M.A.S.H. quote of the moment: War is worse than hell

May 22, 2017

"Why do you say that, Hawkeye?" Screen capture from video snippet of M.A.S.H.

“How do you figure that, Hawkeye?” Father Mulcahy, screen capture from video snippet of M.A.S.H.

Our correspondents Jameses, Stanley and Kessler, alerted me months ago to this exchange in the old television show, “M.A.S.H.” In a discussion of the First Battle of Bull Run, we discussed war as hell.

War is worse than hell, they said. Still true.

They pointed to a scene from “M.A.S.H.”

Dialogue borrowed from IMDB:

Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.

Father Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?

Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?

Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.

Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them — little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.

Deep thinking, maybe wisdom, from a mobile operating room filtered through sit-com writers.

M.A.S.H., copyright 20th Century Fox

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Distant, difficult and broken classrooms: South Sudan, 2016

March 30, 2017

Millions of students across the world miss educations they should be getting, due to war, famine, weather or poverty.

ICRC caption: In the town of Kodok, South Sudan, a boy stands in a shuttered school, where classes have been closed for months after fighting intensified in the area. Photo: Jason Straziuso/ICRC

ICRC caption: In the town of Kodok, South Sudan, a boy stands in a shuttered school, where classes have been closed for months after fighting intensified in the area. Photo: Jason Straziuso/ICRC

What are the odds this boy will, within a few years, take up a gun to fight in a war, instead of finishing his education?

What can we do about it?


Distant and difficult classrooms: Yemen 2017

March 30, 2017

From the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross):

Red Cross caption: No books, no chairs, no safe place to learn: This is a classroom in #Yemen where 2 million children are out of school according to @UNICEF.

Red Cross caption: No books, no chairs, no safe place to learn: This is a classroom in #Yemen where 2 million children are out of school according to @UNICEF.

Two things essential for a classroom: Student, and teacher.

Ponder that next time your local school board denies raises to teachers. And remember this classroom in Yemen, where students want to learn, and a teacher goes into hell to let them do that.

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A toast on Whiskey and Cigar Day 2016: Excelsior! to Mark Twain’s and Winston Churchill’s births (November 30)

November 30, 2016

Mark Twain, afloat

Mark Twain aboard a ship, on his way to Hawaii. Young Samuel Clemens apprenticed to be a Mississippi river boat pilot, and held a fascination for water-going vessels his entire life. His pilot years are documented, and analyzed, in Life on the Mississippi.
This photo of Twain remains one of my favorites.

November 30 is the birthday of Mark Twain (1835), and Winston Churchill (1874).

This is the traditional Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub post to remind you. Both Twain and Churchill were lovers of good whiskey, and good cigars. Surely they would have toasted themselves with a drink and a smoke.

Even if we don’t, we can pretend we did.

In 2016, we have the benefit of having had time to digest Twain’s Autobiography, and Volume II; and we have the benefit of scholarship from a great book on Churchill, William Manchester’s and Paul Reid’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965.

We have special need for the wisdom, and wit of each man in a year marked by terrorism and unholy war on educators.

Twain had a comment on the Texas Education Agency and State Board of Education:

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.

Following the Equator; Pudd’nhead Wilson‘s New Calendar

The Nobel literature committees were slow. Twain never got a Nobel in Literature; he died in 1910. Churchill did win a Nobel in Literature, in 1953.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1953 was awarded to Winston Churchill “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”

Both men were aficionados of good whiskey and good cigars. Both men suffered from depression in old age.

Both men made a living writing, early in their careers as newspaper correspondents. One waged wars of a kind the other campaigned against. Both were sustained by their hope for the human race, against overwhelming evidence that such hope was sadly misplaced.

churchill-time-cover-man-of-the-year-1941.jpg

Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine. Churchill’s career was built much on his work as First Lord of the Admiralty, a position he took in 1911.  While he was the goat of the Battle of the Dardanelles (and had to resign as a result), his earlier work to switch Britain’s Navy to oil power from coal, and to use airplanes in combat, kept the British Navy as an important and modern military organization through World War II.

Both endured fantastic failures that would have killed other people, and both rebounded.

Each possessed a great facility with words, and wit, and frequently said or wrote things that people like to remember and repeat again.

Both Churchill and Twain rank near the top of the list of people to whom almost any quote will be attributed, if the quote is witty and the speaker can’t remember or doesn’t know who actually said it.

Surely they said something like any piece of wisdom, at some point in their lives, right?

Both men are worth study. And wouldn’t you really love to have had them over to dinner?

Twain, on prisons versus education:

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” – Speech, November 23, 1900

Churchill on the evil men and nations do:

“No One Would Do Such Things”

“So now the Admiralty wireless whispers through the ether to the tall masts of ships, and captains pace their decks absorbed in thought. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. It is too foolish, too fantastic to be thought of in the twentieth century. Or is it fire and murder leaping out of the darkness at our throats, torpedoes ripping the bellies of half-awakened ships, a sunrise on a vanished naval supremacy, and an island well-guarded hitherto, at last defenceless? No, it is nothing. No one would do such things. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, Liberal principles, the Labour Party, high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong. Such a mistake could only be made once—once for all.”

—1923, recalling the possibility of war between France and Germany after the Agadir Crisis of 1911, inThe World Crisis,vol. 1, 1911-1914, pp. 48-49. (Obviously, and sadly, Churchill was wrong — twice wrong.)

Yet we continue to make those mistakes, and then to seek out the wisdom of Churchill or Twain to get out of the mess, and to tell us we won’t be in such a mess ever again.

Image of Twain aboard ship, on the Pacific – origin unknown. Image of Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine.

More on Mark Twain

More on Winston Churchill

Orson Welles, with Dick Cavett, on Churchill, his wit, humor and grace (tip of the old scrub brush to the Churchill Centre):

More, contemporary reports from 2012:

And in 2013:

2014:

Should you fly your flag today?  Congress doesn’t list this dual birthday as an event for flying the U.S. flag.  But you’re welcome to fly the flag any day.  Go ahead, if you want to.

If I get one, it will be the only cigar I’ve had this year. Or this decade.

I will break out the Scotch.

At a very minimum, click on some of the links and read the works of these two great writers. Nothing else today will be so profitable.

Churchill gets attention, even in Texas:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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Distant and difficult classrooms: Syria, 2016

September 17, 2016

How do others outside the U.S. go to school?

Foreign Affairs featured a gallery of photos of a school in Syria, in a zone of war. School is still important. Students attend class in a cave, offering some protection from some bombs.

Internally displaced children attend a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria, March 27, 2016. Photo by Khalil Ashawi; Foreign Affairs photo

Internally displaced children attend a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria, March 27, 2016. Photo by Khalil Ashawi; Foreign Affairs photo and caption

Learning the Hard Way in Syria

In the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Syria’s Idlib province, the dusty stone steps to the town’s only primary school lead down to a damp cave. In February, a strike on two schools and five hospitals in Idlib province left 50 dead, many of whom were children. Before that, in April 2014, barrel bombs killed 25 students at a school in opposition-held Douma near Aleppo. This has forced Syria’s teachers to turn trailers, poultry farms, and other unusual terrains into classrooms in the war-torn country where more than two million children remain out of school.

More photos at Foreign Affairs; go look.


300 Spartans, led by Leonidas died August 11, 480 B.C.

August 11, 2016

It’s a different Leonidas, but Michael Phelps yesterday tied a record for winning 12 solo events in Olympics previously held by a man called Leonidas of Rhodes. The record had stood, as best historians can tell, for 2,168 years.

That was August 10, 2016. On August 11, we remember Leonidas of Sparta, for events in war, not peace.

300 popped up on some movie channel back in 2008 as I was preparing to teach world history again.  I did not major in history, and my high school history instruction featured no AP courses (Pleasant Grove High, in Utah, didn’t offer such things then; I assume they do now, but I don’t know).

What I knew about Sparta and the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae came from my reading encyclopedias as a child, and culture.  Never had an occasion to write a speech about the events, though had I known the history better, I might have found some opportunity.  Sen. Orrin Hatch would have loved a compare and contrast speech between the stand of the Spartans and his work against the labor law reform bill in 1977 and 1978; more likely, we could have used the simple historical facts that the stand of the 300 at the same place today would be impossible due to poor soil conservation practices of the local farmers, which has created a plain broad enough for a Persian Army to march through with impunity, never fearing drowning in the sea that no longer exists there.  Thermopylae is a grand historical metaphor for a good orator.  The simple facts of history are important, too — Churchill knew Herodotus’s stories well, and considered them when planning military actions in the area in two world wars.

The movie came up from students in the previous year; it offered, perhaps, a hook for an introduction to world history, explaining why we bother to study it at all.

I got a time delay recording to watch it, which I did, mostly.  Interesting stylization.  Cartoonish characterizations, which one should expect from a movie intended as homage to the graphic novel that directly spawned it, more than an instruction about history.  We might doubt that the Persians had trained and armored rhinoceroses in their armament.  Dialogue — well, this is Hollywood.  It would have been in some dialect of Greek, and no Hollywood scriptwriter would have been able to reproduce it.

What about the battle itself.  World history courses in U.S. high schools should pay attention to this battle, I think.

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, Molon Lave, which roughly translates to Come and get it!

A monument to Leonidas I – Inscription, “Molon Lave,” which roughly translates to “Come and get it!”

Several sources dated the climax of the battle as August 11, 480 B.C. — 2,493 years ago. (The battle is said to have occurred during the Olympics that year, too.)

World history classes dig through that period of history in the first semester.  Teachers, it’s time to think about how we’re going to facilitate this history this year.  As always, some bright student will wave a hand in the air and ask, “Mr. Darrell!  How do they know what happened if no one survived, and nobody had their Sony videocorder?”

At least one other student in the course of the day will be surprised to discover the movie wasn’t a filmed-on-the-spot documentary.  But apart from that, how do we know the events well enough to pin it down to one day?  And, since the Greeks surely didn’t use the Gregorian calendar, since it wasn’t invented until the 18th century — how do we know the date?

The short answer is “Herodotus.”  The longer answer may resonate better:  This is one dramatic battle in a year-long fight for the history of the world.  The Greeks were understandably and justifiably proud that they had turned back Xerxes’s armies and navy (The Battle of Salamis, a bit after Thermopylae).  So, these events were preserved in poetry, in the chronicles, in song, in sculpture, and in every other medium available to the Greeks.  Your AP English students will probably tell you the movie reminds them of The IliadThere’s an entré for discussion.

Turning points in history:  Had Xerxes succeeded in avenging his father’s, Darius’s, defeats, and subjugated the Greeks, history would be much different.  The culture the Romans built on, the trading patterns from east to west and around the Mediterranean, the technologies, the myths, and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern Olympics.)

How do we know?  How do we know?

How do you handle that question?  (Tell us in comments, please.)

I like this battle for the way it ties together many of the loose threads that vex high school sophomores.  Is history exciting?  It can be, as the Frank Miller graphic novel and and the Zack Snyder movie demonstrate.  How important is accuracy in making the story exciting?  (Do the rhinoceroses improve the story of the courage of the Spartans, or merely offer a good graphical metaphor for the overwhelming forces of the Persians?)  What happens when one nation invades another — who has the advantage?  Is knowledge of geography important — in battle, for example?  The philosopher Santayana notes that those who do not remember history are “condemned” to repeat it.  Xerxes tried to apply the lessons of the history of his father’s failed invasion; was he successful?  Remember this point:  Napoleon failed in his invasion of Russia in 1812; Adolf Hitler assigned his generals to study Napoleon’s failure, for Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941; so convinced were the Germans that they knew the lessons, they invade Russia on the anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion.  Did it go any better?  George Washington consciously patterned his life on the great Roman warrior and leader, Cincinnatus — especially in turning over rule once the task was done, as Washington did twice.  What if Washington had, instead, patterned his life after Leonidas?  How might the American Revolution have turned out, and how might the United States have developed, had Washington sacrificed himself as Leonidas did?

The story of the Battle of Thermopylea, the bravery and cunning tactics of Leonidas and the 300, the wars between Persia and the Greek City States, form a good foundation for a study of history at any point after.  It is the stuff of great history, and the stuff of great rhetoric.  It could be the stuff of great AP essays and good writing exercises in general.   Damn the Common Core State Standards*, and damn the misguided Texas critics of CSCOPE, this is a topic I wish more world history teachers would spend some good, profitable time on

Resources and commentary on Thermopylae, Leonidas, and the 300:

More:

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought. Note that, in purple, the map shows where a plain now exists, which was an ocean the Spartans could use to squeeze the Persian Army, about 25 centuries ago. What a difference 25 centuries can make.

_____________

*  Common Core State Standards in social studies actually would support what I’m asking here, if only they weren’t filtered through state school boards who do not value scholarship, but instead wish history to be a checklist of faux-patriotic bullet points to regurgitate.  Here in Texas, we are not affected by Common Core — but we are affected by meddling in history standards by people whose agenda does not include making history exciting and good.  Common Core standards — technically — do not mention Thermopylae.  However, this is the sort of material, including the original texts of Herodotus, whose study the Common Core standards encourage, especially for analysis of the sort I think Thermopylae invites.  Texas TEKS allow mention of the battle, though the Battle of Thermopylae has been purged from the actual standards; Texas lesson plans frequently suggest “watching a film on the Battle of Thermopylae,” and “Answer questions on the battle; trade and grade.”  Teachers infuse those dull words with life — we hope.  Teachers’ actual practice in the classroom is the saving grace for this important history, in Texas; Texas world history teachers face their own Xerxes.  The Texas Lege recently removed the requirement that students study world history, instead giving them a choice of either world history or world geography.  And so the dumbing down of history by (probably well-meaning, but not well-thinking) legislators continues.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Save


A toast on Whiskey and Cigar Day 2015: Excelsior! to Mark Twain’s and Winston Churchill’s births (November 30)

November 30, 2015

Mark Twain, afloat

Mark Twain aboard a ship, on his way to Hawaii. Young Samuel Clemens apprenticed to be a Mississippi river boat pilot, and held a fascination for water-going vessels his entire life. His pilot years are documented, and analyzed, in Life on the Mississippi.
This photo of Twain remains one of my favorites.

(Whew! Nearly let the day get by without noting it.)

November 30 is the birthday of Mark Twain (1835), and Winston Churchill (1874).

This is the traditional Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub post to remind you. Both Twain and Churchill were lovers of good whiskey, and good cigars. Surely they would have toasted themselves with a drink and a smoke.

Even if we don’t, we can pretend we did.

In 2015, we have the benefit of having had a years to digest Twain’s Autobiography, and Volume II; and we have the benefit of new scholarship from a great book on Churchill, William Manchester’s and Paul Reid’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965.

We have special need for the wisdom, and wit of each man in a year marked by terrorism and unholy war on educators.

Twain had a comment on the Texas Education Agency and State Board of Education:

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.

Following the Equator; Pudd’nhead Wilson‘s New Calendar

The Nobel literature committees were slow. Twain never got a Nobel in Literature; he died in 1910. Churchill did win a Nobel in Literature, in 1953.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1953 was awarded to Winston Churchill “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”

Both men were aficionados of good whiskey and good cigars. Both men suffered from depression in old age.

Both men made a living writing, early in their careers as newspaper correspondents. One waged wars of a kind the other campaigned against. Both were sustained by their hope for the human race, against overwhelming evidence that such hope was sadly misplaced.

churchill-time-cover-man-of-the-year-1941.jpg

Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine. Churchill’s career was built much on his work as First Lord of the Admiralty, a position he took in 1911.  While he was the goat of the Battle of the Dardanelles (and had to resign as a result), his earlier work to switch Britain’s Navy to oil power from coal, and to use airplanes in combat, kept the British Navy as an important and modern military organization through World War II.

Both endured fantastic failures that would have killed other people, and both rebounded.

Each possessed a great facility with words, and wit, and frequently said or wrote things that people like to remember and repeat again.

Both Churchill and Twain rank near the top of the list of people to whom almost any quote will be attributed, if the quote is witty and the speaker can’t remember or doesn’t know who actually said it.

Surely they said something like any piece of wisdom, at some point in their lives, right?

Both men are worth study. And wouldn’t you really love to have had them over to dinner?

Twain, on prisons versus education:

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” – Speech, November 23, 1900

Churchill on the evil men and nations do:

“No One Would Do Such Things”

“So now the Admiralty wireless whispers through the ether to the tall masts of ships, and captains pace their decks absorbed in thought. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. It is too foolish, too fantastic to be thought of in the twentieth century. Or is it fire and murder leaping out of the darkness at our throats, torpedoes ripping the bellies of half-awakened ships, a sunrise on a vanished naval supremacy, and an island well-guarded hitherto, at last defenceless? No, it is nothing. No one would do such things. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, Liberal principles, the Labour Party, high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong. Such a mistake could only be made once—once for all.”

—1923, recalling the possibility of war between France and Germany after the Agadir Crisis of 1911, inThe World Crisis,vol. 1, 1911-1914, pp. 48-49. (Obviously, and sadly, Churchill was wrong — twice wrong.)

Yet we continue to make those mistakes, and then to seek out the wisdom of Churchill or Twain to get out of the mess, and to tell us we won’t be in such a mess ever again.

Image of Twain aboard ship – origin unknown. Image of Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine.

More on Mark Twain

More on Winston Churchill

Orson Welles, with Dick Cavett, on Churchill, his wit, humor and grace (tip of the old scrub brush to the Churchill Centre):

Yeah, mostly this is an encore post from past years.

More, contemporary reports from 2012:

And in 2013:

2014:

Should you fly your flag today?  Congress doesn’t list this dual birthday as an event for flying the U.S. flag.  But you’re welcome to fly the flag any day.  Go ahead, if you want to.

If I get one, it will be the only cigar I’ve had this year. Or this decade.

I will break out the Scotch.

At a very minimum, click on some of the links and read the works of these two great writers. Nothing else today will be so profitable.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Save


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