Something for the weekend. In honor of the Green Encyclical, a bit of Tom Lehrer. Living through the Sixties when I was a kid was bad enough. Little did I know that I would have the “joy” of reliving the Sixties in my fifties. The only thing that Marx, Karl not Groucho, got right was that history frequently does repeat itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
Something for the weekend: Battle Hymn of the Republic. Doubtless many men who fought in the Civil War thought, and dreaded, that the War might go on forever. Now, however, it had ended with Union victory. Some European powers speculated that the United States would now use its vast armies to take foreign territory: perhaps French occupied Mexico, maybe settle old scores by taking Canada from Great Britain, Cuba, held by moribund Spain was certainly a tempting target. But no, the armies had been raised for the purpose of preserving the Union. Now the men in the ranks were eager to get home, and the nation was just as eager to enjoy peace.
One last duty remained however: an immense victory parade in Washington. On May 23, 1865, the 80,000 strong Army of the Potomac marched happily through the streets of Washington on a glorious spring day. For six hours they passed the reviewing stand, where President Johnson, the cabinet, General Grant and assorted civilian and military high brass, received the salutes of, and saluted, the men who had saved the Union. Most of the men had hated the Army, and were overjoyed to be going home, but for the rest of their lives they would remember this day and how all the death and suffering they had endured over the past four years had not been in vain after all. Almost all of them were very young men now, and many of them would live to old age, future generations then having a hard time picturing them as they were now: lean, battle-hardened and the victors of the bloodiest war in the history of their nation. When they died iron stars would be put by their graves, and each Decoration Day, eventually called Memorial Day, flags would be planted by their graves, as if to recall a huge banner draped over the Capitol on this day of days:
“The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.” Continue reading
Something for the weekend: The Judge’s Song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury. Any relation between this judge and any that you may encounter is no doubt purely coincidental.
The Russians are celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany this weekend. It is fair to say that in that defeat the Soviet Union did the lion’s share of the fighting, the Soviets suffering more than twenty million war dead. For all their heroism and suffering , the Soviets were still enslaved to a tyranny just as bad as the Third Reich, with that system now extended throughout Eastern Europe. This cold fact is why Churchill entitled the final volume in his World War II history: Triumph and Tragedy.
The clip from the film Alexander Nevsky at the beginning of this post underlines the tragedy for the Russian people of World War II. A true work of genius by Sergei Eisenstein, who somehow pulled off the feat of making a film about an Orthodox Saint, an aristocratic Prince and pillar of the Church, and ladling it with Communist and anti-religious propaganda, and yet having the final result not be laughably absurd. The film was among the first efforts of Stalin to rally traditional Russian patriotism against the looming threat of Nazi Germany. Poor Eisenstein found himself in the doghouse soon after the release of the film due to the Nazi-Soviet pact. After the onset of Operation Barbarossa, the film was once again released and played to packed houses throughout the war. The Russian rallying song in the film was composed by Sergei Prokofiev. The lyrics roughly translated are :
Arise, ye Russian people,
to glorious battle, to a battle to the death:
arise, ye free people,
to defend our beloved country!
All honour to the warriors who live,
and eternal glory to those slain!
For our native home, our Russian land,
arise, ye Russian people!
In this temple
As in the hearts of the people for
whom he saved the Union
The memory of Abraham
Is enshrined forever
Inscription above the Lincoln Memorial
Something for the weekend. Lincoln and Liberty, Too. The mortal remains of Abraham Lincoln were laid to rest in Springfield, Illinois a century and a half ago this week. This is a good time to look at the impact of his life, a life more consequential for his country and the world than that of any other American except for George Washington.
1. Lincoln ended slavery. That is a simple three word sentence but what an accomplishment it was. Slavery, a world wide institution, had existed in the American colonies since their foundation. By the time of the Civil War the institution was two hundred and fifty years old and had tainted American history from its inception. It tainted everything it touched, and, in the ringing words of Lincoln:
I hate [indifference to slavery] because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world-enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites-causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty-criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.
Slavery was such an entrenched institution in the South that only a mammoth Civil War, with atrocious blood-letting, brought about the conditions that ended it. In four short years Lincoln lanced the boil of slavery, and if that were his only accomplishment that alone should ensure that his name will be honored by endless generations of Americans. Critics of Lincoln often pretend that the South would have abolished slavery. There is no evidence to support that belief, and much evidence to support the contention that slavery was an immensely strong institution and getting a new lease on life by having slaves work in factories. Vast slave empires arose in the twentieth century, and the Confederacy, if it had won the Civil War, might now be regarded as a harbinger of the future on the issue of slavery, rather than as a rear guard defense of the past. There is nothing inevitable about history, which is a human creation, and Lincoln ending slavery had global ramifications, and if he had failed opposite global ramifications might likely have occurred, which would have reverberated to this day.
2. Lincoln preserved the Union. There would be no United States today but for Lincoln. There would be two or more nations where the United States of America now is. Daniel Webster, in his immortal reply to Hayne in 1830 stated: “Union and liberty, now and forever, one and inseparable.” For this country and this world I believe his comment was prophetic. Without a united America I suspect that this nation would not have successfully led the fight against Nazi Germany and then prevailed in the Cold War over the Soviet Union. I think it all too likely that in addition to the United States and the Confederate States, there would have been other successor states to the original United States. Allow secession once, and in times of national stress it would have been a “remedy” trumpeted by ambitious demagogues. The founders of the Confederacy feared this, the drafters of the Confederate Constitution voting down South Carolina’s proposal that a right of secession be set forth in the Confederate Constitution and instead included in the preamble of the Constitution that they were forming a permanent federal government. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. I Am a Rebel Soldier sung by Waylon Jennings. Stephen Vincent Benet in his epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, follows, in part of his poem, a Confederate Georia cavalry unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the Black Horse Troop. On the way to Appomattox they met their destiny guarding the rear of their expiring Army. I have always thought this was a fitting tribute to the men of that Army who endured to the end.
Wingate wearily tried to goad
A bag of bones on a muddy road
Under the grey and April sky
While Bristol hummed in his irony
“If you want a good time, jine the cavalry!
Well, we jined it, and here we go,
The last event in the circus-show,
The bareback boys in the burnin’ hoop
Mounted on cases of chicken-croup,
The rovin’ remains of the Black Horse Troop!
Though the only horse you could call real black
Is the horsefly sittin’ on Shepley’s back,
But, women and children, do not fear,
They’ll feed the lions and us, next year.
And, women and children, dry your eyes,
The Southern gentleman never dies.
He just lives on by his strength of will
Like a damn ole rooster too tough to kill
Or a brand-new government dollar-bill
That you can use for a trousers-patch
Or lightin’ a fire, if you’ve got a match,
Or makin’ a bunny a paper collar,
Or anythin’ else–except a dollar.
Old folks, young folks, never you care,
The Yanks are here and the Yanks are there,
But no Southern gentleman knows despair.
He just goes on in his usual way,
Eatin’ a meal every fifteenth day
And showin’ such skill in his change of base
That he never gets time to wash his face
While he fights with a fury you’d seldom find
Except in a Home for the Crippled Blind,
And can whip five Yanks with a palmleaf hat,
Only the Yanks won’t fight like that. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. O Sacred Head Now Wounded. The lyrics of this hymn derive from the latin poem Salve Mundi Salutare. The authorship is open to doubt although I agree with those who attribute at least part of the poem to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, based upon stylistic similarities with portions of his other writings. The sanctity and eloquence of Saint Bernard alloyed with the musical genius of Johann Sebastian Bach makes a potent combination indeed.
On a personal note this hymn has always moved me as no other does. I had it played at my son’s funeral and when I depart this Vale of Tears I have requested that it be played at mine. It reminds me that God died for me, something I find absolutely stunning. Love and sacrifice begin and end with God, who regards each man as if there were no other.
Something for the weekend. The opening of the Civil War documentary, to the tune Ashokan Farewell, that premiered twenty-five years ago this September. As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws to a close, what strikes me most is the immensity of the conflict and the huge changes it wrought in American life. One can spend a lifetime studying this conflict as I have, and still find, almost daily, new pieces of information. Shelby Foote, and it took a gifted novelist I think to write an epic history worthy of this huge, sprawling event in American history, put it best: Continue reading
Something for the weekend, The Church’s One Foundation. This is a repost from last year since it seems like a good hymn for Lent. Written by Church of England minister Samuel J. Stone, it is sung to the tune Aurelia by Samuel S.Wesley. I have always enjoyed this hymn and I have cherished the memory of Stone for it, and for this poem The Soliloquy of a Rationalistic Chicken: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. This video purports to have in it every known photograph of Mr. Lincoln. The songs in the video are Lincoln and Liberty Too, perhaps the most stirring campaign song in American history, Dixie, ironically a favorite song of the President of the Union, and the haunting Ashokan Farewell. A fitting video in the weekend before we observe the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln’s last birthday in this Vale of Tears.
Something for the weekend. Battle Cry of Freedom. After the fall elections in 1864 passage of the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery was inevitable. In 1864 the Thirteenth Amendment passed the Republican controlled Senate with an overwhelming majority of 38-6. In the House the Amendment failed 93-65, thirteen votes shy of the two-thirds necessary for passage. In November the Republicans in the House gained 46 seats and would have a majority of 134 when the new House was seated. Nonetheless, the Lincoln administration was eager to undertake another vote in the House when the old Congress came into session after the election. Lincoln made direct emotional appeals to several Democrats in favor of the Amendment. Favors and appointments were offered to Democrats who switched their votes. The Amendment passed 119-56. Black spectators cheered after passage and several members of Congress openly wept. Here is the text of the Amendment: Continue reading
Something for the Weekend. After hearing this week that Pope Francis plans to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the Apostle of California, while he is in this country later this year, the musical score to the heavily fictionalized account of the first missionary journey of Serra, Seven Cities of Gold (1955) seems appropriate.
In 1955 Hollywood told the story of the 1769 expedition to Alta California in the film Seven Cities of Gold. Michael Rennie gave a very good performance as Father Serra and Anthony Quinn gave an equally fine performance as Governor Portolla. Of course Hollywood could not remain completely faithful to history, and a fictional hunt for the Seven Cities of Cibola was given as the reason for the expedition. A love story between an Indian girl and one of the Spanish officers was also grafted on to the story. In spite of the usually Hollywood twisting of history, the film is accurate in its depiction of the goodness and charity of Father Serra and his zeal to spread the Gospel. One scene from the movie has him denouncing the greed of the Spanish soldiers and their desire to exploit the Indians: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. On January 8, 2015 we reached the 200th anniversary of the battle of New Orleans, so Jimmie Driftwood’s Battle of New Orleans seems appropriate. Driftwood, when he was a teacher, wrote the song in 1936 to help his students differentiate between the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. After Driftwood became a full time singer and composer, he often sang the song. Johnny Horton made it a mega hit in 1959 with his rendition.
After it became a hit, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, visited Newfoundland. The song was banned for the term of her visit by the provincial government. My sainted mother who loved the Queen, but also had to the full the Irish rebel spirit, used to regale me with tales of the lengths that Newfies went to make sure that the song was played continuously during the Queen’s visit as a result!
Newfies were hanging record players out of their windows, the volume cranked up full blast playing the song. Her comment on this fiasco is that if the idiots in government hadn’t attempted to ban it, no one would have been playing it. I think my attitude towards government began to be forged by this example of folly related to me at a very young age at my mother’s knee!
Something for the weekend. I Saw the Light by Hank Williams. Written by him in 1948 at age 25, it coveys the hunger for salvation that was always a part of Williams’ brief and tragic life. Dead before he reached 30, Williams was a great talent, and he threw it all away with alcoholism and addiction to drugs, which shattered both his personal and professional life. His life typifies what Christ spoke of in this parable:
The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
However, that is not all there is to say. This song has brought comfort to millions as they call upon Christ in this Vale of Tears. I hope it weighed heavily in the balance when Williams appeared before the God he clearly loved.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
Something for the weekend. Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming. Written by the ever prolific composer Anonymous in 16th century Germany, it quickly became a favorite hymn of both Catholics and Protestants in that time and land of religious strife, and that is a good message for Christmas.
Something for the weekend. God of Our Fathers. Written in 1876 to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it reminds each American how fortunate we are to live in this land.
God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.
Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast;
Be Thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.
From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.
Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never-ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.
America is a wonderful place, even when we acknowledge her flaws. I think one of the best tributes to America is contained in Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, when he describes Daniel Webster addressing the Jury of the Damned: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Mini-Abe to the rescue, to the song Up Where We Belong, played at the conclusion of An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), a good ending to an otherwise forgettable flick. This is one of a series of Mini-Abe commercials that highlights the delightful eccentric daffiness that often adds charm to an otherwise miserably misgoverned state.
Mr. Lincoln has long been a fixture in Illinois tourism commercials. Here is one from the late eighties: