Category Archives: History

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

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:

MONUMENT WASN’T ALWAYS IN CURRENT PROMINENT LOCATION

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’

manicured

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.

monument

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:

CLYBURN INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO RE-NAME FEDERAL BUILDING
AND U.S. COURTHOUSE AFTER J. WATIES WARING

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.

–          30 –

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

Way late, over-the-weekend, DVD movie review

Colin Firth crosses the bridge over the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi.

Colin Firth crosses the bridge over the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi.

Yeah, I know, y’all give me a hard time for going on and on about The West Wing a decade late, but hey, I’m not anachronistic — watching stuff when I feel like it puts me perfectly in synch with my times. I’m now bingeing on the third season of “Game of Thrones,” and that’s perfectly cool, so get outta my face.

And here’s my review of movies I watched over the weekend. You will kindly ignore the fact that both were released in 2013…

The big news is, I lost my status as the last parent or grandparent in America to see the cartoon blockbuster “Frozen.” I had watched the hilarious video of the snowbound Mom who wants to throttle every character in the movie a number of times and enjoyed it. I had not, however, seen the source material. But Saturday night, the Twins were spending the night with us, and I took the plunge.

And it was… OK. I can see why the little girls in the family like it. And I can see why feminists, who’ve been complaining about the fact that little girls love princess movies, and in the past all movie princesses have needed a prince to save them, like it. But it was flawed.

And the biggest flaw had to do with that very same plot twist that kept this from being the standard Prince Charming plot. We are told that Anna can only be saved by an act of True Love (the second-best thing in the world, right behind a good MLT, where the mutton is nice and lean), which the audience (and the other characters) are programmed to believe would be a kiss from the appropriate prince.

I think it’s fine that that turned out not to be the case (because if it had been, it would have been boring). I think it’s fine that the act of true love was actually the princess deliberately sacrificing herself for her sister. Greater love hath no princess, etc.

But what didn’t work was the device of having the would-be savior prince turn out to be a villain at the critical moment — thereby necessitating the self-sacrifice scenario.

The Twins had warned me of this. They had told me that he was really a bad guy, from the moment he was introduced, and even sketched out exactly how he was a bad guy, but it just didn’t sound plausible. I decided they weren’t remembering it exactly right, because what they were saying didn’t add up.

Oh, they were remembering it right.

I was willing to believe that he wasn’t the guy Anna should marry. I agreed with all the other characters who were appalled that she tried to get engaged to the guy the day she met him. I could see an outcome in which the commoner Kristoff would turn out to be more suitable. The thing with the prince could easily be an ill-founded infatuation.

But until the moment when his bland, concerned face took on a wicked leer just as he was being asked to save the day, we had had no indication that he could be not merely unsuitable, but downright evil. I mean, the guy we had come to know up to that point might not be husband material, but he would at worst be a good friend to Anna. How about that song in which they were finishing each other’s sentences? They had a lot in common. And there he was seemingly doing his best to run the kingdom in the absence of the princesses, if somewhat ineffectually. (OK, another thing that didn’t work was Anna letting him run the kingdom in their absence when she had just met him that day. But hey, he was the only nobleman handy.)

You just don’t do that. It’s bad writing. You at least give an audience a hint of a guy’s character flaws before he becomes Cruella De Vil.

It didn’t work. It was like the thing that makes “24” so cheesy, with people the protagonists utterly trusted turning evil in one hour, then turning back into allies in the next, just to keep the plotline moving.

Harrumph.

Then, after the Twins had gone to bed, I put in the other DVD I had from Netflix — “The Railway Man.” I had heard about this one from a Brit I met on a bus to Kanchanaburi. The film was partly set in the town I was headed to, which piqued my interest even more than it might usually have done.

It’s based on the true story of Eric Lomax, a man who at the outset of the film is a mild but slightly dotty Englishman of middle age, circa 1980. He is played by Colin Firth. All we know at first about him is that he obsesses about train schedules. He knows everything about every train in Britain, where it goes and when it goes there. He also has a delightfully encyclopedic knowledge of the towns where the trains stop. This, among other things, helps charm Patti (Nicole Kidman) into falling in love with him, and they marry.

But then, along with Patti, we learn that Eric is a deeply troubled man. Even dangerously so. And eventually, we learn why: As an officer in the British Army during the war, he was captured at Singapore by the Japanese and became one of the slaves forced to work on the Death Railway. He was already what he terms “a railway enthusiast” in his youth, and he was able to explain to his fellow prisoners what was in store for them. After noting that building railroads was such harsh work that most were built by oppressed outsiders who had no other option (Irish navvies fleeing famine in Britain, Chinese coolies in America), he said that the reason no rail line had ever been laid from Bangkok to Rangoon was that everyone knew it would be an unprecedented act of incredible human brutality to build it through jungle and mountains that lay in the way. It would take “an Army of slaves” to do it. And they were that Army.

Lomax ended up suffering more than most. When he is caught with a contraband radio, he is tortured at length by the Kempeitai. And when they see the map he had drawn to explain the project to his comrades, they absolutely do not believe his explanation that he is merely “a railway enthusiast.”

Things come to a head when Lomax learns that not only is the Kempeitai man who had interrogated him during the torture still alive, but he’s in Kanchanaburi as curator of a museum about the building of the railroad, which killed thousands of Lomax’s comrades.

So Lomax takes a knife and travels to Thailand, determined to bring an end to his torment. (A dramatic moment involving that knife takes place on the very bridge over the River Kwai that is behind me in this picture.)

I had an exchange with M. Prince the end of last week about the horrors of war, and about the question of whether anything honorable can be found in war. I thought about that while watching “The Railway Man,” because I have never seen a more profound examination of that question — showing the worst man can do to man, and how honor can be twisted into its opposite — than this film.

Nor have I ever seen — major SPOILER ALERT here — a more beautiful evocation of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation between deeply wounded, hurting human beings.

I highly recommend this film. Five stars. It may not have the epic sweep of “Bridge on the River Kwai.” It’s a quieter, less assuming film. But I actually think it’s better.

The sheltered Anna exhibited poor judgment in choosing a fiance.

The sheltered Anna exhibited poor judgment in choosing a fiance.

At Pearl Harbor, a vision out of South Carolina

C-47

Burl Burlingame is still posting pictures of fantastic sunsets over Pearl Harbor and tagging me with them, making me wish I could still be there — as if I needed such prompting. There’s nothing like a Pacific sunset.

Anyway, this morning I was looking for something unrelated among my pictures from my recent trip, and ran across this one that I had failed to share when I wrote about visiting Burl’s aviation museum on Ford Island.

It was a touch of home, one rivaling those sunsets in pulchritude.

On a display next to a C-47 — something that fills me with nostalgia, since it’s the first aircraft I ever flew on (in South America, over the Andes, when I was about 9 or 10) — there it was: The most popular pinup of South Carolina model Jewel Flowers Evans, whose face and figure was made famous by artist Rolf Armstrong.

Her obituary in The State in 2006 called her “probably the number one pin-up girl of all time.” Whether she was or not, she gets my vote. Here are some other images of her, including this photo that is apparently from the same session in 1941 that produced the one on the nose of that plane.

Anyway, that very same image ran on The State‘s obit page when she died, something that startled me sufficiently that I wrote about it on my then-young blog.

It was a nice surprise to see her again while visiting old haunts in Hawaii…

pinup

“I’m tired of states’ rights”

“The thought had occurred to him on the day that he took it, that this would make a lovely burying ground for the Union soldiers who had fallen, or were still to fall in the battles hereabout, and almost before the smoke of his involuntary assault on Missionary Ridge had cleared, he had a detail at work on the project.

When a chaplain, who was to be in charge of the project, inquired if the dead should be buried in plots assigned to the states they represented, as was being done at Gettysburg, where Lincoln has spoken a couple of weeks ago, the Virginian lowered his head in thought and then shook it decisively, and made a tumbling gesture with his hands. “No, no. Mix ’em up, mix ’em up,” he said. “I’m tired of states’ rights”.

That’s from the second volume of The Civil War. I’m currently listening to it on Audible, and that passage appealed to me. The Virginian General is Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. Here’s what the place looked like in 1895.

Remembering the late Marvin Chernoff

Photo from Charles Pulliam's Facebook page.

Photo from Charles Pulliam’s Facebook page.

I thought it was great to see the letter remembering Marvin Chernoff in The State today — and good initiative on Cindi and Warren’s parts, getting that in in spite of their new, earlier deadlines.

I especially liked that it was from Tim Kelly — one of a number of then-bloggers who encouraged me when I was first starting a blog myself in 2005, and the man who singlehandedly talked me into getting into social media in 2009, after which I promptly became a Twitter addict. But I like Tim anyway.

I had wanted to write something about Marvin myself yesterday, but didn’t feel like I had enough material at hand. Marvin had told me stories about himself, while he was working on his memoirs, but I had just enjoyed the stories without taking notes.

Tim’s letter encourages me to just plunge ahead…

I knew Marvin first as one of the people, along with his partner Rick Silver, Bud Ferillo and Bob McAlister, who would bring clients in to the editorial board to pitch their points of view (something I occasionally do now).

I remember him as the “idea man” — the gently mocking title Neil White gave him — who came up with “It’s Happening Now.” Which didn’t catch on the way “Famously Hot” has (shameless plug for ADCO, competitor of Chernoff Newman), although I actually thought it was better than most people did.

I even worked with Marvin, very briefly, right after leaving The State. He had just started his new virtual agency, MC2, and he had a client who needed help writing an op-ed piece. I got my first taste of the communications/PR side of life taking a lunch with him and the client, and listening to Marvin speak expansively about all the great things he could do for the client. So this was what it was like outside the editorial boardroom, I thought. Which for me at the time was a little like being under deep cover behind enemy lines…

Marvin was originally a political consultant, and he came to South Carolina to promote the legendary campaign of Pug Ravenel. After that campaign — the last really exciting one in SC, according to those who were there — crashed and burned on a technicality, Marvin stayed on, contributing to the community in many highly visible ways.

I’m sorry I won’t have the chance to hear those stories again, and write them down. The last couple of times I talked with Marvin, he was working on his memoir. According to The State, he completed it, although the book remains unpublished. I’d like to get ahold of a copy…

Prediction: The president AFTER Obama will also be the most polarizing ever

So I saw this Tweet over the weekend:

… and I really didn’t need to follow the link.

Of course it’s not entirely his fault. Just as it wasn’t entirely George W. Bush’s fault that he was the most polarizing president before Obama was.

Basically, we’re on a downward trajectory in terms of unreasoning partisan polarization that first started showing up in the early ’80s (a spate of unusually negative ads across the country in the ’82 campaign, the rise of Lee Atwater), and really blossomed with the election of Bill Clinton 10 years later — the first sign, for me, was the “Don’t Blame Me; I voted Republican” bumper stickers that showed up after Election Day 1992 and before Clinton even took office.

From the start, from before the start, Republicans abandoned the “loyal opposition” stance and treated Clinton as illegitimate.

Things got worse all through the Clinton years. They got nastier through the Bush years (and were nasty, again, from the start, with a brief hiatus right after 9/11). And as Obama took office, they just kept getting nastier.

Which to meet argues that it’s something about the rest of the country and our dysfunctional politics, and the president is just an incidental target of the vitriol.

If present trends continue — which they will, barring some horrific event that pulls us back together as a country, or some other cause for a drastic change in our political attitudes — then the next president, regardless of who it is, will be the “most polarizing in history.”

I hope I’m wrong about that, but I doubt it.

Let’s ask the question: Does SC need SC State?

Or to ask it another way, does the state of South Carolina need to keep propping up an institution that has become a money sinkhole, and is not delivering on its mission, with a 13.7 percent four-year graduation rate?

This is a question, of course, that has hovered out there since USC and other formerly white institutions were integrated: Given that other state institutions are open to all, do we need a separate college that formerly existed just for folks who couldn’t get in elsewhere?

And when we ask that, we hear various arguments for why an institution like SC State — or such private colleges as Benedict — have a greater affinity for, and understand better how to educate, a portion of the population that still lacks the advantages and support systems that middle-class whites take for granted. That such historically black institutions are better at meeting such students where they are, and lifting them to where they want to be.

And perhaps that is the case.

But at some point, we need to look at whether that job of lifting up the disadvantaged is getting done, and how much we are spending on dubious returns.

Note:

Struggling S.C. State University wants an added $13.7 million from House budget writers to pay off a $6 million state loan and improve operations at the college, which has one of the worst graduation rates in the state.

The Orangeburg college must get out “from under this cloud” to improve its graduation rate, S.C. State president Thomas Elzey said after he made the school’s budget presentation Wednesday to S.C. House members.

“The negative kind of statements about the quality of this university and the value of this university (need) to be taken off the table because we are valuable, and we do offer quality,” Elzey said.

However, legislators focused on S.C. State’s financial and academic woes.

S.C. State’s enrollment has fallen 20 percent recently but the school failed to cut its budget to match lost tuition payments. As a result, the state’s only historically black public university owes vendors $10 million in unpaid bills. To reduce costs, cuts have been made to staff and are being considered for athletics, the school’s president said.

The school wants its state taxpayer money doubled – to nearly $27 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, including money to pay off the state loan – from $13 million this year.

That request does not include any money to pay back a $12 million state loan – to be issued over three years – that the Joint Bond Review Committee approved in December….

I added the bold-faced emphasis in those two places.

An institution that in recent months and years has only been in the news for financial and leadership failures wants its appropriation doubled to get out “from under this cloud?” And then what? What are the realistic prospects going forward? What do we really expect in terms of improvement and reduced need for state infusions of money?

When the bond review committee gave the school that $12 million “loan” in December, Gov. Haley said they “gave it away because they know it can’t be paid back.” And I’m not seeing any indications that she was wrong to say that.

So… where are we going with this? Where can we realistically expect to be in five years if the state keeps funneling in the money?

And at what point is it not worth it anymore?

Even hometown Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter says “we’re going to have to exercise some tough love” with SC State. But how much more love of any kind is it worth investing?

These are very tough questions that everyone involved is hesitant to articulate. Maybe these questions don’t occur to anyone, but that would surprise me.

There may be a million — or 27 million (wait; 39 million counting money to pay back the loan) — reasons why I’m wrong (and heartless and insensitive) to raise such questions. I hope there are. I want to hear them.

But I thought I’d play the part of the little kid in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, if only to see if y’all can come up with those great answers for me. I want to be embarrassed for having asked such silly questions.

But I ask them because it seems that we’re just stumbling along from crisis to crisis here. And I think it’s useful to step back, and ask where we’re going, and whether we want to go there, and whether what we’re doing is getting us there…

The Nazi monster responsible for the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ signs

work-will-set-you-free

I’d better go ahead and post this before the news hook gets away from me completely…

Soldiers, and nations, are frequently whipped up into a warlike state with examples of atrocities, real or imagined, committed by the enemy.

One such outrage stands out in my memory as having instantly brought the urge to kill to the front of my mind. It was several years ago. I was watching a documentary on PBS. I forget the title or overall thrust of it. But at some point, it showed Jewish concentration camp inmates who were well-dressed and apparently well-fed and well-treated. Some of them were playing classical music for an appreciative audience of other contented-looking inmates sitting on chairs out in the sun.

The footage had been staged and shot by Nazis for homefront consumption, for newsreels in German cinemas, to show the folks at home how well their former Jewish neighbors were doing in their new environment.

That’s what put the blood light in my eye. I wanted to personally kill every Nazi who had anything to do with such a profoundly evil deception, which forced actual victims to play a part in making the Holocaust look hunky-dory. And I regretted that I was much too late.

Theodor Eicke

Theodor Eicke

I have a similar reaction whenever I see a photo with a concentration-camp gate saying “ARBEIT MACHT FREI.” I want to find the monster who came up with the idea of mocking and taunting his wretched victims with such a message, with an added twist of Teutonic self-righteousness. I wanted to subject him to punishments our Constitution would regard as cruel and unusual.

In both cases, I think it’s maybe the appalling lie that dwells at the heart of these particular forms of cruelty that sets me off, that increases the outrage exponentially.

Anyway, I felt that impulse a number of times over the last few days. It seemed no coverage of the 70-year observance of the liberation of Auschwitz was complete without the image: “ARBEIT MACHT FREI”

And this time, I paused to find out who it was, if that could be determined. Wikipedia made it pretty easy:

The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. The slogan’s use in this instance was ordered by SS General Theodor Eicke, inspector of concentration camps and second commandant ofDachau Concentration Camp.

Eicke was not, to say the least, just another good German swept up in the Nazi madness. He was an SSObergruppenführer, a serious, hard-core National Socialist. How hard-core? He was one of the two who killed Brownshirt Chief Ernst Röhm following the Night of the Long Knives purge. Not that Röhm didn’t, you know, have it coming himself.

Eicke, too, is beyond my grasp. He died when his plane was shot down on the Russian front in 1943.

But at least I have a name to assign to the outrage now. One name, among the many responsible, of course…

 

It’s not ‘rewriting history;’ it’s paying ATTENTION to history

Cindi Scoppe had a good piece on the issue of unnaming Tillman Hall at Clemson today.

Basically, she took apart the silly argument from certain quarters that changing such a name constitutes “rewriting history.” A salient passage:

The comparison to slave owners might work if this debate were simply about someone who owned slaves. That is, someone who was simply following the accepted norms of his day. That is not what Benjamin Tillman was.

Tillman, sans patch

Tillman, sans patch

Benjamin Tillman was an outlier, an extremist, a brutal racist even by the standards of his time. Many of his contemporaries considered him a dangerous man who wanted to push our state and nation in a dangerous direction — among them the men who founded my newspaper in 1891, for the primary purpose of opposing the new governor’s policies.

Many white people in post-Reconstruction South Carolina disliked black people, even considered them inferior. Most did not collude with lynch mobs and defend murdering black people, as Gov. Benjamin Tillman did. Most did not threaten to kill black people who tried to vote, as Mr. Tillman did in 1876. Most did not lead a militia that terrorized and killed former slaves in the Hamburg Massacre, about which Mr. Tillman frequently bragged that “we shot negroes and stuffed ballot boxes.” Most did not give speeches urging white people to prepare to respond with violence if black people tried to claim the rights promised us all under the U.S. Constitution, as U.S. Sen. Tillman did.

Sen. Tillman earned the name “Pitchfork Ben” when he threatened to impale President Grover Cleveland on a pitchfork. He was censured by the Senate for assaulting another senator on the Senate floor. Such brutality alone should have been reason not to name things after him….

Amen to that.

If one must honor Ben Tillman in order to respect history, then I will henceforth abandon my lifelong love of the subject. I not only have the prejudice here of a former editor of The State, which as Cindi says was founded to fight Tillman and all he stood for (which is why his nephew murdered our first editor). It’s my personal heritage. My ancestors despised him.

I’ve told you before the anecdote about my grandmother, as a child, living next door to Tillman in Washington, a state of affairs which appalled her parents (they later moved out to Kensington, Md.). She remembered sitting on his lap and asking what was under his eyepatch.

Her family provides the very contrast that Cindi points to. My grandmother’s family — my family — had owned slaves, long before she was born. They were of that time and that class (other ancestors of mine, however, were far poorer and therefore innocent of slaveholding). Her grandfather had served in the Legislature both before and after the War, and that was what that demographic did in South Carolina.

As uncomfortable as that personal history makes me, my family by contrast looks great next to Tillman, who was a monstrous figure.

Cindi’s piece mentions the decision to strip ex-Sheriff James Metts’ name from a boat landing. That was a perfectly appropriate thing to do, after the sheriff’s disgrace. But I tell you, I’d name the whole state for Jimmy Metts before I’d name a mad dog after Tillman. Metts is not 1,000th the malevolent figure that Tillman was.

I say that not because I want to rewrite history. I say it because I know my history (although still not nearly as well as I should, and my education continues), and choose to learn from it.

It’s Big Block of Cheese Day! (But no Leo, I’m sad to say…)

Sure, it’s a political gimmick, signifying little — and let me stress that I am no fan of Jacksonian populism — but this got a smile out of me. If you, too, are nostalgic for the Bartlet administration, you should definitely watch the above video.

Alas, the founder of Big Block of Cheese Daymy favorite Bartletista, Leo — is no longer with us, and his absence makes for a slightly sad note in the reminiscence. But I enjoyed it anyway.

From the release from the real West Wing:

Here at the White House, we’re dedicated to making President Obama’s administration the most open and accessible in history. That’s why, for the second year in a row, we thought it’d be a gouda idea to brie-unite a certain cast of characters to help us bring back a tradition that dates back to the days of President Andrew Jackson.

On February 22, 1837, President Jackson had a 1,400-pound block of cheese hauled into the main foyer of the White House for an open house with thousands of citizens and his staff, where they discussed the issues of the day while carving off slabs of cheddar.

This year, we aim to do even feta. On Wednesday, January 21, in fromage to President Jackson (and to President Bartlet, if you’re a fan of The West Wing), we’re hosting the second-annual virtual Big Block of Cheese Day, where members of the Obama administration will take to social media to answer your questions about the President’s State of the Union address and the issues that are most important to you.

Log on to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, and ask away using the hashtag#AskTheWH. We’ll do our best to answer as many questions as we can.

So be sure to visit WhiteHouse.gov/SOTU to watch the State of the Union address on January 20, 2015 at 9 p.m. ET and check out the schedule of all the ways you can engage on the following day, January 21. We camembert to think you’d miss it….

And here’s the original… I hope that someone at the White House today is meeting with the Cartographers for Social Equality….

‘The Interview,’ ‘American Sniper,’ and ‘Selma’

I’ve recently written about three movies — ‘The Interview,’ ‘American Sniper‘ and ‘Selma‘ — that I had not seen (which kind of limited what I had to say about them). This past week, I had planned to see them all and write about them further. Which would have been quite the hat trick for a guy who is accustomed to waiting until films show up on Netflix.

I managed to see two of them. I still hope to see the other soon.

My report follows:

la_ca_1215_the_interview

The Interview

This one took the least trouble to see, which was good, because I wouldn’t have crossed the street to see it. I rented it from iTunes on my Apple TV, and it didn’t cost me anything because I had a gift certificate I hadn’t used up.

It was about what you would expect, if you’ve seen enough Seth Rogen movies. On that spectrum, it was nowhere near as good as “Knocked Up” or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and a good bit better than “Pineapple Express” or “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” I’m not saying it was more elevated or worthwhile than those latter two, but the bathroom humor was funnier. The dirty talk wasn’t nearly as funny or relevant as the dirty talk in “SuperBad,” so you are forewarned.

One of the more interesting things about this film was that North Korea was so ticked off about it, seeing that the guy who played Kim Jong Un was handsomer, more engaging — certainly more manly looking (both in terms of masculinity and maturity) — and more engaging on a human level than any of us have ever seen the Dear Leader be. I mean, even though the flick was making gross fun of him and making a joke out of killing him (which, one has to grant North Korea, is pretty offensive), it was actually kind of flattering to him.

If you can see it for free at any point and you want to know what all the fuss is about, it’s not completely unwatchable. But otherwise, don’t bother.

 

AMERICAN SNIPER

American Sniper

I had wanted to see this anyway, even more so after The Guardian (being The Guardian) practically painted Chris Kyle as a war criminal, but I sort of reckoned without the fact that everyone else in South Carolina wanted to see it this past weekend as well.

Bryan Caskey joined my younger son and me (neither Mamanem nor Bryan’s wife wanted to see it) at the 5:10 show at Dutch Square. Bryan got his ticket and went inside ahead of us. While waiting for my son to get through the queue, I spoke across the ticket-taker to Bryan, saying, “Don’t worry; there’ll be plenty of previews.”

The ticket guy said, “Yeah, but there won’t be plenty of seats.” He said this was their 11th show of the weekend, and several of them had been sold out.

Boy, was he right. With stadium seating, I normally sit about halfway up, so that the center of the screen is at eye level. But this time, we had to sit with the groundlings on the third row, way off to the side. So Bryan, my son and I all had to slide down in our seats with our knees propped against the seats in front and our heads resting back onto the tops of our seatbacks, looking almost straight up, at a weird, distorting angle. But I got used to it by about the 75th preview (OK; honestly, I didn’t count).

But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

Good. But you knew it was going to be good. When’s the last time Clint Eastwood made a bad one? And the older he gets, he seems to get better. I’m thinking “Gran Torino” here.

And the portrayal of Chris Kyle was — matter-of-fact and respectful. It was the story of a guy who is definitely a sheepdog in the sheep/wolf/sheepdog model of killologist Dave Grossman — one of those who is neither a sheep nor a wolf, but one of those rare types who sees himself as a protector of sheep from wolves. And one of those rarer men (like, 2 percent of the male population) who doesn’t have nightmares after killing other people, if he has good reason to see the killings as morally justifiable.

Eastwood helps the viewer to understand a man like Kyle, without either condemning or overly glorifying him — although many will see him as a monster or as a red-white-and-blue excuse to wave the flag, according to their own proclivities. As I say, the depiction is respectful.

I could have used a little more examination of the psychology of a sniper. While many will feel like there was too much footage of Kyle taking careful aim on enemy combatants (and, in more than one case, “combatants” who are women and young boys, which is the thing that will make you want to walk out if anything does), I felt like not enough was done to show how most people would be torn up by that — say, with a side story about a fellow sniper who was not as unconflicted about his job. You know that the cost to Kyle is not nil, as you see the stress he undergoes after his fourth deployment. But I could have used more explication in that department.

Anyway, it’s worth seeing, whatever your attitudes on the subject matter. It’s well-done, and examines unflinchingly the moral ambiguity that accompanies any combat role, regardless of the conflict in question.

 

10

Selma

Still haven’t seen this one. I passed up, with some misgivings, the Urban League’s annual breakfast, justifying it by saying that I was going to go with some friends to see ‘Selma’ at the Nickelodeon as my way of observing the day.

But even though we were there half an hour ahead, we couldn’t get into the 2:30 show. Sold out.

Has going to the actual movie theater experienced some huge resurgence when I wasn’t looking? I haven’t been to a show as crowded as “American Sniper” in decades, partly because I try not to go on the opening weekend at the most popular times. (Wouldn’t you think a 5:10 show would be an awkward time — neither matinee nor evening-out time? I did.)

And then, to not get into the show at all, when the film’s been out a couple of weeks?

OK, yeah, I realize it was MLK Day, and it looked like there were some school groups there. But still.

Have any of y’all seen it? Can you give us a review?