For this reason he became a leader of Wisconsin’s Wide Awakes, an anti-slave catcher militia. He sheltered Sherman Booth, who was made a federal fugitive after inciting a mob to rescue an escaped slave. He joined the Free Soil Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery into the western states.
When the Free Soil Party merged into the new Republican Party, which also opposed the expansion of slavery, Heg became a Republican. When the Republican candidate became president and the slave-holding states of the South seceded, he went to work raising an army unit from his fellow Norwegians. His “thousand Norsemen” were mustered into service as the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the only all-Scandinavian regiment in the Union Army, with Heg at their head as colonel.
He led the 15th in battle at Perrysville, Kentucky, and Stones River, Tennessee. In September 1863, at Chickamauga, Georgia, he “was shot through the bowels and died the next day.” Heg’s body was returned to Wisconsin and buried in the Norwegian Lutheran cemetery near Wind Lake.
In 1925, in conjunction with the centennial of Norwegian immigration to America, a bronze statue of Heg was installed at the state capitol in Madison. The bronze colonel has stood in silent witness to Norwegian-Americans’ contributions to freedom ever since.
But a few nights ago—June 23, 2020—a mob of citizens toppled Heg’s statue, dismembered it, and threw the pieces in Lake Monona. They had begun by protesting the disorderly-conduct arrest of a black man named Devonere Johnson and ended by destroying the statue of Colonel Hans Christian Heg.
Many have pointed out the apparent incongruity of Black Lives Matter protesters destroying the statue of a leading abolitionist and Civil War hero. “These people must not know history,” they have said.
But surely the point here is that in the current uproar, historical judgments are irrelevant. History itself is the enemy. The bond between past and present sometimes becomes more visceral than philosophical. At suchtimes, the strident present ransacks the mute past, seeking out victims. Ask any Bosnian.
There can be no distinction between a Hans Christian Heg and a Nathan Bedford Forrest when a noisy claque regards the whole past as merely a bogus excuse for a deplorable status quo.
It is bad enough they killed him at Chickamauga. Killing him all over again, by effigy, assasinates his memory. It cannot injure Hans Christian Heg beyond the grave. But it is dispiriting to those of us who would like to suppose that Americans express themselves in rational ways. Obviously, that is not always so.
The people destroying things now for racial harmony, like those destroying things fifty years ago for peace, may think they are igniting The Revolution. Their Marxist utopia did not come into being in those days. But our nation’s troubling racial divide is a more fertile ground for deep-seated conflict.
It’s unlikely there will be a revolution, but it’s easy to believe we are in for a long, hard time. It would be nice if some good came out of it all, but I don’t have that kind of faith.
In the spring of 1965 I flunked out of Knox College. The timing of this was pretty spectacular, as there was a war on.
I lost my student deferment and went to the top of the Draft Board’s list for two years’ service in the Army or Marines. Instead I volunteered for a four-year hitch in the U.S. Air Force. They sent me to Monterey, California, to learn Chinese.
After learning Chinese, I spent a year on a Taiwan mountaintop, monitoring Chinese Communist radio communications; then spent about fifteen months flying out of Okinawa, grinding away at the Chinese Problem from recon aircraft over Southeast Asia.
I completed my service in September 1969 and came home to a land I barely recognized. Gone was the familiar America of Walt Whitman, singing its varied carols. In its place wallowed a society designed by, or for, Saul Alinsky and Howard Zinn.
The culture shock was starkened by my having gone immediately from military service to the University of Wisconsin campus at the height of its anti-war, revolutionary, zeal. The serious leftists in Madison, some of whom I got to know pretty well, were dedicated, if mostly amateur, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist agitators.
Turned loose by Uncle Sam, I sought now to redeem myself as a student. This time around, I promised myself, I would shun all-night poker parties and all-day Frisbee flinging. I would hit the books with righteous fervor. Admitted to the university on academic probation, I was determined to clear my name in one semester.
Meanwhile, the campus of 35,000 students seethed with anger, revolt, socialist machinations, and broken windows.
On the twelfth floor of Van Hise Hall, East Asian and South Asian language students gathered to read, translate, argue, and kibbitz. From a perch nudging the stratosphere we gazed down on ant-like protesters surging at straight lines of National Guardsmen and police. Puffs of white smoke plumed the ground here and there—signs that our homeward treks at day’s end would be tinged with tear gas.
One day a young man whose name I no longer recall complained about the police—whom he called “the pigs,” in the argot of the day.
“I wish you wouldn’t call them pigs,” I said.
He frowned. “Why not? That’s what they are.”
“No. Pigs are animals; police officers are people. They may not share your ideas, they may be ranged against you in a riot. But they are human beings. If you call them pigs you deny their humanity and make it convenient to disregard their human attributes. They may have a viewpoint of their own, but you will never bother to consider it, because they’re only pigs.”
For me, this was a long speech.
The young man gazed at me for a moment and said, “You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that. From now on I will not call police officers pigs.”
A transformative moment, in the midst of the Revolution? Fat chance.
If this young man was changed by my earnest entreaty, then he was the only one. I soon figured out that I was not made for political battles, or any other kind of battles. I gave up trying to engage intellectually with my friends on the left and shunned politics from that day to this.
The protesters of 1969-70 opposed the police not only in practice but in principle. Policemen enforced the law. Thus they were tools of the Establishment, defenders of the status quo. The enemy.
Kent State, Sterling Hall
On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guard members killed four students at Kent State University. Then on August 24, here in Madison, revolutionaries planted a huge bomb that demolished Sterling Hall, a large academic building, and killed a physics researcher.These grim events took steam out of the anti-war movement; but only in January 1973—when President Richard Nixon pulled the U.S. out of Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government collapsed, and Ho Chi Minh’s communists took over the whole country—did that movement end.
Pre-Vietnam normality began to seep back into the United States. But the gaping wound in our national fabric did not heal. Fifty years later, we remain mired in distrust of one another, of our government, and of authority in general.
“Authority” can mean two different things. Let’s call them “intrinsic authority” and “conferred authority.”
Intrinsic authority speaks for itself. Jesus was said to have taught “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” When you have a knee replaced, you may rely on the surgeon’s medical diploma; but your go/no-go decision might be based on your gut’s confidence in the surgeon, not on his formal qualifications. That’s intrinsic authority.
Conferred authority is legal, or legalistic. It is the authority of a city clerk to license a couple for marriage. It is the authority of a president to okay the launch of nuclear-tipped missiles.
When intrinsic authority and conferred authority coincide, one of the results is a high-trust society. Unfortunately, such coincidence is becoming a rare thing. We give little obedience to conferred authority because we discern no intrinsic authority within it. We jeer our leaders; we defy those to whom they delegate power, including the police.
Then and Now
The long-drawn-out war of our present day, being fought in Afghanistan since 2001, does not attract the intense interest that the one in Vietnam did fifty years ago. Fewer American troops are involved, none of them are draftees, and Southwest Asia seems even farther away now than Southeast Asia did then.
Today’s great controversy is not war but race—racism, racial discrimination, white privilege, and the oppression of blacks. But in one way our time does resemble the past: Police and policing stand at the center of the conflict.
I have not heard the term “pigs” applied to police in recent years—not even in the past two or three weeks. They are still regarded as humans, which is good. Recent events, however, paint them as racists—which may be worse than pigs.
Because of this, people keen on public order rush to point out that “most police” are dedicated, overworked public servants and should not be tarred with the brush of racism.
But people keen on social justice assert that racism is systemic in our society. They profess that “defunding” the police would be a good step toward redressing the balance. The general public views this concept with horror, so the would-be defunders belatedly explain they do not mean complete defunding but only partial defunding. This satisfies nobody, because some folks really do want to abolish the police, while everybody else thinks the police need more funding, not less.
In all this palaver, what gets lost is any mature reckoning of the unique position that police occupy in our society.
The late Chairman Mao got at least one thing right: Political power does grow from the barrel of a gun. That is true always and everywhere. In a free society, we place that gun in the hands of a police officer and expect that officer to exercise conferred authority within limits prescribed by law.
George Orwell said, “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.” Police are the people we hire to do violence on our behalf.
What I am getting at is that, while police officers are humans, they are humans of a special kind.
Most of us fall into the category of the Protected. Police officers are the Protectors.
My wife’s cousin was a police officer in a Chicago suburb. He said that within a few weeks of putting on his badge, he had learned to lump people into two categories: good folks and bad guys. And he made this distinction within seconds of entering a situation. Such swift decisions must have included a large reliance on intuition. Was he ever mistaken in his assessments? The conversation did not extend that far.
Those who have the “take-charge” kind of personality that leads them into law enforcement, and who need to survive in potentially hazardous situations, will most likely develop the same reliance on snap judgments that my wife’s cousin described.
So when we, the People, lay plans to send out social workers in place of cops, let’s get real. When we modify police training and rules of engagement, let’s remember that police will need to translate their instructions into action in fluid situations. We should not be surprised when they find their powers creatively enhanced by statutes that we had thought would curb their power.
Remember that we license the police to use violence—brutal acts labeled as “authorized use of force”—on our behalf. If we do not wish to confer this authority, perhaps we should completely defund the police; abolish the departments.
Then all of us, including those who “abjure” violence, would need to become the Protectors for ourselves and our families. Thirty-one states allow firearms to be carried openly. I suppose a general defunding of police departments would bring us back to the old Western ambience of Dodge City. Is that the outcome we seek?
What we face, in practical terms, is a need to improve the way we confer authority upon our police officers.
But the greater issue is seldon spoken of. It is simply this: Unless those who wield conferred authority combine it with intrinsic authority, our problems will continue, will intensify, and will multiply.
Intrinsic authority = character.
There is no substitute for character. Its short supply, in the police and in the whole population, is our real problem.
In the mood for a summer read that will boost your faith in people, yet without being simplistic and sappy? A book that may even compel you to cry real tears—I confess I did—from sympathy and joy?
A Wisconsin woman has written such a book for you. Her name is Amy E. Reichert, and the book is called The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go.
No, it’s not one of those step-by-step self-help guides guaranteed to make you happy by teaching you to trust your Inner Self. Instead, it’s a novel, the tale of four women—three generations of one family—who must try out new, unaccustomed paths through life as they cope with dizzymaking love, heartbreaking loss, and hard-wrought social and psychic defense mechanisms.
The story centers on Gina, who owns and operates a one-woman food truck, serving gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches for Milwakee’s lunchtimers. Gina’s a pushover for people in real need, yet hard-nosed enough to run a thriving business. She’s also half-numb with mourning for her deceased husband and stumped by the challenge of relating to May, her equally grief-stricken daughter.
Gina, May, and Gina’s younger sister, Vicky, are showered with unwelcome parental supervision by Lorraine, Gina and Vicky’s overbearing mother. When a sudden crisis in Lorraine’s health begins to expose deeply-buried family secrets, all four need to readjust their lives to accommodate startling new realities.
I loved this book, principally because the people in it are so real. They are all people I’ve known, and I’ll wager you know them, too. The family situations they find themselves in both preposterous and absolutely credible. These are just the kinds of things that happen to people in real life.
The characters’ strengths can also be weaknesses, and their weaknesses strengths. Gina is a compulsive organizer, who can only stumble through her hectic days by making lists. Patronizing remarks to the contrary notwithstanding, it is Gina’s listmaking that gradually, persistently, begins to impose order on the chaos of her life—and even on the structure of the novel itself.
The old woman, Lorraine, is almost as irritating to the reader as she is to her daughters and granddaughter. But as her story gradually unwinds, we find ourselves admiring the very adaptations that make her so annoying.
I would like to go on and on about the strengths of this novel, with its sure-footed narrative style. But if I write any more, you’ll begin to feel I’ve told you the whole story.
And it’s too good a story not to experience for yourself.
Ensconce yourself, at your earliest opportunity, with a copy of The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go. I’ll bet you will like it as much as I did.
There is a niche of special distinction in the Class Clowns’ Hall of Fame, and it contains a marble bust of Milo Bung, smiling beatifically and crowned with laurel. When we were in sixth grade Milo was a source of much innocent merriment.
Where your average class clown fed on spectacles like putting a thumb tack on the teacher’s chair while she was down the hall grabbing a smoke, or stacking books on a desk corner so they would fall when somebody walked by, Milo was more subtle.
His specialty was a unique glassy-eyed stare, which he flashed whenever the teacher called on him for an answer. I don’t know whether he was transfixed by the mystery of South America’s principal exports, or just languid by nature.
Whatever Milo had, subtlety was of its essence.
I bumped into him at the supermarket recently, pushing his cart the wrong way up a COVID-directed aisle. “Milo,” I said, “where’s your mask?”
“Mask?” he wondered.
“Like the one I’m wearing. You know, for coronavirus.”
“Oh, is that why everybody’s wearing masks?”
I nodded, as emphatically as one can nod at Milo Bung. “Without a mask, you might get sick and die.”
His eyes opened wide. “Then I’d better stock up right now on Cheetos.” And off he dashed, up the down aisle.
That was my most recent encounter with Milo until now; but apparently he has not gotten sick and died yet, for I saw him tonight on the ten o’clock news. A squad car lay burning in the street. Several demonstrators, or maybe outside agitators, stepped through the smashed front window of a store that sells ladies’ foundation garments. They carried boxes and cartons of what must have been frilly unmentionables.
Despite the burning squad car, no cops were in view; yet here came Milo, strolling down the street, right into camera range. He halted smack dab in the center of all this resistance to injustice. He swiveled his head this way and that, then stared into the camera with an expression that proclaimed, “Is anybody else seeing what I’m seeing?” He shrugged and ambled out the right side of the frame. He had something in his hands. Looked like a bag of Cheetos.
Knowing they must have taped this earlier in the evening, I surmised that Milo Bung, if not in jail, might now be at home. So I dialed his number. Sure enough, he answered.
“I saw you on TV! In the middle of a riot!” I shouted as calmly as I could.
“A riot?” said Milo. “(Crunch, crunch.) Oh, sure, that’s what it must have been.”
“Couldn’t you tell?”
“Well, something funny was going on, that’s for sure. It’s getting so a guy can’t take an evening promenade (crunch, crunch) without running into out-of-towners.”
“Out-of-towners!” I roared. “How do you know they were out-of-towners?”
“Well, (crunch, crunch), stands to reason. I mean, how many guys do you know from around here (crunch, crunch) that need so many boxes of lacy underwear for their sweeties?”
“Are you munching Cheetos?”
“Yeah, I got boxes and boxes of them. Come on over, I’ll give you some.”
“But weren’t you even aware what they were rioting about? It was injustice. Racial injustice. What do you think about that?”
There was a moment’s silence on the line while Milo digested my question, and his Cheetos. “One man’s injustice,” he said, “is another man’s free underwear.”
“Is that all you’ve got to say?”
“No, but if I told you, then you’d blab it to everybody else, so I’m clamming up.”
Milo was always a step or two ahead of the rest of us. He was the first boy in our class to declare what he wanted to be when he grew up: An elevator operator. “I like the look of a uniform,” he drawled. When we graduated from high school—and, lo! all elevators had been converted to self-service—Milo joined the Marines.
Imagine my confusion when Ho Chi Minh let Milo live and returned him to our community in his original condition. He may simply have been unshootable. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
“Desiderata” is Latin for “things desired.” Often in difficult times, the thing we most desire is peace.
The prolific, inspirational writer Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) of Terre Haute, Indiana, penned a prose poem that was published as “Desiderata” in 1948. It is the only one of his works to achieve enduring fame, and that only after his death.
For its tone and diction, and because it once appeared in a church publication with the legend, “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore AD 1692,” it is often assumed to be ancient, maybe even Scriptural in origin. “1692,” however, meant the date of the church’s founding, not of the poem’s writing.
“Desiderata” is neither Biblical nor liturgical nor even very old. But, like Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, it stakes a claim to an authenticity of its own. It swept the nation in 1971, when a voice artist named Les Crane released it as a spoken word recording. That was at the height of our nation’s internal turmoil over Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. The serene, contemplative tone of the piece may have boosted its popularity.
Today we are again in a time of stress and conflict. Perhaps Mr. Ehrmann’s poem will be of some use to you. At least, it constitutes good advice.
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.