Author: J. Arthur Bloom

J. Arthur Bloom is the blog's editor, opinion editor of the Daily Caller, and an occasional contributor to the Umlaut. He was formerly associate editor of the American Conservative and a music reviewer at Tiny Mix Tapes, and graduated from William and Mary in 2011. He lives in Washington, DC, and can be found, far too often, on Twitter.

Help me start a History of Virginia podcast

Recently I’ve become addicted to podcasts. I listen to them when I walk to and from work, when I’m cooking dinner, on the way to the bar, on the way to church — everywhere. The podcasts of Mike Duncan and Robin Pearson in particular –“History of Rome” and “History of Byzantium” — have been really enjoyable.

Now I want to try my own hand at it, with a podcast about the history of Virginia. Having gotten more confident doing radio over the past year, thanks to guest hosting gigs on the Mike Church Show, I think I can pull something like this off.

I still have much of the reading material from undergraduate history courses at W&M and Colonial Williamsburg saved as PDFs that I can dust off, and already have 30 or so books on various parts of Virginia history that I’ve begun collecting. However, this is quickly becoming expensive, and before I can begin I need to fill in the gaps, and especially gather more material pertaining to the Seventeenth Century.

So, I’d like to ask for your help. I’ve put together an Amazon wish list of books I’d like to have, all covering the colonial period (if all goes well, we’ll continue from there). If you sort the list by priority you will see that I’ve put those on Jamestown and the Seventeenth Century first, for obvious reasons. There’s also the Hornbook of Virginia History, a reference book that contains population figures, lists of who holds what office, and other information that will help guide my research and writing.

In terms of how the show will work, I will try to maintain a coherent narrative as much as possible, but I am committed to a couple of things: One, to have more interviews than is typical for this kind of podcast — having worked at Colonial Williamsburg’s public affairs office and corresponded with several colonial historians, it would be criminal of me not to highlight their work in their own words. And second, to not be afraid to focus on personal stories and other digressions that may or may not make good one-off episodes (think, for you podcast listeners, more Dan Carlin and less Mike Duncan).

There are several reasons why I think a more digressive approach is called for. First of all, Virginia is not an empire. In Augustus’ day, the Roman Empire contained more than 50 million people. Virginia wouldn’t pass a half-million until around the time the Declaration of Independence was signed. It’s a more human-scale story, in time and space, and less suited to grand narratives.

Second, Virginia is blessed with a long line of chroniclers with close connections to it, and they often approach their subject with palpable affection, first among them Samuel Kercheval, a correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote about the early settlement of the Shenendoah. I say “chroniclers,” because many were not academic historians. Many were newspapermen, like the legendary Virginius Dabney, who edited the Richmond Times-Dispatch for 33 years, or his one-time assistant Parke Rouse, Jr, who went on to run the publishing division of Colonial Williamsburg in 1953, or Virginian Pilot columnist Guy Friddell, author of the amusing ’60s tourist-baiting tract, What is it about Virginia? While this is probably not unique to Virginia, as an editor I’m fascinated by the way the state’s mythology and self-conception have so often been shaped by stately journalists with an unusual curiosity about history.

Other writers had different careers entirely, like the Jacobite nostalgist Edgar Erskine Hume, a highly-decorated Army officer and Chief Surgeon during the Korean War. While not neglecting current scholarship — there’s plenty on the list — I think all these people are worth getting into, along with homegrown mid-century academic historians like Philip Alexander Bruce and Raymond Dingledine.

These folks are all on the Amazon wish list, their works are largely out of print but not too expensive. With your help, I’ll be able to post the first episode in a couple of months.

‘The fact is, General, I would like very well to bury the whole lot of you.’

A friend and admirer of Father Abram J. Ryan pointed me to this amusing anecdote:

A wanderer, Ryan left his footprints in various places in the 1860s, including as a priest in Illinois and Tennessee, where he was also an unofficial chaplain to Confederate soldiers. It was in Knoxville that he penned his most famous poem “in a little over an hour” and “out of a broken heart,” he said later. A plaque commemorates the spot, and a Catholic school in Nashville bears his name.

Some tales have Ryan going missing at times, or at least spanning a wider geographical area, including New Orleans, where he was said to have smarted off to a general who had accused him of refusing to bury a Union soldier.

Ryan supposedly said: “Why, I was never asked to bury him, and never refused. The fact is, General, I would like very well to bury the whole lot of you.”

Photo taken at the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans, during my vacation there earlier this year.

‘American earth in old October’

Driving up to Geneseo tomorrow morning for the Front Porch Republic conference, and a long October drive made me think of this bit from Of Time and the River, what might be my favorite description of Fall (from “Telemachus”):

October is the richest of the seasons: the fields are cut, the granaries are ful, the bins are loaded to the brim with fatness, and from the cider-press the rich brown oozings of the York Imperials run. The bee bores to the belly of the yellowed grape, the fly gets old and fat and blue, he buzzes loud, crawls slow, creeps heavily to death on sill and ceiling, the sun goes down in blood and pollen across the bronzed and mown fields of old October.

The corn is shocked: It sticks out in hard yellow rows upon dried ears, fit now for great red barns in Pennsylvania, and the big stained teeth of crunching horses. The indolent hooves kick swiftly at the boards, the barn is sweet with hay and leather, wood and apples — this, and the clean dry crunching of the teeth is all: the sweat, the labor, and the plow is over. The late pears mellow on a sunny shelf, smoked hams hang to the warped barn rafters; the pantry shelves are loaded with 300 jars of fruit. Meanwhile the leaves are turning, turning, up in Maine, the chestnut burrs plop thickly to the earth in gusts of wind, and in Virginia the chinkapins are falling.

There is a smell of burning in small towns in afternoon, and men with buckles on their arms are raking leaves in yards as boys come by with straps slung back across their shoulders. The oak leaves, big and brown, are bedded deep in yard and gutter: they make deep wadings to the knee for children in the streets. The fire will snap and crackle like a whip, sharp acrid smoke will sting the eyes, in mown fields the little vipers of the flame eat past the black coarse edges of burned stubble like a line of locusts. Fire drives a thorn of memory in the heart.

The bladed grass, a forest of small spears of ice, is thawed by noon: summer is over but the sun is warm again, and there are dais throughout the land of gold and russet. But summer is dead and gone, the earth is waiting, suspense and ecstasy are gnawing at the hearts of men, the brooding prescience of frost is there. The sun flames red and bloody as it sets, there are old red glintings on the battered pails, the great barn gets the ancient light as the boy slops homeward with warm foaming milk. Great shadows lengthen in the fields, the old red light dies swiftly, and the sunset barking of the hounds is faint and far and full of frost: there are shrewd whistles to the dogs, and frost and silence — this is all. Wind stirs and scuffs and rattles up the old brown leaves, and through the night the great oak leaves keep falling.

Trains cross the continent in a swirl of dust and thunder, the leaves fly down the tracks behind them: the great trains cleave through gulch and gulley, they rumble with spoked thunder on the bridges over the powerful brown wash of mighty rivers, they toil through hills, they skirt the rough brown stubble of shorn fields, they whip past empty stations in little towns and their great stride pounds its even pulse across America. Field and hill and lift and gulch and hollow, mountain and plain and river, a wilderness with fallen trees across it, a thicket of bedded brown and twisted undergrowth, a plain, a desert, aand a plantation, a mighty landscape with no fenced niceness, an immensity of fold and convolution that can never be remembered, that can never be forgotten, that has never been described — weary with harvest,potent with every fruit and ore, the immeasurable richness embrowned with autumn, rank, crude, unharnessed, careless of scars or beauty, everlasting and magnificent, a cry, a space, an ecstacy! — American earth in old October.

And often in the night there is only the living silence, the distant frosty barking of a dog, the small clumsy stir and feathery stumble of the chickens on limed roosts, and the moon, the low and heavy moon of autumn, now barred behind the leafless poles of pines, now the pinewoods’ brooding edge and summit, now falling with the ghost’s dawn of milky light upon rimed clods of fields and on the frosty scurf on pumpkins, now whiter, smaller, brighter, hanging against the steeple’s slope, hanging in the same way in a million streets, steeping all the earth in frost and silence.

Then a chime of frost-cold bells may peal out in the brooding air, and people lying in their beds will listen. They will not speak or stir, silence will gnaw the darkness like a rat, but they will whisper in their hearts:

‘Summer has come and gone, has come and gone. And now —?’ But they will say no more, they will have no more to say: they will wait listening, silent and brooding as the frost, to time, strange ticking time, dark time that haunts us with the briefness of our days. They will think of men long dead, of men now buried in the earth, of frost and silence long ago, of a frorgotten face and moment of lost time, and they will think of things they have no words to utter.

And in the night, in the dark, in the living sleeping silence of the towns, the million streets, they will hear the thunder of the fast express, the whistles of great ships upon the river.

What will they say then? What will they say?


Things Michael Gerson doesn’t think are worth being called racist over

Rarely does a conservative columnist state it so plainly as Michael Gerson does in his piece about why Ben Carson should vote for a Muslim president:

What gain or goal is worth the cost of breathing life into bigotry?

Here are some things Michael Gerson doesn’t think are worth that cost, because of his self-fulfilling prophecy that “declaring war on demography is like declaring war on gravity”:

  1. A secure border
  2. Preserving the two-party system
  3. A well-assimilated immigrant population

Lots of people have argued the Iraq invasion was racist, being a war of aggression waged against a Muslim nation with at least the secondary purpose of bringing their government up to 21st Century standards. When Gerson was in meetings of the White House Iraq Group, did he think it was worth the slings and arrows?

We don’t get to decide what bigotry is, the world in 2015 is full of people who do that professionally. Since Gerson is ready to elect a Muslim president of a Brazil-ized America, there is very little conflict between them. The ones who aren’t up for a policy of, ‘invade the world, invite the world, then consider the merit of ideas based on whether someone, somewhere, will call them racist,’ have a harder time finding their views represented in the Washington Post.

A question for conservatives about religious liberty and unjust wars

The political right in America seems to have decided that “religious liberty” is a banner they can rally around. With Kim Davis’s jailing, they have their first hero.

But what is this new thing we claim to value, and what are its limits? Consider a Romanian Catholic infantryman from Ohio, on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion, who receives this letter from his bishop:

Because such a moment of moral crisis has arisen for us, beloved Romanian Catholics, I must now speak to you as your bishop. Please be aware that I am not speaking to you as a theologian or as a private Christian voicing his opinion, nor by any means am I speaking to you as a political partisan. I am speaking to you solely as your bishop with the authority and responsibility I, though a sinner, have been given as a successor to the apostles on your behalf. I am speaking to you from the deepest chambers of my conscience as your bishop, appointed by Jesus Christ in his Body, the Church, to help shepherd you to sanctity and to heaven. Never before have I spoken to you in this manner, explicitly exercising the fullness of authority Jesus Christ has given his Apostles “to bind and to loose,” (cf. John 20:23), but now “the love of Christ compels” me to do so (2 Corinthians 5:14). My love for you makes it a moral imperative that I not allow you, by my silence, to fall into grave evil and its incalculable temporal and eternal consequences.

Humanly speaking, I would much prefer to keep silent. It would be far, far easier for me and my family simply to let events unfold as they will, without commentary or warning on my part. But what kind of shepherd would I be if I, seeing the approach of the wolf, ran away from the sheep (cf. John 10:12-14)? My silence would be cowardly and, indeed, sinful. I believe that Christ, whose flock you are, expects more than silence from me on behalf of the souls committed to my protection and guidance.

Therefore I, by the grace of God and the favor of the Apostolic See Bishop of the Eparchy of St. George in Canton, must declare to you, my people, for the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin. Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally incompatible with the Person and Way of Jesus Christ. With moral certainty I say to you it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just war theory.

 Thus, any killing associated with it is unjustified and, in consequence, unequivocally murder. Direct participation in this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in an abortion. For the Catholics of the Eparchy of St. George, I hereby authoritatively state that such direct participation is intrinsically and gravely evil and therefore absolutely forbidden.

What would today’s defender of religious liberty say to this soldier? Should he quit? Should he be allowed to sit this one out? Should he be jailed for insubordination? Why, or why not?

It’s worth noting that if a government only waged just wars, this conflict would not arise. It also seems untenable to allow soldiers to abstain from certain wars based on religious convictions and still keep their jobs. (Update: Some have pointed out the U.S.’s relatively generous standards for conscientious objectors, however, that status is usually only granted to people who object in principle to all wars — the Selective Service Act is written this way — not just certain bad ones.)

I have doubts that most of the supporters of religious liberty for Kim Davis would support it in this case, but maybe I’m wrong.