GEORGE BUSH ONCE proclaimed that “If you stand by Democracy, America will stand by you,” and most Americans agreed; but where is the proof? Thirty-six years ago, Saigon and the South Vietnamese government fell to the communists because we lost the will to stand by them. Fifty years ago, Havana fell to the communists because we were too deep in a fit of pique over lost business interests to extend a hand of friendship when they might have turned to democratic rule. A few short years ago, the nascent popular movement to discard the theocracy in Iran died because America turned a deaf ear to the pleas of its people out of fear that we were already overextended in the Middle East. How many more examples are there? Hungary. Czechoslovakia. Remember the Prague Spring? One might be tempted to ask why America failed so many times to champion democracy. However, to me, the greater question is where did President Bush and so many others get the idea that we were the champions of democracy?
I have pondered this question for many years. My confusion stems from the fact that, like our founders, I have no great love of democracy -- at least, not in the classical sense. When the framers of the Constitution completed their draft, it is reported that a woman outside the hall stopped Benjamin Franklin and asked him “What sort of government have you given us?” Franklin is purported to have responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” No one said anything about democracy; indeed, it appears nowhere in the founding documents.
At first blush, our original republic may have been mistaken as a democracy inasmuch as the representatives are democratically elected. Many have fallen victim to this confusion. Captain Frederick Marryat clearly was. Marryat was a naval officer who was more accustomed to living history than studying it. He amused himself in retirement as a writer, and proved adept at telling a good tale. His renditions of the exploits of his commander, Lord Cochran, the exemplar of a British frigate captain during the Napoleonic Wars, served as the model for most fictional naval heroes including Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey (recently memorialized in the film Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe). Although not a great political philosopher, his writing accurately represents the views of his time. For example, his novel, The Settlers in Canada provided him a platform to elucidate his views on democracy in America. In this novel, the Campbells, an English family fallen on hard times emigrates to the wilderness of Canada to seek their fortune. As the family discusses how the French lost Canada, they pause to consider how Britain lost their American colonies.
“The question now is,” continued Alfred [eldest son of Mr. Campbell], “as two of the parties, France and England, have so proved short-sighted, whether the Americans, having thrown off their allegiance, have not equally been so in their choice of a democratical government?”
The American experiment was barely a half-century old when Marryat wrote his response to this question, and, to be fair, he was a product of his time; an English gentleman, born to a class system and believing that there were those born to rule. Interestingly, as I prepared to write Rebels on the Mountain I learned that Americans of the wealthier classes believed much the same thing. They were loathe to trust Cubans and their ability to rule themselves, opting instead to support continued governance by a dictator of their choosing, one who would be amenable to their interests, of course.
“How far a modern democracy may succeed, I am not prepared to say,” replied Mr. Campbell; “but this I do know, that in ancient times, their duration was generally very short, and continually changing to oligarchy and tyranny. One thing is certain, that there is no form of government under which the people become so rapidly vicious, or where those who benefit them are treated with such ingratitude.”
One cannot argue with Marryat on this point. Classical democracies, notably Greece, devolved abruptly after a very short life. The American form of democracy was yet a mystery to him and he may be excused for comparing it with earlier democracies.
Forging ahead, after Campbell's eldest son, Alfred, asks him to explain further, Marryat expounds his own views from the lips of his fictional character.
“There are two principal causes. One is, that where all men are declared to be equal (which man never will permit his fellow to be if he can prevent it), the only source of distinction is wealth, and thus the desire of wealth becomes the ruling passion of the whole body, and there is no passion so demoralising [sic]. The other is, that where the people, or more properly speaking, the mob govern, they must be conciliated by flattery and servility on the part of those who would become their idols. Now flattery is lying, and a habit equally demoralising [sic] to the party who gives and to the party who receives it. Depend upon it, there is no government so contemptible or so unpleasant for an honest man to live under as a democracy.”
Most of our founders agreed with Marryat that democracy was the equivalent of mob rule and they eschewed it. However, they are long gone and we have been drifting perceptibly towards social democracy, especially during the past fifty years. The majority of Americans, led by progressives of both major parties, principally wealthy Democrats, deem their wisdom beyond that of the founders and find more ways to circumvent the Constitution to effect laws that they see as good and proper. Good intentions trump good governance, and now we begin to see the flattery and servility that Marryat bespoke. Elected representatives have become more prized for their image than for their acumen. Furthermore, the cost of projecting that image to become elected has risen to a degree that forces incumbents to disgorge public funds to keep the support of their constituents.
If anyone is still tempted to dismiss Marryat, just look to the continuation of his observations in this fictional family discussion.
“How far the Americans may disprove such an opinion,” continued Mr. Campbell, “remains to be seen; but this is certain, they have commenced their new form of government with an act of such gross injustice, as to warrant the assumption that all their boasted virtues are pretense. I refer to their not liberating their slaves. They have given to the lie their own assertions in the Declaration of Independence, in which they have declared all men equal and born free, and we cannot expect the Divine blessing upon those who, when they emancipated themselves, were so unjust as to hold their fellow-creatures in bondage. The time will come, I have no doubt, although perhaps not any of us here present may see the day, when the retribution will fall upon the heads of their offspring; for the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, even to the third and fourth generation...”
Writing in 1848, fully twelve years before the American Civil War, Marryat certainly was correct in that prophesy.
What then is the principal difference between a republic and a democracy? Simply put, a democracy is rule of the majority and our republic is based on the rule of law. Even though laws are crafted by the majority, they must conform to Constitutional tests which remain tenuously superior. Failing to overcome the Constitution, the majority attempts to circumvent it through modern interpretations. Thus we come to the true nature of the continuing American Revolution; it is a battle between those who believe in strict interpretation of the Constitution and those who would reinterpret it to facilitate their desired changes in the American society or, failing that, remove or replace it. It appears that the latter are having their way. Members of the majority party during our last Congressional session openly defied the Constitution as never seen nor heard before, and avowed their right to do so to accomplish ends that they saw as superior to any constitutional constraints. So long as they have the will to persevere, they will prevail. As assuredly as water erodes the hardest rock, assaults on our sacred documents will wear away their original meanings, especially when the youth are denied access to its true meaning in our schools and universities where their teachers are firmly aligned with the progressives as seen in every political poll conducted in educational institutions.
Possibly, President Bush was not speaking of what the United States is, but rather, what it is becoming. If so, the world may be disappointed then to learn that no one is left to champion liberty and the rule of law. Who will protect the minority, the underdog, as America championed them against the tyranny of the Axis Powers during World War II, when the United States itself becomes just another bastion of mob rule? The present Administration provides no clear indication of any hope of change. It appears to be following the same muddled thinking that has dominated American foreign policy, with only one notable exception, for the past fifty years, and its response to the Arab Spring has been to lash out at the only nation in the Middle East that resembles our early republic, while the others wrestle their way from one tyranny to another.
The biggest argument against democracy is a 5-minute conversation with the average voter -- Winston Churchill
SHAKESPEARE WROTE THAT we are all actors on a stage. I can't disagree. However, I believe that he might have agreed that not all of us are equally good actors. I'm not referring to our goodness or badness in a moral or ethical sense. Rather, I am commenting on our ability to play a role that anyone else would pay to see. This lesson was driven home to me this week as I attempted to record myself reading a passage from my novel, Rebels on the Mountain, to produce a book trailer.
During a previous life, when I was in the advertising and PR business, I had the opportunity to direct many commercials. This gave me the privilege of working with some fine talent. One of the best was a voice actor named Brad Crandall.
Brad Crandall appeared as narrator of In Search of Noah's Ark, films most successful docu-drama
Brad moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where I was apprenticing at an ad agency, after wheedling out of his contract with NBC in New York. Brad had been a host on NBC's hugely successful Monitor that aired for 40 continuous hours every weekend. It was the forerunner of talk radio that dominates AM programming these days. It took me several years to sift through the various excuses that Brad gave for walking away from his lucrative contract. The truth is, I don't think that he felt that he deserved the success.
Brad had been born into poverty. His father was a railroad conductor and the family lived in poverty near the tracks that stretched across Kansas. He outgrew their resources and quit school to join the Marines just as World War II was ending. Stationed in China, he was assigned to the Armed Forces Radio network and became an on air news reader. While there, Brad studied the voice of William Conrad who was then appearing as Marshall Matt Dillon on the radio production of Gunsmoke
. Brad practiced emulating Conrad's magnificent baritone until it became his own voice.
Upon completion of his tour of duty, Brad became a gypsy radio host. He hopped from one station to another across the country, pausing only to enlist for a brief tour of duty in the Army and serving in Korea. When the war there ended, Brad landed in a station in Montreal, Canada. He told me that he lived on peanut butter sandwiches and milk that he kept on the window ledge outside the radio station's studio. I never did find out where he slept. He worked there until producers at NBC heard him and invited him to New York.
The poor boy from Kansas now found himself hobnobbing with famous personalities in the New York theater district. Their favorite eatery was Sardi's (I'm guessing that his caricature still hangs there among those of still famous personalities). He spoke of the antics of his Monitor co-hosts, Art Buchwald, Henry Morgan, Skitch Henderson, and others. One of my favorite tales is when the staff at Sardi's took revenge on one of their company. The man would always jokingly order a peanut butter sandwich in a voice that could be heard throughout the restaurant, and then quietly place his “real” order with the waiter after the “gang” had their laugh. One day, the waiter took off with the order before he could change it. Soon, an entourage emerged from the kitchen: two busboys pushing a cart with a huge carved-ice bear cradling fresh berries in its cupped paws; two others pushed another cart bearing a heated chafing dish; and a third contained a silver tray covered by a large silver dome. Four chefs followed the procession.
Upon arrival at their table, one chef created preserves from the berries. Another took roasted peanuts from the heated chaffing dish and hand ground them using a mortar and pestle. The third sliced the bread. And, the fourth assembled his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The waiter happily presented him with his very sizable bill.
I know that Brad enjoyed his riches – to a point. Unfortunately, he never reconciled himself to such success without laboring for it. Much like Clark Gable, whose father never approved of “play-acting” as respectable work, Brad looked for other ways to make his life seem purposeful. Thus, I believe I became one of his many “projects.”
He salvaged me from a disastrous marriage and sheltered me while I recovered. He then went so far as to arrange a meeting with the woman who became my wife (now married almost 36 years). Unfortunately, once I began achieving my own success, he went in search of other projects and we lost track of each other.
Several years after his death, I heard that Howard Stern had honored Brad. Howard was asked who had influenced him as a role model in broadcasting and he mentioned Brad.
Over the years that we were active friends, I employed Brad for many of my projects. “One-Take” Brad we called him. I only ever heard him flub a line once in many hours in the recording studio. I wish I could say the same.
I suppose that I wouldn't be as critical had I not worked with a great talent like Brad. I needed nineteen takes to get an acceptable recording of myself reading a passage from my novel, Rebels on the Mountain
. Even then, I cringe when I listen to it. I'm no Brad Crandall.
Still, I feel that I have a better chance of connecting to my readers if I present myself, warts and all, reading my own work. Click here
to hear me.
NOT EVERYONE GRADUATED from Basic Combat Training. At least, they didn't on their first try. A few were discharged for medical or “other than honorable reasons.” The stresses of the program of instruction proved too great for them.
There were some few who were “recycled” to another BCT company just starting to try again. A few were reassigned to the “bolo” company – the men who lacked any athletic ability.
Our graduation was celebrated with a parade. We stood at parade rest with two other training companies and listened to a speech by the base commanding general and then “passed in review” while the band played “Hey Look Me Over.” That brought back an interesting memory.
“Hey Look Me Over” was written by Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman for the musical “Wildcat.” I saw “Wildcat” in Philadelphia starring Lucille Ball when I was in pre-law. We had gone to debate health care (yes, we were debating nationalized health care way back in 1960) at Temple University. (I was against it and won, arguing that we needed a plan to fix the private insurance system but never allow the federal government to take it over – but that's another story.) We met Ms Ball after the show and had a delightful evening with her. Unfortunately, “Wildcat” closed after only 171 performances on Broadway. However, it left us with the perfect song to accompany a military inspection.
The company commander was authorized to promote the top one third of the graduates to Private E-2. I believe at that time, it earned us a $7/month raise in pay – from $89/month to $96. Don't laugh. What did we have to spend it on. Every need was provided for by the Army – food, shelter, clothing, medical care. We only spent our money on beer and cigarettes. Yes, soldiers were allowed to drink beer at the Post Exchange (PX) even though they were under age.
The PX sold only “green” beer – a variety that was canned before fermentation was completed. It only contained half the alcohol of regular beer. Today, we call it “lite” beer. Off post, it was called “watered down” and a bartender could be hurt if caught adding water to the drinks at a bar.
Of course, none of this was any problem for me. I was already past twenty-one. Well, it did create one problem when we received our first passes to spend a day in Augusta, Georgia. All the other guys wanted me to buy booze for them. That's just the kind of trouble I didn't need. Ultimately, I bought a pint of rum and promised to share it when we got back to the barracks. Somehow it was “lost” before we reached there.
In any event, we marched to a post theater following our graduation parade and Captain Sevcik, our company commanding officer, congratulated us, then began reading the role call of those who had been promoted. When he came to “Durish, John T.” he paused, looked up confused and asked, “Who the hell's Durish?”
It made me happy. I had stayed under his radar for eight weeks.
I HAVE OFTEN WONDERED about the fortitude of men who could march shoulder-to-shoulder into the face of withering fire without breaking ranks. The paintings of massed troops facing modern weapons, especially during the American Civil War and World War I, always sends a shiver up my spine. How could they do that?
Early guns were infamously inaccurate and soldiers fired in volleys. Thousands of muskets fired simultaneously might hit a few targets if they were close enough. A person could hope to survive the misguided hail of bullets. As holes appeared in lines they were quickly filled with replacements from behind. The greatest danger came when the two armies met and clashed, and the men fought with bayonets affixed to the ends of their weapons much as ancient armies fought with spears. Only massed, disciplined forces could prevail.
As rifles replaced muskets and the minié ball replaced round shot, the odds of being killed or wounded by a shot fired at a distance increased exponentially. Still, generals sent massed formations into battle and I believe that the fortitude of these soldiers must have been raised to heroic proportions. How could they march shoulder-to-shoulder when their comrades were falling all around them? Yes, there was the fear that their own officers would kill them if they turned and ran. But, I learned there was an even greater fear that kept them rooted to the ranks. The fear of abandoning their buddies.
Even though individual riflemen in modern Armies fight from pits and behind cover, the Army must continue to instill that sense of comradery that is needed to maintain the cohesiveness of every fighting unit. Almost everything we did in Basic Combat Training contributed to that bond.
For example, every recruit was issued one half of a tent – known as a “shelter-half.” Two could button their halves together to make one complete tent. Anyone who didn't have a buddy could set up their tent half alone to make a lean-to. It was serviceable but not quite as good as a complete tent. In fact, everything we did in training was better with a buddy. The lesson wasn't lost on us. We soon figured out that we had a better chance of surviving the battlefield if we took care of our buddies and they took care of us.
There were some who just couldn't get along with the other recruits. They tried to survive training on their own. It was a strategy for failure. No one had to tell us. It became more and more apparent with every passing day of Basic Combat Training.
A forced march was the perfect demonstration of this concept. Hiking in formation while carrying forty or fifty pounds of gear in a rucksack on your back and a nineteen pound rifle slung over your shoulder gets pretty tiring after the first couple of miles, especially when you're walking on soft dirt. Army training centers had dirt roads that paralleled paved ones. These were used by tracked vehicles. The treads on tanks and armored personnel carriers would quickly tear up macadam roads, so those types of vehicles drove the dirt roads called tank trails. That's were we hiked, on the tank trails.
Recruits might survive twenty such forced marches without a problem, only to fall out of ranks unpredictably on the twenty-first. They weren't necessary sick or suffering, it just happened. When it did, their buddies would strip off their gear and distribute among themselves. Then, one man on either side of the ailing recruit would grab an arm and prop him up until he recovered or they reached the end of the march. Those who just couldn't get along with the other recruits often found themselves abandoned along the side of the road waiting for a ride back. Sure, it was easier than marching all the way but a warning of what might happen on the battlefield unless they learned to go along and get along.
CLOSE COMBAT TRAINING during Basic Combat Training was limited. No one could even hope to learn to defend themselves on a battlefield without a rifle in just eight weeks, even if they practiced nothing else during that time. However, we were given a “taste” of it.
Sparring with pugil sticks
The truth is that those of us who went on to Advanced Infantry Training didn't receive enough either. Even with six months additional close combat training during Infantry Officer Candidate School, I felt I needed still more.
Hand-to-hand training during the era of the Vietnam War focused primarily on defense and poking your enemy in the eyes or the groin. Don't laugh. It's a good beginning. I passed the most basic advice onto my youngest son when he was being tormented by a bully who loved to shove others. I taught him to simply step back with one foot and turn his body away when the young devil ran at him. I was fortunate to see the fruits of this labor when the attack came while I happened to be standing nearby. My son stepped back as instructed and the bully fell on his face. He looked around confusedly for a moment and then went searching for someone else to shove.
We practiced hand-to-hand combat training in a sawdust pit surrounded by a shin high wall of sandbags. A wooden platform in the center served as a podium for the instructor. We paired off with not attempt to match us by height or weight. At one hundred seventy-five pounds, I was rarely outclassed in the match up on weight. However, at only five feet, eight inches, I often had to spar with men who had a greater reach. Fortunately, my father had been a professional prize fighter in his younger days and I knew how to duck and weave effectively. No, he hadn't taught me to fight. I learned while dodging his blows. My father used his fists for punishment.
Bayonet training was an entirely different experience. Communist countries manufactured infantry rifles with bayonets permanently affixed to the barrel. They folded back when not needed for close combat. They had dull edges to prevent soldiers from hurting themselves when the bayonet was folded back. Thus, they were only useful for stabbing someone. Our bayonets had edges that we could slash with as well as stab. I have never seen a knife as sharp as a bayonet. It is seriously sharp.
Fortunately, we practiced with our bayonets safely encased in scabbards during Basic Combat Training (that would change in more advanced classes). The Army didn't want anyone complaining to mommy who would likely sic their congressman on us. But, trainers demonstrated with bare blades. I once saw one pass through the hand of a sergeant during a demonstration. It seemed to pass through flesh and bone as easily as it passed through air.
Soldiers also use their rifles as clubs. We were taught the vertical and horizontal butt strokes. (I'll leave that to your imagination.) Practicing these techniques with rifles could result in serious injury or death. Thus, the Army substituted pugil sticks. You may have seen these on game shows, like American Gladiator. They have thick wooden shafts, about the length of a rifle with a bayonet, and heavy padding on both ends. There's another pad in the center between the handholds. We were dressed in helmets and gauntlets and turned loose on each other. It was fun for those of us who mastered the necessary skills. Not so much for anyone else.
Our instructors impressed us with their skills in every manner of close combat. Indeed, as I have noted elsewhere in this series of postings about Basic Combat Training, I was impressed by the professionalism of every one of them. However, it still makes me smile to remember that every one of them began every class with the exhortation to pay careful attention - “This is the most important training that you will receive. This is the class that will keep you alive in combat.”
Of course, they were all important. Although, after one day of close combat training, we asked our platoon sergeant what he thought. He smiled as though remembering some distant memory and then advised, “If you run out of ammunition, go find more ammunition.”
I WAS THE youngest child of youngest children. Not just by a few years. My father was born at the beginning of World War I when his brother was old enough to join the Army and travel to France with General Pershing. My mother's oldest sister was a teacher in elementary school when both of my parents attended it. As a result, I was born during World War II and had cousins who fought in that war. Yes, I was really the baby of the family.
No, I wasn't old enough to be a WWI Doughboy
It seemed that I could never get away from being the youngest in any setting. I started school in Baltimore at the start of the January semester. When our family moved to the county where everyone started in September, my brother was moved back a half year and I was moved ahead. As a result, I graduated when I had just turned seventeen. I graduated from law school at twenty-two and tripped on my gown as I crossed the stage to get my diploma. It seemed symbolic inasmuch as I was the baby of the graduating class.
Thus, it came as a bit of a shock to find myself cast as “the old man” at twenty-three surrounded in the Army by teenaged recruits. OMG, I was even older than our assistant platoon leader, Staff Sergeant Gore, and the company executive officer, Lieutenant Archembalt! I suspect that this may explain why my perspective of the Army and the War in Vietnam is significantly different from others you may have been exposed to.
Two experiences illustrate the difference.
One afternoon, we were told to drag our footlockers to the end of the barracks and seat ourselves around the closed circuit television. When it flickered on, we found ourselves face-to-face with a legend, one of the new Army Special Forces soldiers – a Green Beret – who proceeded to lecture us on “counterinsurgency.”
I found the lecture to be interesting and well-presented. The Green Beret either understood his subject matter well or was reciting a very well-written script. When it ended, a young recruit seated next to me asked, “Where is Vietnam?”
I took him outside and began drawing maps in the sand with a stick. The rest of the platoon, including our sergeants, joined us. It was but the first of many impromptu lessons I would host to help these young soldiers grasp the conflict we were preparing for.
My second awaking as an “old man” was brought to me by the platoon sergeant.
Note: You may want to stop reading this posting here if you are easily offended by crude language.
Soldier's are famous for the use of the word “fuck.” However, this young man took its use to a whole new level, one that even worried a hardened sergeant. He created neologisms – new words – by inserting “fuck” as an additional syllable with existing words: e.g., “unbe-fucking-lievable,” an emphatic form of “unbelievable.” He didn't do it occasionally. He strung whole sentences together using these, almost constantly.
One day Master Sergeant Dunn cornered me and asked what I thought of the young man's behavior and what he should do about it. Even before I could frame an answer, I was struck by the thought that he was asking me because of my age. He wouldn't ask any other recruit for such advice.
It was at this moment that I fully realized that I was the “old man.” The thought made my head swim inasmuch as it was a totally new experience for me. I was used to being accepted in the company of men much older than myself. I even was used to commanding others older than myself while sailing. Still, it was a complete reversal of roles to be the older man. It prepared me well for my role now that I am generally the older man in almost any group.
I REMEMBER WELL the first time I got into trouble for disrupting a class. It began with a simple question to the teacher. I raised my hand and asked, “Do you seriously believe that?” The teacher was conducting a class in history and had described early sailors as “ignorant and superstitious.” I was a sailor and took offense.
For one thing, she claimed that sailors didn't want to voyage out of sight of land for fear of monsters or sailing off the edge of the world. As evidence, she produced copies of their charts, decorated with sea serpents. She was not happy when I pointed out that sailors didn't draw the charts. They were drawn by men who had never been to sea. “Well,” she demanded, “where did they get the idea from? Didn't sailors tell stories of the monsters they had seen and battled?”
I had to laugh. Of course, sailors told fantastical tales when they came ashore. How else were they going to persuade an inn keeper to provide them with free drink, or wheedle their way into young ladies' beds? And, as for sailing off the edge of the world? No one believed in a flat earth since Hellenic times. Although, we have recently seen an example of a Harvard graduate, our President, who still believes that myth.
The truth is that the Spain's court scholars didn't argue that the earth was flat when Columbus applied for a grant to go exploring. They disagreed with Columbus's estimates of the size of the world. Indeed, their estimates were less than one percent short of the actual size. Columbus had mistakenly estimated the earth to be far smaller than it actually is. Had he not run into another continent between Spain and China, he would never have survived. In fact, the “New World” was already known before Columbus's voyage, but that's another story.
Columbus debates with the king's Jewish and Arab scholars
Also, if the teacher had bothered to listen to my explanation, she would have learned that the thing sailors fear most is being anywhere in sight of land. The vast majority of shipwrecks occur when a vessel runs out of sea room and is pushed aground or onto a reef on a lee shore. Just pick up a newspaper when a hurricane approaches a port and you'll learn that all ships, including warships, are racing to get as far to sea as possible where they will be safe.
The truth is that history has been the purview of academics too long. Flesh and blood personalities from history have been turned into mythological characters in schools and universities for political purposes and anyone seeking a passing grade dares not question the stories they are told.
Indeed, academicians have become the new priests, punishing anyone who seeks to confirm or disprove the facts as they are presented in the cathedrals of learning, much as the prelates of the church abused the early scientists, such as Galileo and Copernicus, who proposed outlandish theories.
So, my grades suffered and I resented the scholars who tried to blow smoke up my posterior orifice.
Just about fifteen years ago, I found an academician who was challenging the establishment. He wrote of history with an open mind. Using common sense and scientific methods of inquiry, he wrote a new guide to history. He wrote about The Discovers
, The Seekers
, The Americans
, and The Creators
among others. His name was Daniel Boorstin
(1914 - 2004). An attorney, a professor, a historian, and a writer, he was appointed the twelfth Librarian of the United States Congress (1975 to 1987).
I discovered Boorstin's books at a critical point in my life. I was thoroughly convinced that all that I had been taught was generally rubbish, but didn't have any clue as to where to look for the truth. Boorstin didn't provide the answers, but he helped me frame the questions and set me off in the direction I needed to answer them.
For example, one of the more fascinating stories he set me in search of was the voyages of the Chinese Treasure Fleets. Imagine Asian explorers circling the globe and charting the world so accurately that some have hypothesized that they were drawn by aliens hovering in spacecraft over the earth. Even more incredible is the fact that the Chinese didn't make contact with other peoples to take treasure from them, but rather to give it to them as a demonstration of the superiority of the Chinese culture. I had to laugh as I read stories of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, trying to impress natives on Madagascar with tin mirrors and beads after the Chinese had already arrived and given them gold, silk, and porcelain.
Be forewarned: Boorstin's books will disillusion you. He possibly will offend your Western sensibilities. He doesn't pull punches as he exposes the intellectual crimes of Europeans, especially Christians, as they substituted superstition and pseudoscience for real knowledge. Indeed, Boorstin opened the case that the European Renaissance was inspired by visits from the Chinese Treasure Fleets, and that what the little intellectual progress occurred in Medieval Europe was handed to them by Jewish and Persian scholars who were free to inquire into the true nature of reality without fear of offending religious leaders. Of course, these scholars were persecuted whenever they accumulated enough wealth and the avarice of European princes overcame their need for medicine that actually healed and maps that actually led their merchants to profitable markets.
Read Boorstin only if you dare.
TWO ARMIES OF dueling ideologues dominate the battlefield in the current incarnation of the American Revolution. On one side are those who hold dearly to their liberty, and on the other are those who believe that it is time to sacrifice some liberty for the greater good of the community. Surrender your weapons. Sign the contracts that the government deems necessary. Subordinate parochial interests to the greater good of the nation. Unfetter the government and allow it to grow to care for every community and all its members using its superior resources.
Every generation needs a new revolution – Thomas Jefferson
Those who disagree with these modern innovations wield the Constitution as their principal weapon while their proponents strive to reinterpret it into oblivion. The unspoken right over which they fight, is the right to fail.
Both sides have begun employing violent language in their war of words, and civility is the most recent casualty of the conflict. Hateful words appear in Internet discussion threads with alarming frequency, especially in those attached to news stories. They echo in our homes, our communities, and our houses of government. Unfortunately, these words are heard too often from those who have stepped forward to lead us. They substitute ideology for reason, and rather than accept the simple fact that people of good will may disagree, they attack their opponents rather than their ideas. They accuse those who disagree with them of being liars, cheats, and frauds.
There was a time when those were fighting words. American Heritage magazine published an excellent article in its current issue describing “American Politics at Ten Paces
Dueling was common among American politicians up until the Civil War. It was a time when business of all kinds was conducted with a handshake and a person who could not be trusted at their word would lose their livelihood for want of the ability to enter into commercial contracts. To impugn a person's honor was to commit virtual homicide, thus explaining the rush to regain one's honor by risking death on the field of honor.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels -- men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, we may never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion – President Dwight David Eisenhower
If today's politicians cannot hear President Eisenhower's words spoken from recent history, maybe we should revert to dueling. If nothing else, it would probably dissuade the faint of heart from mounting soap boxes and, possibly, help cull out the surplus population of politicians and pundits that clutter the media these days.
I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I hear the differences between them as candidates, but fail to see the differences between them as incumbents. That is why I harken back to past leaders who I wish we could resurrect to help lead us through these troubled times. Although they are no longer with us, their words remain to help guide us.
I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it – Thomas Jefferson
WE ALL HEARD the axiom many times: “There's a right way, a wrong way, and the Army way.” Well, I added one: “Jack's way.” The Army's first encounter with “Jack's way” came in Basic Combat Training.
Duty Rosters were displayed on the company bulletin board outside the orderly room (click to enlarge)
One day I found my name on the duty roster listed as “Fire Guard.” “What's that,” I asked another recruit standing nearby.
“You stoke the furnaces,” he informed me.
“What furnaces?” I had seen air ducts branching throughout the barracks but never felt anything coming out of them.
He shrugged. “The sergeant will tell you if they need you.”
The sergeant on duty needed me in the middle of the night. He sent the company runner to get me at “Oh dark thirty.” I dressed hastily and reported to the orderly room.
“What furnaces?” I asked him.
“Go find 'em,” he grumbled and headed back to his own bunk. “There's a door to the furnace room in the side of each building.”
There was! There really was. I was convinced that they must only appear magically in moonlight. I hadn't noticed them before.
I crept inside and felt around for a light switch. I found one and flipped it. A motor started running. No light. I flipped it off and felt around until I found another. This one turned on a light revealing two iron monsters waiting for me. It took me a while to discern their purposes. One was a furnace and the other a hot water heater, both coal-fired.
Coal-fired water heater (click to enlarge)
Oh, that's why there was a pile of coal beside each building.
Now, here's where I should have gone back and asked the sergeant to instruct me in the “Army way.” However, the last I saw of him didn't encourage me to go back and disturb his rest. As for the right way and the wrong way, I didn't have a clue. So, I went with Jack's way.
Examining the one that looked most like a furnace (it didn't have a lot of plumbing associated with it) I found two iron doors. Opening the top one revealed a grate full of ashes and three small lumps of coal glowing anemically. Behind the bottom door, I found ashes that had been accumulating since World War II. A lever on the outside of the furnace shifted the grating and I shifted it until all the ashes on top fell into the bottom. I then shoveled the whole pile of ashes into a likely looking ashcan nearby.
Luckily, I had some experience lighting a coal fire. I carried in enough coal to cover the grate and got it burning. I then adjusted the flues to make sure the fire got plenty of air.
I then turned my attention to the motor that I had accidentally started when I first entered the furnace room. It was supposed to be driving the fan that forced hot air from the furnace into the barracks. However, the fan belt was hanging on a nail where it wasn't doing any good. So, I connected the fan belt and turned on the motor.
I then turned my attention to the hot water heater and stoked a good fire after cleaning it thoroughly.
I repeated my ministrations in the remaining furnace rooms and went back to bed, satisfied with a job well done.
It was still dark when I next awoke to a lot of murmuring and the heavy tread of the duty sergeant stalking down the line of bunks looking for me. “Get dressed and follow me,” he ordered.
I only had time to throw on my pants and boots before he disappeared out the front door. As I ran after him, I began to notice that everyone was awake and the place felt like a sauna.
The sergeant reached the furnace room door and threw it open. “Christ!” he shouted.
I slid to a stop beside him and peered inside. We didn't need to turn on the light. The room was illuminated by the glow of the furnace and hot water heater.
“Quick!” he ordered. “Open all the hot water faucets in the latrines.”
I turned and ran, just to get out of his reach if for no other reason. I ran from building to building opening all the hot water faucets, and steam poured out of them.
I then found the sergeant readjusting the thermostats in all the buildings. Apparently, they had all been cranked up to their maximum settings in hopes of warming up the places. However, without the fan belts connected, there was nothing to drive the hot air to where it was needed. Not until, of course, I “fixed” them all.
I learned a valuable lesson that night. Actually, the lesson came later. I was never asked to stoke the furnaces again. That was alright with me. I never again had to wake up at “Oh dark thirty.”
I LEARNED THE SECRET of working in the mess hall the second time I was assigned to Kitchen Police (KP) duty. I thought that I learned it the first time, but I was wrong. KP's were allowed to chose their duty as they arrived: Dining Room Orderly (DRO), Server, etc. The Back Sink ,where pots and pans were washed, was always left for the last man to arrive. The Mess Sergeant always found the KP's waiting in line when he arrived at 5 a.m.
Army Mess Hall
I was somewhere in the middle of the line that first morning and coveted the DRO's all day. That looked like the job to have. They cleaned and waxed the floors and set up the chairs and tables for every meal, then seemed to disappear for the rest of the day. The cooks always found something for the other KP's to do all day. The man at the back sink never seemed to finish scrubbing pots and pans.
When my second turn came up for KP, I was up before anyone else. I might not have slept that night. It was a long time ago. In any event, I arrived first and claimed one of the two openings for DRO. Unfortunately, the other DRO didn't do his share. At lunch that day he was jawing with the Mess Sergeant and I was getting upset. I complained and the mess sergeant took me to the back sink. He gave my job as DRO to that man. I was not happy.
When I finally calmed down enough to survey my new domain, I found a large stack of very greasy pots and pans waiting to be cleaned. There was no stopper for the sink and a passing cook instructed me to cut a lemon in half and use that. How about that? Lemon fresh dishwater.
Working the back sink
Next I discovered three water taps: cold, hot, and boiler. Boiler? I turned it on first and learned that it meant what the sign said. Boiling hot water poured out. I stopped it and took a moment to think. It had to be there for a reason.
I knew that hot water cleaned better than cold water. Wouldn't boiler water clean best? I filled the sink with it, added soap and dropped in a stack of pots and pans. Next problem: how to get them out.
Every cooking utensil had a hook on the end so that it could be hung up near the stoves and ovens. These appeared to be just what I needed. When I extracted the first pan I discovered that it was a clean as a whistle, no scrubbing required. As I pulled the rest out, I set them on the counter to one side. When I next turned to them, they were already dry. The heat they had absorbed in the sink had dried them.
One of the cooks was in the habit of washing his hands in the back sink. He only did that once while I worked there. He wandered up from behind me and plunged his hands into the water before I could warn him. They were beat red when he withdrew them, and he gave me a terrible look. I feared the worst, but he turned away without saying a word and left the mess hall. I don't remember ever seeing him again.
Thereafter, I slept late every morning that I was assigned to KP. I arrived just in time to avoid being classified AWOL. I shuffled to the back sink looking as sad as Br'er Rabbit when he was thrown into the briar patch (you know, the one where he had been born).
Actually, the greatest secret of manning the back sink was the fact that everyone left you alone so long as the pots and pans were clean, and that was easy. Being left alone was golden when you were a mere private in the Army. They didn't think of asking me to help unload the ration trucks when they arrived. Even the DRO's had to queue up to carry heavy bags and boxes of food and supplies.
Working the back sink also gave me the cat's bird seat in the mess hall. I got to see how the place was actually run. Most of the ingredients were as good as those I had seen in the kitchen of a restaurant that the father of one of my boyhood friends owned and operated. The food was well-prepared. The mess sergeant inspected the serving line every meal before the troops were fed. I remember once when he had the cook who was about to carve a roast, add slices of lemon and sprigs of parsley around the base of the cutting board to make the meat look more appetizing. This is a detail that could be found in any fine dining establishment.
Of course, Castro and his men never ate this well during their stay on Pico Turquino as they trained and fought to free Cuba. I learned in the research for my novel, Rebels on the Mountain, that they rarely had meat. They subsisted on boniatos, sweet potatoes, just as the American rebels had at Valley Forge. Of course, most of Fidel's recruits were used to short rations. They had grown up as the poorest of peasants, living as outcasts and outlaws in the Sierra Madres Mountains at the far eastern end of Cuba.
Most of the men who trained with me weren't used to Army chow. It seems that Southerners dominated the ranks of Army cooks and we were fed southern comfort foods like grits and creamed meats and vegetables. Creamed ground beef on toast, affectionately known as Shit-on-a-Shingle (SOS) was common breakfast fare. The Yankees hated it. I still eat it for breakfast to this day. If I learned one thing in the Army, it was to eat a good breakfast. It was often the only hot meal you got.
Our mess sergeant is one of the few men whose name I cannot remember. This is surprising as I grew to respect him as much as all the others whose names I remember so well. I discovered that he was truly dedicated to feeding us well. He often had the cooks make extra pies and other treats that he traded to the ration truck drivers for extra supplies for the men in our company. Whenever we were on a long march, he would station trucks along the way to make sure we had plenty of water and Kool Aid if we wanted it.
On one occasion, we were issued C-Rations to eat for lunch during a long march. At one point, we found our mess sergeant and his crew of cooks and KP's waiting for us. They instructed us to remove any cans of meat and vegetables that we had in our C-Rations kits and drop them in the large cans of boiling water that they had set up along the road. Farther along, we found them waiting for us with hot food.
I believe that all of the jokes, songs, and stories complaining about Army food were the products of boys who just didn't know enough to appreciate how good the food really was. It simply wasn't the same as their mom's had made for them.