Tell Bolingbroke--for yond methinks he stands--
That every stride he makes upon my land
Is dangerous treason: he is come to open
The purple testament of bleeding war;
But ere the crown he looks for live in peace,
Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers' sons
Shall ill become the flower of England's face,
Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace
To scarlet indignation and bedew
Her pastures' grass with faithful English blood.
-- Shakespeare, Richard the Second, Act III, Scene 3
Sunday Shoes, Cap and Gown
The whole town’s gathered ‘round
Waited 18 years now it’s all coming down to this.
I scanned the crowd and it fills my soul
My best friends all here in rows
No turning back, Now its time to walk that line
This tassel is gonna turn
And when the moment passes by
We’ll just walk away
And slowly grow apart
But I’m not gonna cry, no
Not one sad or happy tear
I’ve been waiting my whole life
Now I’m gonna fly right outta here
It’s a bittersweet goodbye, but I’m not gonna cry
My oldest daughter Hannah graduated from high school Thursday. It was a grand and happy occasion. Yet midway through, as a three-piece student band performed Corey Smith's "I'm Not Going to Cry," I had, well, I don't know quite how to describe it.
Friday night, football games,
First loves and first heartbreaks,
It didn't matter who won or lost,
Only how we played.
Memories as good as gold
Tearin' up those mountain roads,
Racin' out 53 to old Georgetown,
Sure we made a little trouble,
But learned from every mistake,
So there's no regret,
We've done the best we could.
So I’m not gonna cry, no
Not one sad or happy tear
I’ve been waiting my whole life
Now I’m gonna fly right outta here
These have been the best years of my life
So I’m not gonna cry.
It was like cold, deep in the marrow, an icy wind blowing through my guts like gauze in winter. It was, perhaps, a premonition. I have had a few, just a few, of them in my life -- times when it was as if someone was tapping me on the shoulder trying to get my attention only for me to turn around, no one there. The times I paid attention to this little quirk saved my butt. The times I didn't, well, more about that another day. But something passed over this bunch of kids, passed between them and my eyes, a flicker, a shadow, I couldn't really tell you, something different. Maybe it was just light refracted through the mists in a sentimental, fuzzy-visioned old diabetic's tired eyes. Maybe. But it came to me unbidden, yet with cold certainty-- some of these kids are going to die, and not by accident. They are going to be killed in armed conflict, I thought. It seemed, though I didn't know it until later, a purple testament.
"The Purple Testament"
William Reynolds as Lt. Fitzgerald in "The Purple Testament"
"Infantry platoon, U.S. Army, Philippine Islands, 1945. These are the faces of the young men who fight. As if some omniscient painter had mixed a tube of oils that were at one time earth brown, dust gray, blood red, beard black, and fear - yellow white, and these men were the s. For this is the province of combat and these are the faces of war."
-- Rod Serling, narrator of The Twilight Zone, Episode 19, First Season, Original air date February 12, 1960, "The Purple Testament."
It wasn't until I got home that my memory made connection with my imagination. Or was it the other way around? I went to Google, punched in "premonition of death in combat" and came up with "The Purple Testament." Weirdly, once prompted I remembered this episode vividly. I had seen it when it first aired in 1960, and probably later in reruns. For those of you who don't recall it, the scene is the Philippines, 1945. Rod Serling served in the campaign to liberate the Philippines, fighting in the 11th Airborne Division and was wounded in the battle for Manila. Like a Sam Fuller war movie, the authenticity of a battle-hardened veteran permeates the script. A Wikipedia synopsis:
Lt. Fitzgerald, played by William Reynolds, suddenly gains the mysterious ability to discover who is about to die via a strange flash of light across their face. After correctly predicting several deaths, he tells his friend Captain Riker (played by Dick York) what he is able to see, but the Captain doesn't know whether to believe him or not. Riker consults with a doctor, Captain Gunther, who thinks it may be fatigue and suggests that the lieutenant should take a leave of rest. . . Fitz reveals to Riker he has seen the light on his face. Though he tells Fitz to forget it and get ready for battle, the Captain sets out some of his personal possessions—a few photographs and his wedding ring—before he goes into combat. In the camp, the men argue about the rumors of the lieutenant's predictions, but Riker tells all the soldiers there that there are no "fortune tellers" in the camp. Fitz, seeing the men's faces and realizing he could cause mutiny, agrees with the captain. In the ensuing battle, all return except for Riker, who is killed by a sniper. Captain Gunther brings news to Fitzgerald that he is being sent back to division headquarters for some much needed rest, but as the lieutenant gathers his gear, he sees the light flash across his own face in a mirror. A jeep driver comes to pick Fitzgerald up for the ride to HQ, but the lieutenant seems distant, as if resigned to fate. The Sergeant sends the two off, telling the driver to be careful as they go; they haven't completely checked the area for land mines on the road ahead. As the soldiers are gathered around the camp at dusk, the sound of an explosion is heard in the distance.
Narrator: From William Shakespeare, Richard the Third, a small excerpt. The line reads, 'He has come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.' And for Lieutenant William Fitzgerald, A Company, First Platoon, the testament is closed. Lieutenant Fitzgerald has found the Twilight Zone.
Serling got it wrong, of course. It was Richard the Second, not Richard the Third. It was a small error in a masterful short story. But what was it, I wondered that night after my daughter's graduation, that I had just experienced? A figment of my imagination from a vague childhood memory? An extrapolation of my own sense of impending civil war? It was unsettling, to say the least.
And where did Serling get his idea?
In truth? Imagination? Both?
Premonition of Civil War: "We . . . are about to have our fuse lit."
"I listened to Sen. McCain address the NRA Friday night with my 1st grandson asleep in my arms. As I listened to the diluted mumbo jumbo from him, I thought about what my grandson will probably face. I did not like it one bit. I think we, the folks in America that just want to be left alone to live a peaceful life without the gov't intervention in every facet of our life, are about to have our fuse lit. I just know it's coming." - Email to Mike Vanderboegh from his friend John in Florida, 19 May 2008.
Premonitions, however, need not come from some special cursed gift in "The Twilight Zone," but simply by rational deduction of what a Marxist might call "objective conditions." Anyone familiar with the stresses tearing at Spanish society in the 1930's might have foretold the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), but Salvador Dali put it on canvas uniquely:
In the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art hangs a 1936 work by Salvador Dali, titled "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)". I have never been a fan of Dali's, but I must say that I have recently been drawn to this work of his as symbolic of more than the Spanish Civil War. The grimacing dismembered figure, alternately grasping up at itself while holding itself down under foot demonstrates that war, especially civil war, is both self-fulfilling and self-mutilating at the same time. The "boiled beans" of the title, they say, likely refers to the ancient Catalan offering to the gods. Stare at the painting long enough and you will be repulsed to your very core. At least I was. Even so, it speaks the truth. And truth, I have come to understand, is hard to find in this day and age. It is almost as hard to find as principled men.
Picasso's "Guernica" too captures the horrors of war, something Spanish painters have shown a facility for since Goya's awful "The Horrors of War" sketches. But where Goya's charcoal sketches are clinical in their bestial description of the details of war crimes; where his "Third of May 1808" painting is almost redemptive in its portrayal of defiant courage in front of the firing squad; where Picasso's Guernica illustrates the horrors of anonymous death from the skies -- all are merely reportage.
Goya - "Third of May 1808"
Dali's "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans" was not only descriptive but predictive. He did it before the horrors of the siege of Madrid, before German bombs at Guernica, before Spaniards were executed in windrows, not by foreigners as Goya recorded, but by other Spaniards.
It is "The Purple Testament" writ large.
The Celts -- the Scots and the Irish -- are great believers in premonitions and omens. So, too, are the Native American peoples. It is perhaps no small coincidence that both traditions share a freedom fighter's fatalism. Both cultures have their war songs. The dead Ghost Shirts at Wounded Knee, the slaughtered Highlanders at Culloden and the "gallant boyos" of 1798 would understand each other. The Lakota Sioux phrase "Hoka hey! It is a good day to die!" is not so different from the spirit embodied in the words of "The Rising of the Moon," or those of "The Minstrel Boy."
The Minstrel Boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of Death you will find him.
His father's sword he has girded on
And his wild harp slung behind him
Land of song, said the Warrior Bard,
Tho' all the world betrays thee.
One sword at least thy right shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee.
They played "Pomp and Circumstance" the afternoon of my daughter's graduation, too, of course. The old "Land of Hope and Glory" tune by Elgar is the standard marching music of American graduations. As originally written, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Opus 39 are a series of five marches for orchestra composed by Sir Edward Elgar. We so associate this tune with the hopeful promise of young lives, I doubt there is one out of a thousand people who know as their children -- the sum of all their hopes and dreams -- march past in ill-fitting gowns and caps askew, just exactly where the name of the tune comes from.
The title is taken from Act III of Shakespeare's Othello:"Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!"
"Pomp and circumstance of glorious war."
There is nothing glorious about war - especially civil war. Dali got that right, as did Goya and Picasso. Still, just because it is so horrible, few in the peaceful prelude to every war believe that it is possible.
And that is what makes it inevitable.
"Sooner or later somebody's going to trade shots."
My friend John's prediction, his premonition, "we . . . are about to have our fuse lit," came to him because he understands where we find ourselves in the first decade of the 21st Century. His is an intellectual premonition, as was mine before Thursday afternoon. It takes no seer, no crystal ball, no weird purple light from the Twilight Zone to anticipate the coming confrontation between those who revere the Founders' constitutional republic and the God-given liberty it codifies and the gathering dark forces of "enlightened" collectivism. And like most wars, this one will need to be fought precisely because most of us think it is impossible.
This was brought home to me this week in a blogosphere exchange I participated in about the Olofson case. Peter, a typical self-described "gun rights activist" of a certain sort, and his intellectual compadres on the blog, were clucking their tongues about how Olofson had "ruined it for the rest of us," if I might paraphrase. They also did not approve or appreciate my observations that the Law of Unintended Consequences not only might, but likely would, exact a far greater price of everyone than had been dreamt of by the antagonists.
Quoth Peter: "The proper way to promote gun rights is through the courts, and political process, not armed resistance at this point."
And I replied to his post ad seriatim, "And how's that working out, exactly? What does Olofson's case demonstrate? For 70 plus years we have allowed ourselves to be pushed back from the free exercise of our rights, each time whispering our resentment but refusing to DO anything about it."
Peter: "There may be a time when that becomes appropriate, this is not that time."
Vanderboegh: "My point about Olofson is that if this is NOT the time, right now, today, then it ain't far in the future."
Peter: "In many, maybe even most, regards BATFE is overstepping it’s bounds, and needs to be reigned in, but to think that the threat of whatever arsenal you possess is stopping the government from coming to get you if they wanted to is laughable, at best. Let’s face it, the government has the power to remove any lone person, or even a group any time they want. They have the guns, body armor, tear gas, flash grenades, and worse to come and get you. The preventative power of the Second Amendment is in the possibility of a mass uprising, not one person shooting it out with the feds."
Vanderboegh: "Again, how is that 'reigning in' to be accomplished, exactly? They paid no price for their deadly activities in the 90's. As the result of the 'war on terror' the agency has grown like Topsy, filled with new, eager ignorant and arrogant thugs who have no idea of constitutional restrictions. They are a law unto themselves, cf Olofson. Heck, the Founders would have rejected the entire agency as unconstitutional. I possess no 'arsenal' save that of my own mind. I have a couple of pistols, a few rifles and a shotgun. What I have is the determination to live, or die, as God wills, as a free man. As a Christian I am unafraid of what the thugs of the imperial federal regime can do to me, for they cannot harm my inextinguishable soul. That said, I have no illusions about my INDIVIDUAL ability to resist their raid party. But I do understand how a tripwire works. Consider me as voluntary bait, without illusions of what that entails. And despite my unpopularity on this blog, where I am considered with all the fear and loathing of a skunk discovered under the front pew at church, I have thousands of friends all across the country."
Peter: "Furthermore, in your one man uprising, you will not die a martyr to more than a select group of people that are probably already on your side. While the Branch Davidians and Randy Weaver have those who support them, and are appalled by the actions of the government, neither of those incidents started an uprising, or even any widespread public outcry."
Vanderboegh: "Now you have arrived at the precise point. As a friend wrote of Waco in an email just this morning: 'Don't get me started on that. I knew from day one what was afoot. Murder in the making. I even predicted within a day of when it would end. I hoped I was paranoid, I wasn't. Now I am ashamed because I listened to hope, instead......' To which I replied: 'Yes, exactly. But NOW we have no excuse. We said then, when we finally knew how wrong we were, "No More Wacos." So now we must have no illusions. This is why I get so angry with the cheesers who refuse to get excited about Olofson. The devil is on the march again. It is late August 1939. We must have no illusions.' It could well be that when it comes time for me and my friends to kick in like free men that no one will choose to support us. Likely in fact. Witness this board. That does not relieve us of the responsibility to resist tyranny. What we do is between us, our consciences and our God. What you do is between yours."
Peter: "If anything you will more likely be used as an example of why we need more gun control. And all those writings that will be released on the world? They will more likely than not be used to paint you as a paranoid nut, looking to shoot it out with the black helicopters."
Vanderboegh: "And you will be the one making those examples and excuses, rather than be forced into the dangerous ground of being a free citizen. Hide and watch."
Peter: "You can call us what you will, but legal activism, through the courts and through the political process, is still the best way to maintain and expand our rights."
Vanderboegh: "Again, how's that working out, exactly? Ask David Olofson, who presumed his right to a fair trial. Let me give you a pertinent example from the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. The federal government (especially J. Edgar Hoover's FBI) was happy to ignore the murders of civil rights workers in the south until blacks, like the Deacons for Defense and Justice, began arming and threatening retaliatory violence against the Klan and the local governments they controlled. Only with the credible threat of violence were the authorities motivated to break their century of indifference to how black folks were treated in the south and DO something. If the game is rigged, threaten to overturn the table. And a pistol aimed unerringly at the cardshark helps."
Peter: "The day may come when we need to take up arms against a tyrannical government, but the fact that you can 'tell them in advance, in public, what MY “rules of engagement” were.' is proof that this is not the time. So please stop giving the anti-gun nuts more ammo, and trying to bait the government to come after you. This is only hurting our cause."
Vanderboegh: "Well, if that's the case, our 'causes' are not the same. My cause is that of the constitutional republic of the Founders and a United States of America that my children and grandchildren can live in as free citizens, not frightened serfs. Here's the thing: with the ATF on the prod, and cantankerous people like me refusing to be pushed, sooner or later somebody's going to trade shots. WE, my friends and me, are going to give the cheesers on this board and in the larger country a choice: are you going to make the same excuses you made before in 1993 when you watched government murder on television and did nothing? And if they kill someone like me, someone who's not a religious cultist (unless you count the Baptists as cultists), someone who doesn't mess with explosives or automatic weapons, someone who's a father and a grandfather, a guy who's on disability for congestive heart failure and can't attack anybody, a guy whose only real sin in their eyes is to despise them publicly -- if they kill me and you do nothing AGAIN, hiding behind excuses AGAIN, well I don't know how you look yourself in the mirror."
And I concluded:
"And understand this, in a country that allows the David Olofsons to be victimized without correction, sooner or later people like me are going to force people like you to look in that mirror. And I suppose that's what really scares y'all. But whether you like it or not, whether you join us or not, we will force you to make the choice because we DO NOT consent to be victimized by some thug simply because he possesses a federal badge that is unconstitutional in the first place. We are free men and women, and will live or die as free men and women. You are free to choose, but you should understand that the choice is not far away. The imperial feds have apparently decided that by their egregious misconduct in the Olofson case."
No, it does not require a crystal ball to see civil war around the corner if events do not change their course. It requires no Twilight Zone moment, though I was apparently granted one of those this week free of charge anyway. Perhaps it was the Scotch-Irish in me, from the Reynolds side of the family. If I hear a banshee, I'll let you know. ;-) But you don't need a banshee to be convinced of an omen of impending disaster. That portent was provided by the ATF's conduct in the Olofson case.
Whether you pay attention to the premonition is up to you.
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