Honoring the unsung
The American Revolution
My son was reading “Magic Tree House… American Revolution” (by Mary Pope Osborne/Natalie Pope Boyce) to me, when he abruptly asked, “Why are you crying, dad?” “Because,” I replied, “I suddenly realize how much those American soldiers sacrificed for our freedom.” And then I thought to myself: “I’m grateful to the authors for keeping a children’s book authentic and not omitting disturbing images, like shoeless soldiers marching in the snow.”
The crossing of the Delaware, historians say, was a pivotal moment in the Revolutionary war. By the end of 1776, the war efforts hadn’t been as successful as the patriots had hoped. They’d lost two strategic forts, indispensable supplies, and their footing in New York was slipping. Furthermore, the enlistment terms of many were expiring soon, and it appeared doubtful that very many of those soldiers would re-enlist. Without a positive, significant turn of events, the war would surely fizzle out by spring; and this was Washington’s no-holds-bar attempt at changing the course of history.
Crossing the Delaware was a battle against a tumultuous storm. Heavy winds, snow, and freezing rain made it an insurmountable obstacle. I wouldn’t have wanted to drive in it, let alone cross an icy river with frozen hands in soaking wet clothes. By this time, desertions had become quite common; and if ever there was a time to tuck tail and run, it was that night. It’s Christmas and you’re spending it with gloomy soldiers instead of your loving family.
It wasn’t until after midnight when all the troops and equipment made their way across; and with no sleep, these soldiers – some of them shoeless – trudged through the snow for almost four hours. Try and imaging what might’ve gone through your head during that trek. “This isn’t going to work. We’ve lost so many other battles, what makes Washington think this one will be any different? It’s Christmas, I’m soaking wet, shoeless, and freezing my butt off. Why couldn’t this wait until after the holidays? Things weren’t so bad under King George, were they?”
Washington was leading a disheartened, ragtag army with little hope of success; but before they started this strenuous task, he showed true genius by reciting “The American Crisis” to them – A stirring piece by Thomas Paine, which arrived – hot off the presses – just in time to encourage the troops to stay the course. I’d like to reproduce the introduction from this brilliant classic:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Washington is primarily glorified for the Revolution – and I don’t mean to undermine his contributions in any way. But I believe he’d agree when I say, we should also commemorate those who sacrificed the most. It was a brilliant plan, but it would’ve come to nothing without bloody footprints in the snow. And I say, God bless those men who did what I couldn’t do by carrying on in the face of overwhelming odds.
It’s wonderful that we take advantage of our liberties today; but we should never forget the hardships endured by our ancestors who secured these freedoms for us – many of whom died long before seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. So I encourage us to stop from time to time, and remember those soldiers who left bloody footprints in the snow.
Now I’d like to explore the events set in motion by those bloody footprints. First of all: questioning a “divinely sanctioned” monarch was unheard of at the time and took great courage. To question the king back then meant certain death; and in an era today, when David Limbaugh can write a book entitled, “The Great Destroyer: Barack Obama’s war on the Republic”, and live to collect royalties, well I guess we really should honor those bloody footprints. They sacrificed everything to resist a tyrant who would’ve hanged Limbaugh for much less insolence than this title. Those footprints were distinguished by an air of defiance against despotism. People had had enough of it in Europe. Why do you suppose these daring souls left all familiarities, crossed an uncertain ocean, and braved an uncharted new world? They were sick and tired of the old ways established for millennia in Europe.
Furthermore, why did they call it a “New World?” Today if we talked about a new world, we’d assume a new planet had been discovered. But 500 years ago we found a new world right here on Earth, on the other side of the world from tyrants and religious superstition.
This novel insolence not only worried the king, but it also alarmed the clergy as well. They were still nursing the wounds of the Reformation. Since the king’s rule was sanctioned by the church, the church, of course, would say: To question the authority of the king is to question the sovereignty of the church, and to question the church is to question God Almighty.
The next wrong in a long line of things to be righted was Slavery. It wasn’t long after the Revolution that people began wondering how we could call ourselves a free nation while millions of our fellow humans were in shackles. Several anti-slavery parties sprung up, and the conflict to abolish slavery commenced.
Two battles intertwined themselves with the Abolition movement: 1) not only were the slave-holders enraged against it, but the church of the south was united with them as well. They asserted that Jehovah endorsed slavery in his sacred scriptures. And 2) the second battle raging was primarily promoted by the church, regarding women speaking in public. In a time when women were the property of men and expected to keep their mouths shut, these brave women were publicly sharing their first hand knowledge of how their fathers had abused and raped their female slaves.
The newspapers and clergy vehemently attacked these women at every occasion, calling them infidels and atheists, with degrading statements like: “A woman preaching is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It’s not done well, but you’re surprised to find it done at all.” Ladies, next time you feel coerced into repressing your God given rights, try honoring those women who endured great hardships so you could be recognized as equals and not as property.
One of the most influential heroines of this epoch was Lucretia Mott. Her motto should be inscribed upon the altars of every church, mosque, and synagogue: “Truth for authority and not authority for truth.” I love her!
After a long, turbulent clash, including a violent Civil War, both dreams were eventually realized. Although it took about a century for the idea to sink in, these new concepts had rooted themselves in the American psyche. Even the church resisted both notions; But the direction mankind was headed in could not be restrained – women were eventually recognized as equally created by God.
The slaves were initially freed with the Emancipation Proclamation, but like women, it was another century before their Constitutional rights were completely established. And what was the position of most churches during the initial battles of the 1800’s, and the finalization of both repressions in the 1960’s and 70’s? Yes, Martin Luther King’s church, of course, was supporting the Civil Rights Movement, but what stance did the ‘whites only church’ take on the issue? I think the answer to this was made plain in 1995, when the Southern Baptist church formally apologized for their support of slavery and segregation.
Can you appreciate that Lincoln held the second, if not the most difficult term in our presidential history? There was a tremendous amount of polar opposites clashing together with Lincoln at the center. I believe a most candid account of these epic battles can be found in the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Lincoln explains the precarious gray area he traversed in making the ‘Emancipation Proclamation’. It’s a riveting scene – within the first thirty minutes – where he reveals how, from one angle, it appeared proper, yet an argument could be made from another that he’d trampled the rights of each individual, southern state.
Lincoln frequently had good Christians expressing their concerns to him. One assuring him that God endorsed slavery, while the other asserting it sin. This is what Lincoln was referring to when he said, “I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will.” And at another time when he said, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.”
The last great movement of this spirit of Human Rights came along in the 1960’s. That’s when we saw a marvelous revolution against orthodoxy and conventional programming. Not only was this when African-Americans renewed their struggle for their God-given rights, but long-haired white people were rebelling against long held traditional values as well. We’re all familiar with the pandemonium of this era, but I’d like to focus on the crux of this revolution. It was nothing more than asserting the right to be different, and encouraging love and peace towards all mankind. What’s wrong with that?
At a time when America was in a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ construct, they wanted to break the shackles of conformity. People were pretty much cookie-cut and molded into culturally accepted positions of society. The daughter was conditioned to be the stay-at-home mom who got a wrap on the cheek if she didn’t comply with her husband’s demands. The son was groomed to be a hard-working man who never cried, who hated communism, and never questioned authority.
Things were drifting back to pre-revolutionary conditions. If you don’t believe it, watch some of the shows and commercials from that era. Anything from vacuum cleaners to Mr. Clean helping out in the kitchen were always aimed at the stay-at-home mom for example. And examine any ad directed at a man today, and you’ll most likely see a half naked big-breasted woman. I know Fry’s is campaigning women when I see the attractive, but not extraordinary, lady in the common, red house dress. I know this primarily because there is no cleavage to be seen.
Some more recent rights to be considered before we close: Worker’s rights, Children’s rights, and animal rights organizations, to name a few.
And finally: Very soon we’ll see the long-awaited finalization of equal rights for the gay community as well. I’m perplexed that two hundred years after the Revolution, and we’re still finding human rights that need to be addressed. It’s kind of a great time in history to be alive. I honestly believe gay rights will be remembered as the final stage of established human rights. And gay people should, as much as the rest of us, show appreciation to those nameless soldiers who left bloody footprints in the snow.
Let us always honor those who paid the heaviest burden to secure our wonderful freedoms. And let us also keep in mind that, at nearly every step, over the last two-millennia, the church has piously stood in staunch opposition to the advancements of society – from the Abolition of slavery and Women’s Liberation to gay rights.