On the occasion of the first anniversary of losing one of our own. I never met him either, but those of you who recognize the name will know why it's important. I'll have a toast at dinner tonight in memory.
The Commissar is deeply amused by a recent U. Washington resolution:
IT RESOLVED BY THE ASSOCIATED STUDENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON:THATThe Commissar replies:
Student Senator Jill Edwards will submit, in writing, a signed apology letter seeking forgiveness to all students, staff, and alumni who are now or ever have served in the United States Marine Corps. In said letter it will contain a formal apology and a recognition that her very rights and freedoms are guaranteed by such members of the armed services, to include the Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, past or present, living or dead. Additionally, said letter will be printed in all its form and substance in that day’s edition of the UW Daily newspaper as well as being recited on the UW Radio station. To realize her mistake, she must acquaint herself with the history of the person she is so keen to dismiss, by reading Col. Boyington’s book, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. All of these requirements are mandatory, under pain of losing her seat on the Student Senate.
Wow! There aren’t many events in the world, or in the blogosphere, that I actually know something about. But this is one of the few. I’m a minor expert in American aces of World War Two, and have built a well-regarded, fairly high-traffic website on that topic.Well, it was the Black Sheep Squadron, after all. Nobody thought they were angels. But they were By-God Marines. I like the idea of expanding the required reading list, though -- and not just for this one Senator. It wouldn't be a bad idea to make all U. Wash students learn a bit about this most famous alumnus, and all American students everywhere should learn more military history, and military science, than they do. It's obvious that we have a deficeit in that, as neither the journalist class nor the general citizenry seems to know how to interpret and understand news stories from war zones.
Now … on to Pappy Boyington. It would be great if University of Washington memorialized him. Wonderful. Furthermore, Ms. Jill Edwards should learn a little about Pappy Boyington.
But not by reading Boyington’s self-serving, highly embellished autobiography. Ouch. Please. Boyington was good pilot and a good squadron leader. But he was a drunk, a liar, a womanizer, a deadbeat...
Cavalry Scout posted something I saw first when JHD sent it to me: an open letter to the 3rd ACR:
"In the Name of God the Compassionate and MercifulCaptain's Quarters has more, including some praise for the Washington Post. The men of the US Cavalry have done us proud in Tall 'Afar. They are living examples of the principles of Heroic-Epic Warfighting. That's the way we're going to win this war.
"To the Courageous Men and Women of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tall’ Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life.
"To the lion-hearts who liberated our city from the grasp of terrorists who were beheading men, women and children in the streets for many months.
"To those who spread smiles on the faces of our children, and gave us restored hope, through their personal sacrifice and brave fighting, and gave new life to the city after hopelessness darkened our days, and stole our confidence in our ability to reestablish our city.
"Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Mousab Al Zarqawi. The city was completely held hostage in the hands of his henchmen. Our schools, governmental services, businesses and offices were closed. Our streets were silent, and no one dared to walk them. Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner. Terrorists occupied and controlled the only hospital in the city. Their savagery reached such a level that they stuffed the corpses of children with explosives and tossed them into the streets in order to kill grieving parents attempting to retrieve the bodies of their young. This was the situation of our city until God prepared and delivered unto them the courageous soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who liberated this city, ridding it of Zarqawi’s followers after harsh fighting, killing many terrorists, and forcing the remaining butchers to flee the city like rats to the surrounding areas, where the bravery of other 3d ACR soldiers in Sinjar, Rabiah, Zumar and Avgani finally destroyed them.
"I have met many soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism.
"The leaders of this Regiment; COL McMaster, COL Armstrong, LTC Hickey, LTC Gibson, and LTC Reilly embody courage, strength, vision and wisdom. Officers and soldiers alike bristle with the confidence and character of knights in a bygone era. The mission they have accomplished, by means of a unique military operation, stands among the finest military feats to date in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and truly deserves to be studied in military science. This military operation was clean, with little collateral damage, despite the ferocity of the enemy. With the skill and precision of surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage.
"God bless this brave Regiment; God bless the families who dedicated these brave men and women. From the bottom of our hearts we thank the families. They have given us something we will never forget. To the families of those who have given their holy blood for our land, we all bow to you in reverence and to the souls of your loved ones. Their sacrifice was not in vain. They are not dead, but alive, and their souls hovering around us every second of every minute. They will never be forgotten for giving their precious lives. They have sacrificed that which is most valuable. We see them in the smile of every child, and in every flower growing in this land. Let America, their families, and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life.
"Finally, no matter how much I write or speak about this brave Regiment, I haven’t the words to describe the courage of its officers and soldiers. I pray to God to grant happiness and health to these legendary heroes and their brave families."
NAJIM ABDULLAH ABID AL-JIBOURI
Mayor of Tall 'Afar, Ninewa, Iraq
UPDATE: Greyhawk has more on the history of the officers involved, and an independent confirmation of the letter's authenticity.
There's no doubt at all that the old fast-draw movies were a Hollywood, rather than a Western, fixture. Fighting men aren't dumb enough to depend on reflexes that dull with age. There is no such thing as a fair fight -- even in sports such as boxing that try to even the odds, no matter how carefully you try someone has longer arms, and someone has heavier bones for his body weight and therefore hits harder. That being true, the only rational thing is to try to make every fight as unfair as possible, in your favor. The gunhands of the West knew that, and did so accordingly.
That said, being blazing fast is an advantage as much as any other. There are two major competitive sports built around training yourself to draw and fire as quickly as you can, hitting your targets along the way. World Fast Draw is one; Cowboy Fast Draw is the other. The second is distinguished from the first mainly by using actual 19th-century style holsters, which were designed to hang around the natural waist rather than about the thigh. The latter are really faster -- that's why Hollywood developed them, and why you'll see silver screen gunfighters from John Wayne to Han Solo using a tied-down thigh rig.
Interested in trying it out yourself? Give a look to Mernickle Custom Holsters, who produce the best fast-draw rigs in the world. They can make you one legal in either of the sporting associations, or something just for you. And if what you want is a Western movie rig, they can do that too.
The West is every American's birthright, after all.
I haven't really had time to read up on the Dick Cheney story, although I expect the Commissar is correct about the right's reaction to it if another famous shotgunner had been involved. (Bonus Commissar wisdom, re: right-wing gripes on the jokes: "What, are we all Muslims now?")
While I'll leave the introspection to others, I will point out that the intersection of a shotgun and birdshot reminds me of an event from American history. It's an interesting detail you might not have heard. I don't suggest it has any import in understanding the Vice President's situation; but since people are reaching for Aaron Burr as a historical analogy, here's another that is at least as interesting.
In Wyatt Earp's younger days, he was an officer of the law in Dodge City, Kansas. This was the famous "Queen of the Cowtowns," a city founded by liquor dealers in order to cater to cattlemen. Once it managed to gain a railhead, it became the chosen spot for the cowboys bringing their longhorns north from Texas and thereabouts. It was a rough place, wild and free, and the most dangerous of characters congregated there.
One of these was Wyatt's friend and fellow lawman, Bat Masterson. Another was a gunslinger called Clay Allison. In these days, Wyatt Earp didn't have the reputation as a gunhand that he later got in Tombstone; he had, in fact, not made much use of guns at all in keeping the peace, except occasionally in knocking wrongdoers over the head with one (a practice called "buffaloing" by the lawmen of the Frontier). Allison, however, was the most famous gunfighter of his day -- a time after John Wesley Hardin's rampages in Texas, and before Wyatt, Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo came to their fame.
Allison was hired by a political faction to run Mr. Earp out of town, as the sudden effective enforcement of the law was disturbing to some in Dodge City. On learning that Allison was looking for him, Wyatt asked his friend Bat Masterson to watch his back. Bat, being a pragmatic sort, retrieved a shotgun he kept at the local District Attorney's office and loitered visibly near where Wyatt was waiting, not really hiding the shotgun.
The confrontation is ably described in Casey Tefertiller's Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend, for those interested in the specific details. Mr. Tefertiller differs from other historians on various points, but I see no reason to prefer anyone else's account to his on the facts.
The short version is that Allison, though backed up by cowboys bearing Winchesters, recognized that Bat Masterson and his shotgun spelled doom in any confrontation. He departed in the fashion of a gentleman, saluting Wyatt as an equal and decrying the cowards who had tried to hire guns to contest with a good man, and respecting Earp's authority from that time forward.
Here is the intersection with Cheney: a few days later, Bat took his shotgun out for some recreational shooting. He discovered that the buckshot load it normally carried -- heavy pellets and a hefty powder charge, that could almost cut a man in half -- had been replaced with birdshot. Apparently one of the attorneys at the D.A.'s office had borrowed his peacekeeping tool and charged it for bird-hunting instead!
Had he been called upon to use it in a gunfight between Earp and Allison, with a pack of riflemen behind the gunslinger, Bat Masterson would have found it as ineffective as defenders of the Vice President assert that his weapon was. Masterson, himself a top hand with a firearm, was not pleased. "It would have been a shame," he groused later, "if a good man's life had depended on the charge in that gun."
Readers of Opinion Journal's Best of the Web know that author James Taranto has a long-running joke by which he refers to Kerry as "the haughty, French-looking Democrat who by the way served in Vietnam," or one of several variants of that line. Kerry, of course, does look somewhat French, and more to the point he acts somewhat French. The joke, which reached chief prominence during the 2004 election season, allowed Taranto to ridicule Kerry -- and, as Kerry was its standard-bearer, the entire Democratic Party -- by association with the French.
I mention this today because of the "Letter to the American Left" translated from the French for The Nation, having been composed by French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy. Levy isn't writing to me, obviously; his interest is in the Americans who are -- to use Taranto's formula -- "French looking," not so much in the face as in the brain. By the same token, he describes his recent book about America to be a letter to France, in which he is trying to build the bridge the other way -- to show French readers that there is an American that is French-looking. "Anti-Americanism is a plague," he said, "Say what you will about America - but it still stands for fighting for truth and justice."
Well said, although sadly by "truth and justice" he means something different than I would by the same words. I must also pause to register the firmest objection to his conceptualizing America as a woman who had been his mistress. What he said would have been ungentlemanly and inappropriate even had he been speaking of an actual mistress.
This only proves, of course, that M. Levy is not my kind of man. He should have had more luck with Garrison Keillor, but he didn't. Keillor is the kind of man M. Levy is trying to reach, and without great success:
Any American with a big urge to write a book explaining France to the French should read this book first, to get a sense of the hazards involved. Bernard-Henri Lévy is a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore; he rambled around this country at the behest of The Atlantic Monthly and now has worked up his notes into a sort of book.I shall be kinder to these two gentleman, who are not political allies of mine, than either are being to the other. Mr. Keillor runs a wonderful radio show, one that (in spite of occasional unfair jibes at Red Staters) is a genuine treasure. It offered my first window into an America I hadn't known still existed: one that, like my own, is rural and religious, delighted with folk music and old cowboy stories; but that, unlike my own, draws from those same roots the fruit of left-wing politics. It is an America I thought had vanished, perhaps best explained by its view of New York City: where the urban Blue Stater sees the highest model of humanity, and the rural Red Stater sees a misery of traffic and crime and rudeness, this America sees glimmering lights and theatre, 'the nice place to visit where you wouldn't want to live.' Where they want to live is the same sort of place I would choose: a quiet place, by a lake or mountain, with a few good neighbors and the fruit of their own vines.
I have come to know this America better in recent years, but probably only because Mr. Keillor awoke me to it, and inspired me to look for it. Though I think it is mistaken on several points, and though I regret the odd hostility with which its members seem to view me and mine, it is an America I both like and respect, even love, as one loves a distant sister.
Out of that love grows a genuine tolerance, one that I wish Mr. Keillor felt for us: a desire to see the old style of Federalism renewed, so that the way of life he advocates may be protected, and flourish in its enclaves. I don't want them to be unhappy in an America that is theirs, too. I think a lot of the discontent they feel arises because the Federal government has too far exceeded its Constitutional bounds, so that capturing and controlling it takes on an outsized importance. We cannot be happy with good laws from our local governments, because we must always worry what our political opposites from outside our state will try to enforce on us from above. Everything that is Federal has to be decided one way for all of us, with the result that the government is either affirming what we feel about Right & Wrong, or it is thrusting aside our deeply held beliefs and forcing us to accept something we find immoral.
On some questions, there is a proper Federal role, as enshrined in the Constitution. Yet most matters were designed to be handled by the states and even the localities, so that we might each enjoy some peace. The nation was founded on principles designed to admit the Puritans of the NorthEast, and the libertines of "Rogue's Island," as Rhode Island was called by the wags of those days. We make a mistake when we try to force Rogue's Island's values on Boston, or vice versa. It was possible then, and is possible now, for us to be happy with each other.
As for M. Levy, I note that he has an insightful critique about the state of the Left:
The fact is: You do have a right. This right, in large part thanks to its neoconservative battalion, has brought about an ideological transformation that is both substantial and striking.What is odd is that, having so diagnosed things, all M. Levy himself has to offer is more of the same -- that they should be louder and more passionate in arguing the same points he has just suggested are a wasteland. Having warned against the tired formulas of the Kennedy clan, he then recounts them: Levy, like Teddy, waxes poetic about Abu Ghraib, Americans as torturers, the need to ban the death penalty. Having warned against treating Bush as if he were a new McCarthy, he calls for a renewed movement to impeach the President.
And the fact is that nothing remotely like it has taken shape on the other side--to the contrary, through the looking glass of the American "left" lies a desert of sorts, a deafening silence, a cosmic ideological void that, for a reader of Whitman or Thoreau, is thoroughly enigmatic. The 60-year-old "young" Democrats who have desperately clung to the old formulas of the Kennedy era; the folks of MoveOn.org who have been so great at enlisting people in the electoral lists, at protesting against the war in Iraq and, finally, at helping to revitalize politics but whom I heard in Berkeley, like Puritans of a new sort, treating the lapses of a libertine President as quasi-equivalent to the neo-McCarthyism of his fiercest political rivals; the anti-Republican strategists confessing they had never set foot in one of those neo-evangelical mega-churches that are the ultimate (and most Machiavellian) laboratories of the "enemy," staring in disbelief when I say I've spent quite some time exploring them; ex-candidate Kerry, whom I met in Washington a few weeks after his defeat, haggard, ghostly, faintly whispering in my ear: "If you hear anything about those 50,000 votes in Ohio, let me know"; the supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton who, when I questioned them on how exactly they planned to wage the battle of ideas, casually replied they had to win the battle of money first, and who, when I persisted in asking what the money was meant for, what projects it would fuel, responded like fundraising automatons gone mad: "to raise more money"; and then, perhaps more than anything else, when it comes to the lifeblood of the left, the writers and artists, the men and women who fashion public opinion, the intellectuals--I found a curious lifelessness, a peculiar streak of timidity or irritability, when confronted with so many seething issues that in principle ought to keep them as firmly mobilized as the Iraq War or the so-called "American Empire" (the denunciation of which is, sadly, all that remains when they have nothing left to say).
It is unworthy to lecture people for agreeing with you. Indeed, one can't be quite sure where Levy feels the American Left should be. Either the Left is too passionate, or insufficiently so; either confrontation is the wrong policy, or the right one. Either the ideas of the 1960s Left are tired and worn out, or they are ready to sweep the nation.
On this last point, at least, there is clarity to be had. We can find it where we began, with Taranto's formula. "The French-looking Democrat" is an effective jibe in national elections not because of the shape of Kerry's nose, but because of the shape of his ideas and character. We have had our referrendum on the topic, and it proves that those ideas are not ready to sweep the nation. They do enjoy strong currency in certain enclaves. They ought to be allowed to flourish there: but this is not the road that will lead you in victory to Washington.
If we can all accept the truth of that, we can start working on the real problem: how we can build an America in which we can all be happy. When we're ready to stop trying to force our views down each other's necks, and to fight out each election and Supreme Court Nomination as if it were Armageddon, we can start rediscovering the tools of peace and brotherhood that were built into the system. As the nation that produced Frank Lloyd Wright ought to know, a house divided against itself can stand -- as long as the architect has planned for proper counterbalances, and distribution of the load.
We had a bit of snow over the weekend:
One of the hazards of hanging out with an artist is that she will be overcome with the need to take pictures when there's work to be done -- like moving three days' worth of firewood into the house. "Oh, this would make a great picture!"
Well, hopefully it did. Thanks to Rappahannock Electric, who managed to get our power back on within 24 hours of it going out even though they had to spread their emergency teams over sixteen counties. It's been the most restful day I can easily remember, in spite of carrying wood, clearing ice, salting walks and melting snow for cooking and washing dishes: it's the first day I haven't worked or felt the need to work in three years, weekends and holidays included. Since there was no possibilty of working, there was no sense of guilt for not working.
A good day or two, all the way around.
I think I once related the time I attended a Tactical match near Ballground, Georgia, and watched an old gentleman shoot. He was handling an old single-action revolver, and I listened to two hotshots in their thirties or forties quietly snarling that he shouldn't have been let to participate. He was slow; his reloading was done with fumbling fingers. He was, they said outright, a danger to everyone on the firing line.
Nevertheless, I saw his targets. He shot one ragged hole, and a fine small one for a gentleman handling a .45 caliber weapon. Right in the X ring, every time. I resolved then and there I wanted to shoot like that man, no matter how slow my reloading and aiming might be.
Here is another story of that sort. I'm under the impression that the author is wrong to identify cottonmouths as "water rattlers," as I believe them to be unrelated to rattlers except insofar as both are snakes. A fine story anyway, about a fine gentleman, a fine shot, and a kind, generous man.
Thanks to The Major's Lady, who thought to share the tale with us.