Douglass referred to the Civil War (1861-1865) as the Slave Holders Rebellion. No state’s rights, no question about the role of federalism, no war of northern aggression, he called it for what it was, the Slaveholders Rebellion.
As a young man a fell for the myth of the lost cause. I was persuaded that there really was something more than slavery, something noble. Those blinders fell off for good when I read Stephen Sears’ Gettysburg and paused when I learned that large number of Southern soldiers invading Maryland and Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863 were tasked with rounding up freed slaves in these Northern states and sending them back into bondage. R.E. Lee knew this, tell me, where is the honor in that?
In this age of disinformation, fake news and a resurgence in White Supremacy let’s us honor Douglass by calling it for what it was, no ambiguity. Take a moment to watch this short video of United States Army Colonel Sy Seidel explain that slavery was the core of reason we fought each other to make this nation what it is today.
Years ago I was in a book club that read Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11. I didn’t read the book then, but was fascinated during the discussion, particularly with the story of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian academic and political dissident who came to the United States in the 1950s to study at the Univesity of Northern Colorado, in Greeley. Shocked by the sexualized secularism and racism of this rural Colorado town, Qutb returned to Egypt and wrote a book titled, Milestones, that became the seed for the anti-western thought that fueled terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, Amman al-Zawahiri.
Another interesting note from the book is the role Jamal Khashoggi played as an interminteary sent by the Saudi Government to Sudan to lure bin Laden back to Saudi Arabia with the hope that he would give up his jihad rhetoric. Of course after 9/11 Khashoggi would begin to critique the Saudi royal regime for being undmeocratic, till he was eventually murdered by the Saudi Goveernment on the orders of Prince Mohammad bin Salman in October of 2018.
The book is a stark reminder of hubris that has marked America’s greatest blunders of the last 100 years. From Vietnam to Iraq the false superiority generated by technological military might has killed thousands upon thousands of Americans in the pursuit of policy that is created by people who have no idea who their enemy is.
On the other hand The Looming Tower also provides a stark assessment of how lucky Al-Qaddafi and bin Laden was time and time again. It was only the United States’ complete failure to understand the threat that allowed the timeline of horrors that began with the African Embassy bombings to continue. Bin Laden too misunderstood his enemy believing that the 9/11 attacks would propel the United States to disnegrate as a world power and withdrawal from the Middle East while also believing hundred of thousands of faithful Muslims would flock to Afghanistan to join Al-Queda and bin Laden.
Lawrence Wright is a gifted writer who has a unique ability to thread often complicated plot lines and unfamiliar concepts together while providing the reader with a narrative that never bogs down. Unfortunately, almost ten years after the death of bin Laden, most Americans have moved on from Al-QaedaQ and bin Laden. The lessons will be forgotten, even now I wonder what threat looms in the fog.
A friend gave me a copy of “Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit” by Michael Finkel. This quick read is a narrative account of Christopher Knight’s 2o plus years of living in solitude near a central Maine lake. Knight lived within walking distance of hundreds of vacation cabins but camouflaged his camp so that no one, other than two people, saw him in 20 years.
I’ve spent the last three years getting increasingly serious about practicing my meditation. The thought of spending 20 years on what was essentially a silent retreat is certainly appealing. The tremendous insight and calm Knight exhibited after his capture certainly speaks to the meditative quality he experienced by himself. As a high school teacher, I recognized in Knight the agony of former students who presented as not able to find their place in the world. I feared that the end compulsory and structured environment of high school would create turmoil so deep that they would become unmoored.
One passage that I kept returning to involved the second time Knight was spotted by another human being. Three generations of ice fisherman (Grandfather, father, son) were post-holing through snowy woods when they spotted Knight. Immediately the grandfather yelled out that they would not report seeing him, though they knew who he was. In response, Knight bowed and non-verbally thanked them. The drama of this scene captivated me.
The book left me conflicted. Though personally envious of the blessing so many years of solitude gave Knight I was sympathetic to his many victims. Knight stole from unlocked or seasonally abandoned vacation cabins to steal his clothes, supplies, entertainment and most importantly food. The owners of these cabins suffered the anxiety of knowing somebody was out there, breaking into their homes. These thefts ultimately ended Knights hermit years when he was arrested mid burglary at a summer camp kitchen. It is one thing to escape from society and to live simply. But to turn to a life of petty crime in order to sustain yourself is unforgivable.
Clearly Knight had a tremendous well of willpower to stay hidden for two decades. He went into the woods a 19 year old kid and left a 40 year old man. Hard not to imagine elements of mental illness in his story. Solitude has been a component of man’s search for meaning since the dawn of time. Knight’s story fits somewhere in that narrative for good or bad.