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Accordion War
A Fortune Teller's Blessing
I Walk Toward the Sound of My Days: Poems of John Allen Adams
The German Spy

Autographed copies can be obtained post-paid from the author by sending a check or money order for $20 for one or $35 for two (either or both books) to:

Charles Hughes
PO Box 1112
Arkadelphia, AR 71923
(870) 246 8557  dochughesbooks@gmail.com

 
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From: Chapter 12 - War and Civil Disobedience

The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies.  They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc.  In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well.  
–Henry David Thoreau
   
Still the numbing cadence rings, and still the polished boots march down that ancient road to nowhere--never at ease, never gaining ground.  Why do old men send young men marching, and why do the young men march submissively?
-John Allen Adams
Only two-hundred feet from the back of the former Adams Book Store, up a flight of ten concrete steps, stand the double oak doors of the Clark County courthouse completed in 1899.  From his back porch John Allen had an unobstructed view of the three-story red-brick building with its clock and bell tower.  At the east corner of the courthouse square on a tall pedestal stands the statue of a Confederate soldier with rifle and  bedroll looking toward the nearby Ouachita, a memorial championed shortly after the turn of the century by Bessie’s great aunt, Laura Scott Butler, and other patriotic citizens proud of their Confederate heritage.  At the west corner of the square rises a convex wall, a triptych, inscribed with the names of Clark County men who served in the wars of the twentieth century, a number of them John Allen’s former classmates.  Behind the courthouse just one block west is the National Guard Armory where local guardsmen hold their regular meetings.  Next to the vacant lot behind the book store and directly across the street facing the courthouse sits a small white frame building, a present-day law office with a bronze plaque on the front identifying it as the former law office of Governor Harris Flanagin.  Flanagin, former state senator and veteran of the Mexican war, was captain of Company E, Second Arkansas Mounted Rifles in the Civil War and fought in the battles of Wilson’s Creek and Pea Ridge.  John Allen’s great grandfather, W.S. Horton who joined the Arkansas volunteers and served throughout the war was believed to have fought in the later battles of Poison Spring and Mark’s Mills.    

John Allen’s family had been intimately involved in wars fought by the United States for over a century and a half.  His great-great uncle General Winfield Scott, son of a Revolutionary War soldier, devoted his life to the study of war and fought in every conflict from the War of 1812 to the Civil War.  Scott was instrumental in removing Native Americans from their homelands in the Southeastern United States and sending them off on the tragic Trail of Tears.  He helped relieve Mexico of forty percent of its territories with his victory at the battle of Vera Cruz and was the senior leader of the Union Army at the outset of the Civil War, a war which ironically found John Allen’s great grandfather, W.S. Horton, fighting on the opposite side.

The Horton patriarch and Confederate soldier no doubt conducted himself bravely during that war, but at what cost?  The shameful slaughter of the Kansas 2nd Colored Regiment at Poison Spring, the murder of hundreds of innocent Blacks at Mark’s Mills, the loss of Horton’s two brothers, John Allen’s great uncles, were only a small part of the untold suffering brought on when in the Spring of 1861 the second horseman of the Apocalypse was set loose upon the land.

World War I, fought mostly in the muddy, bloody trenches of France, was one of the deadliest of wars, and though the United States arrived somewhat late to the battlefields, still both John Allen’s dad, Al, and his Uncle Thad were among the millions who served in that conflict.  

John Allen’s generation’s turn came with World War II.  He missed that war only because he lay paralyzed at the home place.  But he watched as his good friends and classmates heeded the call.  His Uncle Vernon contributed to the war effort with his work on the proximity fuse while John Allen followed the war news closely reading the daily reports in the Southern Standard and listening to the radio.  Many of Arkadelphia’s young men became casualties of that war, a number of them John Allen’s good friends.  Billy Gill East and his close friend Buddy Whitten were wounded in the Normandy Invasion.  Johnny Hall, the Badger right halfback who had shown so much concern for John Allen when he was lying on the ground with a broken neck, was killed in that same campaign on the 4th of July, 1944.  Their names can now be found on the memorial wall at the courthouse.
*     *     *     *
About the war in Vietnam John Allen and Mike were right, and about wars in general Thoreau and Twain and Tolstoy and the many voices down through history that have spoken out against the evils of war have been right.  The Boy Scout Handbook of 1932 accurately describes war as one of the great tragedies of life, a destroyer of civilizations.  “The effort of home, church, school and state is for us to guard life and respect property—war says kill and destroy.”  Surely all rational people must agree with this proposition.  So we’re left with the question, “Why can’t mankind put an end to war?  Why does the killing go on?”

The answer seems to be that war, like the biblical curse of original sin, is part of our genetic inheritance; it is woven into our DNA.  The human propensity for group conflict cannot be sanded away like a blemish on a board; it is a knothole in our family tree that goes all the way through.  The ability to reason, which resides in the most recent evolutionary layer of the human brain, the cerebral cortex, is fragile and easily overpowered by the primordial emotions of fear and hate which lie coiled in the deeper folds of our brains, the limbic system.  We have a Grendel sleeping in our basement which, so long as not aroused, permits our lives to go along peacefully.  But when awakened by clamor and conflict, by a call to battle from leaders and neighbors, it comes raging forth drowning voices of moderation and eclipsing the light of reason.

*    *    *    *
We don’t have to look very deep to see an underlying pattern of human behavior that connects sports and warfare, to see the relationship for example between the Arkadelphia High Badger football team in 1936 in high spirits on their way up Highway 67 to challenge Malvern and the forces of Union General Steele in the spring of 1864 with its long train of soldiers and animals, of cannons, caissons and supply wagons, headed down that same route toward Arkadelphia and a grim rendezvous with General Price’s Confederate forces waiting along the Ouachita.

John Allen was right in his belief that old men start wars and send young men off to fight, but he was mistaken in believing young men march off submissively, for often they want to be tested, are ready for the contest and eager to join the ranks.  The young National Guardsmen marching around the courthouse square were not conscripts, but volunteers.  If some were there to avoid the draft, many were there because the challenge of military life attracted them.  In high school John Allen himself had thought seriously about applying for admission to the Naval Academy to further his education.  In 1938, three years before Pearl Harbor, his best friend Buddy Whitten who planned to apply to Annapolis with him, joined the Arkansas National Guard.  Six years later hunkered deep in a hole in a French farmer’s field Lieutenant Whitten no doubt had second thoughts about the attractions of military life as he listened to the Messerschmitt begin its power dive.   

Although John Allen vigorously opposed the war in Vietnam, his own family history was punctuated by wars.  To a great extent all human history is a chronicle of warfare.  The predisposition to respond emotionally and collectively to perceived threats that provided a survival advantage for primitive tribes and clans, however, has itself become one of the greatest threats to mankind.  Like some prehistoric reptile struggling to carry the weight of massive armor and huge tusks to defend against enemies that no longer exist, we are burdened with our own obsolescent genetic inheritance. This innate tropism for violent conflict which has wreaked havoc on civilizations throughout history, today, because of our greatly improved killing technology, poses an even graver threat, and that threat haunted John Allen.  In a letter to Mike Vogler he laments, “This unspeakable war and the old ways prevail today, and one wonders whether we have the intelligence, the courage, the love to struggle forth into the light,” calling to mind the closing lines of Matthew Arnold’s poem, “Dover Beach.
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
It very well may take man a long time to find his way out of the darkness.  Our struggle toward the light is made more difficult because we glorify warfare.  Our genetic predisposition for violent conflict is reinforced by cultures which honor warriors and celebrate battles in story and song, from Homer and the Bible to Tom Clancy, from Achilles and Odysseus, Joshua and Samson, to “The Ballad of the Green Berets.”  We remember and perpetuate the glory and forget the horrors.
    
When John Allen and Aunt Bessie sat in the backyard enjoying the warm spring weather, much of their family’s history, their state’s and their country’s history, was represented in the scene before them—the memorial wall of Clark County heroes to the right, a block behind that the National Guard Armory, straight ahead the courthouse, on their left the former law office of Governor Flanagin and across the street from it the stalwart Confederate soldier.  

Bessie’s Great Aunt Laura Scott Butler, niece of General Winfield Scott and member of the Harris Flanagin Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was a leader in the campaign to have the memorial erected.  Bessie and Gertrude were proud of their family’s role in the Civil War and believed in their hearts the truth of the inscriptions on the pedestal: “The Principles for which they fought are eternal,” the cause for which they fought was “glorious,” and both would have added their voices to the prayer, “When the last trumpet is sounded may each one answer the roll call of the heavenly army.”  Here even the fallen cannot escape the ranks; God has been conscripted and heaven itself become an army camp.  

Behind the comforting words on the monument and on similar monuments across the country and around the world lies the suffering and devastation left in the aftermath of every war.  The American Civil War took 620,000 lives, more killed than in all the wars of the country from the Revolutionary War through Korea.  It laid waste vast swaths of the country, particularly the South, and left destruction and starvation in its wake.  The war that so many thought would be quick and glorious lasted four horrendous years; no one was prepared for the disease that swept through the army camps or for the thousands of dead that lay unburied for days and even weeks on the blasted battlefields—Antietam, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, and countless others.  The country during those four years truly became “This Republic of Suffering.”      

The great tragedy of war arises from the paradoxical human condition that enables us to love one another and kill one another.  If killing were all there is to war there would be no tragedy.  But the death of every soldier grievously wounds the hearts of those who love him.  War memorials around the world are testimonials of love, and reminders of the human hurt we inflict on one another, a hurt we attempt to cover with comforting words like those on the pedestal of the Clark County Confederate soldier: 
On fame’s eternal camping ground    
Their silent tents are spread
And glory guards with silent rounds
The bivouac of the dead.
Finding no comfort in such sentimental consolations, John Allen launched his own campaign against the war in Vietnam—but it was an uneven battle.  When he, Mike Vogler and their anti-war activist friends sallied forth in an attempt to stop the killing their only weapons were their voices and their bodies; the fields of battle were college campuses, newspaper editorial pages, forums wherever they could be found, and ultimately, federal prisons.  But their arguments, based on reason and compassion, on the principles of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, on Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” on the teachings of Gandhi, Einstein and Tolstoy, were no match for the collective response of a nation in the grip of fear and anger and driven by determined leaders and misguided national pride.  

So the war ground on for ten years—the longest in U.S. History. 
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