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North Augusta, History, Fantasy and Reality in Context

The real story of the Hamburg Incident is that two groups of South Carolinians, each with much more in common than they possibly realized did violence to each other. They shared commonalities of misplaced hate, fear, insecurity and pride of principle. The events of 8 July 1876 shaped the future of South Carolina more significantly than any event to occur here before or since. The loss of life was tragic, but if a common narrative that binds us together as South Carolinians is to be found in this event is that of blood sacrifice on the eventual road to who we are today – it is our story. It should not be a story of this group versus that group, told from two sides. All involved were sons of our fair State.

As a one so recently introduced into the myriad of issues that seem to be inflaming passions related to monuments, interpretive plagues and the proper utilization of historic properties within the city I cannot say that I know all of the personal histories that may be fanning the current flames of emotional distress. I can say as a son of the State of South Carolina and a fellow that has been intently interested in the history of the state and her people coupled with the fact that I endeavor and pray for God’s wisdom in the application of critical thinking skills I do have a perspective to offer on this entire situation.

It is not my purpose here to discuss if the city council should have selected a different site for the new public safety headquarters. I suspect there are better properties from a logistical and access point of view but my intent here is to address the counter-arguments related to the Flythe house and the Hamburg Incident (or Massacre if you prefer). I submit that it is very important to discuss North Augusta’s history vis-a-vis Hamburg but that it is not helpful to conflate the discussion of the location of the public safety headquarters into that discussion. The bottom line is the city, could, if planned properly, construct a headquarters building that is architecturally true to the original Seven Gables design and accommodates some homage to Starkey Flythe onsite. If they are intent on building at that location, these points are for a separate discussion.

Something of a more weighty matter, that is lost in the conflation of political discussions and debate, is the narrative and history of this side of the river. I ask humbly that you bear with me through my argument, it may seem to offend sensibilities of all sides at one point or another but I believe there is an important common ground and story to be told. I contend that this is where discussions of monuments and historical interpretation should be aimed.

In terms of its greater impact what happened in Hamburg on July 8, 1876 was the most significant historic event to occur in North Augusta/Hamburg. That event set in motion a series of other events that fueled the eventual election of Wade Hampton and the end of the Federal Occupation of South Carolina and Reconstruction. We must be very careful to deconstruct what that meant and not merely jump to faulty conclusions. Ending the occupation of South Carolina was a positive good – independent of any and all of the other potentially negative impacts that followed. Those unfortunate reactionary measures should not be conflated with or tarnish the positive of being free of a foreign army of occupation. Arguments against Jim Crow and the disenfranchisement of Blacks in South Carolina are valid but it would be a faulty analogy to argue that because bad things followed the end of occupation reconstruction itself must have been a good thing for South Carolina. It was bad for all South Carolinians, black, white, rich and poor.

To provide some idea of how bad reconstruction really was for South Carolina one need only look at the fraud and scandal surrounding the state legislature and the treasury from 1867-1874.

For example:

“…in 1870–1871, the state’s financial board secured the authority to print and sell $1 million in state bonds; there were to be $1,000 bonds numbered 1 to 1,000. Members of the board printed two sets— both numbered 1 to 1,000—and sold both sets. They kept no records of their transactions and were caught only when a New York investment firm came into possession of two bonds with the same number on both. Partly as a result of such malfeasance, and partly because of legitimate increases in expenditures such as the creation of a public school system from scratch, state budgets skyrocketed during Reconstruction and the state slipped further and further into debt. ” SC Encyclopedia

For many from the North, with an eye toward profit, Reconstruction served as a perfect mechanism to extract from the South and South Carolina treasure for their own purposes. The South, and her people black and white, became easy prey to anyone with an entrepreneurial and unethical frame of mind. Infrastructure was ruined, the social security provided by the former slave system was gone. Sharecropping became the economic model – a system that provided no security at all for the laborers at the bottom of the system. Northern investors provided high-interest loans to plantation owners, and when the price of cotton plummeted in the late 1860’s these loans could not be repaid. The first people to suffer under this system were sharecroppers. The only people to profit were Northern investors supported by an occupation army.

It is perhaps even more nefarious. Northern Republicans were only too happy to use the majority black vote to secure state offices. Even being so “kind” as to admit several black legislators don’t you know. Of course, they never allowed or conceived of allowing the black population to actually control state politics or hold the highest offices. This was paternalism coupled with manipulation and not so subtle disdain. They used the black population to attain power.

Collage of many portraits of 1876 legislature in South Carolina. Depicts white and black legislative members following the 1867 Reconstruction acts.

Additionally, rather than quelling racial animosity in the State, the policies and actions of the occupying army and Northern opportunist served only to incite it. I shall explain.

People often focus on racism as the cause of so many ills. I suggest racism is just a version of hate -sim. Hate based upon race is just easier to spot, it is obviously in the pigment of skin, it is easy to identify a target of one’s hatred. But hate -ism is really no different anywhere it is found. It is almost always a result of misplaced angst. People come to view the source of their problems in another group and begin to hate them. In the former Yugoslavia, we observed the exact same thing. Families that lived alongside each other for a couple of centuries turned to hate – ism and identified the source of their problems in the identity of another group. I suggest the real root cause of why hate – ism manifested in the South was more fundamental than the mere color of a person’s skin. Karl Marx was wrong about most things but argued that history is the story of economics. I tend to agree that people fundamentally get most invigorated over economic issues, particularity those related to survival. The political and economic policies of the Reconstruction government fed hate and animosity as opposed to building tranquility and harmony. Let’s dispense then, at least for the moment, of racism talk and perhaps acknowledge that there was a lot of misplaced hate going around. People hated their circumstances and their rulers but were powerless to change things.

By misplaced hate, of course, I mean, both the black and white population of South Carolina had good cause to be upset with the occupation, with the running of the state government, with finances and with the economy in general. Many whites had been outright disenfranchised, blacks could now vote but still did not really run the affairs of the state and both groups shared the burden of a failed economy and a dismal future if the circumstance did not change.

If my assessment of the Union occupation and Republican rule of South Carolina seems too harsh perhaps I can allow that the US was essentially an amateur at nation-building and occupation in the late 1800s. Many of the mistakes I personally observed in Iraq were the same mistakes the Union Army made – disenfranchising an entire population and leaving them with no political voice, failure to address economic issues etc. Obviously, those failures throughout the decade of the 2000s resulted in the formation and expansion of ISIS so after 130 years the US has really gotten no better at the task. That being said, the problems created by reconstruction and the violent reactionary movement that resulted from it still must be laid clearly on those that created the problem and not simply chalked up to the mysterious boogeyman of racism -it is so much more complex than that.

So we arrive on the fateful day of July 4th, 1876. The militia in Hamburg was conducting a 4th of July Parade. Consider, the South simply did not celebrate the 4th until the Spanish American War and not wholly until the First World War. It simply did not happen, it was a Union holiday. However, the predominately black population of Hamburg was celebrating that day, replete with their militia on parade.

Consider how inflammatory this entire circumstance was, Governor Robert Scott, a “real estate speculator” and former Union officer from Pennsylvania had armed the Hamburg militia with state arms. Whites were precluded from serving in or forming militias. Captain Doc Adams, proud of his position and the patronage shown by the Republicans in charge of the state proudly paraded his company that day in Hamburg. One cannot really fault him for this, the real culprit that set up this situation is the marionette occupying the state capital.

Then we have of course the two white farmers from Edgefield that confronted Adams on the road that day. Did these two likely know about the 4th of July celebration? Probably? Is it reasonable to assume they were out to make a scene or cause trouble? – Perhaps.

The events of the next four days are fairly well documented, and unfortunately, occupy much of the narrative and disagreement over how the events of 8 July 1876 ought to be remembered. I argue again, that the tragic outcome of that day should not be the keystone of the story.

The real story of the Hamburg Incident is that two groups of South Carolinians, each with much more in common than they possibly realized did violence to each other. They shared commonalities of misplaced hate, fear, insecurity and pride of principle. The events of 8 July 1876 shaped the future of South Carolina more significantly than any event to occur here before or since. The loss of life was tragic, but if a common narrative that binds us together as South Carolinians is to be found in this event it is that of blood sacrifice on the eventual road to who we are today. It should not be a story of this group versus that group, told from two sides. All involved were sons of our fair State.

If the city wants to tackle this issue and create a narrative that tells history in context we should create one near the old armory site and depict that day as a tragic but perhaps necessary part of South Carolina learning and growing to be who we are. This ought not be mixed in with talk of a public safety building.

A Visit with Templar Knights

It is my sad regret that I cannot regale you with photos of me dressed in full fig alongside my gorgeous bride attending festivities. Alas, I took violently ill just as we got dressed and prepared to depart the hotel and walk to Saint John’s for the investiture. For about 10 minutes, however, I did look pretty snappy, medals all blinging, top hat and gentleman’s cane.

I was more blingy than this guy

We will just leave the rest unsaid. It was tragic and involved my wife holding a trash can, in her dress mind you, me in tails, turning what I am told was an ashen color of grey.

No great tale should begin with such a dire and shall I even say, perhaps to detailed of a story. Yet here we are. I have recovered from whatever demon virus afflicted me.

The purpose of our visit to the quaint little town of Florence, South Carolina was to attend the Priory of Saint Vincent’s Convent. These fellows, and ladies too it seems, are part of the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem. Now bear with me, and wait before you click off this page. I already know what you may be thinking.

No, I did not meet any Grand Poobah, and I was not shown a secret handshake. And NO this is not the Masons.

If we can dispense with such trivial assumptions I might explain why we drove two hours to attend this event.

Allow me first to digress. If one checks the mission statement here at this site you will find it is all about Finding Purpose. I have stated directly and indirectly numerous times that I believe a key to successfully finding purpose after a military retirement is to balance three things, aligning with the creator, engaging culturally and building spiritual, emotional and physical strength.

These are not new thoughts of mine, and perhaps not even original to my on brain-housing group. These are points I began to ponder more deeply as I approached retirement. I even began a Facebook page to “test the waters” related to some of my ideas. Chivalry seems the answer to many problems that plague the modern world. Chivalry seems a good prescription and tool for a person seeking to add a balanced foundation to their life. We would all be better off if more people acted chivalrously. You can view that page here, just so that you know I am serious and that I actually did put those ideas out there to my friends and neighbors. I wrote as an alter-ego, a fictional me, but suggested that we can actually become that which we imagine.

But to the event in Florence. The SMOTJ is a religious military fraternal order dedicated to:

  • Seeking God in our lives and promoting love and respect for our community.
  • Increasing understanding between religions, helping pilgrims visit holy places, and maintaining a Christian presence in the Holy Land.
  • Supporting the poor, sick, and unjustly accused; standing against oppression, and protecting freedom of speech.
  • Encouraging the noble ideals of Chivalry; maintaining the monuments, archives, and history of the Knights Templar.

These guys have hit on all cylinders of the Finding Purpose engine, so of course we happily accepted the invite to attend. An organization that encourages service, fraternity, and spiritual enrichment. Who but a heathen could be opposed? On the plus side, you get to justify your involvement to the wife by inviting her to dress up a couple of times a year for a formal event.

I am very thankful for the invitation, hate that we missed the pageantry of the investiture and the banquet but very much enjoyed the business meeting and the meet and greet. I hope it is ordained that we should continue our aquantence.

The Day I Became Involved in Local Politics

Tip O’Neil famously said, all politics are local. I have spent much of my life being interested in national and international politics and geopolitics but have never paid much attention to local events.

Very recently I realized that my little city of North Augusta, SC is in something of the order of 120 million dollars in debt. Apparently approximately 70 million of that on account of the construction of SRP Park.

My wife and I bought a home here in 2016, I was deployed, we actually purchased the home while I was on leave. We knew she had a good job at the University and this is where I should retire. I could not imagine living in the debacle that is Richmond County and Columbia County was too far. Besides, I was born and bred in South Carolina, I am a proud son of the State. North Augusta seemed perfect.

I recall in an off-hand conversation my wife and I discussing how the ballpark had been funded. I assumed that surely there must have been a referendum for such an expenditure. Surely, right? How could a small town council possibly spend so much of their neighbor’s money without asking them? I supposed my assumption was correct and moved on with life, happily ignorant.

In the last couple of years my wife has occasionally mentioned to me something like, “man, there is some drama going on at North Augusta 20 20”. I would generally mumble in acknowledgement and continue on with what I was doing. I long ago stopped paying much attention to Facebook. I have seen too many people with drama there. I never stopped to wonder if there was really fire associated with the smoke she was seeing.

Apparently, there has been a real fire raging beneath the smoke of Facebook drama. Contentiousness has been the norm in council chambers and outside for some time it seems. However, I do not know all the facts or personalities or details involved up to this point.

I know one thing for certain. My original assumption concerning the state of good governance in my little city were all wrong. Based upon one fact alone I am prepared to say something is amiss and things must change.

The council saddled the citizens of the city with enormous debt, almost $70 million, without a referendum. Nobody elects part-time city officials to make decisions of that magnitude – it is plain and simple irresponsible, unconscionable and immoral. It is theft of property no matter how you state it. In local government one just generally assumes that everyone knows that the right thing to do when such a large matter is in question is to allow the people to decide – after all it is their money.

image via Ken Powell

Based upon this one simple fact, this one simple callous immoral act of hubris I have become interested in and involved in local politics.

Last night I contacted the Constitution Party of North Augusta and asked them to place a sign in my front yard. I offered to help in any way possible and next week I will break bread with one of their officers to discuss what that means and figure out where I can help.

The list of absurdities could go on – perhaps the passage this past Monday of an ordinance allowing open air consumption of alcohol in Riverside Village (mind you there are what two bars there at present). That seems a rather silly thing to be worried about considering almost none of the magnificent storefronts, shops and entertainment that was promised in the artist depictions have actually materialized. When I recently visited the area I wondered where there might actually be space for any of the grand things we were promised. The hotel is not grand and the ball park is archetecturally out of place.

Then perhaps one could point to the utterly brilliant idea to install parking meters down there. You people build a field of dreams with our money, sold a bill of goods with wonderful pictures and delivered a much less grandiose reality with already frustrating and limited parking and now you want to discourage further patronage with parking meters. Simply brilliant. These folks must go.

Finally, we read our city administration is coordinating with Augusta and Georgia to construct a pedestrian/bike path on a future 13th Street bridge. I suppose all North Augusta needs is folks walking over from Broad Street in Augusta to ask me money when the wife and I go out to eat. This is a large reason I do not often go to Broad Street! Again – brilliant.

North Augusta is not Augusta – that place elects fools and those fools mismanage funds and the potential of the city and county. We do not need to be like Augusta. We should progress, but keep the culture and nature of our city intact. We also should expect elected officials that know the moral limits of the power vested in the positions they hold. Placing every resident of the city in debt without the common decency to ask – that is wrong. This is what got me interested and involved in local politics.

The Fremantle Diary

I read The Fremantle Diary in college, I found a very old copy collecting dust deep in the recesses of the library at The Citadel. When I first read The Killer Angels I was amused by the quirky little British Lieutenant Colonel climbing a tree to get a better view of the action – that was of course Fremantle. The movie version of the book portrayed him much the same. I suppose the comical thing is later in life I myself ran into British “tourist” in the most bizarre places, places where people are killed, robbed, starved and kidnapped – but here these folks were going on about the wonderfully economical holiday they were on.

I truly believe it is impossible to go nearly anywhere without unexpectedly encountering a British tourist – well almost anywhere else in the world, most of the States seem not to interest them. They can be very audacious in their travels.

Lieutenant Colonel James L. Fremantle, formerly of her Majesty’s Cold Stream Guards, was no exception, except perhaps his travels had an official purpose as well as the ordinary and expected British curiosity.

I was personally struck by his description, as he sat along the bank of the Potomac River, of the Army of Northern Virginia marching north in 1863. It is not at all the description you may have received in history books. He described an army that was often barefoot, racially integrated, equally equipped or not equipped across the formation and in incredibly high spirits.

His account of armed soldiers of color marching along side white soldiers was the first I had ever heard or read of such. It was not until the mid-1990’s that I saw the full account of this fact in other primary source documents.

Fremantle is a fun and informative read and I am happy to await the arrival of this volume so I can enjoy it again.

SNO-CAP, North Augusta

Ms. Rachel was the first North Augustan my wife and I encountered on the day we drove over to look at houses to decide if we wanted to make the city our home. She is a gracious and friendly lady, she almost alone convinced us.

The time comes in everyone’s life to move on and seek other endeavors, avocations and hobbies and in that I wish Kenny and Rachael Godspeed and much happiness.

The SNO-CAP is one of those little pieces of community that seem to disappear from the landscape daily, replaced by conglomerates, chains and sameness. I am told Fat Man’s is good. I sincerely hope that they bring what is good of that operation and intertwine it with the uniqueness of the legacy and community of the SNO-CAP.

I would also hope, as I hoped from the beginning, that the people that run the Green Jackets will wake up and include the SNO-CAP among their food choices. If one wants to truly be part of the community you have to embrace the community.

Good luck Kenny and Rachel – thank you for the hospitality, the food and the piece of the community that you had stewardship over.

Retirement might be the Time for the Classical Education you Missed

Life, adult life at least, seems to be centered so much on the now and the future that we seem to have little time to focus on the past and classics. Philosophically speaking, it is hard to imagine who or what we really are without recognizing that we all merely stand on the shoulders of giants. Unfortunately, our education system has essentially succumbed to this way of seeing the world – we teach some technicalities but little of the classics. We do not produce deep critical thinkers.

Most “educated” people, even those with advanced degrees, are painfully ignorant of items that people much less formally educated understood well in the past. If your classical education is lacking a bit, like most other educated professionals, perhaps the freedom that military retirement brings should present the opportunity to rectify that situation.

My wife and I watched Christopher Robin last night – the philosophy of Winnie the Pooh is pretty profound; “some times the best somethings come from doing nothing”. That is a fun and excellent movie by the by.

We spend our lives doing something, doing things. In retirement, perhaps doing “nothing” and expanding one’s classical education is the best something we can do. Susan Bauer has written a wonderful guide to help shape what doing nothing to accomplish something might look like. This is a wonderful guide.

I highly recommend it!

From Amazon: The enduring and engaging guide to educating yourself in the classical tradition.

Have you lost the art of reading for pleasure? Are there books you know you should read but haven’t because they seem too daunting? In The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer provides a welcome and encouraging antidote to the distractions of our age, electronic and otherwise.

Newly expanded and updated to include standout works from the twenty-first century as well as essential readings in science (from the earliest works of Hippocrates to the discovery of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs), The Well-Educated Mind offers brief, entertaining histories of six literary genres―fiction, autobiography, history, drama, poetry, and science―accompanied by detailed instructions on how to read each type. The annotated lists at the end of each chapter―ranging from Cervantes to Cormac McCarthy, Herodotus to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Aristotle to Stephen Hawking―preview recommended reading and encourage readers to make vital connections between ancient traditions and contemporary writing.

The Well-Educated Mind reassures those readers who worry that they read too slowly or with below-average comprehension. If you can understand a daily newspaper, there’s no reason you can’t read and enjoy Shakespeare’s sonnets or Jane Eyre. But no one should attempt to read the “Great Books” without a guide and a plan. Bauer will show you how to allocate time to reading on a regular basis; how to master difficult arguments; how to make personal and literary judgments about what you read; how to appreciate the resonant links among texts within a genre―what does Anna Karenina owe to Madame Bovary?―and also between genres.

In her best-selling work on home education, The Well-Trained Mind, the author provided a road map of classical education for parents wishing to home-school their children; that book is now the premier resource for home-schoolers. In The Well-Educated Mind, Bauer takes the same elements and techniques and adapts them to the use of adult readers who want both enjoyment and self-improvement from the time they spend reading. Followed carefully, her advice will restore and expand the pleasure of the written word.

Lunch with a Giant

I had the distinct pleasure and honor of having lunch with Dr. Clyde N. Wilson today. He is professor emeritus of history at USC, M.E. Bradford Chair at the Abbeville Institute, founding Dean of the Stephen D. Lee Institute, owner of Shotwell Publishing and a plethora of other activities. He is also the foremost historian alive and perhaps ever to live on the subject o John C. Calhoun.

I meet him ever so briefly, and purely by happenstance, in the mid-2000s at a book signing. Today I was privileged to break bread with him and spend time chatting.

I have read his work often throughout the years and wished greatly that I could have attended some of his classes while he was still actively teaching at the University of South Carolina. Today was a comfortable and familiar conversation.

He has graciously offered to assist and advise with the effort to stand up The Calhoun Institute. It is my hope that I can convince him to find time among his many other pursuits to accept the chairmanship of the inaugural board. Either way, I am overjoyed to be working with him.

Retirement surely has opened the doors to so many possibilities.

Proper Work for Retired Gentlemen

I have oft repeated something I once read or heard early in my military career: “A retired officer should go home to work the family estate, write or teach”. I do not recall where I first came across this notion but it summarizes the essence of what was a proper vocation for a retired officer in the past.

Few of us actually have family estates to go back to, those days are long gone. However, writing and teaching are perfectly respectable avocations. It certainly beats prostituting oneself to the military-industrial complex of defense contract work or the mind-numbing waste of government employment.

I have engaged this semester in substitute teaching at a nearby high school. I plan to only teach history, economics and government – just a couple days per month – but I have filled in a couple of other courses recently just to get a feel for the school.

In reality this goes hand in hand with the minor and very small nonprofit I am standing up with the purpose of “enhancing scholarship, education and critical thinking related to matters of first principles.” I get the opportunity to engage with and teach young folks a small bit, I think it is worthwhile.

I must say I came away today a bit concerned about the notion of police in schools. I realize I simply do not know all the facts, I have not done this long. However, I saw something today that is concerning.

I teach one county over, in a rural high school. The county is not wealthy, it is not the poorest in South Carolina but there is poverty. Most of the student population is black. The student body are all basically country folks regardless of race.

In one class today there was a particularly engaged young man. He answered all my questions as I was giving the assignment and seemed interested in doing the reading in order to answer the follow-up questions I presented. At one point he asked if he could read on the carpet. The regular teacher had set up a pretty comfortable environment with lamps and a carpet for reading. He asked politely and I concurred.

Everyone in the class was reading, I was up front at one point and another young man came up to ask a question. The door to the classroom was open. A deputy sheriff that works at the school walked by addressed the fellow that was up talking to me saying essentially “hey you take that hoodie off your head”. He then addressed the other young man, lying on the carpet across the room, with the book on his chest reading asking what was wrong with him and if he was preparing for a tornado drill.

This was not friendly banter. It was not the sort of thing (tone) a coach might say to a knucklehead that is goofing off. This was authoritative and demeaning talk. It was I have a tin badge and a gun and you need to respect my authority talk. The kids did not show the affection or respect for him that you would expect if it were something other than what I observed.

I shut the door and told him we would call him if we needed him.

Look I do not know if this deputy has had run-ins with these two. I do not know if these fellows are trouble makers. I do know that they listened as I introduced myself, told my introductory joke and gave them a challenge question to ponder during the reading. They showed me respect. I know they seemed engaged and interested in learning something. I have no idea what the history there is, but I know after having seen real knuckleheads in my life that these two did not present and irredeemable to me.

I do not know what I do not know but it seems to me having cops in school, particularly if they are as abrasive as this fellow, is just a bad idea.

People might say that with school shootings this is just the way of the future. I say bollicks. I would much rather be allowed to carry my pistol on my person on school grounds and let any other teacher that wants to do so be likewise armed as opposed to turning schools into something like prison camps that make youngsters like the two in this story hate cops.

What I witnessed to day is just bad all the way around.

A Boy and His Dogs

I was privileged to grow up in the hundred acre wood – almost literally. I had access to fields, streams, woods, marsh and all sorts of flora and fauna for a young boy and his BB gun and later shotgun or .22 rifle to explore to his heart was content. My life would have been incomplete had it not been for my various fourlegged companions. There were many of them over the early years of my life, often more than one. Within that expanse, I created a world of my own consisting of imagination and exploration. During the summers and any time I was free from the governmentrun prison school, I was in the woods, sometimes all day.

My dogs were an integral part of that life. Without their companionship, without the lessons they taught me about stopping to literally smell the roses (or whatever else they stuck their noses into) I would be a very different person today.

It is then natural that in retirement, as I enter the second stage of exploration, wonder and excitement with the mysteries and wonders of the world that I should have four-legged companions.

A few years ago I inherited two small dogs when I married my lovely and brilliant wife. Maximilian Augustus Tiberius (Max) Clark – a Jack Russel Terrier, may he rest in peace, and Leopold Octavius Titus (Leo) Clark – some sort of half weeine dog/fluffy dog. I added the more illustrious monikers to their names to compensate for the fact that they are so small. In fact, one day whilst driving through post, a gate guard laughed at me because Leo was sitting on the middle console and the guard initially thought it was a small blonde-haired girl.


Leopold Octavius Titus (Leo) Clark

Last fall, as my son was nearing graduation from college, Sitka the beagle dog we adopted years ago and had essentially become his dog passed away. He decided it would be a grand idea to go out and get a new dog, a boxer. Never mind that he lived in an apartment that did not allow pets. In came Cooper Clark into his life. A couple of weeks later, Cooper ended up at my house.

Cooper Clark

Cooper lived with us “temporarily” for that semester. Once my son graduated, moved into a rental house and got a job, Cooper went back to live with him.

The thing about Mr. Cooper is he has a lot of energy, he dislikes staying in his box beyond night time, enjoys running in the yard, adores Leo and loves to ride around in the truck. Cooper is also a big fan of a schedule, he likes to eat on time, wake up at the same time, he knows when it is cuddle time with the wife on the couch and he is well aware of when bedtime is. He likes a hard schedule. When all of that is askew, he chews things, runs amok and generally is a bad guy. Thus, Cooper came back to live with us permanently just this year.

Honestly, I would not change a thing. Cooper has destroyed some of my stuff but he has gotten better. He has learned to love and respect his leash on walks and he and Leo accompany me each day in the truck as I take care of B&B Clark Consulting business. The students over at Augusta University love him. One day whilst checking on the JagRide bikes I bumped into a friend of ours who reported back to the wife that she had seen Leo and Cooper (no mention of me!).

A man needs a proper dog to ride in his truck and Cooper fits the bill. He and I are magnanimous enough to allow Leo to tag along.

Jus Bellum Justum

Today I was listening to Mike Church on his network Veritas and was struck by a topic he covered.

I have heard Mike talk about what is a just war and why America is involved here or there before. I have heard him mention that others have accused him of not being “conservative” or being anti-American and all that because of his stance and suggestion that perhaps we ought to think about these things a bit more. These are tired arguments I saw hurled at other conservative and moral voices beginning back in the mid-2000’s. Justin Raimondo received the same sort of reception for some of the same reasons.

In the legal world there is this notion of standing, essentially having an interest in something before one might be party to or bring an action. In Mike’s case, his standing is upon centuries of doctrine codified into church teachings and that eventually found there way into international law. Numerous treaties related to how nations conduct war and when are based upon the Christian doctrine of jus abellum, first theorized by Augustine of Hippo and fleshed out by Thomas Aquinas.

Mike has never “been there” and “done it”, he has almost certainly read something about it and talked to a few people that may have been there but his standing to make the case that many of America’s military engagements are unjust is based not upon personal experience, rather upon church doctrine and quite obviously Western tradition as manifested through laws, treaties and customs we have developed based upon the foundations of those teachings over centuries. That plus the fact that he is a tax-paying American citizen give him standing to have an opinion on these matters.

Still, there are the moans and groans from the crowd of “traitor”. It seems that historical facts are not enough of standing for some to accept these arguments.

If one is Protestant rather than Catholic and if you attended a more fundamental or evangelical church it is highly likely that you have never heard Augustine mentioned within the confines of your church. So why do you care what this Augustine guy said?

One might argue that this is America by God and we will not be hamstrung by international law, even if such law is buttressed by foundational principles of Western Culture itself. So why care about international law developed over decades based upon the Western tradition?

Perhaps you served an enlistment as a young Marine years ago and still puff out your chest when telling boot-camp stories to folks that will listen. I will not deny you that. Perhaps your grandfather served in WWII and after almost 80 years since that event he only tells the good stories – that is his prerogative and I would listen to his stories. Maybe still you knew or know someone that came back from Vietnam and spent much of their life with a sadness that they could not explain, a feeling of betrayal – perhaps you feel a little guilt and sadness about that. I have seen that, I understand it and I hate what was done to those men.

However, none of that should matter when talking about what is truly just and what is unjust, what we should do and what we should not do. Some of the above is based upon ignorance, others pride and the last shame. These are vices that ought not direct us to an understanding of right and wrong.

If, you are still in the camp that says a guy like Mike has no standing to speak to these issues and that his Catholic Saints have no say in how America dictates to deals with the world. What say you of me? Do I have standing to speak to this issue?

Your humble writer is but a hypocrite of sorts. I spent 33 years in the Amy, 23 on active duty. I knew perhaps as early as Somolia and for certain no later than Bosnia that something was wrong – yet I still served, still took a paycheck and today I draw retirement.

I was pretty certain we had won, as best as one can win, the war in Afghanistan just a few weeks after it started. We had punished and diminished the folks that did us harm and that should have been that. We should have gone home and let them sort out the rest. And yet I still served.

I questioned why we should invade Iraq. I had been part of planning to “finish the job” way back in the mid-1990’s, we were just waiting for a reason. I saw through the WMD nonsense. Yet, still, I served.

One might ask why if I knew and believed these things as early as the mid-1990’s I continued to wear the uniform. That is a complex answer.

Robert E. Lee is quoted as stating a truism that I came to understand more and more as my career progressed.

“It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it.”

I did not spend each and every deployment safely ensconced on some well-bermed FOB perhaps taking an “adventurous” ride over to BIOP or some other well-fortified location. I spent much time embedded with, living beside, training and fighting with foreign forces.

I have seen people die, I have feared for my life and I have rejoiced at the countenance shown upon me when I escaped unscathed.

Lee’s quote could not be truer. Wrapped up in what real war is one finds a breadth of emotions more intense than I suspect is possible to replicate in any other way. All of the senses, all emotions and all of a person’s being can and does transcend into a hypersensitive, acutely alert and devastatingly feeling and acting being. Fear, anger, hate, love, compassion, confusion, surety, exhilaration, exhaustion, all in one moment’s breath felt more intensely that it seems possible. And after, nightmares, memories (fond and foul), hypervigilance, distrust, fear, anger and more. Sherman got only one thing right in his deplorable life, war is hell, but Lee got it more right, there is something appealing to the terribleness.

All of the above coupled with the fact that from a young age I knew that I was born to be in the military – there was never a question. I was once idealistic about it. Ronald Reagan did much to stoke my enthusiasm and encourage me to pick up a rifle and stand a post.

Once in, I decided that I would do as much good as possible. Perhaps for those I served with or those I led and maybe for those people who’s country I was occupying.

I recall in 2011, while a peon on a staff planning an operation in (or shall we say against) Libya I was one of the few that questioned if we even had the right to enact regime change based upon the limited scope of the UN resolution (and a clear understanding of first principles). Some of the lawyers said the same thing before they were replaced. In my own way, I tried.

I cannot recall the number of times, late at night over tea and pretending to smoke a proffered cigarette, I had a conversation about Christ with a Muslim I served beside. They always initiated it and it was always their attempt to convince me to convert – but in my way I thought my presence and those conversations had a purpose.

I even once tried to proselytize my profession.

There is more – my personal story is not the point. My point is I do have standing to talk about just and unjust wars if you will not accept Mike’s explanation. I picked up a rifle and I stood a post.

God created us all for a purpose, my life and my career were my purpose. Much like the Centurion in Mathew 8, I was a man under authority, doing what God created me to do.

Honor the servant but chastise, rebuke and hold the master accountable. It is simply not un-American to ask that our government engage in a less bellicose form of diplomacy. It is not anti-conservative to look at war as the last and perhaps least best option in most cases.

It is perhaps the converse. The most conservative and American thing we can do is ask why we make war and hold those actions to a standard accepted by the Christian Church and Western Culture in general for centuries.

There is a real cost to war and military action and it ought not be undertaken lightly.

I am not referring to mere dollars and cents, although considering that actions and expenditures today will burden our children and grandchildren, that in and of itself is not small concern.

Consider.

It was the first week of November 2004. My team and I hunkered down in an apartment complex just north of the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Fallujah. The presidential election results were just in back in the States, Bush had won reelection which meant the operation to retake the city was a go (could not have casualties or collateral damage pre-election you know). Beginning near sundown, just after the election results were received, the entire city was engulfed in fire from all manner of ordinance. It made a million-dollar minute look like a small fireworks show, and it persisted for hours. I recall all the mosques in the city actively calling prayers all night throughout the barrage. I wondered what sort of folks would stand and fight in the face of such terrifying firepower.

We had a mission the next morning and knew the next days (it turned into weeks) would be grueling, therefore we needed a rest plan and sleep. We took turns sleeping in the various bedrooms. The apartment was that of a family of four. There were two children, they appeared to be perhaps eight or nine years of age. The bedroom I selected was that of a little girl. The family had left almost everything as they evacuated before the operation. The US had dropped leaflets for weeks telling the civilian population to leave, 300,000 or so left.

I lie there trying to sleep, listening to the prayers and the explosions and looking at the pictures, dolls and essentially the stuff of this family’s life sitting just as they left it. I imagined that they had perhaps a bag of small items each and did not know if they would ever see their home again. It was a difficult night as I imagined how I would feel as that father.

Were terrible things occurring in Fallujah? Yes! There was were torture houses, makeshift courts and execution rooms and all that. It was all terrible. The thing is, the people we fought in Fallujah came from around the world, they had migrated there for months and saw the city as the start of a great caliphate. They were there to fight us. The civilians were just caught in the middle.

Did retaking the city change the future history of Iraq for the better? You can judge that for yourself, but considering ISIS eventually established a caliphate much larger than just Al Anbar province I say no.

There are many other stories from other places The one above is sufficient I think to tell of the true cost.

Cost to young US troops, many who joined because they simply had no better options, some out of idealism or a sense of duty and others as a way to better themselves. These were young folks under authority doing what we, The American people, asked.

Cost to civilians in lands where we wage these wars.

Cost to the young ideologically motivated on the other side with conviction in their faith and a belief fighting the US is a holy thing.

Cost to spouses and children left alone temporarily or permanently because their military parent is deployed and/or killed.

Cost the the soul of our nation for waging wars willy-nilly without debating the temporal and eternal cost.

I picked up a rifle and I stood a post. I have standing to say there is a cost and we ought to think and pray more diligently before rushing into any war anywhere.