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.
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 …
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.
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 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.
New Special Grand Jury needed
With the announcement of charges against Mr. Poe being dropped by the new Prosecutor, the lack and complete absence of any further indictments by either the Special Grand Jury or the Federal Grand Jury, and the growing rumors of a plea agreement for Ms. McDonald, it is apparent that the judicial/law enforcement system has broken down.
Investigations are noteworthy in the complete lack of focus. Investigators have yet to talk to Mr. Egger who could provide a treasure trove of information. They haven’t interviewed any of the Supervisors, any of the EDA Board members and may not have even interrogated Jennifer! Her Attorney has tried to contact the VSP to set up an interview but they have not returned his call.
The new Prosecutor has already complained that he can not focus on the charges. The understaffed VSP has been overwhelmed with information provided by the Feds when they dropped out of participating in the Grand Jury. Several heroic citizens have done a remarkable job in uncovering evidence and providing it to Law Enforcement. But, is that really their job?
We need a Special out of County Prosecutor focused only on this outrageous crime. The Special Grand Jury has turned out to be infected with personal relations and incredibly strong bogus charges (misfeasance of the Supervisors) that cost citizens more money in paying for the defense of the Supervisors (against patently bogus charges).
We need a completely new Special Grand Jury. Held out of County, made up of non-Warren County residents eliminating any hint of conflict of interest.
We need a dedicated Virginia State Police Task Force that focuses on this County and this investigation.
True, the Prosecutor and Law Enforcement have other crimes and issues (training, travel, etc.) that precludes their full time efforts. They have highly qualified Special Agents trained in investigative accounting.
What do we need to do to get these programs? Let your Governor know, let the Attorney General know.
If anyone was hoping for a calmer more peaceful decade, then surely by now they are disappointed. With just a few days into 2020, the major news story already is a drone strike and death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Instantly political sides were drawn as Trump supporters praised the president’s actions as a strike against terrorism and protection for American lives. Trump detractors criticized the decision as dangerous. Presidential contenders have all denounced the president, calling him basically a war monger and a murderer. As always, I am not here to comment on the president’s decision. There is enough of that already. But historically speaking, the president’s actions are far from new. We have seen presidents strike Middle Eastern targets as far back as there have been Middle Eastern issues. You can claim he had ulterior motives, the same as previous presidents, but you can’t claim his attack is out of the ordinary.
Though most modern presidents have used missile strikes, I want to focus on two, President Clinton and President Reagan, both of whom made similar decisions. When Reagan took over in 1981, one of the principal “bad guys” was Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Similar to Iran today, Libya in the 1970s and 1980s was a principal supporter of terrorism. They were outspokenly anti-Israel and supported terrorist groups in Palestine and Syria. Like Iran, they were also actively trying to start a nuclear program.
The 1980s saw an uptick in Islamic terrorism when 239 marines were killed in a bombing in Lebanon in 1983. 1985 saw bombings in Vienna and Rome airports, the high-jacking of a TWA plane and an Italian cruise ship, both with American deaths. Finally, in 1986 American service men were killed and injured in a disco bombing in Berlin. Libya had ties to them all. After the disco bombing, Reagan ordered Operation El Dorado Canyon, which were air strikes against Libya hoping to kill Gaddafi. Unfortunately, Gaddafi was warned of the strikes and escaped before the bombs fell on his compound, sparing his life. The bombing did very little to curtail Libya’s support of terrorism as they continued throughout the 1980s. The United Nations condemned the attack, but Americans overwhelmingly supported Reagan’s actions, strengthening his popularity.
Two presidents later President Clinton launched his own Middle Eastern attacks. The first time was in June of 1993 when Clinton hit sites in Iraq. Supposedly the attack was in response to an assassination attempt against former President H.W. Bush while he was visiting Kuwait. Saddam Hussein was seen as a leading sponsor of terrorism and, like Iran, was supporting terrorism around the globe. The missiles hit the building where the assassination was planned but did little to curtail Saddam Hussein’s support of terrorism. The show of force did help Clinton’s poll numbers, which had dropped in recent months.
Clinton’s second strike came in August of 1999 and targeted a then little-known terrorist origination known as Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda had recently attacked American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Clinton’s response was a missile attack against Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The attacks killed 24 but missed Osama bin Laden. This attack has more in common with Trump’s recent attack as it was seen more skeptically. Clinton was in the midst of his own impeachment issues and many saw it as an attempt to divert the nation’s attention. The catch phrase of the day was “the tail wagging the dog.” Clinton had taken a hit with the Black Hawk Down incident and was hoping this show of force would help his image. In the end the attacks on Al Qaeda did little to stop their growth as we all found out on 9/11.
Trump’s latest missile attack has some differences and some similarities. Iran is a supporter of terrorism, both in Iraq and Syria, and Soleimani was behind much of the violence. As with Reagan and Clinton, Soleimani and Iran can be tied to several key attacks. Last May they supported the terrorist group that attacked Saudi oil fields. In June two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman and a U.S. Navy drone was shot down. In July they captured a British oil tanker. In September they once again supported a terrorist group that attacked Saudi oil fields. In December rockets killed U.S. service men in Kirkuk. Finally, in December they attacked the American embassy in Iraq. Also, all the while, they continued to work towards nuclear weapons. Yes, during the escalation the president and Iran carried on a verbal battle which seemed childish considering the consequences, but the list of terrorist activities is not unlike the list from Libya or Iraq.
The key difference between all these attacks seems to be that Trump was the only one to hit his target. Another difference is that outside of the bin Laden attack, the other attacks occurred in the target’s own nation. Soleimani was not in Iran, but Iraq. What we cannot know is the retaliation. Libya, Iraq, and Al Qaeda all vowed retaliation for the bombing. None of the previous presidents stopped the terrorists and we did see more mass destruction, though we can never know if attacks were a response or would have been carried out anyway. Iran did launch missiles at American bases in Iraq, but there were no casualties. Maybe that will be enough for the Iranians to save face. Only time will tell. They do not want to look weak, but are they willing to escalate?
The other major difference is the American response to the attacks. Clinton took some flack, but most of the attacks by American presidents, including Bush and Obama, have been met with positive reviews. Obama was even praised by both parties for taking out Bin Laden. With Trump, as expected, the attacks have come swiftly and brutally. All the major candidates trying to secure the Democratic ticket have condemned Trump. Historically speaking, maybe what Trump has done is no different from past presidents. Maybe it’s we who are different and more cynical.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.
A Christmas poem for our troops
TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS,
HE LIVED ALL ALONE,
IN A ONE BEDROOM HOUSE MADE OF
PLASTER AND STONE.
I HAD COME DOWN THE CHIMNEY
WITH PRESENTS TO GIVE,
AND TO SEE JUST WHO
IN THIS HOME DID LIVE.
I LOOKED ALL ABOUT,
A STRANGE SIGHT I DID SEE,
NO TINSEL, NO PRESENTS,
NOT EVEN A TREE.
NO STOCKING BY MANTLE,
JUST BOOTS FILLED WITH SAND,
ON THE WALL HUNG PICTURES
OF FAR DISTANT LANDS.
WITH MEDALS AND BADGES,
AWARDS OF ALL KINDS,
A SOBER THOUGHT
CAME THROUGH MY MIND.
FOR THIS HOUSE WAS DIFFERENT,
IT WAS DARK AND DREARY,
I FOUND THE HOME OF A SOLDIER,
ONCE I COULD SEE CLEARLY.
THE SOLDIER LAY SLEEPING,
CURLED UP ON THE FLOOR
IN THIS ONE BEDROOM HOME.
THE FACE WAS SO GENTLE,
THE ROOM IN SUCH DISORDER,
NOT HOW I PICTURED
A UNITED STATES SOLDIER.
WAS THIS THE HERO
OF WHOM I’D JUST READ
CURLED UP ON A PONCHO,
THE FLOOR FOR A BED?
I REALIZED THE FAMILIES
THAT I SAW THIS NIGHT,
OWED THEIR LIVES TO THESE SOLDIERS
WHO WERE WILLING TO FIGHT.
SOON ROUND THE WORLD,
THE CHILDREN WOULD PLAY,
AND GROWNUPS WOULD CELEBRATE
A BRIGHT CHRISTMAS DAY.
THEY ALL ENJOYED FREEDOM
EACH MONTH OF THE YEAR,
BECAUSE OF THE SOLDIERS,
LIKE THE ONE LYING HERE.
I COULDN’T HELP WONDER
HOW MANY LAY ALONE,
ON A COLD CHRISTMAS EVE
IN A LAND FAR FROM HOME.
THE VERY THOUGHT
BROUGHT A TEAR TO MY EYE,
I DROPPED TO MY KNEES
AND STARTED TO CRY.
THE SOLDIER AWAKENED
AND I HEARD A ROUGH VOICE,
“SANTA DON’T CRY,
THIS LIFE IS MY CHOICE;
I FIGHT FOR FREEDOM,
I DON’T ASK FOR MORE,
MY LIFE IS MY GOD,
MY COUNTRY, MY CORPS.”
THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER
AND DRIFTED TO SLEEP,
I COULDN’T CONTROL IT,
I CONTINUED TO WEEP.
I KEPT WATCH FOR HOURS,
SO SILENT AND STILL
AND WE BOTH SHIVERED
FROM THE COLD NIGHT’S CHILL.
I DIDN’T WANT TO LEAVE
ON THAT COLD, DARK NIGHT,
THIS GUARDIAN OF HONOR
SO WILLING TO FIGHT.
THEN THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER,
WITH A VOICE SOFT AND PURE,
WHISPERED, “CARRY ON SANTA,
IT’S CHRISTMAS DAY, ALL IS SECURE.”
ONE LOOK AT MY WATCH,
AND I KNEW HE WAS RIGHT.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS MY FRIEND,
AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT.”
Written by a Marine stationed in Okinawa, Japan
2019 Silent Ideas
How do college students mentally “wrestle with a wide range of ideas” when they prevent those ideas from being expressed? This is not a rhetorical question. It is spawned by remarks made by a dean of a prestigious American college.
That dean stated, “education requires them (students) to wrestle with a wide range of ideas which sometimes means engaging speakers with controversial messages, and sometimes, it means making use of their own free speech to combat objectionable ideas.”
This dean — Michele Murray, dean of students at Holy Cross – failed at both logic and leadership with this one statement. Why?
How can students wrestle with a wide range of ideas if they refuse to hear those ideas? One can neither agree nor disagree with that which one has not heard.
Dean Murray says her students were “making use of their own free speech to combat objectionable ideas.” But the students had not heard the “objectionable ideas” when they, in a premeditated action BEFORE THE LECTURE, blocked many others who wanted to listen to the talk by filling up the venue’s seats. This, the Dean fails to notice, is not a response!
No, this was no “unruly student protest” during a talk at College of the Holy Cross. It was premeditated, planned, and executed with chants of “my oppression is not a delusion” and “your racism is not welcome.” The target of this action was Conservative scholar Heather Mac Donald, an American political commentator, essayist, and attorney. She is a Thomas W. Smith Fellow of the Manhattan Institute.
But the students knew all this beforehand. So did Dean Murray.
And the college? College of the Holy Cross is a highly respected college of Jesuit Catholic tradition in Worcester, Mass.
Two of my neighbors are Holy Cross alumni. They are among the smartest people I know. And yet?
Wouldn’t we expect such deny-first-amendment antics from Stanford or U. Cal Berkeley? Anti-intellectualism seems to be contagious! Perhaps Dean Murray might wish a transfer.
Historical Christmas II
Christmas is the time of year when everyone seems a little happier and are a little nicer to each other. It is when we look forward to spending time with family and friends enjoying all of our favorite Christmas traditions. Yet, historically speaking, this was not always the case. Especially in America, we did not celebrate Christmas until the 1820s with the publication of a couple of important novels.
What was originally called the Feast of the Nativity reached England in the sixth century and began being called Christmas. Don’t think of it as the same holiday as we celebrate today. It was more a drunken party similar to Mardi Gras or Halloween than Christmas. It was gangs of poor going door-to-door demanding gifts. Think of some early Christmas carols. In “Here We Come A-Wassaling” there is the line, “We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door; but we are neighbours’ children, whom you have seen before.” In “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” we sing about going house to house basically demanding food.
This debauchery at Christmas played a part in America’s founding. The radical religious sect known as the Puritans wanted to rid the Church of England of all things Catholic, including the pagan practices that had crept into the Church. One of those practices was Christmas. There is no mention of Christmas in the Bible and no set date for the birth of Jesus. The Catholic Church had set Christmas during the winter solstice to help convert the Germanic tribes by claiming their religious feasts. The practice of Christmas was one of many doctrinally differences that led the Puritans to the New World to set up their “City on the Hill.” With Puritanism being one of the most influential institutions in American culture, Christmas was not practiced in the colonies. During and after the Revolutionary War, many British practices, including Christmas, were seen as taboo. In fact, Christmas does not become an official American holiday until 1870.
Christmas as we know it comes in the 1820s because of two important works of fiction (reading really does change the world). America’s first great author was Washington Irving. We had many writers at that point, but they mimicked British writing. Irving was the first to write something uniquely American. In 1819 he wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent that includes some of his most famous stories such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”. The one entitled “Christmas” showed an English squire inviting peasants into his home for Christmas. Irving believed Christmas should be a peaceful time where all classes could live in harmony. In his story he invented ancient customs such as family members returning from far away “once more to assemble about the paternal hearth, that rallying-place of affections.”
The second book, of course, was The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This 1843 novel, even more than Irving, shaped our current idea of Christmas. The message of charity and good will to all struck a chord in America. I don’t have room to discuss this here, but childhood had only recently become a thing. Before, children were just small adults. Now with childhood, parents had a day to lavish their children with gifts without appearing to spoil then.
Reading these stories, Americans came to assume this is how Christmas was supposed to be. Christmas quickly became seen as a family holiday, with peace towards all firmly part of the Christmas celebrations.
Being my last article of the year, I want to give a quick thanks to everyone who makes Historically Speaking possible. A huge thank you to my wife Melissa Finck and Dr. JC Casey who edit all my stories. I could not do this without them. I now have a student assistant who does all the distribution. So, thank you Chris Wilson. Thank you to the editors who run these stories. Lastly, thank you to all the readers, especially those who have sent me positive feedback. I put a great deal of time into these stories and it makes it worth it knowing so many of you enjoy them.
I hope this season does bring you the happiness that Ebenezer Scrooge and Irving’s English squire found in their lives. From my family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.
Second Amendment Sanctuary
I couldn’t contain my amusement from afar when Warren County became a Second Amendment Sanctuary, particularly as local Democrats regurgitated worn out talking points. The Chairman of the Warren County Democrats claimed to see similarities between the sanctuary and the Massive Resistance of the 1960’s, and another of Warren County’s “best and brightest” took the curious position that resistance to unconstitutional usurpations was unconstitutional. Their Confederate forefathers would be quite proud.
Such dogma has clouded the unique history of these constitutional disputes. The doctrine of nullification was best articulated by Thomas Jefferson in 1798 in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts. It played a unique political role in the years preceding the Civil War. In his Farewell Address to the Senate in 1861, Jefferson Davis condemned the Northern states for their “disregard of its constitutional obligations.” Just what were these obligations? Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act.
The most heroic instance occurred in Wisconsin. The state legislature called for “positive defiance” of efforts by federal marshals to capture and return runaway slaves. “Personal liberty” laws were common in the North at the time. But local Democrats, then as now, seem to think that this act of resistance was just simply awful. Then as now, they would defer the matter to the Roger Taney’s of the courts for settlement. (Apparently the Second Amendment’s protection as an individual right hasn’t been settled by the Supreme Court according to local Democrats. But I digress.)
To their ignorance they have built common ground with the proponents of Massive Resistance of the 1960’s. In 1680, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation making it illegal of a black person to carry any weapon. In 1723, they specifically forbade firearms. Predictably enough disarming blacks received support among the terrorist wing of the Democratic Party, the Ku Klux Klan. Rosa Parks recounted that her husband “slept with a gun nearby for a time,” and Frederick Douglass recognized that “A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.
From the apocalyptic outrage at the election of a Republican president to Ralph Northam’s classless costume choice, Virginia Democrats are certainly living up to their Confederate heritage.