While at Antietam yesterday, I took the time on the driving tour to get out and walk at a couple of places. One such place was the Burnside Bridge, on the south side of the battlefield. Confederate forces held this bridge for three hours, until the Union soldiers – at unbelievable personal cost – finally broke through. I stopped at each end of the bridge, reflecting on what it must have been like to line up for the slaughter like that.

For whatever reason (primarily due to McClellan’s incompetence), Antietam was not the knockout blow Lincoln wanted. (Those three hours, for example, allowed Confederate reinforcements to arrive and force the Federals back to Antietam Creek.) It was enough, however, to give Lincoln the moral authority to release a preliminary form of the Emancipation Proclamation, changing the tenor of the war and the course of human history. One could argue that it was those very points on that very bridge where “thenceforward, and forever free” became truth. As I stood there reflecting on this, I realized that this is why I fight.

The Framers of our Constitution created a charter and a social contract that revolutionized self-governance, but it was incomplete. Over the past eleven score and seventeen years, this nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, has had to recommit itself to finish the project started in 1776. The secret is, of course, that the project is *never* finished. I remain skeptical of those who wish return to “Constitutional government,” because the Constitution itself is only a starting point. 150 years ago, you could be denied basic humanity because of your race or color or heritage. 100 years ago, you could be denied basic humanity because of your gender. Even today, there are parts of this nation where you can be denied basic humanity because of your orientation. In *every* case, it took people willing to stand up and say “The Constitution is not frozen in amber” to change things. This, to me, is the lesson of Antietam.

Today I finished Carl Solberg’s biography of Hubert Humphrey. I figure if I’m going to be a Minnesotan, I need to bone up on the state’s history, politics, and culture (though it may be a while before I get up the courage to try lutefisk).

There’s a phrase from Humphrey’s 1948 speech to the Democratic National Convention that has stuck with me for years, and it’s referenced in the title of this post. We’ve heard much about human rights in the North Star State this past week, for obvious reasons. I think the Happy Warrior would be proud.

Also, this happened.

He's good enough, he's smart enough, and doggone it, people like him.
He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it, people like him.

Sen. Franken gave the address at UMM’s Commencement on May 11. He shook every faculty member’s hand before the speech, and this picture was taken after the exercises. When he was talking to me and two fellow music faculty members, he remarked that the only class he had real trouble with was Music Theory, because “I couldn’t hear modulations. Plus, whenever you had to identify a piece of music by hearing it, if I didn’t know I’d just put ‘Streets of Laredo’ because I thought the professor might find it funny.”

I like it here. There are challenges, to be sure, but I like it here.

WF

I have just finished John Lewis Gaddis’ George F. Kennan: An American Life. Normally, when the cover blurb is a glowing review by noted war criminal Henry Kissinger, I write off the book immediately. However, Kennan was a giant in the field of foreign relations, and his history is the history of the Cold War. Gaddis is a biographer of the highest caliber, and the prose jumps at the reader. In this, the book represents its subject well, as Kennan was well known for his pungent writing.

What I took away from all this is that Kennan (who was the half brother of the composer Kent Kennan, he of Counterpoint text fame) succeeded as a diplomat and planner because he recognized early on that nations were more than just governments. Kennan read Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Chekhov; the latter had a tremendous influence on him outside of diplomacy as well. Because he understood Russian culture and heritage, he was able to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union some 40 years before it happened. Kennan saw the diplomatic corps, politicians, and military leaders miss opportunities to solve many of the problems of the Cold War before they even started, and in a peaceful manner.

Kennan was also a human being with all the foibles thereof. He could be bullheaded and was prone to bouts of serious depression. He often took diplomatic and professional setbacks personally, and when he missed something, he missed it big. In this, he was very much like the great writers he loved as well. When out of government service (and sometimes while in), he worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, producing historical scholarship and interacting with some of the greatest minds in human experience.

Gaddis knows his subject and his times backwards and forwards, and is also known as a historian of the Cold War, so it makes sense that this book is put together well. He had the full participation and approval of George and Annelise Kennan before they died, and spent decades with both of them to get the material. If this is an era of interest to you, get this book.

WF

Before it was Veterans’ Day, November 11 was known as Armistice Day due to the Armistice that ended World War I beginning at 11am on 11/11/1918. This is probably the most famous poem that came out of that war, and it renews us to commit once again to both honor our veterans and work tirelessly to make sure that there need not be so many of them.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST – Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

WF

July 4, 1776 is extremely important in the history of this great nation. So is September 17, 1787, for that is the day the Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Convention.

Two quotes, from Molly Ivins:

“I submit to you that only half the reason the Constitution is a great and living document is because our foundin’ daddies were about the smartest sumbitches ever walked and also because they wrote right in there how to keep changing the old charter as need arises. The other half of the credit for the beauty of the Constitution goes to 200 years worth of American misfits, troublemakers, hell-raisers, eccentrics, mavericks, anti-Establishmentarians, and outsiders who are ever ready and happy to do battle.”

and

“In my opinion, there’s not a thing wrong with the ideals and mechanisms outlined and the liberties set forth in the Constitution of the United States. The only problem was, the founders left a lot of people out of the Constitution. They left out poor people and black people and female people. It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. And it still goes on today.”

WF

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

No malaise here!

Yep, that’s me and Jawa Girl with President and Mrs. Carter. They still live in Plains, GA (pop. 675 or thereabouts) and we went down to hear him speak this weekend.

The mug I am holding was a gift from my beloved late Aunt Ginny, who was for many years the only other Democrat in the family (for all I know, that has not changed). It has a picture of President Carter on it.

Also, it seemed appropriate to wear a sweater when meeting the man.

WF