Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

I Was a Teenage Warmonger

Well, no, that's not entirely true. But military biographies and documentaries were a big part of what I read, between the ages of 8 and 11. I did read everything from Shakespeare to Bill Watterson, but I had a special place for accounts of war.

I read a lot of fairly childish books about the American Revolution. Most of them were about Valley Forge, or Ben Franklin, or Thomas Jefferson, the Battle of Yorktown, yadda yadda. But my favorite book was a series of biographies about the most well known generals of the Revolution, and some of the less well known.

I'm glad I read it too - I know why Fort Moultrie in South Carolina is called Fort Moultrie, and why palmetto trees make really good fort material. I know who Count Kazmir (?) Pulaski was (he's now more well known as a freeway in New York). Ethan Allen isn't just a furniture store, and I know who the Swamp Fox was (Francis Marion was the Ethan Allen of South Carolina - or Ethan Allen was the Francis Marion of Vermont).

I think the book was so intriguing because it offered such a personalized and in some cases, varied accounts of the war. It was especially interesting to read about the backgrounds of some of the men, especially the foreign ones like Van Steuben and Pulaski that didn't really need to be here. I never thought about it, but those men had no reason to fight besides an ideal. Them and Lord Byron, but that was a different war.

Now, it's less valuable that I know who these people were, but I can at least understand who landmarks are named after and why. More importantly, at least I know what some of them were fighting for.

For some reason, accounts of the Civil War were never quite as attractive to me as a kid. Most likely, it was due to the fact that I couldn't really figure out the good guys from the bad guys. It took me a long time to figure out who was "grey" and who was "blue." I enjoyed reading about Robert E. Lee a whole lot more than I did reading about Grant or Sherman or the other union generals. He just seemed like more of a real person.

Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, General Pershing in World War I, I read about all of them.

The vast majority of the books I read, however, were about World War II.

There was one book about D-Day that I read the cover off of. Then the rest of it started falling apart, until by the time I found it on my shelf again two years ago, only the middle fifty pages or so were left. The book went through each of the allied beaches and gave account of individual Rangers or Marines, so who met their end on those beaches. For a kid's book, it was surprisingly well organized, and not at all fearless about depicting death.

I also read plenty of biographies, about Generals on both sides of the war. I especially liked reading about the British general Montgomery and German general Rommel (although I can't decide of Jeff's Rommel doll is really cool or really creepy). Some of the best stories about World War II came from North Africa, and I'm not just talking about Casablanca.

And of course, in between showings of Mets games, Army of Darkness, and Willow, WPIX (Channel 11) ran Midway a whole lot. It's actually not a great war movie (older, campier ones like the Guns of Navarrone are much better), but I must have watched it at least five times. I didn't even Charleton Heston with Moses until much later.

Also, I had completely forgotten about the love story in Midway. It kind of sucks the life out of the rest of the movie.

I had no clue Toshiro Mifune was in the movie Midway. That was a long time before I knew who Toshiro Mifune was. I suppose his character in the movie is rather wasted.

It was also incredibly amusing that all the street names in my neighborhood were named after World War II generals. At least a bunch of them were - Halsey, Nimitz, Arnold, Eisenhower. Actually, my street was named Eisenhower, that is, until he became President and they renamed my street Northridge.

But then, sometime around 7th or 8th grade, I saw Apocalypse Now. And then Platoon not too much later. I saw Dr. Strangelove a bit later, so it was less influential. Those were very different war movies, indeed. The books I read before had depicted the casualties as martyrs and heroes. I think those movies were the first works that made me begin to understand what Sherman meant when he said "War is Hell."

Recently I started thinking back and wondering how legitimate it was to read those books. After all, they were rather patriotic, usually telling the stories of American soldiers. For instance, in the D-Day book I loved, there might have been one story about a British soldier. And none about Canadians.

There's no reason NOT to read them though. Not then, and really, not now either. There's nothing worse than not reading a book or not watching a movie just because one thinks that it is overly patriotic, or that it does not align with one's political values. Unless it's to keep a few more bucks out of Mel Gibson's back pocket. I mean kilt.

If anything, I regret not reading more about wars that didn't concern America or Britain.

I think that a lot of pro-war conservatives might dismiss the pacifist voices as individuals who don't know anything about war, or don't know anything about the "need" for war. I sometimes wonder if some of them aren't right.

In other words, maybe not enough people have read those books, pacifists or not. I bet a better sense of history would give a lot of people that are anti-war a better sense of WHY they are anti-war. And it might give some people that don't take a stand a better reason to.

And maybe if some of the pro-war voices in the country knew what our country's wars were really about, some of them might not think that way at all.

But I never cease to wonder what people like Newt Gingrich are thinking about the war, and about the insular, xenophobic attitudes that so many people are adopting today. Newt, from what I know, is an avid historian, especially regarding the Civil War. Can you really have a good knowledge of American history and support what the current administration has done?


Blogger panda said...

we watched Dr. Strangelove in my Am Lit 2 class. concurrently, my teacher gave us a review.

my perspective?

it's kinda overhyped. really good movie, mostly because i couldn't stop giggling at 'we must protect our bodily fluids', but that's only because i'm frighteningly juvenile. i need to find Apocalypse Now- i did read Heart of Darkness. i don't see how they could make that story into a movie...

6:52 PM  
Blogger panda said...

oh, and another note-

mr. epstein's class, aside from bestowing upon me a tremendous sense of cynicism, has made me realize that to be a historian, you try to provide the reason for as many facts as you possibly can under a given expanation.

but to do this, i'm almost certain that most also marginalize, if not flat out ignore, facts that typically stand at odds against their own ideology.

so given that particular idea, it's no surprise that newt can feel the way he does, or that any archconservative can fail to learn the lessons of the past adequately enough to avoid the repetition of history with all its bloodshed and senseless violence. (check out my new drama machine)

7:02 PM  
Blogger Sasquatch said...

Enjoyed your post. Would you mind providing some of the titles/authors of the better books? I know they're mostly kids' books, but I know a few who might benefit from them. Thanks.

2:42 PM  

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