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June 24, 2004
What's On?By Greyhawk
More travels with Greyhawk in search of America.
"Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."
Captain Parker was addressing his 77 men as a lengthy column of British regulars approached the village green. Moments later the American Revolution began in earnest. Everything about the quote is uniquely American, to the point I doubt few from other nations would even know why.
I was reminded of the quote by an episode from a series I caught by pure chance on PBS. Rebels and Redcoats, the story of the American Revolution from a British perspective. I enjoyed the show, it offered insights as to how at least some members of the British media view America, but to make a long story short the producers either just don't get it, or choose to pretend they don't. Memo to Europe: It's this simple, Americans didn't want a King. Still don't. That's concept number one you must grasp in order to gain any further insight into our national psyche.
It's apparent that many Europeans don't get it. A minor illustration: during the tour of Heidelberg Castle the guide points out a portrait of the last ruler of the castle, decked in his finest robes, from somewhere around the late 18th to early 19th centuries. "Many Americans say he looks something like George Washington" the guide notes. Perhaps, but only as far as the powdered wig. The Father of our Country wouldn't be caught dead in royal raiment, had in fact declined a possible crown. Americans don't tolerate that sort of ruler. A subtle miscue on the part of our guide, but to be honest he stated that Americans had first brought this to his attention. So perhaps some Americans are equally lacking in an understanding of their cultural heritage.
Hopefully they won't use the Rebels and Redcoats series as a foundation. The BBC program referred to the Revolution as a "Civil War" - fine, it announced from the start its British perspective. But it also compared the Minutemen to the Viet Cong and the Mujahadeen, after first duly noting that such comparisons shouldn't be made. Bad TV? Perhaps. But I couldn't stop watching. I miss having the PBS option in Europe.
In contrast, it took me two seconds to flip past Jerry Springer. I didn't even know he was still on. Another unwanted welcome back to America. Those who claim that the Abu-Ghraib gang were ignorant Hilljacks too stupid to have come up with their torture methods without the aid of a "mastermind" need only watch any single episode of Jerry Jerry Jerry to realize the ridiculousness of their assertions. Like I said, two seconds...
I caught a bit more than two seconds of the Clinton/Oprah lovefest on the tube the other day, and considered breaking my vow of not touching political/"heavy" topics here for a while. I don't want to dislike Clinton - and I refuse to be like the many rabid members of the anti-Bush because he's Bush crowd. But there was something unbecoming in his performance on Oprah, beyond his mere McLuhan-moment presence there. Although his cries of victimhood and his good vs evil defense (I don't recall that approach during his term. An historical re-write? An option stolen from the Bush playbook, and applied in circumstances far less well defined?) may have seemed Presidential to some segment of the American population, it struck me as anything but.
I suppose that perhaps a book review or a comment on television in America wouldn't count as heavy, would it? (Or does that depend on what you definition of the word "is" is?)
Fortunately, Hugh Hewitt saved me the trouble of violating my oath. He saw the same things I did, and isn't on vacation.
Watching television is another bit of mild reverse-culture shock, and is something I will spend little time doing while in America. I will read though. I don't lack for reading matter in Europe but I do lack time. I spent my transatlantic flight reading, with classical music playing in my headphones, ignoring the movies (Calendar Girls, Open Range, other forgettable fare) and television (Happy Days and some other '70's shows) that Air France offered.
(And for balance, here are some nice things about Air France: The wine was good, and was offered at no additional cost. And they didn't lose my luggage.)
So now, across the country everyone's asking: "What's Greyhawk reading while on vacation?"
Why, blogs, of course. As many as I can, given time and a low-speed dial-up modem connection to the internet. (Rendered slower still by what the Mrs. suspects may be terrorist squirrel attacks on the phone lines in the attic. They always go for the infrastructure.) But also books - those always handy results of the sacrifice of trees. Those glorious gifts from Gutenberg.
I finished The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara's fictionalized account of the battle of Gettysburg on the flight over. I liked it enough to grab a copy of Gods and Generals, the prequel written by the deceased author's son, in hopes the younger Mr. Shaara is as riveting as his father. Given the number of subsequent titles I must assume he's doing something right. (And yes I've seen both movies. They're excellent, the books are better.) Gods and Generals contains about 100 pages prior to those used for the first scenes of the movie.
An excerpt, from a pre-war conversation between Captain Winfield Scott Hancock, USA, and a civic leader in Los Angeles:
"Captain, have you seen Hamilton's newspaper this week? The Star?"
Another from a conversation between Thomas (later "Stonewall") Jackson and his father-in-law, who's readying to leave Virginia for the North:
"What Lincoln is doing is responding. There are vast numbers of... idiots - yes, that's the word - in these state governments, who believe that they can make a good speech, rouse the people into a rebellion and defy... defy the word of God!"
Yet another from a discussion between Lt Col Robert E. Lee and General Scott, who was offering Lee command of the growing Union Army
"Colonel, they don't believe I can run this department anymore, that my days are numbered. But - they don't know how to run it either."
Historical fiction, as I said. But as far as food-for-thought goes, this is a well balanced meal. The book is from 1996, by the way, so any resemblance to current events is purely coincidental.
Here's a quote attributed to Churchill, appended to The Killer Angels:
"Thus ended the great American Civil War, which must on the whole be considered the noblest and least avoidable of all the great mass conflicts of which till then there was record."
An interesting perspective from across the Atlantic and through the lens of time.
I've mentioned this before: the red, blue, white, and grey colors of this blog are the colors of the first American Civil War. (Though some of our British cousins may think it the second.) I prefer to think it would be our only one, but our nation is one born of conflict, and disagreement is certainly a by-product of freedom of speech. It's a wonder we don't come to blows more often than we do. More often than not the cooler heads prevail.
And there you have it, America from Revolution to Civil War to now. Heavy? Perhaps, but I suppose history is a hobby of mine. But I'll seek out other subjects too. I never read one book at a time, and this is a long vacation, (and one in which I'll spend equal time north and south of the Mason/Dixon) so here's what's on tap: books by bloggers.
Something from Roger L Simon, to be sure. Having read his blog and even swapped a couple brief e-mails with him I think I'll try something lengthier. I might even track down a movie or two with his name in the credits. (Note of mild irony: Roger is traveling too, visiting a small corner of my world. I look forward to seeing the result.)
For non-fiction, a Hugh Hewitt offering. In But Not Of, I'm looking forward to his next one too. It will be titled If its Not Close They Can't Cheat, and I don't think it's a sequel to Seabiscuit. Blogs are mentioned in both books, I'm told.
And for those who were wondering about that classical music reference above, I'll be listening to Rock and Country too. I enjoy them all. Ain't that America?
Posted by Greyhawk / June 24, 2004 10:00 PM | Permalink
Professor Bunyip has an interesting interaction with another academic on the subject of Muslims in Australia. All very genteel. In ways that most disputes on campus I've seen, aren't. Via Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette, I had Lunch With Soldiers. Very... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com