Remembrance Sunday

English: John McCrae Français : John McCrae

English: John McCrae Français : John McCrae (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Friday we celebrated Veterans’ Day which I wrote about yesterday. In the rest of the English-speaking world, it is called Remembrance Day. And is commonly marked on Sunday, hence Remembrance Sunday. In truth, it is more akin to the American Memorial Day for it marks the losses of Britain and the Commonwealth.

At eleven o’clock yesterday, 99 years ago,  the Great War ended. Truly at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. It was (and is) also the feast day of St Michael, the patron saint of the Infantry, which surely seems appropriate. It had been a horrendous experience for everyone. In truth, Europe lost an entire generation in the war, it ended the optimism of the Victorian age and ushered in the defeatist Europe (and even America) we see now. We will talk more about this in the coming days but, today is a day to remember.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

That poem was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army at the battlefront at Ypres in 1915, and it has come to symbolize the day. You see while some credit the United States with winning the war, which may be true, we got there very late, not going into battle until 1918. Remember the war started in 1914. Others suffered much worse than we did. Since we joined the winning side, with which we had historic ties we joined in their commemoration.

If you happen to see the commemorations today across the Anglosphere you will notice nearly everyone wearing red paper poppies, that comes from the poem. I can still remember when I was in elementary school, members of the American Legion Auxiliary distributing poppies to us and explaining what they meant. Do they still do that? I hope so but, I doubt it, America has changed.

In any case, I think we would be wise to join our cousins as they remember the dead from the wars of Freedom today. We would be in good company…

FROM THE LONDON TIMES of OCT. 18, 1921

Yesterday morning General Pershing laid the Congressional Medal of Honour on the grave of the Unknown British Warrior in Westminster Abbey. The simple and beautiful ceremony seemed full of the promise of new and happier times. And what we call Nature appeared to have laid her approval on the hopes that it aroused.

That the United States should confer on an unknown British Warrior the highest military honour that can be bestowed by its Government, that jealously guarded and rarely granted Medal of Honour, which can only be won “at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty”; that Congress should pass a special Act enabling this honour to be paid to one who was not a citizen of the United States; that by the request and in the presence of the American Ambassador the medal should be laid upon the tomb by the hand of the great soldier who is now the successor of Washington, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan as General of the Armies of the United States, and that the ceremony should take place while the eyes of all the world are turned to the coming Congress at Washington.

Here is great matter for pride and hope; and it seemed to be by something more than mere accident or the working of unalterable law that, just at the beginning of the ceremony, the sun should stream down, in its natural gold, through a window not yet painted, upon the Union Jack that was spread at the foot of the Unknown Warrior‘s grave. The ancient mystery of the great Abbey is never wholly dispelled by the light of day. Yesterday, as ever, she preserved her immemorial secrets and her ever brooding silence; yet brightness, colour, confidence were the notes of the ceremony; and, contrasting the sunshine of yesterday with the tragic gloom remembered on other occasions since August, 1914, one could not but believe that the externals matched the inner truth of the act, and that the modern history which, as the Dean of Westminster reminded us, began with the war in which the Unknown Warrior gave his life was about, through him and his like, to bring joy and peace to the world.

With the Union Jack at its foot and the wreaths bestowed about its edge, the stone that temporarily covers the Unknown Warrior’s grave near the west end of the Abbey was bare, save for a little case full of rosaries and sacred emblems that lies at its head. The space about it was shut off from the rest of the Nave by a barrier, through which passed only those who had been specially invited to seats of honour round the grave. The Nave was packed with people facing north and south, and lined with soldiers and sailors of the United States Army and Navy, among them some of General Pershing’s picked battalion, strapping fellows in khaki or blue, who seemed to have all the smartness and the immobility to which we are accustomed in British troops on such occasions.

[…]

Backed by a row of Abbey dignitaries were the Dean of Westminster, the American Ambassador, and General Pershing, standing at the gravehead, and facing up the great church.

At the invitation of the Dean, the American Ambassador then spoke as follows:

“By an Act of the Congress of the United States, approved on March 4 of the present year, the President was authorized “to bestow, with appropriate ceremonies, military and civil, a Medal of Honour upon the unknown unidentified British soldier buried in Westmister Abbey.” The purpose of Congress was declared by the Act itself, in these words: “Animated by the same spirit of comradeship in which we of the American forces fought alongside of our Allies, we desire to add whatever we can to the imperishable glory won by the deeds of our Allies and commemorated in part by this tribute to their unknown dead.”

The Congressional Medal, as it is commonly termed because it is the only medal presented “in the name of Congress,” symbolizes the highest military honour that can be bestowed by the Government of the United States. It corresponds to the Victoria Cross and can be awarded only to an American warrior who achieves distinction “at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.”

A special Act of Congress was required to permit the placing of it upon the tomb of a British soldier. The significance of this presentation, therefore, is twofold. It comprises, in addition to the highest military tribute, a message of fraternity direct from the American people, through their chosen representatives in Congress, to the people of the British Empire.

There were two soldiers. One was British. The other was American. They fought under different flags, but upon the same vast battlefield. Their incentives and ideals were identical. They were patriot warriors sworn to the defence and preservation of the countries which they loved beyond their own lives. Each realized that the downfall of his own free land would presage the destruction of all liberty. Both were conscious of the blessings that had flowed from the English Magna Charta and the American Constitution. Well they knew that the obliteration of either would involve the extinguishment of the other. So with consciences as clear as their eyes and with hearts as clean as their hands they could stand and did stand shoulder to shoulder in common battle for their common race and common cause.There was nothing singular, nothing peculiar, about them. They typified millions so like to themselves as to constitute a mighty host of undistinguishable fighting men of hardy stock. A tribute to either is a tribute to all.

Though different in rank, these two soldiers were as one in patriotism, in fidelity, in honour,and in courage. They were comrades in the roar of battle. They are comrades in the peace of this sacred place.

One, the soldier of the Empire, made the supreme sacrifice, and, to the glory of the country whose faith he kept, he lies at rest in this hallowed ground enshrined in grateful memory. The other, equally noble and equally beloved, is by my side. Both live and will ever live in the hearts of their countrymen.

What more fitting than that this soldier of the great Republic should place this rare and precious token of appreciation and affection of a hundred millions of kinsmen upon the tomb of his comrade, the soldier of the mighty Empire! Proudly and reverently, by authority of the Congress and the President, I call upon the General of the Armies of the United States, fifth only in line as the successor of Washington, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan, to bestow the Medal of Honour upon this typical British soldier who, though, alas! in common with thousands of others, “unknown and unidentified,” shall never be “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.”

Then General Pershing said:

One cannot enter here and not feel an overpowering emotion in recalling the important events in the history of Great Britain that have shaped the progress of the nations. Distinguished men and women are here enshrined who, through the centuries, have unselfishly given their services and their lives to make that record glorious. As they pass in memory before us there is none whose deeds are more worthy, and none whose devotion inspires our admiration more, than this Unknown Warrior. He will always remain the symbol of the tremendous sacrifice by his people in the world’s greatest conflict.

It was he who, without hesitation, bared his breast against tyranny and injustice. It was he who suffered in the dark days of misfortune and disaster, but always with admirable loyalty and fortitude. Gathering new strength from the very force of his determination, he felt the flush of success without unseemly arrogance. In the moment of his victory, alas! we saw him fall in making the supreme gift to humanity. His was ever the courage of right, the confidence of justice. Mankind will continue to share his triumph, and with the passing years will come to strew fresh laurels over his grave.

As we solemnly gather about this sepulchre, the hearts of the American people join in this tribute to their English-speaking kinsman. Let us profit by the occasion, and under its inspiration pledge anew our trust in the God of our fathers, that He may guide and direct our faltering footsteps into paths of permanent peace. Let us resolve together, in friendship and in confidence, to maintain toward all peoples that Christian spirit that underlies the character of both nations.
And now, in this holy sanctuary, in the name of the President and the people of the United States, I place upon his tomb. the Medal of Honour conferred upon him by special Act of the American Congress, in commemoration of the sacrifices of our British comrade and his fellow-countrymen,and as a slight token of our gratitude and affection toward this people.

On the conclusion of his speech the Congressional Medal of Honour was handed by Admiral Niblack to General Pershing, who, stooping down, laid it on the grave, above the breast of the unknown hero beneath. Shining there, with its long ribbon of watered blue silk, it lay, a symbol of the past, a pledge for the future.

And General Pershing stood at the salute to his fallen comrade.

Which is entirely appropriate as well. As most of my American readers will be aware, the recipient of the Medal of Honor is entitled to be saluted first by all American service members.

[It should also be noted that on Armistice Day that year, by order of the King, the American Unknown Soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross. ]

There is considerably more, here is the link to the entire article from the Times, it is very moving.

After all the speeches and the award, the congregation joined in singing

All across the English Speaking World, people today will be remembering those incredibly brave soldiers of Freedom, from all over the world, who fought that war. In Canada and the United Kingdom especially there is a hymn associated with it.

Take a moment today to thank God for our gallant allies in that greatest alliance of the free ever seen, the British Commonwealth and the United States.

That service in Westminster Abbey ended with this

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon

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St. Crispin/Crispinians Day

It’s St Crispin’s Day again, and that makes it a day to talk of the bravery of English and American armed forces, not that there is ever a bad day for that. St. Crispin’s Day is a pretty good encapsulation of our military histories though, always brave, sometimes badly led and more often than not, victorious.

From Wikipedia: “Saint Crispin’s Day falls on 25 October and is the feast day of the Christian Saints Crispin and Crispinian, twins who were martyred c. 286.” That’s where the day gets its name. What it’s famous for is the battles of the English-speaking peoples that have been fought on it.

The first we will look at took place during the “Hundred Years War”. Henry V of England with a small army was on his way to Calais, getting chased all over northern France by Constable Charles d’Albret of France. The French King (Charles VI) was mentally incapacitated. Henry was heavily outnumbered and decided to arouse his exhausted army before the battle by giving a speech.

The English won the battle with ridiculously low casualties while wreaking havoc on the French forces. The reason for this was the English (and Welsh) longbowmen, making this the first battle since Roman times when infantry was anything but a rabble for the knights to ride down.

For this reason, Agincourt is often cited as a victory for the freemen of England over the aristocracy.

Battle number two for the day wasn’t so kind to the British.

This one was a cavalry charge against Russian Artillery. It was commanded by Lord Raglan (Yes, the sleeves are named for him). The orders he issued were vague and Lord Cardigan (Yes, he designed the sweater) executed the worst possible interpretation of them. The charge was carried out by the British light cavalry brigade which consisted of the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, whose bravery we have never forgotten. It was too well immortalized.

Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Here’s a visual version.

It should be added that Great Britain didn’t do a great job of taking care of their veterans (neither did the U.S.) in those days.  Rudyard Kipling had this to say:

The Last of the Light Brigade

There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, “Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant’s order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and “Beggin’ your pardon,” he said,
“You wrote o’ the Light Brigade, sir. Here’s all that isn’t dead.
An’ it’s all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin’ the mouth of hell;
For we’re all of us nigh to the workhouse, an’ we thought we’d call an’ tell.

“No, thank you, we don’t want food, sir; but couldn’t you take an’ write
A sort of ‘to be continued’ and ‘see next page’ o’ the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an’ couldn’t you tell ’em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now.”

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with “the scorn of scorn.”
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog;
They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog;
And they sent (you may call me a liar), when felon and beast were paid,
A cheque, for enough to live on, to the last of the Light Brigade.

O thirty million English that babble of England’s might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children’s children are lisping to “honour the charge they made – ”
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

OK, that’s two, only one more to go, 90 years later, to the day, halfway around the world

The Battle of Leyte Gulf

This time it’s the US Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The Japanese realized that losing the Philippine Islands meant losing the war put everything they had left into this battle. Here a chart that shows the relative strengths.

Navy Large carriers Small Carriers Aircraft Embarked Battleships Cruisers Destroyers
United States 8 24  1712 12  24 141 
Japan 1 117 9  20 34

from: http://www.angelfire.com/fm/odyssey/LEYTE_GULF_Summary_of_the_Battle_.htm

From the chart, you can see how amazingly the USN had recovered from Pearl Harbor and the early battles of the war. You should also note that if the ship is not engaged in the battle it doesn’t count for much, so here we go.

The Japanese had a complicated plan depending on close timing between forces coming from various ports and operating under what we call EMCOM now. Essentially radio silence; meaning they couldn’t coordinate their attacks.

The Japanese carriers which had essentially no planes or pilots were used as a decoy force to try to pull Halsey’s 3d fleet away to the north. This worked, although it took them a long time to attract the Americans attention. When they were finally spotted Halsey went charging off after them until he was almost in gunshot and then turned around to help 7th fleet (which we are coming to). This also ended up being too late, so America’s premier naval force mostly sailed around burning oil and accomplishing not much of anything.

The Japanese Centre Force was first spotted in the Palawan Passage by the submarines Darter and Dace. Darter sank the Heavy Cruiser Atago which was Admiral Kurita’s flagship and Dace sank the Takao and severely damaged the Maya, which was forced to withdraw.

Halsey’s force made 259 sorties against the Centre Force eventually sinking the battleship Musashi with her 18.1-inch guns. They also did damage to some other ships. But Kurita made for the San Bernadino Strait at night with 4 battleships and 6 heavy and 3 light cruisers all fully operational.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Southern force including two elderly battleships under Admirals Nishimura and Shima were spotted on the morning of the 24th and Admiral Kincaid who realized they would attempt to attack the landing through the Surigao Strait was preparing to meet them. Kincaid’s 7th fleet had plenty of power for this.

The Battle of Surigao Strait

Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf had 6 old battleships (5 of which had been sunk at Pearl Harbor), 4 Heavy and 4 Light Cruisers, 26 destroyers and 39 PT Boats. He deployed his lighter ships along the side of the strait and formed his battle line. PT 131 made first contact and for 3 and a half hours the squadron attacked the Japanese force without a hit but, providing contact reports to the force. As Nishimura’s forces entered the strait the American destroyers attacked; hitting both battleships, the Yamishira was able to continue but, Fuso blew up and sank. Admiral Shima with the 2d Striking Force was much discouraged when he came upon the burning halves and other wreckage of the destroyer attack and decided to withdraw. So as Admiral Nishimura emerged from the strait to engage Oldendorf’s battle line, he had 1 Battleship, 1 Cruiser and 1 Destroyer. Oldendorf crossed his “T”. Parenthetically this is what Lord Nelson risked with his battle plan at Trafalgar that we talked about a few days ago. The American Battle line started firing as they got range information (some had radar rangefinders and some didn’t) at about 30,000 yards. The Battleship was sunk, the Cruiser wrecked and somehow the Destroyer escaped. This was the last surface gun action in history.

The battle off Samar

USS Hoel

USS Hoel, from Wikipedia

The 7th fleet had 18 escort carriers divided into thee task units. They were equipped for fighting submarines and providing air cover to the landing, not for full-on naval battle. These are usually referred to by their radio call signs Taffy 1, Taffy 2, and the most northerly, Taffy 3 under Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague. It was a routine morning until at 0647 Ensign Jensen from the Kadashan Bay sighted (and attacked) a force that he accurately reported as 4 Battleships and 8 Cruisers. The surprise was complete. A few minutes later heavy shells began falling around the carriers.

Admiral Sprague was in trouble. He was being chased by heavily armed warships which were considerably faster than his escort carriers and were already in range. He also had very few weapons that could hurt them. He started chasing shell splashes, making smoke, running away, and yelling for help, from 3d fleet, 7th fleet, a merciful God, or somewhere. At 0716 he also ordered his three destroyers, the Hoel, the Herrmann, and the Johnston, to counterattack the Japanese which they did with incredible bravery. At 0750 the Destroyer escorts also attacked. Remember these are anti-submarine ships with 5 inch and 3-inch guns going on the attack against Battleships and Heavy Cruisers. Not terribly different from charging the Russian guns 90 years before. They attacked with torpedoes and guns and managed to disrupt the Japanese formation enough to give Sprague a chance to get away. All the available aircraft also attacked even though they weren’t carrying the proper (if any) ordnance for this work, they strafed and buzzed and annoyed the Japanese though.

By 0945 the Johnston, the Hoel and destroyer escort the Samuel B. Roberts had been sunk. and the escort carrier Gambier Bay was hit repeatedly by 8 inch shells and sank at 0907.

But Kurita had lost control of his formation (and was probably worrying about when 3d fleet would turn up) and broke off the action at 0911.

While Taffy 3 was doing all this, Taffy 1 was subjected to the first organized use of that new weapon: the Kamikaze, Taffy three would be so attacked in the afternoon.

And so we have St Crispan’s Day, a day of mostly victorious battle for the English-speaking peoples. The English win one with a “Band of Brothers”; the British lose one heroically and gloriously, and the Americans win one part easily, live through a terrible nightmare, while the American varsity is off hunting empty carriers.

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold: 1968 Redux

WTH is going on in the world these days? One is tempted to quote Yeats and turn away in disgust.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Well, that may be a wise quote for us, at that. It was written in 1919 just after the world-shaking carnage of the Great War when seemingly all was in flux. Victor Davis Hanson in The Washington Times this week compared our time to 1968, another year that shook the world.

Almost a half-century ago, in 1968, the United States seemed to be falling apart.

The Vietnam War, a bitter and close presidential election, anti-war protests, racial riots, political assassinations, terrorism and a recession looming on the horizon left the country divided between a loud radical minority and a silent conservative majority.

The United States avoided a civil war. But America suffered a collective psychological depression, civil unrest, defeat in Vietnam and assorted disasters for the next decade — until the election of a once-polarizing Ronald Reagan ushered in five consecutive presidential terms of relative bipartisan calm and prosperity from 1981 to 2001.

It appears as if 2017 might be another 1968. Recent traumatic hurricanes seem to reflect the country’s human turmoil.

After the polarizing Obama presidency and the contested election of Donald Trump, the country is once again split in two.

But this time the divide is far deeper, both ideologically and geographically — with the two liberal coasts pitted against red-state America in between.

[…]

The smears “racist,” “fascist,” “white privilege” and “Nazi” — like “commie” of the 1950s — are so overused as to become meaningless. There is now less free speech on campus than during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s.

No news in any of that is there? It’s simply our daily diet.

As was the case in 1968, the world abroad is also falling apart.

The European Union, model of the future, is unraveling. The EU has been paralyzed by the exit of Great Britain, the divide between Spain and Catalonia, the bankruptcy of Mediterranean nation members, insidious terrorist attacks in major European cities and the onslaught of millions of immigrants — mostly young, male and Muslim — from the war-torn Middle East. Germany is once again becoming imperious, but this time insidiously by means other than arms.

[…]

If we remember in 1968 the UK was starting to slip into that malaise that became known as ‘The British Disease’ and the cure didn’t come until Maggie Thatcher took charge just before Ronald Reagan cured the Carter malaise.

And we watch as Mrs May turns the UK’s best chance since Mrs Thatcher to again become a wealthy country, thanks to the voters who voted for Brexit, changes her title to Prime Ditherer, as she proves a less capable leader than -Barack Obama, perhaps. Sad to see. There are plenty of people in Britain who know how to win in these circumstances, but like our own GOPe the Conservatives hide in their bubble, out of fear of the people, or change, or Political Correctness, or something, and so fumble their chance, and are likely to ruin the country by turning it over to Corbyn. Taking the title of Venezuela North from Chicago in the process.

Is the problem too much democracy, as the volatile and fickle mob runs roughshod over establishment experts and experienced bureaucrats? Or is the crisis too little democracy, as populists strive to dethrone a scandal-plagued, anti-democratic, incompetent and overrated entrenched elite?

Neither traditional political party has any answers.

Democrats are being overwhelmed by the identity politics and socialism of progressives. Republicans are torn asunder between upstart populist nationalists and the calcified establishment status quo.

And again showing the wisdom of the founders, we now see Steve Bannon gearing up to challenge every GOP Congresscritter (save Ted Cruz) in next years Republican primaries. He won’t win them all, I predict. But I also predict he’ll win enough to put the fear of the electorate back into the Republicans. Of course, if they were as smart as they think they are, 2016 would have done that.

Yet for all the social instability and media hysteria, life in the United States quietly seems to be getting better.

The economy is growing. Unemployment and inflation remain low. The stock market and middle-class incomes are up.

Business and consumer confidence are high. Corporate profits are up. Energy production has expanded. The border with Mexico is being enforced.

Is the instability less a symptom that America is falling apart and more a sign that the loud conventional wisdom of the past — about the benefits of a globalized economy, the insignificance of national borders and the importance of identity politics — is drawing to a close, along with the careers of those who profited from it?

In the past, any crisis that did not destroy the United States ended up making it stronger. But for now, the fight grows over which is more toxic — the chronic statist malady that was eating away the country, or the new populist medicine deemed necessary to cure it.

• Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

And that is true too. The United States is actually doing pretty well, these days, which may well be why our left seems increasingly detached from reality, just like the NFL players biting the hand that feeds them. All gravy trains end, and so does extended adolescence.

No guarantees here but it looks to me if we keep on keepin’ on the way we are going, we may well make the United States stronger still. And if the UK can find their spine (a stiff upper lip wouldn’t hurt either) they may come through with the Union Jack flying proudly, as well. After all, we are the people who invented the modern world, we just need to do a bit of remodelling.

Bare Ruined Choirs

In Sonnet LXXIII Shakespeare wrote

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long

Not one of his happiest, but it accords well with my feelings, this fall. It hasn’t been a year I would wish on anybody, but this is the season when I understand why All Hollow’s is sometimes called Totenfest by those of German heritage. Tomorrow is the Feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham, and for me, that has significance as well. Six years ago, I had never heard of Walsingham, let alone this representation of Mary, but One summer day in 2012, Jessica became my dearest friend at almost the moment she lit a candle for me at the shrine. The main part of the story begins here. I have ever since found Mary a worthwhile conduit for my prayers. But for me, it’s specifically the Walsingham representation. Earlier this year,  Fr Matthew Pittam wrote in the Catholic Herald about his feeling for the Shrine.

 

Whilst visiting this year I met some other pilgrims who were unfavourably comparing Walsingham to other well-known European Shrines that they had visited. It is true Walsingham is no Lourdes or Fatima but for me that is part of the appeal of the place. It seems right that the English National Shrine is understated, reflecting the character of the English themselves.

The story of Our Lady’s Shrine and the meaning of its message demand a much tenderer charism than Walsingham’s more flamboyant European cousins. Above all Walsingham is a memorial to the Annunciation. The whole place speaks softly of Our Lady’s ‘Yes’ to God. Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel was abundantly full of humility, generosity and peace. The quieter pace and rhythm of our National Shrine really can take us to the heart of this life changing and life-giving moment.

The location of Walsingham is also understated. It is not set amidst mountain grandeur but nestles within the pleasant rolling meadows of the Stiffkey Valley, echoing the gentleness of the shrine’s own spirituality and Our Lady. The whole place seems to be set apart for peaceful encounter.

He nails it for me. Without the slightest intention to be offensive, much of Roman Catholicism is too ornate, too baroque, and the decoration, like some of the verbiage, is over extravagant for me. That’s not a knock on it, it simply doesn’t fit with this working guy of Lutheran Scandinavian heritage. I’m no iconoclast, but enough is enough. Both the Roman Catholic and the Anglo-Catholic shrines at Walsingham have a northern European feel about them, which I find comforting. I’m still of my roots, I have found it comforting to talk with Our Lady, as Jessica once said, it feels rather like talking to Mom, which in a sense it is.

And then there is the relief, that I have felt on several occasions, after talking with Her, usually not the formal Rosary, although I do that sometimes as well, mostly sitting here, meditating silently directed towards Her. The old man’s knees aren’t really up to kneeling much anymore, anyway. 🙂

Strangely, it is only 3 years, nearly to the day, since the Abbess from Walsingham came to Jessica’s hospital bed to pray over her and sprinkle her with Walsingham water, giving her some ease, and then again a mere two weeks later, just after she received the last rites, she again prayed over her and sprinkled her. Two days later she was out of her coma, without pain and cancer free. A remarkable testimony to the power of prayer.

A year after that Mary Katherine Ham lost her husband,  Jake in a bicycle accident while pregnant with their second child. It was one of those things that shocked many of us, this young vibrant couple, and him suddenly gone. She wrote about it this week at The Federalist.

I love the idea of the divine spark. It crosses a lot of cultures and religions, the idea that you carry a bit of the Creator inside you, that it animates your life.

Jake’s life always brings to mind a spark and then some. Jake’s soul, to me, was a bonfire. He was here and he was in your face and he was warm and bright. He roared with enthusiasm at the beginning, even the hope of something new, sometimes a little too much. His glow was infectious, throwing sparks into the night air, silhouetted against a dark sky before they landed on everyone in his vicinity. He mellowed to embers as the night wore on, usually over a glass of bourbon or a beer.

I lived seven years of my life looking into a bonfire. I warmed my hands and found comfort in its flame. There were times when I damn near burnt myself or got a giant waft of smoke at exactly the wrong time.  Because that’s life. And that’s fire. It’s not all s’mores and sweetness.

Everyone who’s loved someone knows that light and warmth. Everyone who’s lost someone knows the feeling when it goes dark and cold one day.

When that happens at any time, it’s jarring. When it happens without warning, even more.

The light went out. This fire I’d stood next to for seven years just went out, like a flood light on a switch. Boom. Imagine staring into a fire, and then suddenly turning 180 degrees to survey the woods behind you. I couldn’t see. I was standing in what otherwise was my life, and I knew all the other parts of it were there, but I couldn’t understand its contours anymore. I was standing in my own life, blinded, blinking away those disorienting shimmery green spots.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. But you know when we lose someone we love, not even always to death, it’s like that as well. It was for me when my marriage broke up, and even though my sisters, parents and brothers-in-law lived full lives, in truth as much as could be expected, they have left a hole, that cannot be filled.

And so it was for me, a year ago today, when I received the last email from  Jessica, who as far as I know is healthy, happy, and busy. Too busy or some other unexplained reason, to maintain the friendship that turned to love on my part, more than I ever felt for another human being. And get your mind out of the gutter, yes she is beautiful, but I loved her before I knew that, far more a case of Agape than Eros. She was my friend, the best one I’ll ever have. And even Our Lady of Walsingham has found no way to comfort me. I’m reconciled that I must go on more alone than I have ever been, but have little appetite for it. Which is why that sonnet speaks loudly to me.

Walsingham, and Our Lady are her legacy to me, and I thank God for them everyday. But it does make me think of another poem.

Weepe, weepe O Walsingham,
Whose dayes are nightes,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to dispites.

Sinne is where our Ladie sate,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Sathan sittes where our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham oh farewell.

But it is true that while Eliot was writing of Little Gidding, I’ve always thought that this applied as well to Walsingham

           If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

We merely have to trust God that Dame Julian of Norwich was correct.

‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

Hurricanes, and Language Without Politics

Well, I don’t know about you, but with a monster hurricane blowing the through the Caribbean only a week or so after Houston got flooded, with reports last night of a big earthquake in Mexico, and with nuclear sabres rattling around, I having trouble focussing on politics, and so I won’t today.

If you’re even close to the threatened zone from Irma you should probably take the Unit’s advice, after all, he’s lived his life down that away. He’s said this last night.

For anyone following Irma, Mark Sudduth out of North Carolina does about the best job of explaining what to expect from her. I think this link will take one to his site.
http://hurricanetrack.com/

Hunker down, guys!

Other than that Bookworm found something interesting.

The English we hear when watching a Shakespeare play is not how Shakespeare spoke. Watch this video and be amazed how familiar he would have sounded.

One of the fascinating things linguists do is trace accents back through history to try to find the “root” accent. I’ve long known that people in Appalachia, Australia, and New Zealand probably speak an English closer to 16th-18th century English than any other English speakers in the world. That’s because they left England during those eras and, being sparsely populated and without a lot of population movement, preserved the English that they brought with them from the “Mother Country.”

Knowing that, though, and actually hearing it are two different things. Here is a short, delightful disquisition about Shakespeare’s English versus the modern “received” version. Incidentally, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find the Shakespearean version easier to understand. Perhaps that’s because I have an American ear for language:

She’s right, I did too. Was that true for you as well? But the English language tells of the journey our people have made, all the way from the island of Frisia, around the world and to the moon. It’s part of us, and it’s become part of all those who have dealt with us, and they too are represented in our language. It’s part of our history of where we’ve been, from the sagamen of the Saxons to the A-OK of the astronauts and well beyond.

And one for us Americans

She does a superb Minnesotan! 🙂

And on if you, like me, struggle to figure out what the natives are talking about in Britain. 🙂

And this might be useful when they tell you to sod off cause you speak better English than they do.

In any case, enjoy the day.

 

Requiem for an Engineer

Well, you all know I missed much of the last week. It was not a restful break. I was back east, in Philadelphia, to bury my last brother-in -law. He had a good life, and I suspect he was ready to go. But you know, none of us is generous enough to easily believe that. We are selfish and want our heroes in our world, not the next, no matter how much better it will be.

Because of an unusual family structure, my sisters were about twenty years older than me, so in some ways, he was also almost my second father. To be sure I admired and respected him more than any person other than my own father, whom I respected more than any man living or dead. And I still think, at a remove of thirty years since his death, deservedly so. But Dan was much the same man.

By profession, he was a civil engineer, his early career with the Pennsylvania Railroad, through the sad period when money for maintenance was hard to find, as government interference of many kinds nearly killed the railroads, and after that with a railroad contractor, where I understand when the owner became ill, he simply took over and ran the business without fuss or muss. In fact, his family didn’t know that until last weekend. No doubt he would have said, it needed doing.

He was a published author as well, his memoir of the PRR being published in The Keystone, the main publication of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society. It is a remarkable document, his memory for people, places, and things, reaching back into the 1950s was exact and as on point as if they had happened last week. And so was the PRR, itself. Essentially a mountain railroad that could haul goods on that great trade route, New York to Chicago, for the same price per ton-mile, and at the same speed, as the New York Central whose route was almost devoid of grades. It was done by ruthlessly good engineering in all departments.

He served in the Corps of Engineers during the Korean Conflict, although he almost never referred to it, perhaps because he was assigned to Paris. Not too shabby a duty station in my mind. But perhaps the army also thought well of him, his honor guard last week was commanded by a full colonel of cavalry.

He also at some point held almost every leadership position in his church, serving as treasurer for many years, and very rarely missing a service.

After a rather whirlwind romance ( a bit over six months!) he was married to my oldest sister for about 60 years until her death a few years ago. They were well matched; she’s still the only person I ever heard of who asked for extra homework – in math!

And so goes my last contact with what was. I had somewhere around 40-50 first cousins, now we are perhaps a half dozen, if that. In the time honored American tradition, we scattered to the corners of the country and lost contact amongst ourselves. I can remember family reunions with more than a hundred people, but that was almost 60 years ago, and I doubt we will ever see their like again. I surely won’t.

Like most of us who reach a certain age, I look back wistfully at what was, but mostly what I see is a collection of village graveyards. They are all gone, to be seen again only at the resurrection, but you know, they are here as well. We, in all we are and do, are their legacy, and it is a challenge to live up to them. It was Dan’s wife who first coined the saying about the men in our family, all engineering types: “If it’s not absolutely right, it’s completely wrong”. It’s how my dad lived his life, as did both of my brothers-in-law and me as well. Doesn’t make us the easiest people to live with, or so said mom, my sisters, and my ex-wife, but it is necessary in jobs dealing with forces that can kill you quick.

And so we go on, as before, but I will admit, I do so with a heavy heart, the best parts of my life on this earth are gone. It appears to be a very gray future, and I too am slowing down, and finding it not a bad thing to do so. There are still things I would like to do, but am pretty sure I won’t, both professionally and personally. The ambition to see projects through just doesn’t seem to be there anymore, and there is really no one left to impress, the last of those, living and dead, gone into the shade of death, or having found better things to do than spend time with the old man. And having taken much of his ability to trust people with them. But you know, Kipling still speaks for us.

THE Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains, ” Be ye removèd” They say to the lesser floods ” Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd – they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill tops shake to the summit – then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden – under the earthline their altars are
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their job when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that !
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd – they know the angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons !

So it has always been, is now, and shall always be, as long as this is our world.

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