Lee’s Last Ride

General Robert E. Lee mounted on Traveller - 1866

General Robert E. Lee mounted on Traveller – 1866

“I am a Southerner by birth and a Rebel by choice. As I read and study, I pull for Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet. As I live, I thank Grant, Lincoln, and Democracy.” Richard”Shotgun” Weeks – Master Sergeant U.S. Air Force Vietnam Veteran/ Civil War historian

“The power of noble deeds is to be preserved and passed on to the future.” Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – commander 20th Maine at Gettysburg

For my part, I can barely fathom those forces that drive a human being to accept or even consider the possibility that they are by way of their race, creed, or national origin somehow superior to their fellowman. But then my own personal journey has caused me to reject any behavior predicated on any theory of innate supremacy or an overly zealous sense of nationalism.  Having virtually no knowledge as to the circumstance of my own birth or bloodline, I have become quite comfortable in the belief that a good portion of our individual lives is determined merely by genetic and geographic potluck without the hand of God trying to stack the deck in any particular group’s favor.

As for those among us that are prone to think otherwise, it is probably a combination of fear and a personal sense of inferiority that is the seed from which that invasive strangling vine of their own self-aggrandizing superiority complex sprouts.

As to the recent tragic events in Charlottesville and the somewhat troubling  response and mixed-messages offered up by our president, I think we need to be honest with ourselves as to who the man is and who he is not. Donald Trump achieved the office by relying heavily on those wedge issues of religion, race, and immigration that have been polarizing this country not only in recent years, but throughout our nation’s history. And while this political tactic is nothing new, it has never been so blatantly utilized by a presidential candidate. And although I can not state with any certainty as to what is truly in the man’s heart–it is safe to say that neither Citizen Trump nor President Trump has ever exhibited the capacity to construct much beyond a hotel, golf course, or casino. The building of consensus and bridges does not appear to be part of the plan. And while I do not totally rule out the possibility of an epiphany, in order for that to occur one must first be willing to admit to and address their own failures and shortcomings.

As for the president’s equivocation of the violence on both sides in Charlottesville, he seems to forget that our system of justice does in fact define by degree the nature of most crimes. And the level of intent and premeditation displayed by those involved in any criminal act normally dictates the assigning of responsibility and the resulting punishment. There is clearly a distinct and undeniable difference between planned intimidation and violence and the reflexive actions of those that are the targets and victims of such attacks. The end result may yield an equal number of causalities, but in American Jurisprudence shared pain does not equate with shared guilt!

Then there is the issue as to what may have actually sparked the deadly confrontation in Charlottesville. Since I was old enough to turn on a television set, I’ve watched scenes of  human beings beating each over the head either in defense of some cherished symbol or in response to some other group’s use of a symbol that was deemed to be offensive. Any blood shed over the veneration or demonization of some man-made expression of our affiliations or points of view  is blood that is shed for nothing. No book, no image,  no work in bronze or stone, and no piece of cloth hoisted up a pole can be reason enough to justify violence or the taking of life.

As for the fates of those monuments and memorials to the Confederacy,  I personally take no offense at their presence. But at the same time, I understand why others would opt for their elimination. I certainly would not expect the children of the Lakota Sioux to attend a  school named in honor of George Armstrong Custer, anymore than I would expect an African American family to comfortably picnic under the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest. We need to be sensitive to those people and communities that endured great hardships and countless indignities at the hands of those who would attempt to rewrite history by way of some public square glorification of a past that was often cruel and seldom heroic.

Travellor-Grave-PlaqueLastly, there is the matter of the ever haunting ghost of that Virginia gentleman who has once again taken  center stage in yet another civil conflict. While it seems somewhat ludicrous  to suggest that the removal of  a statue of Robert E. Lee might lead some to consider the possible purge of the likenesses of Washington and Jefferson–who can predict how the lens into our past will be adjusted by those in the future in order to be in line with their view of the present? But for now, the question may be worthy of some small measure of reflection. After all, Washington, Jefferson, and Lee were all thought to be treasonous, rebellious scoundrels by a large number of their fellow countrymen. And all of these men by current standards of thought could be tarnished by their apparent contradictions in character.

In the case of Robert E. Lee, while his religious convictions made him keenly aware of the inherent evils of slavery, he was of the opinion that the inevitable demise of that institution would only come about in accordance with God’s timetable. And though he viewed secession as being unconstitutional and an outright betrayal to the founding principles of the United States, his decision to lend his superior military skills to the state of Virginia would nearly bring about the destruction of the Union.

Shortly before his death in 1870, Lee spoke out against the idea of erecting monuments to the war. He believed those efforts would only hamper the process of national reconciliation. So perhaps now is the time for Lee’s last ride. But no matter what we as a people decide to tear down, we as a nation will be judged by what we chose to raise up.

At this moment in time, I will raise a glass to the people of Charlottesville and to all who stand their ground against discrimination, intolerance, inequality, and racism!

Please take the time to listen to this profound song of healing performed by Joe Jencks.

40 Mile IPAIf by chance you find yourself paying a visit to the city of Charlottesville, while there might I suggest raising a glass of  40 Mile IPA from Three Notch’d Brewing Company. This outstanding brew celebrates the ride of another famous gentlemen from Virginia Jack Jouett whose daring on horseback on the night of June 1, 1781, saved Thomas Jefferson and the state legislature from capture by British cavalry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

Advertisements

With Our Sincere and Humble Apologies to the Ghosts of The Molly Maguires

The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe, PA. The site of the 1877 Molly Maguire Executions.

The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe, PA

“How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life?”   Charles Lindbergh

In the course of his recent Rose Garden rant and truculent travelogue, the President eluded to the opening of a new coal mine located somewhere between Paris and Pittsburgh. It turns out that somewhere is the small town of Boswell, PA. This community owes its very existence to the black bituminous rock that lies beneath the quaint brick homes and shops built by the Merchant’s Coal Company during the first few years of the twentieth century.  And soon, 70 more intrepid souls will join the ranks of  those that have braved the bowels of the earth in order to fuel America’s energy and industrial needs.

My own  knowledge of the collier’s plight has been mostly gleaned from conversations with old timers at the Molly Maguires Pub in Jim Thorpe, PA. Here there were plenty of tales about that secret society for which the pub is named.These sons and grandsons of  Irish immigrants spoke of a life that was as hard as the anthracite that was pulled from the clutches of those eastern coal seams. In order to keep their families fed, these early miners tolerated what amounted to an indentured enslavement to the bosses and the company town.

In this part of Pennsylvania, the role of the Devil incarnate was aptly filled by Franklin Gowen, the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal & Iron Company. With the assistance of his hired henchmen from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Gowen waged a war against those who attempted to organize labor in the coalfields–creating a living hell both on and below earth. Eventually, this reign of terror and the violent response by the miners would bring about a series of questionable arrests and trials that would send ten men to the gallows in 1877 and ten more in the following year. Among the latter was John “Black Jack” Kehoe, a well-respected constable and tavern owner who had provided aid to the miners and their families, and who had also become the outspoken voice for worker’s rights.

Such has been the story of coal throughout our history–a double-edged sword yielding great success for some and greater suffering for others. Current data suggests that 80,000 deaths per year in the United States can be directly attributed to airborne chemical and particulate pollution, with emissions from coal-fired power plants being a significant source of the problem. While the majority of these plants are located in the Midwest, the pollution is not contained within state borders. The mercury emitted from these plants ultimately will find its way into the human food chain as waterways and livestock become contaminated.

The threat globally is even greater. Studies conducted by the World Health Organization estimate that between 4-5 million people will die annually because of polluted air, and nearly 35 percent of those deaths will be infants or young children. And once again, coal will be a major culprit. So even if the scientific evidence connecting human activity to global warming were proven to be somewhat overestimated, there are still a few million good reasons to substantially lessen our dependence on coal.

As to our President’s break with the Paris Agreement, I have seen this pattern of behavior repeated many times over during my own lifetime. Whether it be about clean air, clean water, pesticides, food safety, tobacco use, or just shoddy manufacturing, the oft-told tale goes something like this: First, the facts are called into question by those who stand to lose the most amount of money if they are held legally responsible or become subject to government regulation. Second, those again whose pocketbooks are threatened enlist the aid of politicians to plead their case. Next, those same politicians brand those who initially raised concerns about a particular product or practice as being on the fringe, unpatriotic, or somehow just at odds with America and capitalism. And finally, when enough time has passed to allow those affected entities to settle their legal obligations and to develop alternate streams of revenue–we then suddenly accept and adopt those policies and procedures that improve our collective wellbeing.

That is why the Shell Oil Company is building wind farms in the Netherlands, and Exxon Mobil is working on ways to run an Alpha Romeo on algae.

As for those ghosts of the Molly Maguires, I will briefly defer to the skilled pen of Jeanne Kehoe_GraveMarie Laskas from her book “Hidden America” which poetically profiles the lives of those who continue to work those difficult and dangerous jobs that support the infrastructure of our nation’s economy: “There is no design, no geometry, no melody. A coal mine greets you with only one sentiment, then hammers it: This is not a place for people. This is not a place for people. This is not a place for people.”

And on that day when the last coal mine is finally closed, the dead will rest a bit more  peacefully–and the living will breathe a whole lot easier!

Click on the article titles below to learn more about the life of John “Black Jack ” Kehoe and the restless afterlife of one of the Molly Maguires.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

But the Jukebox Never Lies

 

Jukebox at J.J. Bitting Brewing Co.

“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.”  Otto von Bismarck

“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”   Jimi Hendrix

Of all those Divine edicts that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, the one that commands us to refrain from playing fast and loose with the facts continues to be the one that nearly all of mankind finds to be insurmountable. Perhaps it is because that a certain degree of deceit and double-dealing  is encoded into the very DNA of all life forms. Most strategies for survival are in fact  dependent upon a bit of  trickery and exaggeration.  As to our species, in order to get the girl, get the job, get the vote, or just to get along with one another we’ve all dabbled in some amount of duplicitous behavior. And since we’ve chosen the path of representational government, we must accept the fact that those charged with that task will also mirror our behaviors–the good and the bad–the truth and the lies!

Furthermore, a vast number of those that are considered to be the winners throughout human history have come to their successes by way of a good bluff or an effective poker face. From Waterloo to Watergate, and from Baghdad to Benghazi the potholes in those roads have been filled with a noxious mix of hyperbole and hypocrisy. So are truth and honesty dead having fallen prey to the misguided and disreputable purveyors of reality television and the fabricated offerings of cyberspace?

 As a nation we have faced similar threats to our collective integrity in the past. And those challenges were countered by those among  us who had the courage to strive for that greater truth. A truth that can be found in the brushstroke of the artist, the pen of the author, the lens of the camera, and the voice of the singer!

As someone who has spent more than my fair share of days engaged in bar stool politics, I have normally found that the greater truth is contained somewhere within the jukebox. While others were soothing their sorrows with songs of unrequited love, I was spending my spare change on the likes of Bob Dylan and Barry McGuire. So as we deal with the drama and dysfunction of The Donald and this current dilemma facing our democracy, I would like to drop just one more quarter into the old Seeburg to play one of those voices that still speaks truth to power.

Click on the image of the vintage 1948 Seeburg “Trashcan” model jukebox at the top of this post to hear some additional inspired points of view.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

%d bloggers like this: