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What Are Monuments?

Recently there have been a number of articles about monuments in Southern cities about the War Between The States, known more widely throughout the country as the Civil War (if it is known at all). South Carolina flew the Confederate flag on its capitol grounds; Alexandria, Va has its Southern soldier facing south, leaning on his rifle with his head bowed. Richmond has an avenue lined with Confederates on stone pillars. Every Southern city that could afford their version up to the early 20th century has something similar. There are even a couple of statues in the nation’s capitol.

So, how long do/can we keep events alive in our memories? There are a number of attempts to move the Confederacy into the memory cellar of people who still have it in an upstairs room. The flag has been moved off South Carolina’s capitol grounds; it took the murder of nine black people in their church to accomplish this. The mayors of Charlottesville and New Orleans are trying to move their statues to less central places. Depending upon the amount of discord this raises, and it seems to be raising a lot, other cities may attempt the same.

However, this will not be easy. Richmond, capitol of the Confederacy, has a boulevard lined with Virginia confederates and I am sure there is a cleanup group for them. From what I have read and watched on tv, there are two groups with opposite positions, and a majority that really doesn’t care. Paris is full of statues of Napoleon, who was a loser himself. However, his Frenchmen who put them up are the same as Frenchmen today. Like a couple of kings, he represents France in its greatest hours.

In our southern states, there is no such attitude unifier. About half of our black population lives in the south, and they cut the possible number of important Confederate supporters by about half. In addition, there are the Yankees who have moved south since WW II for whom that “War” carries little interest.

As these two examples seem to show, old allegiances can last as long as people have a sense of ties to past events. Germans are an example of what can happen when commitment to a set of values brings such destruction to a social system that it has to be reconstructed. In the case of the Confederate states, they were legally readmitted to the union, but basically walled off economically and socially until Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.

So, monuments seem to be attempts to retain loyalty to people or events from the past that some group thinks important. People such as Lincoln and Churchill and Beethoven have monuments because they contributed to national goals and people. In the case of a divided nation, how do we deal with people whom we have come to view as historically important? George Washington owned slaves, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, in fact, fourteen members of of the Constitutional Convention delegates owned slaves.  Should we remove them from our view?

Using this example, how much of our history do we want to erase? How do we decide?

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Is Any of This Us?

In talking with one of the rectors at our church, she gave me a quotation from Edmund Burke:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

I have been thinking about the meaning(s) of this statement and where l can see it today. Having spent my working life trying to help individuals do the most they can with their lives, I see good men and women struggling to make sense of our world. The first place that crossed my mind was in our political life. With change of political life at the national level, it is on my mind every day. Since my party lost the election, and a crowd l could agree with less now holds power, I view every political action with suspicion and worry. With my Republican friends, l have felt for some time that the Federal government ls becoming too big and unwieldy. But, is what the current Republican administration doing is what should be done to reduce expenditures and maintain support where (I think) it is necessary?

In another case, the change in our economic life began, according to our economic experts sometime in the 1960’s. I must say that I did not see it then, and only several years later. All of our economic help, mostly to European countries, created competitors to our steel producers, automobile manufacturers, electronics producers and just about any other manufacturer. By the time I saw what was happening, it had happened. Manufacturing was moving overseas and jobs were going with them, leaving thousands of people unemployed.

In this economic sense, can leaving people without a way of earning a living and excusing it by saying that’s the way the system works be called evil? Government began to respond to this situation by creating new programs of assistance for those in in need, leading to the size and cost of our current government. Unemployment is located heavily among the uneducated and the poor, who stay that way and perpetuate a class society. So, an economic situation of constant invention of machines by humans has created a world in which machines constantly displace people in the economic system. The Democrats have used government to support those who can’t support themselves, spending increasing amounts of money in this effort. The new Republicans see cutting services as the answer to this problem.

Both political parties embarked on routes that if carried to their conclusion, wherever that might be, could bankrupt the government or leave some people starving. Would the breakdown of government be evil?

P.S.  Ford is running a completely automated plant in China.  Will that come here?


Is Donald Trump Proving Eric Hoffer Right?

“All great movements start as a cause, evolve into a business and end up as a racket.”

We are back with Eric Hoffer. The political movement that gave us Donald Trump started as a cause. The appointments he is making to leadership positions in federal government departments indicate he sees federal government as a business. Are we on our way to the conclusion of Hoffer’s statement?

Eric Hoffer was a part of the 1930s depression and he worked at a variety of jobs including cleaning ditches.  During the day he thought about the world he lived in and wrote his thoughts down.  In the forties, he got a collection published and he was off and running as a philosopher (though he never saw himself as such).


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One Of Our Everlasting Concerns

One of the most written and talked about topics from local to national levels is education, mostly as schooling. It’s methodology, money for schools, my child, his teacher and who controls what. Historically, schooling has been a local matter, but gradually states were pushed into providing money and setting state wide standards. So, now states set state wide curriculum standards and so much money for each portion of day that children attend school. Standards for teachers and other school related personnel are pretty much the same through the 50 states.

However, even though state standards are mostly the same, what they do within them can be quite different, mostly because of the size of districts within our 50 states. For example, the size of school districts:

Above 25,000 are 2% of districts enrolling 34% of the nation’s kids
10,000 – 24,000 = 4% of districts with 19% of children
2,500 – 9999 = 22% of districts enrolling 30%
1000 – 2499 = 24% of districts with 12%
600 – 999 = 12% of districts with 3%
599 & under = 35% of districts with 3%

So districts with 2499 children and under constitute 71% of school districts nationally with only 18% of school age children. Small school districts, particularly, are mostly rural and poor throughout the country, with the resulting problems of providing curriculum in math and science. Some areas meet this lack of students by combining several districts under one superintendent and bussing students, sometimes long distances, across district lines. Teachers in these districts are mostly from within the state and very often from the local area

The very large districts are in cities and are mostly divided by income and social class. Poor whites live apart from poor blacks and latinos, but they share lack of optimism and desire to work through the curriculum. In the more well to do areas, teachers are more likely to be invested in teaching, the schools have a wider curriculum with an atmosphere that encourages participation.

So, we have thinly populated rural districts struggling to provide a basic and varied curriculum with teachers who are often teaching subjects for which they are ill prepared. While in urban areas schools range from those which have students from educated parents down to those which have students who don’t know who their parents are and some/many of whose teachers are not well prepared. The smaller districts have few of these concerns, but have fewer students for speciality areas and fewer student to support a larger curriculum.

This brief report illustrates the difficulty in trying to set up government and professional organizations that can provide services to state educational institutions. One problem, of course, is cost. In addition, these institutions and the people working in them, particularly in poorer districts, are often overcome by the problems from such a wildly diverse population.

Our method for dealing with such diversity is to constantly add new methods and programs. Well funded districts (18% of children) do pretty well. The less well funded (71%) go from less well to struggling.

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An Unknown Hero

One of the interesting things in life is the discoveries you make long after earlier events. When I went in the navy, I was on a ship whose business was to put landing craft in the water, fill them with marines and send them off to the beach. We had a captain who rarely left his quarters when at sea to come to the quarterdeck. I think I saw him once to talk to when I asked for three extra days leave when we were in port at Christmas to get married. Several years after I left active duty in the mid 1950’s I saw an article in the newspaper about several naval captains who had been promoted to admiral, and he was among them. And that was that.

Recently, I was reading about the invasion of Okinawa when I came across a description of what happened to a destroyer squadron that had been placed between Japan and the Okinawa invasion force. The task of these ships was to help prevent the Japanese air force from reaching the invasion fleet. Shortly after being put in position, Japanese planes of all sorts armed with bombs came across this small destroyer fleet and in one day sank them all but one and, after a day of attacking it, left it barely afloat with every crew member dead or wounded. Briefly mentioned was that it’s commander, who was wounded but continued functioning, was my former commanding officer. That one reference was all I could find.

Then, this past week, when I was looking through books on naval world war II history in the Pacific, up popped up Hell From The Heavens, which was based on The Ship That Would Not Die (the USS Laffey), by its former captain, Julian Becton, my former captain. I have ordered a copy of this later rendition of Captain Becton’s story.

This is a story I wish I had known sixty five years earlier.

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Well Intended, but flawed

Resident Aliens,

Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon

The description of this book on the cover is, “A provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know something is wrong.”

The authors go straight for our chops in the preface: “The church is a colony, an island of one culture in the middle of another.” Acknowledging that Christian culture is subsumed in an increasingly alien, secular one, they lay out how Christians can function as Christ calls to us to do. Each of their chapters comes to grips with particular aspects of Christian belief in our daily lives.

What are the right questions in the modern world? How do Christians know how to respond? How do Christians involve themselves and their churches in the increasingly diverse life of the country? What are Christian ethics: what Jerry Falwell preaches? What liberal Christians preach and practice? Can there be anything common about the preaching and practice of Christianity?

The authors tackle these topics and weave others in. They come head on in both their analysis and dictation about how Christians handle the ambiguity that we work into the interaction of our faith with living in present day America. The book is thoughtful, well written and engages its readers in self consideration.

Having given this analysis, there is a caution to be added. The authors lay out a world in which religion plays a decreasing role in human behavior. For example, they draw some examples from WWII. They use the examples of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan and the plowing under of Germany by Allied bombing being approved by President Truman and Prime Minister Churchill as being unChristian. Having lived through WWII, I find this unacceptable. War is never Christian. The Germans were in the process of exterminating Jews and the Japanese treated military prisoners, and every one else they came in contact with, particularly the Chinese whom they exterminated by the hundreds of thousands, with brutality. In the case of the Japanese government, atomic bombs were the only thing that would have brought the Japanese to the peace table and prevented the invasion of Japan. The first one had no effect on the government’s decision to continue the war, and neither did the second one. It was the Emperor who came out of his isolation to announce his acceptance of surrender. Christianity, as these two use it, had no effect on the decision of the Nazis and the Japanese to force violence on the world.

However, this is a book for people who take their religion seriously and are willing to be faced with looking at their lives through Christianity as held up by Hauerwas and Willmon.

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On Tyranny

Libraries and book stores are full of books explaining what and why the social and economic worlds are the way they are. In many cases there is much supporting information about the environment around the problem, but not much about the problem, or issue. Recently, my wife ran across a review of the small book listed below, bought a couple of copies, and read one. She was most impressed and (highly) recommended that I read it, which I eventually did. In the meantime she bought several copies, one of which we sent to our Marine grandson. He took it to the office to read in his spare time, began it that morning and didn’t put it down until he had finished it shortly before lunch. He then gave it to his office mate and insisted that he read it.

There are twenty topics, framed as orders. Each one has from a half to two page comment that explains what Snyder intends each topic statement to mean. If there is a repository of advice about dealing with what is happening in this country, for me this is it.

(I have included three samples from his lessons)

On Tyranny; Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century
Timothy Snyder

Do Not Obey In Advance
Defend Institutions
Beware the One Party State

The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start. They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents. So support the multi-party system and defend the rules of democratic elections. Vote in local and state elections while you can. Consider running for office.

Take Responsibility For The Face Of The World
Remember Professional Ethics
Be Wary Of Paramilitaries
Be Reflective If You Must Be Armed
Stand Out
Be Kind To Our Language
Believe In Truth

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Make Eye Contact And Small Talk
Practice Corporeal Politics
Establish A Private Life
Contribute To Good Causes
Learn From Peers In Other Countries
Listen For Dangerous Words

Be alert for the use of the words extremism and terrorism. Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

Be Calm when The Unthinkable Arises
Be A patriot
Be As Courageous As you Can

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What Is Going On?

Like all other Americans, I am facing an unknown in our recently elected Federal government. Departments which have represented us, such as The State Department, seem to sitting on their hands. Is this the will of the President, or of some of his henchmen? He is spending his time in the White House alone, going to Florida on the weekends (at public expense). His wife and youngest son live in New York city while older children drop by the White House. The morning news says one daughter is coming to spend more time with him in the White House.  All these people have to be protected by the Secret Service in their comings and goings.  Naturally, this will cost more money to provide and the SS has already filed a special request.

He gets up early and listens to conservative news, (which often is more rumor than news) then dashes off negative comments about what people have done or are supposed to have done. He has earlier accused his predecessor in office of having been behind spreading malicious information about him. Not one of his cabinet or administrative (FBI) officers agree with this charge. And, there are similar witless charges.

Republicans in Congress,encouraged by the president. moved to get rid of the “Obama” welfare give away, except they came up against the millions of lower income constituents in their districts who benefit from this expenditure. Unable to put together a majority, the leadership had to put this on a back burner.  And, after refusing to consider (for how many months?) the earlier nominee who was presented by the Democrats for Supreme Court Justice, they are now leading the questioning of one who is “neutral”.

I have been here since FDR’s first term. Many different men have been president, but there has never been one this unprepared. Unfortunately, this is not the nuttiest Congress I have ever seen, though the refusal to get rid of “Obama Care” offers hope that the Nuts are not completely in charge.

I could go on, but I suspect this is just the beginning. What will this country be like after four years?

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What’s New (Maybe)

Every once in a while I look at the list of books that I have read and am surprised at the number from Amazon, or that have come from the library after coming to my attention from Amazon. Many are very interesting and some are not. The uninteresting I don’t have to keep. The library books are free and I can return those that turn out to be not what I am interested in.

For example, The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes, is a relatively recent examination of how the British Duke of Wellington in his early 19th C campaign against the French in Portugal and Spain supported his intelligence officer in cracking the new message code. His officer had already deciphered the previous code, an act that let Wellington know what the French were supposed to do, sometimes before they knew. The book is full of action and suspense: just my type. Then, there is Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman. These fictional stories take place on the Navajo reservation and the principal character is a young Navajo policeman. The stories have told me much about life on the Navajo reservation.

On the other hand, there is The Red Knight of Germany:The Story of Baron von Richthofen. He was THE fighter plane ace of WWI, shooting down more planes than any pilot on either side. The book was published in 1930, giving it’s author time to explore every air battle and every victim of Richthofen. Not quite half way through it came to me that describing most air battles, places of crash for all of his victims, and their names was all the book was about. I’m not sure even a German could stick through all of that.

And, now, there is The Sea & Civilization, foisted on me by a very good friend. It is 600 pages of densely packed information on the development of the world from the time when we can first identify people moving from one place to another by sea. It is well written, very interesting and long. After about two months I have read 124 pages.

Thank goodness for the library and Amazon. They should keep me interested and involved until my departure.

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Sorry about this

I became so interested in the basketball playoffs that I forgot a blog.  Next week.

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