Jefferson-Jackson Day…

A few weeks ago the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s hosted it’s annual dinner. The only reason anyone outside of New Hampshire payed attention to it is because Alec Baldwin was the keynote speaker and offered up a firebrand soundbite that said in part, “we need to overthrow the government.” I’m utterly indifferent to Alec Baldwin and his speech isn’t what really caught my attention in the article from the Union Leader.

The thing I found interesting was the trouble New Hampshire Democrats seem to have at leaving the “name” of their dinner alone. Once upon a time it was known as the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.” Of course the Democratic Party no longer celebrates Jefferson or Jackson, despite their being lions of the young Democratic Party. In 2016 it became the Kennedy-Clinton Dinner. By 2018 throwing over Jefferson and Jackson for two of the 20th century’s noted philanderer presidents suddenly felt like a bad idea too. So this year they settled on hosting their first annual Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner. She’s at least a (mostly) non-controversial figure in Democratic circles.

I only note this because I’ve been watching the great upswell over the last several years that tells us we’re supposed to be embarrassed by our history – that we should hide it, hide from it, and only dare speak of it in hushed tones. Well, I suppose Democrats in New Hampshire are free to be embarrassed by whatever ruffles their garters. If men like Jefferson and Jackson are no longer welcome in their pantheon of heroes, they’re surely welcome to find a home in mine.

Towards the sound of the gun…

My first professional job after college was as a history teacher at Great Mills High School. I spent two and a half years walking those halls. A decade and a half has passed since I last set foot in the building, though I have kept in touch with a few of my former colleagues and more than a few of the students who I know count as friends.

It’s a hard day for Great Mills and those students, teachers, and staff past and present. It’s a hard day for the community. It’s a hard day.

Even in the midst of a hard day, though, the story of Deputy Blaine Gaskill, the school’s resource officer, has come to the fore. His is the story of heroism that came unbidden and unwanted. You see, he was the man charged with standing between his community and danger. When faced with uncertainty and chaos, Deputy Gaskill ran towards the sound of the gun. He ran towards the danger, engaged it, and ended it.

Blaine Gaskill is a hero. His actions reflect great credit upon him, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department, and the good people of St. Mary’s County.

It’s the kind of debt that can never be repaid. I don’t know if the teachers and staff at Great Mills still gather at the Brass Rail or maybe the Green Door from time to time, but if they do, there’s a man who should never buy his own beer again. That might at least be the very beginning of a start on a downpayment.

Heroes and villains…

Last week a friend of mine asked if I thought the Devil was a hero or a villain. Now having been raised by a good Methodist mother, my response should have been automatic, immediate, and emphatic. Nothing with me is quite that simple, though, so the question became something of a thought exercise – and one that I’ve spent more time pondering over the last few days than I expected.

First, if we accept the Bible as the literal word of God, the answer is obvious. The devil is the bad guy. He’s the super villain’s super villain. However,I’m all too aware that edition of the Bible I grew up with was one commissioned by England’s King James I and completed by his team of translators, all members of the Church of England, between 1604 and 1611. The fact that it is a translation based on previously translated works based on events first described not closer than several centuries after they would have originally take place has always felt to me a bit problematic. For purposes of this particular argument, though, that’s not my point.

When I look at the Old Testament story of Lucifer’s fall, I’m often tempted to give it some of the context it’s lacking. Context that perhaps paints an image at an Almighty who is unelected and wholly unaccountable in His actions. If we apply a bit of literary license, we can see God, certainly the God of the Old Testament, as the purest incarnation of absolute monarchy – quite literally king by divine right. Within that broader context, Lucifer raising a reported one third of the angelic population in open rebellion against the throne could be construed as an act of defiance against a totalitarian regime. I’m thinking here now about the images of Romanians rising against Ceaușescu and East Germans overtopping the Berlin Wall in 1989.

From the seat of an all knowing and all powerful deity, Lucifer’s actions can only appear ungrateful, immoral, and a blatant violation of the established order. If one were to be devil’s advocate it certainly seems possible to argue that as a leading light among the heavenly host, he had a duty and an obligation to rise up and cast off the shackles of oppression and lead his people towards a more democratic future. At least that’s how I’d make the case if I were devil’s advocate, but maybe I’m flavoring it with a little too much of my own ideas about how oppressed peoples are supposed to respond.

Perspective is everything. Especially when it comes time to label the winners and losers of the story. So, is the Devil a hero or a villain? Yes, I suppose he is.

What a difference…

Forty-five years ago today Americans walked on the moon. Let that sink in for a minute. Three guys strapped themselves on top of the largest rocket ever built and were blasted away from the surface of the earth, traveled three days, and then landed for the first time on an alien world. Every other human being alive or who had ever lived was 238,900 miles away. If that’s not the stuff heroes are made of, I don’t know what is.

Today, we can’t even get a man into orbit without bumming a lift from a country who seems determined to start World War III. Seriously. What happened, America? In the last century we freed Europe, decisively crushed the Japanese Empire, and then raced into the heavens as a victory lap. Today, we can’t seem to find our collective ass with both hands and a flashlight. What happened?

This country has done great and remarkable things. We can do them again. If only we could find a leader or two who weren’t out playing small ball while Rome burns.

Sweet Jesus what a difference 45 years makes.

Farewell to an American Hero

It’s no secret that the generation that came of age in the Depression and were tempered on the anvil of World War II are dying. The youngest of them are now in their 80s. Within the next 20 years, the war will have passed out of living memory to become the sole province of the historians.

I was once privileged to meet an American hero is the truest sense of the word. Slight in build and clearly feeling his years, I was able to spend a few moments simply talking with Paul Tibbets, who piloted Enola Gay on August 6, 1945. Even when we talked, some 60 years after the event, Mr. Tibbets made no apologies for leading his mission that day. His body was bent with age, but looking in his eyes, you simply knew this was a man who was at peace with himself and who was assured of the rightness of his actions and his cause.

Paul Tibbets was a man who answered his nation’s call, did is duty, and returned home to help remake a global system shattered by war. The Director of the National Aviation Hall of Fame best eulogizes him in saying, “There are few in the history of mankind that have been called to figuratively carry as much weight on their shoulders as Paul Tibbets… Even fewer were able to do so with a sense of honor and duty to their countrymen as did Paul.”

They be Heroes…

I don’t quite know why our generation is so down on heroes. Culturally, we use to celebrate those who did great things… Armstrong walking on the moon, Patton racing across Europe, MacArthur wading ashore in his return to the Philippines, Washington as father of his country, Jefferson for the brilliant ideals of the Declaration. These were Americans who were held up to be admired and emulated along with the ideals of strength, personal courage, and duty. Today’s heroes are grown men who are paid millions of dollars to play games we all played as kids (and yes I know baseball players were always “heroes,” but until recently they behaved more or less like respectable members of society) or singers pretending to know how hard it is to “live on the streets.” Better yet is the celebrities who are famous, apparently, for being famous. I’ve never been really in touch with pop culture, but I don’t understand how we are expecting these individuals to fill in a role that had been occupied by the best and the most brilliant American’s of past generations. Good lord, what does it say about us as a nation?

Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving and it’s a holiday not only of celebration for the bounty of our land, but also of the Pilgrim Fathers who helped settle that land. These men and women crossed an ocean in the age of sail. They sacrificed their homes, left their families, and everything they had known in order to possibly carve out a better life in the Wilderness. Somehow we have demonized these heroes as well… We’ve called them ethnocentric (code for racist), we’ve accused them of being the first to breach the line of church and state… Incidentally, they were here before anyone had thought of separating church and state in case you were interested in putting in on a timeline.

Thanksgiving isn’t really a celebration commemorating some old guys hitting a rock. It’s a celebration of a people who gave up their safe (if religiously persecuted) lives to become among the first Americans. As we are all gorging this afternoon, I hope we’ll all take a few seconds and remember what an incredible privilege it is to be American and the opportunities it has afforded every one of us. Celebrate our history and don’t, don’t under any circumstances, let the veil of political correctness close your eyes to the heroes of our common past.