Something to consider

As leaders of many nations agree, the attacks on Paris were an act of war.  Not just against France, but against humanity.  Many nations have tasted the wrath of Muslim extremism; this will continue until we stop it.

We need to relearn proper responses to acts of war.  The Iraq campaign was no example; it was an opportunistic adventure based on lies and different purposes.

Proper response requires that we identify the enemy and his active supporters, pursue them into their homeland and havens, and destroy their ability to continue making war.

Given the hatred in ISIS, I believe the only way to destroy their ability is to kill them, not through criminal cases, but through swift military action.  I’ve long teetered on the brink of working to eliminate the death penalty, but this is no time for improving our justice system.  It’s a time for self-defense in war.

One might hope and expect that all the threatened nations would unite in a response to this act of war.  Russia is acting but, while acting alone, might well see opportunity for empire-building.

What is needed for the U.S. to act?  Congress needs to end its long silence and vote on measures directing and authorizing proper action.  During their silence, Republicans enjoy the luxury of condemning Mr. Obama for whatever he does or doesn’t do.  If he responds without Congressional support, he could be hounded the rest of his life for illegal action.  We shouldn’t expect that of any president.

Jim Burns

The letter above was published in the Waynesboro, Virginia News Virginian on November 18, 2015.


In Loving Memory
Philip Ambler Burns
June 16, 1957 – November 12, 2015

My dear son Philip.


Each of God’s creatures possesses a shining light within. Some are destined to shine forth upon a hilltop where all can see and many will follow. Some illuminate the valleys to guide and benefit those close to them. And some pass through storms and difficulties that, for a time, hide their lights under a bushel, as the saying goes. But these lights, too, burn just as brightly as all the rest.

In his lifetime, Philip passed through each of these phases, always with brightness undiminished. For those who have known him only in recent years, I would like to characterize his ways in earlier as well as later times.

Philip was a conscientious worker who devoted himself fully to responsibilities ranging from his education through his professional duties, and through countless worthy self-initiated projects, to the love and care of those dearest to him, in particular his dear wife Crystal.

He obtained a good education in Civil Engineering and, while still in school, he accepted part-time employment with an engineering firm, both for the experience and to save money for the future. In this role, his courage stunned us all as he was routinely lowered into deep boreholes, making sure that they had not collapsed before concrete was poured. And, inspecting construction projects underway, this man in his early twenties summoned the courage when necessary to tell hard-bitten, experienced supervisors when they had not done the job properly, and would have to tear it out and start again.

He detested being idle. One of his ground-breaking publications, PB’s Quick Index to Bird Nesting, was born during the period when he was seeking full-time employment after graduation. He took the financial risk of printing 10,000 copies, all of which were sold. Other book-related projects included a jointly authored guide to used-book dealers in the mid-Atlantic region, and his business Outdoor Books East, promoting and selling books about outdoor environments and activities. This business produced a spectacular catalog in which he personally summarized the contents of each of the several hundred books in stock.

rick3 cy     rick3_0001cy

Among Philip’s many hobbies, wildlife photography was particularly noteworthy. Not only did he achieve a high level of photographic art, but he also displayed his usual astonishing courage to gain the best vantage points. Taking pictures of eagles from a mountain ridge accessible only by canoe on a stream with raging rapids. Pictures of rattlesnakes up close, from the midst of their den where the creatures seemed to hide under every rock. And pictures of bats leaving their cave on a remote mountain top in the darkness of night. These pictures we still have as reminders of his work.

Bat1 copy          Humbird1 copy


During his nineteen years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philip designed and determined capacities for numerous flood-control projects. Not relying solely on the hydraulic models in common use, on his own initiative he created more accurate mathematical models to make these determinations. Later, it was repeatedly demonstrated that his own calculations produced more accurate and safer designs than did the usual models.

Following an early retirement from the Corps, Philip continued to seek beneficial projects for his attention. The greatest achievement of his retirement years was loving and marrying Crystal, and his devoted efforts to improve her prospects for a good life after he was gone. Not only did he encourage and instruct, but he willingly entered bankruptcy while making sure that she would be provided for through the rest of her life.

In recent years, I enjoyed frequent phone calls from Philip, always beginning with a friendly, specially intoned “Hello, Dad…” that I now deeply miss. These phone calls afforded wonderful opportunities for mutual understanding, particularly as I reminded him of the many worthy accomplishments that he could be proud of, and as I got his understanding for various actions by his parents in the early years – actions that he did not understand at the time, but finally recognized as being based on our love and caring for him.

As I reflect on Philip’s life, some of the photos that come most to mind are these:

        3Sons(color)PBdtl     Philip with Roald 6a

Jim Burns, Philip’s father


Our country is undergoing a painful reassessment of attitudes regarding its Civil War, which concluded slightly over 150 years ago.  Focus is particularly on the continued display of the Confederate battle flag and on the honoring of Confederate heroes through monuments and by naming schools and other institutions after them.

Pertinent issues, on which there is much disagreement, include the attitudes and purposes for which the war was undertaken. I believe it is appropriate and helpful to examine whatever reliable evidence we have concerning these matters.

One piece of such evidence is the following letter, written by one educated Southerner to another just before the War began. The letter was published in 2013 in the book Gale Hill: The Story of an Old Virginia Home, by Jasper Burns.

This letter was written by William W. Minor of Gale Hill, Albemarle County, Va., to Prof. John Barbee Minor of the University of Virginia, on February 16, 1861 – just two months before Virginia seceded from the Union and the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter took place:

Dear John,

…I shd. like especially to have seen & talked with you in these “piping times of” war, (for it is so near war that, I am almost afraid it will be the next thing we hear of) for I confess that I feel if possible more drawn toward my friends in the prospect of war (& especially of Civil war) than in ordinary times, when we can afford to differ & quarrel about politics as much as we please, & there are no bones broken & no blood is shed however high the words may rage, – but in times like these, when the “irrepressible conflict” of black Republicanism is at our very doors, it does appear to me that all the calls of patriotism & friendship & kindred too, should unite us John, & all true Virginians against the aggressive policy of our Northern enemies, who have defrauded us of our property, our equal rights under the Constitution, & who are preparing (so far as we can see) to coerce us to submit to them as our superiors, unless we speedily humble ourselves to their unjust & unrighteous demands. I do trust & hope John that you & I & all my other friends will be united in our opposition to the policy Demands of these truce-breakers (our Northern enemies) who even deny in the last remedy of the oppressed & downtrodden, – the right of self-defense: altho at present not able to take the field for the rights of my country, I do hope that my back will soon be well enough to enable me to shoulder my musket & join you, if need be, in the shock of battle, against the invaders of the rights of Virginia & the South…

Sincerely yr. friend,

Wm. W. Minor


William W. Minor


John B. Minor