Interesting how last week I expressed concern about the growing violence in this country, and within a few days a gunman shot up a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Sad more than interesting, of course, and tragic above all else.

George Washington wrote a letter in 1790. This itself is not news. The President of a newly formed nation in those times would be expected to write a lot of letters, if only to help frame that nation’s policies and goals.

The letter was one of welcome to a Hebrew congregation arriving in Newport, and implied the congregation had some concerns about its welcome. The letter’s short, just over 300 words, but in it Washington expresses some concepts about America on the whole, a country which “gives bigotry no sanction,” he wrote, and makes a specific call to that congregation letting them know they are welcome in the United States.

He writes: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid,” - George Washington, “Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport,” Aug. 21, 1790

When we were kids we would play, of course. This was back in the era of black and white televisions, if you had a television, and rotary dial telephones (kids, ask your parents). So of course we played outside.

The favorite game, played over and over in various forms, was “War,” we played War. We had toy guns from the store, usually some military carbine looking thing and would run around the neighborhoods, hiding behind trees and bushes, or running to hide behind trees and bushes, the transit marked by someone pointing a toy gun and shouting “Bang bang! You’re dead!”

At times there would be the first foray into acting as a death scene was enacted for the benefit of playmates, at times, even, a “No way you got me!” argument, but then within a minute or two back to running and hiding, pointing toy guns and making “bang bang” sounds. Kids playing.

Many hours were spent thus engaged.

It was all based upon stories, or at least understandings, we had from our fathers, who were unfailingly World War II veterans. A common conversation when meeting a new kid was asking what branch his father served in during the war. Men, to our young understanding in those single-digit monochrome years, went to war and fought for the benefit of America.

Our fathers fought against the Axis in World War II, which of course meant some of them fought Nazis.

Time went on, we got older. Innocence was scrubbed by experience, by history, by Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate. I, as part of the innocence scrubbing, signed up for four years in the Navy, which turned out to be so far removed from toy guns in suburban yards as could be possible. When going on shore leave we’d be cautioned not to engage in the political events of whatever country where we were ported (which might otherwise sound like a good idea to a sailor swilling beer in a waterfront bar).

Life’s path unrolled, I’m a grandfather now. Chairs seem closer to the floor and it takes an endless list of specialists to keep me (something like) healthy. Sometimes a friend will ask me about my heart (which attracts the most specialists) and I’ll reply that it’s, while not great, “I’d still wad up and get in a fight if I had to.”

And what I’m really explaining is that ol’ Grandpa’s still got a few good licks left in him. Oh sure, I’d need a nap afterward (if not more specialists) but it doesn’t matter how close those chairs are to the floor, I’m still getting up.

And some clown that, fueled with racist ire, shot up a synagogue last week.

Our fathers, citizen-soldiers in the tradition dating back to our first President, fought Nazis, and lost friends on the battlefield doing so. It’s wasn’t a game and it wasn’t mythology. It was very real, very cruel and quite unforgiving. They finished the job, came home and raised children, at least one of whom writes newspaper columns.

And it might take him a minute to get up from his chair, but Nazis must not be tolerated, and no one shall be afraid.