Category Archives: History

Lincoln and Trump: Does it get more incongruous than that?


Someone shared with me this link to publicity about an event, and I was immediately struck by how grossly inappropriate it is to juxtapose a photograph of the Lincoln monument with the name “Donald Trump.” And yet there it is, imposed right across Honest Abe’s left shin.

Yeah, I get it. Someone seeking the Republican presidential nomination, and the first Republican nominee to be elected president. On a very literal, superficial level, I can see how that might make sense to somebody.

But, having watched (most of) the first episode of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” again last night, I am particularly mindful at this moment of Lincoln’s stature as the most careful, thoughtful and profound speaker in our history. He was always careful to say exactly the right thing at the precise moment when it would have maximum effect in moving the nation toward emancipation and reconciliation. Not a word was out of place or ill-timed. He said exactly what needed to be said, for the good of the nation, at exactly the moment when it needed to be said.

He was always about appealing to “the better angels of our nature.” And he succeeded amazingly, at the moment in our history when we were most divided.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who is the opposite of all that. He’s the one person in public life that we can depend on to say precisely the wrong thing (if you define right and wrong according to Lincoln’s priorities of national unity and preservation) whenever he bloody well feels like it.

Putting them together this way is… jarring.

A trip through the Wayback Machine


While working on a presentation later this week on the subject of blogging, I went back and looked at some of my early efforts.

Specifically, I went back to January 2008, my peak blogging month ever.

Looking back, I’m fairly impressed.

If you want to go back and explore, just click on the image above, you’ll go back in time, and you’ll find the links work (or at least SOME of them do) and everything.


In defense of “The Great Escape”

About a decade or so ago, I persuaded one of my daughters to sit and watch “The Great Escape” with me. My motivation was that I wanted to share something that had been, without a doubt, my favorite movie when I was a kid.

Early on — I think it might have been the scene in which Steve McQueen’s character, Hilts, and his new Scottish friend Ives, are sent to the “cooler” for the first time — my daughter raised an objection: What’s with the light, sprightly music in the background? This is about men at war being held prisoner of the Nazis and risking their lives to escape. They’re being put in solitary confinement, a harsh punishment that can cause lasting psychological damage (and as we soon find out, has pushed Ives to the edge of cracking up). Why the cute music? Why does it seem the actors are playing it for laughs?

She knew that her grandfather had spent the rest of the war in such a camp after being captured in the Ardennes, and it was a sufficiently horrible experience that he never, ever wanted to visit Europe again.

I had never noticed that incongruity, because, well, I had first seen the film at the age of 10, and I thought it was awesome in every way, and had never questioned the out-of-place comical touches that, after all, made watching the film all that much more fun.

I tried to explain that films were different in the ’50s and ’60s — Hollywood tended to sugarcoat everything — and war films especially. The country had this hugely positive feeling about the Second World War, and over the past couple of decades had sanitized it to the point that, to kids of my generation, it looked at times like one great lark. I knew at least in theory of the cost of war — I used to look at those pictures of American bodies in the surf at Normandy and Saipan in the big Time-Life picture books about the war. Still, the fact that the war was something we all felt good about was something I didn’t question. For instance, I watched the film starring Audie Murphy in which he re-enacted the deeds that made him a hero, and nothing that I saw in the film prepared me for what I learned years later — that Murphy had a terrible time with PTSD after the war.

And I knew, by the time my daughter pointed out that problem, that the true story of The Great Escape had definitely received the Hollywood treatment. To begin with, Hilts was complete fiction, and although there were some Americans in the camp, their roles in this escape were fairly marginal. (I think. I’m finding some contradictory info about American David M. Jones.)

Still, even though I know all that, and even though the film doesn’t hold the exalted position that it did in my personal list of favorites, I got a little defensive this morning when I read about the death at 101 of the next-to-last survivor of the escape, Australian Paul Royle. This was the part that got me:

Paul Royle revealed last year on the 70th anniversary of the tunnel escape in March 1944 that he was no fan of the Hollywood interpretation of the story.

“The movie I disliked intensely because there were no motorbikes … and the Americans weren’t there,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp., referring to McQueen’s dramatic bid to outrun the Germans on a motorbike.

Gordon Royle said his father was angry that Hollywood would create an adventure out of soldiers doing their often tedious and dangerous duty of attempting to escape.

“He felt the movie was a glamorization of the tedium and the drabness of the actuality,” Gordon Royle said.

“The idea that they got on a motorbike and soared over a barbed wire fence is far from the reality, which was darkness and cold and terror,” he said….

First, Mr. Royle had a million times greater entitlement to an opinion on the film than I ever will have. That said, allow me to raise some objections to his criticism:

  • True, no Americans were involved in the escape, as they were moved to another part of the camp before the tunnel was ready. However, one author who wrote about the escape notes that earlier, “US airmen watched out for patrolling Germans during the tunnel’s construction.” Marginal, but participation nonetheless.
  • I accept service completely on the fact that Hilts was entirely a fabrication, from his cowboy insouciance to his baseball and glove. But I should point out that if you paid close attention to the film, you’d see that the three Americans depicted as being in the camp were not central to the escape effort, except for Hendley — and he had the fig leaf of technically being in the Canadian air force and therefore not officially an “American.” The fictional Hilts was a complete outsider, playing no part in the X organization. The essentially true story of the escape planned and executed by British officers with a few allied pilots thrown in was clearly told.
  • While the entire story was fictionalized, there was at least some verisimilitude between the central character, Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett, and his real-life counterpart, Squadron Leader Roger Bushell. Their stories are a fairly close match. Bushell had been captured and tortured by the Gestapo after a previous escape, and had developed an intense hatred of the Nazis by the time he became Big X in Stalag Luft III.
  • The central facts of the plan — the simultaneous digging of three tunnels, named Tom, Dick and Harry, and the discovery of Tom by the Germans — are accurately depicted.
  • The grimness of the experience was there, despite the veneer of jazzed-up adventure. There was Danny’s terror in the tunnel, Ives’ eventually suicidal despair, and the central fact of the murder of the 50 — the men to whom the film is dedicated — by the Gestapo. No reasonable person watching this would conclude that being a POW was fun.

    Ashley-Pitt demonstrates how they'll get rid of the dirt.

    Ashley-Pitt demonstrates how they’ll get rid of the dirt.

  • The film showed only three men making it all the way to freedom, and that’s how many did — even though in the film one of them was Australian, like Mr. Royle, and that was not accurate. (Two were Norwegian and one was Dutch, although all three had flown for the RAF.)
  • The role that Mr. Royle played — distributing dirt from the tunnels by releasing it from bags within his trousers and mixing it into the compound dirt with his feet — was clearly depicted. Although in the film that is most closely associated with naval officer Ashley-Pitt, played by David McCallum (whom our generation would later know as Illya Kuryakin), you see that a large number of men participated in that part of the operation. (And frankly, that’s always been one of the most amazing aspects of the escape to me. It’s astounding that they got away with it. How did the guards not notice something on that scale?)
As a kid, I had this poster on the wall in my room.

As a kid, I had this poster on the wall in my room.

In the end, it’s hard to defend the role Steve McQueen played in the film — except in this convoluted way: His jump over that fence at the Swiss border on that German motorcycle was the most exciting thing I had ever seen in a film to that point in my life, and the one thing that solidified it as my favorite. Yes, it was a complete lie. But it engaged my lifelong interest in the escape, and caused me to read books about the true story later in life.

So in that regard it served a purpose. Although I can easily see how a man who suffered through the actual experience would find it irritating in the extreme, and I’m sorry for that. He certainly has the facts, and all the moral weight, on his side. I just thought I’d speak up for something that meant a lot to me as a kid.

Anybody want to talk about Hiroshima?


Atomic cloud over Nagasaki, by Hiromichi Matsuda

There’s been a lot out there about the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of it seems to be of either the “look at the horrible thing we did” or “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” varieties.

In other words, they tend to be couched in the binary, either-or, good-or-bad, black-or-white terms that curse our public discourse these days.


And I can’t subscribe to either approach.

I certainly can’t go along with the “America is horrible and should apologize” approach, as exemplified by the piece I linked to above. If the topic weren’t so horrible it would be comical. Like so much that Salon publishes, it condemns our leaders of 1945 in terms fashionable in 2015 — those old white guys were a bunch of hateful, insensitive racists, so no wonder they did what they did.

But I can’t say “Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” either. Not because I think the bombing of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki was particularly egregious. After all, the previous firebombing of Tokyo was worse. But that very context — the fact that the bombing of population centers was taken for granted by both sides as an acceptable strategy — is the thing that bothers me, a lot.

In saying that, don’t think I’m judging our WWII leaders by modern standards — or by the standards of, say, the 19th century, when such widespread killing of civilians was unthinkable, in large part because it was impossible. Our leaders in those pre-smart bomb days assumed that the bombings were necessary to winning the war, an imperative that might be a bit hard for a lot of people to understand today, when we speak of “exit strategies” with hardly any reference made to the concept of “victory.”

And I applaud their determination to win the war. I see victory in that conflict as every bit as important as did FDR and Churchill. I just don’t know that bombing cities was necessary to victory. How can I know? The variables are too many to game out an alternative history in which we don’t bomb cities, yet still win.

I just cannot say with an undivided mind that bombing civilians was necessary or defensible. That practice will always temper the triumph of “the Good War” in my mind, even as I long for the kind of moral clarity and unity of purpose that our nation experienced then.

All of that said, though, given that the decision to drop the Big One, twice, on Japanese cities was made against a backdrop in which it made consistent strategic sense, and was even seen as a humane alternative to an exponentially worse version of the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which is what it was assumed (with good reason) the invasion of the Japanese home islands would be… I can’t go along with the “Truman was wrong” camp. I suspect I’d have made the same decision, although I thank God I never had to.

But maybe the issue is much, much clearer to y’all. So I’ll hand it over to you…

And now, even the flagpole is gone

hole where the pole was

At breakfast this morning, I thought I’d give myself a treat and look down at the naked flagpole where the Confederate flag once flew, so I leaned over, looked… and the pole itself was gone.

I just saw a couple of trucks, and a messy spot that looked at a distance like a hole filled with broken chunks of concrete.

We’ve all grown used to the South Carolina that had a fetish for resisting change, or only allowing it in slow increments. But here in the New South Carolina, when we decide a thing needs doing, and it’s long overdue, we just flat go ahead and do it.

I’m enjoying this new place.

It’s a great day in South Carolina, and tomorrow will be even greater

I wasn't actually seeing this. My phone did, held high above my head.

I wasn’t actually seeing this. My phone, held high above my head, did.

It helps to make new friends at just the right moment.

As I arrived at the State House a few minutes before the appointed time for Gov. Nikki Haley to sign the bill removing the Confederate flag from the grounds, I realized I should have come a lot earlier. Anyone with a brain should have known this would not just attract media types and pols who want to get into the picture. I had to stand a couple of minutes in a queue of regular civilians before I could even get into the building. But it was a happy, friendly group to hang out with.

My friend Valerie Bauerlein had joined the queue just as I made it through the metal detector, and I waited for her. But then we had trouble — both stairways up to the lobby were blocked by uniformed guards. They said the lobby was at capacity and nobody else could come up. I told them Valerie was from The Wall Street Journal and had come a long way, but no dice. Same story at the elevator.

So I went over toward the corridor to the governor’s office, where a bunch of dignitaries — also behind guards. I saw my representative, Kenny Bingham, and tried calling on his cell. He must have had it turned off. Then I saw Nathan Ballentine. “Nathan!” I called, to no avail. Just then, Rob Godfrey, the governor’s press guy, came over to tell me how much he had liked my column yesterday, in which I said nice things about the governor. (He had earlier said obliging things on Twitter.)

I thanked him, told him of our predicament, so he went and found a senior security guy, and suddenly it was OK for two more people to ascend the stairs.

So you see, sometimes it pays to make nice to the governor. You know, when it’s warranted. (Kidding aside, I’m as proud as I can be of her these last couple of weeks, as I’ve mentioned previously.)

At this point, you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the part about the signing ceremony. Well… here’s the thing… Once Valerie and I got up there, we found we couldn’t get within five or six people of the rope line around the spot where the signing would take place. Not only were there more media than I’ve ever seen at once in the State House (more than the presser a couple of weeks ago, WAY more than Mark Sanford’s confession in 2009), but there was an equal number of dignitaries crowding the place, plus a mixed concentration of lobbyists, staff people and the aforementioned regular citizens.

We all would have been better off watching it on a video feed, in terms of seeing or hearing anything. There was no P.A. system, and about the only things I heard the governor say was something about the flag coming down — which drew a cheer — and then her patented line about it being a great day in South Carolina, followed by more cheering, because this time, everybody agreed with her. In fact, I may start saying it when I answer my own phone.

But as little as I saw or heard, I wouldn’t have missed being there. So thanks, Rob. I mean, nobody could hear George Washington’s inaugural address, because he mumbled. But wouldn’t you like to have been there?

Beyond that, well, I’ll share the bits and pieces of what I was able to witness below:

My column on the flag in The State today


Tim Dominick/The State

A New South Carolina

We have come so far. We are so close. Let’s get it done.

That’s the litany I’ve been reciting this past week, as the previously unthinkable quietly became a matter of fact — at least in the S.C. Senate. To paraphrase a T.S. Eliot quote that Sen. Tom Davis cited after the Senate vote: This is the way the Confederacy ends; not with a bang but a whimper.

We now live in a new South Carolina. No, the flag’s not down yet, but the South Carolina I’ve known all my life is gone. In that late, unlamented version, that anticlimactic 36-3 vote in the Senate would have been impossible. And yet in this new world, it was so … matter of fact. Poetry aside, there wasn’t even a whimper.

How did we get here? Well, I wasn’t around for the start. But while some scoff at the ostensible reason for putting the flag up there — to mark the centennial of The War — I find it credible. I was in the second grade in New Jersey when the centennial observances began. Navy blue kepis — the hats we identify with the Civil War — were very popular among the kids who mocked my South Carolina accent. I searched everywhere and found a gray one. I wore it to school, daring the other boys to try to knock it off.

Innocent enough. But the centennial ended in 1965, and the flag stayed up. We know why. By that time, the civil rights movement was winning important national victories.

And what did the flag mean? We know. Oh, news reports will affect that priggish, pedantic neutrality peculiar to the trade: “Some people see the flag as meaning this; some see it as meaning that.” But we know, don’t we? It is a way white South Carolinians — some of us, anyway — have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement: We can do this. We don’t care about you or how you feel about it.

It was a way of telling the world whose state this is.

My own involvement with the flag started in February 1994, about six weeks after I joined The State’s editorial board. I hadn’t planned to write about it. But my colleague Lee Bandy had asked then-Gov. Carroll Campbell about the flag. The governor had dismissed the issue as beneath his notice. He was too busy with the “big picture” to fuss about with such “temporal emotions of the moment.”

Carroll Campbell did a lot of fine things as governor, but on that day he really ticked me off. So I ripped out a short editorial — just 349 words — that said if the governor was serious about national ambitions (and he was), he needed an attitude adjustment. The “emotions” to which he referred arose “from a failure to resolve the central crisis of our history. That failure arises from many causes, but one of them is a lack of leadership. The rest of the nation can be expected to have little patience with a man who seeks to lead it into the 21st century, but can’t make a gesture to lay a 19th century conflict to rest.”

From that moment, I couldn’t leave the issue alone. I berated a series of governors, and Legislatures, on this failure of leadership. And what result did I, or anyone else calling for the flag to go, get? A hardening of attitudes. The Republican Party rose to power in the General Assembly after putting a mock flag “referendum” on its 1994 primary ballot, after which legislators moved to enshrine the flying of the flag into law.

The anti-flag movement grew, and reached its zenith in 2000, with a 60,000-strong demonstration on Martin Luther King Day, and a dramatic march from Charleston to Columbia led by Mayor Joe Riley. And still, what did we get? A “compromise” that moved the flag to a more visible location. After which the Legislature made it clear for 15 years that it had zero interest in revisiting the issue.

But that all happened in the old South Carolina, which ceased to exist not the night that Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight of his flock were murdered in cold blood. It ended two days later, when the families of the slain forgave the young man charged with taking their loved ones away.

The new South Carolina was born in that moment, in that courtroom. Hatred and death didn’t bring it into being. The love of the living did.

A chain reaction of grace started there, and its radiance shone forth from Charleston. The nation marveled: Why were they not seeing another Ferguson, another Baltimore? How can this black-white lovefest be?

A series of governors had, to varying degrees, brushed off the flag. (Although both David Beasley and Jim Hodges sought compromises.) And now here was one saying, without any mention of compromises, “It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds.” Period. God bless Nikki Haley for actively stepping out to lead this new South Carolina, a state that would be ashamed to engage in the games of the past — a state that couldn’t look at those victims’ families and respond any other way. A state that had grown up.

Standing behind her on that miraculous day, three days after the arraignment, was a cross-section of our political leadership — black and white, Democratic and Republican. The chairmen of the two parties, whose rivalry was defined by the division that flag represented, literally stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

Things like this don’t happen in South Carolina. Or rather, they didn’t happen in the old South Carolina.

Anything can happen now. Anything. Thank God. Now, on to the House.

Mr. Warthen is the former editorial page editor of The State and now director of communications and public relations at ADCO, a Columbia marketing agency. He blogs at

Raw video of the Confederate flag being raised in 2000

“Raw” in more ways than one.

Bill Castronuovo, also a former editor at The State, shared with me this video that he shot on July 1, 2000, the day that the Confederate flag atop the dome was lowered, and the new one raised behind the soldier monument on the State House grounds.

As you can see, it was not the most dignified of occasions. A lot of rebel yells: Including, oddly enough, when the one on the dome came down. Was that flag opponents cheering, paradoxically, in a Confederate fashion, or the neoConfederates cheering because they knew another one was about to go up, in a more visible location? Or maybe they liked seeing the American and state flags lowered with it. I don’t know, and there’s no way to tell.

Anyway, I think that anyone in the House who wants to replace the current flag with another one in this location, or to fly this flag at the museum, should watch this and contemplate it — and ask, “Do I really want another 15 years of this?”

There’s only one way to put this all behind us: Pass the Senate bill as is. And let’s move on.

video still from 2000

Video: SC native Jesse Jackson praises action on flag

Standing at the doors waiting for senators to emerge after their historic vote to remove the Confederate flag, I was surprised to see the Rev. Jesse Jackson among them.

I was also a little surprised that I was the only media type to call out, “Rev. Jackson,” which brought him over to speak with me. Maybe some of those young media folks don’t know who he is.

Of course, I was more interested in what the senators had to say, but they were all occupied at the moment and, after all, Jesse Jackson is, like me, a South Carolina native. I was curious how he felt about his state today — or at least the SC Senate.

So I share what he had to say…

He praised the governor, and he said what the Senate did was just what Robert E. Lee would have wanted it to. He also moved on to call for Medicaid expansion, and it made a little more sense for him to do so, under these triumphal circumstances, than for some of the speakers at the rally Saturday — not as jarring.

But watch it yourself…

SC Senate votes 37-3, without hesitation, to remove Confederate flag — no amendments, no conditions

Bill sponsor Vincent Sheheen fields media questions after the vote while the Rev. Jesse Jackson looks on. Jackson is much more pleased than he looks; I had just spoken with him.

Bill sponsor Vincent Sheheen fields media questions after the vote while the Rev. Jesse Jackson looks on. Jackson is much more pleased than he looks; I had just spoken with him.

And I’m so glad I got over there just in time to see it. Of course, that made it seem even more quick and painless to me — I didn’t have to sit through any of Lee Bright’s nonsense before being treated to the payoff.

I’m so proud of my state today, and I’m not alone. I spoke with my fellow native South Carolinian Jesse Jackson, and he was proud, too — of the Senate our governor, of everybody. So were retired Sens. Kay Patterson and McKinley Washington. I spoke with Vincent Sheheen, and told him I was proud of him, since it was his bill — although with more than half the body joining him in sponsoring it, that’s a lot of other people to be proud of, too.

But I doubt anyone is prouder than the senator’s themselves, who managed to perform this miracle after a session in which their body’s own particular flaws were on display more than usual.

Yep, I’m a little giddy. I’ve only been arguing that we should arrive at this point for 21 years. Rather, at the point we’ll be at after perfunctory third reading in the Senate tomorrow, and then the much-anticipated House approval.

So… I hope I’m not jinxing it, but I can’t help being excited. I mean, the Senate is the hard part, because it’s so easy for a single determined opponent to gum up the works, even on a bill with broad support.

I’m going to hit PUBLISH now, and come back and finish writing…

I’m back! The three “no” votes were Lee Bright (of course), Danny Verdin (no surprise) and Harvey Peeler. Everybody else present voted “aye.” I was surprised by Peeler. I think after this vote, his time as a power that might challenge Hugh Leatherman’s leadership and be listened to may be over. We’ll see. But to be so out of step with the very caucus that he nominally leads at such a historic moment… He was odd man out today.

Everybody’s hopeful about the House, although no one I’ve spoke to seems to be able to adequately explain why Speaker Jay Lucas is playing things so close to the vest. He had started discussions in the House about the flag before the governor’s historic press conference two weeks ago — which he did not attend, after sending out a release calling for “swift resolution.” Since then, he has declined to say even how he will vote — but it’s difficult to imagine him in any way bucking what happened in the Senate today, especially after all of that (well-justified) bragging recently about his chamber getting things done while the Senate dawdles.

We live in a new South Carolina, in which the normal, default position even among conservative Republicans is to get the Confederate flag off the State House grounds ASAP, with no ifs, ands or quibbling amendments.

Surely, surely, surely the House will at least try to match the speed and purity of message that the Senate displayed today.

Maybe as soon as tomorrow.

Why South Carolina seceded (in case you’re still confused)

Slave sale in Charleston, 1856

Slave sale in Charleston, 1856

Lee Bright’s bizarre view of history, and Prof. David Carlton’s related comment about South Carolina secessionists’ attempt to justify their action, remind me that it might be useful to place at your convenient disposal the original document itself.

We’ve all heard the absurd lie, from Confederate apologists, that the Civil War was not about slavery. We may hear it asserted next week, when lawmakers take up the matter of lowering the flag.

Just to make sure there is no confusion, I thought I’d share with you the full text of the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” In other words, I’ll let the secessionists themselves tell you what the war was about.

If you’d like to read a slightly shorter version, which leaves out the history lesson about the Declaration of Independence and the framing of the U.S. Constitution, you can read this one instead. It cuts to the chase, going right to the aforementioned “Immediate Causes.”

The document leaves no doubt as to why South Carolina was precipitating this crisis. For those of you who prefer numbers to words, I’ll provide these:

  • The document mentions some form of the word “slave” (“slaves,” “slaveholding,” “slavery,” etc.) 17 times. That’s the number I found in one quick pass through it; I may have missed some.
  • It refers less directly to slavery 9 other times, with such phrases as “person held to service or labor,” “fugitive,” “servile,” “right of property” and “persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens.”

But go ahead and read the whole thing, and let me know if you’re still confused.


Not only was the flag not always there; neither was the monument


I say that not to suggest moving the monument. I just want to emphasize that the folks out there muttering darkly about how we’re trying to “erase history” by moving that flag that was put up in 1962 generally don’t know a lot about our postwar history.

I wrote this column to run on July 2, 2000 — one day after the old naval jack was removed from the dome, and the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was placed behind the Confederate flag monument.

My purpose in writing it was to let it be known from the very moment of the compromise, that I was not satisfied with it, and saw it as by no means a permanent solution. There was very little appetite for continued debate on the subject at this moment, and I was acutely aware of that. People were flag-weary. But while most folks were celebrating, I wanted to signal that this wasn’t settled, and foreshadow the debate to come…

Here’s the column:


State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, July 2, 2000

Author: BRAD WARTHEN , Editorial Page Editor

An important thing to remember about monuments: They aren’t set in stone.

OK, bad choice of words. They are set in stone, or concrete, or something along those lines. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be modified or moved.

Take, for instance, the Confederate Soldier Monument on the State House grounds. For many of us who wanted the Confederate flag moved off the dome, that was probably the least desirable place of all to put its replacement. Unfortunately, if the flag or one like it was going to fly anywhere, that was probably the most logical location.

Why? Because so many groups that advocated moving the flag said to put it instead in a more historically appropriate setting. And what more appropriate place could there be to put a soldier’s flag than alongside the monument to the soldiers who served under it? It’s just too bad that that monument is in the most visible location on the grounds. There’s nothing we can do about that, is there?

Well, here’s a fun fact to know and tell: The state’s official monument to Confederate soldiers was not always in that location. In fact, that isn’t even the original monument.

I had heard this in the past but just read some confirmation of it this past week, in a column written in 1971 by a former State editor. When I called Charles Wickenberg, who is now retired, to ask where he got his facts, he wasn’t sure after all these years. But the folks at the S.C. Department of Archives and History were able to confirm the story for me. It goes like this:

The original monument, in fact, wasn’t even on the State House grounds. It was initially erected on Arsenal Hill, but a problem developed – it was sitting on quicksand. So it was moved to the top of a hill at the entrance of Elmwood cemetery.

The monument finally made it to the State House grounds in 1879. But it didn’t go where it is now. It was placed instead “near the eastern end of the building, about 60 feet from the front wall and 100 feet from the present site,” Mr. Wickenberg wrote.

But another problem developed: The monument kept getting struck by lightning. “The last stroke” hit on June 22, 1882, and demolished the stone figure.

At this point, if I were one of the folks in charge of this monument, I might have started to wonder about the whole enterprise. But folks back then were made of sterner stuff, and they soldiered on, so to speak.

At this point a new base was obtained, with stirring words inscribed upon it, and “a new statue, chiseled in Italy,” placed at the top. On May 9, 1884, the new monument was unveiled and dedicated in the same location in which we find it today.

So we see that the folks who lived in a time when “the Recent Unpleasantness” was actually recent – and burning in their personal memories – had to try four times before they came up with a way that suited them and their times to honor Confederate sacrifice.

In light of that, why should anyone assume that we’re finished deciding how to remember the Confederacy in our time?

Am I suggesting that we move the monument yet again? Not necessarily. I don’t think anybody’s ready for that battle yet. (Anyway, the Legislature doesn’t meet again until January.)

But I am saying that alternatives to the present arrangement exist. For instance. . . .

Remember the proposal that came up in the heat of the House debate to put the new Army of Northern Virginia battle flag within the context of a group of flags honoring S.C. veterans of other wars? The plan died partly because the details were sketchy and partly because House leaders didn’t want to consider anything new at that point.

Well after the present arrangement was safely passed and signed, that plan was resurrected – in an improved form – by Sen. John Courson, who had already done so much to bring the compromise to fruition over the past six years.

Sen. Courson’s resolution, co-sponsored by the 19 senators who, like him, are military veterans, would create a commission to “design and establish an appropriate monument to be placed on the grounds of the Capitol Complex to recognize and honor the accomplishments of South Carolina veterans who have served honorably, in peace or war, in any of the five branches of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

The monument would consist mainly of the official flags of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Thereby all who served our nation – black and white, from the Revolution to Kosovo – would be honored the same way we are honoring those who served the Confederacy.

The plan leaves site selection to the new commission, but Sen. Courson says there is only one place left on the grounds that could easily accommodate such an addition – the same grassy area where the ANV battle flag was raised on Saturday.

The resolution was filed at the last minute and automatically died at the end of the session. But Sen. Courson introduced it anyway to give lawmakers something to think about between now and next January.

So you see, the present arrangement – with the Confederate banner sticking out so conspicuously by itself in a prominent place – really isn’t set in stone, in the metaphorical sense.

Sen. Courson has presented one viable alternative. There are no doubt others.

I was being generous there suggesting Courson’s idea.

The best proposal to emerge from the debates of that year came from Bob Sheheen — the former speaker, and Vincent’s uncle.

He suggested doing away with the physical, cloth flag altogether, and placing a modest bronze monument somewhere on the grounds to say that the flag once flew here over the dome, and giving some historical perspective.

Unfortunately, that proposal was never really given a chance. The infamous compromise came out of the Senate and then-Speaker David Wilkins allowed only one day — one day — for debate, thereby ensuring that no other proposal would have a chance to catch on and win support. Pressed for time, the House just passed the Senate plan, and moved on.

That day was one of the most frustrating of my professional life. This was before blogging, and The State’s online presence was pretty rudimentary. All day, I kept writing different versions of an editorial based on what was happening in the debate, hoping that Wilkins would allow the debate to continue another day, hoping to have some influence on the outcome — hoping for the chance to push for the Sheheen plan or something like it.

But they pushed on late into the evening, and I had to let the page go without any editorial on the subject, since I didn’t know what the facts would be when readers saw the paper in the morning.

So frustrating. Such a missed opportunity…

150th birthday of ‘The Conquered Banner’ (two days late)

flags Wed

Wait! Who unfurled that banner? And why?

As anyone with a knowledge of such things is aware, the “history” that the SCV and other neoConfederates wish to preserve by keeping the flag flying at the State House is, well, ahistorical.

The spirit and attitude of the people who actually experienced the Recent Unpleasantness, with regard to the flag, was captured most expressively by Father Abram Joseph Ryan, a Catholic cleric who was known as the “Poet-Priest of the South.”

His most famous work, “The Conquered Banner,” was first published on June 24, 1865. So, in honor of its 150th anniversary, I’m sharing it in its entirety, two days late:

THE CONQUERED BANNER by Abram Joseph Ryan (1838-1886)

Furl that Banner, for 'tis weary;
Round its staff 'tis drooping dreary;
  Furl it, fold it, it is best;
For there's not a man to wave it,
And there's not a sword to save it,
And there's no one left to lave it
In the blood that heroes gave it;
And its foes now scorn and brave it;
  Furl it, hide it--let it rest!

Take that banner down! 'tis tattered;
Broken is its shaft and shattered;
And the valiant hosts are scattered
  Over whom it floated high.
Oh! 'tis hard for us to fold it;
Hard to think there's none to hold it;
Hard that those who once unrolled it
  Now must furl it with a sigh.

Furl that banner! furl it sadly!
Once ten thousands hailed it gladly.
And ten thousands wildly, madly,
  Swore it should forever wave;
Swore that foeman's sword should never
Hearts like theirs entwined dissever,
Till that flag should float forever
  O'er their freedom or their grave!

Furl it! for the hands that grasped it,
And the hearts that fondly clasped it,
Cold and dead are lying low;
And that Banner--it is trailing!
While around it sounds the wailing
  Of its people in their woe.

For, though conquered, they adore it!
Love the cold, dead hands that bore it!
Weep for those who fell before it!
Pardon those who trailed and tore it!
  But, oh! wildly they deplored it!
  Now who furl and fold it so.

Furl that Banner! True, 'tis gory,
Yet 'tis wreathed around with glory,
And 'twill live in song and story,
  Though its folds are in the dust;
For its fame on brightest pages,
Penned by poets and by sages,
Shall go sounding down the ages--
  Furl its folds though now we must.

Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently--it is holy--
  For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not--unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people's hopes are dead!

What in the world got into Ben Affleck?

As we wrestle with our own demons and angels here in South Carolina, let’s pause a moment to look away, look away, look away toward Tinsel Town and ponder this puzzling situation:

When Ben Affleck volunteered to be featured on the PBS genealogy program “Finding Your Roots” last year, he was hoping to find “the roots of his family’s interest in social justice.”

Researchers did turn up plenty for the actor-cum-activist to be pleased about: a mother who was a member of the Freedom Riders, an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War.

But they also found Benjamin Cole, a great-great-great grandparent on his mother’s side. Cole was a sheriff in Chatham County, Ga., in the 1850s and ’60s, according to historical documents uncovered by Family History Insider. And he was the “trustee” of seven slaves.

An attempt to cover up that unwanted detail has led PBS to suspend the show, citing Affleck’s “improper influence” on programming…

OK, it looks like the Ben Affleck we all respected for making “Argo” has disappeared, and been replaced by the old Ben Affleck whom everyone made fun of. To paraphrase “Good Will Hunting,” judging by this, our boy is wicked dumb.

This is Hollywood narcissism carried out to the Nth power, the ultimate example of movie star shallowness: He actually expected to be able to congratulate himself with a family tree full of people who held only 21st-century-approved ideas, and led perfect, ideologically correct lives.

Where does this kind of thinking come from? If he volunteered for this self-stroking show (I’ve seen a few minutes of it a couple of times, and come away wondering why anyone but the celebrity himself would care about some celebrity’s great-grandparents), why would he not want his actual ancestry to be revealed? What would be the point?

Folks, I had at least five great-great grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy. One of them owned slaves — possibly others as well, but I only know about this one. Whatever he was like as an individual — and I have no way of really knowing — there is no question that he was of the class that brought us the Civil War. He was a member of the South Carolina General Assembly both before and after the war.

Over the years, I’ve heard all these SCV types, in the midst of their making excuses for the flag, say that their ancestors didn’t own slaves, so don’t blame them. Sometimes I want to say to them, Well, my ancestors did, so why don’t you just hush up and let those of us with standing in this matter try to address the problem?

But I don’t, of course, for fear that that would sound, you know, kinda like I’m looking down on these folks for being from the slaveless classes. Which is more than a little uncool on a number of levels… It’s bad enough that I catch myself looking down on them for being so WRONG. As the Pope says, Who am I to judge?

Here’s the thing: I am in no way complicit in anything that people I never even knew did. You have to be pretty confused to think otherwise. But let’s just say that knowing my ancestry makes the horrendous sin of starting the bloodiest war in our history and committing treason against the nation I love just a bit more real to me.

Are we not put on this Earth to recognize and correct the sins and mistakes of our forebears? Aren’t we supposed to learn from the past, not just bow down to it?

Apparently not, if you’re Ben Affleck.

Why does his silliness bother me? Because he’s doing exactly what these people who defend the flag say that those of us who want it down are doing: Trying to erase the past, to deny it. When applied to those of us who’ve been working to get the flag down all these years, that’s absurd.

But then, some movie star has to go and act exactly the way the neo-Confederates claim the rest of us are acting.

So needless to say, I’m more than a little disgusted…

When was there ever such a concentrated burst of public eloquence?

I discovered something accidentally this morning…

Did you know that Winston Churchill’s three most famous speeches (arguably, anyway) all came within the first month or two that he was prime minister? I was really surprised to learn that.

I was looking up one of them for some reason. Then I got to thinking, when did he say… and ended up looking up the other two, and being shocked by how close together they were.

Excerpts from the three:

  • May 13, 1940 — Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, ‘come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.'”
  • June 4, 1940 — We Shall Fight on the Beaches: “Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
  • June 18, 1940 — Finest Hour: “What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”

Oh, and note that only two months after that came the one about the Battle of Britain that included, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”Churchill_V_sign_HU_55521

Were I, from now to the end of my life, to hear but one speech from an American leader half as inspiring as one of those, I should count myself blessed. (See how easy it is to fall into that kind of cadence when you’ve been reading it?) And this was all within just over a month.

Had I been a Brit in those dark days, as France fell, I would have been thoroughly bucked up; my upper lip would have been as stiff as need be. I would be calm, and I would carry on.

Now, my cynical modern friends have already started sneering, and in their minds are forming modernist, moralistic condemnations aimed at such benighted concepts as “Christian civilization” and “Empire,” soon to flow through their fingers and onto the screen. But I ask them to pause and step outside their time and perspective, and place themselves in the moment in which these words were spoken, and perhaps they, too, will get goosebumps.

An aside: Note how cleverly, in two of those passages, the PM served notice on the New World of what would soon be expected of it in the service of liberal democracy, even as we wallowed in an isolationism that might even have embarrassed Rand Paul.

Is it necessary to be faced with annihilation as a nation for humans to produce such rhetoric? Perhaps. We live in a more trivial time, with more trivial interests. Doubt me? Then what do you make of the fact that, as inspired as I am, I’m thinking to myself, I’m going to add “Finest Hour” to my list of band names, for when I start my band. After all, “Blood, Sweat and Tears” is already taken…

Will SC Republicans go rogue again this year?

In January 2012, I was invited to speak to the Senate Presidents’ Forum, a national gathering of state senate leaders, in Key West. I was on a panel with several others who were there to talk about that year’s presidential politics. They had the legendary David Yepsen from Iowa, and I was the putative South Carolina “expert.” This was just days before our GOP presidential primary.

But this was a situation in which experience and expertise counted for little, as the usual dynamics weren’t doing what they usually do.

The textbook answer on South Carolina, based on all the primaries I had covered back into the ’80s, was that the establishment candidate would win here. Oh, our Republicans might flirt with bomb-throwers from the fringe, but in the end they’d settle down and choose the safe, conservative (in the real sense of the word, not the bizarre ways that it’s flung about these days) candidate.

Which that year meant Mitt Romney. He was the perfect country-club Republican, and it was his turn.

But ever since 2010 — really, ever since the defeat of 2008 — the party had been going a little nuts, and wasn’t acting itself. The SC GOP of old would, for instance, have gone with Henry McMaster or maybe Gresham Barrett, for governor. But the Tea Party swept Nikki Haley in from the back of the pack. Yeah, the Tea Party was a national phenomenon, but if there’s some crazy going on, white South Carolinians have a history of wanting to get out in front of it — a history that reached much farther back than its history as an endorser of establishment Republicans.

But surely SC Republicans would settle down on their presidential preference, cherishing their role as the ones who point the rest of the country toward the strongest, safest choice. Well… maybe. But I saw some poll numbers that worried me. And I saw lists of solid establishment Republicans getting behind Newt Gingrich.

This worried me, a lot. I made phone calls from my hotel room in Key West to some key Republicans to try to gauge just how hard that wind was blowing.

In the end, I told the assembled state senators that if you forced me to make a prediction, I’d still say that South Carolina would be South Carolina and go with Romney — but that there were indications that it could be Gingrich.

Of course, it was Gingrich. South Carolina Republicans threw away the rule book. And the Senate Presidents’ Forum hasn’t asked me back to any of its confabs, possibly because I got it wrong. I keep telling y’all, you can’t trust political parties. They really shafted me on that one (and the governor, too — some of those establishment Republicans who went with Gingrich did so, at least in part, to undermine Nikki Haley, who was backing Romney).

Anyway, I was reading this piece in The Washington Post this morning, talking about how you can’t go by history to predict Rick Santorum’s chances this year:

Here’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to figuring out who will get the Republican presidential nomination: The guy who didn’t get it the last time will get it the next time. Ronald Reagan lost the nomination to President Gerald Ford in 1976 and won it in 1980. George H. W. Bush lost it to Reagan in 1980 and won it in 1988. Sen. Bob Dole lost it 1988 and won it in 1996. Then there was a break. In 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the nomination against Sen. John McCain, who then won it in 2008. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney lost it in 2008 and won it in 2012.

And that brings me to Rick Santorum. The former senator from Pennsylvania won 11 states in the 2012 nomination contest, “coming in a respectable second in the GOP presidential primary season,” as The Post’s Karen Tumultyreported late last year. Santorum is so far back in the very crowded 2016 Republican field that he doesn’t even register on the latest Quinnipiac poll. But that doesn’t mean anything at this point. McCain’s campaign was on life support in July 2007. By March 2008, he clinched the nomination

In other words, you can no longer rely on Republicans to do the traditional thing. Although you never know; maybe they’ll surprise you and do so.

And of course this gets me to wondering what SC Republicans will do this time. Who can say? This time, there are more wild cards than usual.

If this were 1988, or 1996, or 2000, or even 2008, Jeb Bush would be the winner of the SC Republican presidential primary, hand down. But not only is the party way less predictable now than it was then, there’s an extra complication: Lindsey Graham.

It’s very difficult to predict. Lindsey Graham is the Republican whom Republicans love to hate — particularly those of the newer, fringe variety. That’s why he often fails to get a warm reception at party functions, and also why he had so many primary opponents last year. But then, he walked all over those primary opponents, and on to easy re-election.

I’m not saying he wins the primary here. There’s an outside chance that he could, but at this point I’m saying he doesn’t. He doesn’t get crushed, either — he places, if he’s still in the mix at that point.

What Graham definitely does, though, is complicate things. For instance, he’s got some of the establishment types who might normally go for a Bush backing our senior senator instead — David Wilkins, for one. He also has some of the McCain organization working for him, such as Richard Quinn. (For a list of people helping the Graham campaign, click here.)

Meanwhile, we see another establishment type — Warren Tompkins — at the core of a strong Marco Rubio organization in our state. Another complication.

Set that against the fact that South Carolina Republicans have this thing for Bushes, and the fact they went last time for a guy who at this point no one would have predicted, and no one knows what’s going to happen here come February.

‘Le mort du guerre’


Reading various editorials and such about Memorial Day, I’m reminded of our time in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where so many suffered so much as prisoners of the Japanese during what is referred to locally as “the war of 1939-1945.”

Specifically, I’m reminded of how deeply impressed I was by how beautifully maintained the cemetery for British and Dutch POWs was.

Yes, I know this is American Memorial Day (known in SC, at least until recently, as “Yankee Memorial Day”). But this is what I thought of. And there is an American angle to this mostly British story.


The monument says 356 Americans died building the railway; Wikipedia says 133. I don’t know which is right.

You’ve seen the picture of me standing in front of The Bridge on the River Kwai. Well, that was taken by the Thai wife of one of a trio of American veterans I ran into next to the bridge. It was hard to miss them — two middle-aged white guys and a black guy busily painting and restoring the monument at right. Even though two of them were wearing the proverbial Asian conical hat.

They were from an American veterans’ lodge in Bangkok. They had come to spruce up the one monument I saw in the town to the 133 Americans who died building the Death Railway or Burma Railway connecting Bangkok to Rangoon for the Japanese.

I asked them how to find the cemetery where the POWs lay (thinking at this point there would be Americans there among the Brits). They gave me rough directions — too rough, it would turn out — and an idea of how long it would take to walk there. I thanked them for their service, got my picture taken, and hiked back upriver to our resort.

When I got there, we decided to go see the cemetery before dark, which was coming on soon. So we headed out in the general direction on the Maenamkwai Road. Maenamkwai ran parallel to the river, and was something of a party district, as evidenced by the signs in front of pubs offering such experiences as “Get Drunk for 10 baht” — which seemed both a fiscal and physical impossibility, 10 baht being just under 30 cents, but I don’t know because I didn’t test it. Those kinds of places were a bit… unsavory. Quite a few of the patrons were white men about my age — some Brits, some other nationalities — who could occasionally be seen groping the pretty young Thai girls.

We began to despair of finding the cemetery based on the veterans’ directions and the insufficiently detailed map we’d obtained at our resort. Finally, we decided to ask directions of a typically seedy-looking white guy we encountered coming out of a Tesco Express. He wasn’t, as I’d hoped, a Brit. He was French, and had no English. I was enormously proud that, though I think of myself as having no French, I managed to come up with “le mort du guerre” in my effort to tell him what we sought. (Google Translate says I should have said “les morts de la guerre,” but whatever — he seemed to understand). However, he was much confused by our map and perhaps by his own whereabouts — I suspected that he’d spent at least 10 baht at one of the local establishments — and his directions were decidedly vague.

But we carried on, and eventually found it, a few blocks further.

As I said, I was deeply impressed by what we found. Not just the sheer number of graves — almost 7,000, according to Wikipedia — but how meticulously they had been cared for. One section was cordoned off, where someone was putting in new sod so as the improve upon the near-perfection. I was astounded that a graveyard so far away from the families these men left behind was maintained to this extent. (I noted the plaque saying the land was the gift of the Thai people, but I learned later that the graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.)

When we arrived we were accosted by a couple of young Thai women. One of them explained that her friend was studying English, and had come here hoping to find someone to practice with — which impressed me with her initiative and desire to learn (if only that Frenchman had had such an ambition). So we chatted a bit along the lines of “Hello, how are you?” Then I excused myself because the light was failing and I wanted to explore the cemetery.

My aim was to find the Americans, but there were none. I kept walking from section to section, thinking that the next one would be the American grouping. No luck. I would later learn that the American remains had been repatriated. Eventually, I gave up on my chauvinistic impulse, and appreciated what I found. Most were from the Commonwealth, although there was a big Dutch section with 1,896 graves.

All these mostly young men, who died under such horrific conditions, at the hands of an enemy that regarded and treated them as less than human, under that generation’s twisted version of the Bushido code. All those families that would never even be started back home, on the other side of the world.

As we headed back, we passed Beata Mundi Regina War Monument Catholic Church, which was founded by some Carmelite nuns who located there to care for the graves. I don’t know whether they are still the ones who do that work, under the aegis of the commission, but whoever does does so lovingly.

That night, I purchased The Bridge on the River Kwai from iTunes — I wanted my daughter to have some idea of what had happened there — and tried to watch it on my iPad, but the wi-fi had trouble handling it. I would finish watching it after I got home, and also order the DVD of “The Railway Man” from Netflix.

But of course, there’s no way I will ever fully appreciate what those men experienced there.


Gender aside, who would YOU rather see on the $20 bill?

After reading this piece by the wonderfully named Feminista Jones, arguing that putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill would actually undermine her legacy, I got to thinking: Who would I rather see on the double sawbuck in place of Andrew Jackson?

I mean, you know, demographics aside. Me not being all that big on identity politics and all.

The simple answer is “just about anybody,” including Harriet Tubman and whoever the also-rans were behind her in the Women on 20s contest.

Jackson’s not my fave president. I’ve always sort of seen his electoral victory over the vastly more qualified John Quincy Adams as a moment, if not the moment, when American politics went off the rails. I mean, good one on the Battle of New Orleans (even though the war was over), but just not one of the greats, to my way of thinking. Also, Davy Crockett was my hero when I was a pre-schooler, and Davy (who split with Jackson over the Trail of Tears), if anything, thought less of him than I do.

So whom would I pick to replace him? This is an occasion for another Top Five List:

  1. John Adams — My favorite Founding Father. I have long believed that history gave him short shrift. Everybody remembers Jefferson for writing the Declaration of Independence. But there would have been no declaration without Adams. He’s the guy who tirelessly rammed it through the Continental Congress, while Jefferson sat there like a bump on a log. In fact, it’s likely that it was Adams’ decision to have Jefferson draft the actual document, because he knew the Virginian had a way with words. But Adams was far more the author of our liberty than Jefferson. You say Washington is the Father of our Country? Well, Adams was the one who set him up to become that, by pushing him as the guy to lead our army. For that matter, Adams was the one who proposed that there be a Continental Army to begin with. Then there were his significant contributions as a diplomat in Paris and London during and after the war, which did a lot to make our victory possible. Sure, his presidency wasn’t anything to brag on, but you don’t even have to have been a president to be on a bill. Ask Franklin and Hamilton.
  2. Franklin D. Roosevelt — Led us through the greatest crises in our history, outside of the Civil War — and Lincoln’s already on the five. And he did it with such elan. Who else in our history could have bucked us up and kept us going through the ’30s and early ’40s? No one. And yeah, he’s already on the dime, but he still comes in second — or even first, making Adams second — on my list.
  3. Martin Luther King — After you mention Lincoln and Roosevelt, whose spoken words stirred the American spirit with more power? He inspired us to be the kind of country we always meant to be. We’re still working on that, and he still inspires us.
  4. Harriet Tubman — For all the reasons she won the recent competition to come up with a woman to put on the list. And not just because she’s a twofer — y’all know I don’t go in for such things. Did I ever tell you that when my wife spent a year up in Pennsylvania with our youngest daughter, while the daughter was training at a ballet school, they lived in an antebellum house that had been part of the Underground Railroad? True story. So I must confess to that personal connection.
  5. John Glenn — I’ve always found the first American to orbit the Earth one of the more admirable people of my lifetime. Also, I wanted to have at least one surprise nominee in my five, and Bryan got me to thinking again today about how much I love “The Right Stuff.” And while he’s a nonpresidential nominee, he was my favorite candidate in 1984, even though he didn’t make it. Godspeed, John Glenn.

Whom would you choose?


And she’s our National Security Advisor? Yikes!

Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin brings my attention, belatedly, to this recent shocker from, not some average person on the street, but our National Security Advisor — a Phi Beta Kappa Stanford history major and Rhodes scholar:

The Tweet was evidently in anticipation of today, the 70th anniversary of V-E day — which was not the end of the war. In case you, too, are confused.

When I first saw that Ms. Rubin had mentioned her confusion, I thought, Aw, she probably just typed “V-J Day” when she meant “V-E Day,” a slip anyone could make, even when they know better.

But no. She specifically said “end of WWII,” and brought up the Japanese, implying that she actually thought this was the day that hostilities with Japan ended.

Of course, maybe she was just looking ahead to August, and celebrating that anniversary instead of this one. But I don’t think so.

Back when her potential candidacy for secretary of state was being discussed, I already had reason to fret about Ambassador Rice’s competence, for reasons that went way beyond Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. But this just floors me.

Naming a courthouse for Judge Waring

As you probably know, I don’t hold with naming buildings (or roads, or what have you) for living people. They’ve still got time to make you sorry for doing so sometime in the future.

Even naming things after dead people is sometimes problematic.

But sometimes, there’s a late somebody who just didn’t get the kind of honor and recognition he or she deserved in life. And that makes me think this proposal is a pretty good idea:


WASHINGTON – U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn released the following statement after joining the entire South Carolina Congressional delegation in introducing a bill to designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 83 Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina, as the “J. Waties Waring Judicial Center”: 

Waring“I want to thank my colleagues in South Carolina’s Congressional delegation for working together to honor the memory of Judge J. Waties Waring, a great South Carolinian and American hero who paid a heavy price in his pursuit of racial justice.  In his 1944 Duvall v. School Board ruling, Judge Waring ordered the equalization of teacher pay in South Carolina.  In the 1947 Elmore v. Rice decision, Judge Waring struck down South Carolina’s white-only Democratic primary.  Judge Waring’s best known opinion, a dissent in Briggs v. Elliott arguing that ‘separate but equal’ was unconstitutional, laid the groundwork for the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt his reasoning unanimously in the landmark Brown v. Board decision, which struck down racial segregation in all public schools in America.

“Thankfully, history has given Judge Waring the favorable recognition denied to him during his life, and passage of this bill will rightfully add to this acclaim.  His courage in standing up for what was right, even at the cost of social ostracism, will endure in our nation’s memory as a powerful example of statesmanship that must continually be sought, regardless of the issues of the day.

“Former United States Senator Ernest F. Hollings has been the leading advocate for this change, even though it will remove his own name from the facility.  This selfless act of statesmanship is just the most recent example of Senator Hollings’ visionary leadership in a stellar decades-long career in public service.

“It is often stated that ‘the difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice.’  I cannot think of a more fitting example of that maxim than the life and legacy of Judge J. Waties Waring.  Judge Waring was at the forefront of a movement, and I urge my colleagues to pass this bill expeditiously.  It honors Judge Waring’s extraordinary life and elevates him and Senator Hollings as public servants we should all strive to emulate.”

Companion legislation to the House bill is being introduced by South Carolina Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott.

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Judge Waring lived on Meeting Street, until his fellow Charlestonians ran him out of South Carolina. That makes this particularly apt.