My Blog

Old Wars (and Harold Bosley) Remembered

Les Dunbar, contributor to Where We Stand (NewSouth Books 2004) and the forthcoming sequel, American Crisis, Southern Solutions: Where We Stand II (February 2008), sends this message occasioned by a recent trip:

Peggy and I went last week on an Elderhostel to Baltimore for a wonderful three days of Mozart and other music, played beautifully by pianists at the Peabody Institute. I lived my late teens in Baltimore, my parents perforce uprooted from West Virginia’s Greenbrier Valley. So I have a store of memories of the city, and Peggy has hers. Among mine is the handsome square where the Peabody is located, including its statue to Maryland’s son, one time Chief Justice Roger Taney, who like a number of southern political figures — Senator Fulbright, for one example — had commendable records on issues other than race, on which they were abominable.

A prominent feature of the square is the large Mt. Vernon Methodist Church. I remember going to it several times in 1940, maybe in 1939, too. I did so in order to hear the preacher, Harold Bosley. He was a strong voice for non-involvement in the looming war in Europe. I liked his message. (I believe he later became Dean of Divinity at Duke University.) We have, mostly, forgotten how strong was the oppostion to American involvement at the time. Who now recalls that the Draft passed by only one vote in the House? The intercollegiate debate topic in 1940 was phrased something lilke this: Resolved, that the U.S. should extend economic assistance to England and its allies. I never heard an affirmative team that did not make its case, that economic aid would not lead to military involvement, or a negative team that did not insist it would. A year later that was all changed (and so was my opinion).

I am reminded, too, of the first war against Iraq, now generally regarded as a “good, at least necessary” war, and approval ratings for its leaders are high. But opposition to it at the time was fierce. Who now remembers that Senator Sam Nunn was a leader of it? In Durham, N.C. one night, we had an almost unbelievable thousands — some reports were 5,000 — out for a candle-lit demonstration in opposition.

We embrace our wars, typically, and dis-remember their dissenters. I read already in the newspapers discussion of the “next” war; is war to be always our destiny?

Has warring become the essential American way of life? Especially as it has become so distant from most of our daily lives? And when as today in Iraq we can hire its warriors, as old monarchs did? What have we become?