If only I could get regular mail. Instead, I get anonymous phone calls.

This time, the tipster called me and pointed me to an old schoolhouse near Kansas City. “Go behind the south wing, and you’ll see where there used to be a garden. Walk past it, and when you find an old compost pile, look for an envelope. I think you’ll be very interested in what’s inside.”

Curious, I pushed back a bit. “Lots of things might interest me. What’s in that envelope that’s so special that I should go looking for a pile of compost?

The voice on the phone paused, then said “It’s a letter from one of my grandparents to Rudy Giuliani.”

“Why can’t your grandparent simply put it in the mail?” I asked.

“Two reasons. First, you need a mailing address, and we don’t have one. Second, though, and more important, is privacy. You see, my grandparent was Rudy Giuliani’s elementary school teacher. Go find that letter, please.”

Click. The phone went dead.

So I went to the old abandoned schoolhouse, found overgrown garden, and sticking out from under the compost  — ewwww! — was an envelope. As with the earlier correspondence I received in a similar manner, I am unable to authenticate the contents, but it sure sounds like an old elementary teacher . . .

* * *

Dear Rudolph,

I saw your recent remarks about American presidents, and just had to sit down and write you a quick note. As your old elementary school teacher, I taught you some of your first lessons about presidents, but apparently you weren’t listening very well. You were pretty firm in your opinions back then, and it appears you haven’t changed a bit. If anything, your view of yourself has only gotten more inflated.

Here’s what you said that got me to put fingers to keyboard:

The reality is, from all that I can see of this president, all that I’ve heard of him, he apologizes for America, he criticizes America. … This is an American president I’ve never seen before.

Really, Rudolph? Never? Not once?

Oh, but then — as usually happened with you in my class — you couldn’t leave well enough alone once you screwed up. You had to add this:

“What I don’t find with Obama — this will get me in more trouble again — is a really deep knowledge of history. I think it’s a dilettante’s knowledge of history.”

I’d say you must have slept through my class all year, but I know from the persistent sound of your voice that that wasn’t the case. Let me give you a little refresher, since you obviously couldn’t hear me over your own talking.

You want to see a president who criticizes America? Let me show you a few.

Here’s one that you might even remember, if you stop talking for just a minute and think for a minute:

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

What kind of America-hating president would complain about the military having too much influence? What kind of America-hating president would warn that the combination of the military and private industry would erode civil liberties and democracy itself? What kind of America-hating president would say that we need not government secrecy and not blind trust in anyone wearing a uniform, but an alert and knowledgeable citizenry to rein in generals and corporate CEOs?

Does the name “Dwight Eisenhower” ring any bells? Sure, he served as the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, and sure, he had a bunch of stars on his uniform, but he probably stormed the beaches of Normandy wearing birkenstocks. He probably just rode on Patton’s coattails and claimed the glory for himself. How dare he criticize this great nation!

Just so we’re clear: that’s a joke.

Rudolph, if you want to see a president who criticizes America, Obama is not even close to the best at it. Let me introduce you again to a president whose criticism of America is off the charts: Abraham Lincoln. Speaking of slavery and the civil war that was on the verge of being won, here’s what Lincoln had to say about this nation.

To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Let me translate and condense Mr. Lincoln’s remarks for you, Rudolph: “For all the religious sentiment that both sides expressed, God’s judgment against slavery is meted out against both the treasonous and soon-to-be defeated rebels and the pious and soon-to-be-victorious Union, and if God wants as much blood to fall from soldiers as fell from slaves, so be it.”

That is criticism, Rudolph, coming from one of the greatest presidents of them all. If you think Obama is rough on America, just read Lincoln. If you want to see a dilettante’s knowledge of history, re-read your own interview.

Rudolph, I’m old. I’m also concerned about my reputation, and so I’m not going to sign this letter. I wouldn’t want folks here at the retirement home to know that I was your teacher, because I obviously didn’t do a very good job when it came to American presidents.

But just so you know that I am indeed your old teacher: do you remember the notes you used to pass in class, telling girl A that you were going to dump girl B to go out with A because she was cuter? I do . . . Maybe if I’d read them out loud to the class it would have changed your behavior. Oh well, there’s another teaching mistake I made . . .

Sincerely,

Your Old Teacher

________

photo h/t to Doug Noon and used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license. Note that this is not the compost pile under which I found this letter, as I have to protect my sources.

Peterr

Peterr

I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.

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