On history…

I’ve been thinking a lot about it these last several months and have come to the conclusion that I was incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a student of history before the culture of political correctness and hurt feelings took root. You can make heroes out of villains and villains out of heroes, re-write the books, declare that up is down, left is right, and that only the “correct” speech should be free for the listening, but that doesn’t change the history – our history.

Quite simply history is what it is – our victories and our defeats, our best moments and our worst. Our history is what made us. You can crush it, tear it down, and trample its monuments underfoot, but it’s still there in our national DNA, undergirding the world built by those people who lived long ago.

We aren’t our history, but it does inform who we are. It shaped us and molded us in hundreds of ways both known and unknown. Having spent so many of my formative years around those who live and breath history, I’m comfortable saying that despite the best efforts of those who would fold, spindle, and mutilate the history of this Republic, it will never really be lost… all the same, I’m glad I built my library up in a time when the world was a little less timid and not not quite so prone to falling out with a case of the vapors at every available opportunity.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shaming history. A few weeks ago when tearing down Lee and Jackson was all the rage, I posited a simple question to Facebook: Where does it stop, with Washington and Jefferson? Social media called me everything but a Nazi, but here we are these few weeks later and statues of Jefferson and Francis Scott Key are being vandalized. This tells me all I need to know (as if I didn’t know already) about who I’m dealing with. It really isn’t about statues or memorials. It’s about wanting history to comport with some whackadoodle notion that everything has to reflect modern leftist sensibilities or risk being labeled fascist. Feel free to label me whatever you’d like, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to hide from or in any way be made to feel ashamed of our history. As long as I’m drawing breath there will be at least one voice in steady opposition to sanitizing history into a bland inoffensive paste.

2. Lack of Starbucks. I like coffee and 19 days out of 20 I’m happy with the old fashioned drip variety. I usually take it will a bit of cream and sugar, but black is just as good. Today was that other one day out of twenty, though. It’s on days like today when I would pitch a screaming fit for a properly made latte. Of course there’s not one of those to be seen between the house and the office. I’m not hung up on the Starbuck trademark, but a proper coffee shop somewhere between Aberdeen and the Delaware state line feels like something that would be well received in an underserved bit of geography.

3. Late day surprises. We’ve covered this before, but it’s a perennial annoyance – the people who call you 20 minutes before the end of the day and expect some major miracle to result in them getting a fully formed plan or analysis. What you’re really going to get is a page full of the notes I made during the phone call with a supporting post it reminding me to work on that “hot” action first thing the next morning. Assuming it’s not a lifesaving or life sustaining action, you’re the dumbass who waited until the end of the day, and by 3:30 in the afternoon I’m in no humor for random jackassery.

Ten plus six…

Before writing tonight’s post I went back and read over the the ones I wrote before. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them are angry. Some are sad. Most are a little bit of both. Honestly I always get a little choked up looking at these posts about an all important date that with each turning of the calendar recedes just a little further in our national collective memory. At best, September 11th is always a date I find filled with melancholy.

Ten years ago, I happened to be in DC in a work trip. I was busy and not really paying attention to the calendar when the day started. By the end of it, though, I’d spent the day dwelling on heroes who fought against and subdued the worst impulses of their own generation.

While thinking of Sir Winston, I wrote:

I went to see Lincoln tonight. It just seemed fitting somehow. But the words that stuck in my head weren’t those written to bind up our nation’s wounds. They’re still too fresh for that. All along my long walk tonight, I was recalling Churchill’s words from the frosted depths of the Cold War… “We have surmounted all the perils and endured all the agonies of the past. We shall provide against and thus prevail over the dangers and problems of the future, withhold no sacrifice, grudge no toil, seek no sordid gain, fear no foe. All will be well. We have, I believe, within us the life-strength and guiding light by which the tormented world around us may find the harbour of safety, after a storm-beaten voyage.”

Winston would have understood the 21st Century. Sure, we have different clothes and different music, but it’s the same old world. He’d tell us to never give in and to stay the course. He knew that the only way to defeat evil was to pummel it into unquestioned submission. Winston would have understood.

Churchill, of course, is best known for his leadership during World War II, but the charming thing about him is that he seems to have a quote for all purposes. Some are inspirational. Others are dry with humor. The very best are usually both at the same time. The ones I find myself thinking about most often, though, are the ones that call us to persevere in the face of adversity, against the longest of odds.

It’s September 11th again. So much has changed and so much is still exactly the same. I still think Winston would understand our modern world, perhaps even better than do those of us who are living in it. Sometimes I get the distinct impression that we don’t understand a damned thing.

You can read the full post from September 11, 2007 here: https://jeffreytharp.com/2007/09/11/requiem/

The interregnum…

As we all know by now I’m a devoted creature of habit. Some of them are so well worn in that I’m not sure I’d know who I am without them. Others are more malleable based on circumstances. Contrary to opinion popular in some quarters, I’m not completely inflexible on all points – though I am on a few of them to be sure.

The real trouble comes when, of necessity, one of those more ingrained habits must change. Since unwelcome change in all its myriad forms is something that must be resisted at almost any cost, migrating one of these habits towards something new and different is rarely a course of action I’ll embark on willingly. I don’t like spending that much time with a warning klaxon rattling around my head that something isn’t right. The whole idea mostly just serves to remind me of a sign a friend of mine kept in his dorm room lo those many years ago. Perched above his desk, the sign gave off the constant reminder that “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.”

That seems to have become my unofficial motto across several fronts lately. My reading of history informs me of all manner of destruction/creation cycles and their near-inevitability. Mythology is filled with tales of the old giving way for the new to rise. It’s all very inspirational, of course… But that damned interregnum between one habit dying and the next taking hold tends to throw my whole neatly ordered universe temporarily out of kilter and that just sucks.

The day before the Big Thing…

Certain marks in history are so important that men and women still talk about them thousands of years after the fact. The Ides of March, remembered now in no small part due to Shakespeare’s treatment of the subject, are still recalled even by those who have no more than a passing interest in the politics of dying Roman Republic. The year 1066, when Norman Duke William lead his army across the Channel and conquered. The story is as familiar as an old family friend to anyone who has studied English history at all. June 6, 1944 is another one of those marked dates in our story – when we committed to spend every ounce of blood and treasure of the English speaking peoples if need be to throw back the rising tide of darkness. I have little doubt that 1000 years from now, historians will view Eisenhower little different than William before him.

There are dates, though, that most people don’t remember. Most people don’t think about them at all, really. That last day before the Big Thing happened. The day before the Ides. The day before the Battle of Hastings. The day before Overlord.

It’s easy to think of our history as a foregone conclusion, that because it’s the way it happened that it’s the way it had to happen. Nothing is further from the truth, of course. The day before the Big Thing, is the day of uncertainty and of questioning whether all is ready or if anything else can be done. It’s a day where history hangs in the balance. I’m not bold enough to suggest that preparation has nothing to do with it, but I’ve also been around long enough to know that random chance has an oversized role to plan in all of our efforts.

Today is June 5th – the anniversary of Eisenhower’s great day of uncertainty. The day before he was the head of vast army sweeping its way across Fortress Europe. It’s a day that the vagaries of weather nearly halted the invasion that we now think of as inevitable. Studying what happens on these days before the Big Things in history is the real case study in determination, courage, and leadership.

Time keeps on slippin’…

I think I’m beginning now to understand why old people always seem vaguely angry. The world I knew, the one of my youth, the one I was infinitely comfortable with, isn’t the world. The leaders have all gone. The stars are going. Even the countries aren’t the same and the maps have been remade. It’s disconcerting to realize that nation-states and their seeming permeance are anything but.

Society is far more open and tolerant than it was “where I come from.” I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In most things social, I’m mostly happy enough to let peopled do their own thing so long as they aren’t troubling anyone else. Activities and lifestyles that weren’t even mentioned, or only mentioned in whispers in early 80s are not just tolerated now but celebrated. In half a human lifetime I already find myself looking agog at the way the world has changed.

I’m enough of a student of history to know that the change is inevitable. People and institutions adapt… and those who refuse to adapt are swallowed up by the vast sweep of time. As those dark scientists in economic say, “in the long run we’re all dead.”

If you stick around long enough maybe you get to see everything you knew as true eventually turn out to be something else entirely. That would probably be the real curse of eternal life. The time and place I’m from didn’t get it all right, but it wasn’t all wrong either. New and different doesn’t necessarily mean better, but neither does old and tested. There’s a balance to be struck, but if I’m any judge of human behavior we’ll inevitable swing the pendulum too far in both directions simultaneously.

Time flies…

I heard a statistic this morning that 25% of the people living in the United States weren’t yet born on the morning of September 11, 2001. I don’t know how accurate that number is, but fifteen years is a pretty long time and there do seem to be an awful lot of young people wandering around these days. To them, today’s date is something from a history book – about as tangible as the attack on Pearl Harbor or the burning of Washington. For those of us who lived through that gut wrenching September day long ago, though, it’s not so much history as it is something we carry with us every day.

If I were to walk into Great Mills High School today I could show you exactly where I was standing in the lobby when someone passed by and told me about an explosion at the World Trade Center. I commented wondering why they were running old footage of the bombing back in ’93. No, that wasn’t it, they assured me, dragging me down the hall to the library where a dozen people stood gape-mouthed around a television cart.

Bells ring. Class changes. I’m due back in my own room. Walk me into that room today and I can show you exactly where I was standing, elbows propped on my lectern, when we saw the first shaky images of the Pentagon burning and then when the towers fell. A lot of these students were military kids and maybe they “got it” more than some others. It might have been the first and only time in my brief teaching career I experienced a room of quiet searching, of contemplation, and of understanding that fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters would soon be going in harms way. There was no use trying to “teach” anything at that point. The best I could manage in that moment was just talking, individual conversations about what happened, about terrorism, and about what came next.

In my head the details of that morning are still every bit as vivid as that damned bright blue sky. I don’t expect that will ever change. Time flies, they say, but there are some moments, no matter how far past that stay with you forever.