I did a walkabout in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, yesterday. I am not happy with most of the photos I took but this one of pocket watches taken through the front window of the clock store is sort of okay.
I guess the time was good to visit the historic site of John Brown’s abolitionist uprising. Brown attacked the armory on October 16, 1859, he captured it with 18 men, took hostages and began the occupation of a building that was from then on called John Brown’s fort. The John Brown militia was mostly killed and they killed several during the two day clash. US Colonel Robert E. Lee was in the force that attacked the militia stronghold. John Brown was a militant who said that action, forceful action, was required to rid the country of slavery. He had a history in Kansas where he led a fatal raid on a pro-slavery community. Some historians have vilified Brown for “starting” the civil war, and in fact, until the last 30 years or so, most historians thought he was self-centered, egotistical, and in it for his own glory. Recently, historians are re-evaluating that conclusion and are saying maybe he was right, violence was required.
A friend told me yesterday that blame for the terror of Charlottesville is “sideless,” that is, all sides are to blame. I can’t really abide by that…violence should NOT be the go-to method for solving problems. I think one “side” in Charlottesville chose violence as its fundamental modus operandi. The lesson of John Brown’s history demonstrates that pro-freedom people can be every bit as unpredictable and violent as their counterparts on the other side of the issue. Of real interest to me in reading about the aftermath of John Brown’s “revolution” was the anger and violence against one another that John Brown inspired throughout the country, including for instance, when a US Senator from Mississippi attacked a US Senator from Pennsylvania with a bowie knife on the floor of the Senate!! I see this type of hatred growing and oozing out to make us see violence as the way forward.
My friend is right that violence on any side should not be tolerated. But echoes of voices from 1859 are reverberating when I hear, “Take America Back!” That rhetoric represents a “side” that is not just historically despicable and shameful but a narrow vision of humanity that must be acknowledged and protected by our system of freedom of speech but must never be empowered or enabled by turning a blind eye.
Or saying that evil is okay…because, it’s not.