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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Joseph Sabino Mistick: The real winners in Alabama

| Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, 4:33 p.m.
A newly unveiled statue honoring four slain young church girls graces the corner of Kelly Ingram Park, across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. The congregation gathered outside the church for the wreath-laying ceremony at the spot where a bomb was detonated 50 years ago by the Ku Klux Klan.
A newly unveiled statue honoring four slain young church girls graces the corner of Kelly Ingram Park, across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. The congregation gathered outside the church for the wreath-laying ceremony at the spot where a bomb was detonated 50 years ago by the Ku Klux Klan.

“The fog of war” is a phrase often used to describe the uncertainty of military battle. It is attributed to Carl Von Clausewitz, the 19th-century Prussian general, who is best known for his treatise “On War.”

While that phrase is really a shorthand version of Clausewitz' proposition, it comes in handy to describe the nature of many epic struggles in life, especially those that take place on the public stage. Political campaigns are one example, and Clausewitz saw the connection between war and politics clearly.

“War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means,” he wrote.

The flip side is just as true. Politics is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of cultural wars by different means.

That is what we saw in Alabama last week.

More than a contest between two very different individuals, or between a Democrat and a Republican, it was a battle for the soul of the South. Alabama voters had a choice between the past and the future. They could have stayed with an ugly history of oppression, but enough of them rose up to change the path of history.

A bad man lost, and that got most of the attention. But it is just as important that a good man won, and that was almost lost in the fog of war.

Anyone old enough to remember the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls knows all they need to know about Sen.-elect Doug Jones. Jones was 9 years old when the Ku Klux Klan killed those girls, but he never hesitated when his turn came to bring the killers to justice.

Alabama was locked in the past in those days. Birmingham was known as “Bombingham,” and it had become a violent center of the Klan's resistance to civil-rights progress on public accommodations and voting rights.

The atmosphere was poisoned. Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, who took office in 1964, was famous for saying, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Then, Wallace stood in “the schoolhouse door” of the University of Alabama to prevent two black students from enrolling there. After federal agents were turned away, President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard, and Wallace retreated the following day.

When Jones was still a law student, he watched another brave son of Alabama, state Attorney General William Joseph Baxley, convict one of the killers. And, 24 years later, when Jones was a U.S. attorney in Alabama, he convicted two co-conspirators. One died in prison in 2004, and the other was denied parole in 2016.

Before the election, Jones tweeted this: “I may have the honor of serving Alabama as your senator, but the most important thing I have done is prosecuting those klansmen who killed 4 little girls at 16th Street Baptist Church.”

Von Clausewitz said, “Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.”

Because Jones has been doing that, he won more than an election last week. Once again, he gave life to four little girls: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).

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