Tag Archives: war

Some Honest Questions Seeking Honest Answers


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I’ve tried to resist writing this column. Maybe not hard enough. May I say early on . . .

First, reality in general and history in particular, are rarely as simple, clear-cut and tidy as many folks would like to think.

Second, the winners of wars get to write most of the history. (Although I might mention here that one of the finest analyses of the American “Civil War” I’ve ever seen was written by Winston Churchill in a section of his excellent book, A History of the English-speaking Peoples.)

Third, just because the majority of the mainstream news media and other purveyors of political correctness believe something passionately does not even usually make it true.

The recent Confederate flag brouhaha (coming on the heels of real tragedy) reminds us that, though it’s amazing that the scars from the bloodiest war in our nation’s brief history have healed as well as they have, storms make the wound ache.

The best medicine for most wounds is honesty. Finding honest answers usually means asking honest questions of folks who are qualified to answer. I’m not qualified to answer, but here are some genuinely honest questions I’d like to ask those who are.

Slavery was surely far worse, far more brutal, far more evil than most of us can begin to imagine. I wonder if the Civil War actually hastened its real demise.

I wonder if the gasoline to which the match was set wasn’t really the clash of two different ways of life, northern industrialism and southern agrarianism, a clash that ended in explosion.

I wonder if it’s not far too easy, too simple, to say that the blue hats were the white hats and the gray hats were the black hats, good and evil lined up against each other.

I wonder if folks in our nation today can ever understand an age when good people who would be willing to die for this nation could love their states first and even be willing to go to war to defend them. We can hardly imagine that “United States” was once a plural.

Which brings me to Lee and Lincoln. I wonder how two of the finest men this land ever produced could find themselves on opposing sides. This alone would make me wonder if the line between the good guys and the bad guys is as clear as many find easy comfort in thinking.

I wonder if the prevailing politically correct opinion that the soldiers of the Confederacy fought primarily for slavery and the soldiers of the Union fought primarily for freedom is accurate.

I read a short article this week mentioning (try this title on!) “The Rt. Rev. Major General Leonidas K. Polk, CSA.” Polk was Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, and, almost before he knew what was happening, was commissioned as a Major General. His soldiering didn’t stop his preaching. He baptized Gen. John Bell Hood and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Struck by a shell, he died in the Battle of Pine Mountain, Georgia, on June 14, 1864.

Can we be pardoned for thinking that there were some very fine, some very bad, and, mostly, some very human and ordinary folks on both sides of that terrible war?

One thing seems clear. At the end, some of the very best folks (in my estimation), Lincoln and Lee, were united in calling for mercy, healing, unity, and grace.

It’s a call we all still need to heed.



        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!



Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Freedom Is God’s Gift, But It Is Never Free

Milton Eugene Cotten--7-8-1945

The closer a soldier was to fierce combat during any war, the less likely he’ll want to talk about it years later.

My wife’s father, Milton E. “Mick” Cotten, served for 41 months during World War II. He left Turkey, Texas, in March 1942, and was honorably discharged as a Technical Sergeant in September 1945, a good example of the folks Steven Ambrose writes eloquently about in his book Citizen Soldier.

Mick had no particular desire to be a soldier. Like most who did the real fighting and bleeding, he just wanted to survive and get the job done right—and as soon as possible—so he and his buddies could go home. He didn’t like to talk about what doing that job entailed, and he almost never did.

I do remember some fire in his eyes when the name of General Patton came up. Mick rarely said anything bad about anybody, but he was among the “ordinary” soldiers who despised Patton as an arrogant jerk who needed to think more about his troops and less about his own glory.

We’ve done a little research to trace Mick’s path during WWII. I don’t know how excited he’d be about this. Like so many others then and now, he went to war so most of us wouldn’t have to, so we could get on with our ordinary lives. I do think he’d like us to remember the “ordinary” folks who paid a price because they knew day to day life in freedom is precious.

Mick fought in some serious battles, including the bloodiest battle of that bloody war, the “Battle of the Bulge.” We have a little notebook where he listed the names of men in his mortar and other squads, shortages of men in squads, colors of smoke for forward lines, flanks, etc. And names and addresses of some of his men’s next of kin.

Mick fought in three major campaigns and more smaller ones. He was wounded on Dec. 3 and Dec. 16, 1944. Shrapnel ripped into his body and through his hand. He lay in the snow in Normandy, saved from bleeding to death by miserable cold.

A War Department telegram informed his parents that he had been seriously wounded. Mick then wrote from the hospital in England, where he got a letter from his friend and lieutenant calling him the best non-commissioned officer in the company and saying, “That hole in your right chest had me pretty worried.”

Mick did finally come home. He married, and he and his brother-in-law ran a gas station in Turkey, Texas. He farmed there for the rest of his life. My wife remembers as a little girl sitting on his lap, tracing with her fingers the shrapnel scars on his chest.

Her mother framed Mick’s medals in a “shadow box.” He’d earned, among others, two Purple Hearts, the French Croix de Guerre, and a Bronze Star. There was talk from one of his former officers that a building at Fort Knox might be named in his honor. (It never happened. Budget cuts.)

Did you know you can buy medals online? You can get that French “War Cross” for $35.99. A Bronze Star is $22.99. A Purple Heart, $44.99.

But Mick, and many others, who have served and are serving our nation in whatever war in whatever capacity, paid a lot higher price. And they didn’t do it for medals.

Freedom is not free. The blood on lots of hills screams out that truth. And none screams it more loudly than blood shed on a hill called Mount Calvary.


      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!


Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Some Things Are Well Worth Remembering

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Monday is Memorial Day.

The holiday had its beginning after the Civil War and was set aside as a day of remembrance for both Union and Confederate soldiers who died in our nation’s bloodiest war.

Of course, the remembrance has been expanded to include all of those who have died while serving in our armed forces. (Veteran’s Day honors all, living or dead, who have served.)

Some things we do well to remember.

We do well to remember that freedom is not a commodity bestowed by any nation or government, however benevolent; freedom is the gift of God freely given to every human being created in his image.

We do well to remember that the responsibility of nations is to safeguard the freedom-gift God has already given.

We do well to remember that freedom is not a commodity to be confiscated or denied by a despotic nation or government; freedom is the birthright bestowed by our Creator.

We do well to remember that the freedom God has embedded in human hearts  not only survives, it can thrive even in the hearts of those living under outward imprisonment and persecution.

We do well to remember that the freedom which is deep joy and delight to those who cherish it even in the midst of oppression spells failure and destruction to those who live in deep fear of it.

We do well to remember that the same freedom which warms, ennobles, and inspires free hearts instills terror and doom in atrophied and twisted souls frenzied in their futile efforts to quell its tide.

We do well to remember that God’s gift of freedom, so precious that it makes life worth living, also makes life worth laying down so that others may live in its light.

We do well to remember the deep truth of our nation’s “Declaration of Independence,” that we are “endowed by our Creator” not only with life, but with liberty, God’s gift, and the gift of no other.

We do well to remember that the most precious blessings we have enjoyed in this nation have God’s gift of freedom as their life-giving root, their strong foundation.

We do well to remember and acknowledge that a deep love of freedom, though it lies in the hearts of all people, is particularly embedded in hearts of those living in a land built unashamedly on a foundation of freedom.

We do well to remember that those who scoff at God, deny his existence, flaunt his will, and deride anything he calls precious, are free to do so precisely and only because they live in a land whose founders honored God as freedom’s Source.

We do well to remember that thousands of men and women have died so that freedom which is the precious birthright of hearts may also be the outward reality of seemingly ordinary lives.

On ordinary days, national holidays, all days—we do well to remember.


     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com


Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Freedom Is a Costly and Precious Gift

I am writing this column on a beautiful and calm morning. It’s a holiday, and I’m planning to be seriously involved in doing almost nothing serious today.

I’ve watered the fresh concrete in my driveway, trying to help it cure slowly and hoping to get it to grow. So far, that’s worked.

I’m sitting on the back patio, life-giving coffee and a deadly pellet gun on the table by my side. The coffee?  Well, everyone knows it’s foolish to try to write without coffee. And the pellet gun? Well, grackles occasionally show up to try to eat my dog food and chase off civilized birds. I’ve heard some of those nasty grackle-birds are endangered. I doubt it, but with all of my heart, I hope so. They’ll be more endangered if my aim is good today.

Today is Memorial Day. It’s a special day when we especially remember the sacrifice of those who have risked, and many lost, their lives and liberty to keep us free. To remember means to think.

Being still and enjoying time like this is something we should do more of. Thinking tends to happen on the rare occasions when we stop “doing” long enough to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

As I was thinking some this morning about those who have given life and liberty to safeguard the life and liberty which are God’s gifts to us, I thought of a short radio speech given almost 90 years ago in England.

Winston Churchill was talking about “The Causes of War.” He said that many people are convinced that the best way to avoid war is to “dwell upon its horrors,” to spend a lot of time talking about and focusing visually and rhetorically on the horrible cost of war in bloodshed and suffering. Yes, he said, such focus may indeed have genuine value in keeping civilized people from invading and subjugating other nations.

But it is very little help at all when rogue nations with power hungry and blood-thirsty leaders attack others. As we now know, to endlessly negotiate with a Hitler is as effective on the world scene as giving moving speeches on the playground to the school bully. Bullies like to talk. It gives them more time to brutalize the weak, and is very encouraging to them as it proves beyond any doubt the weakness of the speaker.

Oh, yes, Churchill allowed, it’s a fine thing to remind ourselves never to attack and pillage other peace-loving nations and to negotiate solutions to reasonable differences with other civilized nations.

But how do you effectively deal with nations who laugh at the idea of freedom and whose brutal and truly evil leaders gobble up and enslave nation after nation? Very differently.

Freedom is God’s gift to us, and it is precious. Thank God for all those, and their families, who have paid a very real price so that we can live in a land with mornings like this one.



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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