The Earth is Weeping

I’ve been a compulsive reader ever since I struggled past the banality of Dick and Jane and discovered the wider world of literature. I’m usually immersed in two or three books at a time, dipping into first one and then the other as my inclination directs. Some books are just too difficult to digest without an occasional divergence into less demanding reading.

One I’m currently struggling with is The Earth is Weeping. Cozzens’ accounts of the Great Sioux War, the Modoc War, the Nez Perce’ anabasis and the Victorio War make painful reading. The courage, self-sacrifice and stubborn determination displayed on both sides of the conflict cannot redeem the cynicism, greed and bureaucratic indifference that precipitated so much bloodshed.

Henneman’s History Podcast

I can’t say I’m a fan of podcasts in general, if for no other reason that it sounds an ugly and madeup word. But this series on American history comes highly recommended. I’ve just started it so I can’t vouch for the entirety, but I found myself nodding in complete agreement with the opening segment.

Black Jack

There have been a pair of Black Jacks in the Army. The latest was John J. Pershing. There used to be a statue of him shaking hands with Pancho Villa in a little plaza in Palomas, but I haven’t been down there in years and can’t guess if it’s still there.

The first was John A. Logan, a Civil War general known to his troops as Black Jack for his “swarthy” good looks. (Can you still use that word or is it now considered pejorative? Looking at his picture I would have called him “Black Irish,” although I know nothing of his heritage but his name.)

His equestrian statue stands in Chicago but may be riding off into the sunset in the near future, depending on how quickly the wheels of Social Justice grind. Logan’s is one of more than 40 works of public art the Chicago Monuments Project finds worthy of discussion.

Black Jack Logan was a hero. As a sitting Congressman, he might have watched First Bull Run with the other feckless picnickers on the heights above the battlefield. Instead he joined the fight as an “unattached volunteer” with a Michigan militia regiment. From Virginia he rode west to campaign under U.S.Grant, where he had his horse shot from underneath him at the Battle of Belmont and was wounded himself at the taking of Fort Donelson. While recuperating he resigned his Congressional seat and returned to Illinois to raise a regiment for the Union.

He commanded a division at Vicksburg and a corps at Atlanta. In the final months of the war, Logan led the XV Corps on Sherman’s destructive march through the Carolinas, a campaign which freed tens of thousands of jubilant slaves.

Unfortunately, “recent scholarship” has unearthed evidence that despite shedding blood for the Union and personally freeing thousands of slaves, Black Jack was a pre-War Democrat and political supporter of Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas and so was “insensitive to the moral repugnance of slavery” or even “proslavery.”

It’s true that Douglas, the northern Democrat who ran against Lincoln in 1860, was opposed to abolition on the grounds that it would ruin the Southern economy and very probably lead to secession and bloodshed. Logan had grave forebodings that a sudden influx of uneducated and impoverished former slaves into Northern cities would foster not integration but generations of racial friction.

As it turns out, they were both right.

Ronald Reagan warned of the consequences of not educating Americans in their history:

“If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.”

The End of America

The America was launched at Newport News on 31 August 1939, just one day before the Nazi invasion of Poland put an end to the North Atlantic passenger trade she was designed to serve. Instead, as the USS West Point she carried 350,000 men to the battlefields in Europe and the South Pacific and then joined in the triumphant Magic Carpet voyages that brought 8 million men home to their families. Discharged in 1946 with two campaign medals (European-African-Middle Eastern and Asiatic Pacific) as well as the American Defense Service and World War II Victory medals, she was freed to resume her original name and her planned career.

The 1950s were the glamorous sunset of the Atlantic run, when Monroe and Russell pursued their amorous adventures aboard a luxurious liner. Although neither as large as her sister United States or the Queens of the trade – the Cunard’s Mary and Elizabeth – many found America’s lines cleaner and more graceful, and she did a good business flying the American flag on the run from New York to Cobh, LeHavre and Bremerhaven.

But when you could jet comfortably across the Atlantic in a matter of hours while a sea voyage took days the liners suddenly found themselves obsolete. SS America changed hands, names and flags in a long downward slide.  New owners subdivided cabins and added bunks to increase passenger capacity and she found a new niche carrying emigrants from England to Australia and New Zealand, but that trade dried up too in the 1970s.

Greek owners renamed her America but failed to make her a cruise ship. There were too many new Love Boats designed to offer the fun the customers wanted.

In 1993 new owners devised a plan to turn the old ship into a floating hotel at the appropriately named port of Phuket in Thailand. Renamed the American Star – although the owners did not trouble to paint out the old names on her bows and stern – her propellers were removed, the bridge painted a bright orange and a Ukrainian tug towed her out of a Greek harbor.

In a storm and heavy seas in the Atlantic the old liner shook off her towlines and floated free until the wind and waves drove her onto a rocky beach in the Canary Islands. Over the next decade the locals, tourists and fascinated observers on Google Earth watched the remorseless surf break the old ship apart. The last remnant of her forecastle finally disappeared beneath the waves in 2013.

“I have but one lamp…

Strange that a choleric Scots-English tobacco farmer could have anything in common with an Apache warrior. But I think Patrick Henry and Nana would have understood each other very well. Today marks the anniversary of Henry’s eloquent address to the Virginia legislature .

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past,” Henry told the assembly.

“Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded… If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight!

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Worth Dying For

I can’t honestly recommend a book I haven’t read yet, but I’m going to put Things Worth Dying For on order just based on this blurb: “He points to our longing to live and die with meaning as the key to our search for God, our loyalty to nation and kin, our conduct in war, and our service to others.”

Made me think of Nana.

The Revel

More verse, this poem ominously quoted in Dracula:

We meet ’neath the sounding rafter,
And the walls around are bare;
As they shout back our peals of laughter
It seems that the dead are there.
Then stand to your glasses, steady!
We drink in our comrades’ eyes:
One cup to the dead already—
Hurrah for the next that dies!

Yankee Coyotes

Interesting piece in Outdoor Life on Don Coyote in the northeastern U.S. Turns out canis latrans in the woods (and farms, and suburbs, and now even our largest cities) is a very different critter from the desert dwelling trickster (below) we know here in the Southwest.

So different that some people are questioning whether he’s a true coyote, a wolf or dog hybrid, or an entirely new species. Although he only arrived 60 years ago, the Down Easter coyote is larger, heavier and differently colored than the kin he left behind on the other side of the Mississippi. Whether he’s smarter is difficult to judge given the wildly different opportunities and challenges a coyote faces in Death Valley vs. Central Park. His conquest of the continent is a contemporary case study in the rapidity of successful evolutionary adaptation. If coyotes next develop opposable thumbs, we’re in trouble.

Vive’ le Pew

In my last post championing Davy Crockett and the heroes of the Alamo, I never imagined I would find myself defending one of Chuck Jones‘ cartoon characters. But here we are. I wish I could believe that Pepe’ le Pew was the hill we would die on, but it seems certain we are doomed to carry this fight on endlessly, like some nightmarish WWI battle from one shattered trench and muddy shell crater to the next, for as long as a single defender of the value of free speech — and more important a sense of humor — survives.

Unless we are to descend finally into the dreary abyss of Stalinism, we have to ask: Can’t you people take a joke? Have none of you ever even watched a Pepe’ le Pew cartoon? What were you doing with your Saturday mornings?

Remembering the Alamo

Childhood dreams do come true, if you live long enough. When I was 9 or 10 years old, I wanted nothing more than to stand with Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Not shoulder to shoulder, like his best Buddy Ebsen or their Comanche companion, the warrior they jokingly called “Busted Luck.” But I wanted to be someplace there in the background with the other rugged frontiersmen clutching their long rifles and staring unflinchingly at the advancing masses of blue-coated Mexican infantry.

I had the coonskin cap (I slept with it that Christmas night and dreamed of adventures with “The King of the Wild Frontier”) and I watched every episode of Disney’s Davy religiously. I had even read Walter Lord’s majestic history and so knew something of the actual event. I wanted to be a hero.

Later in life, when I was more cynical, I had the chance but passed on it. Now, when we’re marking the 185th anniversary of the grim finale of that fateful battle, I need to stand up and lend my voice in defense of Davy Crockett and his comrades. Lately it’s become fashionable to denigrate the men and diminish their achievement. They were racists and slaveholders at worst, land-hungry filibusters at best. We’re told their rebellion was less about freedom than profit.

Certainly they were made of the clay we all share. Crockett was an unlettered backwoodsman who suddenly became (much to his own surprise) one of Americ,a’s first celebrities. Like most celebs he had some trouble keeping his footing. His popularity and the support of Andy Jackson swept him into Congress, but he feuded with Old Hickory on a matter of principle, lost his seat and memorably told his constituents, “Y’all can go to hell. I’m going to Texas.”

But whatever brought Crockett, Travis, Bowie and the men who followed them to the Alamo, they were willing to die for it. That alone should make us honor their names. As for their achievement, Texas today has a population of nearly 30 million people living in a prosperity their great-grandfathers could scarcely imagine, with a degree of security and political freedom all but unknown anywhere south of the state’s border.