Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the Herald Journal and on this web site.

  Feb. 16, 2004

I am not one bit ashamed of being called a pacifist

Benjamin Franklin once said (in "Letter to Quincy"), "There never was a good war or a bad peace."

He said this before the Civil War, which most of us learned in our high school history classes, was "a necessary war" to save the Union and free the slaves.

I think, though, that even after the Civil War, Benjamin Franklin would have stood his ground.

A Union soldier in the Civil War, home on leave, was asked to give a lecture on the reality of war in the local civic auditorium. Here is part of his speech:

"Reality in the war is not always what you think it is. Take the fight at Round Top (cf. Gettysburg) when I was part of a brigade trying to take that hill. Just a hill, like a lot of others in this world, but 10,000 of our men went after it and only 1,200 came out alive.

"A pile of dead people, that's the reality I'm talking about. The bigger the pile, the bigger the reality. We did get that hill before the Rebs, and that's reality too.

"When it looked like our boys might get their tails whipped, our batteries opened up and dropped a whole lot of cannon shot on top of everybody, the point, of course, being to stop the Rebs. So our boys got themselves killed with our own cannons. Reality.

"This Reb from Texas, when our boys got him in their sights at Round Top, he called out to them, 'Don't shoot me' and threw down his rifle. Soon as he did, one of his fellow Texans shot him in the back.

"And the attack at Cold Harbor, where 7,000 of our boys died in eight minutes trying to break through Lee's line. Couldn't do it. Our dead boys were spread shoulder to shoulder over about five acres

"Then there were the executions. Deserters. There were five of them. Thirty pallbearers carried five new coffins. The prisoners stood there with their hands tied, a guard alongside each one of them. Then, those five young men sat down on their coffins. They got court-martialed for desertion and the President approved they be shot as a warning to cowards and mercenary men in the Army..."

(From "Quinn's Book" by William Kennedy.)

I was always proud that one of my grandfathers from Ireland, Patrick O'Leary, was a deserter from the Union Army. My cousin, Bob O'Leary, who is a genealogical genius, found his name and date of desertion in some Civil War records.

According to my grandfather, he had deserted because he was guarding a stockade of Reb prisoners who were to be executed the next morning. They had been captured out of uniform. The rule was that any Reb caught out of uniform would be shot as a spy.

One of the Rebs was from the same county in Ireland as my grandfather. He begged and pleaded for his wife and children left behind in Tennessee.

My grandfather said, "If I let you go, I'll have to go with you," and so he did. My grandfather had already paid his dues, taking a Minnie ball in the neck at Antietam. That wound eventually led to his fatal cancer.

The Civil War ruined our country. It could have been avoided if Lincoln, the Republican, had not been elected, and if, after Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861, negotiations had begun. The administration would rather fight than talk, though. Sound familiar?

Slavery would have ended peaceably, like it had already ended in the rest of the civilized world. There may have been a temporary split off from the federal government, but the northern and the southern states needed each other, just as they do today, and they would have soon reunited.

The country already stretched from coast to coast, thanks to the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. Slavery was no longer economically sound.

It ruined our country because of the horrendous number of men killed and wounded on both sides, leaving families destitute and the southern countryside laid waste in dire poverty. The total dead were 498,333 men, not counting the wounded. That's a half million people, when this country's total population in 1860 had been 31 million.

It created hard feelings forever between the races and regions. Reconstruction was a disaster for the South, blacks and whites alike.

I am not one bit ashamed of being called a pacifist. I long for the day when the term "Christian soldier" will be considered an oxymoron unless it refers to a member of the Salvation Army.

It is very hard for me to go to Mass and sing "God Bless America." Or to see the American flag in the sanctuary. I have no trouble praying for our troops in Iraq. I write to some of them. I do know that in the early church, Christians were forbidden to serve in the Roman Army or any army, just as abortion and adultery were forbidden. This was what set Christians apart.

I was 10 years old when World War II started. That's when I grew to be a pacifist because I had three brothers in World War II: Myles, John and Paul. I wanted them back in Waverly. World War II was called "The Good War," just as World War One was called "The War to End All Wars." Of course it didn't end war. Governments love war. It keeps them in power.

Even though right now, not one member of Congress has a son or daughter serving in the enlisted ranks in Iraq, they voted overwhelmingly for the "War Resolution" just as the Congress in the '60s supported the Vietnam War and voted for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which we now know was a lie concocted to justify the war. Sound familiar?

During the Vietnam War, a survey taken by a member of Congress in Wisconsin found that all of the draftees in his counties came from families with less than $5,000 a year income. College students, if you will remember, all had draft deferments, a sign of the rich and powerful taking care of their own.

In the Civil War, a man could buy his way out of the draft for $600 by paying a substitute to enlist in his place. It was one of the reasons the Union Army had so many immigrants in its ranks.

Am I still a pacifist? Damned right. It's pretty lonely. There's no peace movement in the nation right now and little, if any, dissent.

Quote for the week:

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Back to Waverly Star menu

Herald Journal
Stories | Columns | Obituaries | Classifieds
Guides | Sitemap | Search | Home Page