Went looking for the source of a story that Robert E. Lee, asked by a mom for advice on raising her boy, said “teach him to deny himself.”
From Douglas Southall Freeman’s four volume 1934 R. E. Lee: A Biography. The source cited is one Joseph Packard’s Recollections of a Long Life.
Original source probably one JC:
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Luke 9:23, KJV.
Check out this letter Abigail Adams sent to her son, John Quincy Adams, when he was ELEVEN:
(Funny to read that as I sit here at what could be described as a literal Pacific station)
That is from:
which is a collection of David McCullough’s speeches.
Many of the speeches were given in the triumphant mid-late-1990s, when History was ending and it was easy to be fooled into thinking it was one long hike to the sunny meadows where we would now reside forever.
In that context this book can be almost painful to read.
Here, for example, McCullough talks about the history of the White House:
If there’s a single American out there who wants to claim the current occupant is either wise or honest, would love to have you on Great Debates.
After McCullough wrote a book about the Johnstown Flood, it was suggested he write about other disasters. He didn’t. He didn’t want to be “bad news McCullough,” he says.
We need more McCulloughism.
Unless you’re a McCullough completist I’d suggest bypassing The American Spirit and going instead to:
One of the local branches of the LA Public Library, the one on Sunset across from Wendy’s, is named after Will and Ariel Durant.
David Brooks grows wistful as he considers the Will and Ariel Durant project:
Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as “The Story of Civilization.” They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.
I’ve taken a look at the first volume of the series,
and was astounded, amused, and delighted by what I found there. Here’s an example.
When Will met Ariel Durant, her name was Ida, she was fourteen, and she was his student.
She was 15 at her marriage on Oct. 31, 1913, and came to the ceremony with her roller skates slung over her shoulder. Her husband was just about to turn 28. He called her Ariel, after the the imp in Shakespeare’s ”The Tempest,” and she later had her name legally changed.
(from Will’s NYT obituary). In Our Oriental Civilization, Will makes the case for himself:
It’s pretty funny that we named the library after a pair of lovers whose romance would get the man arrested today.
On the other hand, that’s the kind of paradox of historical and civilizational change that Will Durant took so much joy in teaching about.
More from the NYT:
Dr. Durant consistently took a generally optimistic view of civilization, despite a growing belief that ”the world situation is all fouled up.”
”Civilization is a stream with banks,” he said in his precise voice. ”The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues.
”The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”
Will and Ariel, from Wikipedia:
Worth remembering that the American Revolution started when the federal government sent troops to take away people’s guns and ammunition.
More men from Needham died on April 19, 1775, I believe, than from any other town except Lexington:
The detail in that footnote! What she remembers, the old blind woman: how many of the soldiers had thrown away their coats! It was under the will of this venerable lady that he first received a legacy!
History gets so much more interesting when you get into how do we know this? what is the source? who claims this? who saw it happen?
The Needham Public Library.
Amos Doolittle wasn’t there but he showed up a few weeks later:
My favorite book on this topic is:
Tourtellot is really kind of funny when he rips into his least favorite patriot, vain old John Hancock:
that illustration up top from:
a British book – is there a pro-Redcoat bias?
Just finished reading:
A strange thing to read, maybe. Here is the story of how I came to read it.
Some years ago, filming the finale of The Office on Dwight Schrute’s farm:
I looked around at the inland Malibu landscape and got to wondering if there could be a show about the pioneers: people who arrived on empty* land and built their lives there.
So as research I picked up the first book I thought of:
Didn’t finish it. Got distracted before I got off the third page, probably at first by my phone and then by my life.
A true Save The Cat
On the first page of O Pioneers!, there is a true Save The Cat situation.
We’re in the middle of a blizzard, and Little Emil’s cat has gone up a telegraph pole, and he’s afraid it’ll freeze:
Down in Australia in August, I saw the cool Penguin Classics edition:
and picked it up thinking, eh what the hell I should find out what happened to that cat.
Well, I found out, and I found out what happened to Emil and his sister Alexandra for the next forty years.
I believe an error was made in choosing this quote for the front page:
It isn’t the most interesting one from the book. I might’ve chosen this:
Or even, if we’re going re: ducks, this:
This quote made me think of the news:
Also can’t say that the epigraph is especially sexy:
Perhaps it’s better in the original Polish.
But still I pressed on, and in the end, I gotta give it up to O Pioneers!
The life of Willa Cather
Willa Cather must’ve been quite something. She was born in Gore, Virginia, but as a girl she was brought to Red Cloud, Nebraska:
where she made a real impression:
Was Willa Cather a lesbian?
Willa Cather shot out of Nebraska like a rocket.
The closest relationships in her life were with women, and she lived with one Edith Lewis:
for close to thirty years. Some biographers hesitate to call her a lesbian, though, saying she never identified herself that way.
Willa Cather Memorial Prairie
Willa died in 1947. She has a memorial prairie named after her, it’s the number 2 thing to do in Red Cloud, NE after her house:
Willa on writing
O Pioneers! still holds up. I found myself moved by it, and it’s short. Cather has a way of summing up loneliness, heartache, longing, compassion, in a few short lines.
I went ahead and got Willa’s collected essays on writing.
Here she tells how she came to write O Pioneers!, her second book:
She wrote in some opposition to the detail-filled writing of Balzac:
Interesting point here:
Red Cloud, Nebraska
Here’s a picture of downtown Red Cloud from Google Maps:
About as solid a Trump country as you will find:
As of 2000 the median income for a household in the city was $26,389, and the median income for a family was $34,038. Males had a median income of $26,364 versus $17,232 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,772. About 8.4% of families and 13.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.9% of those under age 18 and 10.1% of those age 65 or over.
David McCullough has something moving to say about Red Cloud and Willa and her other famous book:
I found O Pioneers! very moving and powerful, let me share with you why:
Warning: O Pioneers! spoiler
Skip this if you intend to read the book with suspense in mind.
But I doubt you will. I found this the most moving passage, and worth all the reading. Let me set it up for you:
Emil, he of the lost cat on page 2, grows up under the guidance of his older sister, Alexandra. She’s really the focus of our story. Carl, the local boy who saves the cat, is in love with her, but he can’t really take it out on the plains, so he goes off, and leaves her behind. She’s left to care for her brothers.
Emil, youngest brother, does great. He goes on to college at the University of Nebraska, while Alexandra stays to watch over the farm. All the while Emil’s been in love with a neighbor girl, Marie. She marries another man, though.
Still, Emil and Marie are in love. Eventually Marie’s husband, Frank Shabata, finds his wife and Emil together. In a crazed rage he murders Marie and Emil both.
Alexandra, alone at age forty, is heartbroken, left adrift at the death of her brother. But still, she feels sympathy for Frank Shabata, who’s been sent to prison in Lincoln for his crime.
Alexandra, lost and in pain, decides to go visit Frank in prison. In afternoon/dusk, after arriving in Lincoln, she wanders the campus of the university, thinking of her murdered brother. Desperate for any kind of connection, she runs into a student:
Walt Whitman Reads: America
The Whitman Recording
The title of O Pioneers! comes from a poem by Walt Whitman.
Some years ago, a recording of Walt Whitman’s voice, said to have been recorded onto an Edison wax cylinder around 1889 or 1890, was rediscovered.
In these times when it seems maybe we lost our way, nationally, it made me feel good to hear this. Forty-six seconds long:
Disgusted afresh with this one, from NY Mag: “Final Days: Trump’s advisers are working hard to plan their own futures while riding out the roller-coaster end of the campaign.” by Gabriel Sherman.
I mean, this is what happened at Gettysburg:
An American president should not visit that place without some sober thought about how it came to be that 7,058 people murdered each other there in three days (perhaps our worst ever mass shooting?)
Starting to seem like Trump has never read
Or even Shelby:
Has he not at least had Sam Waterstone read him the Gettysburg Address?:
The whole point of the Gettysburg Address, he might’ve reminded himself, was that we can’t let all this horror have no meaning, we must use it to remind ourselves of how we got here, what is good about us, what values we must work for.
UGH! I’m with Ken Burns.
Also what about this:
I know everybody deserves a lawyer, but is it not a tad revolting that Ailes lawyer is Dukakis’ former campaign manager?
Maybe there’s more to the story, but this seems, from my distance, like an easy example of a valueless incestuous intertwined gaggle of political and media elites who care about nothing but staying in the game.
I’m sure in defeat Trump will have all the dignity of Lee:
He was engaged in rallying and in encouraging the broken troops, and was riding about a little in front of the wood, quite alone–the whole of his Staff being engaged in a similar manner further to the rear. His face, which is always placid and cheeful, did not show signs of the slightest disappointment, care, or annoyance; a he was addressing to every soldier he met a few words of encouragement, such as, “All this will come right in the end: we’ll talk it over afterwards; but, in the mean time, all good men must rally. We want all good and true men just now,” &c. He spoke to all the wounded men that passed him, and the slightly wounded he exhorted “to bind up their hurts and take up a musket” in this emergency. Very few failed to answer his appeal, and I saw many badly wounded men take off their hats and cheer him. He said to me, “This has been a sad day for us, Colonel–a sad day; but we can’t expect always to gain victories.” He was also kind enough to advise me to get into some more sheltered position, as the shells were bursting round us with considerable frequency.
from the account of Fremantle, who was there, a version less dramatic than this one:
* the D is for Dave!
A promise made in Host Chat is a promise kept so here is a selection of D-Day readings for Davis.
The single best thing to read about D-Day
is online and free. It is S. L. A. Marshall writing for The Atlantic in November, 1950.
During World War II, Marshall became an official Army combat historian, and came to know many of the war’s best-known Allied commanders, including George S. Patton and Omar N. Bradley. He conducted hundreds of interviews of both enlisted men and officers regarding their combat experiences, and was an early proponent of oral history techniques. In particular, Marshall favored the group interview, where he would gather surviving members of a frontline unit together and debrief them on their combat experiences of a day or two before.
The article is called “First Wave On Omaha Beach” here is an excerpt:
Even among some of the lightly wounded who jumped into shallow water the hits prove fatal. Knocked down by a bullet in the arm or weakened by fear and shock, they are unable to rise again and are drowned by the onrushing tide. Other wounded men drag themselves ashore and, on finding the sands, lie quiet from total exhaustion, only to be overtaken and killed by the water. A few move safely through the bullet swarm to the beach, then find that they cannot hold there. They return to the water to use it for body cover. Faces turned upward, so that their nostrils are out of water, they creep toward the land at the same rate as the tide. That is how most of the survivors make it. The less rugged or less clever seek the cover of enemy obstacles moored along the upper half of the beach and are knocked off by machine-gun fire.
Within seven minutes after the ramps drop, Able Company is inert and leaderless. At Boat No. 2, Lieutenant Tidrick takes a bullet through the throat as he jumps from the ramp into the water. He staggers onto the sand and flops down ten feet from Private First Class Leo J. Nash. Nash sees the blood spurting and hears the strangled words gasped by Tidrick: “Advance with the wire cutters!” It’s futile; Nash has no cutters. To give the order, Tidrick has raised himself up on his hands and made himself a target for an instant. Nash, burrowing into the sand, sees machine gun bullets rip Tidrick from crown to pelvis. From the cliff above, the German gunners are shooting into the survivors as from a roof top.
Captain Taylor N. Fellers and Lieutenant Benjamin R. Kearfoot never make it. They had loaded with a section of thirty men in Boat No. 6 (Landing Craft, Assault, No. 1015). But exactly what happened to this boat and its human cargo was never to be known. No one saw the craft go down. How each man aboard it met death remains unreported. Half of the drowned bodies were later found along the beach. It is supposed that the others were claimed by the sea.
After the war, Marshall would write Men Against Fire:
which claimed that only about 25% of American combat soldiers actually fired their guns at the enemy:
Marshall’s work on infantry combat effectiveness in World War II, titled Men Against Fire, is his best-known and most controversial work. In the book, Marshall claimed that of the World War II U.S. troops in actual combat, 75% never fired at the enemy for the purpose of killing, even though they were engaged in combat and under direct threat. Marshall argued that the Army should devote significant training resources to increasing the percentage of soldiers willing to engage the enemy with direct fire.
Marshall has been harshly criticized:
General Marshall said soldiers who did not fire were motivated by fear, a desire to minimize risk and a willingness, as in civilian life, to let a minority of other people carry the load.
In his 1989 memoir, About Face, Hackworth described his initial elation at an assignment with a man he idolized, and how that elation turned to disillusion after seeing Marshall’s character and methods first hand. Hackworth described Marshall as a “voyeur warrior,” for whom “the truth never got in the way of a good story” and went so far as to say, “Veterans of many of the actions he ‘documented’ in his books have complained bitterly over the years of his inaccuracy or blatant bias”.
Omaha Beach was the worst of it, but experiences on D-Day were vastly different.
Twenty-one miles away on Juno Beach the Canadian Ninth Division landed with their bikes:
Leave it to Canadians to bring their bikes. (900 Canadians died in a botched semi-practice D-Day in 1942).
Best Single Book To Read About D-Day
Looking around I can’t find my copy of Normandy Revisited by AJ Liebling:
Liebling, a vivacious fatso who had spent a lot of time in Normandy pre-war, describes going through with the Army and eating at spots he remembered from before. Definitely a different kind of war corresponding.
was wildly popular for a reason: it’s thrilling, readable, and full of epic American hero stories.
Maybe starting with Andrew J. Higgins of Nebraska and Mobile, Alabama:
who developed shallow-draft boats for logging in the bayou (or for bootlegging?) and then took on the job of making similar boats for amphibious landings:
Anthony Beevor has a blunter take. Major takeaway from his book:
was that the Allies came up way short of their goals on D-Day. Unsurprisingly, many of those who got off the beaches in one piece considered their work done for the day. They were literally in Calvados,
it was pretty easy to find bottles of highly alcoholic apple brandy, and a lot of survivors got hammered at first opportunity.
Who can blame them? But the failure to achieve the ambitious goals had costs. Caen was the biggest city around:
British and Canadian troops had intended to capture the town on D-Day. However they were held up north of the city until 9 July, when an intense bombing campaign during Operation Charnwood destroyed 70% of the city and killed 2,000 French civilians.
From this Washington Post review of Beevor, some excerpts:
US Army medical services had to deal with 30,000 cases of combat exhaustion in Normandy,” and:
“Nothing . . . seemed to reduce the flow of cases where men under artillery fire would go ‘wide-eyed and jittery’, or ‘start running around in circles and crying’, or ‘curl up into little balls’, or even wander out in a trance in an open field and start picking flowers as the shells exploded. Others cracked under the strain of patrols, suddenly crying, ‘We’re going to get killed! We’re going to get killed!’ Young officers had to try to deal with ‘men suddenly whimpering, cringing, refusing to get up or get out of a foxhole and go forward under fire’. While some soldiers resorted to self-inflicted wounds, a smaller, unknown number committed suicide.”
But the single best book to read about D-Day I would say is The Boys’ Crusade by Paul Fussell:
Amazon reviewer Bill Marsano sums it up nicely:
It’s probably all that “good war” and “greatest generation” stuff that drove Fussell to write this book; he doesn’t have much truck with gooey backward glances, and that will probably make some readers mad. Well, you don’t come to Fussell–author of, among other things, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb, and Other Essays”–for good times. You come to Fussell for the hard stuff.
And here it is his contention that behind and beneath all that “greatest generation” nonsense was the Boys’ Crusade–that last year of the war in Europe when too many things went wrong too often. The generals who’d convinced themselves that this war would not be a war of attrition–i.e., human slaughter–like the last one found they’d guessed wrong. Casualties were horrifyingly high and so huge numbers of children–kids 17-19 years–old were flung into combat. And they were, with the help of the generals, ill-trained, ill-clothed and ill-equipped.
They were also faceless ciphers. As Fussell points out, the US Army’s policy was to break up training units by sending individual replacements up to the line piecemeal–one at a time–so they often arrived as strangers among strangers, often addressed merely as “Soldier” because no one knew their names. The result was too many instances of cowardice–both under fire and behind the lines–too many self-inflicted wounds to escape combat. Too many disgraces of every kind because the Army’s system, Fussell says, destroyed the most important factor in the fighting morale of the “poor bloody infantry”–the shame and fear of turning chicken in front of your comrades. Many of these boys–and Fussell is properly insistent on the word boys–funked because they had no comradeship to value.
This is not in the least a personal journal. Fussell was serriously wounded as a young second lieutenant; he was also decorated. But he wisely leaves himself out of this narrative. There’s no special pleading here, no showing of the wounds on Crispin’s Day. Instead this is a passionate but straightforward report on what that last year was like for the poor bloody infantry–those foot soldiers, those dogfaces, those 14 percent of the troops who took more than 70 percent of the casualties.
And yet there were those who stood the gaff, who survived “carnage up to and including bodies literally torn to pieces, of intestines hung on trees like Christ,mas festoons,” and managed not to dishonor themselves. They weren’t heroes, Fussell says, just men who earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, which was the only honor they respected. In a brief but moving passage, he explains why: It said they’d been there, been through it, and toughed it out.
Horrible as it is I found this book refreshing when I first read it, because it felt like somebody was telling me the unvarnished truth, which is that even for the good guys this was a series of catastrophes, fuckups, and massacres.
All Fussell’s books are good. This one in particular I was obsessed with:
and I talk about it in The Wonder Trail: True Stories From Los Angeles To The End Of The World, out June 14:
Let’s give the last word to Fussell:
One wartime moment not at all vile occurred on June 5, 1944, when Dwight Eisenhower, entirely alone and for the moment disjunct from his publicity apparatus, changed the passive voice to active in the penciled statement he wrote out to have ready when the invasion was repulsed, his troops torn apart for nothing, his planes ripped and smashed to no end, his warships sunk, his reputation blasted: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.” Originally he wrote, “the troops have been withdrawn,” as if by some distant, anonymous agency instead of by an identifiable man making all-but-impossible decisions. Having ventured this bold revision, and secure in his painful acceptance of full personal accountability, he was able to proceed unevasively with “My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available.” Then, after the conventional “credit,” distributed equally to “the troops, the air, and the navy,” came Eisenhower’s noble acceptance of total personal responsibility: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” As Mailer says, you use the word shit so that you can use the word noble,and you refuse to ignore the stupidity and barbarism and ignobility and poltroonery and filth of the real war so thatit is mine alone can flash out, a bright signal in a dark time.
Happy Birthday Dave!