The Seven Gifts within us

As most of you’ll know, I rarely do book reviews or even recommendations. Part of the reason for that is that much of what I read are specialist writing,   often historical in nature, and too often written in dry academic prose. It’s fine if one is after information, but it can be a trial to stay awake long enough to read.

This is not one of those, it is written by ‘The Sailor, whom I am proud to call a friend and a fellow commenter at The Conservative Woman, and got to me by a review by a fellow commenter contributor and occasional commenter here, and a dear friend, Audre  Myer. She wrote yesterday:

The blurb says it much better than I: ‘In the Earth, Seven Gifts were sown. Then the rain came . . . as a young boy taking on a profound and insane journey through strange, interwoven worlds to find and germinate the Gifts. He is aided by some of the most bizarre and memorable characters that have ever appeared in a book. From reject rock star to a lonely white dolphin, each shows the boy the way of each Gift. And with the guidance of an Angel in a mysterious garden, the boy awakens the Seven Gifts; and the Seven Gifts awaken us.’

When I finished reading the book – and let it sit awhile in my thoughts – I realised I had read something completely new. There is no other in likeness to this book. It is a ‘great’ book, in the manner in which ‘great’ books can transform your thinking by presenting things to you in a new way. It is a great book in the manner of being easy to read, well written, beautifully crafted, always pointing to the final chapter. It never loses itself in flowery words, over-abundance of description, extended character conversation. The book has a story to tell and lets that be its impetus.

Keep reading at A different kind of read. I bought it and read it yesterday, and all that she says is true. And yet, and yet, there is nothing here that many of us haven’t known for a couple of thousand years at least. But the Sailor presents it in a wholly new way, and so the story is fresh and alive and new.

As befits a man who calls himself the Sailor, and is a former commercial fisherman, yacht captain, as well as a Royal Navy officer there are a bit of the legends of seafarers here. It is woven skillfully into the story. It fits the story and adds much to it, perhaps because while everything about his life is different from mine, we are both technical people who deal with the real world up close and personal. Our perspective is not that different really

My reactions varied from a smile to a few chuckles, and yes, some tears. It moved me deeply, and will, I think, tend to haunt me. And that is a good thing.

He says this in the About the author on Amazon:

My Editor loved this book but was prevented from publishing it by the accountants who could not categorise it. She said it was “A most unusual and beautiful story”. They said it was so unusual that it “could sell millions, or one to his mother.” So far the latter is nearer the mark.

That too is easily believable. I think we’ve all met people like that accountant, who can’t see real things that don’t fit the pigeonholes beyond their green eyeshades. Too bad, it deserves to sell millions.

You can and you should get it here: The Seven Gifts within us, Amazon UK.*

I’m not going to give stars, if you need them to decide, go out tonight and look at the sky and count, that’s how many.

The only problem I see with this book is that those who need it most either won’t read it or will not ( or claim not to) understand

Bravo Zulu, Sailor and Audre

  • I’m not an Amazon affiliate so no disclaimers are needed.

America Goes to War

We all, if we are old enough, remember the horror we felt 18 years ago this morning. I happened to be home and watching the morning news, never, not once in my life have I been so shocked, and yes, angered. But we all were, I still remember the picture of a German destroyer coming alongside one of our warships on a NATO exercise,  rails manned, stars and stripes at the foretruck, and a homemade sign on the bridge, “We are with you”, it said.

We talk of this every year, as our parents and grandparents talked of Pearl Harbor, and it was the same kind of thing, out of the blue, mass casualties, and a coming together. Sadly that last didn’t last very long. My remembrance of the day is here, and I’ve spoken of the heroes of the day before as well, here. Both are, I think, worth rereading.

But we are continually learning more, and seeing people in a new light. Garrett M. Graff published in Politico last week an excerpt of his book: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11. Even the excerpt moved me to tears and a huge respect for all those mentioned in it. I’m not sure how ‘fair use’ plays out here, but I think we should be all right with his chosen excerpt, and perhaps a couple pictures. I hope so, I want you to read this.

Gary Walters, chief usher, White House: It was a little bit before 9 a.m. when Mrs. Bush came downstairs—I met her at the elevator. As we were walking out, I remember we were talking about Christmas decorations.

Laura Bush, first lady: My Secret Service agent, the head of my detail, Ron Sprinkle, leaned over to me as I got into the car and said, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center.”

Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, White House: I thought, Well, that’s a strange accident. I called the president. We talked about how odd it was. Then I went down for my staff meeting.

Matthew Waxman, National Security Council, White House: I had started about six weeks earlier as Condi Rice’s executive assistant. At about 9:00 o’clock, we would have a daily Situation Room meeting for the national security adviser and all the senior directors. It was during that meeting that the second plane hit.

Mary Matalin, aide to Vice President Dick Cheney: I was with the Vice President when the second plane hit, and we knew instantly that this was not an accident.

Condoleezza Rice: It was the moment that changed everything.

Matthew Waxman: We went into full crisis response mode.

Mary Matalin: We went right into work mode. While we were in his office making calls to New York, making calls to the president, making calls wherever they needed to be made, the Secret Service barged into his office.

Dick Cheney, vice president: Radar caught sight of an airliner heading toward the White House at 500 miles an hour.

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney: We learn that a plane is five miles out and has dropped below 500 feet and can’t be found; it’s missing. You look at your watch and think, Hmmm, five miles out, 500 miles an hour. Tick, tick, tick.

Dick Cheney: My Secret Service agent said, “Sir, we have to leave now.” He grabbed me and propelled me out of my office, down the hall and into the underground shelter in the White House.

Mary Matalin: My jaw dropped and the jaws of my colleagues dropped because we had never seen anything like that.

Condoleezza Rice: The Secret Service came in and they said, “You have got to go to the bunker.” I remember being driven along, almost propelled along. We had no idea where it was safe and where it wasn’t. We didn’t think the bunker of the White House was safe at that point.

Dick Cheney: They practice this—you move, whether you want to be moved or not, you’re going.

Gary Walters: The Secret Service officers started yelling, “Get out, get out, everybody get out of the White House grounds.” I remember early on, the chaos. People running, screaming. Fear was in my mind.

Christine Limerick, housekeeper, White House: The look on the faces of the Secret Service agents who were told that they had to stay—I will never forget that because we had at least the opportunity to flee.

Ian Rifield, special agent, U.S. Secret Service: We were fairly confident that plane was going to hit us. The supervisor in the [Secret Service’s] Joint Operations Center basically said, “Anybody who survives the impact, we’ll go to an alternate center, and we’ll continue.” It wasn’t a joke.

Dick Cheney: A few moments later, I found myself in a fortified White House command post somewhere down below.

Commander Anthony Barnes, deputy director, Presidential Contingency Programs, White House: Vice President Cheney arrived in the bunker, along with his wife. The PEOC is not a single chamber; there are three or four rooms. The operations chamber is where my watch team was fielding phone calls. Then there’s the conference room area where Mr. Cheney and Condi Rice were—that’s the space that had the TV monitors, telephones, and whatever else.

Mary Matalin: It took a while for everybody to actually get to that area. It hadn’t been used for its intended purpose—which was to be a bomb shelter—since its inception.

Commander Anthony Barnes: Shortly thereafter, I looked around and there was Condi Rice, there was Karen Hughes, there was Mary Matalin, there was [Transportation Secretary] Norm Mineta. Mr. Mineta put up on one of the TV monitors a feed of where every airplane across the entire nation was. We looked at that thing—there must have been thousands of little airplane symbols on it.

Mary Matalin: The vice president was squarely seated in the center. It was emotional, but it was really work, work, work. We were trying to locate first and foremost all the planes. Identify the planes. Ground all the planes.

Commander Anthony Barnes: That first hour was mass confusion because there was so much erroneous information. It was hard to tell what was fact and what wasn’t. We couldn’t confirm much of this stuff, so we had to take it on face value until proven otherwise.

At 9:59 a.m., those inside the bunker—as well as millions more glued to TV screens around the country—watched in horror as the South Tower fell.

Mary Matalin: We saw the building collapse.

Commander Anthony Barnes: There was a deafening silence, and a lot of gasping and “Oh my god” and that kind of thing.

Mary Matalin: Disbelief.

Commander Anthony Barnes: There are four or five very large, 55-inch television screens in the PEOC. We would put the different news stations—ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC—on those monitors. I remember Cheney being as flabbergasted as the rest of us were sitting there watching on these monitors. Back in those days, a 55-inch TV monitor was a really big TV. It was almost bigger than life as the towers collapsed.

Dick Cheney: In the years since, I’ve heard speculation that I’m a different man after 9/11. I wouldn’t say that. But I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.

Mary Matalin: We had to go right back to work.

Richard Clarke, counterterrorism advisor, White House: Many of us thought that we might not leave the White House alive.

Matthew Waxman: One of the things we were all very conscious of down in the PEOC was that the White House Situation Room was staffed with our close colleagues and friends who were staying in those spots despite a clear danger. The Situation Room, which is only half-a-floor below ground, was abuzz with activity, from people who wouldn’t normally be posted there, but who felt duty bound to stay there to help manage the crisis. Especially early in the day, there was a palpable sense that close friends and colleagues might be in some significant danger.

Ian Rifield: There was a sense of frustration too, because we were sitting there. Everybody wanted to fight back. We’re trained to go to the problem, and we were sitting there. There was a lot of tension in that regard. You wanted to do something to protect the complex and the office of the president even better than we were, but we were doing the best we could with what we had. […]

Commander Anthony Barnes: I was running liaison between the ops guys who had Pentagon officials on the phone and the conference room [in the PEOC] where the principals were. The Pentagon thought there was another hijacked airplane, and they were asking for permission to shoot down an identified hijacked commercial aircraft. I asked the vice president that question and he answered it in the affirmative. I asked again to be sure. “Sir, I am confirming that you have given permission?” For me, being a military member and an aviator—understanding the absolute depth of what that question was and what that answer was—I wanted to make sure that there was no mistake whatsoever about what was being asked. Without hesitation, in the affirmative, he said any confirmed hijacked airplane may be engaged and shot down.

Col. Matthew Klimow, executive assistant to the Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, Pentagon: No one had ever contemplated the need to shoot down a civilian airliner.

Major General Larry Arnold: I told Rick Findley in Colorado Springs [at NORAD’s headquarters], “Rick, we have to have permission. We may have to shoot down this aircraft that is coming toward Washington, D.C. We need presidential authority.”

Major Dan Caine, F-16 pilot, D.C. Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland: I handed our wing commander the phone to talk to the high levels of government to get the rules of engagement.[…]

Col. Matthew Klimow: It was a very painful discussion for all of us. We didn’t want the burden of shooting down the airliner to be on the shoulders of a single fighter pilot, but we also didn’t want to have that pilot go all the way up the chain of command to get permission to shoot. It was decided the pilots should do their best to try to wave the airplane off, and if it’s clear the airplane is headed into a heavily populated area, the authority to shoot can be given to a regional commander.

THE CALL

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney, F-16 pilot, D.C. Air National Guard: This sounds counterintuitive, but when the magnitude of the situation hit me, I really lost all emotion. It was really much more focused on, What are the things I need to do to enable us to protect our capital? What are the things I need to do to facilitate us getting airborne?

Brigadier General David Wherley, commander, D.C. Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland: My translation of the rules to Sass was, “You have weapons-free flight-lead control.” I said, “Do you understand what I’m asking you to do?” [Sasseville and Penney] both said yes. I told them to be careful.

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville, F-16 pilot, U.S. Air Force: As we’re going out to the jets, Lucky and I had a quick conversation about what it is that we were going to do and how we were basically going to do the unthinkable if we had to.

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney: We would be ramming the aircraft. We didn’t have [missiles] on board to shoot the airplane down. As we were putting on our flight gear in the life support shop, Sass looked at me and said, “I’ll ram the cockpit.” I made the decision I would take the tail off the aircraft.

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville: We didn’t have a whole lot of options.

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney: I had never been trained to scramble [mobilize] the aircraft. It would typically take about 20 minutes to start the jets, get the avionics systems going, go through all the preflight checks to make sure the systems were operating properly, program the computers in the aircraft. That’s not even including the time to look at the forms, do the walk-around of the airplane, and whatnot. We usually planned about half-an-hour to 40 minutes from the time you walked out the door to the time that you actually took off.

Col. George Degnon, vice commander, 113th Wing, Andrews Air Force Base: We did everything humanly possible to get the aircraft in the air.

Major General Larry Arnold, commander of the 1st Air Force, the Continental United States North American Aerospace Defense Command, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida: Bob Marr quotes me as saying that I told him that we would “take lives in the air to save lives on the ground.”

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney, F-16 pilot, D.C. Air National Guard: Seeing the Pentagon was surreal. It was totally surreal to see this billowing black smoke. We didn’t get high. We were at about 3,000 feet. We never got above 3,000 feet, at least on that first sweep out.

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville: There was all this smoke in my cockpit. It made me nauseous to be honest with you—not from an Ugh, this stinks, it was more from an Oh my God, we’ve been hit on our own soil and we’ve been hit big. I couldn’t believe they had gotten through and they managed to pull off this attack.

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney: The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves.

Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville: They made the decision we didn’t have to make.

There is much more at Politico and  I really want you to read it all. It includes the transcripts and remembrances of the phone calls and cockpit voice recorder from Flight 93.

Too often we talk about heroes, and often we exaggerate. We don’t here, from Vice President Cheney right down to the passengers and crew that took down flight 93, we can truly say,  The soul of the United States of America in action.

Thus ended the first day, many would follow.

 

A Lying Execrable Plagiarist, and His Helpers at the Smithsonian

Like just about everybody else that knows anything about American history, I’ve fulminated about the crap (which is what Mitch Daniels, then Governor of Indiana and now President of Purdue called it when Zinn finally died) that is Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States which is not only bad history slanted far left  but full of  plagiarism, as the main link today tells us.

In any case, what brings this on is that The Smithsonian is sponsoring some seminars to help history teachers to lie (perhaps inadvertently) to their students by promoting Zinn’s execrable pseudohistory. Mary Grabar explains on The Federalist:

This semester, the Smithsonian Institution is helping. Teachers will learn new teaching strategies and receiving continuing education credits at two “teach-ins” — on Sept. 7 in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and on Sept. 28 in New York City.

Both “teach-ins” are efforts of our national museum, the Smithsonian, and D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice, “a project of Teaching for Change.” The invitation promises to feature “classroom resources for K-12 from Native Knowledge 360 [Degrees]” and from “the Zinn Education Project, including the campaign to abolish Columbus Day.”

The Zinn Education Project’s Infiltration

The Zinn Education Project is a nonprofit launched by one of Zinn’s former Boston University students who was taken in by the radical professor’s tales of derring-do in protesting the Vietnam War and, in spite of Zinn’s pro-communist rhetoric, had done quite well for himself as a capitalist.

The Zinn Education Project’s mission is to distribute materials from its namesake’s record-breaking best-seller, “A People’s History of the United States,” in the form of downloadable K-12 lessons on such topics as imperialismLatinxLGBTQsocial classprison uprisings, Black Lives Matter, reparations, and immigration. Zinn died in 2010, but these lessons are updated by his acolytes, such as Adam Sanchez, who, in a lesson titled “When Black Lives Mattered: Why Teach Reconstruction,” claims President Trump’s “racist rhetoric and policies have provided an increasingly encouraging environment for attacks on Black people and other communities of color.”

Our tax money at work, undermining the United States. Time to privatize the Smithsonian, and tax the hell out of it.

Many of you know that I fell in love with history when I was about eight years old. I happened to check out of the library with a biography of US Grant, and I was off.  By the time I graduated high school I probably had 150 or so books on history, lots of it military history. Those books burned with dad’s house,  and I’m still replacing some of them. But a lot of the reason is that I stumbled across some that knew how to tell a story, and yes, some were historical romances. But you know, those romances, interested me enough in some parts of history to follow up with real history,  Like the invasion of Quebec up the Kennebec River during the Revolution, or the life of William the Marshal, First Earl of Pembroke, and the man who actually made Magna Charta law. The absolute best for me was Bruce Catton on the American Civil War, but Winston Churchill on the First Duke of Marlborough wasn’t all that far behind. There were many others, and others have joined the list over the years.

The thing is, when my stepdaughter was in eighth grade,  she asked me for help with her history class. I tried to read the chapter in her book (I don’t know if it was Zinn’s, quite a while ago now) but I simply couldn’t force my way through it. It was both amazingly dry and badly written, and much of it was false: a political screed.

There is an antidote for Zinn’s crap. It is Wilfred M. McClay’s Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. I’ve read many reviews of it, unless blinded by prejudice they are all outstanding, Here’s one from Amazon:

“This book is the antidote to abysmal levels of historical knowledge our high school graduates possess. History bores them; the textbooks are dreary; lessons play up guilt and identity politics. It turns them off. They want powerful tales and momentous events, genuine heroes and villains, too―an accurate but stirring rendition of the past. This is Bill McClay’s Land of Hope, a superb historian’s version of the American story, in lively prose spiced with keen analysis and compelling drama. Every school that assigns this book will see students’ eyes brighten when the Civil War comes up, the Progressive Era, the Depression, civil rights . . . The kids want an authentic, meaningful heritage, a usable past. McClay makes it real.”
― Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation

Yes, it’s on my list, and thankfully nearing the top of it. To be honest, I have other interests,  like eating, that subtracts more than I like from my book budget. Especially if you have kids, but for yourself as well – buy this book, borrow it from a friend, check it out of the library, whatever – read it.

Before the Dumbest Generation destroys the country we love.

Teaching the History of a Free People

Earlier this week, my friend Schaeferhistorian wrote on his blog about how we are, in many ways, Expunging Our Past.

Progressive historians like Charles Beard… went to great lengths to discredit the work of America’s first published historian, George Bancroft.  The Nationalist school of American history revered our Founders and proclaimed American exceptionalism.  Beard argued that America’s founding ideals were nothing more than a clever disguise for our true inspiration, greed.  The New Left revisionism that pervades historiography today is a mere continuation of Beard’s fundamentally flawed concept- America really isn’t that great….

[…]

The overriding message should be that historical figures are human and not infallible. We can honor their great deeds and learn from their most human mistakes. 

We must stop this current craze of tearing down and erasing our history because the historical figures did not possess our modern sensibilities. 

I couldn’t agree more and the emphasis is his.

Then comes Jonathan Pidluzny with more of the story in The Federalist.

If “reading maketh a full man,” as Sir Francis Bacon avers, Then the New York Times best-seller list is a window into the American soul. To judge from the view, we are an angry, divided, and shallow nation.

A deeper look, however, can give us some hope even in that bleak landscape of elite Americana. One finds several encouraging entries on this week’s predictable slew of political screeds and celebrity tell-alls. David McCullough’s “The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West” is an academic history about the settlement of Ohio written in characteristically beautiful prose. A little further down, “The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777,” by Rick Atkinson, is the first volume of his Revolutionary War trilogy.

He mentions a few more including Senator Tom Cotton’s memoir of his time in The Old Guard. And I’d add that if you want your kids to have a better appreciation of what it has cost to build this country – Go to Arlington.

There at General Robert E. Lee’s house, stolen from him by a vengeful US government for use as a cemetery (the first graves were those of colored infantrymen in Mrs. Lee’s Rose Garden). Over time the hurt has faded, and I doubt that the General could find a better use for his plantation than as a beacon of American Duty and Honor. Something he himself epitomized, whatever the loons say, R. E. Lee remains amongst the greats of American history.

But you won’t learn that in a current textbook, you’ll be taught mostly that he was a slave owner (he was, he had one. His wife had some, inherited from her family, that under the law, they couldn’t free.)

In any case, Jonathan is making a valiant effort to show, that while Americans will quite happily read American history. And he’s right, they will. The most-read posts here are the ones on history, which is a good thing because they are my favorites, as well. But quite a few Universities are dropping their history programs.

Bernie Patterson, chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, explained his university’s rationale for eliminating its history major along similar lines, as part of the institution’s effort to build a “new kind of university” focused on delivering “programs aligned with the career-focused goals of our students and the needs of regional communities and businesses.”

Stevens Point abandoned the proposal after a student and faculty insurrection. Unfortunately, universities elsewhere—including Wheeling Jesuit University and the University of Tulsa, both institutions long known for strong liberal arts curricula—are moving forward with plans to axe programs and faculty in traditional arts and sciences disciplines.

Good-faith concerns about graduates’ workplace readiness in the age of skyrocketing tuition costs may explain a part of the precipitous decline. But so does the abandonment by history faculties of the kind of history Americans hunger for—the kind that catapults a book onto The New York Times best-seller list. As professors move away from offering “big picture” survey courses—Colonial America, American History to 1865, Twentieth Century America, etc.—in favor of “micro-histories” tailored to their specialized research interests (or worse, invocations to political activism welded to histories designed to desecrate the country’s past), their numbers will continue to dwindle.

I also note that UW-Stevens Point, on their website, claims to prepare their student for global citizenship with a catalog which looks to me like a teacher’s college. Well, They are part of the Unversity of Wisconsin, where the revisionism nonsense itself got started, so no big surprise.

He’s correct, it is worrying that we are starting to not teach our heritage, but I also say this, better not to teach history at all than the evil practice of filling young heads with knowledge that is not only wrong but knowingly and intentionally wrong. That is truly evil.

Herman Wouk

Author Herman Wouk at his home in Palm Springs in 2000. (Los Angeles Times)

It’s strange how things happen. As some of you’ll be aware, I found out a few short weeks ago, while I was on break, that Herman Wouk, one of my favorite authors, was still alive at 103. That was from a post at Warsclerotic that reminded us that Winds of War/War and Remembrance are available on YouTube. I’ve been watching them (binge-watching, really).  Between them, especially the books, they form perhaps the best overall history of World War II.

That was from an article there by the site’s editor, Joseph Wouk, and I commented how much his dad’s writing, going back to The Caine Mutiny when I was perhaps eight years old, had taught me some lessons that had stood the test of time. Joseph kindly informed that his father was still alive and nearing his 104th birthday.

Sadly, he didn’t make it, dying last Friday, writing till the end. That remarkable since his first novel was published shortly after World War II, in which he served as an officer in a destroyer minesweeper, which will sound familiar to anyone who has ever read about the Caine or seen the play or movie adapted from it.

As I told Joseph, The Caine taught me much about organizations and how they work and has stuck with me. In fact, I wrote about it back in 2013, in a post titled Of Mutiny and Education.  What is interesting about what is probably a somewhat inaccurate book review in it, is that I hadn’t read the book in probably 30 years, and a fair amount of it stuck with me. And allowed me to draw lessons from it. And, you know, that article still has lessons for us, as well.

Not surprisingly he’s been eulogized all over the world. You can find quite a few at Warsclerotic. I rather like the one in the LA Times.

Herman Wouk, the prolific and immensely popular writer who explored the moral fallout of World War II in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Caine Mutiny” and other widely read books that gave Americans a raw look at the horrors and consequences of war, has died at his Palm Springs home, where he wrote many of his acclaimed novels.

Wouk, who was honored by the Library of Congress in September 2008 with its first lifetime achievement award for fiction writing, died in his sleep Friday at the age of 103, his literary agent Amy Rennert told the Associated Press. Wouk was working on a book at the time of his death, Rennert said.

As a writer, Wouk considered his most “vaultingly ambitious” work the twin novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” about “the great catastrophe of our time,” World War II. Critics, however, considered “The Caine Mutiny” to be his finest work.

Taut and focused, the book is a riveting exploration of power, personal freedom and responsibility. “Caine” won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for literature and was on the New York Times’ bestseller list for more than two years, selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and Britain in the first few years after its publication.

In the novel, Wouk creates one of American literature’s most fascinating characters, Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the U.S. destroyer-minesweeper Caine, who is removed from his command by a lower-ranking officer in the middle of a typhoon.

In one of the book’s most famous scenes, concerning the theft of the captain’s strawberries, Queeg lapses into paranoid incoherence as he is questioned during his court-martial. He pulls a pair of ball bearings from his pocket and obsessively shuffles them in his hand:

“Ah, but the strawberries! That’s, that’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I would have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer. (He pauses, realizing that he has been ranting.)

“Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory.”

Keep reading, nor would it hurt any of us to revisit these works, to learn again how we won the war, but more how we treat people to accomplish our mission, and even more, perhaps, to simply enjoy ourselves. Like a good storytelling father, Herman Wouk brings us a lesson while entertaining us with a ripping yarn.

Rest in peace sir, knowing you are missed, and your memory honored.

Cabaret, Haffner, and Chicago

My friend Brandon Christensen over at Notes on Liberty each evening does a post with a few links, which are often interesting. The day before yesterday had one that struck me, so let’s take a look.

In an article entitled The Unromantic Truths of Weimar Germany, Marilyn Macron is essentially reviewing Blood Brothers by Ernst Haffer. The book was originally published in 1932 and banned a year later by the Nazis. Ms. Macron starts this way.

EVEN HALF A CENTURY ON, Cabaret heavily informs perceptions of Weimar Germany. The popular, Oscar-winning 1972 musical features garter-clad Liza Minnelli and elegant Joel Grey slinking their way through a decadent Berlin underworld of sex and style, and it all seems so glamorous. The reality for most Germans at the time was, of course, colder, duller, and much more miserable.

But no one wants anything to do with misery. It’s not the kind of thing viewers and readers pay money to experience. If you dress up misery with tuxedos and boas, though, and hide the accompanying desperation under makeup and sequins, you get decadence, and decadence sells. German writer Alfred Döblin filtered this aesthetic into his classic 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. Christopher Isherwood was similarly taken in — his 1937 novella Sally Bowles, later collected in The Berlin Stories(1945), was the basis for Cabaret.

They wrote of Berliners who knew how to commodify decadence. Of aristocratic gangsters who wouldn’t do a job without top hat and tails. Of Apache dancers, Brylcreemed villains, and two-mark whores with fire-red curls. There were discreet champagne lounges in basements, secret entrances, and trapdoors. The observer of this falsified and superficial milieu would find Berlin’s actual criminal underworld deathly dull. Nothing of interest there at all. Except, perhaps, real people with real needs, and few ways to get those needs met.

She’s right though, that undertone that runs through Cabaret does give you a feel for what is coming. A newer version, set in the US, with much the same feel of desperation about it is Chicago, another fine effort, this time about what might have been instead of what was.

Haffner’s writing is of the short-lived Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity, movement that rejected romanticism and expressionism in favor of realism. His collage of the exploits and exploitation of these boys shows them fully responsible for their actions but also indicts German society as a whole. In this, his prose pairs well with the vitriolic caricatures of Dada/New Objectivist artist George Grosz, a contemporary of Haffner’s who left for the United States in 1933.

Grosz’s works were mainly done in pen and ink to emphasize the starkness of his subject matter. Of his claustrophobic collage A Funeral: Tribute to Oskar Panizza, he sought to portray, he said, “[A] gin alley of grotesque dead bodies and madmen […] A teeming throng of possessed human animals […] think that wherever you step, there’s the smell of shit.” A Funeral is an artistic analogue of Blood Brothers, in which Haffner writes, “And the big beer joints with their lively oom-pa-pah music from early morning on, they are just waiting rooms for armies of pimps, unemployed and casual criminals.”

All very interesting, and I wonder if it has implications for our time. For aren’t we seeing the same things, decadence, missing fathers, self-harming or more or less defeated mothers leading to feral young people, surviving however they can? How different is Haffner’s Berlin to present-day London, or Chicago? I don’t know and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know. But what I really don’t want is to find out they are the same. Neither the United States nor Weimar Germany survived the thirties as they were before. Neither did the world.

The book is now on my wish list. And do read the linked review.

As for Haffner himself, Macron tells us…

Beyond being a creative risk, Haffner’s humane depiction of the gang members turned out to be a grave political error: the Nazis banned and burned Blood Brothers within a year of its publication, during the notorious May 1933 Bebelplatz book burning. Sometime after, the writers’ union affiliated with the Third Reich, the Reichsschrifttumskammer, summoned him to appear. It is believed that he did.

Haffner was never seen again.

There is a lesson in that, as well.

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