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Pandemics

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historically speaking

It is interesting that, with all the advancements today in weaponry and defense, the thing that kills the most people is natural and too small to see with the naked eye. When we put so much emphasis on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, a virus that we should have prepared for is the thing that most endangers us. The emergence of COVID-19 reminds us again that, if you take on nature, you might end up on the wrong side. Humans certainly are capable of mass destruction; however, historically speaking, we are nothing when compared to disease.

Think of some of the largest events in history. World War II killed around 70 million, the Holocaust around 6 million, and the communists are estimated to have killed around 100 million. Yet, HIV/Aids has killed over 36 million, 1968’s Hong Kong flu 1 million, the Asian flu in 1956-1958 2 million, and finally the Black Plague somewhere between 75-200 million.

In most American wars the total number of deaths is larger from disease than from battlefield wounds, at least before modern medicine. The Mexican American War had 1,733 battlefield deaths and more than 11,000 from disease. The Civil War had more than 140,000 battlefield deaths but more than 224,000 from disease. The Spanish American War only saw 385 battlefield deaths but an additional 2,000 from disease.

The last of the wars where disease claimed more lives than guns is World War I. We lost more than 53,000 men in the trenches of Europe, but another 63,000 men died from disease. However, this did not include the Spanish Flu, one of the worst pandemics in world history that came right on the heels of WWI. The Spanish Flu killed 50-100 million people worldwide and at least 675,000 Americans.

The problem was that we were still a rural society. Most of our men in these wars lived on farms and in isolated communities. You put all these men together from around the country and they bring their diseases with them. For many of these early wars, it was childhood diseases like measles, chicken pox, small pox, and mumps that killed off many. Then of course a bunch of young men came together without mothers and wives and they lived in filth which brought about the greatest killer, dysentery. Finally, there was lack of any knowledge, until after the Civil War, of germs. In that bloodiest war, we could have cut the deaths in half if soldiers had followed the most basic of instructions that is currently being hammered into our heads – wash your hands.

Diseases have always been part of the American story.  With first contact, Europeans brought diseases to America that obliterated the native population.  Historian Jared Diamond explains in his ground- breaking work, Guns, Germs, and Steel, how this happened.  As most of us know by now, diseases come from animals. Swine flu, bird flu, and our current COVID-19 are believed to have come from bats. At the time, Middle Ages Europeans and Native Americans had a very different relationship with animals. Native Americans had only domesticated the dog, whereas Europeans not only had domesticated all of our current barnyard animals but were partially living with them.  This close relationship not only spread more diseases to Europeans but eventually made them immune to diseases.  However, when they brought these diseases to America, the Natives had no such immunity built up and their populations were devastated.

Europeans also brought over a device of sorts to help new diseases spread.  Historian Elliot West in his work, The Last Indian War, demonstrates that it was the horse that helped diseases spread.  Without Europeans introducing the horse, in our current language, it would have been easier to flatten the curve.  Natives were dying faster than the disease could spread.  Yet Natives became such excellent horsemen that they could cover much more ground before they knew they were infected.  West shows that the Nez Perce of the Northwest were affected from disease long before they made contact with white men.  It is estimated that at least 20 million Natives died from European diseases.

Historically speaking, what we are learning again is that nature is powerful.  All of our modern technology can slow down nature, but we have yet to able to conquer it.  COVID-19 is not our first pandemic. We know there have been many in history, but what we have learned is that these types of pandemics are not just a thing in our history. We need to study how we got through in the past and find new ways in the future to obliterate them.


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.

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Gleaning has Biblical origins, modern day applications

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“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God” – Leviticus 19: 9-10.

God was very concerned for all the people in Israel, but took special interest in the poor and the vanquished. In the Old Testament, He commanded that farmers were not to “gather the gleanings,” or harvest all the way to the edges of their fields, but to leave whatever they dropped for the poor and the immigrant in their midst.

Gleaning is the second harvesting of the land’s produce by the poor and those who had no land of their own. The crucial premise underlying this double command is Israel’s understanding that the land belonged to Yahweh. No one in Israel was a landowner in the modern sense. Each tribe and clan had its own “portion in Yahweh,” the piece of land that represented its share in the covenant with God. The land was Yahweh’s to distribute.

Shenandoah University Students participate in gleaning apples at Marker-Miller Orchards Farm Market, one of a variety of student centered community service programs. Photos courtesy of Tim Teates.

Allowing others to glean on the Israelite farmer’s property was the fruit of holiness. Landowners had an obligation to provide poor and marginalized people access to the means of production (the land, in Leviticus) and to work it themselves. In this sense, it was much more like a tax than a charitable contribution. Also unlike charity, it was not given to the poor as a transfer payment. Through gleaning, the poor earned their living the same way as the landowners did, by working the fields with their own labors. It was simply a command that everyone had a right to access the means of provision created by God.

Notice the difference from our more contemporary way of thinking. The Israelite farmer did not “allow” gleaning by the poor; Yahweh God commanded it. There is no charity involved, no hand out. The poor are not to be regarded as beggars or freeloaders. They are valid members of the covenant community, and they have as much right to glean as the farmer has to harvest the crops. I believe these commands regarding gleaning give us plenty to consider if we think about our own society’s attitudes toward ownership, consumption, acquisition, benevolence, and welfare.

Gleaning once was a common practice across Europe in the middle ages. Landowners would invite the poor onto their land to gather up whatever had been left un-harvested. In 18th century England, the sexton would often ring a church bell at 8 o’clock in the morning and again at 7 in the evening to alert needy families when they were invited to gather produce.

Members of Arlington Church of Christ gleaning apples in support of Arlington Assistance Food Pantry.

Fast forward to a period of austerity and increasing reliance on food banks in 21st century America. Food banks are stressed to keep up with demand. Times again are harsh for thousands of families who can’t afford a steady diet of fresh, wholesome fruits and vegetables. Yet an estimated 30 percent of all food crops go un-harvested in our nation — billions of kilograms, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). There is evidence that the market demand for perfect looking produce has resulted in fruits and vegetables with mere cosmetic blemishes rotting in fields. More produce is discarded because of harvesting schedule issues or unstable market prices. There has never been a better time to revive gleaning.

Farmers and their Local Communities Rely on Each Other

Gleaning benefits every community. People need food, particularly healthy food and farmers usually manage a surplus. Fruits and vegetables help restore health, help kids perform better in school and get people to cook it in their homes to improve their overall diets in the fight against obesity. Farmers will box up and donate food that doesn’t sell at the stand or allow gleaners to pick in the fields. Consumers want food that is without blemishes, so farmers always have products that aren’t good for sale that can be donated.

A number of farmers actually give their “first fruits” – that is, they allot a portion of their crop prior to the harvest. They feel that God has so abundantly blessed them that they want to “give back” to the community. These farmers love to share. It’s a wonderful feeling to give to people and know that they will enjoy it just as much as farmers do growing it.

Some farmers feel they have nothing to lose. The motivation has little to do with a biblical command though they are pleased that their surplus will feed the hungry. They will also pocket a tax deduction worth the value of what the farm gives away. All farmers by nature want to see the food they’re growing made accessible to everyone.

The gleaning system cited in Leviticus does place an obligation on the owners of productive assets to ensure that marginalized people have the opportunity to work for their food. No contemporary individual landowner can provide opportunities for every unemployed or under-employed worker the same as no one farmer in ancient Israel could provide gleanings for the entire district. But corporations are called out to be key players in providing opportunities for work. Perhaps we working people are also called to appreciate the service that business owners perform in their role as job-creators in their respective communities.

Gleaning Collects Food for Needy and Eliminates Food Waste

It used to be that gleaning was simply tolerated, that it was legally accepted but had some sort of indignity attached. Currently gleaning is becoming more popular because the sheer quantity of the bounty that doesn’t get consumed is incredibly immense. For farmers, it is a matter of reducing waste.

In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This assessment, based on estimates from the USDA Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds worth of food in 2010.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2017 alone, estimated that almost 41 million tons of food waste was generated, with only 6.3 percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting. EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, constituting 22 percent of discarded municipal solid waste. Food waste includes uneaten food and food preparation scraps from residences or households, commercial establishments like restaurants, institutional sources like school cafeterias, and industrial sources like factory lunchrooms.

Local non-profit organizations in Virginia are successfully building a network that will take food which would not make it to market for a variety of reasons and distribute it to local agencies that are feeding the hungry. Supply and demand is the first rule of the deal, say farmers. And if you have more supply than you have got demand, then it’s going to go to waste.

Top 6 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer for Gleaning

  1. Get involved in a mission opportunity that will make a big difference in your local community without taking up a lot of your precious free time.
  2. Teach your children about hunger, about our blessings and the importance of becoming involved in serving others. Here in Virginia, 13 percent of children, approximately 247,000, are food insecure (No Kid Hungry Virginia, 2017).
  3. Establish an opportunity for your family to work together, drawing you closer and providing lots of dinner discussion opportunities.
  4. Provide local families (your neighborhood) in need with fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables at no cost to them. (Food pantries usually stock only non-perishable items which typically have less vitamins and antioxidants).
  5. In the process of serving, you will be served. Your heart will be lifted as you know you’ve made a difference in peoples’ lives in your local community.
  6. Salvaging unused crops prevents perfectly fine produce from getting plowed under, sent to the local dump site or allowed to perish.

Mark P. Gunderman
Stephens City, Virginia

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Opinion

Back the Blue Now

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I never thought we would see this sad day in America. Law enforcement officers are being targeted in cities across our country. In this nation, law enforcement is the glue that holds our civil society together — but they are increasingly under violent attacks. Earlier this month, two sheriff’s deputies were ambushed at point-blank range in Los Angeles, and another two officers were shot last night in Louisville.

For months, the leadership of the Democrat party has failed to condemn violence, rioting, and anti-police, extremist rhetoric. Here in Virginia, Democrats in the General Assembly have introduced legislation to lower the penalty for assaulting an officer from a felony to a misdemeanor, practically inviting attacks against officers. The dangerous and counterproductive “defund the police” movement must end now. The time is overdue for ALL public officials, and every American, to stand against these attacks on officers.

For years as an elected official, I have stood with our law enforcement officers. Recently, I participated in two “Back the Blue” rallies in the Sixth District. When I served in the House of Delegates, I introduced legislation to increase the penalty for assaulting current and former law enforcement officers. Now, in Congress, I support common-sense police reform. I am a sponsor on the JUSTICE Act, which was developed in concert with law enforcement agencies to provide increased funding for training, transparency, and accountability to ensure America continues to build strong relationships between law enforcement and our communities. These bi-partisan reforms ensure we support our law enforcement officers while addressing the concerns of aggrieved communities.

Our men and women in uniform serve people of all backgrounds. When an officer responds to a dangerous dispatch, they risk their lives to protect the victim — all victims. Please join me in taking a stand in support of law enforcement.

Ben Cline

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Opinion

September 25th is the birthday of the U.S. Constitution

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Our Bill of Rights was approved by the Continental Congress 231 years ago today. It is the peoples’ protection, our protection, against tyranny. September 25, 1789, must never be forgotten.

Our Constitution and these “rights” defend us from oppression, and it is up to us to preserve and defend these God Given Rights. They were purchased by the shed blood of our forefathers and foremothers. Their blood screams out from our American soil… To Stand Strong, Resist Evil, and to Trust in God!

Larry Johnson, The Liberty Man
Front Royal, Virginia

Photo / Larry Johnson

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Opinion

4-H Center is a hidden gem

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It has been a pleasure this summer to discover a hidden gem just outside Front Royal with the Blue Ridge Mountains hugging the countryside: the Northern Virginia 4-H Center. The genius of 4-H has been to teach farming, gardening, environmental stewardship, home care, sewing, and community leadership as life skills and character building for children and adolescents. It also sponsors and supports camping with meeting facilities like the one located just a few minutes from the city limits of Front Royal. We learned the land was gifted from Virginia Tech as an agricultural education outreach project. Its conference center offers meeting space with stunning views.

The use of this facility has been a gift for those of us who could not travel or use public swimming pools in other jurisdictions this summer. The 4-H pool generously opened its Olympic-sized pool for the public at designated hours. We were particularly fortunate to attend the senior aquatics program taught by Katie Tennant, the new program director who moved recently from Ohio with her family. Well-trained and professional, she kept us on task for the aquatic therapies she instructed with a gentle firm touch. While the pool was a respite from the summer heat, the aquatics class, in a time of sheltering at home, provided a way to strengthen joint and body movement in a safe, healthy manner.

This senior water exercise program enabled us to learn techniques that we can continue to use in the coming months of uncertainty. As we swam, we worked to regain health, balance, movement, and cardio fitness. In sum, the 4-H pool is a gift to the community and one more reason to celebrate the Commonwealth of Virginia and the County of Warren.

Sincerely,
Mary E. Neznek
Washington DC (educator and wellness coach)

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Opinion

Historical Boycotts

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It is often said that words matter.  Historically speaking, this is often seen by using a particular word to connect to the past.  The Whig Party chose that name because in the 1830s everyone knew that the Whigs in England were the ones who had opposed the King.  By calling themselves the Whigs, they were criticizing Andrew Jackson by implying he wanted to be a monarch.

Recently this idea has played out with a Twitter beef between certain sports writers and LeBron James.  After the shooting of Jacob Blake, the Milwaukee Bucks announced they would not play their opening round game against the Orlando Magic.  Quickly the rest of the NBA games were canceled as players refused to play in light of the most recent shooting.  The NBA came out in support of the cancelations and announced the games would be played at a later date in the near future. In writing about the games, many writers referred to the canceled games as postponements.  It was at that time that LeBron James tweeted, “Boycotted not postponed.”

Why does the name make a difference?  Either way, postponed or boycotted, the games were all held two days later and the playoffs continued.  May I suggest that James, understanding the historical significance of boycotts, wanted to connect his actions to the past.  By insisting what he did was a boycott, the current movement could be seen in a similar light as, say, the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  James did not articulate his reasons for his Tweet, but there must have been a reason for his insistence he was boycotting.

To be fair to the journalists, they had reasons for their word choice.  First, traditionally in sports a boycott has referred to players skipping a game or event while the game went on without them.  When past NBA All-Stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor boycotted games because of racial injustice, the games were still played but without them.  So when the NBA rescheduled the recent playoff games, to many it seemed more like a postponement.

Secondly, though not required, to make a good sports boycott story, some amount of sacrifice is usually made.  There are some excellent examples in history.  In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Hitler’s Germany. Hitler planned to use the games as a showcase for his achievements and show off he did. He built amazing venues and used the world’s captured attention to turn everything into a pageant of Nazi propaganda. He also showed off his nation’s athleticism by dominating the games and winning the most medals. Even while cautious of Hitler, most of the world arrived in Berlin anyway, not wanting to let politics ruin the games. However, there were some athletes who just could not bring themselves to ignore Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.

One such athlete was Albert Wolff, a French fencer. Though Wolff had a chance to medal in the Olympics, as a Jew he simply could not tolerate Hitler’s Jewish views. Instead of competing, he gave up any chance of Olympic glory and remained at home. He never gave up on his Olympic dreams, however. In 1948, twelve years later, when the games commenced again after WWII, the now 42-year-old athlete finally got his chance to compete. Much older now and out of his prime, this time he represented his new home of America and had the honor to carry the flag in the Opening Ceremonies. It’s worth noting how Wolff spent his time between the two Olympics. Instead of sitting in his hotel suite for a few days, eating room service, he decided to enlist with the French army and left for the front, willing to die for his beliefs. He did not just fight; he earned his nation’s highest honor for bravery. Eventually, he was captured by the Germans and sent to a Jewish war camp. He managed to escape the camp and made his way to Portugal and then eventually the U.S.  Once in America, he enlisted in the American Army and was sent back to the front in Africa to fight again.

There are other famous boycotts. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Russia because of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Many athletes who had trained for years for this one event were forced to give up their only opportunity to ever win a medal. There was some satisfaction for America, not the summer athletes, but for the winter ones. Later that year America did play in the winter games.  That was the year when the American hockey team beat the Russians during the “Miracle On Ice” game, arguably the most inspirational American Olympic game ever.  By not sacrificing even one game, James’ boycott does not seem to measure up for many.

In the end it really does not matter what the game stoppage was called, the playoffs have continued and James looks poised to win his fourth championship.  James wants to be seen as fighting for social justice like those who came before him.  However, maybe it is the very fact that he might win that fourth title that some have questioned his choice of words and have denied what he did was a boycott.


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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Council candidate Rappaport responds to Holloway reading of Town stance on FRPD debt

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The following is my rebuttal to the Front Royal Town Council’s insistence that they do not have a Moral Obligation to finance and pay the debt for the construction of the Police Station that they are occupying.

When someone or an entity occupies a building or home, then it is typically reasonable that the individual or entity either pays a mortgage or rent to the owner or holder of the note. The Town of Front Royal to the best of my knowledge has paid zero. The town’s offer to make a paltry $10,528.95 good faith one-time payment in July was an embarrassment to the town citizens as it would only have covered half of the monthly payment. If a regular citizen were to treat the banks in such a manner, then it would be reasonable to assume that the banks would sue for default and take the property back.

Bruce Rappaport implored council on Sept. 14 to assume the debt service on its new police headquarters. In response, Chris Holloway read an attorney-prepared statement citing council’s stance it has no legal or moral obligation to pay for its police station because the loan does not have a discussed, though never-achieved 1.5% interest rate attached. Royal Examiner File Photo by Roger Bianchini

It is clear to me that initially the Town and the County failed to do their due diligence regarding the viability of winning a New Market Tax Credit loan; however, the County was proactive and went out to get financing for their projects when it became clear that the NMTC wasn’t likely to happen. Whereas the town decided to be reactive and gamble on winning a lawsuit to help pay for the police station. When Bryan Phipps a high level NMTC Administrator executive suggests that the Town take the 2.5% 30-year fixed loan, then instinctively I am all in. The bickering between the County and the Town has to end and a good first step is for the Town to admit that they have a moral obligation to pay.

Collaboration is the key to success. The Town and County have both dug in their heels and that approach is a recipe for disaster for the community. If the town doesn’t take on the FRPD financial obligation and the County stops paying the debt service, then it will hurt both the Town and County’s ability to obtain construction loans in the future because we have defaulted on our Moral Obligation to pay our debts. I want to put an end to these attitudes, and it is a big reason as to why I decided to run for Town Council.

Bruce Rappaport
Front Royal, Virginia

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