Monday, September 26, 2016

The Xavier Stories - A Roundup

In anticipation of the finale of the series on my high school I have decided to organize the Xavier High School material up till this point.  Not all of it is part of the series but it must all fit together.  My hope is that my son William will actually become THE great American novelist.  In that event  study of my work will become a sub-discipline of William Reilly studies and I want to make things convenient for future scholars.  So here is the Xavier corpus up till now.

How I Accidentally Impersonated A Veteran - This is a story about a period in my mid-twenties and a very inspiring fellow that I met.  The Xavier piece is that the arcane knowledge I picked up in high school made me seem like an actual veteran.

Memorial Day Reading - Donald Cook - Xavier Graduate With Greatest Military Distinction - Pretty self-explanatory.  An odd side note is that cadet rank is a not necessarily a sign of future military merit.

Review Of "Ways And Means For Managing Up" By F Willam Smullen - "Bill" Smullen was the Senior Army Instructor at Xavier during our junior and senior year.  Then Major Smullen, if not the best teacher at Xavier, no small feat, was definitely a contender.

How Real Is Junior ROTC? View Of A Son Of Xavier Who Kept Marching On To Cold War Victory - Guest post from Scott O'Connell.  Scott had an Army career in both tanks and counter-intelligence. I found his comments on our cadet experience surprising.

The Series - 1970 - The Xavier Class Lamented By Antonin Scalia

Part I - Becoming Part Of The Regiment - It is 1966 when I start marching and opposition to the Vietnam War is not yet in the mainstream.

Part II - Time For Sergeants - I focus on the members of the Military Science Department other than the SAI, who actually were above average teachers including a story about somebody literally shooting himself in the foot.

Part III - The Final Revenge Of Corporal Burns  - My eternal disappointment at never having a Sam Browne and saber.

Part IV - No Diamonds On Our Shoulders - My reference group proves themselves marvels of military mediocrity.

Part V - We Didn't Start The Fire -  A brief piece by classmate David Posteraro showing how anti-war sentiment was beginning to leak into the school.

Interlude - Being Gay In The Sixties In Antonin Scalia's High School -  A longer piece by Dave Posteraro with a fairly self explanatory title.

Part VI - Left Face - 1968 - Need I say more?

 Part VII - The Epilogue Class (1971) Gathers - John Frank, whose upcoming play The Institute has me quite excited relates about his 45th reunion, which was a year after mine.  Go figure.

Interlude - Sons Of Xavier Keep Dancing - Pure personal memoir.

Daniel Berrigan And Those In The Silent Generation That Did Not Shut Up -  Tangential to the Xavier stuff, but somehow related.

Science Fiction Author Reflects On His Xavier Days - My classmate John Sundman who was disappointed with himself for graduating as a corporal having set his sights on private weighs in.

The Xavier Regiment Back To The Future - A bit of peek at John Frank's upcoming play and an update on the Regiment today.

Eight Is Enough?

I think the series needs one more piece and for that I would like to have more classmates who can tell me about PAX.  Other guest posts would also be greatly welcome,   It would give you an opportunity to reach scores of people

Peter J Reilly CPA has not developed a consistent tag line for his posts.  This failure of branding might account for low readership.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Xavier Regiment - Back To The Future

In the last couple of years I have been sporadically haunted by memories of my somewhat peculiar high school days.  Xavier High School at 30 West 16th Street in Manhattan, one of New York City's then five Jesuit High School, besides dividing its students into four years each comprising seven or eight homerooms was also organized as a Regiment as participation in Junior ROTC was a requirement for all students.

Interesting Times

 The school is just a few blocks north of Greenwich Village and I attended it 1966-1970, which were interesting times.

On the faculty were soldiers, some just back from Vietnam, and Jesuit priests and scholastics, whose friends were under observation by the FBI for anti-war activities. There were also lay teachers, probably the majority - career high school teachers and young guys who would move on to something else.

The Passing Of A Supreme Court Justice

But that was then and this is now.  More recent events further sparked my memory.  There was the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia Class of 1953 who addressed the Regiment (now an optional activity) in 2011 and, among other things, lamented Xavier's departure from being thoroughly military.

A Reunion

There was my 45th reunion, which made quite an impression on me as we all broke into cheers and a rousing rendition of the school song as our cadet colonel was introduced, acknowledged by all attending to have been the best colonel in the history of the school.

The Boy Who Would Be Colonel Or Not

And then there was my get together with Jerry Snee Class of 1971 and founder of Squidget Inc who related to me his obsession with becoming the colonel of his class and being quite chagrined when he was named Executive Officer of the Regiment, the second highest rank attainable.

Burn Draft Records ! - No Church Parade For You

And during this project there was the passing of Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit who was on the run from the FBI while we donned our uniforms everyday,  As I and many other from my class went to New England to start college, Father Berrigan went there to start his prison term in Danbury, Ct.  Father Berrigan's funeral was live streamed from the church attached to Xavier.  I think a church parade and attendance by the Regiment in uniform would have been perfect.  With a magnet and a coil of wire the spinning of Father Berrigan in his grave could have powered Manhattan for weeks.

Not Quite Done

The finale of my memoir series has been stalled due to my having other things to do and because I am still trying to pry a little more information out of classmates. I'm still hoping to get a little more on the mysterious organization called PAX (Positive Action for Xavier) which arose among some of my classmates in 1969 or 1970, but I thought to keep interest alive I could report two contemporary matters that tie into Xavier's past.

Let's Put On A Show

The first is a play, written and directed by John Frank Class of 1971 called the "The Institute - Coming of Age During the Vietnam War"which will be done by the 2nd Act Players of Evanston IL  from October 21 - November 13.

Sorry, I just couldn't choose between the videos. So I had to show you both.  The poster for the play, designed by John's daughter is a real beauty and I have it framed and hung in the office.

The background photo is of something that will never be seen again.  It is the winter review of the 1970-1971 year, the last year that the Regiment and the school were the same.  In the subsequent year, according to Father Lux, who as Mr. Lux was my Freshman homeroom teacher, participation in the regiment dropped to about 30% of the student body when it became optional.  The picture is great as it shows most but not all of the Regiment and I just love the detail

Note the kid standing by his lonesome just a bit from the left edge.  That has to be the Sergeant Major of the Second Battalion.  The duos as you go right are Company Commanders with their guidon bearers.  The white covered hats in the middle are the X-Squad, Band and color guard,  The thing that most intrigues me are the kids in the back standing by the wall.  My guess is that they are with the Regimental Supply Corps, my people.  Our job was to show up early and stay late to load and unload a truck on loan from the Army with band instruments and drill rifles. They always had a hard time figuring out what to do with us during the event.

Sadly, I won't be able to a timely review of the play, as my schedule dictates that I will be going to the last performance.  John has let me see the script though and I am really looking forward.  The story is told through a group at their 45th reunion doing flashbacks, with the same actors moving back and forth from old guys to teenagers. It is a work of fiction allowing for the contrast between the school's heritage and the sixties protest culture to be more sharply and dramatically portrayed than happened in real life.  That is as far as I will go not wanting to create any spoilers.

They Keep Marching

The other piece of the story is that I have done a little work on is the Regiment as it is now.  I was able to talk to Master Sergeant Clifford Stein who has been part of the Xavier High School Military Science Department for about ten years.

In order to be a JROTC instructor you have to be certified and hired by a school within two years of your retirement from active military duty.  MSG Stein started his certification at the same time he put in his retirement application - about a year before actual retirement - knowing that that was what he wanted to do.  He had another post-Army job offer in human resources but turned it down and has no regrets.  He doesn't understand why all retired military folks don't want to be JROTC instructors.

The JROTC instructors are actually employees of the school subsidized by US Army Cadet Command.  Back in the day, the MS faculty was a mix of retired and active duty soldiers.

A Shift In Emphasis

There has also been a shift in emphasis in the overall tenor of the program.
Title 10 of the U.S. Code declares that "the purpose of Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps is to instill in students in United States secondary educational institutions the value of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment." 
The study of ethics, citizenship, communications, leadership, life skills and other subjects designed to prepare young men and woman to take their place in adult society, evolved as the core of the program. More recently, an improved student centered curriculum focusing on character building and civic responsibility is being presented in every JROTC classroom.
Essentially, JROTC has been demilitarized. MSG Stein is teaching things like leadership and personal finance.  When I told him about my blocks of instruction in Weapons, Squad Tactics, Platoon Tactics and Counterinsurgency, he said that that sort of thing is forbidden as is explicit recruiting.

I remember Major Smullin, probably in the Psychology of Leadership block, giving us the sales pitch for Senior ROTC.  The context was entirely difference since as young American males we had, as one of our teachers put it, a military obligation. So Major Smullin could contrast the prospect of being an enlisted man or going through OCS with senior ROTC.  And thanks to our certificates of completion, he would be signing for us we would be able to grow our hair long for our freshman year at college, since we got to forgo the first year of real ROTC having covered all that at Xavier.

Anyway, MSG Stein told me that the school is required to have 10% participation and that it has 40%.  More than half the freshmen give it a shot and most of them soldier on so to speak.  He said that some of the football player will try to convince kids it is uncool, but many see the benefits of leadership training.

At 400 or so, the program is light for even a battalion, but it is allowed to maintain designation as a Regiment out of tradition.

There is one thing that I had to ask him about which is a little amusing.  Take a look at the ribbon rack on the kid on the right in the picture below

I checked the yearbook and noted that I had had four ribbons and then looked at others and noted that I was pretty average.  Our colonel Charlie Brown had seven.

MSG Stein kind of laughed and said that he thought that it has gotten of hand.  In his 20 plus years in the real Army he earned 12 ribbons.  He said that they have some sort of camp that fifty of the kids go to each year and that it is possible to pick up five ribbons there.  He'd like to get it more under control, but has not had much luck.

More Officers

The other thing that he told me that I find beyond hilarious is that all seniors in the program are cadet officers.  Since there are not enough officer slots to go around, there is one platoon that is made up entirely of cadet officers.

This does solve a problem which I noted in one of my earlier posts.  As a Freshman at Xavier, if you had no previous connection to the school, the first seniors you encountered would either be giving you orders, maybe yelling at you or condescending to you.  Likely the first senior you encountered more or less as a fellow student would be a fellow private standing next to you in the ranks.  He would be mocking the pretentiousness of his classmates who were nominally in charge.

You are a private because all freshmen are privates.  He is a private after maybe ten or so promotion opportunities that yielded not even a single stripe.  To manage that without getting thrown out of the school required that you walk a fine line.  My friend, John Sundman, tried to manage to match his brother's achievement by graduating as a private, but somehow screwed up a couple of times and finished as a corporal.  At any rate, the seniors who interacted most closely with freshmen in a military context were those that would be the worst influence.  I really liked those guys and have a sneaking admiration for my seventeen classmates who were in the privates club.

The program is optional now so anybody who is really anti-military will drop it presumably.  Still in any group striving for excellence there have to be those who are less than excellent.  Now rather than those being the seniors put in close contact with freshmen, they are isolated in the second lieutenants platoon.  I think there might be something lost there.  Most distressing of all must be to be the platoon leader of that platoon.  All your platoon leader buddies have freshmen holding them in awe and you've got the guys who came up through the ranks with you although maybe not so much on the coming up.

Of course, maybe Xavier today does not have cynical wise-asses salted among the ranks,  Given that the school is still in New York, though, I suspect there still might be a couple.

We're With You

Anyway in a not entirely rational manner, it some how feels good that much of the school "keeps marching" into the new millennium with colors continuing to fly and guidons as high as ever, if not higher.  That's from the school song of course, which at least the reunion goers among us will break into at the drop of hat.

One thing you will note besides the fact that for the most part we don't sing very well is that the line that gets really emphasized is not about marching and victory it is "We're with you".  I'll leave it at that for now as I wait for just a bit more information from my classmates.

And I would love to hear from those who are more in touch with the school as it is now.

Peter J Reilly CPA attributes the low marks his partners gave him in executive presence with his failure to absorb lessons in bearing and appearance that he was offered at Xavier High School.  His problems with authority were developed by Franciscan nuns and cannot be attributed to Jesuits or the Army.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Learn Kindergarten Math And Stop Calling Them All Third Parties

We really have to stop saying "third party". I understand the logic of the term, but it is still wrong.  To say we have a two party system is probably a fair statement, since there are few office holders that are not either Republicans or Democrats, but when it comes to candidates, there are more.

Sunday night, I am going to see Jill Stein in Northampton. Maybe you heard of her.  She is the Green Party candidate.  My cousin thinks she hot.  I'm mad at her because she is still covering up her tax returns.

Then there is Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.  Both he and Stein are on the ballot in enough states to win.  But that's not all.

There is Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party, Chris Keniston of the Veterans Party, Zoltan Istvan of the Transhumanist Party, Clifton Roberts of the Human Party and my son's favorite Gloria Estala La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.  There are also independent candidates, but since they are not claiming a party, they are not part of this discussion.

A run down of the candidates, that oddly does not include La Riva, is titled "Third Party Presidential Candidates".

For now let's just stick with the Greens and Libertarians as alternatives to the two parties of the two party system. And lets go with our kindergarten math.  Let's start with the Democrats since they are the oldest.  That's one.  There there are the Republicans.  That's two.  I'm going with the Green Party next, because I like them better and my cousin thinks Jill Stein is hot.  That's three,  Then there are the Libertarians.  That's ??? Well by the logic of media discourse that is also three.  Where as you and I both know, having graduated from Kindergarten, that four is next.

This bothers me because it distorts our thinking and  plays into both the thinking that the two party system is inevitable and increases the isolation of those who think that there should be more than two parties.

Referring to both the Green Party and the Libertarian Party as "third parties" more of less says "We have two parties. Let's really stretch our imagination.  Maybe there could be something else.  Let's think.  Isn't there a number that comes after two?  I remember something about that from school.  Oh yeah.  Three.  So let's call any party that is not one of the two, number three, but since voting is like going to the bathroom, we really know that there can only be number one or number two."

In other words, the term "third party" ratifies the concept of the two party system.

Ironically, my other objection to the term "third party" is that it makes the two party system look worse than it really is.  That's because if you or I look at what is wrong with the two parties and come up with all the common sense things that should be changed, we think that we have come up with "THE ALTERNATIVE".  We're going to be like the Sphere who went into Flatland to explain that there is a third dimension.

When Kent Hovind and Rudy Davis get together though, they are going to come up with something they will come up with a dystopian nightmare that, were it implemented, would have us really pining for the good old Republicans and Democrats.  Just listen to Rudy talk about all the people that will be beheaded once his party takes power.  Rudy sounds a little like the Soup Nazi substituting "Death penalty" for "No soup"

The term "third party" allows each alternative party to engage in the fantasy that it is "THE ALTERNATIVE" to the two party system.  They can have difficulty realizing that there are many alternatives and that many, if not most, would, even in their view, be a lot worse.

The only defense I can think of for the way we use the term "third party" is that when you round it off, all those parties are statistically tied.  When you look at the polls in the current race, though, that is not accurate.  In all the polls, the total for Johnson and Stein is much higher than the spread between Trump and Clinton AND the spread between Johnson and Stein is much higher than the spread between Trump And Clinton.  The Quinnipiac poll is the most extreme with 13% for Johnson and 4% for Stein.  The Economist has it at 5% to 3% in favor of Johnson.  That's not a tie.

I don't know why this bugs me so much, but a habitual inaccuracy that is embedded in our political discourse cannot be a good theme.

Peter J Reilly CPA has a serious tax blog to run.

Friday, September 16, 2016

More On The National Anthem Controversy

I just did a piece inspired by reaction to Colin Kaepernick declining to stand for the National Anthem.  Although Kaepernick's stand or (unstand) is based on current issues, it has been followed on with concerns that the Anthem is inherently racist because of a reference in the third verse that might refer to men who escaped from slavery to fight for the British - the Colonial Marines.

I am really grateful to Steward Henderson for giving me a guest post on the subject.  Steward is a seasonal park historian at the Fredricksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park.  Steward does historic reenacting as a member of the 23rd Regiment United States Colored Troops. We met at the Chancellorsville Sesquicentennial  and again at the Grand Review in Washington.

Personally, I have never heard the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner sung by anyone.  I have always stood up and or saluted the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner - as well as My Country Tis of Thee and America the Beautiful.  In the organizations that I represent, I will always honor the American flag and say that this country is the greatest country on this earth.  However, I say that it is each person's right under the Constitution and the First Amendment to protest the National Anthem and the American Flag.

When I grew up in the 1950's and 60's, African Americans were overtly discriminated against and treated very unfairly in this country - in the North and the South.  The atmosphere in this country was much better in the 70's, up until about 2010.  I think that since then, with the growth of smart phones and more public cameras you have seen the treatment of some minorities deteriorate or their treatment has come into spotlight.  More minorities are aware of their rights and are more offended when they are not afforded the same protections as white Americans.  I must also say, many whites in this country are very cordial and friendly with minorities, therefore many people do not perceive that there is still a problem in the country.   In the near future this country will be more minority than white, therefore there needs to be a serious conversation about race and ethnicity. A conversation that has been partially debated over the course of this country's lifetime.

For the past 40 plus years, my circle of friends has been well integrated and I have enjoyed various successes and opportunities in my lifetime.  As a banker for over thirty-five years, I have a tremendous respect for the police, Secret Service, FBI, and security agencies.  During  my time spent in the Washington Navy Yard Chief's Club with my uncle, Master Chief ret. Alexander Steven Campbell and soldiers from all branches of the military, I gained a tremendous respect for the soldiers in our military branches.  Since I have moved to the Fredericksburg area, I have participated in programs with the law enforcement agencies here and respect them.  So, I have been treated well, but I know of others who have not been treated as I have been.  Therefore, I cannot tell them that they should act and think as I do.

I would try to put myself in their shoes or at least converse with them to find out what obstacles they have faced and how can their obstacles be overcome.  In some cases, their obstacles could be of their own making or it could have had obstacles put before them.  However, a dialogue to really address the problems of this country would be the best way to address the issues.  If the athletes and others protest the National Anthem, it does not mean that they are not good citizens or they do not love this country.  It means that they want this country to live up to what it stands for, not just for certain people but for everyone.  In this time of terrorism and the terrible rift between the right and the left of the political spectrum, we all need to be united Americans!  Regardless of party, race, or ethnicity, we are all Americans and should be prepared to do what is best for the country and not for the few.  If we do not come together as Americans, then this country can fall just as many previous empires have fallen in the past.

As you know I spend most of my time now discussing the Civil War, at work or as a living historian.  I talk and write about the Civil War; many people  - even in this day and time with all of the information available - still refuse to believe that slavery was a major cause of the Civil War.  We still have  harsh conversations about whether the Confederate battle flag should be displayed or if Confederate monuments should be maintained in public spaces.  We hardly discuss Reconstruction and all of the atrocities associated within that time period after the Civil War.  Some of the same things that were problems then are still problems now, because we, as Americans, never really discussed the problems and how to really solve them.   We as Americans have to be honest with ourselves, instead of being politically correct, we must say what we honestly feel.  Maybe then, can get to the heart of our problems and solve them.

Think of how much better this country would be, if all of us truly worked for what is best for the United States of America!  


I also got an opinion from another reenactor.  I met Michael Schaffner (second from left below) at the Harrisburg Grand Review Sesquicentennial.  My absolutely final Sesquicentennial event.  In 1865, although not 2015, black soldiers were excluded from the Grand Review in Washington, so Harrisburg had one.  Michael has portrayed different units over the years, but his role in the 54th Mass has made him quite passionate about the contribution of black soldiers to Union victory in the Late Unpleasantness.

First, I support the QB's decision not to stand because I think it's everyone's right as an American to [be an a$$hole, make a statement -- whatever you want to call it] and he's actually using his celebrity for a public rather than personal end.

Second, I don't feel the outrage over the "hireling and slave" passage, because I think it's just as likely that Key was referring to the British soldiers as the Africa American marines -- if anything he probably would just as soon pretend the latter didn't exist.  The British soldiers might not be literally mercenaries, but even in England they were more likely to be viewed as rum-sodden flogging magnets than as heroes.  Even Wellington referred to his men, at least in part, as "the very scum of the earth..."

That said, you don't have to get to the third verse to find the song offensive.  During the Chesapeake campaigns of 1813-14 some 30% of the population of Maryland were enslaved, with nearly another 10% free African Americans.  The portion was much higher in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.  Kent Island was in essence the first "contraband camp" where, under the protection of the Royal Navy, refugees from slavery could seek freedom.  It was from this population that the RN formed two battalions of black marines, who proved highly effective.
During the campaign, the British won nearly every fight, including the stand-up battles at Bladensburg and North Point, succeeded in burning the Capitol, and otherwise wreaked havoc.  They were rebuffed at Baltimore, but left fairly intact, and took away a number of newly freed black people to new lives in the West Indies.

Given all that, the very idea of the fight being between tyranny and "the land of the free and the home of the brave" is cringe-worthy in itself.  We were, by any objective measure, neither particularly free nor brave -- certainly not more than those two battalions of Royal Marines.

Peter J Reilly sometimes think that the real July 4th is the one in 1863 and that we should all start singing the fifth verse that was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

When our land is illumined with Liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

The National Anthem - Stand Up - Sit Down - A Case For Both

I guess you can start this story with Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers refusing to stand for the National Anthem.  It is important to note that the concerns he publicly expressed are current ones

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

In some progressive anti-racist circles though there is another step being taken.  That is putting forth the argument that our national anthem is explicitly racist.  This article by Jon Schwarz catches the spirit of the argument Colin Kaepernick Is Righter Than You Know: The National Anthem Is a Celebration of Slavery.  I picked this up in part from my cousin who was upset about her son learning the national anthem at school and explained to him how racist it is.  This was on Facebook of course.  I weighed in that I thought it was rather subtle, but my cousin is pretty firm about it.

Why The Anthem Is Racist

Here is the argument.  It concerns the third verse of the anthem, which you have probably memorized, but I'll give it to you anyway. (Emphasis added)

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
That is kind of a classier version of an excerpt from the other song about the War of 1812 that we all know so well.

 Fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico
Yeah they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico
Essentially I always thought what the third verse said was that those damn redcoats tried to fuck with us and we beat their ass.  Isn't that what you thought?

By the way, I have this memory that I have not been able to substantiate that General Eisenhower banned the third verse during the war, as it was kind of disrespectful to our allies.

The Colonial Marines

It's the word "slave" that is the problem which brings us to the Colonial Marines.  The Colonial Marines were escaped slaves recruited by the British.  It is actually a pretty fascinating story.  At any rate, the idea is that that is who Francis Scott Key was talking about when he wrote "slave".

As Jon Schwarz wrote:
The reality is that there were human beings fighting for freedom with incredible bravery during the War of 1812. However, “The Star-Spangled Banner” glorifies America’s “triumph” over them — and then turns that reality completely upside down, transforming their killers into the courageous freedom fighters.
For whatever it is worth, the Snopes analysis of this claim is a kind of maybe.
In fairness, it has also been argued that Key may have intended the phrase as a reference to the British Navy's practice of impressment (kidnapping sailors and forcing them to fight in defense of the crown), or as a semi-metaphorical slap at the British invading force as a whole (which included a large number of mercenaries), though the latter line of thinking suggests an even stronger alternative theory — namely, that the word "hirelings" refers literally to mercenaries, and "slaves" refers literally to slaves. It doesn't appear that Francis Scott Key ever specified what he did mean by the phrase, nor does its context point to a single, definitive interpretation.
Also saying the Colonial Marines were fighting for freedom in an abstract sense is not really accurate.  Whatever their personal goals, they were fighting on behalf of the British Empire.  Even thought slavery was illegal in England in 1814, it was still legal in British colonies and would not be banned for another three decades.  This is quite different from the situation of black soldiers in the Union Army fifty years later.  The presidential order that authorized their enlistment also included emancipation.

It's Complicated

My own view is that it would be a very big mistake for progressives to take on the National Anthem with the same vigor that was applied to the Confederate flag.  Unfortunately in order to explain why I have to lay out my grand theory of American history which I will try to do as briefly as possible.

There is a word that I use in doing this that sometimes aggravates people and that is "narrative". The things we say about the past are of necessity narratives.  Commonly though you will find people shocked to learn that one narrative that they learned can be opposed by another narrative.  They then divide historical discourse into two categories - "the story they want your to believe" and "the truth".

It happens that any of the narratives will have a story about how they came to be. We call those stories historiography.

Another memory that I can't track down is somebody talking about the American history that his father or grandfather had to learn to become a citizen. That was the real deal.  Not this revisionist crap that the professors use to make our kids hate America.

So here is my theory for whatever it is worth.  If you read Democracy in America, which was written by a French visitor in the eighteen thirties, you will find a well formed American culture that is quite recognizable - no St. Patrick's Day Parade, pizza or bagels maybe, but recognizable nonetheless.

Even the Americans of European descent were no longer European and that culture was the result of a complex, to use a neutral term, encounter among at least four distinct groups of English settlers, a melange of Dutch and German in the middle colonies, people taken in captivity from Africa and the indigenous people.  I'm not going to try to unscramble that egg.

They All Came To Look For America

What came next was the greatest movement of people in history.  Over 100 million people from Europe going to the Americas.  Many to the United States.  In less than a century.

The common narrative of American history that supports American exceptionalism and what a great nation America is conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal is something of a cake that is baked for them -the 19th and early 20th century immigrants - with ingredients from all the various groups that created the core culture - going pretty light on the African and indigenous elements.

Each of the immigrant groups pretty well accepted the cake viewing themselves as kind of the icing and the cherry on top. In the special American history book that we had in parochial grammar school, we learned a different version of history pre-1776 in which the Spanish and the French were the good guys, but post 1776 Catholicism and Americanism were in virtual lockstep.  Two Catholics signed the Declaration of Independence and Catholics were disproportionately killed in America's wars.

Things like convent burning, the San Patricios and the 1863 draft riots were kind of neglected.

The Late Unpleasantness

The most challenging part of the common narrative was the war with a whole bunch of names - Civil War, War of the Rebellion, War Between The States, War of Northern Aggression. My own preference is Late Unpleasantness, but that is neither here nor there.

In the common narrative, the first hundred years are about the making and preserving of a nation.  The notion of national self-determination rather than rule by a transnational empire and government of the people, by the people and for the people was actually pretty sketchy in the nineteenth century,  And in my mind that is what the National Anthem is reflecting.  Regardless, we achieve independence in 1783, come up with a working Constitution in 1789, survive a major Civil War incidentally abolishing slavery in the process, realize that this racial equality thing needs more time to work on it, save world democracy three times in the twentieth century and finally get around to working on the whole race thing in the sixties and isn't it great that is finally taken care of.  The thing is that though you may be freaking out either about the content of that narrative or because I call it a narrative, you can both support that narrative and find ways in which it is incomplete or maybe wrongheaded, but now I will give you the best historiography lesson I ever heard.

People Shouldn't Own Other People

It was in Dublin, Ireland at one of the two Unitarian churches in the Republic. It felt a little homey as they use the gray hymnals that we use in the United States.  This was around 2005 in the biggest family vacation we ever took - a week in Ireland. They had a guest minister, who was an expat American.  He lived in Spain.

The theme of the service was what is it that we are doing today that people will look back in a hundred years with a major WTF? To kick it off the minister talked about his great grandfather who had been an officer in the Confederate Army.  He then told us that while running through the house with a Confederate flag as he was engaged in a spirited game of Yanks and Rebs, which is what they played instead of Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians, he was confronted by the family's black maid who said something to the effect of "What are you doing with that redneck rag?  People shouldn't own other people. That's just wrong."

So here is the thing. Those of us whose origin is the"wretched refuse yearning to be free" can love the common narrative which kind of goes "Government of the people, etc.. Got that.  Oh shit. That should mean all the people not just the white ones.  Well we got that eventually", but we are the icing on that cake.  The various groups that made the cake for us have their own cakes and the African American one is not one in which we can say it was just fine to put off dealing with all that race and slavery stuff until later.

Of course there are different ways of dealing with that. One is to hold up the symbols of liberty and say this is great, it  needs to be completed.  There is a great speech that Thomas Wentworth Higginson relates in Army Life in A Black Regiment, that I won't reproduce here, because I think the dialect would be distracting in which one of his men pretty much claims the American flag, which he says the masters used to love, but they rejected when it began to stand for freedom.  After the war, blacks more or less appropriated the Fourth of July celebrations in the South.

The other approach which also has deep roots is to more or less say "This is bullshit",  Frederick Douglas reflects that tradition in his  "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" speech.

 I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

If you prefer the pithy thought you can go with Samuel Johnson,
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
The bottom line is that most of us standing up with our hands on hearts and singing the first verse of the National Anthem have a pretty good narrative to support that even if it is incomplete AND  Colin Kaepernick also has a narrative that supports his decision to stay seated and it really has nothing to do with the third verse which nobody knows anyway and it is pretty clear that the Colonial Marines in that context were being hated for their red coats not their black skins.

Peter J Reilly CPA hoped to be an historian, but public accounting has been good to him. A guest post on this topic will follow soon.