He Wrote for the Ages

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For starters, I am not a fan of Thomas Jefferson. In fact, the more I know of this founding father, the less I like him. The Sage of Monticello routinely had young male slaves beaten for no better reason than custom, and lay the foundation for secession in 1798 with his Kentucky Resolution.

Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Polish hero of the Revolutionary War, once offered to liquidate land holdings in the Northwest Territory to pay Jefferson to free some of his slaves, and Jefferson declined. Disillusioned, Kosciuszko condemned Jefferson as a fraud for once insisting “all men were created equal,” and not practicing that “truth.”

However, the reality remains that Jefferson did indeed, pen those words, and generations of Jeffersonian disciples have insisted those words are enough to maintain his venerated place in American history.

And I agree. His adulators are correct. Jefferson’s words are enough. His phrasing, painstakingly composed in 1776 has ignited the world on the ultimate quest to actualize Jefferson’s “unalienable” assertions. 

Abraham Lincoln took Jefferson’s sentiment to heart, and his devotion moved Lincoln to action. The foundation of the Republican Party rested partly upon removing artificial impediments restraining upward mobility, and Lincoln believed slavery such an obstacle, the most malignant bar to individual betterment. (Duh). In 1859 he stated in a speech, “We proposed to give all a chance; and we expected the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant, wiser; and all better.” And Lincoln made it his aim to realize that betterment, first with Emancipation, then the 13th Amendment.

There could be no better description for America than a people steadily discarding artificial barriers. Women, Native Americans, LGBTQ Americans, Latino Americans: all of us freed to reach our highest potential. Annoying bigotry places a drag on the process, but justice still manages to surge steadily on, inspired by the words of the Declaration of Independence–Jefferson’s words. 

In reality, Jefferson had meant to argue white wealthy Colonials were of equal standing to Great Britain’s landed aristocracy. Despite his original intent, the promise of those words have outlived that specific moment. 

Understandably, Thaddeus Kosciuszko gave up in the face of Jefferson’s outrageous duplicity. And this generation of fanatics desperately promote Jefferson’s original racism. But, kids, we have inherited an obligation to continue this journey, not only for ourselves but to light the way for our children’s children.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the World War Two-era memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both are available on Kindle, and hard copies at http://www.river-of-january.com

gailchumbley@gmail.com

 

A Reasonable Man

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The Senator visualized a clear future for America, one of groomed roadways, canals, bridges, and sleek iron railways. He believed America, in order to bloom into a truly great nation, required the best in structural improvements. But this practical visionary encountered an insurmountable barrier impeding his dream, an obstacle built of senseless political partisanship.

Henry Clay first arrived in Washington DC, from Kentucky in 1803. In the House for three years, Clay moved to the Senate filling a recent vacancy. In these early, formative years of America, paralleling Clay’s own political youth, he promoted policies he later regretted. A fierce booster for the War of 1812, Clay joined a fraternity of other young politicos called War Hawks, who favored a fight against Great Britain. Yet, by the end of that conflict Clay realized the war had generated nothing of real value for the future of the country.

Embracing his new belief system, the young Senator turned to building up America from within. Clay crafted a long-range program of growth he called The American System. The components of this plan were three-fold: a strong protective tariff to nurture America’s fledgling industrial base, a Second Bank of the United States to finance government funds and issue currency, and funding for ‘internal improvements,” or infrastructure projects. For Henry Clay this multilevel proposal would provide a foundation for a mighty nation-state to grow, equal to any across the Atlantic. And Clay embraced the righteousness of his crusade as a quasi secular faith.

This grounded, logical man attracted a great deal of support among his fellow legislators, and The American System appeared on the brink success. 

Unfortunately, from the West, (meaning Tennessee) rode the dashing victor of the Battle of New Orleans, the conquerer of Spanish Florida, and vanquisher of the Creek Nation in the Red Stick War, Andrew Jackson, and Jackson intended to become president. At first Clay thought little of the uneducated, volatile militiaman, believing voters would not take this brawler seriously. But Clay was dead wrong. Jackson’s popularity soared among all  classes, especially poor whites, and Jackson won not only his first term, but reelection four years later. Most significantly, for Henry Clay, this  President did not like him, not one little bit.

The temperament of Congress shifted dramatically after Jackson’s election, as well.  Jacksonian supporters filled the  House, and to a lesser degree the Senate, leaving Clay hard pressed to pass any of his program. In fact Jackson made fast work on Clay’s earlier successes killing the Second Bank, vetoing countless internal improvement projects, and only defended the Tariff because a separate Jackson enemy threatened to violate the law in his state.

Henry Clay found himself fighting politically for every economic belief he championed. The mercurial man in the Presidential Mansion (White House) thwarting Clay at every turn. 

Adding more turbulence to the era, the intractable issue of slavery soon dwarfed all other concerns. Clay, a slave owner who believed in gradual emancipation, found enemies in both the North and South; Northerners because he was a slave owner, Southerners because he believed in emancipation. The man couldn’t win.

Over Clay’s lifetime of public service, he forged three major Union-saving compromises. An ardent patriot, the Senator believed men of good will could solve all problems for the greater good of the nation. First there was the Missouri Compromise,  the Compromise Tariff of 1833, and last, his swan song, the Compromise of 1850, giving America California. 

Sadly, Senator Henry Clay did not live to see his American System a reality. But there is a silver lining to this tale. Abraham Lincoln, a staunch Clayite saw passage of the Pacific Railways Act, the Morrill Act, and a National Banking Act. These three laws built the Transcontinental Railroad, Land Grant Universities in the west, and funding the Union war effort.

Oh, and Clay’s desire to emancipate slaves became real in 1863.

The moral of the story transcends time: America stalls when irrational politics displaces thoughtful, reasonable policies and the legislators who promote them.

Note-I have co-authored a new play celebrating the life of this remarkable, essential American simply titled “Clay.”

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight. Both are available on Kindle, or in hard copy at www.river-of-january.com

You can contact Gail for questions or enquiries at gailchumbley@gmail.com

Mrs Stanton

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I’ve begun initial research on a project concerning this woman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  She may be the most essential figure of the American and International Women’s Movement and arguably one of the most forgotten.

Generations of women are far more familiar with Stanton’s colleague,  and dear friend, Susan Brownell  Anthony, but that was by choice.  While Ms Anthony made an early and abiding decision to promote women’s suffrage over any other injustice facing females in the 19th Century, Cady Stanton, a more introspective person,  tended to explore, through study and thought, the profundity of patriarchal injustice.

Mrs Stanton’s analytic temperament often irritated the practical Ms Anthony,  who frequently cajoled Mrs Stanton to get out there and organize.

In a sense Ms Anthony married the suffrage movement, refusing to commit civil suicide by entering into a conventional marriage. Freed from domestic demands, she crisscrossed the nation assembling one of the most massive political movements in American History.  In contrast, Mrs Stanton married a man she passionately loved, raised a brood of seven,  all the while cultivating an interior life; a universe of analysis that evolved, questioning standards and beliefs relegating women to a subservient role.

These differences in style and aims, though the cause of many personal disputes, also somehow worked for these two strong personalities. While Mrs Stanton examined the absurdity of patriarchal traditions, and crafted sound positions on the innate equality between the sexes, Ms Anthony tirelessly toured the country, speaking to anyone who listened on the right of women to vote.

In a real sense Mrs Stanton sojourned through the metaphysical world in a search of truth, while Ms Anthony counted the miles of track to her next speaking engagement.

Happy International Women’s Day

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight, http://www.river-of-january.com

Also available on Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

99 Cents

The Kindle version of “River of January: Figure Eight” is on sale today for only 99 cents. Step right up and enjoy the flight.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both available at www.river-of-january.com.

And He Stood Up

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This post is a reprint from a few years ago. The young men mentioned are now other phases of their respective careers. Their names are used with permission.

Asked by my old high school, I had the privilege of speaking to young people on the eve of Veterans Day. My remarks appear below.

Thank You for inviting me today—It’s good to be back at Eagle High.

On October 23rd, a few weeks ago, U.S. Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler of Oklahoma was fatally wounded in a rescue mission freeing Isis-held hostages in Iraq. He died after rushing into a firefight to support the allied Kurdish soldiers he had trained and advised. Secretary of Defense, Asthon Carter, later described the chaotic events that cost this soldier’s his life.

“As the compound was being stormed, the plan was not for U.S. … forces to enter the compound or be involved in the firefight. However, when a firefight ensued, this American did what I’m very proud that Americans do in that situation . . . he ran to the sound of the guns and he stood up. All the indications are that it was his actions and that of one of his teammates that protected those who were involved in breaching the compound and made the mission a success.”

The death of Master Sergeant Wheeler spared the lives of 70 Isis prisoners scheduled for mass execution the following morning.

Wheeler ran to the sound of the guns. Now I can’t speak for our service men and women, and when I was asked to give this talk, I had to confer with those who have made that solemn commitment. My questions were misleadingly simple . . . why did you choose a military career? What persuaded you to risk yourself for potentially dangerous service?
I wanted to try and understand that burning force of purpose, of unquestioned focus to duty, detach from self preservation for the welfare of others. I wondered how personal fear could be swallowed when, as Secretary Carter explained, “Wheeler involved himself in the firefight.” Where does this nobility of character draw from? Where do these individuals come from—the few that can’t sit on the sideline when duty calls them from their homes?

The answer, strikingly enough, is right here, in this auditorium. Home. Here. No, not someone else from somewhere else. Here. And people, that is where America has always found It’s defenders, from every town and city.

A number of Eagle students have, from many graduating classes, chosen the disciplined military life. Once wiggly kids who, warming the same seats you now occupy, resisting, as you most surely are, the urge to check your cell phones, daydream about the newest version of Halo, or wonder if Bogus Basin ski hill will open before Thanksgiving. They were kids just like you.
Now I don’t pretend to know the name of every Eagle Mustang who has volunteered for service, but I’d like to mention a few.

After earning a college degree as a civilian, 2004 EHS graduate Captain Greg Benjamin was commissioned an Infantry Officer, sending him north to Ft. Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. From this first posting, Greg has served, so far, two Central Asian tours, first in southern, then in eastern Afghanistan. He wants you to know that he loves the training opportunities he’s experienced so far–Ranger School, Airborne, and Air Assault Schools, and leadership training. When I asked Greg, now married with small children why he chose to place himself in harm’s way, he replied, “I want to take the fight to our country’s enemies, leading America’s finest young men and women in combat and training. And change the lives of people in some of the worst places on the planet.”

Captain Joe Peterson, EHS class of 2005, made his decision after high school too. “I had a number of teammates from Eagle’s Lacrosse team one year ahead of me go to a service academy . . . and this kicked-off my thought process in a serious manner. I’d always held the belief of service, but this made the choice tangible for me . . . I received an invitation to visit the University of San Francisco and their ROTC department. I decided to accept.” Joey was posted in installations ranging from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to Ft. Lewis, Washington, across the Pacific to South Korea, and Central Asia as a platoon leader in Kandahar, Afghanistan overseeing all aircraft and artillery surrounding that area. Reflecting for this talk Joe added, “It was trying at times, but . . . I am proud of my service and it added a value and perspective to my life . . . it has opened doors that are unbelievable.”

Second year West Point Cadet, Colt Sterk described his heartfelt desire to be part of something he termed, “Larger than myself.” Cadet Sterk, EHS class of 2013 explained, “When I was 14 I was given the honor of presenting a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, (in Arlington Cemetery). The nameless soldier in that tomb willingly lay down his life for me, a stranger. I felt a debt of gratitude. Since then I’ve always felt I was called to serve. A senior cadet told me when I was a freshman, ‘Colt in everything you do leave a footprint.’ By that he meant make an impact even if it’s only a little bit. Is it hard? Absolutely. But I know it’s where I’m meant to be.” Colton wants you to know that he visited Israel last summer for ten days studying the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and the implications in that region for the United States, and for the US Army. This semester Colt is attending the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado on cadet exchange—jumping out of airplanes, and on gliding tactics. He just earned his jump wings after completing the requisite five jumps.

Colby Hyde, EHS Class, 2010 shared a different response. He said, “We are fortunate in this country that military service is not an obligation. We are unfortunate, however, in that we do not often appreciate the sacrifice of those who volunteer on our behalf. Eventually I realized that I didn’t want to be comfortable. Comfort leads to boredom and ignorance, I thought, and life is too short to accept either of those. When someone suggested applying to West Point, I could not resist. I applied, was accepted, and have never left. My life now is not comfortable by any means, and I know the hardships are yet to come. That said, I am more satisfied with my life than I ever was before. I have taken part in New York City memorials for fallen 9/11 responders, and traveled with active duty units to the deserts of Death Valley to help them prepare for combat in Afghanistan. I have traveled across Southern China, can speak, read, and write Mandarin Chinese.

I am thankful for everyone who has served me along the way, from my parents to my teachers, and I only hope I can return the favor in the years to come.” At the end of his letter, Colby added, “I have not done anything for our country yet, but I promise I will. Cadet Colby Hyde graduates from the Military Academy at West Point in 2016.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Now I am not here to tell anyone to enlist in military service. Truly, the life of a soldier, marine, or sailor isn’t suited for everybody. At this point in your life you should be dreaming about double diamond ski runs, video games, and Harry Potter marathons with your best friends. And also, to be frank with you, that depth of courage and commitment to duty blooms in the hearts of only an extraordinary few.

What I do want you to reflect upon when you exit this auditorium is that Captain Greg Benjamin, Captain Joey Peterson, Second year Cadet, Colton Sterk, and third year Cadet, Colby Hyde, and many, many other Eagle High School alum have solemnly sworn to protect you. And consider as well, that this oath assures these few will run toward the sound of danger–for us—just as Master Sergeant Josh Wheeler of Oklahoma.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight, a memoir in two volumes.

Beware Of Darkness

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Vote, but don’t vote in fear. If concern guides your trip to the polls, clarify those fears.

While one party points to desperate and dispossessed people as threatening our country, recognize this distraction is providing cover for deeper, more substantive threats.

At this writing thirty-five people have been indicted for conspiring to hack the 2016 Presidential election. This is not theory, it is fact. Of those thirty-five, four convicted conspirators have  “flipped” and are cooperating with Federal Prosecutors to shorten their sentences in this scandal. George Papadopolous, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and others are awaiting their fate while they each divulge all they know about Russian meddling and their aid in that subversion.

Russia, under the direction of former KGB operative Vladimir Putin, powerful ‘oligarchs’ have organized electronic sabotage to interfere and undermine the integrity of the United States of America. Never forget that. It’s treason: providing aid and comfort to our enemies.

To silence his own critics, Putin has dispatched hit squads of assassins, at home in Russia, and abroad, using military grade nerves agents, thallium, and firearms to silence opponents. Though Putin has denied authorizing any such thing, as he did in Russian election meddling, our president says he believes him. That is a serious concern.

Friendship has extended from this White House to other totalitarian regimes similar to Putin’s. Kim Jong Un, the North Korean butcher of his own family members, and starving people, Rodrigo Deterte of the Philippines, and Erdogan of Turkey who is demanding the US release a Turkish journalist critical of the autocrat. As I write, the president still wants to do business with the Saudi Prince, MBS, despite the grisly murder of a Washington Post journalist by his order. That is a concern.

Fear is a powerful and toxic motivation to rush the polls on Election Day. However, we must all show caution in what we fear. Do we look where this administration points, or do we ignore the calculated chaos and figure out the real threat to our nation?

“Beware of Darkness” from George Harrison’s song of the same name.

Everybody’s Dad

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September, 1974.

When my dad said we were getting up at 5am, he wasn’t kidding. His morning schedule demanded we jump out of bed and climb into the truck, the back flanked with high wood racks. Two or three chainsaws were stored in the truck bed, along with cans of gasoline, rusty chains, a yard stick, chalk, and a cooler. This equipment was secured under a green canvas tarp that effused a pine scent from previous visits to the woods. 

Dad took the wheel in his 1968 white Chevy pickup, my friend, Mary sat in the passenger seat. I was wedged in the middle, straddling the stick shift, trying to sip coffee as we made our way out of town. The morning was chilly and new, the traffic quite light. Getting up that early on a Saturday rendered us among the few who had places to go. 

Eventually clearing out the cobwebs of sleep from my brain, the morning grew electric. We were motoring to the woods north of Spokane, to some secret locale my father had discovered the previous spring. He had a constant eye for suitable timber, especially if the trees were already down and dry, insuring a superior burn. After an hour or so, Dad turns off on a mountain road, bumping along deep into the timber. The terrain is steep, and he assures us we’re close to his remembered spot. The coffee is long gone, and we need to stop soon and wander into the trees for relief.

The truck rumbles to a halt on a lone logging trace. We’re out of the cab stretching our legs breathing in the morning warmth. My dad has already dropped the tailgate and is tending to the gas and oil in his Stihl chainsaw. We help haul out the rest of the equipment, and donning leather gloves follow him to the downed trees, lying right where he scouted them, above the road. I go first, chalking the cut-length with the yard stick, measuring out the entire tree. His chainsaw roars to life and my dad follows me, slicing tree rounds to fit the wood stove. Mary is rolling the sections to the flat, and righting each round for further splitting with an axe.

The day has grown quite hot. We toss our flannel shirts into the cab, drink some water from a canteen, and go back to it.

By 11:00am the trees are no more. Where they had rested for a season, only skiffs of sawdust remain, the wood secured onto the truck. It’s now that Dad opens the cooler and we dine on bologna sandwiches and warm Shasta cola. Somehow the white bread tastes surprisingly good, though only lunchmeat and butter. We had worked up powerful appetites. 

My father is relaxed now that the job is complete, and the truck loaded with over a cord of firewood. We roost on the tailgate, chitchat and laugh, sweaty and smelling of pinesap. 

That he loves the woods is clear by his smile and satisfaction. And there we socialized, two teenaged girls and our genial guide resting our backs against neatly stacked rows of wood.

July, 2018

My father is in the hospital. The ravages of Parkinson’s Disease, chronic blood clots and advanced age has faded his once vibrant presence. We don’t know how much time he has left, as he grows weaker by the hour. And perhaps this isn’t the best way to inform friends and acquaintances of his failing condition. Still, we can choose to remember him, as I have, during his halcyon days when he was everybody’s dad.