Army of the Free

243 Years. That a pretty good chunk of history. Especially if you’ve spent it on point, dying for what you believe, like these guys.

243 years ago (yesterday) a little group of men formed an institution, it was called the Continental Army, at the time 243 years ago today, it would find it’s first great commander, a guy by the name of George Washington, as it learned about being an army, while in the field against the greatest empire in the world. But in a year the body it answered to decided we really were going to be a country when Thomas Jefferson told the world all about it. Eventually they ended up in winter quarters at a place in Pennsylvania called Valley Forge, and while they were there they learned quite a lot about being an army,

 

And so one fine day, the band played “The World Turned Upside Down”

And soon the old Confederation would be transformed into a real government, with a document that begins “We, the People”, and so, over time, the youngest country in the world would come to have the oldest continuous government in the world.

And over time the battle streamers would accumulate, Fallen Timbers, Tippecanoe, Lundy’s Lane and New Orleans, Vera Cruz and Mexico City. But then that army split, like the country it serves, and fought a war with itself. And being the army of the country that prides itself on being the most modern, perhaps it is fitting that it was the very first modern war, as well, but there were echoes of where we had been, and who we were.

And so, we spent 600,000 men to learn about modern war but eventually

But we were never the same again either, and we picked up some new music as well

But eventually as time passed by the Europeans decided they should try out this new style of war. It worked even worse for them so eventually we went and helped our friends out

And again a few years later

Always different, but always the same

And always expensive as well.

Being an American is often about change but, we have that luxury because we have the unchanging basics, Here’s General of the Army Douglas MacArthur

Happy Birthday, Army

This We’ll Defend

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He is Risen

That’s the importance of the day. Jesus the Christ is risen from the dead.

Let’s speak a bit about the history. You may know that Easter is an Anglophone term for what nearly everybody else calls some form of Pasch. There’s a myth about that, which The Clerk of Oxford does a fine job of debunking.

How was Easter celebrated in Anglo-Saxon England? There’s a popular answer to that question, which goes like this: ‘the Anglo-Saxons worshipped a goddess called Eostre, who was associated with spring and fertility, and whose symbols were eggs and hares. Around this time of year they had a festival in her honour, which the Christians came over and stole to use for their own feast, and that’s why we now have Easter’.

Yeah, not so much, Eostre was mentioned in two sentences by St Bede, the rest is mostly 19th-century fabrication.

The women and the angel at the tomb, from the Benedictional of St Æthelwold
(BL Additional 49598, f. 51v)

The reenactment of this scene – the women and the angel at the empty tomb – forms one of the best-known elements of the early medieval Easter liturgy, famous because it is often said to be one of the oldest examples of liturgical drama. To quote from Regularis Concordia, as translated in this excellent blogpost at For the Wynn:

When the third reading [of Nocturns] is being read, let four brothers clothe themselves, one of whom, clothed in white and as if about to do something else, should go in and secretly be at the burial place, with his hand holding a palm, and let him sit quietly.  And while the third responsory is being sung, let the remaining three follow: all clothed with cloaks, carrying censers with incense in their hands, and with footsteps in the likeness of someone seeking something, let them come before the burial place. And let these things be done in imitation of the angel sitting on the tomb and of the women coming with spices, so that they might anoint the body of Jesus.

And when the one remaining has seen the three, wandering and seeking something, approach him, let him begin, with a moderate voice, to sing sweetly: ‘Whom are you seeking?’ When this has been sung to the end, let the three respond with one voice: ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. To whom he should say: ‘He is not here.  He has risen, as he said before.  Go, announce it, because he has risen from the dead.’ With this command, let those three turn around to the choir, saying, “Alleluia, the Lord has risen.’ When this has been said, let the one sitting turned back, as if calling them back, say this antiphon: ‘Come and see the place’.

Saying these things, let him rise and lift up the veil and show them the place devoid of the cross, but with the linens placed there which with the cross had been wrapped. When they have seen this, let them set down the censers which they were carrying in the same tomb, and let them take the linen and spread it out in front of the clergy, and, as if showing that the Lord has risen and is not wrapped in it, let them sing this antiphon, ‘The Lord has risen from the tomb’, and let them lay the linen upon the altar.

This is a dramatic replaying of the crucial moment in the Easter story, bringing it to life through the voices and bodies of the monks. Although presumably the primary audience for this liturgical play was the monastic community itself, it may also have been witnessed by lay people. That appears to be the implication of a miracle-story told by Eadmer, describing something which he saw take place as the ritual was being performed in Canterbury Cathedral in c.1066:

There is quite a lot more at her post which is linked above and recommended highly.

We have often spoken about Jesus the leader, and his unflinching dedication to the death to his mission. On Easter, this mission is revealed. It finally becomes obvious that His mission (at this time, anyway) is not of the Earth and its princelings. It is instead a Kingdom of souls.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,

that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

And so we come to the crux of the matter. The triumph over original sin and death itself. For if you believe in the Christ and his message you will have eternal life. This is what sets Christianity apart, the doctrine of grace. For if you truly repent of your sins, and attempt to live properly, you will be saved. Not by your works, especially not by your wars and killing on behalf of your faith, valid and just though they may be,  but by your faith and your faith alone. For you serve the King of Kings.

And as we know, the Christ is still leading the mission to save the souls of all God‘s children. It is up to us to follow the greatest leader in history or not as we choose. We would do well to remember that our God is a fearsome God but, he is also a just God. We shall be judged entirely on our merits as earthly things fall away from us. But our God is also a merciful God. So be of good cheer for the Father never burdens his people with burdens they cannot, with his help, bear.

As we celebrate the first sunrise after the defeat of darkness, Hail the King Triumphant for this is the day of His victory.

 

He is Risen indeed!

And hath appeared unto Simon!

Even Simon, the coward disciple who denied him thrice

“Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon!”

to Simon Peter the favored Apostle, on whom the Church is built

Jess’ companion article will be along at Noon for your enjoyment.

13 Days of Glory

Well, I did it again, yesterday was the 182d anniversary of a seminal event in Texian, no make that American history, the fall of the Alamo. Which cannot be mentioned without this…

Brave men holding the line, until death. It’s a recurring story in our history. But let’s just enjoy the music and think about those men.

.

That Mexican Army that was delayed at the Alamo got itself surprised at San Jacinto with a bit of help from an unlikely source.

Yeah, I know that this is the cleaned up Mitch Miller version but, I suspect we all know the story, and I like this one. Something about those Texas girls, isn’t there?

Then came the big war, and over Sam Houston’s objections, Texas cast its lot with the South.

Those of us that keep up with history will notice something in that song, in the English speaking world revolutions are fought to restore rights that government has taken away. It’s a tradition that reaches back, at least, 800 years to Magna Charta, and it still lives.

Back in 1898 in that “Splendid Little War” with Spain, well there were a lot of cowboy boots that went up San Juan Hill, with those Yalies.

And you know, it just keeps going on, there were a fair number of those boots flying in those Mustangs and Fortresses, back in the Forties as well. To the point that one officer in the Eighth US Army Air Force provoked a protest from the Ambassador from Ireland when he commented that the Allies would have lost if it weren’t for Ireland and Texas. But he may have been right, although he actually meant the Irish-Americans.

But you kind of have to feel for the Mexican Army, they’ve always done their best, and twice they’ve won engagements fought to the last man but both times the glory has gone to the losers. The first was the Alamo, and the second made this unit famous.

Who is, of course, no one but the French Foreign Legion. Sort of sad though, when your best and most famous military unit is made up of every nationality on earth, except the one whose flag it fights under.

3rd Sunday in Advent

Tomorrow is the third Sunday in Advent, and we have been so wrapped up in the world that we have not managed to speak of it. Well, we are hardly alone, although that is no excuse, nor do I believe in them. More to the point, neither does God. So it is time to step back and think about the wonder of what will transpire in just over a week.

For those of us whose churches use the Revised Common Lectionary (most liturgical churches, including Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and others) this is the first reading tomorrow:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

61:8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

61:9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

For those of us who are Christian and feel beleaguered or are persecuted in the world at present that is a most heartening reading isn’t it? The Lord’s will be done, we always know that, and we pray for it, but sometimes it is hard to remember in the press of events. But our God is a God of justice.

But I’m no preacher, but I really like music, so let’s listen to some of the great Advent hymns.

This is Veni, Veni Immanuel, and it is traceable all the way back to the eighth century, and is still very current to our needs. This version seems to me to suit its message so well, that it has become my favorite.

This is attributed to Ambrose of Milan. the German version to Martin Luther and translated by William M. Reynolds.

From the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal

The music is by Rowland H. Prichard and the lyrics are by Charles Wesley.

And just because

The Psalm tomorrow will be this:

Psalm 126King James Version (KJV)

126 When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.

The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.

Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south.

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him

Have a good weekend.

Keep the Radio On

The other day in comments, Unit and I got to talking a bit about listening to the radio. I commented then that often I have the BBC local station in Norfolk on. I use an internet radio almost exclusively anymore, not least because I’m not all that fond of contemporary country music, which is about all that I can get here.

If I spent more time in the truck, I would likely bite the bullet and get me a Sirius radio, it’s an impressive service, but my internet one is just fine for here, and yes, I’ve been known to record a few hours of something to playback when I’m travelling. What can I say, I’m a cheap old curmudgeon.

It’s hard to describe the appeal of the BBC’s local stations because unless you are like me, you don’t really remember what local radio was like in the US. For quite a while now, it has mostly been the same wherever you go, delivered by satellite to the stations. That’s even true for AM talk radio. In a way, it’s good, I can listen to Rush at the same time that you do, wherever you are, but there’s little that’s personal about it.

Interestingly, the BBC local stations started coming on air 50 years ago, to counteract the pirate stations that were operating offshore. Some of these also ran shortwave service, and I can remember listening to Radio Caroline myself when I was a kid after it got dark and the propagation picked up. Them and the World Service, Radio Moscow, Radio Vatican, and for some reason Radio Quito. That’s how my interest in long-distance radio got started.

The other day The Spectator ran an article on the local stations that I found quite interesting. Here’s a bit.

It’s 50 years since the first local radio stations were launched by the BBC in yet another instance of the corporation working hard to stay ahead of the game, on this occasion responding to the challenge of the pirate stations, whose audiences were local and known to be very loyal. Radio Leicester was the first to go on air on 8 November 1967, launched by a very plummy-voiced postmaster-general as ‘the first hometown radio station in Britain’. (The BBC executive behind the idea, Frank Gillard, had spent time in America and been impressed by local radio there, wishing to replicate its homespun feel.) Others followed quickly, dependent on whether the local council was happy to provide part-funding (they are now solely funded by the BBC). Known for their cheesy jingles (Radio Merseyside boasted that their call-sign was composed by Gerry Marsden, of the Pacemakers), the BBC’s local stations were often treated like a poor relation of grand old 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Underfunded, understaffed, relegated to the back pages of Radio Times,they were designed for listeners like ‘Dave and Sue’ (the fictional target audience created by the Beeb’s marketing department), who were in their fifties, not interested in politics or piano concertos, shopped at Asda, wore ‘casual clothes’, and wanted to be cheered up and made to laugh by what they listened to. […]

That is a formula that still works, at least for me, and why listening to the radio has become in America, mostly something one does in the car, I think.

There is something very different about the conversation local stations have with their audiences. As Vanessa Feltz of Radio London explained on the World At One last Wednesday, it is ‘very, very intimate. You can be talking about specific houses, specific window boxes’; it’s broadcasting in the raw. Jack Thompson, one of the first presenters on Radio Sheffield, recalled how instead of phoning in, callers would turn up at the station and be put behind the mike, talking directly to other listeners. Local stations can react more quickly, the Radio Manchester presenter Allan Beswick staying on air until six in the morning after the Manchester Arena attack earlier this year.

That continuity and flexibility creates a bond with the listener that could be said to be ‘the culture of encounter’ interrogated by Douglas Alexander, the former Labour MP and cabinet minister, in his programme for Radio 4 on Tuesday morning. He wonders why so many of us now have the sense that we’re living among strangers, incredulous that anyone can have voted to leave the EU, or on the other hand to remain. […]

Yep, he’s right, I think. Several of the announcers have become welcome voices in my ears, one, whose name I shamefully have forgotten, got his start on Radio Caroline, and is as good as he was there, Some are just fun to listen to, where else will you find someone addressed as Thunderfairy, and some just ooze personality, like Georgey Spanswick, whose laugh is so infectious that I think she is now on all the local stations in England and the Channel Islands. Combine that with old music, both top 40 and country, and even the weekly gardening show, and it’s a calm and winning combination. Even Postman Pat shows up, and if that registers with you, you spend, like me, entirely too much time with Brits.

Shared activities bridge the difference, like the project in Peckham that brings young professionals together with older people, the young teaching techie skills, the older people telling stories, giving advice, Just like local radio.

And just like radio used to be here,

So often we cousins steal the absolute worst in each other’s culture, but here the Brits managed to steal something that was really good in America, and to get it right not long before we threw it away. Good on you, BBC. You do lots of stuff on on your big national stations radio, and TV, that is deplorable, but your local stuff is quite wonderful.

It’s a formula that worked so well that for a time in the mid 60s the best music came either from London – or Chicago. It still works for me, even if I have to listen to a station in Norwich, England. And every once in a while, someone gets on the station, that actually speaks with the Norfolk accent, if you hear it, you won’t forget it, although you may not understand a word they say.

But you know, I was never the complete rocker, for years my clock radio lulled me to sleep, set on WGN, listening to Jack Eigen talking to whatever show biz folks happened to be in Chicago that day. Nothing important, just chatting with them, maybe spinning a record of two, or maybe not. Things were simpler then, maybe because we simply didn’t hear all the noise we do these days.

And this week, one of my favorite Gingers celebrated her 85th birthday, so we’d best remember her, as well.

The Immortal Memory

During the negotiations with France when we were trying to buy New Orléans President Jefferson wrote an open letter regarding the return of Louisiana to France from Spain, where he commented that “on that day we shall have to marry ourselves to the British fleet and people”, meaning if France took control of Louisiana it would mean war between France and the United States, and later commented “that from that day forward France shall end at her low water mark” Of course we know that France sold Louisiana to the US so it ended well.

But, this is the day that France (and Spain) would forever lose control of the sea to Great Britain.

Today is the anniversary of a battle to rank with Salamis, with Waterloo, and with Yorktown. For today the English-speaking peoples with our concepts of individual liberty and rights took control of the sea.

That battle is Trafalgar. The battle was fought off of the south-west coast of Spain between the British Squadron with 27 Ships-of-the-Line and the combined French and Spanish fleets with 33.

The Franco-Spanish fleet was under orders to sail for Brest to help accomplish the invasion of England, which was, by far, Napoleons most steadfast enemy.

Remember these were sailing ships, completely dependent on the wind. and at Trafalgar there was very little. The French and especially the Spanish were short-handed and had to fill their ship’s companies with soldiers. The British on the other hand had blockaded the coast for years and had been drilled mercilessly. Their commander, himself, had not been off the flagship for more than two years.

Alfred Thayer Mahan in his classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History puts it this way: “Those distant, storm-tossed ships, never seen by the Grande Armee, were all that stood between it and world domination.

And so today, in 1805, the battle was joined. The British had the weather gage, and a very unusual plan. Because of the light wind (and against standing orders) they would divide their battle line in two, with each squadron approaching the Franco-Spanish line at an acute angle. With a well-trained enemy, this would have been nearly suicidal but, under these conditions it allowed the British to engage the entire fleet and win the battle in a single day.

The British were under the command of a man who had his introduction to naval war in the American Revolution, he fought in several minor battles off Toulon, was integral in the capture of Corsica, was captain of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. At the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he lost his right arm, he won a decisive victory over the French at The Battle of the Nile and against the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen.

At Trafalgar the British fleet went into battle with this signal flying from the flagship:

That flagship is, of course, the HMS Victory, which is now the oldest naval ship in regular commission in the world.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory , HM Naval Base, Portsmouth

The Admiral in command was Horatio, Lord Nelson.

Or to give him his full name:

Admiral Lord Nelson

The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim

as it is inscribed on his coffin in St. Paul’s Cathedral, for he was killed by a French marine during the battle.

The first tribute to Nelson was fittingly offered at sea by sailors of Vice-Admiral Dmitry Senyavin’s passing Russian squadron, which saluted on learning of the death.

It is also interesting Nelson being Vice Admiral of the White is the reason that the Royal Navy from that day flies the White Ensign, before it flew all three depending on the fleet commander’s rank. The black hatband on British, American, and Russian naval enlisted caps all memorialize Nelson as well.

King George III, upon receiving the news, is reported to have said, in tears, “We have lost more than we have won”.

And the Times reported:

We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive Victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased.

Great Britain would hold uncontested command of the sea, even joining World War I partly to prevent Germany from overtaking the Royal Navy until, in 1921, she agreed to parity with the United States at the Washington Naval Conference. And it should be noted, that even then, it was not willingly, Britain was exhausted and bankrupt from the Great War, and probably recognized that the US would use her sea power much as Britain had, which has proved to be the case. It is also from this date that the United Kingdom began to recede from the first rank of great powers, although her legacy has been for the most part upheld by the US and the Commonwealth.

That’s fine, I hear you say, what’s that got to do with me, especially as an American, these 212 years later? Several things which we will talk about a bit here.

  1. The Atlantic Slave Trade ended because the British decided that it should and the Americans agreed. This led to the establishment of patrols by both navies off the west coast of Africa, effectively ending the trade. Without this, and without the Abolitionist sentiment in the United Kingdom, it is almost inconceivable that slavery would have ended in the western world.
  2. The South and Central American Republics remain independent (and sometimes free) countries. After the Napoleonic wars Metternich’s Council of Vienna considered all of continental Europe helping Spain recover her American colonies, until they found out that they would have to go through the Royal Navy. Yes, we proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 after Prime Minister George Canning proposed a joint statement, the story is that Secretary of State John Q. Adams said that would make us look like a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war. Therefore, we proclaimed it unilaterally. But it was enforced almost exclusively until the Spanish-American War by the Royal Navy because it was to the advantage of British mercantile interests. Britain thereby performed the same service for the New World that the US would for Europe in the last half of the Twentieth Century.
  3. The growth and development of America, if a continental power had regained control of Mexico there is a very good chance that it would have expanded into the heartland of America, certainly Texas and entirely possibly all or most of the Louisiana Purchase.

And so we, as Americans, even as the British, should remain grateful for those ‘distant storm-tossed ships’ of the Royal Navy, led by one of the great commanders of history.

And so, I give you the toast that will be drunk tonight in the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth navies, and at least in some places in the United States Navy and even in other navies and places. It is the one traditionally naval toast that is drunk in total silence:

The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him”

The traditional music to follow the toast is: Rule Britannia.

And so today as the Queen Elizabeth, the first of the CVFs prepares to join the fleet, we again see the Royal Navy prepare to take on all the tasks that the Anglo-Saxons have performed for the world’s benefit since the Armada, itself.

In a remarkable coincidence, the other remaining warship of the period USS Constitution was christened on this day in 1797 at the Boston Navy Yard. While HMS Victory is the oldest ship in commission, USS Constitution (nicknamed “Old Ironsides”) is the oldest warship still afloat and able to sail on its own. Victory is in permanent drydock.

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