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. 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 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.

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.

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.

The Freedom to be You

One of my objectives in retirement was to stand up a nonprofit corporation with the intent of “enhancing scholarship, education and critical thinking related to matters of first principles”. Additionally, the purpose of the organization is to encourage the study of the works of John C. Calhoun and to defend that which is good of his legacy.

Last night my wife lovingly looked at me and said people would not understand and that somebody, somewhere would eventually call me a racist just because Calhoun was involved.

Heck my daughter attends the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson, on the grounds the Calhoun family gave to found that orange covered place. When I was a youngster in school I was taught Calhoun was the greatest statesmen to ever come from SC and one of the greatest from the US generally.

This perplexed me. I am a chauvinist for certain, in a loving, paternalistic sort of way. I cannot help but be who I am and believe that women are the fairer sex and that men were created to leave the cave and protect them. I do not apologize for that. I am perhaps a curmudgeon of sorts in training in terms of cultural, social and moral values – I cannot hide nor deny that.

But a racist because I think there is still great value in the political philosophy of John C. Calhoun? Do some of his words offend modern sensibilities? Certainly. Can the same be said of many other men of his time and after, Abraham Lincoln comes to mind? – certainly!

The thing most people seem to have forgotten or were never taught in history courses is that everything must be taken in context.

I thought deeply about what she said. Shame on anyone that ever or eventually paints me with such a brush. I also resolved to come to the conclusion that I do not care. If one can find anyone that I ever worked with or for or that worked for me that would honestly call me a racist then I would say they had traveled to a parallel universe to find said person.

There is no truth to it.

As a benefit to my efforts with this new organization, I have been dialoguing with a man whom I have read and respected for years. In the next couple of weeks, I will sit with him and have lunch. He is perhaps the most accomplished scholar alive, perhaps ever to live, related to the life and works of Calhoun. This man, since retiring from his professorship at the University of South Carolina has been called a racist in many places on the web. He is a curmudgeon, he is old school, but I have read most everything he has written and I have never seen anything that would qualify as racist.

It is a sad state of affairs in a society that claims to love freedom where an individual can be denigrated based upon spurious and unfounded accusations simply because they support elements of truth that are uncomfortable to someone else’s narrative.

The beautiful thing is. I am free to do what I believe and I need not care what anyone that would spread such filth might say or believe.

Part of finding purpose is knowing where you stand and not being afraid to be present in that spot.