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(Ah! I do still have the link to post here! Here is a post I think could benefit young soldiers, particularly: but also ladies, trying to understand the men in their lives. The "recent discussion" mentioned is in two posts, here and here.)
Two citations today, to inform our recent discussion. The first one is from the invaluable book The Archaelogy of Weapons: Arms and Armor from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry by Ewart Oakeshott. The quote is from pp 186-7.
The inevitable development of what we might call the official knightly attitude towards women began to take hold in the middle of the twelfth century. It was given impetus by the poets of southern France, particularly after Eleanor of Aquitaine (one of the most glamorous women of the Middle Ages, who later married Henry II of England and became the mother of Richard Lion-Heart and John) came from Provence to Paris to become for a while the Queen of Louis VII of France. The mingling of the tongues of "oc" and "oui" in overseas expeditions strengthened it.
["Oc" and "oui" here refers to two major dialects of Middle French, in which the word for "yes" was pronounced one of two different ways. This was not the only difference, of course, just the one chosen as an easy symbol. In Ivanhoe, Richard the Lionheart offers to sing "a 'sirvente' in the language of 'oc,' or a 'lai' in the language of 'oui,'" but ends up singing a ballad in the English at the request of the Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst, that is, Friar Tuck. -Grim]
Henceforth the influence of women dominates chivalry, and religion and feudal loyalty take second place. Only war, a glorious and exciting pastime and a stimulating way of winning wealth, kept its high place as a gentleman's most cherished occupation; but the influence of love as the mainspring of warlike aspiration gave a much lighter rhythm to it, and to literature and life itself. Poets sing now only of their ladies' perfections, crave their pity and strive to merit their grace. The knight fights as hard as he ever did (he was not to be deprived of his business or his fun) but it is to win his lady's favors, and the word amoureux comes to mean more than it does today, for it covers the entire range of knightly virtue. The idea has prevailed that:
Hee never were a good werryoure
That cowde not love aryghte
"He who loves not is but half a man" and "pour l'amour des dames devient li vilains courtois."
The "influence of women" which "dominates" chivalry is not an oppressive influence. It liberated women and gave them a powerful voice in society, without either demeaning men or making them resentful of feminine power. Just the opposite: It is one embraced cheerfully by men of the sort who can tame horses and ride them to war.
Unlike the culture war sparked by the feminists of today, the situation provoked by Eleanor's court was a genuine improvement of the relationship between men and women -- one that, from the distance of the twelfth century, still inspires us, and seems almost to glow across the ages. It may mark the high point of the relations between the sexes in all human history.
That said, Eric is not wrong to say that the 19th century made a great deal out of this period, and a lot of our understanding has to do with what we inherited from them. Here is something you probably have not seen before: Sir Baden Powell's likening of life to the task, familiar to Scouts, of paddling a canoe in rough waters. Women represent a rock in the river: not a bad thing, as it adds to the beauty of the river and the glory of navigating it, but a hazard that has to be considered with a clear mind:
You will, I hope, have gathered from what I have said about this Rock "Women," that it has dangers for the woman as well as for the man. But it has also its very bright side if you only manoeuvre your canoe aright.
The paddle to use for this job is CHIVALRY.
Most of the points which I have suggested as being part of the right path are comprised under chivalry.
The knights of old were bound by their oath to be chivalrous, that is to be protective and helpful to women and children. This means on the part of the man a deep respect and tender sympathy for them, coupled with a manly strength of mind and strength of body with which to stand up for them against scandal, cruelty or ridicule, and even, on occasion, to help them against their own failings.
A man without chivalry is no man.
I would strongly suggest that "sexism" is a false star. Navigating by it leads us into errors and anger with one another that are needless and pointless. What is wanted is equality of opportunity, but not that men and women should be treated as if they were exactly the same: no one wants that, not the most sincere feminist, who at least believes that women have something special to offer. As indeed they have!
Women should always be treated with chivalry, with "deep respect and tender sympathy." Equality of opportunity aside, women and men are not the same -- it is good that a man should understand how they are different, and take pains to make women feel welcome and valued. He should showcase his valor in the way of the knights and poets of old: so that, in him, the entire range of knightly virtue is expressed through love.
"Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less."
-Robert E. Lee
I woke this morning knowing I could no longer put this off. For well over a year a feeling has been building inside of me, but until now I could see no useful purpose in naming the thing I see everywhere I look these days.
There is an ancient superstition which whispers that to name a thing gives it power. I think part of the rationalization for this idea lies in the notion that so long as certain things remain partially hidden, never quite seen in their entirety, decent people are still ashamed to acknowledge them in the harsh light of day.
My father was a Navy man. So, too, was my father in law. Both served full careers and retired as Captains. Destroyer men, they were. Both served in Vietnam. My Uncle Mel was a Marine in WWII, my Grandfather served in the Army. I have ancestors who served all the way back to the Civil (both sides) and Revolutionary wars. So although marrying a military man formed no part of my plans as a young girl, when my husband informed me he had signed up for Marine Officer ROTC, what could I do? I had already said, "I do". I loved my husband, and I love my country. Both deserve my support, and not just when that support is easy and convenient.
A promise is a promise. I was in for the duration, either way.
The ironic thing was that during my formative years I'd watched my mother (with much love and admiration) struggle with yearly moves, sea duty, and the loneliness and worry that come with being a Navy wife. Consequently, I swore I would never marry a Navy man. No worries. It seemed Fate had a far crueler destiny in mind for me. I would go through life handcuffed to a chicken on a beach ball.
My mind drifts back to this often now when I read the media's heart rending accounts of young Army officers "forced" to leave the service so their brides can attend college [sniff!]. This is -alas! - the only way they and their families can have a "normal" life. I wonder, as I read, what is normal like? Was my life ever normal? Would I trade one precious second of the profoundly un-normal last three decades for that more tranquil existence, for more money, for the dreamy McMansions we keep looking at, the ones with brick all the way around the house instead of just on the front facade? The ones with all the trimmings I can think up - and I can think up a lot, trust me on that one.
I can imagine a lot of tranquility, too. But are these things: college, jobs, material possessions, what make up the good life? Or is it the friends - the connections - we gather along the way that truly matter, even if they tend to make our lives a bit hectic and messy?
Recently I had the chance to be involved with a small-talk, side conversation with some senior spouses (O & E) and something started percolating around in my head (not too unlike the old Maxwell House coffee commercial showing the fresh perked coffee splashing inside that tiny little glass handle). A smidge of the conversation involved how busy everyone was and all of the things that went into making everyone's day soooo busy. Kids--to and from school plus after-school activities; family things--shopping, washing clothes, dry cleaners, trying to make nutritious meals without making daily trips to the commissary; church groups and the various clubs and committees there-in; and, support to their DH, not necessarily of DH in his job, simply the support of their DH, because he was dad, father, husband, bread-winner.
I asked what I consider of importance and have commented on in this venue a few times. It basically went like this, "Since everyone is so busy, how do you reach out to the younger spouses, not just new in your unit, but new to our world, and see to their needs?" The spontaneous answer was quite interesting ...
"They don't." And when I followed-up with, "Just how do the younger spouses know what to do and the protocols and the expectations, so that their pockets will have the tools they'll need to use to grow up to become, ... you?" And the answer by committee was, "Somebody else will have to figure that one out because we don't have enough time." I was floored, because I knew that wasn't the way they were brought up in our Service. Fortunately for the most part, the gals I was talking to and the community of spouses they represent is only a segment of our spouse population. But it's there.
If I had the chance to call for an Extreme Makeover of my life, this time in NY Times Civilian Mode, would I ask for the Designer Life, complete with earlier college education (and advanced degree) and the big fancy house we could so easily have afforded with my husband's very competitive college record and board scores and my own aptitudes? Would I have opted for putting my children in day care instead of sullying my hands by raising them myself? Certainly, I wouldn't have had my own stories like this to tell:
LCPL Dark Prince has only been gone for about two weeks and both his father and I are keeping busy and staying strong. The upside to the communication fiasco is that I do not have to talk to all my relatives and friends about how they remember Dark Prince as a little boy:
1. The time he peed in the little tykes kitchen coffeepot.
2. The time he turned a toy pickup truck into a dump truck. (Just use your imagination)
3. The time he gave Ross a swirlie in middle school.
4. The time he filled Susan M.'s purse with parmesan cheese at a dinner party.
Boys. I laughed so hard when I read that, and for a moment I saw my own firstborn, strawberry blonde hair and freckled skin glowing from exertion (that child was born running) off in the distance, the family beagle and younger brother trailing along in hot pursuit of something I Profoundly Did Not Want To Know More About. What doesn't kill us as parents makes us stronger.
No, on balance, I don't think I would trade a moment of my life. Not for the world. And that is what saddens and disheartens me so about the thing I mentioned at the beginning of this post; the thing I see everywhere I look these days. There is a name for it. It used to be partially hidden, this thing. It is not hidden anymore.
What disappoints me about this piece though, is despite all of Cavett’s smart-ass banter about language, the piece is nothing more than an unbridled display of contempt. “I guess a guy bearing up under such a chestload of hardware - and pretty ribbons in a variety of decorator colors - can’t be expected to speak like ordinary mortals, for example you and me.” I suppose not, Dick. Perhaps because Petraeus is not just some ordinary guy, or someone who makes his living talking on TV about cocktail parties. His “pretty ribbons” aren’t some trendy lapel adornment, and when he must give orders something more vital happens than a servant appearing with another round of Campari and soda.
You can disagree with the Bush administration and their representatives about the waging of the Iraq war, it’s well within your rights to do so, and many join in your concerns. But comparing the ”tinpot Ghen Khan of Crawford” to General Custer? That, Dick, is just plain lame.
And it's not just Dick Cavett. It didn't just begin with him, and as I noted the other day, this contempt for military service and everything it stands for has been coming out of the woodwork for some time now. I Googled the phrase "Veterans memorials vandalized" the other day and got quite a few entries. I stopped after just the first few. It was discouraging.
Shortly after the beginning of my husband's year-long tour in Baghdad, I told him to be careful. I wasn't worried much about the insurgency. What worried me, really, was the rising anti-military feeling I sensed back here at home. I told him over the phone that a tide had turned in American public opinion and it was an ugly feeling. A great many people, no matter what they may say publicly, did not support the troops. If you doubt that, you need look no farther than progressive sites like Crooks and Liars or ThinkProgress. The anti-military hate spewed there is enough to turn the stomach. They have criminalized mere political disagreement. Now it is no longer acceptable to live in a pluralistic society where honest disagreement on major policy questions is possible between men and women of good will. To disagree with them is to be a liar, a cheat, a murderer.
I read Dick Cavett's deplorable opinion piece and saw not General Petraeus, but my husband being pilloried. He is but one rank below the good General. My mind drifted back to a brilliantly sunny September morning in 2001 when I sat numbly at my desk in McLean, Virginia wondering whether I would ever see the love of my life again as black smoke rose from the roof of the building of his office, miles away.
I remembered a day, weeks later, at sunset. He was still at work. He was always at work. As 'essential personnel' at the Pentagon, he was going in at all hours, day and night. His clothes and hair were permeated with the smell of bitter, acrid smoke. I sat alone at his mother's house waiting for the moment when the sun would set and the neighbors would emerge from their houses, each with a single candle in their hand.
In remembrance. In silent solidarity. In grief for our lost loved ones, for the death of our innocence: for the belief that we could ever again feel that golden sense of invulnerability that used to be America.
I remember the moment when that little 'plink' announced that another email had dropped into my Inbox at work. This time from my husband. I still remember the words:
"Babe. I know we were planning on retiring. But I cannot, in good conscience with everything that is going on in the world, get out now. I think important things are going to happen and the Marine Corps will need all the leaders it can get. I still think I have something to contribute, and believe it is important to stay in and do my part. I trust you will understand."
And I did. And I do. And I always will.
Just as people like Dick Cavett will never understand. I think he imagines people in the military gleefully rushing off to fight the Hun. No one - least of all the military - likes war. Mr. Cavett has never led men into battle. He has never had to watch a friend's face crumple when she learns her husband is dead. He has never taken a bullet in the chest, or had his pelvis shattered and kept reporting for duty as soon as he possibly could, because that is what you do when your job is important.
Men like Cavett like to pretend doing ones' duty is optional. Who knows? Perhaps in their world, it is? Their somewhat bizarre world view allows them to mock what they will never comprehend. But the complex reality they refuse to acknowledge or respect is that, if everyone thought as they do, America would be defenseless against fanatacists who have sworn never to stop until we are wiped off the face of the earth. Men like Cavett can contend until the end of time that extremists are not a threat. The truth of the matter is, the only thing standing between him and violent extremists are the kind of men he likes to belittle. If he doesn't show up for work, a column doesn't get written. If they don't show up for work, someone may die. Thousands may die. Nations, sometimes.
They are police, like my 25 year old son, the little redhead I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. You know: the ones who perpetrate "copspeak" (except my son doesn't talk like that, nor do any of his friends). They are the ones Dick Cavett loves to mock in the New York Times, though I doubt Cavett really knows any cops. They don't quite fit into his social milieu. That's one of the first things cops give up when they choose a life of public service. Cachet isn't one of the perks that come with low status occupations like police or military work.
During Petraeus' September testimony, Hillary Clinton loftily informed him it would require a "willing suspension of disbelief" before Congress would credit his testimony on Iraq. To these ears, the Senator from NY had called the good General a presumptive liar. Well, this Marine wife is an ordinary American; college educated, hard working, with an above average IQ. She pays her bills and her taxes on time.
When politicians and public figures like Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Dick Cavett sneer at and treat military officers with contempt, she sees her husband in their place. And she remembers. She remembers everything she has given up for nearly thirty years to support his military career, and as she watches her husband's service being spit on by the very people he has served so loyally and so well, she can't help but wonder what any of these men could possibly have done to invite such treatment, or when doing ones' duty became grounds for contempt and derision?
Instead of a suspension of disbelief, how about a suspension of contempt for a change from the snooty elitists in Washington and the leftist punditocracy? You don't have to take anyone's word for anything. Challenge the good General on his testimony. Challenge him on the facts if you wish. But check the ad hominems at the door. Just because he wears the uniform of the day doesn't give you carte blanche to take cheap potshots at medals that commemorate battles where better men than you will ever be have fought and died for ideals they believed were worth fighting for, even if you do not.
How about a little respect? I don't see the good General treating his questioners with contempt. From where I sit, Mr. Cavett, you are beating up on the military precisely because you know they cannot - by law - fight back. How about a little decency, which used to be called ordinary politeness in the civilian world. That would be truly refreshing. But I won't hold my breath waiting for it.
Update: The Torch burns brightly in Canada: we are not alone in this fight.
And that's something we here in the States need to remember more often.All done!