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Friday, April 4, 2008

Opinions

Where have all the Minutemen gone?

Having lived on Estabrook Road for the past 42 years, once the month of April comes around I eagerly anticipate that annual march to Concord with the Carlisle Minutemen on Patriots Day for the reenactment of the 1775 battle with the British at the Old North Bridge.

No, we won’t be joining in with the Minutemen as they assemble in the center of town at 7 a.m. on Monday, April 21 for the beginning of this year’s reenactment. As usual, we will be waiting at the end of our driveway for the company to round the corner of Bellows Hill Road onto Estabrook before we join in. That is just what those farmers did who lived in our neighborhood in 1775, grabbing their muskets and joining the march going down the Estabrook Trail to Concord.

For those of us living in Carlisle during those years leading up to the 1975 Bicentennial, it was a wonderful time to relive the history of the Concord-Carlisle area. Our neighbor Walter Liessner, who lived on Bellows Hill Road, had joined the Carlisle Colonial Minutemen in 1967 and, along with his children, introduced our sons to the organization. The boys learned to play the fife, while other youngsters practiced playing the drums. Not only did they march to Concord on Patriots Day, they also took part in festivities on Old Home Day, Memorial Day, Raising the Flagpole in Bedford, the Thunder Bridge Muster at Foss Farm, and Bunker Hill Day. They even served as escorts for Queen Elizabeth when she paid a visit to City Hall in Boston that year.

Recently I was asked by a young woman who had just moved to town how her husband might join the Carlisle Minutemen. Becky had grown up on School Street in Carlisle and had many fond memories of the Minutemen marching by her house in the early morning hours of Patriots Day. I referred Becky to my friend Bill, who joined the Minutemen in 2005. This got me to thinking about the Minutemen and what the group has been up to in recent years. Did they still have that annual get-together for dinner at the Colonial Inn each winter? Did women know that they could join as Minutemen? For the answer to that question, just ask our Town Clerk Charlene Hinton.

I have to admit that the Carlisle Minutemen look more like a rag-tag group these days and could use an influx of new participants. Back in 1967 there were 19 members of the Carlisle Company; now there are only ten active members. It is time for more Carlisle residents to take part in reliving Carlisle history. What better way to do this than by joining the Carlisle Minutemen? And whether soldier or camp follower, join the march on April 21.


Political correctness

Recently I have had occasion to ponder again the phenomenon of political correctness. The immediate source of my interest was the libretto for Annie, Get Your Gun, which the Savoyard Light Opera Company will produce next fall here in Carlisle.

With lyrics and music by Irving Berlin, the original version of Annie, Get Your Gun, which played on Broadway beginning in 1946, has plenty of themes and allusions to offend modern sensibilities. Annie Oakley, based on a real person, is a sharpshooter who joins a traveling Wild West show where she both upstages and falls in love with the leading man, Frank Butler, who (happily) has fallen in love with her. In the finale they face off in a shooting match, which she deliberately forfeits to soothe his ego and win his heart. Well, you can hear the modern women snort. And, as a matter of fact, you can also hear the modern men sneer that no man should have such a fragile ego. There’s more: there are Indians (not Native Americans) with names like Sitting Bull and Pawnee Bill, who speak in what at the time was standard Indian argot; there are hillbillies – indeed, Annie is one – who are portrayed as uneducated and not too swift; many of the people who attend the show are rubes. People nowadays shrink from such portrayals or even the use of terms like Indian or rube.

In the beginning (whenever that was, the whole phenomenon has sort of crept up on us over the past three or four decades), political correctness sprang from an admirable motive, the desire not to offend others. But it has metamorphosed into a weapon used for bullying anyone who steps into the quicksand that lies just a millimeter off the path of what is acceptable. Furthermore, the rules of acceptablity keep changing and oftentimes are made up on the spot to trap the unwary. They have become so refined and arcane that many subjects have become undiscussable for fear of inadvertently misspeaking.

One of these matters is race, which is virtually undiscussable by a white person. First there is the question of whether to say negro, black, or African-American, all of which were acceptable terms at one time, but now only the last will do. (Remarkably, the spell-checker with this version of Word does not even contain the word negro and suggests that I may have meant neigh.) Look at the trouble Geraldine Ferraro got into by suggesting that Mr. Obama would not have got as far as he has if he were not black. The assertion may or may not be true, but what is wrong with offering it as an opinion? Many whites are reluctant to criticize Reverend Wright, despite his tasteless rants, for fear of seeming prejudiced. As a result, only blacks can discuss race and matters that surround race. Fortunately, Mr. Obama did so in a forthright and constructive manner. So does Shelby Steele. I hope they’ll continue to do so. But it doesn’t seem right that a matter of such importance should be verboten to all but a few.

At any rate Carlisle will not be exposed to the lapses in correctness that marked the 1946 production of Annie, Get Your Gun. We are adopting a widely acclaimed, modern version that ran on Broadway in 1999. It makes the story of Annie Oakley a show within a show so that any failures to be politically correct are displaced to another time and thereby robbed of their alleged ability to wound. It should be a great show, even for the most fastidious among us.

 

 

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