Thursday, June 06, 2013

We Band of Brothers

"Ask not what you can do for your country ..."

Was that Jack or Bobby?  I'm thinking Jack, but that doesn't really matter.  What matters ... what is worth noting, is that today, forty-five years ago, Bobby Kennedy died.  And twenty four years or so before that, today was D-Day.

I've written several times here at TYOMP about the palpable spiritual aura of the great Civil War battlefields.  Gettysburg and Antietam are the two I've most recently visited.  It would be interesting to visit Normandy Beach and the Allied graveyards of northwestern France.  People say it's much the same.  Me?  I'm not so sure.  Check this out ...

 And this ...

Both by Winslow Homer.  The second one, everybody knows, is Breezing Up -- the painting that affected The Young Geoff more than any other, back when he was, say, ten.

The first one, however, was a revelation to me.  I hadn't realized Homer was a wartime painter until I read an amazing article by Ken Johnson in The Times titled "When Painters Showed the War in More than Blue and Gray".  It reads, in part ...

Homer’s “Home Sweet Home” (around 1863) is an apparently more relaxed painting of a couple of tired soldiers outside their tents watching a pot boil on a campfire under a sky of fair-weather clouds. In the middle distance light glints off the brass horns of a military band presumably playing the titular tune. Far away, across a river, there’s another encampment with campfire smoke drifting above it. A heartbreaking back story goes with this image. It had become a common practice when Union and Confederate troops happened to camp across rivers from each other for their bands to engage in musical exchanges. They would take turns playing their own favorites, eliciting cheers from both sides, and then the bands would play “Home Sweet Home” in unison. After one such interlude, a Confederate soldier wrote in his diary, “I do believe that had we not had the river between us that the two armies would have gone together and settled the war right there and then.”

Back to Antietam:  There's something about brother fighting brother, musket to musket, divided only by a muddy road and two wooden fences and the bodies that soon piled up.  Plus, of course, some questionable politics.   At Gettysburg, there's something about the high-water mark of the Confederacy, and the half-mile of open field those Johnnies had to die on to get there.  They say that Longstreet sobbed as he watched them go, although that may be history through rose-colored glasses.

The next day, just so we're clear, was the 4th of July.  Next month is the 150th anniversary.

All that said, getting back on track, June 6th is a pretty impressive day.  Plus Esther Williams just died.  I hope flights of angels sang her to her rest.

I kind of miss Bobby.  It's historical emotionalism, or course, with a schmear of nostalgia on top, but I always thought Bobby was the cream of the Kennedy crop.  Jack was the anointed one (at least by his father), and that's a kind of its own trap.  Besides, he couldn't keep his johnson in his pants.  Which never helps politicians, even in those less-cutthroat days.  And Teddy's head was too big.  But Bobby ...  It would have been interesting to see what kind of a president Bobby would have been.

Historical emotionalism?  What does that even mean?
I don't know -- I just made it up.  I know it has something to do with rose-colored glasses.

I think I should read Henry V again.  If for no other reason than this ...

O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Which is pretty strong stuff, even 414 years later.  Shakespeare can be pretty difficult to read aloud unless you have your head strapped down tight.  But this?  This is amazing.  It just rolls off the tongue.  The pauses come naturally; the points of emphasis seem to announce themselves.

Yo, Westmoreland.  Shut up!  We're gonna be heroes!


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