Friday, January 22, 2016

Another Reason to Watch Mercy Street


I have read many reviews of Mercy Street and, like most shows they cover a wide range.  Some love it, others are less enthusiastic.  Some reviewers speak of costuming and others of script writing, some look at the actors and others at story line.  Everyone has their take, but few have talked about the subject matter as it relates to our modern world.  So, with that in mind, here is my take.

It is agreed by historians that the Civil War changed America forever.  Yet, the understanding of medicine of the era is still mostly misunderstood.  The myths set forth in over a century and a half of popular history have continued to be the main source for understanding Civil War Medicine.  The suffering of the era has nearly been complete in obscuring the radical effect of Civil War era innovation on the current century.

Now a PBS production has delved into this confused world.  Fortunately, they have been willing to go into this project with a willingness to set historical accuracy as a high priority.  Many of the characters are real and are based on either their own accounts, or the accounts of those they worked with.  Others are collections of actual people whose stories might otherwise be lost.  They have even set up a nice website to allow all of us to explore the stories behind the people and places.  But they went further than that.

They also employed the help of scholars like Dr. Shauna Divine whose outstanding, award winning  book Learning From the Wounded has helped to reshape the understanding of Civil War medicine as a scientific watershed.  They also consulted with Dr. Alfred  J. Bollet, author of the famed Civil War Medicine, Challenges and Triumphs.  And they utilized the staff and volunteers the National Museum of Civil War Medicine whose has also set up a website specifically for the show.  I too, got to have input with many others.  But the question may still be asked:so what?

This show is not simply important because it will replace Downton Abbey.  It is not simply important because PBS has chosen it to bring American made shows back to the forefront of its offerings.  It is important because the issues brought up in this drama play out in our lives every day, and most of America does not even know it.

In the first episode we see nurse Mary Phinney as she struggles with her personal politics and her duties to care for "enemy" soldiers.  This struggle was real for many on both sides of the war. International  humanitarian law would be forever changed as a result of the Civil War.  Our solutions and experiences in the United States would help inform future treaties, non-governmental relief organization practices and care givers to this very day.  People like Clara Barton would go on to change how relief was delivered and organized.  Today every time we see relief in a disaster zone or battlefield, her legacy is there.

 Major Jonathon Letterman helped to organize the first truly systematic emergency response

organization in our history and his basic plan has become the world standard.  He linked evacuation, first aid, medical logistics and medical command and control and medical intelligence into a structure that cared for the wounded and sick from their first moment of need and moved them from places of danger to safety in a well supplied, highly professional medical department.  His plan can even be seen on our civilian EMS services today in every community in our country.  

We even see the role of chaplains and faith in healing process.  Empirical studies in the past few years have shown growing understanding that chaplains do indeed assist in healing process.  In an age of ever growing health care debates, more and more healthcare providers are looking at the role of the chaplaincy in making care delivery more effective for the patient.  This is not new, but also little thought in the public forum.  

There are many more current issues that were present during the war and as the show continues, I hope to blog about these issues.  The point is, this new program is not just about entertainment, it is a refection on our past that can help us illuminate our present and future. Just one more reason to give Mercy Street a chance.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


I have been a part of over 70 television programs and 10 motion pictures over the years.  Starting with the Woodwright's Shop with Roy Underhill back in the 1990's, I slowly became familiar with the business of film and I have loved every minute of it!  Sometimes, I am on screen, sometimes my banjo or other craft work is on screen and sometimes I am just behind the scenes as an adviser.  I love it all.  But rarely do I get excited when a project finally comes out.  This time, I am excited!

It seems like a lifetime ago.  I was sitting in my office at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine when I got a call from Lisa Wolfinger from Lone Wolf Media.  She asked if I would be interested in helping promote the idea of a TV series on Civil War Medicine.  I think that call  was over 5 years ago now.  Please understand that, for every call like this, one in five actually turned out to be a real opportunity.  Despite this, I was enthusiastic about each one.  I stiffed my first response ("Interested!! Does a bear poop in the woods!! You Bet!  Woooohooo!) and calmly said, "why yes, I would love to have the Museum involved".  That started a years long partnership that is finally coming to fruition in January 2016.  Frankly, I am excited!

I have to tell you that involvement in these things is a complicated process.  David Price, the newly appointed Executive Director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and I met on several occasions with Lisa and her staff.  David was fairly new at the Museum back then, but he saw the importance of this opportunity for national exposure and wanted to make the most of it.   In the beginning there were no sponsors, no commitment from PBS, just a great idea and a great team of professionals with a passion for the subject.  The Museum and our staff provided research to help Lisa attract funders, we reviewed scripts, we provided material support in the beginning, just to get PBS to say yes.  There were months with no word, and those times were hard but then came a frenzy of activity to get ready for the next phase as soon as word came.

In the last two years we stepped up efforts in script review.  Terry Reimer kept on top of us all to get the scripts done, Tom Frezza and Kyle Wichtendahl both did their jobs in research, review and on-set advising, David Price kept us in the information loop and made sure our efforts were timely and coordinated and Joanna Jennings kept the whole ship afloat by keeping us all in line.  It was a team effort and now we see the payoff.

But what about the final product?  Many in the Civil War community are very afraid that historical accuracy will be lacking.  I must say that I have been impressed with Lisa and her team.  When I was on-set in an advisory roleI was given the opportunity to make changes.   I know for a fact that scripts were changed based on the research provided.  But today I am excited because I think that their website says more than I can.  There is a great Civil War medical quiz with embedded articles, websites and videos to help explain the answers.  See it here.  There are teacher resources, articles and videos on the site.  Take a look and see what you think.  http://www.pbs.org/mercy-street/home/

You might also want to visit www.mercystreetpbs.com .  This is a new page put together by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine to act a an addition resource.  It will allow all of the viewers to get a deeper understanding of Civil War Medicine that they could ever get from a one hour show.  It takes you past the drama and right into the reality of the subject.

I am proud to be a part of this program.  I am proud of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and all of its staff for their work.  I hope that you will all watch on January 17th.  And I hope we can begin a much needed discussion of Civil War medicine and what it truly means to our current lives in the 21st century!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Confederate Monuments - Time to Right the Wrong!


I ask one favor dear reader; please read this entire post before commenting.

I am descended from both Union and Confederate soldiers.  My family can count German immigrants, New England founding families and a Virginia attorney turned cavalry general.  My roots run deep on both sides.  I was also a Civil War museum director for 13 years, a Civil War living historian for 31 years and a life-long history fanatic.  It has been with much concern that I watch our current debate on Confederate monuments.  It is time we right a terrible wrong, but before we can do so, we must stop and take a deep breath.

Some would say that slavery was a New World holocaust and it must be treated as such.  Memorials of those who fought to preserve it must be eradicated from memory, or at the very least, removed from public sight.  They claim that no virtue could exist among those who fought for the Confederacy. Others claim that that the Civil War was not about slavery and that Confederate symbols are a commemoration of heritage and have nothing to do with hatred.  Both sides claim absolute certainty that they are right. Radicals on both sides have heated the debate so that those who are in the middle have been silenced.  Thoughtful debate is no longer possible, but we must make room for it.

I will admit that my family owned slaves two centuries ago.  That much I know for sure.  I also have family that were not slaveholders. I cannot apologize for my family that did own slaves, as I am not able to speak for them anymore than I can speak for anyone else's deceased ancestors.  I can say, on my own behalf, that slavery is an evil practice and it should have been eradicated at the end of the Revolution.  That is my opinion looking back on history.  I can also say that we as a nation should be working to eradicate slavery around the world today.  To claim that my ancestors, who were Irish, and may have been held as slaves at some time in history is completely irrelevant to any discussion on the African slave trade.  To claim discrimination on their behalf as American immigrants is also irrelevant to any discussions of Jim Crow laws.  My ancestors did not suffer discrimination in  my lifetime nor have I.  The same cannot be said for those descended from Africa.  I have personally witnessed hate crimes when I was a police office, faced down white supremacists while on duty, and seen the hate caused by racial issues.  Yes, I have seen the roles reversed with black hate organizations,  but not nearly as often or as wide spread.  And again, the Black Panthers do not make the KKK virtuous.

Now we find ourselves in a debate over the Confederacy and its symbols.  As a descendant of Confederates I personally find that these symbols are, to me, a heritage.  They are a heritage of bravery, military prowess, dedication to family and home. But I cannot pretend that they are not about slavery, nor can I claim that they are not hurtful to others.  The entire economy of the South was based on slave labor.  Did the South also fear the loss of states rights; yes.  But one of those rights was to control slavery at the state level.

 As a descendant of Union soldiers I see Confederate monuments as honoring a foe who fought bravely and well, errant fellow citizens who followed a path but came back into the fold and became brothers once more.  BUT, I can see that this is my interpretation.  I can also admit that some of those Confederate symbols have been used to promote hate, discrimination and inequality.  The question is: what do we do about them?

We can tear them down, move them to places of less importance and thereby satisfy some.  But will this really make for justice?  In my opinion, the answer is clearly no.  This may not be the time to remove and destroy, but rather to build and celebrate.  In Alexandria there is a statue to the Confederate veterans of that city.  Where is the monument to the African American soldiers of Alexandria?  Why are we not calling for the addition of new, large and significant monuments to the sacrifices of the black soldiers of the Union armies? There are a few, but not nearly enough to cover the territory they helped secure or to cover the territory from which they came.  To remove is still not to acknowledge.  We need to add these monuments in order to give these troops recognition for their deeds.  There are a few, but they are not prominent, they are not grand and they are not in locations befitting the deeds of the men who should inspire them.

For the most part, the men who fought the war forgave and welcomed their former foes back into fellowship.  Many admired their foes for their courage and fortitude.  Should we do less?  We who shed no blood, who suffered no hardship?  This does not mean that we should not debate. It does not mean that Confederate symbols should not be questioned or put in their proper place.  It does not mean that we should not speak of the evils of slavery.  It does not mean that the Confederate flag should fly freely over places of power where sovereignty is memorialized and exercised.  But if we do not truly honor ALL who fought, is it fair to honor any?  


Friday, July 31, 2015

A Woman for Our Times - Clara Barton for President!!

Think for one moment about our world:  right here, right now.  What are our issues?

Turmoil in the Middle East 
Natural and man-made disasters
Genocide
Changing relations with Cuba
Lack effective political leadership
Failures in the education system
Race relations
Equal pay for women
Caring for our wounded warriors and their families
Tensions with our NATO allies like France and Germany
Waste in government 
War

If you agree that these issues need qualified, hands-on experience to solve and be  delivered by a proven leader with a track record of success, then you must join me in supporting the nomination of Ms. Clara Barton for President.  And frankly I am more serious than you may think.  

Clara Barton was an educator early in her life and her success at bringing order to troubled classrooms, instilling a love of learning in at-risk youth and keeping her schools running well and within budget is remarkable.  She did what many of us claim we want, and she did it against all odds.  She was a woman and therefore unfit for the role according to society at that time.  Yet, she proved herself over and over again.  Clara knows education!

She was the first woman to work for the Federal Government who received equal pay to that of a male employee.  She left education work because she was not paid equally nor treated with respect. But,  when working in the Patent Office, she earned the respect of many and the pay due her. .  She fought for the rights of Federal workers and understood the pain of losing a job to political patronage.  Clara knows equal pay and job discrimination! 

During the Civil War Clara personally lobbied Congress and the Army for better medical care for soldiers.  She was, again, in a world generally reserved for men and yet she succeeded on gaining access to the front lines of battle.  She not only delivered care on the battlefield but she collected, stored and shipped supplies to the front from multiple privately funded warehouses in Washington DC. She raised the money, got the supplies, got them to the battlefield and used them to directly care for the soldiers.  How many soldier shave been bandaged by Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?  Clara knows war! 

During the war, Clara not only broke through the limitations of gender, she broke barriers of race.  As a white woman, she cared for members of African American regiments like the 54th Massachusetts at Charleston South Carolina.  To her, race was not the issue.  Caring for humanity was the only thing that mattered.  Clara knows race relations!  

As the war ended, Clara founded the Missing Soldiers Office in Washington DC.  She efficiently ran an office that received over 60,000  written requests for help, published lists of the soldiers considered missing in action, answered the letters (sometimes multiple responses to each inquiry), raised funds to pay for the workers, supplies, rent and utilities for the office and identified the fate over 20,000 missing soldiers...without the aid of a single computer!!!  She brought closure to all of those families and only after the office was closed was she reimbursed by Congress for her expenses.  Clara knows the plight of the families of our warriors! Clara knows how to cut waste and run and efficient organization! 

After the war, Clara served as a relief working in both France and Prussia during the Franco-Prussian War.  She came to learn of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  She helped civilian populations in both countries and again placed humanity at the forefront of her work.  She would bring the idea of the Red Cross to the US and lobby Presidents and Congress for twenty years to get the US to sign the Geneva Conventions and join the ICRC.  Clara may also have been the first woman to testify before Congress and was almost certainly the first American woman to be a part of an official diplomatic delegation when she represented the US to the ICRC. Clara knows effective political leadership! 

In addition to bringing  the Red Cross  to the US, it was Clara who  influenced the ICRC to respond to natural and man-made disasters, not just wars.  When we see the Red Cross at a flood, hurricane, tornado, fire or other disaster, that is Clara reaching across time to take care of people of all colors, religions and philosophies.  Can you even imagine a world where this was not a normal part of life? Clara knows disaster relief! 

At the end of the century, when Clara was in her late 70's, there was a need for her services in the camps  of the displaced, reconcentrados, in Cuba. She provided supplies, medicines and direct aid once again.  She also went to Asia Minor and assisted the Christian Armenian populations then suffering what many consider a genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.  She was able to gain permission of hostile officials to assist the very people they were persecuting.  She is still revered in Armenia today. Clara knows genocide!  Clara knows Cuba! Clara knows diplomacy! 

Who in the current group of candidates has done more hands-one work in this many fields?  Who has 
seen first hand all that she has seen?  Who has such international respect?  

Yes, I know that Clara cannot run, but there is an important point to be made.  In our world of modern technology, instant news and constant communication, sometimes we fail to look back at the leaders of the past and truly compare our current leaders to them.  Clara can teach us much; she still has so much to say.  So do others.  Our politicians are not the only word on leadership, war, compassion, education, budgets or diplomacy.  We need to step back and look at the past.  Clara was not perfect, but her life and the lives of so many others, have lessons for us today.  We need to heed those lessons before we go to the polls next year. Our future depends on it.  

If you wish to learn more about Clara Barton, go visit the newly opened Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office in Washington DC.  Museum Web Site






Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Problem of Race and Museums.....

Tina Fineberg/Associated Press


OK, I hope the title and picture got your attention!  I am a fairly conservative Republican, let me admit that right up front.  But, if you think that Michelle Obama is the problem, I am afraid that you are going to be very disappointed with this post.  

The words of our First Lady at the Studio Museum in Harlem have stirred a hornets nest among conservative bloggers and news sites in the past few days.  Mrs. Obama stated the following: 

“You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood. In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.
“And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself. So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this. And today, as first lady, I know how that feeling limits the horizons of far too many of our young people." 
The headlines and blog posts state that Mrs. Obama thinks that because of these words, she believes that museums are only for "white people". What she said is not that museums are only for white people, she said that."many kids"(notice she did not use any race here!!!) "in this country who look at museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they they think to themselves, well, that's not a place for me, for someone who looks like me..." She is absolutely right!!!

Yes I said it
, she is right! Kids, due to race, economic background, social standing and a myriad of reasons feel just that way and, frankly, so do many of their parents. Those who think otherwise need to get their heads out of their politics and look at the real problems. Blaming black culture is a simplistic and wrong-headed approach that only further proves that fact that racism is alive and well in our country today.  This is not about race,  it is about much more.

 She said kids...and let me assure you that they are not coming in the numbers they once did. When I was in school, we took many field trips to museums. The white, mostly rural children I knew got their first exposure to museums at school. Their parents were generally NOT museum goers. Since my parents did love museums, and since I went with my friends in school, I felt perfectly comfortable in a museum setting but I knew many parents who lived near me as a child who were shocked that my parents took me to the Art Museum in St. Louis. One told me, "I would never take my kids there, they don't need their heads filled with that stuff." She was white and middle class, but no museums for her family.  Those field trips are drying up.  Without them we will continue to see more alienation and less comfort with the museum experience. 
 
Many, regardless of race, see museums and concert halls as places of the rich, the cultured and the snooty.  They also see many museums as boring, stodgy, stuffy places of no interest.  to them.  Well, many are! Some museums totally fail to engage any audience, let alone a broad one. If I look at a museum and I do not see any external signs that there is anything in there for "me", why should I go in?  Is the Museum marketing to a broad audience?  If not how can they expect a broad audience to come?  The fact is, the old "build it and they will come" theory of museum building and attendance is simply outdated and useless in our modern world.  This is not a problem with black,or any other culture, it is a problem to be laid at the feet of the museum industry.  
And what about admission costs?  I know well that museums need money to survive, but in some cases the cost of our institutions has been forced to rise due to losses of tac support, reduced income from endowments a few years back and increased costs of maintenance and upkeep of older buildings and staffing costs.  For many, admission is a real obstacle especially for families.  Despite the knowledge and love of learning that can be instilled by museums, if you can't afford to go, you are forced to be outside looking in.  Not a welcoming image.  
We as an industry need to do more to market and appeal to an ever broader audience.  We need to make sure that we are inviting to all by offering a wide variety of programming. We need to show the public how and why we are relevant and important to society as a whole.  We need to find ways to make our spaces more affordable and finally we need to see that the problem is not solely external to us, but is also with our walls and our minds.  


Thursday, April 23, 2015

What's next for Me........

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As many of you already know, I am leaving the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and moving on to a new job at Mount St. Mary's Seminary.  I am going to leave my position of Executive Director behind along with 15 years of fantastic experiences and move into the position of Assistant Director of Human Formation.  I leave the Museum with the greatest fondness and hopes that I will be able to continue to help the Museum in the future in some way.  But it is time for a change, and God has blessed me with a great opportunity. 

In my new job I will be assisting in the preparation of men for the Catholic priesthood.  As a Catholic Deacon, I am keenly aware how important the priesthood is to our ability to evangelize and spread Christ's message to the world. It is a great honor to have chosen to assist in this important work.  I have had many come to me and ask how I can leave history behind, and how a Museum director could change career paths so drastically.  I want to take a moment and answer both of these questions. 

First, I am not leaving the world of history at all.  Since my new job requires that I work an academic year, I will actually have a greater opportunity to do some research and consulting that I am currently unable to do with a 12 month schedule.  I hope to take all I have learned in working with Museums for over 30 years and help small and medium sized museums in the mid-Atlantic area.  I hope to offer an affordable consulting service and pass all I have learned along to others.  I also hope to spend some time each summer to move my ballistic studies forward and I even have a few banjos I want to make.  In all, history will always be a part of my life.  

As for making such a drastic change in career, I must say, I do not see that great of a change.  You see, as am Executive Director, one of the things I do is spend much of my time acting as a public face for the Museum.  I am out and about speaking, soliciting donations, talking to the media and spreading the word abou Civil War medical history.  I also administer the Museum.  I handle staffing issues, hire and fire, manage a budget, deal with maintenance, technology, volunteers and everything else needed to keep the Museum going.  Now I am going to help train Priests.  What do they do?  They preach, solicit donations, talk to the media, spread the Word of God,  administer their parishes, handle staffing, technology, budgets, volunteers, maintenance, and everything else that they need to keep the parish going.  Much of what we do is the same.  We both survive on donations, goodwill and commitment to our organization's mission.  I am going to be able to take my experience and pass it to them.  

I cannot express how wonderful it is to be able to use my experience to help build a stronger priesthood AND still get to follow my love of history. For those of you in the history world, you will certainly still see me around on TV, in articles and in museums.  For those of you who know me from my work in the Church, you will see me more at events like retreats and vocations events.  

And what of this blog?  It will keep going.  As I see things that stir my interest in history and the museum industry, I will comment here.  

Thank you all for following my musings!  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Public Health and Politics...Getting Scarier!



I am not sure I want to shake hands with this man!  Senator Thom Tillis (R. NC) recently went on record saying that restaurant workers should NOT be forced to wash their hands.  To be fair, the senator is not against washing hands, he believes that government forcing the washing of hands is an overstepping of government authority.  This is a dangerous trend in public health and as a nation we need to stand up and fight this kind of ignorant politicizing.  Whether we are talking about vaccination, hand washing or other public health issues, this type of thinking cannot stand unchallenged.

If you follow Senator Tillis' thinking, all public health requirements are an overreaching of government control.  If I do not need to wash my hands, then why should a restaurant owner be required to wash the dishes?  For that matter who really has the right to tell anyone how cold a refrigerator should be for keeping food safe?  For that matter how dare the government inspect food plants, slaughterhouses and drug manufacturing facilities!  Let us let the free market sort out who lives and who dies.  According to politicians like Tillis, that is the American way!

Now before this blog is accused of partisan politics, let me say that I am a registered Republican. As a member of the loyal opposition, I see the party I love falling farther from its roots and becoming a caricature of itself in these matters.  Let's look at just two Republican administrations and their efforts at public health.

In 1906,  Theodore Roosevelt championed two important acts.  Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.  These acts sought to protect the American public against adulterated foods and dangerous drugs as well as to provide for proper labeling of food and drugs that entered into interstate commerce.  Unsanitary conditions, dangerous ingredients and mislabeling we common and the public health suffered for it.

Dwight D Eisenhower fought for stronger public health services in the US.  His proposals on insurance, public heath training and the building of healthcare infrastructure can be read here .  His words on healthcare concerns sound like they could have been written this very morning:
"As a nation, we are doing less than now lies within our power to reduce the impact of disease. Many of our fellow Americans cannot afford to pay the costs of medical care when it is needed, and they are not protected by adequate health insurance. Too frequently the local hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes required for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease either do not exist or are badly out of date. Finally, there are critical shortages of the trained personnel required to study, prevent, treat and control disease." 
( Special Message to the Congress Recommending a Health Program. January 31, 1955)  Today we face shortages of nurses, rural facilities that do not meet the needs of their communities, shortages of general practitioners and ever increasing costs.  Eisenhower was right on the mark. 

The fact is that we have public health issues all around us.  The last E. coli. outbreak was just last summer .  Salmonella outbreaks occurred nine times in 2014 according to the CDC.  These outbreaks occur despite our current efforts.  Can you imagine how much worse it would have been if we did not have the levels of regulation we currently have?  How many would be sickened if we rolled back such simple things as hand washing at restaurants?  

Public health issues need to be addressed and informed by our public health professionals, not by politicians.  That is why the role of the Public Health Service and the Surgeon General are so important.  Playing politics with public health is nothing short of playing Russian Roulette with the lives of our citizens.