U.S. Civil War

The Exterminating Angel


The Exterminating Angel, also known as Guardian Angel, is a sculpture by Josep Llimona dated in 1895. Built on the ruins of an ancient cemetery which in turn was built on the remains of an old church of the fifteenth century. The Exterminating Angel is the “Angel of the bottomless pit” who reign over locusts that devastate humanity “not marked on the forehead with the seal of God” (Revelation 9:11). (Credit: Andrés Suárez García)

My mother was a gifted psychic who never believed her talent was a big deal. She scoffed at poseurs and charlatans, was highly suspicious of the use of spirituality for profit, and reserved a deep respect for Catholic nuns and Catholic schooling. Never a churchgoing person, she had a profound faith in the power of her plaster image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (a gift from my father to her before their wedding), and an unswerving belief in the principle of Poetic Justice in the world. She never called it karma, but she maintained, to the end of her life, that eventually we all get our just deserts.

I have been thinking a great deal about my mother during this crisis of abduction and hostage taking of immigrant children by the US government. I remember distinctly the day at the Havana airport when we left Cuba in 1961. At the enclosed glass-area that led to the Pan American airplane, my mother and my aunt were taken away by female guards to be body-searched (Castro militias were looking for unauthorized money or jewels leaving the country). To this day, I remember the fear that engulfed me as I was left by myself with my young sister (I was 7, she was 6) in the departure area. (more…)


The Two Wars of U.S. Grant


Battle of Churubusco during the Mexican-American War, painting by Carl Nebel, lithograph by Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot, 1851. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Both wars, in the estimation of U.S. Grant, had been “unholy.”[1]

Details of the Mexican-American War of the 19th century have faded from public memory—except perhaps in Mexico. Still, the following judgment by Grant sets the harsh light of revelation upon the motives and measures of the event:

To this day [I] regard the war which resulted as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.[2]

In Grant’s view the war was not only a naked land-grab, but also a betrayal of the foundations of a democratic republic in the pursuit of the inclinations of an imperial monarchy. It was an unadorned attempt to expand the institution of slavery to new territories: (more…)

The Uniform of U.S. Grant (Part 1 of 2)


Ulysses S. Grant, spring 1865. (photo by Frederick Gutekunst)

As part of his “Letters from New York” at the end of the 19th century, José Martí wrote several articles about Ulysses S. Grant during the time when the former president was dying of cancer and finishing his Personal Memoirs to secure the financial stability of his family after his death. I have admired for many years Martí’s brilliant prose in these chronicles, and through them I have come to esteem the shining figure of U.S. Grant:

New York prepares to be thankful for the privilege of sheltering in its grounds the corpse of he who led the colossal army of the Federation from glory to glory against the slaveholding rebels…. He would fall, without rage, like an avalanche. Wherever he placed his eye, he planted the flag. (“Death of Grant,” August 3, 1885).

Not until I read British military historian Jon Keegan’s assessment of Grant as military commander (Keegan considers Grant a superior general to Robert E. Lee) did I become interested in reading Grant’s Personal Memoirs.[1]   (more…)

Because You’re Here

Battle of Chancellorsville, May 2-4, 1863; lithograph,  Kurz and Allison, 1889. (Credit: Library of Congress)

Battle of Chancellorsville, May 2-4, 1863; lithograph, Kurz and Allison, 1889. (Credit: Library of Congress)

John Keegan, the renowned British military historian, writes: “The American Civil War is one of the most mysterious great wars of history, mysterious because unexpected, mysterious also because of the intensity with which it took fire.” Among the war’s mysteries, he lists the following:

Why should men who lacked a rational interest in the war struggle so fiercely against Northerners who … were frequently not to be distinguished from their poor Southern opponents?

After all, Keegan notes, “many Southerners had no personal connection with slavery at all, neither as owners of slaves nor as employers of their labour. The considerable slave owners were … often resented by their non-slave-owning neighbours, though that did not deter them from joining in their thousands in the new Confederate army.” (more…)

Game of Flags

"Battle of Kennesaw Mountain" by Kurz and Allison, c. 1891. (Credit: Library of Congress)

“Battle of Kennesaw Mountain” by Kurz and Allison, c. 1891. (Credit: Library of Congress)

How exquisitely American, after a psychotic racist with a gun kills nine people who were studying the Bible in church, to address the incident not by taking guns away from psychos, or limiting their future access to guns, but by lowering a flag!

And what a historical flag! This is a flag which Southern Americans followed when fighting Union forces, an emblem of the cause that captured the devotion of fervent Christians like Stonewall Jackson and brilliant commanders such as Robert E. Lee.

Readers of this blog may remember that in a previous post (“On Waving Flags”) I confessed both my respect for flags and my general dislike of them. Future readers of our book, Hunt the Devil, will come to know that we warn against the perils of demonization of enemies and opponents as an activity that is conducive to war and detrimental to a vibrant democracy.

The problem with de-humanizations and devil hunts is not only that we distort the nature of our enemy to our disadvantage, but also that we fall prey to a fatal illusion: when we say that our enemy is evil, we also say that we are good. Since “they” are bad they do bad things; since “we” are good, nothing we do can possibly be “bad.” For thousands of years, spiritual leaders have warned us that this is the moment of doom before the fall. (more…)