Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A letter to the President

This is an editorial that appeared in the local newspapers in Pike County, Georgia and Lamar County, Georgia, written by Pastor Herb Flanders of the United Methodist Church.

Dear President Obama,

As I gather the Sunday before Memorial Day to worship with two United Methodist congregations I pastor in Griffin, GA, I'll think about some of your recent comments. I'll be thinking of what you told a crowd of about 2,000 in Strasbourg, Germany, as you spoke of our nation's views of Europe - "Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive."

The gray, balding heads on the people who worship with me attest to their years of toil and labor on this Earth. They are, as Jesus said, the 'salt of the Earth." They are grandmamas and granddaddies, blue collar folks who worked hard to build a community and raise families, to give to others when they had precious little for themselves. They continue to do these things today.

Salt of the Earth they are and heroes to boot. When this nation called they answered with a resounding 'yes' and went where Uncle Sam asked them. A couple of months ago, we laid John Busbin to rest.

Like you, he visited Europe on behalf of the U.S. He beat you there by 65 years and spent his time marking and clearing mine fields, not giving speeches. Rather than being arrogant, dismissive or derisive, John partnered with the French and others to meet a common challenge. Others did the same, sailing on ships, slogging through mud or soaring through the air because evil and tyranny were well on their way to taking over the world.

I wish you'd come May 24th and sit with these folks as we sing America the Beautiful and America. I'd like it if you could sit up front with me when Maxine Bunn and Jerry Turner do a medley of military service hymns and the veterans or spouses of deceased veterans stand when their branch's hymn is played. They grab hold of the pew in front of them to pull themselves to their feet. I know I'm in the company of giants.

I'd love for you to meet Janie Worthy and understand those tears that still glisten on her cheeks each Memorial Day Sunday.

Janie married John Pershing Botkin in August 1943. Their daughter Gail was born Aug. 10, 1944, three or four months after John shipped out to Europe. Janie, 19, went to St. Mary's, Ohio to stay with her in-laws after Gail was born. One Sunday afternoon in early December, farm families began to call each other as the postmaster's Model A made its way down the country roads. They knew that car carried news that would shatter a family and were trying to figure out where he was headed. He stopped in front of Janie's in-laws' farmhouse. Her daddy-in-law walked out to meet him and learned that John was killed in action Nov. 11, 1944, serving with the Army in Alsace. Cpl. Botkin never saw, held or kissed his little girl. As a father, you can empathize with Janie's salty tears.

Perhaps if you could come you'd see why your words hurt so many so much. America may be many things and she certainly isn't perfect, but heroes with whom I share my life have hardly been arrogant dismissive or derisive of Europe. They've given themselves to save Europe when Europe couldn't save itself.

So, Mr. President, get out of Washington for a weekend and take a trip down to Georgia. We'll feed you some barbecue over in Williamson and I'll introduce you to some friends of mine, some everyday giants and ordinary heroes.

God bless,

Herb Flanders
Pastor, Highland-Hanleiter United Methodist Churches

Posted with Rev. Flanders kind permission.


  1. Oh, well done! It's time to make the wanna-be elites leave D.C. and remember the rest of the country is still here. We haven't changed!

  2. I too was upset by the President's speech in Normandy. I grew up during the war and most of my relatives served and served proudly. Also, while in combat in the Korean War, I knew several vets of WWII that died in Korea. Since then I have met a lot of insensitive louts that I care not to be around.

  3. I am a much younger Jarhead, and missed conflict, but I want to thank you guys and gals for the jobs you've done. You're incredible heroes, and if the Prez (all disrespect intended!) wants to overlook you, there are millions who are appalled along with you at his ignorant choices. Come to Oregon sometime. I'll buy the coffee. I'd love to share the tales of your lives with my children. God bless you for what you have all done for MY country! The greatest on this earth! SEMPER FI!

  4. I have tears in my eyes. The people to whom Pastor Flanders refers in his congregation could be the same people here around me in Virginia or where I grew up in Pennsylvania. They could be my Grandfather who was in First Armor during WWII. We laid him to rest just last year. They could be the men and women I served with in the Navy for 26 years or the Marines I work with now. We love our Nation and have given so much to the world. We have fought on many lands and never asked for more than the land needed to bury our war dead. No, we are not perfect, but we are always trying to do our best. Mr. Obama just does not seem to like this Country or the people who make this Nation great. I find it painful to even listen to his words because they are often arrogant, dismissive or derisive of this Nation and it's people.

  5. Regarding Pres. Obama's speech with a little background first-----

    I lived overseas for 14 years (9 years in Germany and 5 years in South Africa)as an adult and in Japan for a year as a teenager.

    America is a great country, but not all American citizens visiting or living in foreign countries are good representives of the average American.

    I found when moving to the various countries mentioned above that I had to work hard to overcome the impressions left by previous American visiters with cocky attitudes who expressed the opintion that the local company was messed up and the American would show the company the right way to operate. These statements, I was informed were made before the visiter/consultant had even analyzed or questioned existing practices of the countries or the country's overall method of doing business. In fact,this additude was prevalent in South African companies.

    In Europe, the same actions by Americans, who know more than the local folks, also generated adverse opinions of Americans. Even when dealing with a vendor on a repetitive basis the polite American would need to show, by their actions, that all Americans are not alike.

    I can't count the number of times my friends and I would see drunk soldiers exhibiting rude behavior while letting off steam. The same thing applied to the high school kids.

    Even as a high schooler in Japan I can think back to how we, as Americans, acted and it wasn't always with consideration and respect due the citizens of our host country.

    With these experiences, I evaluated Pres. Obama's speech as a very toned down method to reach out to other countries and let them know that we can meet on a common ground and should be able to form beneficial alliances. The Presidents statement that "there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" has basis in fact and I've evidenced it in the time I lived out of America. I don't think he was talking about the great men who served in previous world wars.

    P.S. I was raised as a Navy brat. A great deal of the time I spent overseas was while I was working as an Army civilian. I have tremendous respect for our all of our troops serving America. And I strongly believe in our country. But, I can't dismiss the truth of some of Obama's words - not when I have seen first-hand examples.

  6. You're spot on, Bridie Murphy -- I hope. (That is, I hope the good Pastor isn't correct in his reading of the President's speech, which I don't think he is -- though I can undeerstand that reading, or "misreading," if you and I are on target.)

    I, too, am an American abroad, having lived 21 of the past 23 years in Asia (China, Macau, and Thailand), the past 19 continuously, the immediate past 15 in Thailand.

    And yes, some of our countrymen are loutish and boorish, though the majority are not. But impressions are like news: we remember the bad ones far more than we remember the good ones. And I do think that the louts and boors are part of what the President meant.

    Another part goes back to the pre-war years. These many decades on, a substantial number of Americans don't know that there was extensive opposition to the notion of the U.S. entering the war, period, opposition from both the right and left. On the right, among some there prevailed a desire for a "Fortress America," dependent upon vast oceans to keep us isolated from foreign wars. On the left, the opposition was more varied and diffuse, in some cases downright unfocused. But one example of leftist opposition was a forerunner of the 1960's peace movement -- peace at any price.

    I suspect it was those groups to whom the President was primarily referring.

    He *may* also have had, at the back of his mind, examples such as our rounding up of Americans of Japanese decent as well as more recent ethnic Japanese, rounded them up simply because of their ethnicity, while we *didn't* round up, for instance, Germans and Italians. I am far less sure of this, though, since people in Europe would, I guess, be less concerned about that than they would be with American slights, or, at least, *perceived* American slights.

    I'm not a veteran [three years in ROTC doesn't count], but I'm a huge booster of our military. Here in Bangkok, a number of my closest friends are members of the local VFW and/or American Legion, and I sometimes take part in the VFW's public activities as a guest. (The American Legion is rather far from me, and is less active, I take it, than the VFW.) In the present world, I thank every single member of the armed forces, wherever they serve or have served, especially those who have served in combat zones and those zones' support areas (Kuwait, for example).

    You and I may both be missing the mark, Bridie, and the Pastor hitting dead center -- but I hope not.

    Mekhong Kurt
    Bangkok, Thailand

  7. Bridie,

    I do not dispute your experiences but the problem is that our President referred to "America" not to the actions of "individual Americans." My recollection is that defenders of the Administration, when pressed on this issue, did not cite examples such as yours but said that he was speaking of the Bush Administration.

    It points out the fact that President Obama needs to be more clear in his speech. If he wants to take a shot at Bush policies, stand up and deliver and say so. If he is concerned with boorish behavior by a few American tourists, then call us to task for our bad manners and poor etiquette.

    Besides, if we want to start labeling countries as "arrogant, dismissive, or even derisive" based on the behavior of a few tourists, then the US surely has company.

  8. Perhaps he should send this directly to the president. Doubt seriously if Obama will see it.

  9. Won't a church lose it's tax exempt status if it engages in political behavior? I seriously doubt that a minister really wrote this or that the poster who calls himself "Herb Flanders" is in fact Herb Flanders.

  10. Actually, ministers on both sides take political positions all the time. Think Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. Jessie Jackson. In this case, I tracked the Rev. down, got his permission to post. This is for real. ~Bob

  11. I got no further than reading beyond the second
    sentence of the alleged Rev. Flanders letter.
    Why waste my time reading further when WHOEVER
    wrote this piece of "Obama bashing" did not even
    know that Strasbourg is NOT in Germany, but is
    located in France.

  12. So a minister in a small church didn't know Strasbourg is in France.

    And President Obama didn't know:

    --There are only 50 states

    --There is no "Austrian" language

    --You can't play American DVDs on British TV

    --They speak different languages in Afghanistan & Iraq, so you can't use the same translators in both countries

    And so on. Which is worse? ~Bob

  13. TartanMarine,

    Thanks for the response to Ashworth. I just looked up Strasbourg and Ashworth is correct that Strasbourg is in France. It is just across the Rhine River from Germany.

    I could be a smart aleck and point out that were it not for American soldiers, President Obama would have been speaking in Germany, not France.

    God bless,

    The "alleged Rev. Flanders

  14. Strasbourg: Where France and Germany Collide
    Geographically Strastboug is in BOTH Countries.