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Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring legacy: ‘Beyond Vietnam’

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Sometimes words remain appropriate, not only for the era in which they are spoken, but for multiple eras, and perhaps for the length of humanity’s struggle to overcome the worst aspects of its collective nature – greed, avarice, hypocrisy and the bondage of others to forward one’s own self interests – in other words, FOREVER.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s words of April 4, 1967 now known as the “Beyond Vietnam” speech are such words.  They illustrate the depth of Dr. King’s comprehension that Civil Rights was the struggle of more than one race in one nation at one point in history.

(Photos/Public Domain)

These words, spoken exactly one year to the day before his assassination, are why some pause each January to remember and celebrate his life; while others are simply reminded of why he was and continues to be hated by others.

In this first month of 2017 these words remain pointedly appropriate, particularly if you insert certain Middle Eastern nations for Southeast Asian ones and replace “communism” with “terrorism” as a primary motive for certain military and foreign policy decisions.  And we might ask ourselves if our current borderless, worldwide war on terror isn’t at least in part, a legacy of our collective failure to yet heed Dr. King’s words of April 1967. – Due to the speech’s length, some introductory comments and other details on the Vietnam era have been edited out – deletions are indicated by (…) – and some points have been emphasized with bold highlights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – ‘Beyond Vietnam’

I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization that brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” … The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one …

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world … Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.  And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history … For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us …

“Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask?

And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live …

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such …

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent …

There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. – Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photos/Public Domain)

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964. And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.

But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men – for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

… Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of son-ship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula … They must see Americans as strange liberators  … We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops … Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness … They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of new violence?

… At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved … and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now.

I speak as a child of God … I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. – Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photos/Public Domain)

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote: “Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit … and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about … Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God. In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution … It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. 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, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.”

It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.”

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them, is not just … America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood …

We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice … It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries … A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies … This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind … When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response … I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality … This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is God” …

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, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. – Martin Luther King Jr. (Photos/Public Domain)

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late … Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”

There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”  We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace … and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors.  If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight … Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world …

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

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The courthouse soldier’s statue and our history – not as simple as some portray it

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I think Mr. Bianchini’s recent article on the Confederate statue/memorial was well written, even if I didn’t agree with everything in the article. I think I can speak for not just myself, but many others in Warren County, in saying leave our statue and history alone! I am so sick of this “cancel culture” and the current push by some to seemingly try to erase a vast majority of American history. As we have seen in recent months, it was never just about Confederate soldiers, they were just easy targets. But how much does the average American actually know about the Civil War?

There are many facts that either aren’t taught anymore, or have been swept under the rug on purpose. First, the right of secession was a very important topic in the US for the 70 years prior to the Civil War, so much so that New York, Rhode Island and Virginia would not ratify the US Constitution unless the right of secession was included. In fact, several New England states tried at least 4 separate times to secede from the US: 1804, 1814, 1844 and 1848, over everything from the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, to the Mexican War. Soldiers at West Point were even taught in their textbooks up to 1860 that secession was legal.

Also, why is it never discussed that states in the upper south, like Virginia, voted in early 1861 to remain in the Union, and only voted for secession when Lincoln called for 75,000 soldiers to march through the South and put down the “rebellion”? It was even stated in the Virginia Constitution that no army could march through the state without permission from the state, which is why many men joined the southern armies. They took this as an invasion.

The Confederate soldier on the WC Courthouse lawn since 1911. Why did ‘he’, representing this county’s foot soldiers, fight? They aren’t here to answer – but can we be trusted to answer for them, so as to justify their collective image and names removal from our public property? One reader says the answer may not be as simple as some would have us believe. Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini

Why is it never discussed anymore that 75% of white men living in the South in 1861 didn’t own any slaves? How ironic is it that the top 2 Union generals in the war, General’s Grant and Sherman, both owned slaves before and during the war, yet there are no records of General Lee or Jackson ever buying a slave! General Lee inherited slaves from his father-in-law in the late 1850s, and they were freed as instructed in the will 5 years later in 1862, right in the middle of the war! Stonewall Jackson’s wife also inherited several slaves who were later freed as well. The vast majority of Union soldiers stated they were fighting to preserve the Union, and not to solely end slavery. General Grant said if he thought the war was fought only to end slavery then he would have taken his sword to the other side.

Statues and memorials, like the one here in Front Royal, weren’t erected for decades after the war for one major reason, money. The South was in ruins after the war, and it took many years to raise the money to construct them. The statue at the courthouse is a memorial to the men from Warren County who fought and died in this terrible war, and not just a Confederate monument.

History is never as simple as black or white. We also as a society cannot look at, and judge people from the 18th and 19th centuries while looking through our 21st century lenses. It is also easy to attack people who have been dead for 100 years and can’t speak for themselves. Are we a perfect nation with a perfect history? No. But we sure have it a lot better than most others.

Billy Robinson
Front Royal, Virginia

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Commentary: Is there a better way than targeting the Courthouse lawn Confederate soldier for removal?

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Let me open by apologizing for the length of this piece – but I feel at a pivotal point in our collective socio-political history both locally and nationally, I need to be precise and clear on my perspective of the issues addressed.

After being told about a month ago by one of the organization’s principals that at the time Front Royal Unites had no design on the removal of the statue on the Warren County Courthouse grounds, that has apparently changed.

A petition posted on the FR Unites website cites a change in state law implemented July 1, authorizing localities to remove or relocate Confederate memorials from public properties and calls for the tall monument dedicated, not to any Confederate military or political leader, but to the average citizen-soldier of Warren County, to be removed and relocated off public property.

As Samuel Porter and colleague led this June 20 FR Unites ‘March for Justice’ the statue commemorating the sacrifice of Confederate soldiers from Warren County in the background was not a matter of concern. Things have changed as the organization has refocused its attention, as have others, on the statue’s removal. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini & 1b from FR Unites website

The Front Royal Unites petition states, “We must support the removal of the Confederate monument at the Warren County Courthouse. Confederate symbols on public land, in effect, endorse a movement founded on white supremacy. If our government continue(s) to pay homage to the Confederacy, people of color can never be sure they will be treated fairly. And we will never solve our community’s problems if an entire group of citizens is alienated or feels targets for discrimination.”

Front Royal Unites Vice President and Director of Communications Samuel Porter authored the petition, adding of its impetus, “We must show other citizens of not only Warren County … and the nation at large that we give no safe harbor to such hatred … I urge you to support this petition because one day in the future they’ll look back to see what we did – the time to act is now, not later. Will you help bring about good and positive change? Let’s do it together. Together we are united. Together we are Front Royal.”

But will those looking back from a future perspective actually see a positive, uniting move toward justice for all in this specific effort in one small Virginia community, or will they see something, while unintended, very different?

I have spoken with a few county residents, white county residents, who can trace their lineage in this county and region back to the Civil War era, about the potential of the Courthouse lawn Confederate Soldier Memorial becoming a target for removal. Pointing to the “average man” nature of the statue, they have generally taken a hardline stance against its removal. They feel a personal connection to the statue unveiled at its current Warren County Courthouse site in 1911 to honor locals who fought in a brutal war that left more Americans dead than any fought with a foreign adversary.

They are not history’s heroes – but can their collective experience of the 1860’s war teach us anything of worth in the 21st Century – perhaps pointing two opposing perspectives toward compromise for a common good? Below, the known names commemorated on the monument’s west side.

From those conversations, while admittedly a limited number, I fear that moving locally against this particular monument may do more to divide this community than unite it. I believe it could lead to an aggressive counter-movement to defend the statue at its site, leading some who have stayed as observers of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and push back to it, to come out in stark opposition over this one symbol.

In fact, on Sunday, July 26, I was made aware of a counter online petition titled “Act Now: Save Warren County’s Civil War Statue” with 736 supporting signatures by the time I visited the website.

As of the same time late afternoon Sunday, the FR Unites petition had 719 signed on in support of removing the statue. I was also pointed to a concurrent remove the statue petition titled “Warren County United to Remove Confederate Statue” sporting 573 signatures.

Okay, it’s sideways and the wrong statue (I think). But the ‘Save Warren County’s Civil War Statue’ website petition has taken on a public opposition role to petitions in favor of moving the statue honoring the service and sacrifice of Warren County’s Civil War soldiers.

So, here we go – but what are we fighting about?

Unlike the vast majority of Confederate statues targeted in the anti-racism, equal justice for all Americans movement, those honored by the Confederate statue at the Warren County Courthouse are not major players in the Civil War. Other than locally they are historically anonymous figures. Even with most, if not all, their names attached what is really known about the average Warren County citizen-soldier of the 1860s?

To this observer’s knowledge, none memorialized on that statue left any historically documented messages in support of the root cause of the Civil War – secession from the Union over a state’s right to maintain slaves as free labor to prop up the Confederate states’ economies.

One is left to wonder how many named and unnamed on that statue left their homes and families voluntarily to go to war, or may have been conscripted into the Confederate military as were a large proportion of that army’s soldiers? Would any have actually been from slave-owning families or grasped the political impetus that set their state against other states militarily in a non-24×7 news cycle era where information, accurately reported or not, was NOT available at the flip of a switch at everyone’s fingertips??

I do sympathize with the impulse to want to remove ANY symbol glorifying the dehumanizing and amoral policy of defining any group, much less an entire race of people, as fundamentally inferior to one’s own in order to justify the use of free, slave labor for self-enrichment. However, I find myself wondering at the wisdom of including this particular statue in this particular community as part of that effort.

Could a community’s sons sacrifices, even on the wrong side of history, become a positive teaching tool for us all?

No, we do NOT want symbols of a “wink, wink” acceptance of continued racism in our nation, states and communities to continue to stand. But as I noted above, those I spoke to with an emotional attachment to the statue, appeared attached to honoring one’s predecessors, one’s ancestors who fought in a war – on the wrong side of history or not. Absent was any expressed emotional attachment to slavery or argument that in the long run slavery’s end as an economic-cultural institution was a bad thing.

Another way?

So, I had a thought – why not approach Front Royal Unites leadership, and other like-minded groups, and supporters of the Warren County Courthouse site of the Confederate Soldier Memorial about a compromise solution – a solution that perhaps has more potential for uniting this community than simply lumping this one statue in with all the others earmarked for removal efforts.

Yes, Front Royal Unites and others aligned with the “Black Lives Matter” and equal-justice movement, keep your sights set on those monuments or boulevards erected or named for those who are documented for their blatant racism, aggressively cruel slaveholding, belief in the preservation of slavery or more recently, efforts to preserve racial segregation in American society into the late 20th Century.

But is a blanket assault on historical markings and personages born into a different era going to teach us any more about who we were, and who we WANT to be as a people moving forward, than is the close-minded stance of those who don’t accept that institutional racism continues to be an issue in American society or worse are perfectly comfortable with institutionalized racism?

If we want to advance and truly unite to the common cause of human equality and balanced economic opportunity for all, don’t we have to be better than our opponents on the other side of our own historical epoch?

Could we as a community unite across racial, philosophical, even political boundaries and leave the statue where it is – BUT use it as a tool of education for the entire community and those who visit us? Yes, the statue at another location as proposed in the Front Royal Unites petition – Prospect Hill Cemetery, the Daughters of the Confederacy, or Warren Rifles Confederate Museum property – could be used as an educational tool. But once moved, how many on the “get the thing out my sight” side would actually remain engaged in such an effort to teach and learn from that statue?

The county’s Confederate soldier gazes north, most directly at the Afton Inn, the shadow of which is visible at the bottom of the FR Town Hall’s Crescent St. wall. Perhaps a citizen compromise on the monument might point the town government toward compromise on its Afton, EDA issues, or propel a November election result that would promote such compromise.

However, if those from BOTH sides of the debate had to explain why they agreed to leave a Confederate statue on the Warren County Courthouse property, that might lead to some serious background research, conversation – and UNITY. But what could that statue, remaining in the center of Historic Downtown Front Royal on public property, teach us all, you might ask.

NOT that “wink, wink” racism is acceptable here!

Rather, perhaps the Confederate Soldier Memorial remaining ON our historic courthouse lawn could serve as a timeless lesson and warning to all Americans. I say “all” because I believe this community will get a LOT MORE national attention if such a compromise is reached than it will if another Confederate statue is removed from a small, southern town’s public property – unless of course, that removal brings violence here from either or both sides of the issue. But I am talking about POSITIVE attention.

What lesson, what warning so timely at this very moment in our collective history could Front Royal and Warren County’s citizens, AND our long-dead Confederate citizen-soldiers, teach this nation, and perhaps the world?

The lesson would be: DON’T get lost in your own worldview to the exclusion of all others. Talk to, listen to those whose perspective is not identical to your own – maybe they are NOT the enemy; maybe there is common ground for meaningful discourse and compromise.

The warning would be: NOT to enlist, NOT to submit to conscription, or if already enlisted, NOT to simply follow orders to implement things that upon closer, objective examination are not in the best interest of your community, your state, your nation, or for that matter, NOT in the best interest of the human race of which we are all a part.

Perhaps an addition to the monument explaining this “Compromise of 2020”, including the names of the principal negotiators and their organizations, could be locally funded by the County and Town and added to the memorial display for future generations to read about and be inspired by.

‘We believe’ – a message worth sharing found in a local yard. This writer also ‘believes’ there is a better way than demanding public site removal of all Civil War markers without acknowledging specific differences in Civil War and historic personage displays.

If not now, when?

When, better than now for us to talk WITH each other, rather than AT each other about our varying social and cultural perspectives? We find ourselves at a point of aggressive partisan political hostility some historians have described as the greatest in this nation since the run-up to the Civil War. It is a time we now see militarily clad, unidentified federal agents deployed to U.S. cities in a partisan political show of extra-legal force, against the will of state and local elected officials from the opposition political party.

It is a show of force targeting this very anti-racism, equal-justice-for-all movement, aimed not only at sporadic vandalism or graffiti writing at federal buildings or statues but at peaceful protesters against racism, murder, and hypocrisy. One peaceful demonstrator in Portland, Oregon was nearly killed when shot in the head with a so-called “non-lethal” projectile. Others have been seized into federal custody with no due process, no explanation, even to local officials and law enforcement.

But back on our courthouse lawn, it is a different response we must worry about. That is the response of our neighbors, our fellow citizens who may trace their family heritage, not to the ownership of slaves, but just to a walk-on roll in a war the average foot soldier may not have completely understood the reason for.

Will some racists, some with neo-fascist sympathies embrace a “save the statue” movement? Surely, but it is NOT them I am urging to the table for discussion. And it is that discussion between differing but well-meaning perspectives that has the potential of, not only truly UNITING us, but also of disarming the opposition of those of a less wholesome perspective on the issue.

Front Royal Unites wants to be a uniting community force. But is it running the risk of creating a new “group of citizens” feeling “targeted” and “alienated” – NOT for being modern-day racists or supporters of slavery, but for simply wanting their predecessors, their ancestors who fought, were wounded or died in America’s Civil War to be remembered for their sacrifice?

A photo of the Confederate soldier statue from a 1956 publication by local historian Laura Virginia Hale, sponsored by the Warren Rifles United Daughters of the Confederacy, acknowledging the developmental history of this community’s four primary Civil War monuments. Those include the pictured Confederate soldier statue now under scrutiny (1911), as well as Soldiers Circle (1882) and Mosby’s Monument (1899) at Prospect Hill Cemetery, and the Battle of Front Royal marker placed at the intersection of Chester St. and N. Royal Ave. (1927).

Yes, those ancestors fought on the wrong side of history. But as stated above, most, if not all, were not slave owners. And little may be known of their thoughts as to why, when called, they chose to fight for their state amongst a confederacy of states against an American Union viewed by many at the time more like Europeans view the European Union today.

So, can we all just step back and take a deep breath? – Look at it as THAT breath George Floyd was not allowed to take. And if not Floyd’s life, maybe that breath can save OUR unity of purpose in moving this community forward as an example for others.

For if those who want to see equal justice and opportunity for all in this nation begin taking on the same sort of uncompromising, hardline stances as those who harbor racist, neo-fascist totalitarian tendencies, then what chance as a nation do we have to survive as the Founding Fathers envisioned? That vision was of an imperfect, but constantly improving nation and people – people capable of learning, evolving, of uniting over false barriers created by those who would divide to suppress, control, and dominate.

United we are stronger!

So, let’s stay united across the broadest spectrum of people in this community that we can. Because outside its active membership and support base, I fear that Front Royal Unites and any other associated group’s move on the Confederate soldier statue’s place on the Warren County Courthouse grounds has the potential to create a level of division in our community that has not thus far been apparent. I said I had the idea of approaching the leadership of Front Royal Unites and others wanting the statue moved and locals opposing that move, about a compromise resolution.
I guess this commentary is that approach.

So what do you think people, is there room for meaningful conversation about this statue, its location, and preservation as a timeless warning and teaching tool for us all? Can we just take that deep breath George Floyd never got to take in Minneapolis, and move forward together rather than at each other’s throats, figuratively or literally?

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‘Drain the Swamp’?

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I watched a 32+ minute video of the 21 July Board of Supervisors meeting and was appalled. Many tried and true clichés and comments came to mind: “blind leading the blind”, “drain the swamp”, “back room deals”, “good faith”, “transparency”, etc.

As an observer, it is difficult to understand all the issues and it was pretty apparent that board members did not understand them either. Is this the same team that campaigned on transparency and draining the swamp? Where is the strength of their convictions? Well unfortunately, the citizens have voted in a team of uninformed supervisors to occupy the swamp who in this early stage of their term had the audacity to form a private team of two people without the Supervisor’s knowledge or consent to negotiate the settlement of an apparently complex legal/financial issue between the Town of Front Royal, Warren County and the EDA. It sounds like they agreed to pay half of a bill leaving the other half blowing in the wind. Additionally, obviously to divert attention, Delores (Oates) demonstrated significant disrespect of Tony (Carter) by accusing him without any specifics of “back room deals”.

It is obvious to the most casual observer that there needs to be a sanctioned committee formed with knowledgeable members from WC, FR and the EDA to meet in a publicly announced, yet private meeting to search for a resolution that will satisfy the legal responsibilities of each party. The output of the meeting needs to be presented to the citizens.

I am not sure how this happened. The two participating board members were obviously grandstanding for self-promotion. How did they get elected? PT Barnum said, “Nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.” I expect “mob-rule” put these people in office and now the rest of the citizens must endure.

I wonder if there is any kind of training available to new board members addressing their legal and ethical responsibilities.

Robert Turner
Chesapeake, Virginia

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Revolutions are messy

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historically speaking

There are many sayings about revolutions, but my favorite is simply, “Revolutions are messy.” This seems to sum up the majority of the world’s revolutions, despite who wins or loses. The problem for Americans is that our Revolution was easy compared to most, so we tend to think all revolutions are as easy. If you lined up all the world’s revolutions in order from most radical to least, America would be pretty close to the least radical side. How much did we really change? We replaced the British aristocracy with American aristocracy. The Constitution allowed for representation, but only for white men with property who voted only for the House of Representatives. The British had the same right with the House of Commons.

Now the French and the Russians, they know how to throw a revolution. Whereas our Revolution was really top down, the French and Russian revolutions were bottom up. They turned everything on its head, getting rid of every type of institution imaginable, even religion. The masses took to the streets in what became more mob actions than political movements. It is telling that the symbol of the French Revolution became the guillotine, which was actually invented during the revolt to speed up the process of decapitating the rich and noble. Basically everyone associated with the crown was rounded up and separated from their heads. The royal families in both the French and the Russian revolutions were all assassinated quite violently. There is no such example in the American Revolution.

The other problem with most revolutions is they do not end with just one revolution, but instead spin off counter-revolutions or even more revolutionary movements. The Russians had a revolution in February 1917 which overthrew the Czar but was followed up with a second revolution in October of the same year that brought the Bolsheviks to power. They then fought a bloody civil war between the Whites and the Reds until 1923. As for the French, their first government of the Revolution was the National Assembly, created in 1789 and followed by the Legislative Assembly in 1791. The First Republic took power in 1793 and instituted the Reign of Terror only to be ousted by The Directory in 1795. Finally, Napoleon took over in 1799, bringing some stability. With both the Russians and the French, each regime change brought a great deal of bloodshed.

Finally, revolutions eat their young. They have a tendency to turn on their creators and their ideas. Once a revolution is started, it can easily spin out of control. Revolutions go well as long as the mobs are for you, but what happens when they turn on what you believe? In order to protect a revolution, leaders must either contain it or be prepared for leaders and goals to be attacked. We see this with key leaders of both the French and Russian revolutions. Leon Trotsky was a vital figure in the Russian Revolution and number two behind Lenin. He helped start the October Revolution and led the Red Army to victory over the Whites. Yet when Lenin died, Joseph Stalin took control of the country, forcing Trotsky to flee to Mexico where he is later assassinated. The name and image of Trotsky was erased from Russian history books and memorials. For the French, the great figure was Maximilien Robespierre. Not only did he help start the agitation that led to the Revolution, he also became the leader of the government and key player in the Reign of Terror. However, when the tide shifted, he found his head on the chopping block to which he had sent so many before him.

As we are in the midst of a cultural revolution in America, it seems inevitable that this revolution will get messy. As with the French Revolution, the people only tend to tolerate so much before either the revolution is contained or it turns on its own. I have two examples. A few weeks back, activist Shaun King in support of Black Lives Matter tweeted that all images of a white Jesus and the Virgin Mary should be removed. Initially it made a big splash, but then faded away. I can only speculate that leaders of the movement recognized that he had gone too far. There are many liberal Christians who support this movement who may find the removal of Jesus in any color too radical. Not to mention a large Hispanic community that puts a great value on the Virgin Mary. The movement may have pulled back, but I suspect the Republicans will try to remind everyone come November.

The second example I wrote about in one of my daily Class Notes and received some interesting reaction. Over the 4th of July weekend, I was struck by the oddity of names and monuments of historical slave holders being removed while at the same time the nation celebrated the story of another slaveholder. The cultural phenomenon that is “Hamilton” is a celebration of diversity as the all-white characters are played by people of color. However, just because the play claims Hamilton and his friends were anti-slavery did not make it so. According to Harvard Professor Annette Gordon-Reed, Hamilton at best only bought and sold slaves for his family and at worse owned them himself. Every principle character in the play owned slaves except for John Laurens, who did oppose slavery but used his father’s slaves for his valets during the war.

So as I started this piece, revolutions are messy. I love “Hamilton.” I have enjoyed the play since the first time I saw it live. But is it okay to celebrate and honor his life? Hamilton betrayed his country, fought to establish a slave nation, and participated in the slave trade. How can we justify forgiving the sins of some historical figures, if they sing catchy songs, and yet condemn others for the same sins. Historically speaking, it seems like it has to be one or the other. Will this revolution have to be reined in or will Hamilton become our Robespierre, sacrificed on the altar of the revolution?


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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Paul Gabbert apologizes for his miss-speak at last week’s board meeting

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To be an idiot or not to be an idiot – That is the proverbial statement I am facing. At last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ work session I went to the podium without a script. Unfortunately, that was not a good idea. So I will confess to being an idiot. While at the podium, I blurted out a two hundred thousand dollar figure when it should have been seventeen thousand dollars; although to finish the project, more than seventeen thousand dollars, though not likely $183,000 more, would be spent.

When I returned home that night, I told my wife I had made myself look like an idiot. As the loving and devoted wife she is, she said and I quote, “That is your problem.” A few days later she said, “By the way, the Royal Examiner made you look like an idiot also. Roger never lets a chance like that go by.”

That is okay Roger, I deserved it. When you go to the podium to speak you are free game. I want to apologize to the Board of Supervisors, the County Administrator, and the citizens of Warren County for this inexcusable mistake. This kind of mistake is what causes mistrust, accountability problems, and an overall unfairness to the County Government. Only facts and one’s opinion should be stated at the podium. This mistake I promise will not happen again.

Paul Gabbert
Front Royal, Virginia

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Conflict Resolution – 101: There is a lesson here

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The good news for me is that my little book: Ironing It Out: Seven Simple Steps for Resolving Conflict has been updated and is available again through Amazon and the publisher: www.lalopublishing.com. The bad news is that the writer, me – someone who is supposedly knowledgeable about conflict and resolution – happens to live in an area that is rife with conflict and lawsuits and legal fees and court expenses, etc. Personally, I have come to peace with the fact that there are some disputes which just cannot be resolved peaceably. There are some disputes where the parties have to be told what to do (by a judge or jury). I guess these pending civil cases which dominate our legal system cannot be fairly settled.

Fortunately, not everybody or every firm or every government organization at all levels agrees that conflicts cannot be resolved without the expense and the trauma that litigation brings. My little book on conflict resolution has sold thousands of copies worldwide – as reasonable people seem to want an alternative way of making troublesome problems go away. The first published edition of Ironing it Out was dated 1992. The most recent, fully updated edition (the 5th) came out in June and is dated 2020.

And, wow, do we have conflict rampant among many crises now facing the world (and our region). Litigation doesn’t seem that important when compared to life and death. I don’t presume that I am qualified to do too much about the Pandemic, or fairness in law enforcement or fairness in the administration of justice, but I do feel qualified to help lessen unnecessary conflict (destructive in its own way) lessen.

Sometimes I wish folks would follow the seven simple steps: “Remove their masks, identify the real problem(s), give up a “must-win” attitude, develop possible options for resolution, select one, powerfully communicate, and finally acknowledge and preserve the value in the relationship”.

It might work here. It has worked most of the time it has been tried. It sure doesn’t cost much to try it.

I hope we can all be safe and, while we worry about getting sick, maybe we can worry a bit less about the conflict.

Charles P. Lickson
Front Royal, Virginia

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