BUFORD

He rode slowly away to inspect the ground in front of him,  between him and the Rebels. If we made a stand here, how long do you think we could hold? Long enough for John Reynolds to get here with the infantry? How long would that take? Will Reynolds hurry? Reynolds is a good man. But he might not understand the situation. How do you make him understand? At this distance. But if you hold, you at least give him time to see the ground. But how long can you hold against Lee’s whole army? If it is the whole army. These are two very good brigades, you built them yourself. Suppose you sacrifice them and Reynolds is late? For Reynolds will be late. They’re always late.

Think on it John.

(The Killer Angels, “Monday, June 29, 1863,” Michael Shaara, 1974)

This is Michael Shaara’s interpretation of the mindset of a solider on the eve of battle, as precise and insightful as Tolstoy and even more momentous. The decisions Brigadier General John Buford made that evening and the following morning had an enormous impact on history (Tolstoy tended to focus on the futility and absurdity of such situations), altering the course of the Civil War’s most important battle and likely securing the preservation of an American Union that has gone on, for better or worse, to dominate the history of the century and a half that have passed since. Buford survived Gettysburg but was felled by scarlet fever before the year was out. He died in the rented Washington D.C. house of George Stoneman, who owes his own modern day fame to the Cavalry raid which became the source of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and in the arms of Myles Keough, who died at Little Big Horn and owes such modern day fame as he may possess to being the subject of John Wayne’s graveside reverie in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

Any present fame Buford possesses is likely due to Shaara’s book and his being played (wonderfully) by Sam Elliott in Gettysburg, the greatest battle film ever made.

We now live in an age when the individual does not count, where anything really momentous–certainly anything of military value–has been machine-tooled, focus grouped and shaped by a committee working for the good of all mankind and little concerned with such trivial matters as victory and defeat. The idea that one man, alone, would be allowed to make such momentous decisions, let alone be forced to do so, is as alien to our world as the idea that he wouldn’t was to Buford’s. One of the many great virtues of Shaara’s novel is that it uses voluminous research to put the reader in the minds of many such men before and during the most important battle ever fought on American soil.

Dec. 16 will be the 156th anniversary of Buford’s death, at age 37. It’s not likely one American in a thousand recognizes his name. Some day soon, it won’t be one in a million.

Then Gettysburg won’t matter at all, except as a cautionary tale to whoever takes our place.

HATE HOAXES AND ALL THAT (Sunday Reading: 2/24/19)

How many had been exterminated? In the first shock of the discovery no one could even estimate. But it was clear as reports came in from all along the front that the total would be astronomical. As to who the victims were, that was only too obvious. They were, by the Third Reich’s definition, the “non-Aryans,” the “culture-tainting inferiors,” peoples of a dozen nations and of a dozen faiths, but predominately Jews. Among them were Poles, Frenchman, Czechs, Dutchmen, Norwegians, Russians, Germans. In history’s most diabolical mass murder, they had been slain in a variety of unnatural ways. Some were used as guinea pigs in laboratory experiments. Thousands were shot, poisoned, hanged or gassed, others were simply allowed to starve to death.

In the camp of Ohrdruf, overrun by the U.S. Third Army on April 12, General George S. Patton, one of the U.S. Army’s most hard-bitten officers, walked through the death houses, then turned away, his face wet with tears, and was uncontrollably ill. The next day Patton ordered the population of a nearby village, whose inhabitants claimed ignorance of the situation within the camp, to view it for themselves; those who hung back were escorted at rifle point. The following morning the mayor of the village and his wife hanged themselves.

(The Last Battle, Cornelius Ryan, 1966)

Jonah Goldberg, one of those “conservative” commentators who has long been hated far more by the right than the left, recently posted a column in response to the Jussie Smollett Hate Hoax (the latest of hundreds staged in recent years, each initially received with more breathless credulity by the “professional” media than the last and each more plummily explained away when the hoax is revealed) which begins:

Here’s something you might not know: In Nazi Germany, very few Jews staged bogus hate crimes against themselves.

By all means, read the rest. His take on the Smollett story is interesting in a stopped-clock, blind-squirrel sort of way. A reminder that we are where we are and are who we are because, in the process of dismantling all tradition, we’ve forgotten literally everything. We are a silly, absurdist, country where no one–especially the self-proclaimed “decent” people–even pretends to be horrified by the specter of the gas chamber or the dead baby anymore because we’ve accepted that horror itself is a thing of the past unless it can be blamed on somebody wearing a MAGA hat.

We’ve forgotten everything, even as we bring a future filled with the next round of rotting corpses and crematoriums for the living closer and closer by our ignorance.

Remember how it goes: there will be Tyranny.

Or there will be Chaos.

And then Tyranny.

And whichever path we choose, it will almost certainly begin from within.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING (Sunday Reading: 2/17/19)

Sorry for the lack of posting this week. Winter blahs. (Yep, even in Florida.)

What I have been doing is reading a lot, with my attention now turning, as it often does, towards WWII. It’s mostly Nazis and wannabes, but I was struck by this passage on a Saturday night. Since I have to work Sunday, I’m getting the Sunday reading in a few hours early:

He (FDR) was still popular, of course, with millions of voters, particularly those who’d been aided by his economic and social policies. But an increasing number of Americans seemed to be tiring of him and the New Deal, which, although it had alleviated many of the problems of the Depression, had not come up with a solution for ending it. “The President’s leadership in domestic affairs had accomplished everything that he could accomplish,”  Attorney General Robert Jackson later remarked. “I do not think there would have been any justification for a third term on the basis of his domestic program.”

In the 1938 congressional elections, Republicans had picked up eight governorships, eight seats in the Senate, and more than eighty seats in the House. According to polls in the spring of 1940, the Republicans showed more strength than Democrats in a majority of states. “The shift toward the GOP is now so marked that nothing short of a Rooseveltian miracle . . . can save the election for the Democrats.” Time concluded in April.

Hitler’s invasion of Western Europe provided that miracle.

(Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight over World War II, 1939-1941, Lynne Olson, 2013)

One of the books I’m co-reading is Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which takes place in an alternate universe where Charles Lindbergh becomes President in 1940 (and sides with the Nazis).  It’s well -written. Roth had, by then, pruned his generation’s tendency to use eight adjectives where one would do. But it’s pure fantasy. Roosevelt’s opposition in 1940 turned out to be Wendell Wilkie, who had as much political experience as Donald Trump and snatched the Republican nomination out of thin air because–and only because–he was the only  GOP candidate who was as staunchly interventionist as Roosevelt.

When the Chinese and the Russians are dividing up everything west of the Rockies in about twenty years, I only hope somebody will be willing to do for us what both the major party nominees of 1940, and, ultimately, even Charles Lindbergh, were willing to do for France.

WHEN AMERICANS STILL WENT TO PARIS…(Sunday Reading: 2/3/19)

…for something besides vacations.

I’m finally getting around to reading The Dud Avacado, Elaine Dundy’s 1958 entry in the madcap-American-heroine-loose-in-Paris genre. I suspect a lot that is cliched now was fresh, perhaps even innovative, when she wrote it. I’m liking it all the same because Dundy’s style doesn’t grate and hasn’t aged. No one under thirty could play the part convincingly now, but that only proves how fast the culture has collapsed. A generation ago, Meg Ryan or Reese Witherspoon or Jennifer Aniston could have had a field day with it. Renee Zellweger did, in fact, have a field day when Helen Fielding recast the attitude and nationality for working-class Brits in the Bridget Jones series (thin disguises all, I now realize).  It would have been a career-maker for a different kind of career if Christina Applegate had been the right age in 1958 (or if somebody in Hollywood had the wit the write a good script for her in 1998).

The chance is flown now, but the book, at least, remains, and it’s a good one that might turn great before it’s through. Dundy will be familiar to Elvis fans as the author of Elvis and Gladys, one of the best books on Elvis and the best on his relationship with his mother.

There could be few better ways to spend a Sunday than relaxing with this:

In an atmosphere of open hostility, I gobbled up my sandwich and hot chocolate as fast as I could; the hot chocolate burning my tongue, a revelation burning my soul. I had always assumed that a certain sense of identity would be strong enough within me to communicate itself to others. I now saw this assumption was false. Tout supplement, in a tarts’ bar, I looked like a tart. I tried to cheer myself up by thinking that after all this was really a very good thing for an actress. But it was depressing, anyway. Not so much for the thing of looking like a prostitute. I mean, except for the inconvenience of the moment, I found that rather thrilling, but the whole episode was forcing me to remember something that I’m always trying to forget and that is, that in a library as well, I’m always being taken for a librarian.

(The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy, 1958)

Fin de siècle ….VIETNAM, 1968 (Sunday Reading, 1/27/19)

At the same time drug use rose dramatically among young urban Vietnamese. Some began smoking marijuana, and a few began experimenting with cocaine. At night in the heart of Saigon, by the hundreds and thousands, young Vietnamese, mostly from the middle class and many of them students, flocked to their own yin rituals of communitas, antistructure, and surcease from the conflicting social pressures generated by a society subjected to twenty-five years of war and sudden, massive, and unchanneled sociocultural change. With the photic-driving of flashing colored lights, the sonic-driving of highly amplified electronic keyboards and electric guitars, in darkened rooms thick with cigarette smoke laced with marijuana fumes, the alienated and disoriented youth of Saigon tried to boogie their way into hyperventilation to induce an altered state of consciousness. In physiological, psychological, and sociological terms, the phenomenon was strikingly similar to what their structurally oppressed and psychologically disturbed great-aunts and -uncles had done for centuries as they performed their shamanistic rites to the accompaniment of flickering candles, pungent incense, and throbbing Taoist drumrolls. The same physiological transformation was being sought by people who had learned from prestigious foreign exemplars of an altered state of consciousness that could free them, at least temporarily, from the particular pressures that the yang structures of their society in their time inflicted upon them.

The Dark Maiden of the Ninth Heaven was superseded by Janis Joplin.

(Neil L. Jamieson, Understanding Vietnam, 1993)

I’d cut off my left hand if anyone caught me writing the bloodless, academic jargon of that long paragraph.

I’d give my left arm to have written that last line, which is worth remembering as, after eighteen hard years of rockin’ and rollin’, we begin negotiations to hand the newly minted chaos of Afghanistan back to the Taliban.

Remember?

First chaos. Then tyranny.

And it does not pay to forget that the line between cherished liberty and tyranny-breeding chaos is exceeding thin. . .

IS IT THAT WE FAIL TO LEARN? OR THAT WE COULDN’T BE BOTHERED? (Sunday Reading: 1/20/19)

Famine victims being attended in Vietnam, 1945. Remember: First chaos, then tyranny.

NOTE: I’ve made a commitment to do more reading this year. I’ll still post book reviews and I may continue to post quotes in other categories when appropriate. But I’m also going to initiate a “Sunday Reading”  category. The actual reading and/or posting may not take place on Sunday, but it will give me an excuse to dip into whatever I’m trying to keep up with, in any given week.

This week’s inaugural entry is from Neil Jamieson’s Understanding Vietnam, which I previously referenced here.

The setting is Hanoi, 1945, days after WWII has ended:

The Americans had indeed been good friends of the Vietminh in their bid to grasp power in Vietnam. Americans in the field had consistently snubbed the French forces and refused, sometimes cruelly, to help them, while they had openly demonstrated their sympathy for the Vietnamese revolutionaries in southern China and especially for Ho. The Americans who had met Ho Chi Minh liked him and wanted to help him in his struggle against both the Japanese and the French.

Ho Chi Minh not only was president of the new Republic but also served as his own minister of foreign affairs. . . .the other Nationalist leaders, the entire right and center of the political spectrum as well as the Trotskyites, had been completely outmaneuvered. They were all dumbfounded to realize that Ho Chi Minh and his followers were now the government, the only government, in Vietnam. And anticommunists were already beginning to disappear. Pham Quynh had already been executed near Hue, and Ngo Dinh Dinh’s sister was said to have been buried alive.

American goodwill for the new government remained abundant.”

You can observe the same style of genius at work in the Middle East today and, for once, you don’t have to go looking in the dark corners of the internet. The mainstream news doesn’t even bother to hide it. No matter what time it is, the same mindset that toasted Ho in 1945 (and Fidel in 1958, and Saddam in 1979, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab Spring in 2010, and whoever offered himself up as a “nationalist” willing to fight the bogey man the day before yesterday) is being represented–likely by some “former” intelligence official–on the CNN/MSNBC/FOX axis while you’re reading this.

Hey, Empire builders, if War knew, how come you didn’t know?

Or is it that you did know, you sly dogs you!

Rest of ya’ll use this to clear your head.