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Today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the commencement of the Allied invasion of continental Europe. Within a year, Hitler was dead and the Nazi reign of terror over.
President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 speech at Normandy marked the 40th anniversary of the invasion. Reagan used the opportunity not only to honor the allied soldiers who fought their way ashore, but also to strengthen NATO’s resolve in the face of threatened Soviet nuclear missile deployments to Eastern Europe. I introduced this speech to my high school rhetoric and debate students as one of the great presidential speeches of the 20th century.
My father, George Thomas Wingard, Jr., fought in Europe later in the war. He was at the Battle of the Bulge, which began on December 16, 1944, his 21st birthday. My cousin, George King, son of Clinton and Magnolia Wingard King, was killed during the D-Day invasion. Their courage and the courage of all America’s military forces should be remembered.
Indomitable physical courage, moral strength, and Christian conviction marked the life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Yesterday Lynne and I visited her gravesite at Ruleville in the Mississippi Delta.
Mrs. Hamer came to national prominence when she addressed the 1964 Democratic National Convention Credentials Committee. She described the imprisonment and brutal beating she endured during the 1963 summer voter registration drive. Watch a brief historical introduction and then listen to her eight minute speech.
The youngest of twenty children, her family were sharecroppers. Her attempt to register to vote in 1962 led to the firing of her and her husband from the plantation where she had worked for eighteen years.
Her gravesite is located in the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden. A few hundred yards to the west is the Fannie Lou Hamer Museum. Visitors should leave at least an hour to tour the exhibits.
She said, “I’m never sure when I leave home whether I’ll make it back or not . . . but if I fall, I fall five feet and four inches forward and I’m not backing off it!” Her plaintive epitaph reads: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Charles March’s God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights includes a brief biography of Fannie Lou Hamer. He observes that “the church had sustained her wearied spirit when all other institutions had served contrary purposes” (13).
Two and one half hours northwest of Jackson, I encourage RTS students to visit the Garden and Museum.
Critical to leadership is knowing the difference between determination and obstinacy. Often no more than a razor’s edge separates the two. Richard Brookhiser explains:
“A weakness is the absence of a good quality; a flaw is the presence of a bad one. Everyone has flaws, and no one is ever rid of them all. . . . “[T]here are projects, or strategies, that should not be carried through, because they are mistaken or hopeless. Obstinacy is persisting beyond all reason. . . .
“Obstinacy is the brother of determination. There is no easy way to tell them apart; in the heat of the moment, they can look and feel the same. But when the moment lengthens and lengthens, it becomes time to try some other way; the obstinate leader won’t. Recognizing when it is time to let go takes experience, wisdom, and instinct. Some leaders are slow to see it; others see it too soon.”
– Richard Brookhiser, George Washington on Leadership, pp. 213 and 217.
A Bowdoin College professor, Chamberlain possessed no formal military experience when he enlisted after the outbreak of the Civil War. However, he proved himself a quick study in the art of leadership, rapidly rising to the rank of colonel of the 20th Maine.
The young leader established himself an able field commander. His clear thinking, personal courage, and command presence under fire were critical in repulsing the Alabama 15th’s attempt to take Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. Had the Confederates succeeded, leaving the Union left flank exposed, the withdrawal of the northern army from Gettysburg would have been all but certain.
A year later, on June 18, 1864, Chamberlain suffered a severe abdominal wound at Petersburg while leading a charge that he had strongly urged General Grant to forgo. The primitive state of medical care left him with almost no hope of recovery. The next day, believing his death imminent and in excruciating pain, he penned this beautiful letter to his wife:
“My darling wife I am lying mortally wounded the doctors think, but my mind & heart are at peace. Jesus Christ is my al-sufficient savior. I go to him. God bless & keep & comfort you, precious one. You have been a precious wife to me. To know & love you makes life & death beautiful. Cherish the darlings & give my love to all the dear ones. Do not grieve too much for me. We shall all soon meet. Live for the children. Give my dearest love to Father, Mother & Sallie & John. Oh how happy to feel yourself forgiven. God bless you evermore precious precious one. Ever yours, Lawrence.”
The wounds Chamberlain suffered at Petersburg led directly to his death – 49 years later on February 24, 1914! In the meantime, he continued to teach, eventually becoming president of Bowdoin College and serving a four-term governor of Maine. He was believed to be the last Civil War veteran to die of wounds received during the conflict.
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, arguably the greatest leader of the 20th century. This brief video contains footage of his state funeral.
In yesterday’s National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson argues that “the United States has never owed more to a foreign citizen than to Winston Churchill, a monumental presence 50 years after his death.”
Until October, when I had to curtail my activities, I enjoyed listening to history lectures on my longer runs. Below are some of my favorites.
Series from The Teaching Company:
- The Conservative Tradition, Patrick Allitt
- Famous Greeks, Rufus Fears
- Famous Romans, Rufus Fears
- Robert E. Lee and His High Command, Gary Gallagher
- The American Mind, Allen Guelzo
Donald Kagan’s “Ancient Greek History” lectures are available for free through Open Yale Courses. Both audio and video are available. In one lecture he uses students to demonstrate the hoplite phalanx. The video is hilarious.
I remain an enthusiastic subscriber to Ken Myers’ Mars Hill Audio Journal, which “is committed to assisting Christians who desire to move from thoughtless consumption of contemporary culture to a vantage point of thoughtful engagement. “
The excerpt below comes from a 1774 speech by Edmund Burke after his election to represent Bristol in Parliament. He argues that a representative, as he makes laws in a deliberative assembly, is not bound to vote the mandates of those who elected him. Instead, he must exercise his mature judgment, which may lead him to vote contrary to the wishes of his constituency. If he is unable to persuade his constituency of the merits of his action, they may remove him. Accepting the risk of electoral defeat, the representative must lead.
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Observes David Broomwich:
Burke’s strictures here contain the germ of a theory of representation that would later be invested with much authority by the American authors of the Federalist Papers. The theory holds that a legislator may gain, from experience in making laws, a knowledge hardly available to those who elect him. The people remain the source of ultimate power since they can turn a representative out of office. Meanwhile the representative is to follow the public good and bring to bear his understanding of the pragmatic means to attain that good. Answerable to the suffrage of opinion, he should be its guide and to its follower.
– Edmund Burke, “Mr. Burke’s Speech to the Electors of Bristol” in On Empire, Liberty, and Reform: Speeches and Letters, ed. by David Broomwich (Yale University Press, 2000), 50-57.