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Stephanie
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John Brown

John Brown was considered both a crazed fanatic and a prophet of change. How does the novel portray him?
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IBIS
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Re: John Brown

I've been reading more about John Brown, and he's a fascinating figure.

In SOUL CATCHER, he is portrayed positively. In another post, Michael White considers him a moral man who was willing to die for his anti-slavery beliefs.

One question raised by Brown's life is how his Harpers Ferry raid impacted the coming of the Civil War. Much of what I've read distinguish between the failure of the raid itself, and the way it has been interpreted by historians.

The raid itself was poorly planned and executed. Brown only attracted 21 followers (of which 2 were his own sons), a lot less than the 100 he had hoped for. He didn't communicate with slaves in the Harpers Ferry area before the raid. He didn't think to destroy documents which incriminated his supporters. He and his men brought no provisions when they attacked the federal arsenal. And his indecisiveness and procrastination during the raid resulted in the death of 10 of his 21 followers, and the capture and hanging of himself and 6 others.

A fundamental issue about Brown's life is his commitment to racial equality. He did achieve a level of intimacy with blacks that was extraordinarily rare for his times. Yet it remains unclear if he was the true racial egalitarian that some historians claim he was. For example, Brown took almost no advice from blacks (except for Frederick Douglass, whose advice he rejected), and he didn't appoint any blacks to serve as lieutenants in his raid on Harpers Ferry. The paternalism of his times seems to run through his relations with blacks.

If Brown had died during the attack, he could easily have been dismissed as an incompetent fanatic.

Many well-respected abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, came to his defense.
And Brown's own eloquence at his trial, in combination with the championing of his cause by Thoreau, Emerson, and other Northern Transcendentalists, helped put a more positive spin on his raid on Harpers Ferry.
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vivico1
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Re: John Brown


Stephanie wrote:
John Brown was considered both a crazed fanatic and a prophet of change. How does the novel portray him?


We have some good discussions going on John Brown, on the historical information thread too and I think from what Michael says there, you get a good idea of how he was protraying him in this book.
Vivian
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kiakar
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Re: John Brown



IBIS wrote:
I've been reading more about John Brown, and he's a fascinating figure.

In SOUL CATCHER, he is portrayed positively. In another post, Michael White considers him a moral man who was willing to die for his anti-slavery beliefs.

One question raised by Brown's life is how his Harpers Ferry raid impacted the coming of the Civil War. Much of what I've read distinguish between the failure of the raid itself, and the way it has been interpreted by historians.

The raid itself was poorly planned and executed. Brown only attracted 21 followers (of which 2 were his own sons), a lot less than the 100 he had hoped for. He didn't communicate with slaves in the Harpers Ferry area before the raid. He didn't think to destroy documents which incriminated his supporters. He and his men brought no provisions when they attacked the federal arsenal. And his indecisiveness and procrastination during the raid resulted in the death of 10 of his 21 followers, and the capture and hanging of himself and 6 others.

A fundamental issue about Brown's life is his commitment to racial equality. He did achieve a level of intimacy with blacks that was extraordinarily rare for his times. Yet it remains unclear if he was the true racial egalitarian that some historians claim he was. For example, Brown took almost no advice from blacks (except for Frederick Douglass, whose advice he rejected), and he didn't appoint any blacks to serve as lieutenants in his raid on Harpers Ferry. The paternalism of his times seems to run through his relations with blacks.

If Brown had died during the attack, he could easily have been dismissed as an incompetent fanatic.

Many well-respected abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, came to his defense.
And Brown's own eloquence at his trial, in combination with the championing of his cause by Thoreau, Emerson, and other Northern Transcendentalists, helped put a more positive spin on his raid on Harpers Ferry.




IBIS; it does seem Brown didn't plan his attack very well but I feel he was remembered for maybe a thimble size of a thought for the enslaved man. Maybe he was not a leader or a educated man but the one thing he had to have had was a heart. He simply didn't believe in enslaving men or women and he reacted as best he could. His cause was remembered and I think its good it was. There is always evil entwined with good, many innocent men died at his hand but that is true always with conflict that leads to war.
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MichaelCWhite
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Re: John Brown

IBis,

Everything you say about Brown is true. While deeply committed to abolishing slavery right away, he was also paternalistic to slaves, as were most whites, from the Boston brahmins to Lincoln to Gerritt Smith and other abolitionists. However, it is difficult to apply today's standards of racial relationships to those of the period. The most progressive thinkers of that period would still be looked upon today as having paternalistic attitudes towards Afro-Americans. And Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was a disaster in terms of military campaigns. But in terms of a symbolic action it can be said to have ignited the Civil War. Southerners were outraged by his behavior, while many in the North took it as a stand against slavery. Certainly it was a polarizing event of great magnitude.

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Re: John Brown

[ Edited ]
Kiakar, you're right that Brown had a heart, that he didn't believe in enslaving men and women, and he reacted as best he could...

But, again, I can't help but wonder, since September 11, 2001, if we shouldn't be more careful about finding some deeper good in terrorist politics of any kind.

Does the scale of the slaughter by Osama bin laden make his terrorist acts different in kind from John Brown's? Osama and his armies also believe that America, and the entire Western civilization, is enslaving men and women.

How do we justify the the actions of our own home-grown terrorist, Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, since he also believed that the American government was enslaving men and women?

It leads me to wonder what John Brown might have done if he had jet airplanes, or trucks with homegrown explosives, at his disposal.

Message Edited by IBIS on 11-03-2007 06:16 PM
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Re: John Brown

[ Edited ]
Michael,

It's difficult to apply today's standards of racial relationships to those of the ante-bellum South.

I know that we view everything today through the prism of our contemporary sensibilities. There will always be a gap between what we can imagine and empathize, and what the actual realities were in the past.

And you're absolutely right, the attack on Harper's Ferry was a polarizing event of great magnitude.

I'm just concerned that through the distancing of time, acts of violence against the defenseless, no matter how symbolically apropos, or justifiably motivating, must never be excused for what they are: acts of violence against the defenseless and the innocent.

Message Edited by IBIS on 11-03-2007 07:29 PM
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MichaelCWhite
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Re: John Brown

Questions of using violence to achieve "moral" ends are at best very tricky. So I agree with both comments about seeing John Brown as some sort of avenging angel. But many times since it is the victor who writes the historical record, the way we look at moments of violence are colored by that writing. To take a couple of example. Imagine how the history of the American Revolution (esp. Lexington and Concord) or the Civil War would have been written if the British and the South had won their respective wars. We write about the "shot heard round the world" as a wonderful act of freedom. But if the British had won, our mutual history would have it that terrorists had killed honoralble British soldiers. The same is true for the history of Ireland in 1916. Those that tried to rebel against the British and were hanged are now considered heroes by the Irish people, and, I think rightly so. We look at Pearl Harbor as a vicious and evil attack (as I think it was) but if Japan had won, the history of that event would be seen in a radically different way. Sometimes it takes a long time to get the right--or at least a different--perspective on such watershed moments. Getting back to Brown, during his time he was viewed by all of the South, and by many in the North as a dangerous lunatic--similar to the view we hold of McVeigh. And Brown's character has been, over the past century and a half, viewed with, at best, a mixture of grudging admiration and downright loathing. The difference between a McVeigh and a Brown, to me anyway, is that over time, Brown is seen to have had a concrete cause that was justified not just in retrospect but at the time. How do we know? In just two short years after Harper's Ferry, they began a war that would eventually kill 620,000 people. Also, 3 million human beings were, at the time of Harper's Ferry, imprisoned--like Rosetta and Henry in the novel. My guess is that in a hundred years, we will look at both McVeigh and Osama as we do now--crazed and evil men, who had visions of justice that few would ultimately share.

Whew! That question took a lot out of me. But this is exactly what this book club is meant to do, get some great discussions going.

Michael


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kiakar
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Re: John Brown



IBIS wrote:
Kiakar, you're right that Brown had a heart, that he didn't believe in enslaving men and women, and he reacted as best he could...

But, again, I can't help but wonder, since September 11, 2001, if we shouldn't be more careful about finding some deeper good in terrorist politics of any kind.

Does the scale of the slaughter by Osama bin laden make his terrorist acts different in kind from John Brown's? Osama and his armies also believe that America, and the entire Western civilization, is enslaving men and women.

How do we justify the the actions of our own home-grown terrorist, Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, since he also believed that the American government was enslaving men and women?

It leads me to wonder what John Brown might have done if he had jet airplanes, or trucks with homegrown explosives, at his disposal.

Message Edited by IBIS on 11-03-2007 06:16 PM




IBIS; I might not be completely accurate about this but Osama was upset because when the First Bush was President, he occupied the sacred grounds in Osama's releglious territory.That made Osama determined to get back at the U.S. for this. WE had no regard for their sagrid ground. I guess we step on toes whatever cause we have. We just should try and ease the pain for others when we treach on others territory. And alot of minding some one else's business is done by the US also. Some causes cause alot of damage but I guess they will conitnue to happen as long as a person's passion for rightousness continues to blossom with every generation.
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IBIS
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Re: John Brown

_______________________________________________________
Kiakar wrote:
Some causes cause alot of damage but I guess they will conitnue to happen as long as a person's passion for rightousness continues to blossom with every generation.
___________________________________________________________

Kiakar,
Thank goodness for that.... that people will continue to have passions for doing the right thing, for wanting to change what is evidently evil and wrong.

The minute we stop caring is when everything goes to h*ll in a handbasket.

One of my favorite quotes is from Edmund Burke: "The only way for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing."
IBIS

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kiakar
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Re: John Brown



IBIS wrote:
_______________________________________________________
Kiakar wrote:
Some causes cause alot of damage but I guess they will conitnue to happen as long as a person's passion for rightousness continues to blossom with every generation.
___________________________________________________________

Kiakar,
Thank goodness for that.... that people will continue to have passions for doing the right thing, for wanting to change what is evidently evil and wrong.

The minute we stop caring is when everything goes to h*ll in a handbasket.

One of my favorite quotes is from Edmund Burke: "The only way for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing."




Thanks for that quote, IBIS; It is so true!.
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MichaelCWhite
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Re: John Brown

A wonderful quote from Burke, one that is appropriate in all ages and for all situations. Yet one person's terrorist is another person's liberator. For me, the difference between the two lies not in the perpetrator's motives--we can't tell motives--but in the ultimate result and in the test of time. The American Revolution was seen by the British as a terrorist action, punishable by treason (Nathan Hale). Gandhi was considered a terrorist, as was Martin Luther King. The White Rose movement (by students) during the Nazi years was also seen as treasonable, and several were hanged. Yet in retrospect, they young people were heroes, who gave their lives for a wonderful cause. What distinguishes the non-violent rebels is their commitment to passive resistance. But can passive resistance to tyranny always success? My only concern with using violence as a means of change (the actions of John Brown), is that it must be a last measure, after reason and persuasion and all lawful means have been tried, and weighed against the suffering of those being persecuted. And even then force or violence must be done with great restraint. These are standards that the McVeighs and Bin Ladens don't consider when perpetrating their crazed "missions."

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Re: Terrorist and McVeigh

As a person from Oklahoma, and living near the city when the bombing happened, and having friends working down there, where I was suppose to be two blocks from the bombing that day but wasn't, I have two words for McVeigh - nut job! And we got plenty of them in America who think, well I don't like this or that, let me just blew them up, that will show them. When the bombing happened, altho we had never had this kind of thing happen before, when they were looking for who did it and I was looking to see if everyone I knew was alive on TV, something inside me said, oh please don't let this be someone from America. I have no idea to this day why I would even think it could be that day, after what happened in New York before, at first everyone was sure it had to be overseas terrorist. We never doubted it about the twin towers (ok so I used to love Rosie O'Donnell as a comedian but I am not with her on her conspiracy theories lol), we never thought the towers might be Americans, but when the bombing happened here, I just prayed it wasn't an American. I guess in a way I should be glad it was, our home grown terrorist, so far, at least when captured, that all of that group, not like the kind of terrorist cells from overseas at work. But I just didnt want to think we could do that to people, innocent people in our own country. And those babies in the nursery that day! I know its innocence to think "well that's the kind of stuff that happens over there" or that "thats what we are trying to stop from coming here", but I didn't want to think an American could do it. It all broke my heart and when it turned out to be this stupid nut job with a chip on his shoulder, it just made it that much worse.

I stayed away from downtown OKC for three months after that, I didn't want to be in the way while they were cleaning up and I wasnt sure I was ready for it. When I did get down there and most of it was all cleared away, the rubble that is, and the Murrah building was just gone, I drove a few blocks further away and around to the back of these apartments, all along the way, businesses were gone, or broken down or were boarded up with plywood. On the back side of this one high rise apartment building tho, it hit me. All the windows on the back side all the way up were blown out and there were still curtains up on some of them just flapping in the breeze, three whole months later. The place looked like the Beirut I had seen on TV. See, the thing is, even when I had seen it the day it happened on TV and couldnt believe it, something about it still was like a movie, I stayed removed from it in some ways, after all the stuff in movies look this real. But there in person, looking up at those curtains in the window and I swear if i ever wrote a book about that time here, I would call it Curtians in The Windows! That scene gave me a panic attack. That was real, what I had seen on tv was something I could distance myself from enough to be still be frightened, worried about people I knew, intrigued - yes intrigued, all kinds of things right here, but still at a distance. Downtown was real, those curtains for floors up flapping in the wind against jagged glass and broken walls was real. It was like a one giant flag made out of landscape flapping in the wind saying land of the free and home of the deadly and the dead, that did not belong in the town or country I knew.

I saw a woman Doctor I knew on tv trying to help down there that day and looking like a zombie walking around and she put on her shades as if to shield herself against what she was seeing. I saw a woman on tv that day, I do not know who she was and it was only timing and being drawn to her for some reason visually that caused what will stick in my mine forever. I saw her early in aftermath going in and helping bring people and the kids out that she could, well to be exact, I saw her bring out a woman and was sitting her on the sidewalk and trying to comfort her and something drew me to her out of the crowd. Later, the next day I think, they were talking about the dead so far and some numbers and also mentioned that there had been a couple of fatalities while helping. They said a woman from just some business downtown or something, had been helping to get people out when she was hit on the head inside by falling debri getting someone out, they said she appeared ok to bystanders because she got up and helped the person out and went back in for others. She died later that day from the injuries to her head, they showed a picture of her and it was the woman I was so drawn to watching on that sidewalk, sitting with the woman she had brought out. When I had seen her the first time, she had already been hit by the debri and was just a walking timebomb,who was going to die, her head was hurt so badly but she kept going back in until later she dropped. I felt I lost someone I knew, it makes me cry now.

I am sorry but at the moment, when I see those people and you have all seen the Time magazine picture of the fireman bringing out the dead baby in his arms, but at times when I see those things in my head again, I think about all the political arguments about , are we torturing prisoners or not and tho the maybe more, better part of me or something, says we should never do what they do, there is another side that sees those imagines in my head and says, your darn right if they have ties to terrorist groups and could provide information or even think they could, do what you need to do to get that information out of them!Don't risk another life or hundreds or thousands over it. I know that is probably wrong guys, but its what I feel sometimes. And people think its about are we doing this, or is it ok to do it, get real, if you want to argue it, its about hey, we have ALWAYS done this and so its just about do we want to stop doing it. Whats the difference between torturing and terrorists? Dunno, maybe none. That's the part of my conscience that kicks in and the only thing I can say in defense is, the difference is seen as Michael said about how history shows it, in how the end results are seen. The difference may also be...is anyone dead.

Ok, sorry, this went to a whole other place but my heart still races when I hear the name McVeigh.
Vivian
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IBIS
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Re: Terrorist and McVeigh

Oh wow, Vivian, you had my heart racing too as I read your post about Oklahoma City. You did a marvelous job making me see the curtains in the window. It's a heart-breaking image for the vibrant people who lived in those rooms, behind those curtains; and now the curtains hang before empty rooms, mourning those who are no longer there.

Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Although I was not near NYC on Sept. 11, 2001, I had family and friends on the American Airlines Fligh 11 from Logan to JFK.

So like you, and millions of other, there are words, like McVeigh or bin Laden, (and sorry, Michael) John Brown, that makes my moral radar go into high alert, and my adrenalin level shoot up.
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Re: John Brown

Michael,

Slavery did twist our country into such a logjam where only an extreme solution, in our case a civil war, could loosen its hold. Brown’s killing of the Kansas families made me wonder about Machiavelli’s the ends justifying the means.

The abolition of slavery is definitely an admirable cause. No question. But my concern is Brown’s means. His methods are by no means as admirable as the cause he advocated. The means to end slavery in Great Britain, for example William Wilberforce's, were as successful, but also morally persuasive in legally acceptable ways.

My point is that moral men who chose the more moral means deserve not only remembrance, but our admiration. Brown used violence as a means of change that was not a last measure, and not all lawful means had been tried.

If the Confederates had won the Civil war, Brown would have remained a loathsome historical figure. Today, I consider him an American hero, but a loathsome one.

IBIS
IBIS

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IBIS
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Re: If the West Had Not Won

I think it was Winston Churchill who said: “History is written by the victors.”

Michael brings up several excellent examples… if the British had won the American Revolution, Nathan Hale would be remembered as a traitor; we’d have a bust of Benedict Arnold in Boston Commons, and Queen Elizabeth’s profile on our pennies.

If the Axis forces had won WWII, history would show that the Holocaust never happened; and the University of Munich students of the White Rose movement would not have uplifting movies made about them, but would be remembered as small-time traitors who distributed leaflets and destroyed public property with graffiti.

To the victor belongs the spoils, which include having the last word on the historical record.
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vivico1
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Re: John Brown


IBIS wrote:
Michael,

Slavery did twist our country into such a logjam where only an extreme solution, in our case a civil war, could loosen its hold. Brown’s killing of the Kansas families made me wonder about Machiavelli’s the ends justifying the means.

The abolition of slavery is definitely an admirable cause. No question. But my concern is Brown’s means. His methods are by no means as admirable as the cause he advocated. The means to end slavery in Great Britain, for example William Wilberforce's, were as successful, but also morally persuasive in legally acceptable ways.

My point is that moral men who chose the more moral means deserve not only remembrance, but our admiration. Brown used violence as a means of change that was not a last measure, and not all lawful means had been tried.

If the Confederates had won the Civil war, Brown would have remained a loathsome historical figure. Today, I consider him an American hero, but a loathsome one.

IBIS


Interesting tho IBIS... can hero and loathsome really be terms for the same man, same actions?
Vivian
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IBIS
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Re: John Brown

[ Edited ]
Vivian, excellent question.

I'm thinking of the twist that contemporary culture has given to the meaning of "hero". The traditional definition of hero is someone with positive moral values who, if not exactly a paragon of virtue, is sympathetic because he tries very hard. A good example of a Western hero would be Shane.

However, today, there is a sore lack of positive role models. Our "heroes" today are sports figures who play for skyrocketing salaries, rock stars who perform for skyrocketing salaries, movie stars who pretend for skyrocketing salaries.

Music videos and CDs offer rap singers who are self-appointed role models for our youth, but whose lyrics are highly suspect.

Since many people equate John Brown to an American hero and patriot, I merely suggest that because of his actions, he is a loathsome one.

Message Edited by IBIS on 11-06-2007 08:48 PM
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Re: John Brown


IBIS wrote:
Vivian, excellent question.

I'm thinking of the twist that contemporary culture has given to the meaning of "hero". The traditional definition of hero is someone with positive moral values who, if not exactly a paragon of virtue, is sympathetic because he tries very hard. A good example of a Western hero would be Shane.

However, today, there is a sore lack of positive role models. Our "heroes" today are sports figures who play for skyrocketing salaries, rock stars who perform for skyrocketing salaries, movie stars who pretend for skyrocketing salaries.

Music videos and CDs offer rap singers who are self-appointed role models for our youth, but whose lyrics are highly suspect.

Since many people equate John Brown to an American hero and patriot, I merely suggest that because of his actions, he is a loathsome one.

Message Edited by IBIS on 11-06-2007 08:48 PM


Maybe then IBIS, John Brown was neither a hero or loathsome, but somewhere in between? :smileywink:
Vivian
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Re: John Brown

Vivian, okay, okay.

"Uncle!" IBIS cried, with a wink at Vivian, and flew off into the tropical sunset.
IBIS

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