Monday, November 24, 2003
Saturday, November 22, 2003
Monday, November 17, 2003
The war was not like that at our house. My grandfather was in the British Army before the war began and eventually he served in France, Egypt, and Salonika. His brother was killed in Flanders in April of 1918, and my grandmother's first husband died in France in 1916; she had his name tattooed on his arm before he left [as kids me and my brothers always wondered who that man was and why his name was tattooed on Grandma’s arm. She never told us; she didn’t like talking about it and my grandfather didn’t like thinking about it; he'd tell us to never mind if we ever brought the subject up in his presence] So for us, unlike most American families, the war was not a bump on the road from Appomattox to Pearl Harbor.
Veterans Day, Armistice Day as it was first called, was the day the war and the 19th century ended. History does not usually arrange things in the neat organized categories that historians are so fond of. The twentieth century began in 1914, on August 4, when Great Britain declared war; the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova called it the day the real twentieth century began. But the 19th century hung on for four more years, as the politicians and the generals squandered the lives of an entire generation of young men. Nineteenth century notions of honor and duty and patriotism kept the men in the trenches long after men of a later generation would have said no more. Even the French Army mutinies of 1917 were, in a way, negative mutinies: soldiers would defend France if the Germans attacked, but would not attack themselves. This is hardly the position of men who have thrown over everything they have ever believed in for a new modern twentieth century way of thinking. It was, instead, the demand of men who have been pushed beyond endurance time and time again and will no longer countenance generals who lead them to slaughter.
So the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month came, and the shelling stopped, and the troops went home, and the truths and institutions that had characterized European life had vanished or were disowned. Four empires fell, their rulers pushed into exile, or, as in the case of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, murdered with his family in a squalid cellar, and in their places came a German republic tainted from the moment of its creation, a totalitarian monstrosity, cut up by secret treaty into mandates, and a mob of squabbling little countries hacked from the wreckage of Austria. America, disgusted at the mess, went home and learned the Charleston. It was a time, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, when an entire generation had "grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken...."
But the sacrifices, having been made, had to be justified, and the Germans were made to pay for a war they didn’t feel solely responsible for. Pershing, the American commander, had wanted to go all the way to Berlin and compel an unconditional surrender, but the other powers said no, end the war now. So the war ended, with the German Army standing everywhere on foreign soil, with a civilian population fed on a steady diet of victories over the course of the war; it is little wonder that the stab in the back legend took such a firm grip on the German psyche--how else to explain the triumph of German arms and the disastrous peace? But on the eleventh of November 1918 all that was in the future. On that day there was exhaustion and jubilation and tears for having survived and tears for those who hadn’t and the politicians planning on taking their pound of flesh and in a hospital a wounded corporal vowed to revenge himself on the criminals who had cost Germany the war, thus ensuring a new crop of veterans to be honored on Veterans Day.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Not so ept. When was the last time you heard anyone say you were very ept at your job? Or that little Johnny was very ept with his schoolwork? You haven’t, and neither have I, and you are not likely to, either. For ept is the victim of a codependency so intense that she literally has no identity without in- or ad-. There are other victims as well. Take Ruth. Ruth floats lightly on the sea of vocabulary trying to do the breaststroke while otters watch from the bank, waiting to sell her on the idea of a home equity loan. She is only a noun these days, subject to the whims of fashion and popularity, while ruthless is with us always, muscling aside all opposition. “Look homeward, angel, now and melt with ruth,” John Milton tells us in Lycidas, without telling us who is this Ruth we are supposed to melt with and do her parents in Suffix County know or even approve of our melting together on the first date? Milton leaves all of this terribly vague, I think.
And then there is henching, which suffers from an abusive –man. We all have heard of the mysterious doings of evil henchmen, but what exactly is henching, why does it have such a bad reputation, and how well does it pay? Does it pay by the hour or is it a salaried position, and, most importantly, will all the good henching jobs be shipped overseas in the face of lower henching costs in China and other nations of the Pacific literal? The administration has been noticeably quiet about the export of valuable henching jobs overseas.
Other examples abound; whelm comes immediately to mind; but I think the time has come for all good men to come to the aid of their party and demand that something be done about the predatory practices of suffixes and prefixes here and abroad before these practices begin to threaten our economy, our social mores, and the American way of life in general motors and whats good for general motors, Charlie Wilson once said, is good for America.
Saturday, November 08, 2003
It appears, however, that Sudanese authorities will soon ban the public rest room as well as shaking hands with infidels as an emergency measure needed to stop the epidemics of vanishing penises. Sudan’s minister of health suggested today that instead of shaking hands with infidels loyal and patriotic Sudanese should urinate on them instead as a way of guaranteeing that their penises hadn’t disappeared; Sudan’s minister of tourism added that all foreigners coming into the Sudan, a bare dry arid sere mostly desert country with lots of camels and marled burrows, should bring a raincoat and galoshes with them until the epidemic had passed. But however good a subject this may be, I just couldn’t do anything with it.
Then I thought of fish puns. After all, the previous post is just one long extended pun on the word herring, so why not do more fish puns? I thought it was a good idea at the time. I could go on and on about fish puns, how as a boy I would swim all day in stagnant fish puns and how bad I smelt at the end of the day and how the terrible smelt gave me a haddock and then I’d have to listen to my mother carp about it when I got home (okay, so I’m groaning too; the haddock is a rip off from the Marx Brothers). Or I could write something serious, like just what is it about canned salmon that makes it impossible for them to hold on to a job, and why isn’t the government doing something about their extraordinarily high unemployment rate? I don’t know; everything after the haddock seems to be a stretch. Tuna? Too easy. Sharks? Too hard. Barracudas? Mother in law jokes are not politically correct anymore.
So I remain at a loss for subject matter here. The California fires are mostly out looking for an agent, the Democrats are still arguing about whether white Southern pickup owning males should be deprived of their 7-11 franchise, and forty six people have been publicly executed in Times Square for smoking cigarettes indoors; we live in dull and monotonous times, folks, very dull indeed. But I’ll think of something soon.