Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

Letter From Claverack 07 04 2017 Thoughts from the creek on Independence Day…

July 4, 2017

It is as idyllic as it can be here at the cottage.  On an achingly clear day, the sun shines brightly through the green leaves of the trees.  A bee buzzes somewhere, the creek is so clear you can see its bed, the air is filled with the thrumming of insects and a soft wind moves the leaves gently.

My coffee is strong and I am slowly rising into the day, the Fourth of July, 2017.  My nephew, Kevin, is asleep in the guest room and it is so wonderful to be here, in this spot, enjoying the beginning of this day.


Kevin prepping for a game of backgammon.

            It has been a blessing to have been here this spring and now summer, to see the earth return from winter’s sleep, bloom green and touch the peace of this spot.  Not far away, a deep throated frog croaks, signaling.

All of this is a treasure and a privilege and a boon to my sanity.

As I sat here, on this day which celebrates the birth of the United States of America, I was thinking what a messy birth and history it has been.  It means so much to, I think, all of us and yet those individual meanings are all mixed and jumbled, and so infused with anger.  The Week’s cover for June 30th had a “Blue” and a “Red” American glowering at each other, with a line asking whether “Are Red and Blue America headed for a divorce?”  The article is about a culture of rage.

And, as we live through this time in our country’s history, with the very real sense of rage on both sides of the political spectrum, I am doing my best to remember that the history of this country, for better or worse, has been driven by a sense of rage.  From the Boston Tea Party through our current Trumpian dystopia, there has been rage.

We didn’t part peacefully from England, we warred our way to independence.

We fought a Civil War from which, quite frankly, I don’t think we have ever recovered.

We have assassinated four presidents and there have been numerous other attempts which didn’t succeed.  Yes, violence is in our American DNA.

We ripped this land from Native Americans, dragged captives from Africa to work that land as slaves, built our version of the Athenian Empire and are now, and may always be, attempting to reconcile all the ugly facets of America with all the beautiful things it has been and can be.

Immigrants have flooded here from the beginning.  Each new wave was met with hostility by those who had come before.

It is ironic but not surprising that one of our current flashpoints is immigration.

An acquaintance of mine, a young Rabbi, recalled his immigrant grandmother hiding as a girl as mobs ran through New York’s streets, screaming, “Kill the Jews!”

America has been and is an experiment and other countries are experiencing our challenges.  The relative homogeneity of Europe is being challenged by the flood of migrants sweeping in, seeking a better life as did the millions who flocked to America, also seeking something better.

Change is hard and unwanted change is often met with rage.  We are a country constantly changing so it is not surprising we are raging.  Because of the acceleration of communication capabilities, we are more knitted together than with greater challenges in finding veracity.

I savor my idyllic spot and cling to the hope that reconciliation will come.  Not in my lifetime, I know, but at some point, America will hopefully become what so many politicians have called us, the bright and shining city upon the hill.


  • President-elect John F. Kennedy said, in an address to the Massachusetts Legislature on January 9, 1961, “During the last 60 days I have been engaged in the task of constructing an administration…. I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arabella [sic] 331 years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a government on a new and perilous frontier. ‘We must always consider,’ he said, ‘that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us.’ Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, State, and local, must be as a city upon a hill—constructed and inhabited by men aware of their grave trust and their great responsibilities.”—Congressional Record, January 10, 1961, vol. 107, Appendix, p. A169…”[4]

Let us remember this as we close out this year’s celebrations, let us face each other with the light and love Christ had when He, in the Sermon on the Mount, provided the base message for Winthrop, Kennedy, Reagan and others.


Letter From Claverack 04 30 2017 Without hope, we have nothing…

May 1, 2017

It is a Sunday evening at the cottage.  Jazz is playing, the lights splash the creek.  I have made myself a martini.  It was a typical Sunday, up early, read the NY Times and a few articles from the WSJ online before the shower and then off to church, where I did the readings and then coffee hour, errands before settling at the Dot for a long and lazy brunch, reading more off my phone and chatting with a few people, home to the cottage, put away laundry, got the trash together and sat down to write.


Very hygge.

Because I need the steady rhythm of familiar things in this Age of Trump.

His aides were caught off guard when he extended an invitation to President Duterte of the Philippines to come visit him during a Saturday call.  If you haven’t been following it, President Duterte has been accused of extra-judicial killings in that country’s current “drug war.” Now those surprised aides are preparing for an avalanche of criticism as it’s hard to find a world leader disliked as much as Duterte by pretty much everyone.

Then, after unleashing a problem for everyone around him, Mr. Trump jetted off to Harrisburg, PA for a campaign style rally to “record breaking crowds,” where he railed to his supporters about the media which was, at the same time, roasting him in DC, even if he was not there.  In two events, the official White House Correspondents’ Dinner and the Samantha Bee hosted “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” withered the sitting President, the first to have missed this event since 1981, when Ronald Reagan was recuperating from an assassin’s attack.

I wake up in the morning and find I am in a state of continuing bemusement in what is going on in Washington.  It is reality television, which is what we should have expected when we elected a reality television star to the Presidency.  With Reagan, we had an actor who knew how to deliver his lines.  There aren’t really “lines” in reality television.  There is direction but no script.  We have a President who is making up his script as he goes along, knowing he knows better than everyone else.  Even if he doesn’t.

The WSJ, a deeply conservative publication, to which I now subscribe, seems to be wanting to support him and just can’t find a way not to point out that it’s all a little…off.

And it is more than a little off.

Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff, said the White House was looking at ways of changing the libel laws to make it easier to for Trump to sue media organizations who criticize him.  Imagine how the Democrats responded to that, not to mention many Republicans?  Not pretty.  Do we not remember the First Amendment?  Or is Trump being inspired by Erdogan of Turkey who has been arresting thousands of people he suspects of being disloyal while cracking down on the press?  Cracking down makes it sound nice.  He is dismantling any vocal opposition to him.

One thing we should note is that the economy grew at the slowest rate in three years in the first quarter of Trump.   Maybe it’s a holdover from Obama or maybe it’s the fear of Trump.

We are in a political Wild West except in this Wild West we have nuclear weapons.

It’s a dark time in American democracy and we need to remember, in this “of the moment” world in which we live, this has not been the only dark time in American democracy.  We had the Civil War, dark time.  We survived Andrew Jackson, a really, really not nice President [who, by the way, our current President seems to identify with].

We will, God willing, live through this.

In the meantime, I will play jazz.  I will drink martinis.  I will write and I will hope, because without hope we have nothing.



Letter From The Train 01 03 16 Optimistically riding into the future…

January 3, 2016

New Year 2016. National Cemetery at Antietam. War Between The States.  Racism. States’ Rights. Martinsburg, WV Obama  Crossing the Rubicon  Racism   Homophobia  Xenophobia  Koch Brothers  Rockefeller  Carnegie 

It is nearing noon on Sunday, the 3rd of January.  I have discovered I’m having no difficulty thinking of this as 2016.  Usually, I have trouble turning  the date, thinking of it still as last year.  Not this year…

I seem ready for 2016 and what it will bring.

It feels like a fresh, blank piece of paper, ready to have events written upon it.  For me.  Events have already been happening out in the world and the story of the year has begun to be written.

It still feels fresh to me.  Unsullied…

To make sure I was on time for my train, I drove a rental car into the city.  It gave me time to think.

Driving past the National Cemetery at Antietam, I thought about the Civil War.    Not so long ago I read an article that southern states are re-writing the history of the war so that it was not about slavery but about states’ rights.  I thought the victors got to write the history of a war but apparently not in this case; some revisionists are successfully revising.

Unlike some friends, I find no endless fascination with the War Between The States. 

Driving past Antietam this morning, I felt a wave of sadness not so much because of the war but because of the harsh legacy slavery has left us, a legacy from which we are still recovering.

Returning from picking up the rental in Martinsburg, WV I listened to an interview with a youngish African-American who was involved in Obama’s election campaigns but now is in local politics in Atlanta, I believe.  He spoke of the bitterness he felt at the treatment of Obama while he has sat in the White House.

Unfortunately, I think some of the political obstructionism from Republicans and Democrats that we have seen in the last seven years has been because Obama is black.  It is never said but it lingers in the air around him. 

He crossed a line that has never been crossed.  Electing a man of African-American   heritage crossed the Rubicon and the world will never be the same.  And some resent one more step into a future that will prevent the past from ever being reclaimed.

For a country so young, we obsess about our past, ever yearning for “good old days” that were never quite as good as they are remembered.

Growing up in mid-century America, I can look back and see endless examples of racism, covered in polite mid-western turns of phrase.  There was homophobia and xenophobia mixed with middle-class snobbery. 

One of my sociology books in middle school proclaimed that being American citizens allowed us to stride the world with the same ease and pride that Roman citizens could within their empire.

I’m not sure the Roman Empire was exactly something that young Americans should have been taught to admire.  While remarkable, it was a cruel world that had little regard for human rights.

Minnesota was not as bad as some places I visited.  The first time I visited Oklahoma my hair was shorn for a role in a play at the University of Minnesota.  The second time I returned, it had grown longish.  The same checkout women at the grocery store who had been so nice to me when I had been shorn, shunned me when my hair was longish, not long, only longish.

In Arkansas, a friend fretted for me because I was “a long haired blonde white boy from the North” and they didn’t much like them kind there.

The world is no doubt a better place.  Obama was elected.  We are scrutinizing actions of police toward people of color.  Questions are being asked and young people are sloughing off their parents’ bonds, as every generation does.

We are in, as we have so very often been, at a critical juncture, a country feeling around for its future, as we always have done.  It has been attributed to Churchill that he said:  you can count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.

It always seems like we are trying everything else.  But history has taught us that somehow we manage to do better each generation than the last.  While we have the Koch brothers today to vilify, in the past we have had Rockefeller and Carnegie.

Against all the odds, I am entering this year optimistically, eager to find out what the future has to hold, for me, for the world, the country and for you.

Letter From New York 05 22 15 Musing on Memorial Day…

May 22, 2015

It is a little after noon on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. I am headed north on the train for the long weekend, planning a restful time at the Cottage. There is a little work that needs to be done around the Cottage and a few things I need to work on but I think I am going to be spending my time this weekend largely on the deck, reading a book.

Right now, I am devouring Erik Larsen’s “Thunderstruck.” I am sure I’ll finish it this weekend after having stayed up later than I planned last night after getting wrapped up in the story of Marconi and a murderer.

As I head north, the Hudson River is choppy and bronze colored. White caps tip the waves as the sun shines down brightly; in the distance a few clouds scud across the horizon. The hills have turned green and we sit on the verge of summer. Against such idyllic circumstances it is not hard to slip away from the world and to focus on the nearby, the familiar and the comfortable. I’m sure many of us will be doing that this weekend.

Memorial Day was established to remember those who died in our armed forces in service to their country. There are over a million men and women who have. It grew out of the devastation of the Civil War in which over 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers had died. Women went out to cemeteries and laid flowers on the graves of those who died. Originating in the south, the custom moved north during the years following the war, becoming a formal holiday in the 20th Century.

As a child, we went on Memorial Day to put flowers on the graves of the grandparents I had never known and on the grave of the brother I would have had if he had not died two days after birth. It felt somber and real and was considered a duty.

Not so much today. We have a more nonchalant attitude today to Memorial Day for the most part; it marks the unofficial beginning of summer with Labor Day marking the unofficial end. It was only in 1971 that it became the last Monday in May. I think I should remember that but I don’t.

I’m not sure that all that many go out to mark the graves of relatives with flowers these days. The VFW and other such organizations see that soldiers’ graves are marked with small flags. It is a tradition in the cemetery on the road to the Cottage. There will be parades.parties, barbecues and picnics, especially parades. It’s a big day for parades.

Hudson may have one but its big parade day is Flag Day. No one has ever explained it to me but that’s the day the City of Hudson pulls out all the parade stops.

On Memorial Day, the flag will be at half staff until noon and then raised to its full height to represent that after honoring the dead we will continue to protect the liberty for which they gave their lives.

Meanwhile almost 5% more Americans will be traveling this Memorial Day weekend than last year, availing themselves of the cheaper gas prices than last year’s though higher than earlier this year. Most people will be driving to their destinations.

Gradually I am getting toward my destination, looking forward to being at the Cottage. The sky is marginally cloudier, the market is down marginally, more boats are on the river and I am looking forward to the long holiday weekend but will do my best on Monday to remember those who served and died and also to think about those currently serving, men and women who are probably not enjoying the pleasant vistas I have.

Have a good Memorial Day Weekend.