Cain Pence
Where the pen of a poet meets the destiny of America....

Pen of Pence: Poems, Prayers, Politics.  
Lessons for Syria from America's Civil War
Lessons for Syria from America's Civil War
By Cain Pence

A long and gruesome struggle that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Two entrenched sides willing to fight to the bitter end. A nation torn asunder. Members of the same religion with deep divisions on fundamental questions of human rights. Foreign nations asked to intervene. A hopeless calamity with no clear end in sight.

I write, of course, not about Syria but about the American Civil War. Those seeking a solution to the ongoing and vicious Civil War in Syria would be wise to remember some lessons from American history. There are
similarities and sharp distinctions between the two conflicts that shed light on the current disaster in what once was Syria.  Let me offer a few insights.

Almost all the leaders and soldiers in the American Civil War were Christians. As Linclon noted,"both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God."  Abolitionist preachers in the North found their match in Southern clergy who quoted scripture to justify slavery. Members of the same professed religion can have bloody conflicts and very different interpretations of the same text.  Yet, both sides can also use religion to heal those wounds. The Civil Rights movement a century after the Civil War was led by religious leaders who appealed to a shared Christianity that taught all men were equal before the eyes of God. Martin Luther King was a minister, not a politician. Shared Christian values led to some measure of racial reconciliation in America and the end of Jim Crow segregation.

Almost all the major players in Syria are Muslim, yet reading the same Koran and acknowledging the same prophet Mohammed does not bring harmony to Sunni and Shia factions or the Alawite minority to which Bashar al-Assad belongs. The American Civil War was fought between two groups of Christians who disagreed on slavery and states rights, not between ethnic factions with centuries of hatred and bloodshed. A shared Muslim heritage will not lead to peace and harmony among the factions in Syria anymore then Iran and Saudi Arabia will become allies because both consider their states to be Islamic.  The Shia-Sunni split is too ancient and too raw to lead to reconciliation like Christianity did for North and South in America. I believe a new majority Sunni state will have to emerge in what was parts of Syria and Iraq for peace to occur.

Another important factor in Civil Wars is the role of foreign powers in those conflicts. America's Civil War could not be solved by foreign powers.  Indeed, it is a good thing that European powers did not intervene in a meaningful way when asked. Long, bloody and cruel as it was, America had to solve its own Civil War. If you think the images from Syria are gruesome (and they certainly are) then you should spend some time at Antietam and Gettysburg. If American history isn't your thing, relive the Russian Civil War or the hell on earth that was China when Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek tore China apart. Just like fights between members of the same family can be particularly vicious, so too are the armed struggles between warring factions of the same nation. Ugly as they are, those conflicts are often best resolved by those troubled families. England and France couldn't solve the American Civil War.  America couldn't solve the internal struggles of Imperial Russia or Communist China. I doubt foreign powers can ever solve the massive issues in what was Syria.

Finally, recall for a moment the two great leaders of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. Both men had honor, both men had a great sense of duty. Lincoln was a great President because he was willing to wage total war. Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeus Corpus and wanted generals who would fight. He admired men like General Grant who won battles despite the cost. The siege of Vicksburg, the Wilderness Campaign, Sherman's March to the Sea and the burning of Atlanta were not exactly Peace Corps operations. Lincoln was willing to kill to secure a divided nation. Yet, he saw the long term good of America, acted in good faith with a strong conscience and he was willing to forgive the secessionists if they would lay down their arms. Bashar al-Assad is no Abraham Lincoln.

Yet, if Syria lacks a Lincoln, it also lacks a Lee. Robert E. Lee could have waged a horrific guerilla war. The Appalachian hills of Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas and Georgia offered countless hiding places for guerrilla fighters to hide and wreak havoc upon towns, railroads and commerce. An armed conflict between a small, militarized group and greater America could have gone on for decades. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox and encouraged all his followers to lay down arms. He spent his remaining years at Washing and Lee University teaching instead of hating. He was a good man who wanted to heal the wounds of his country. Where is the Robert E. Lee of Syria?  I highly doubt the Al-Nusra Front or the Islamic State groups will produce one.

Each country is unique and all Civil Wars complicated. The American Civil War and the Syrian conflict are no different. Yet, learning from our own often bloody history can provide insights into current wars.  America's Civil War could not be won by foreign powers. It had to be resolved by Americans. Russia and the United States cannot solve the quagmire in Syria.  America was able to heal by appealing to a shared sense of values and achieve some measure of racial equality by turning to a national sense of Christian ideals.  The roots of division in Syria are too deep for such reconciliation. A separate Sunni state outside of Assad's control must emerge. Lastly, the American Civil War could end because of two good men who saw the need to end the conflict and heal the wounds of a devastated nation. Syria has no Lincoln or Lee. Without good leaders, both willing to win and accept defeat, I fear the bloody conflict will continue.
By Cain Pence
April 2017
A Cursed and Promised Land
A Cursed and Promised Land
By Cain Pence

Tomb of the Patriarchs, Dream of the Matriarch
Moses led, Christ bled

Wailing Wall, Golda Meir
Wailing widow, Palestinian despair

Ancient ruins, Modern website, Israeli shekels
Tel Aviv, Golan Heights, Arabs heckle

Arafat, Gaza Rocket, Hamas, Jihad ring
Bibi, Shin bet, Mossad, David's sling

Reform, Labor, Kibbutz, Maccabees
Orthodox, Likud, Putz, Land of milk and honey bees

Abraham, Joshua, Isaac, Jacob, Ari
Rebecca, Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Mary

Bank, Bomb, Barren, Business, Bathsheba
Jews, Justice, Jericho, Justify, Judea

Checkpoint, Christian, Crisis, Crucify, Critic
Hate, Haifa, Herod, Hebrew, Hasidic

Paul, Pious, Pistol, Peace Process, Pilgrimage
Sand, Stone, Sinner, Sacred, Sacrifice, Sacrilege

Struggles with God, Triumphs of Man
Israel, a Cursed and Promised Land
By Cain Pence
April 2017
Mother of the Heartland
Mother of the Heartland
By Cain Pence

Father of waters, Mother of the heartland
Pioneer dream, Native stand

The Mighty Mississippi brings life and blood
Fertile farmland, Miserable flood

Breadbasket of America, Fruited plain
Joy when flowing, Frozen pain

Seasons change, Bright golden leaves
Den of eagles and thieves

Fresh water, Flooded misery
Storied banks, Ancient history

Huck Finn, Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer
Riverboat gambler, Tugboat captain and small town lawyer

Fried catfish and Delta dog
Minnesota lakes and Arkansas bog

Barge with wheat, Steamboat with tourists
Canoe with natives, Longboat with Voyageurs

Furs, corn, lumber, iron, grains
Trappers, farmers, jacks, smiths, trains

Saints and sinners did roam her shore
Catholic missionaries and Louisiana whore

St. Cloud, St. Paul, St. Louis, St. Francisville
Farmland, wetland, prairie, rolling hill

Father Hennepin named St. Anthony Falls
General Grant made Vicksburg fall

Davenport, Hannibal, New Madrid
Upon her banks lovers walked and bandits hid

Minneapolis to Memphis, Dubuque to Cape Girardeau
New Orleans all Americans should know

The inland fountain brings food, adventure and trade
The American homeland the Mississippi made
By Cain Pence
April 2017
A New Approach to Guns and Young Urban Males
A New Approach to Guns and Young Urban Males
By Cain Pence

America is stuck in a futile gun debate. Liberals argue that less guns and more gun control will create less violence and more safety. Conservatives believe that more guns in the right hands will stop criminals and create less situations for mass killings. Missing is a discussion of using better and differently the guns we already have. Also missing is an honest assessment of young men and their natural desire to hunt and fight. America needs new ideas and new solutions to gun violence.

Young men have always been violent. Anthropologists and sociologists can debate the evolutionary origins of this fact, but it is real. Whether having to fight a lion on the African savannah or a jaguar in a jungle, young warriors crafted tools for hunting and protection. As mankind advanced and came to dominate his territory, weapons became essential for protection not only against wild beasts, but against other groups of men. As tribes and protective groups formed, weapons advanced as group competed for resources and territory. Competition between large organized groups led to more advanced weapons. The most advanced weapons, nuclear weapons, arrived through the martial competition between advanced nation states, in this case America and Germany. As long as there have been Homo sapiens there have been weapons.

Young men in inner cities are often raised without biological fathers. Looking for guidance and acceptance, it is natural to join a group of older men who teach and help them. Gangs take the place of father figures in many urban communities. Often tied to geographic territory, many urban gangs also control a desired resource, drugs. Young men in America's cities are not taught gunmanship, sport shooting or hunting by fathers, police or military veterans. They are taught gun violence by fraternal but often criminal organizations. This needs to change.

I believe one answer to urban gang and gun violence is a new way to teach young men about guns. We need to teach young men responsible virtues associated with gun ownership. Shooting and hunting clubs should form and be sponsored by local police departments and veteran organizations. Guns used at the shooting and hunting clubs will be kept safe at the clubs and not allowed to be used outside organized activities. Guns should be viewed as valuable tools to protect and provide, not weapons in gang wars.

Is this a good idea or just a crackpot suggestion? The idea has merit on more than one level. There is a great mistrust of police organizations in inner city minority communities. Fostering bonds between young urban men and police departments is more important than ever. Teaching young men to shoot and hunt is an excellent way to build bonds between inner city youth and protective organizations. It is far better to have young urban males and police officers shooting together and having fun than shooting at each other and fostering more animosity. Guns can be part of the solution not more of the problem.

Federal grant money, local police department revenue and most certainly private philanthropy can help pay for this venture. Police departments all have weaponry and already have ranges for target shooting. Police departments have a vested interest in bringing young males into the protective class. A successful gun shooting and hunting club could not only foster goodwill between youth and police, it could serve as a breeding ground for future officers and protectors. We need new ways of thinking about guns and young men. We need new approaches to foster better relationships between minority youth and police departments. More stringent gun control efforts do not work. Chicago, Baltimore and Washington DC have some of the strongest handgun laws in America and some of the worst homicide rates. Trying to ban more guns will not work because the gangs do not follow the laws in the first place. We need a different approach.

Both liberals and conservatives tend to look at social problems through socioeconomic lenses. Liberals believe better education and more job opportunities will decrease crime and poverty. There is truth to this position. Conservatives believe stronger families and more fathers at home will decrease gang violence and encourage more responsible personal behavior. There is strong evidence to support this argument. Missing in the gun debate is an acknowledgment about the innate desire of young men to fight, hunt and to be attracted to weapons. It is time we take human nature into account.

All of human history has shown us that young men are naturally aggressive. Instead of trying to change thousands of years of human biology, let's deal with it. Natural male aggression should be channeled into positive activities like sports and yes, shooting and hunting. Young men enjoy weapons and guns. They always have and this is entirely natural. The desire to hunt and protect is what led mankind to conquer the earth. Let's channel those innate desires into responsible gunmanship with trap, sport shooting and real hunting trips. It is far better to have young men shooting clay pigeons and live ducks than at each other. The values learned in hunting are ancient and important. These values can be taught by local protective groups to the young men in their communities. It is an idea worth considering. Something needs to change. Organized groups and police departments working to foster responsible gunmanship can be a big part of the solution.
By Cain Pence
March 2017
Music, Music, Music
Music, Music, Music
By Cain Pence

Stir the soul and awaken the heart
Move the spirit from mankind's start

Conquer the mind with no drug
Pull the heartstrings with a tug

Trumpet, sax, piano, polka band
Every culture in every land

Birthdays, funerals, dances, baptism
Create a smile, heal the schism

Universal language of mankind
Where there's humans, music we find

Gift from God when in a church
The Devil's workshop when in a bar

Changes behavior, moves the body
Shapes the mind, man's favorite hobby

Foots start stomping, hands start clapping
Friends start loving, bodies start slapping

Love song, death march, military band
Nothing better than a guitar in hand

Rock n roll, jazz quartet, folk singer
Pumps up the athlete, relaxes the thinker

Bluegrass, country, hip hop and gangster rap
Wakes you in the morning, makes a child nap

Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Bach, wedding bash
Elvis, The Beatles, Springsteen, party, Johnny Cash

Violin, flute, clarinet, harpsichord
Creation of man, great gift from the Lord

Up on the mountain, down in the valley
From the rooftops, out in the alley

Food for the heart, drink stronger than ale
Music, music, music, tells the whole human tale
By Cain Pence
March 2017
Pen of the Poet
Pen of The Poet 
By Cain Pence

Pen of the poet, soul of the writer
Stronger than the best prize fighter

Endures long after empires crumble
Castigates the strong and uplifts the humble

Mightier than the sword, overthrows many kings
Worth more in the right hand than diamond rings

Outlives the tyrant, brings fear to dictators
Poems for lovers, treatises for haters

Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain
Describes loves, explains pain

Started a Revolution, Healed a nation
Dreamed of the moon, fires the Pioneer imagination

Wins a woman's heart, starts a Civil War
Brings news to the railroad, advertises the car

Inspires the  young man, comforts the old
Aptly Tells The Greatest Story ever told

Paul used his pen to tell the world of Christ's incarnation
Jefferson used his to write a Declaration

Luther used his pen to start a Reformation
Madison used his to defend a Constitution

Marx wrote a Manifesto that inspired Communists
Lincoln wrote an address that inspired Abolitionists

The Grimm brothers gave us Little Red Riding Hood
Mao gave a billion Chinese a Little Red Book

From the capitols of nations and Roman church steeples
Expresses the whims of Pontiffs and the will of the people

Turns the tides of history and the strings of the heart
Transforms politics and religion, shapes drama and art

The writer can change history and overcome any hurdle
He who wields the pen of the poet can transform the world
By Cain Pence
March  2017
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It's Called Federalism, Not Treason
Bold mayors standing on courtroom steps proclaiming their opposition to actions in Washington. Proud Governors declaring their desire to resist federal officials.  Large groups of voters willing to fight national policy to protect their local way of life. State legislatures taking matters of citizenship into their own hands. Where have we seen this bad movie before? In the Jim Crow South and Civil Rights Era many local officials defied Washington and rallied their political base in opposition to Washington directives.

The great genius of American politics, federalism, also creates the great tension in American politics. It always has. How individual states would share and grant powers to a federal government was one of if not the most difficult issue facing the Continental Congress. States maintained certain rights, the national government had authority in certain areas and states and the federal government shared certain powers. This political compromise reached a great crisis with the Civil War over the massive issues of slavery and whether states could leave the collective political body. The tension between local and national authority has appeared numerous other times in our national history. This tense dynamic is back in the national spotlight with the new Trump administration's executive orders on immigration and the state and local response to such directives.

Most of your life is governed by state and local decisions. The speed limit on the road, building and construction regulations and zoning, control of local schools, police, fire and regulation of most parks, bars, entertainment and shopping are much more determined by local and state regulations than federal mandates. States and the federal government share in some health and education regulations and spending. Many public works projects, such as bridges and roads are also shared by state and federal agencies. The light rail lines here in Minnesota are a fine example of state, local and federal agencies working together to accomplish a worthwhile project.
By Cain Pence
January 2017
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