I was playing quarterback in a high school intramural flag-football championship game around 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963.
The game went into overtime as the class time ground into its last minutes. My team needed a score to even the alternating possession OT (we were ahead of our time) and extend things to the following day. Impatient, I lofted one deep and up for grabs – like Brett Favre occasionally does – that some defender out jumped my guy for.
BANG! We lost, no tomorrow.
Little did I know that the bang of defeat that had just gone off in my head was the mere echo of a much louder bang that went off almost simultaneously 1,330 miles to the south-west.
That other bang I had yet to hear was one of another kind of defeat that I will, it seems, carry with me to the grave.
Somewhat dejected I headed back to the locker room to shower before heading to my fifth period English class. Someone ran out of the locker room to meet us and said, “The president’s been shot!” Bullshit, that kind of thing doesn’t happen except in history books, I thought, “That’s not funny,” I said.
Inside the Alexandria, Virginia high school, not eight miles from the White House, things seemed normal as I prepared to shower. No solemn faced coaches, no lock down to protect then Republican House Minority Whip Gerald Ford’s sons. “The president’s been shot” was lost beneath what seemed normal adolescent, locker room banter. I began to return to a 15-year-old’s reality: sport, the thought of the girl’s locker room on the other side of a thick cement wall.
Then the PA system crackled and the locker room went unnaturally silent as the principal’s voice, not a secretary’s, asked for attention. A chill went down my spine, perhaps as a subconscious premonition that things were about to change in previously unimaginable ways flashed along sub-atomic particles throughout my brain. The tone first, then the words “President Kennedy has been shot” gravely confirmed what I had immediately denied as a plausible reality. One kid, a little red around the edges for that suburban Alexandria high school said something to the effect of “good.” Though we were casual friends and recent teammates, I started swinging and we went into a pile on the floor only to be quickly pulled apart by classmates and coaches. I had never wanted to damage someone as irrevocably as I did at that moment and the two of us never spoke again, leaving a silent distance between us that precluded the necessity of re-engaging that primal impulse toward some sort of irreversible destruction.
The emotions were immediate, deep and apparently ran in the family. I didn’t find out until years later that at almost the same moment, following a similar remark, my father, a WWII Army veteran who had lived through Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, was decking a total stranger in a D.C. medical building on I Street where he was waiting for my mother to complete a routine checkup.
Across the Potomac River, we sat quietly in our classrooms: no teaching, no discussion, no emergency mentoring. We sat alone, grappling with our thoughts, as was our teacher. The principal came on again and said the president was dead. The reaction was subdued except for a girl named Jacqueline Kennedy – though I think she spelled her first name differently than the president’s wife. Spelling aside she went off, sobbing, hysteria rising. The teacher took her outside the room to settle her down. Didn’t work, she ended up in the infirmary. I sometimes wonder what happened to Jackie Kennedy, my classmate. How did she ride out that 15-year-old’s identification with the now blood-stained Queen of Camelot?
Forty-odd years later I know that day was the measurable beginning of the direction of the balance of my life. Despite the immediate profundity of a presidential assassination, I couldn’t have recognized that JFK’s violent death would lead directly through a five-year span of political upheaval between my formative 15th and 20th birthdays. This and three other domestic assassinations – of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Francis Kennedy – seemed to earmark the time through a litany of foreign political intrigue, murder and assassination that always seemed to lead in one direction – to the right, toward war, toward implicit corporate profiteering from war, toward social division, toward lies.
That is my perception, my belief – the bad guys won. That is my psychological watershed. Rather than living under the auspice of a state favored by both man and God, I was floating through the most recent episode of civilization in decline, fueled by greed, power, murder and conquest.
It took all of those next five years for me to begin to appreciate what had begun during that that lost football game. By 1969 it was becoming apparent that a hopeful youth-driven world counterculture, as well as the best and the brightest within the world political system reflecting or inspiring the social idealism that characterized that counterculture, the Americans named above, Salvadore Allende, Alexander Dubcek, Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara and others were beaten.
Around the world we had lost.
We would either be annihilated or assimilated – a foolish, inaccurate footnote to American and World History X – the fiction written by the winners.
I left Alexandria in 1967 for college. I moved from the specter of the federal capital to Richmond, the historical capital of the American Confederacy that had fought the ascendance of that federal system just over a century earlier. In retrospect it seemed an unconsciously profound symbolic move. Though I was through and through a son of the federal government in whose shadow I was raised by two parents it employed, I was soon to become suspicious, some would say paranoid, about its machinations, its intent, its history.
I followed my intellectual instincts for the next five years, studying sociology and psychology – how society and the human mind work. I guess I wanted to know why I had grown so alienated from the culture in which I lived. Was I crazy or did I live in an insane world? I learned things about myself and my society between 1967 and 1973 and most of what I learned took me back to the day my team lost that high school, intramural football game.
In college I learned that three days before John Kennedy’s inauguration, his predecessor, Dwight David Eisenhower, made an astonishing observation in his farewell address to the nation. I had grown up thinking of Eisenhower as a doddering, old, golf-playing general rewarded with the presidency for a job well done holding the Allied war effort together in Europe during World War II. My interest in the fate of his successor led me to a different view of Eisenhower. It began with that farewell address of Jan. 17, 1961.
On that day Eisenhower, the West Point graduate, career military man, general and president who led his country and its allies, first against Nazi Germany and then through the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, told his nation that the greatest threat it faced as he prepared to leave office was that born of its own military and corporate institutions in a profoundly changing American landscape.
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” Eisenhower told the American people of the corporate, political and military landscape that had arisen in the wake of World War II. “The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower concluded.
The career soldier turned politician had apparently not thought it a sin to normalize relations with the Soviet Union, then our recent military ally, and reduce the rapidly expanding American military budget. This belief, according to Eisenhower biographers, led to much behind-the-scene infighting with the evolving military and industrial institutions Eisenhower spoke of at the end of his eight-year presidency.
Less than three years after Eisenhower’s dour warning, his successor had his head blown off in the streets of Dallas, Texas, while I played football a half a continent away. That successor, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had also bucked the American military-corporate apparatus during his presidency, and perhaps fatally, more directly and in more immediate situations than Eisenhower had.
First, just three months in office Kennedy refused to commit to direct American military involvement during the 1961 invasion of Communist Cuba by a CIA-trained militia despite the urgings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and CIA Director Allen Dulles. As a result of the intelligence misinformation and personal coercion he endured during that experience, Kennedy fired Allen Dulles as director of the CIA. He also developed enough distrust of the U.S. military command to avoid the armed, likely nuclear confrontation they suggested over Cuba during the missile crisis less than two years later.
Kennedy is even reported to have stated the intention of scattering what was threatening to become a rouge intelligence agency resistant to presidential oversight “into a thousand pieces” following a 1964 re-election that seemed a sure thing.
A great deal of debate still exists over whether Kennedy was planning implementation of another post-1964 election plan that would have flown further in the face of Eisenhower’s originally-named American “Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex”. That much-discussed plan was a lessening of direct American involvement in Vietnam. That involvement in the fall of 1963 was 16,000 “advisors” compared to the half million combat troops that would be sent there after his death. If true, as key Kennedy insiders assert, that plan reflected JFK’s growing belief that the Vietnam conflict was ultimately a civil war that would have to be won or lost by the South Vietnamese themselves – a decade and the bulk of 65,000 American and two million Vietnamese lives later that belief proved correct.
Many years after the fact I heard a European investigative report that quoted Kennedy archives indicating his ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, reporting back to Washington that presidential directives relayed through the embassy in 1963 ordering CIA operatives in country to back off of aggressive covert actions, including assassinations, were simply being ignored in the field. I wondered then if those “rouge” CIA elements had an inkling those directives would soon change despite Kennedy’s overwhelming popularity as the1964 election approached?
No, probably just a coincidence that Kennedy was soon shot down like a rabid dog on a parade route whose path had been realigned that day to go down Elm Street in front of the Texas School Book Depository in a town whose mayor was reportedly the brother of Allen Dulles’s former military liaison officer.
Coincidence too, I expect that a former Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald worked in that School Book Depository. Oswald was the prodigal American son, who had “defected” to the Soviet Union with a perfect command of the Russian language following his assignment to a top-secret American military intelligence base in Japan from which American U-2 spy flights were launched over the Soviet Union. Later, the prodigal son would reconsider that defection – perhaps because the Soviets thought he was an American spy and kept a close check on him. I sometimes wonder at the benevolence of a nation that would welcome back its prodigal son with camera equipment to start a “new” career, rather than a little prison time for his alleged departure with top-secret information that was claimed to have compromised America’s U-2 spy missions. But how could his native land stay mad at the whimsical Oswald, who despite his highly public pro-Castro activities in New Orleans, cultivated associations with a number of right-wing, anti-Castro associates based in both New Orleans and Miami as he “floundered” philosophically in the years between Russia and Dallas?
Pondering these things after launching my own college term paper research on the JFK assassination in 1969, I told my mother, “There are circumstances leading a lot of people to think your old (CIA) bosses were behind it.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised, the way they talked about him,” she surprised me with a frank appraisal of her early 1960s superiors at the top of the American intelligence apparatus.
Now 43 years gone I am the paranoid-tinged, conspiracy freak sitting alone in the dark corners of dark bars, reflecting on the familiarity of low times and low lies glowering at me from the “enduring freedom” of a television screen hovering slightly above my still focused eye.
And 43 years gone from that long lost childhood football game I find myself choking down one final coincidence – that the U.S. president gesturing at me from that screen explaining the necessity of this country’s ongoing military-industrial occupation of Iraq, one of the world’s two primary oil fields, and the ultimate evil of its oil-rich neighbor Iran, is heir to a family legacy the roots of which run deep into Texas oil, American politics and the directorship of the CIA.
Front Royal, Virginia
First published on November 22, 2013 as part of a pull-out section of the Warren County Report on the ongoing significance of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years later.
Divergent Black Voices
Today I read a post about an article from Fortune magazine that lists 19 Black economists to know and celebrate. I think it is great that we celebrate the contributions of Black Americans, but when Walter Williams is left off of any list of important economists, especially Black economists, I have to question the motives of those who made the list. Williams is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University and is one of the most important economists over the past thirty years. Why was he left off the Fortune list? Historically speaking, it is a disagreement that goes back about 150 years.
Being a Black American, Williams has faced racism. After high school, he was drafted into the Army where he was court-marshaled for fighting back against the racial practices he experienced. After the Army, he finished his schooling, including earning his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA in economics.
Williams taught at Temple University and Stanford before finally settling in Northern Virginia to teach at George Mason. More than any other professor, Williams put Mason on the academic map. He has authored dozens if not hundreds of books and articles. He became known for his syndicated column, Minority View. He has never shied away from racial issues; his most recognized books are entitled The State against Blacks and America: A Minority Viewpoint.
Williams has received many prestigious awards in economics and is considered a leading voice in his field. So why was Williams excluded from a list of prominent Black economists by Fortune? That is easy: he is conservative. I completely support the concept behind Black Lives Matter, yet, as with so many organic movements, I fear BLM may be hijacked by divisive politics. I also start to question the motives of a movement when only liberal Black Americans are celebrated. Historically speaking, conservatives have suffered the same racist attitudes as all Black Americans and at times even more. Many Black conservatives not only struggle with hostile racism but resentment from their own community for not being Black enough. If you want evidence of this, you need look no further than the fact that Fortune magazine does not consider Walter Williams important enough to mention in their pages.
This divide is as old as Jim Crow. If you go back to around the beginning of the 20th Century, the two most influential Black Americans were W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Washington, born a slave in Virginia, put himself through the Hampton Institute, one of the first black schools set up after the war. He eventually rose to become the head of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Washington, having to fundraise to keep his Institute alive, tried to work with the white population. Tuskegee was a trade school and Washington taught that, through hard work, Blacks could raise themselves up out of their circumstances and eventually be accepted by whites. In Washington’s most famous speech he said, “No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized.” He believed if Blacks proved themselves, they would be treated as equals. Washington was celebrated by the white population, but was often attacked by members of his own race.
Du Bois was born free in the North and excelled in education, being the first Black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard. Du Bois, who was extremely critical of Washington, believed Blacks should receive the same education as whites and did not want to wait for acceptance from whites. He wanted Blacks to push for civil rights and formed the NAACP to organize that cause. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois wrote of Washington, “From birth till death enslaved; in word, in deed, unmanned! Hereditary bondsmen! Know ye not. Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?”
Jump forward several years and these two trains of thought were being still debated during the Civil Rights crusades of the 1950s and 1960s. This time the principle figures were Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. While King took the Washington role of preaching non-violence and integration with whites to work for civil rights, Malcolm X channeled D Bois with his teaching of Black Power. Mr. X once said of King, “The white man pays Reverend Martin Luther King, subsidizes Reverend Martin Luther King, so that Reverend Martin Luther King can continue to teach the Negroes to be defenseless.” All four men wanted to achieve the same destination; they just took different paths to arrive while being critical of the other.
The same is true with Dr. Williams and conservative Black voices today. They want the same ends as the Black Lives Matter movement; they have experienced the same racism. However, as the movement is becoming a political movement as much as a racial one, important voices like Dr. Williams are being silenced by the same voices calling for people of color to be heard.
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
Gun laws – Front Royal August 3 Town Council Work Session
The Democrat controlled Virginia legislature passed a law enabling jurisdictions, beginning, July 1, 2020, to control the carrying of firearms in public places or approved public events. Previously any non-felon citizen could carry a visible firearm or a concealed firearm (with a permit) in any public place except schools and courthouses. At the August 3, 2020 Front Royal Council work session they considered a citizen offered resolution that declared the Town would not exercise any authority granted under the new law. It would leave things as they have been. No problem existed thus no solution was warranted.
I watched the Royal Examiner video of that meeting and was appalled. I encourage all to view this beginning at minute 16. First, the Town Attorney rambled about the new law and offered inaccurate counsel on the issue. He failed to acknowledge that firearms were indeed legal to carry presently in government buildings, when specifically questioned by a Councilman even when the Town’s Chief of Police mentioned that citizens were not restricted from bringing firearms into the County Board meeting room. The Town attorney suggested that the public probably deduced that carrying firearms into Town Hall wasn’t allowed because it was across from the courthouse. The Town Attorney impugned the character of town employees by commenting that some might not be trusted to carry firearms during work hours.
I wonder if he will be required to specifically identify the untrustworthy employees he referenced? I wonder if the Interim Manager will chastise the Town Attorney at the next Council meeting like he inappropriately did to Mayoral candidate Mike McCool recently?
The Town Attorney suggested that employees who collected taxes and fees would be more at risk from potentially angry citizens if they were not limited in the future from bringing firearms into Town Hall. The fact that in the Town’s history I’m not aware of such an event ever occurring was conveniently overlooked. The Town Attorney pointed out that currently law enforcement was only present at Council meetings and not at other public body meetings. I believe the Town Attorney’s comments demonstrate a clear bias against citizens carrying firearms in public and that his performance on this issue was far below what should be expected from a supposed, objective legal expert. This is not the first time I have witnessed questionable judgement from the Town’s attorney and maybe the Town would be better served by obtaining fresh views.
Listening to the comments from Council I was shocked at how uninformed some were regarding firearm issues when just several months ago they passed a resolution declaring Front Royal to be supportive of the Second Amendment. Not a single Council person offered that the new State law was possibly in conflict with the US and Virginia Constitution that I recall. Several Councilmen failed to engage in any constructive comments about the topic at all! Instead, the resolution was kicked down the road for further discussion. Do not let it be said that this Council is not expert in can kicking!
This should have been an easy issue for the Council. It should have been passed unanimously with limited discussion. That Councilman Holloway, a Mayoral candidate, did not champion this resolution is either an indication of a shortcoming with political savvy or has a hidden belief that citizens cannot be trusted to be responsible with firearms in public. In either case, it would give me something to consider when voting in November if I was a Town resident.
The right to protect yourself, your family and your property is a human right, not to be managed by any government. The US and Virginia Constitution clearly affirm that it ‘Shall Not Be Infringed’. Hopefully Town residents will be giving their Councilman a piece of their minds about their support on this resolution and it will be unanimously passed at the earliest Council meeting possible and by Warren County’s Board as well.
The courthouse soldier’s statue and our history – not as simple as some portray it
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.
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.
Front Royal, Virginia
Commentary: Is there a better way than targeting the Courthouse lawn Confederate soldier for removal?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
‘Drain the Swamp’?
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.
Revolutions are messy
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.