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Clio's Temple

War and Peace

Light under a Bushel

This past weekend, I attended a memorial service for a professional colleague, a man for whom I developed a great personal respect during the years we worked in the same department. After I left the Savannah River Site in 2007, I didn't see him for years afterwards. When I encountered him at a restaurant  in 2013, we chatted as naturally as if we'd encountered each other in the hallway at work.

It was a rude shock to pick up the Sunday newspaper on a recent Sunday morning and see this man's obituary.

The personal is the political, and vice versa

Those of us who were around during the 1970s might remember the chant of some critics, "the personal is political." While not true in the sense that such critics intended, I've come to believe that there is a certain amount of enduring truth in this chant. Case in point: my efforts at writing historical fiction.

I've been laboring for five years, off and on, at completing a historical novel with the working titleThe Vials of Wrath. This work is to be the first in a series of four or five novels exploring some of the titanic changes in the Western world since 1900.

Parthian Shot

A young Prussian officer faces a mortal confrontation with an unforgiving father, whose brutish behavior is fed by the acquiescence of his younger sons.

Thus begins my novel-in-progressThe Vials of Wrath. This will be ready for electronic publication late next year or in 2015. It's one of a series of novels about the extraordinary upheavals of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of ordinary people. It's a reminder to all of us that we, as free men and women, bear the responsibility for our own words and actions.

Places in the heart

In Europe, they have war cemeteries. Perhaps this is because the major European nations got into the habit of fighting wars before they coalesced as nations. Ironically, the building of Lenin's Tomb in the 1920s was one of the first "national" cemeteries (as contrasted to war cemeteries or royal crypts) created to enshrine a particular concept of nationhood. While no one shares Lenin's eminence, during the Soviet years burial at the Kremlin wall was the equivalent of interment in Westminster Abbey or the Yasukuni Shrine.

An inconvenient heroine

On this day in 1920, Joan of Arc was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, thus belatedly undoing the nefarious role of Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, in her condemnation. "Justice delayed is justice denied," one anonymous commentator has noted. It was certainly delayed in her case; she was burned in 1431. In fact, the church had already semi-officially recognized her position of particular honor in France, when it approved the placement of her statue (along with St. Louis) over the entrance to the Sacré Coeur.

The horrors we didn't see

On this day in 1945, U.S. troops liberated the oldest of the Nazi concentration camps - Dachau, located just outside Munich. My father-in-law was one of those GIs. Here, the historic past joins hands with the personal past. In 1962, when he was again stationed in Munich, my mother-in-law and my wife got the chance to take a tour of Dachau, albeit in a much cleaned-up form. Maj. Lea refused to go with him, saying something to the effect that he'd already seen it.

My father, who was a POW in Germany for twenty-one months, always lists this day as his personal liberation day.

A thoroughly unlikeable man

"O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention." Shakespeare's lyrical introduction toHenry Vgives no hint of the heights of invention (or depths of misunderstanding) that can baffle anyone who seeks to learn about the Hundred Years' War from reading The Bard's ginned-up tribute to a king who was a thoroughly unlikeable man. Today is the six hundredth anniversary of Henry of Monmouth's coronation. While England had won great victories over France at Crecy and Poitiers, none would be greater, none more unproductive than Henry's triumph amidst the mud of Agincourt.

Unsung heroes

On this day in 1687, the Sieur de La Salle, noted as "the first European to navigate the length of the Mississippi River" was murdered by his own men when exploring near the cost of what is today Texas. It was an ironic end for a man who had already defied death by exploring a river noted for its many treacherous bends, shallows, and bayous.

One of my former bosses was fond of noting that, in any endeavor, one can tell who the pioneers are by the fact that they are often found lying face down, with arrows in the back.

A double-edged peace treaty

Today marks the day in 1763 when the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years' War, or the French and Indian War as we Americans call it. This was a classic example of an agreement that ended up biting both Great Britain and France, the two main belligerents.

On the surface, Britain ran the table. It got Florida from Spain, seized effective control of India, and expelled France from Canada. France was the big loser. So far, the main story holds up. In fact, France entered the war with a humongous debt problem.

"Peace without victory"

On this day in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called for "peace without victory" in World War I. It was a last forlorn hope to fulfill the campaign promise on which he had recently won a narrow re-election victory: "He kept us out of war." In less than three months from this speech, the U.S. was nonetheless at war.

Even discounting the benefit of hindsight, it would seem logical for such an appeal to have won a more receptive audience among the leaders of warring Europe. Why didn't it?
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