the demagogues will find that they will eventually lose their Liberty as well.

In 1858 Lincoln spoke in Chicago, and in that speech he linked the common connection of all Americans share, even recent immigrants, through the Declaration. It was an era of intense anti-immigrant passions, the American Party, which sprang from the Know Nothing movement which founded upon extreme hatred of immigrants, and Roman Catholics, and violence against them, had run former President Millard Fillmore for election as at their candidate in 1856 following the collapse of the Whig Party.

In opposition to this party and movement  Lincoln proclaimed that immigrants, “cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel a part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find those old men say that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,… That is the father of all moral principle to them, and they have a right to claim it as if they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in the Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and Liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.” 

Lincoln was absolutely correct, it is that love of freedom, liberty, and equality that echoes in the Declaration, and it is still a revolutionary idea. We hold these truths to be self evident…

As a historian I cannot get away from this. Whether it is in my study of European history, particularly the Weimar Republic and the Nazi takeover, or the American Civil War, especially the times I visit the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg and talk about the Gettysburg Address with my students. The breadth of my experience, having visited Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, having watched the unadulterated adulation of crowds of Germans chanting Sieg Heil!,  having grown up in this country at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and having walked so many battlegrounds where American men have died fighting such tyranny makes me all too sensitive to why this proposition is so important.

That is why the quest for the fulfillment of that proposition is something that cannot be given up, it is in the words of Lincoln, “it is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who have fought for have thus far so nobly advanced. That it is for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead should not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” 

For me it is this proposition, the proposition mocked by the elites of Europe, the proposition that any republic founded on such a proposition was doomed to fail, this proposition that says “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal” is what Independence Day is about. That is why in my remaining service to this country I will rededicate myself to seeing that “new birth of freedom” is fulfilled for every American.

That may seem a pipe dream to some people, and even impossible to others; but it is what far too many of the men and women who served before me gave the last full measure of devotion to duty to bring to fulfillment. Learned Hand was right, if Liberty dies in our hearts, no law, no constitution, no court, can save us.

Have a great Independence Day and please remember it is not about the day off, the picnics, or displays of military might, it is about that proposition; the one that is so easy to forget, the proposition that all men are created equal.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The “Saving Principles” of the Declaration of Independence

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in Springfield, Illinois on June 26th 1857, nearly 160 years ago. They are part of a continuum in the development of his philosophy of liberty and how he understood the words of the Declaration of Independence, and how he believed that the authors 0f that document understood the words that set the United States apart from all other nations. The words “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” were revolutionary for their time and the Jefferson understood them in that manner.

“They [the signers of the Declaration of Independence] did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right; so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.”

Though at the time they words of the Declaration only applied to white men, the words and writings of many of the founders were uncomfortable with the actual condition of black slaves as well as Native Americans. The had enough integrity to understand that what they wrote was a proposition that had universal implications which were not yet realized and would take time to happen. Those who mocked the document, the proposition, the founders, and the new nation understood that as well. It was a watershed moment for all of Europe was still under the control of Kings and despots. Thomas Jefferson understood how these words threatened despotic rule around the world and in 1821 he wrote to John Adams:

“The flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them.”

But this was something that the people of the United States would have to wrestle with for decades before the most glaring aspect of inequality, that of slavery was overthrown. Frederick Douglass understood the importance of the Declaration even as white Americans on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line crafted compromises that left blacks in slavery and gave unfettered access for slave owners to go to Free States to recover their human property. In 1852 he wrote:

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

It is that ring bolt and it must be understood in its universal application and people in the United States and in countries which have embraces some portions of the concept and fight for it, otherwise it could be lost. Harry Truman noted this danger in 1952 when he said:

“We find it hard to believe that liberty could ever be lost in this country. But it can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases.”

Today the rights, protections, civil liberties, and opportunity to advance themselves of Americans are being rolled back in a manner that a few decades ago most of us would have found unimaginable. They are under threat many ways, too many to mention today and they must be continually fought for or we will lose them.

As Independence Day draws near I will continue to write about this subject even as I write about the Battle of Gettysburg. It matters too much.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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