27A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Not The Worst of Evils
February, 13, 2008

On June 17, 1775 in what is today known as Charlestown, Massachusetts, a little known colonel in the New Hampshire State Militia commanded his men to fill in a gap in the colonial lines during the Battle of Bunker Hill.  It was a decisive command, informed by strategies learned during the French and Indian war; it was issued by New Hampshire’s little celebrated Revolutionary hero, General John Stark.  Stark’s militia and its valiant fighting at Bunker Hill is credited with holding off the British far longer than was expected.  Due in part to his command at Bunker Hill and later at the battles of Bennington, Trenton and Saratoga, John Stark was commissioned to the rank of Brigadier General by the Continental Congress for the Continental Army under George Washington. 

But it was not General Stark’s valor in battle that won him fame in the annals of New Hampshire history.  It was what he wrote in recognition of those events and the soldiers who lived and died in them.  Thirty two years after the battle of Bennington, in Vermont the General was invited to an veteran’s anniversary reunion.  Unable to attend due to ill health, Stark instead replied with a written toast dedicated to his fellows and their fighting valor.  The toast would become a symbol of belief that fills the spirit of New Hampshire and much of the present day free world: “Live Free or Die.”  It is today the motto of the State of New Hampshire and it appears on the emblem of the Granite State along with the image of the Old Man in the Mountain. 

The entire toast written by General Stark is even more revealing: “Live Free or Die; Death is Not the Worst of Evils.”  Though written long ago in 1809, the sentiment lives today inscribed on every license plate issued by the State of New Hampshire.  To some it symbolizes the stubborn conservatism of the New England spirit.  To others it is a nod to the fiercely independent character of Revolutionary America and the wild West.  To others still it is a threat, a declaration that to live without free choice, free movement, personal integrity - is not living at all.  It is a declaration that those who above all love free will, choose death rather than to live without it.  And thus, in perhaps a karmic way, the age old battle between the determinists and the free will advocates, continues.

At another end of the spectrum our present world is filled slogans like “It is What it is,” “It’s All Good,” “There Are No Coincidences,” and “It’s Meant To Be.”  These slogans, positioned to counter the New Hampshire motto, suggest that all existence is carefully woven in the fabric of time and space and we need not bother to alter it.  Determinism demands that one give up the notion of self and self determination in favor of a cosmic matrix that has preordained the paths of life and experiences found there.  But all this is confounded by modern physics whose scientific method has shown our world to be uniquely indeterminate.  The quantum states of energy and matter and perhaps even gravity demonstrate that we can never know absolutely more than a part of how these forces behave.  At best we can describe a “probability density” for particles and energy quanta - which gives weight to the idea that free will or at least indeterminate freedom is a natural order of the universe.

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor described the state of transition that some townships in New Hampshire are currently experiencing.  Newcomers moving from Massachusetts and other parts of New England are bringing determined views of restraint and confinement with them.  There are movements to contain development, alter gun laws and levy new taxes (in tax free New Hampshire).  Towns of fifteen hundred have grown ten fold and now need to consider how much further they can grow without damage to the countryside and quality of life.  These are good concerns that must be confronted if only to revisit General Stark’s resounding toast.  Though left behind in the interest of brevity, the latter half of the General’s statement must not be forgotten: “Death is Not the Worst of Evils.”   We are inevitably bound to discover the details therein as time presses forward.