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Posts from the ‘Political & Historical’ Category


Scottish Philosopher David Hume – Ideas Influencing the Declaration of Independence and Constitution

For twenty some years I recorded 10 volumes of Daily Notes that rehearsed events of the day.  Recently by happenstance my wife was perusing Vol. I.  Curiosity aroused I read the opened page and found this Daily Note:  “Did some banking and now plan to try t0 understand David’s Hume’s attack on rationalism and induction”   (3/17/1983 –  p.34)  This Note recalled my awareness of the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume that came  six decades prior when taking a sequence of graduate courses in the History of Philosophy.  I recall my appreciation as a young student finding Hume refreshingly radical.  What caught my attention was  Hume’s stance in the debate regarding knowledge and its relationship with rationalism and empiricism. Experience and the evidences of the senses, in Hume’s view, is the basis for belief and drawing of conclusions.  Western philosophy had been dominated, as I had become aware, with Platonic ideas.  Justification for knowledge, Platonism argued, is by reason rather than the senses. Eternal truths, or Forms, we discover by reason,  “they are eternal, necessary, and unchanging”.  Knowledge is based on the foundation of Innate Ideas inborn in the mind and not received from experience. The occasion for the referenced Daily Note was teaching a course in Problems of Philosophy when wrestling with Hume’s thought first encountered thirty years prior. David Hume is an important figure in the history of philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment.

Recent  reading included Arthur Herman’s:  How the Scots Invented the Modern World,  a history of the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century.  Divided into two parts the narrative rehearses sequentially the leading contributors to the Enlightenment followed by the spread of those ideas to the Western world.   Herman stresses the impact of the Enlightenment ideas of democracy and literacy that sparked the American Revolution and framing of the American Constitution.  Scottish Philosopher David Hume served as harbinger  for an American worldview supporting government committed to freedom, justice, and equity.  Hume had faith in social progress while recognizing its limitations that civil society was moving from slavery to freedom.  “Freedom (however) is always ambiguous.”   The experimental method of reasoning led Hume  into moral subjects such as justice, obligations, and benevolence.   True liberty involves not only individual rights but also personal obligations.  Hume concludes:  “liberty is the perfection of civil society  . . . . . (but) authority must be acknowledged as essential to its very existence.”





Battle of Antietam and Aftermath – Emancipation Proclamation and Shifting War Aims

Recently published is Michael Korda’s  historical biography –  Clouds of Glory:  The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee.  The biography provides an admiring portrait 0f Lee.  Korda writes Lee’s “strengths  were his courage, his sense of duty, his religious belief , his military genius, his constant search to do the right, and his natural and instinctive courtesy .”  After the Civil War Lee ascended the pantheon of American history as legend and admired hero but a least understood legend.  Korda writes to disentangle Lee from the myth and “take the marble lid off the Lee Legend to reveal the human being beneath”. (ipad 1838)  Clouds of Glory provided an interesting and stimulating read. What drew my particular attention was the Battle of Antietam and Lee’s responsibility, in Korda’s view, for what proved for the Confederacy a fateful stalemate.

The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Lee’s leadership after a succession of battles  cleared Virginia of the Union Army of the Potomac.  Wishing to capitalize on his success Lee crossed the Potomac  River into the United States and Maryland.  Lee’s bold maneuvering, however, ended with  his retreat from Maryland after the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.

Throughout Korda’s biography regarding Lee’s human characteristics and military leadership are discussed.  Both character and leadership suggest his responsibility for the fateful stalemate at Antietam.  As a gentleman Lee did not force his will on subordinates to “avoid confrontation”.   The author observes trenchantly:  “A great man’s actions are indeed determined, if not foreordained, by his character – not necessarily just the faults in his character, but sometimes, even more tragically, the virtues.  Lee was a gentleman, and the need to behave like a gentleman  was perhaps more important to him than anything else, perhaps even victory”.  Lee “possessed every quality of a great general except the ability to give a direct order to his subordinates and ensure they were obeyed.”  (ipad 1536 – 37; 1225)

Lee’s motivation for invading Union territory was logistical, political, and offensive strategic.  Logistically war ravaged northern Virginia needed gathering food and provisions from bountiful Pennsylvania or Maryland..  Politically a decisive  Confederate victory would favor a Democratic victory in the fall elections.  The war weary North might in that case  be amenable to peace negotiations.  Maryland as a slave state might provide recruits and  provisions for the Confederate forces.  Offensive strategically Lee planned to flank the enemy north of Washington making mandatory for Union forces to protect Washington. This would free Richmond, the Confederate capitol,  from danger.

Federal forces of 90,000 under Maj. Gen. George B McClellan marched on Frederick outflanking Confederate forces. Forced to retreat to Sharpsburg Lee took a defensive position behind  nearby Antietam Creek with the back to the Potomac.  Korda discusses Lee’s fateful misreading of the situation. Concentrating  forces is the first rule of warfare.  Lee divided his army into thee columns and Jackson’s forces into thee columns. Operating in enemy territory communication between Confederate forces was doubtful.  Lee, Korda concludes, had overconfidence in his troops. “The battle of  Sharpsburg into which he had been forced was at best a costly if heroic stalemate, in which neither side could claim victory,  Lee escaped by the skin of his teeth.”  The retreat of Lee across the Potomac into Virginia “gave Abraham Lincoln the ‘victory’ he desired before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation — Whether Lee wished it or no, the war now no longer just about whether the Federal government had the right to coerce Virginia by armed force, as Lee saw it; the issue was slavery.  He had inadvertently brought about a shift in politics that by a supreme irony, was exactly what John Brown had sought to achieve in raiding Harper’s Ferry.”  (ipad  1838)

(Blog 1/3/2013 Emancipation Proclamation Sesquicentennial where I commented that the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure that freed only those slaves in Confederate areas as of Jan.1, 1863.  My argument:   “Paradox – Abraham Lincoln freed no slaves in the particular – but as a result freed all.”


“THE PARTHENON ENIGMA” – The History of Historical Interpretations

An article in the New Yorker (4-14-14) drew my attention.  DEEP FRIEZE,  presented by Daniel Mendelsohn,  is a critique of another historian’s scholarship.  Since the Enlightenment, he notes, the Parthenon is interpreted as “designed to represent everything we have wanted both ancient Athens and our own liberal democracies to be:  the pure expression of  a rational, humanistic worldview”.  As such the Parthenon  and Athens  are seen as representing the birthplace of democracy and leading to the modern concept of democracy.  The  Parthenon’s “beauty and proportion has come to represent our political ideals and model for civil architecture.”

Mendelsohn presents his critique of historian Joan Breton Connell’s recently  published: “The Parthenon Enigma”. Connell’s controversial thesis posits that twenty-five centuries has hopelessly misinterpreted the Parthenon’s meaning and in fact, it is “unbearable to imagine on a building regarded as the “‘icon of Western art'” represents the story of human sacrifice reflected in Athens’ founding. She makes an analysis of the Parthenon’s frieze.  Mendelsohn notes: the frieze is “three feet high,  five hundred and twenty-four feet long.  The frieze represents an immense procession featuring more than six hundred participants–human, animal, and divine”.  With the frieze itself, Mendelsohn states, “she shows herself to be adept at interpretive gymnastics that frieze theorists have excelled at from the start.”  She holds that a pediment sculpture is that of a  river god who was the father-in-law of Erechtheus .   Mendelsohn concludes:  “To insinuate, that depictions of Erechtheus’  daughters are evidence of darkly barbaric culture of virgin sacrifice is a risible misrepresentation”. Daniel Mendelsohn’s New Yorker article presents an example of Historiography, or the history of historical interpretations.  He underscores that the “Parthenon’s history can reflect the prejudices and predilection of its historians”.

Attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota in the late Sixties and early Seventies I was influenced in large degree by David Noble.  He taught American Studies,  a new social science discipline at the time.  Noble, a respected teacher and noted historiographer, taught, among several subject areas, American Intellectual History.  As a student in  Noble’s American Intellectual History sequence as well as his guidance of my personal readings  shaped one  direction my study and teaching would take. A most influential reading under his guidance was Thomas Kuhn’s influential and controversial: “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”(1962). Kuhn elaborated scientific revolutions resulting in “paradigm shift” accompanied by a shift in world view.  “Paradigm Shift” today is a term in common English usage.

Some years later my research resulted in a historiography study of Reconstruction titled: “The Freedmen’s Bureau and the Problem of Reconstruction History”. One conclusion drawn was: “Each era intellectual history makes clear, perceives  the world in terms of thought patterns or block structures, which give coherence to reality.  Paradigms, changing almost imperceptibly in response to complex forces within reality, control the judgment of an historian no less than contemporaries.  The historian depends on his/her perception of verity and moral certainty which gives meaning to the his/her life.  The inability of honestly objective historians to shake biases and prejudices is easily diagnosed by the historiographer.  Historians possess their own value systems; therefore, moral judgment upon the past is unavoidable.  The historian’s struggle is an objective comprehension of the past.  It is an obligation, therefore, to deliberate the judgments upon the past which are most compatible with convictions.   The same duty devolves upon the historiographer when critiquing the bias of historians.”




A scripture read at a recent service came from the prophet Malachi. His name means my messenger. Malachi warns (4: 1-2a) that the day of the Lord is coming. On that day evil will be destroyed like stubble in a fire, when “the sun of righteousness” will shine on those who fear God. Our Monday morning study group shares views regarding the scriptures to be read at the following Sunday service. What followed was a discussion as to what evil might be suggested to be like stubble to be burned in a fire? That led to describing and naming egregious symbols of inhumanity perpetrated against fellow humans.

The seventy-fifth anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass”, November 9, 1938 , associated as part of the Holocaust the study group saw as “symbol of inhumanity”. Kristallnacht was the pogrom resulting in broken glass strewn about – an assault against Jews agitated by Nazi Storm Troops, SS, and the Hitler Youth. The populace were encouraged to join the rampage destroying businesses and property of the Jews. Motivation was revenge and reprisal for the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a seventeen year old German Jewish youth. Instigated by Nazi officials locals targeted Jewish homes and business, 30,000  were sent to concentration camp, 1777 synagogues were burned, homes, schools ransacked and demolished, 7,500 businesses destroyed.

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, recently a few days ahead of the anniversary called “Kristallnacht “one of the darkest moments in German history” and urged her countrymen to “ensure no form of anti-Semitism is tolerated”. She cautioned against the dangers of anti-Semitism violence on “The Night of Broken Glass”.  It is “almost inexplicable” she noted, “but also the reality that no Jewish institution can be left without police protection”. (The Times of Israel)


Rabbi Arthur Green, professor of religion at Brandeis University, lauds his teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel, the “towering religious figure of American Jewry in the post-war era”,  for providing reason for not blaming God for the Holocaust, 1938-1945.

Rabbi Green writes regarding his teacher.  “Hershel, whose mother and sisters had died in Warsaw/Treblinka, felt it was too easy to blame God for the holocaust. The failure, he insisted, was essentially a human one. It was human beings, transgressing what he insisted was religion’s most essential teaching – the creation of every person in God’s image – who had brought about the unimaginable degradation of their fellow humans. Our task, Hershel insisted, was not that of reconstructing religion but of rebuilding humanity. If humanity had failed, the only thing to do was to be more human and to show others how to be more human.

He (Heschel) liked to tell the Hasidic tale of Rabbi Raphael of Bershad who invited a group of his disciples to come and share with him in a ride in his coach. ‘But there is not enough room!’ a disciple cried out. ‘The rebbe will be crowded.’ The master replied: ‘Then we shall have to love each other more. If we love each other more, there will be room for us all.’ Heschel understood that all of humanity rides in that coach, one that can be either the divine chariot of God or the crowded, sealed railway car. The choice, he insisted, is a human one, and we who have escaped the terrors of hell are here to help all our fellow humans make that choice.”



Fifty years ago the16th street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed killing four African-American girls, among them Denise McNair, 11. THE LUTHERAN (10/13) commemorates  this tragic event with an article:  Remembering BIRMINGHAM: Lutheran pastor was leader in the civil rights movement.  Joseph Ellwanger, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church “was teaching an adult Bible study and Chris McNair, Denise’s father, was leading children’s classes when they heard the explosion.  A messenger delivered the news that Denise was a victim”.  The McNair’s asked Ellwanger to participate in the services of the three girls and to lead in Denise’s private committal service. Recently the Ellwanger and McNair couples attended a service remembering the four girl’s lives. (We were clergy colleagues)

16th Street Baptist Church was bombed on Sunday, Sept 15th, 1963 by “racially motivated terrorism”. This proved to be the key turning point in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ellwanger was the only white pastor among the local clergy to meet with Martin Luther King who came to Birmingham in January 1963 to “organize a campaign to confront the violence and racial segregation”.  Birmingham Project C (“confrontation”) challenged segregation and racism with lunch-counter sit-ins, marches confronting city hall authority, and segregation in shopping practices .  By April the campaign was loosing energy but revived when children were given the opportunity to march. As to why they wished to march Ellwanger observed: “They said, ‘We want to march for our freedom and for everyone’s”.  In May over a four day period the youth walked downtown to discuss with authorities unjust  segregation practices. Ellwanger notes the youth were instructed in Christian non-violent practices and “refrain from violence of fist, tongue and heart . . .  They had a clear understanding that this was the movement for justice and truth that God had called them”. Leaving their classrooms  and meeting at 16th Street Baptist Church, filing out of church 1000 children marched. The initial march was stopped by order of the head of police, “Bull Connor”, with fire hoses and police dogs to ward of the children. News and pictures of the Children’s March received worldwide attention. Ellwanger concluded:  “I have no doubt the Children’s March and deaths were a significant chapter in bringing the Civil Rights Act of 1964  . . . In the face of racist action the amazing thing was the strong reaction of the Gospel, faith in God who will see us through not with vengeance but compassion.”

I was pastor of a town-gown pastorate  from 1961-1963 in a church adjacent to the campus of Auburn University. it is in this context that Ellwanger and I shared ministry. Two particular examples of our relationship follow. They are taken from a piece written several years ago.  It can be accessed on this site’s home page as FRED’S STORY.Title of the retrospective is: SHAPED BY HISTORY: Living in the deep South during the Civil Rights Revolution. Learning to distinguish between American Ideal and Reality.

“My installation was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, October 4, , 1959. In preparation for the service, I was asked to send invitations to Missouri Synod clergymen in Alabama. Without any thought of the distinction between black and white parishes.  I sent the invitations to all pastors . . . Ellwanger was a white pastor  of a black congregation in Birmingham.  Ellwanger, rightly so, responded to the invitation by bringing with him members of his congregation’s laity. Shortly before the service began agitated ushers came into he sacristy and told me several black gentlemen were in the vestibule waiting to be seated. They asked me what should be done. I suggested they be seated in the back pew. What a pity that such a question and such an answer was necessary to address the situation.” On another occasion Pastor Ellwanger invited me to  serve as Bible topic discussion leader at a black youth retreat at what is today Concordia College Selma.  “Ellwanger served as organizer and director of the youth retreat. One afternoon our entire group of some fifty youth and two white pastors went on a long walk into the countryside. Our objective was to visit a farm of a successful black farmer to demonstrate what results from hard work and self-sufficiency . . . After visiting the farm we walked along the highway and came across a field where the remains of Civil War  breastworks were clearly visible. Continuing our walk along the highway we were suddenly stopped by police officers. They obviously knew Pastor Ellwanger  and his leadership with black youth. They inquired with a phrase clearly suggestive of Jim Crow realities and tactics of intimidation and fear:  ‘What is this (N-word) march all about?’ They put pastor Ellwanger in the police car and took him to police headquarters in Selma for grilling and harassment. Later that day they released him.”

Joseph Ellwanger was a real mentor in shaping my Yankee lack of understanding through my personal experiences of  Jim Crow’s reality of racial, social, cultural, and political racism supported by custom and law.



Symbols, other than in human form, reflect the values of an age.  McClung Fleming’s “Symbols of the United States:  From Indian Queen to Uncle Sam” is an illustration of the importance of Symbol as reflection of the values of an age. (Archives – Wintherthur Museum). Between the years 1755 to 1850 some of these symbols were used and the time periods of their use overlapped.  The Indian Princess, the Neo-classical Plumed Goddess, the American Liberty, Columbia, Brother Jonathan, and Uncle Sam–each suggests something about the society in which it was popular, the rise of American nationality, and the major values associated with America. My interest focuses primarily on the symbol Columbia because it best illustrates the value nexus of pre-Civil War America. Columbia first appeared in the 1730’s, but by 1810 it had changed in meaning. An unknown artist, in 1810, showed Columbia holding an American flag in the left hand, placing a wreath upon the marble bust of Washington, crushing the British Crown beneath her feet. Columbia appeared everywhere in the Pre-Civil War Era symbolizing first, liberty, and secondly, Columbus’ voyage. The voyage from Europe represented Europe as the quest in a radically new world, the promise of finding earth’s first paradise in the East by the general movement westward. Columbia represented the fulfillment of history by a return to Eden. The promise of finding earth’s original paradise in the East necessitated a movement to the West to complete the full circle leading to the Eden somewhere in the East. Columbia, however, came to mean in the Pre-Civil War Republic the belief in liberty. Liberty and Columbia soon fused into American liberty–an image of the Republic’s great historic mission with its great moral ideal. Columbia as symbol suggested the quest for national solidarity, a society built upon morality, and a nation with a unique world mission.



Recently the Concordia University Retirees Faculty Book Club discussed John R. Hale’s,  LORDS OF THE SEA:  The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy. Hale develops the thesis that Athenian naval power was fundamental transforming Athens and  creating a Golden Age of unparalleled achievement, 480 BC – 404 BC, an epoch also referred to as The Age of Pericles. The book jacket outlines the story succinctly. “The vision of the soldier statesman Themistocles set his own small city – Athens – on a course of greatness when he persuaded his fellow citizens to build a fleet of warships known as triremes, the formidable dynamos at the heart of Athenian history . . . Athens played a key role in the Greek struggle for freedom against the invading Persians . . . Thanks to its navy Athens played a leading role  in the struggle for freedom against the invading Persians.”  The Golden Age commenced by the Athenian led coalition of city-states with triremes and their oarsmen defeating the Persian navy at Salamis in 480 BC.

Hale argues that Athenian “commitment to naval power sparked the revolution that brought into being the world’s first “radical democracy” (dependent upon) common citizens who pulled the oars in the fleet.”  Foreigners residing in Athens received citizenship for service as oarsmen on the triremes, slaves could earn their freedom with similar service. Free inquiry fostered creativity, naming a few areas, in art, architecture, sculpture, drama, athletics, and the highest philosophic expression with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  “Pericles was the architect of this new Golden Age, and under his  benign (fifteen year) guidance the Athenians were justified in believing that they were setting in motion a new cycle of human history.” (p. 125)

Drawing my attention was the Golden Age  placing emphasis on scientific inquiry and historical writing. There were geniuses in many fields but close to my particular interests is that the field of history was invented at this time by Herodotus. He came to understand that the Persian Wars “as an epic contest that led to the emergence of Athenian thalassocracy.”  (Greek: sea and rule). He came to view the Persian Wars and all of Hellenic history “as a series of conflicts between East and West, Asia and Europe.”  After him historia  came to be more than inquiry or research but “designated as a branch of human intellectual endeavor:  the quest to compile a record of events that would uncover root causes and recurring patterns.”

Macedonia under the leadership of Alexander the Great led to the final defeat of the Athenian thalassocracy in 404 BC. One can trace the fall of the Athenian Empire as caused by hubris, often typical causation for fall off empire. The Delian League formed in 478 BC under the leadership of Athens was an association of Greek maritime city-states  and 150 islands. Athens used their allies navies for their own purpose.  Supposed allies paying annual tribute to Athens alienation surfaced and the urge for independence grew.

Aristotle, representing an upper class view,  spoke negatively of “trireme democracy” as evil and as enemies of the “well-ordered state, were not merchantmen but triremes.” (pp.398-9). There is another view, namely, “The experiment in democracy ensured that the fruits of naval victories were shared by all Athenians, transforming the life of even the poorest citizen. The age of the common man had dawned. For the first time anywhere on earth, a mass of ordinary citizens, independent of monarchs or aristocrats or religious leaders, were guiding the destiny of a great state.” (p.121)

Following are remarks  made after my wife and I traveled to Turkey in 1998. Those remarks are relevant to the wider continuing struggle East and West the past 1600 years since the zenith of the Golden Age of Athens that, to considerable degree, depended on  naval supremacy. Current tension East and West today in the Near East is only the latest chapter in that struggle.

Personal Observation and Experience
“Schooled in theology and history, my passion for many years had been to visit Justinian’s church of the Hagia Sophia (532) in Istanbul (Constantinople) and also experience an excursion on the Golden Horn and Bosphorus, the key waterway between Europe and Asia connecting the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Both desires were met, exciting a historian’s mind in making historical connections that make more clear the shaping of western culture and values. Asian Anatolia and European Istanbul comprise modern Turkey. It is here that east and west interconnected over the centuries, creating much of the worldview we have inherited. From Central Asia advancing through the corridor between the Black Sea and the Caspian, in successive waves came the Hittites, Lycians, Phrygians, Seljuks, and Ottoman Turks. From the West in their turn came the Ionians, Greeks, Alexander the Great and Hellenization of the Near East, Romans, and, finally, the dominance for a millennium by the Byzantines in Constantinople until conquered by the Muslim Turks in 1453.

Out of all of this comes much of the synthesis shaping our Greco-Roman classical world view. It should be recalled that much of this worldview was not only preserved but enhanced, as well, by eastern philosophy and science that came packaged with the advance of Islam to the west in the Renaissance via the Islamic dominance in Spain and subsequent impact upon Italy and Christian Europe.

Today, Turkey is our trusted ally and fellow NATO member. Recall the Truman Doctrine of 1947. Britain had contained the Russian Bear throughout the nineteenth century. After World War II we took up the burden for the exhausted Brits and drew the line at the Bosphorus and Greece at the onset of the Cold War. The America Eagle frustrated the Russian Bear’s drive to warm water ports. Their dream, since Peter the Great was short-circuited.”



As a member of a group of American academicians sponsored by the Council On International Educational Exchange Seminar we met with Vietnamese colleagues at Hanoi University and University of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  Seminar theme:  VIETNAM”S HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES (January, 1993).  Journal entries provided information for a course I had been teaching for some years, namely,  VIETNAM AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.  The following journal entries have an interesting story to share and are indelibly held in memory.

“Wednesday, January 6
This day provided events I had wished to encounter for some years and insomnia the night before proved no detriment in savoring this fascinating day. We boarded our bus and traveled thru town and busy traffic to the square where Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. Dominating the area is the grey stone bulk of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The entire complex suggests the apotheosis of Ho as the embodiment of the secularist Marxist state. Prior to visiting the mausoleum we gathered in a small building to view a video describing the Mausoleum as to architecture and symbolism. The Mausoleum is an abstract presentation of traditional Vietnamese architecture, built of marble and precious wood drawn from all parts of Vietnam. Begun in 1973 and finished in 1975 it contains the embalmed body of Ho encased in a glass casket on top of a platform in a cold room guarded by soldiers standing at attention at the four corners of the casket. The Mausoleum is closed for two months each year when Ho’s body is sent to Russia for preservational treatment. Streams of Vietnamese march in file two by two in a steady stream as they enter the monument. Noticeable are the many children marched in double ranked file for veneration of Uncle Ho. We were required to leave our cameras on the bus. Lining up two by two we proceeded into the tomb following a wreath with a ribbon emblazoned with the group’s CIEE initials and carried ceremoniously by a soldier to be placed at the entrance prior to our entering the tomb room. I found viewing Ho emotionally moving, especially in respect for his single-minded tenacity in achieving independence for his people through a brilliant combination of political and military strategy and tactics. The evening prior our group thought the laying of a wreath was appropriate for American academicians. Three of our group were of the military and there was question whether they would have exceptions. They did not. Emerging from the mausoleum I purchased a set of stamps commemorating the career of Ho and the battle of Dienbienphu.

After taking pictures of the Mausoleum we walked by the structure that had housed the French Governor General, now a government building. We proceeded to Ho’s home nearby., very Spartan two-roomed quarters on the second floor. There was an open to the outside conference below.  In Ho’s private rooms were an old windup clock and a radio of 190 vintage. Ho’s home is located near a large pond and an approach to the pond where Ho would come and clap his hands to attract the goldfish for feeding.  I recall a photo of Ho performing this ritual he enjoyed so much.  We did the same with success clapping our hands and feeding the fish. In the immediate vicinity is the symbol of Hanoi, the One Pillar Pagoda built in 1049 under the Ly Dynasty, resting on one stone pillar that rises out of a lotus pool. We toured the museum nearby dedicated to the career of Ho and completed for his centennial birthday celebration. Exhibits chart his career with artifacts, displays, documents, letters, etc.  Interesting for an American is that from he Vietnamese perspective, even with Ho’s career, American involvement is only one phase and in terms of the history of Vietnam our involvement is a footnote while for us it is an exclamation point. On leaving the museum I had made the prior comment to a military historian and she thought the comment apt.

After lunch we proceeded to Hanoi University for our first sessions with Our Vietnamese colleagues. Presentations dealt with the history of Vietnam  particularly focusing on “renovation”, their term for Gorbachev’s perestroika. Basically they are seeking an economic model to make Vietnam wealthy in a manner supposedly consonant with Marxism. (Shades of contemporary China). That evening we shared a banquet with our hosts at our hotel. Eating with chop sticks and sharing conversation proved stimulating. I had an extended chat with a student who had spent time in Australia and was majoring in philosophy. He seemed uncomfortable that Marxism was being taught as truth.  He was obviously skeptical.  Apprehending truth, I observed, might be a more tentative enterprise and, therefore, the communitarianism of Marxism and the individualism of the Anglo-American tradition might be pragmatically combined.  This student had never been to Ho’s tomb as, he stated, Ho wished to be cremated and, furthermore, Uncle Ho should not be deified.  Also noted at this banquet was the fact that Vietnamese men are heavy smokers much to the discomfort of many Americans.”

Several days later a colleague and I, both teaching American involvement in Vietnam courses, visited the War Museum.  The journal records the following fascinating experiences.

“Before visiting the War Museum we took pictures of a statue of Lenin across the street in an attractive small park.  Visiting the Army Museum was emotionally moving.  Tracing the military history of Vietnam spanning centuries confirmed the relatively minor role of America in this saga of people’s’ success in repelling invasion and foreign domination. The French presence and ultimate defeat at Dienbienphu and removal after the 195 Geneva Convention brooks largely in the story. Interestingly, however, in aiding historical perspective from the Vietnamese perspective  is the placement of a huge tank (American) at the main entrance – a tank used in the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.  An inner court has heaped in a gigantic pile the broken parts of B-52 American bombers with a Russian Mig fighter aircraft triumphantly displayed resting on top of the American junk pile. Various artillery pieces, missiles, American armoured carriers are displayed.  Touring buildings take the visitor through the French phase, 1946-1954, presenting photographs, documents, and artifacts. Dienbienphu is the key battle described and illustrated.  A room in another building treats the American phase commencing with 1955 but concentrating on the period after escalation in 1965.  Captions read:  THE UNITED STATES AND ITS PUPPETS.  Especially poignant is a heaped mound of Pilots’ helmets, flight jackets, various arm patches and insignia.  The famous photo of a depressed LBJ in the Oval Office after the Tet Offensive in 1968 hangs prominently on the wall. adjoining this display is another huge room again displaying artifact from the American phase dominated by a tank that crashed through the gates of the Presidential palace in Saigon at the final collapse of South Vietnam in April, 1975.”

See this Bartling Scholarship web site Home Page under Lectures (written works) for the course syllabus of The Vietnam Wars And The American Involvement. Introducing the syllabus to the Bartling Scholarship web page I wrote: “American Involvement was still uppermost in American consciousness in the decade of the eighties.  Consequently I felt the need to design and offer a course on the subject. The course was prepared on sabbatical in 1987 at the University of Wisconsin Madison.



Recently Reflections, the Yale Divinity School’s biannually published magazine of theological and ethical inquiry,  crossed my desk. The spring theme of 2013 Reflections is: The Future of Race.   Gregory Sterling, Dean of Yale Divinity School, writing From the Dean’s Desk, observes that the last election season “virtually ignored race as an issue. It is naïve to think that we have moved beyond race . . . (race remains) a contentious field of resistance and hope”. Dean Sterling notes that the “dehumanizing history of slavery is still with us. A weary reluctance to face it remains with us too.” The dean points to tensions between black and whites, demographic shifts with the eclipse of the white majority and increase Latino and Asian-American numbers. Spring Reflections contains some thirty contributors with their take on contemporary issues regarding race.

On the home page of this website under FRED’S STORY is a piece I completed in January, 2008.   Shaped By History is introduced as: “Living in the deep South during the Civil Rights Revolution. Learning to distinguish between American Ideal and American Reality. A Historian’s reflections of personal experiences in developing and teaching African-American and Women’s  American History”.  The essay optimistically concluded: “The morning after the January 6, 2008 Democratic presidential caucus in Iowa the Minneapolis Star Tribune featured a political cartoon. Pictured is Martin Luther King, Jr. reading the paper headline Obama Wins with a background sign I HAVE A DREAM. King is musing Somebody Pinch Me! What a remarkable path America has journeyed . . . when the front running Democratic Party presidential candidates are an African-American male, Barack Obama, and a female, Hillary Clinton! Questions of race or gender no longer disqualify anyone for consideration for presidential candidacy. Without question the American ideal of freedom, justice, and equality is closer to reality today than it was forty-seven years ago. . . . Having lived through the Civil Rights Revolution and the struggle for political, economic, and social equality during the Sixties I am confident regarding the ultimate closer achievement of that struggle. Study of American history has shown the redemptive nature of American reform tradition urging American reality to reflect more clearly American idealism.”

Shortly after completing Shaped By History I came across an essay questioning overly optimistic assessments  of the Civil Rights Revolution. The article asserted: “It is a false idea that there is unity in progress and that things change in one big step'”. With progress, perhaps,  I noted,  comes,  backlash. 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, fifty years after the March on Washington, and the recent reelection of the first African-American president is it naïve writing in 2008 that American racial, gender, and equality “reflect more clearly American idealism”.  I concur with that view but have come to be more cautious in assessing progress. Results of the Civil Rights Sixties has resulted in American reality reflecting more clearly American idealism. Reform movements, however, urging racial, gender, and social justice do not change “in one big step”.  Constance vigilance in championing the American Reform tradition is essential.


NAPOLEON’S WATERLOO – Military Miniatures

February 1, 2013

One of my Academy “lads” favored me with four photos of his erstwhile hobby displayed in his newly purchased display case military miniatures depicting Napoleon’s Waterloo.  Tim Utter, admission counselor at Concordia University, was an Academy student during the years I was an Academy instructor during the early and mid-sixties. Tim is a member of the Academy class that inaugurated The Fred and Ruth Bartling Scholarship two years ago. He is a respected friend and a knowlegeable lay historian. We have been sharing dialog regarding the miliary miniatures illustrating Napoleon’s Waterloo debacle. We share verbatim that dialog.

(Tim) Fred, Happy New Year:

Back in 1965, I started a strange hobby:  painting military miniatures. The hobby ended about 1980, but in recent years I bought a display case. Thought you might appreciate the attached pictures . . . 1,100 figures in all, illustrating scenes from the Battle of Waterloo. Best wishes to you and Ruth. 1/18/2013


(Fred) What a wonderful and serendipitous surprise. Recently at lunch with one of your classmates I was given Victor Hugo’s Les Miserabiles.  A huge volume of some 1200 pages. I read a few sections daily. Marvelous writing with an interesting plot for a history buff. Just completed a few evenings ago Book First WATERLOO, pages 265-312. – a careful description of the battle. Your visual depiction helps my understanding. Now I can visualize what a “square” meant and implied. Your display of the building gave insight what was involved. I suspect you may have been aware or even read Hugo’s account of the battle. Your hobby is not strange at all but most meaningful. Do you plan to take this up again as a hobby – nice way to go as you approach retirement? I ran into Hugo in Vietnam as he is enshrined as an important spiritual teacher (French Indochina connection no doubt). I have a blog on the Cao Dai and saw a painting (picture) of Hugo at their temple entrance. (See blog on this site: Bahai and Cao Dai Religious Sects:  Syncretistic Monotheism, 11 /4//2012)  1-18-201


(Tim) Yes, “squares”  were formed to repel cavalry attacks. That is why cavalry attacks at an enemy’s wings, then sent in mass infantry columns to break the center – which he did at Waterloo. It was the same strategy used by Lee at Gettysburg, implemented as Pickett’s charge.  And,like Lee,  Napoleon had tried to soften up the enemy with a huge artillery barrage. However, at Waterloo, Wellington’s Anglo-Allied Army had laid down on the reverse slopes of the small hills, waiting for the artillery barrage to end and awaiting the infantry column in turn. Ultimately, Marshal Blucher’s timely arrival with his Prussian Army that rolled up Napoleon’s right flank completed the victory.

Wellington and Blucher met at the small village appropriately named “LaBelle Alliance.”  While the battle was actually fought at Mont St. Jean.  Wellington chose to name the battle after his headquarters at Waterloo – much more anglo-sounding. By the way . .  when Churchill died, he made arrangements that his political rival, Charles DeGaulle, would be forced to come by train to Waterloo Station, rather than the more convenient Victoria Station. (1-28-2013)


(Fred)  Very interesting and informative. Ruth agrees this would be interesting for a blog on The Bartling Scholarship.  I would need your permission. And if so would you send me again the pictures of your Military Miniatures displayed in your new cabinet? Cordially – Fred  Regarding my great-great grandfather Wilhelm Koehler – “was a sixteen year old volunteer in the infantry (Blucher’s Prussian Army) against Napoleon at Waterloo . . . experienced a shot (wounded as well) through his jacket and spent the entire evening on three dead French soldiers.”  (1-29-2013)


(Tim) You certainly have my permission . . . a privilege. Wow!  Such detailed information about Wilhelm Koehler!  If he was killed (Fred notes – not “killed” but wounded) as part of the Prussian advancement thru the village of Plancenoit (i.e. Napoleon’s right wing), you might appreciate this  . . .  (1-31-2013)


(Fred) additional information regarding Koehler found in Genealogical Data and Historical References I prepared for my maternal lineage:  “Wilhelm Koehler b .3/11/ 1797 – d. 3/23/1875.  Hanover – chief  forester of Eilenreid near the Hanover ‘Pferderturm’ (Horsetower). Koehler volunteered at age 16 for the rifleman’s corps of Kielmannegg and fought near Waterloo against Napoleon’s forces. In 1863 he was awarded the royal Guelphen Badge.” In another source a grandson observed: ” At sixteen he participated in the battle of Waterloo as a volunteer from Bremen; he was wounded and slept the whole night on top of three Frenchmen who were dead — he said”.  I have a small photo from my mother’s photo album of Wilhelm in uniform with his wife. Both in later life, perhaps close to the year 1863 when Wilhelm received his honorary badge. (1-30-2013)


What a distinct pleasure to share dialogue with my former student and subsequently as friend over many years. Meaningful friendship and respectful dialog adds special meaning and purpose to life.