Burns: Two letters from Boston

Letters 150 years apart show different values 

    I see two hands writing letters. One is the refined hand of a young lady, writing with beautiful script and eloquence of expression. The other is the blood-stained hand of a killer, desperate to express his anger and attachment to Islam. The letters were written exactly 150 years apart, both in Boston; and whereas one is dedicated to preserving the unity of our nation, the other is dedicated to its destruction.

Eliza Hardwick penned a letter in 1863 to Union soldiers in a Baltimore field hospital, her letter accompanying a box of supplies from the Women’s Christian Commission of Quincy, a Boston suburb. By lot, her letter is allocated to a soldier named Abner Pipes—whose company captain, John Burns, is visiting the wounded. The memoirs of Capt. Burns’ brother captures a rather remarkable turn of events.

Capt. John Burns purchased a letter from Eliza Hardwick for $1, wrote her back - and later married her.

Capt. John Burns purchased a letter from Eliza Hardwick for $1, wrote her back – and later married her.

“Abner showed the letter to my brother. It was beautifully written—in penmanship, in the style of composition, and in the thought which it contained. ‘I’ll give you a dollar for the letter and (its writer),’ my brother said to Mr. Pipes. ‘I’ll take it,’ he replied, and the letter was the property of my brother.   He answered the letter.”

Capt. Burns, a battle-hardened survivor of Gettysburg, was smitten by the letter. Eliza had written with such tenderness and compassion that the words captured John’s heart. He not only answered her letter, he married her. And he went to seminary and became a minister to “make the world a little better.”

Fast-forward 150 years to 2013, the site a backyard boat in another Boston suburb, Watertown. Dzhokhar—his nickname is Jahar—Tsarnaev takes a pencil in hand to scrawl out a message on the inside wall of the boat where he is hiding. His words, stained by blood and later riddled by bullets, were characterized in court as a “confession.” I would call them a testimonial to jihad and justification of murder. Four lay dead and 260 injured due to his dedication.

“God has a plan for each person…He who Allah guides no one can misguide…The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians…I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished, we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all…The mujahideen … are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven…Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [bullet hole] it is allowed.  All credit goes to [bullet hole].”

Allah’s guiding hand put Jahar on a path which convinced him that killing infidels and being martyred for the cause would place him “among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven.”

Today and yesterday by Dr. James F. Burns

Today and yesterday
by Dr. James F. Burns

The Judeo-Christian values that shaped John Burns and Eliza Hardwick had far different perceptions of words such as “evil” and “righteous.” Any inculcation of these values that assimilation into our culture might have produced in Jahar was easily undone by the influences of a radical Islamic ideology that is capturing the minds and hearts of aimless youth of today, both here and abroad.

The moral fabric of our nation has been weakened and warped by secular influences, material wealth, and a seductive science and advanced technology that supplants both the fear and need of God for many people.   Or, as in Jahar’s case, they find a far different deity or cause to worship.

Never before has our nation needed moral leadership like it does today. The guiding hand of God channeled through an Abraham Lincoln, a Martin Luther King, a Billy Graham or Bishop Fulton J. Sheen would steer us in a different direction.

James F. Burns, an ancestral cousin of Capt. John Burns, had a family friend get caught up in the Boston Marathon bombing. A professor emeritus at the University of Florida, he wrote and taught for three decades about the Northern Ireland conflict.

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