Monday, May 26, 2014

Who knew, a quiet, harmless people?

Some years ago, an American
reader of broadcast news
popularised the expression,
the greatest generation, to
identify the youth of select-
ed nations who allied in re-
sistance to Axis aggression
after the fall of Poland. Al-
though always obviously no
more than a marketing ploy
to seduce an audience, the
damage of the expression has
endured, principally in calls
to emulate idealised behaviour
the book extolled, at the ex-
pense of an accurate history.

Taking it easy this afternoon
with my English dog, and hav-
ing channeled the conditioned
inclination to mark Memorial
Day through a lighter, paradox-
ically irresistible narrative
on warfare, I found myself re-
turning to the writings of An-
tony Beevor and Max Hastings,
on that large conflict of the
later 1930s and early 1940s.
Encountering again the reality
of cannibalism in Japanese mil-
itary doctrine in the Pacific 
War in Beevor, I turned to Has-
tings' grim compendium on the
final year of Japan's suppres-
sion, largely at the hands of
the United States.

He remarks, introducing Retri-
bution, on how "inapt" this
"greatest generation" sobri-
quet is: .. human behaviour,
aspirations and fears do not
alter much. It is more approp-
riate to call them, without
jealousy, 'the generation to
which the greatest things hap-

At last we need not flinch at
Uncle Toby's claim, in his 
famous speech to his brother
Shandy in defense of warfare,
which even the Bush regimes
thought to invoke in the abyss
of their cynical belligerencies:

                  For what is war? What is it, but
                  the getting together of quiet and
                  harmless people, with their swords
                  in their hands, to keep the ambiti-
                  ous and the turbulent within bounds?

There is not, we know, such
a thing as a quiet, harmless
people, but we know the works
of those who are not. If then
they are our own, Pogo, who
will write our history?

Antony Beevor
The Second World War
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012©

Max Hastings
The Battle for Japan, 1944-45
Alfred A. Knopf, 2007©

Laurence Sterne
The Life and Opinions of
  Tristram Shandy


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Another shopping spree for love

I realize, given another Sunday
morning steeped in American car-
nage, to share tales of where 
we were when another brigand 
bit the dust, is no mere swap-
ping of alibis, but a habit of
sealing the tale in memory for
recital to the heirs of the
Bush family's Supreme Court.
I, for my guilty part, was
scooping up a copy of a slen-
der satire from Wodehouse, The
Military Invasion of America,
and also coming across this
delicious aperçu on Ovid in 

   When men would be gods, they pass new laws
   and strengthen the Family. Like gods,
   Then, they breed contempt and their own betrayal.

Well, what can we expect of
a Classicist: one of the few
things one cannot be, without
having done the reading?

Possibly I have a more self-
indulgent alibi than one should
confess, given the precious turn
in our custom of slaughter. Like
you, I've begun to consider wheth-
er it's even possible to wonder,
if we aren't allowing our way 
with murderous rampage to descend
into an exhibition of upper-middle
class shopping sprees gone wrong,
a classic case of Trinkets Envy,
posing the question, who has the
glossiest J-curve of frustration?

Who, among the farm lads in your
little neighborhood, could stock-
pile half the magazines of ballis-
tic ornament that one pale college
boy of means amassed without appar-
ent strain? It truly is enough to
make one savour the negligent hom-
icides of homophobic Reaganism, a
crime wave perpetrated entirely by
thrift and arch oblivion. Now do we 
take too much to heart, our warrior
ninny's urgings to go shopping? Yet, 
who expects our Red State saints,
hoist by their own petard, to coun-
sel us to save? Remind them of their
mantra, for we've read it well: 

   Viruses don't kill. People do.

J.D. McClatchy
Ovid's Farewell
  Stars Principal
Plundered Hearts
  New and Selected Poems
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014©