Victor Davis Hanson Remembers Gore Vidal and John Keegan

Wednesday, August 8, AD 2012

 

 

Last week Gore Vidal and John Keegan died.  I recalled John Keegan in a post which may be read here.  Gore Vidal I did not recall.  Although I enjoyed two of Vidal’s novels, Julian and Creation, I could not write a post about him without violating the maxim De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.  Fortunately my favorite living historian, Victor Davis Hanson, does not share that inhibition:

Among those guests in 1964 was Gore Vidal, who was not yet 40. I was about eleven and remember him as a stylishly dressed non-stop hair-toucher. He was also vain and condescending — and a big hit at his lecture with the conservative rural crowd. In those days he acted what was known as “witty.” I recall asking my dad whether he was “English,” given that his nose was angled upward and his accent did not sound American (and that he did not seem to like the U.S.). My dad, in the Swedish fashion of honoring work for work’s sake, answered that I should respect any man who could crisscross the country, giving 30 lectures in 30 days.

Vidal certainly had an instinct for saying outrageous things with such erudite authority that we yokels found him fascinating rather than repulsive. As I remember (it has been 48 years since that evening), Vidal spoke for about 30 minutes, but then he wowed the crowd to a standing ovation in the question-and-answer period (his forte), as he advocated the legalization of drugs and prostitution and went on rants about “small town” values.

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3 Responses to Victor Davis Hanson Remembers Gore Vidal and John Keegan

  • I am a fan of Mr. Hanson, and I am grateful that he wrote this wonderful tribute to John Keegan. Keegan’s books are a joy to read, and should be required in every 11th/12th grade and college history class.

    As for Gore Vidal–an interesting character, but he always seemed shallow to me.

  • This post raised in my esteem both JK and VDH. I am familiar with KJ’s excellent (I am no judge) “Face”, “Mask”, and “Six Armies” books Thanks!

    As for Vidal, “Never speak ill of the dead.” Being older and close to the VN War, I mainly avoided with heavy drinking the TV Buckley and Vidal “debates.” When I saw them, I wished Bill would throttle the man.

    I missed the press release as I was chasing bass and beer in Canada. Thanks for the news of M. Vidal’s demise. It didn’t make Barron’s.

  • Vidal was the single most respected truther in the American left. Who will come out of the closet to replace him? This is the perfect opportunity for some more evolution.

John Keegan: Requiescat in Pace

Friday, August 3, AD 2012

“Now tell us what ’twas all about,

“Young Peterkin, he cries;

And little Wilhelmine looks up

With wonder-waiting eyes;

“Now tell us all about the war,

And what they fought each other for.”

“It was the English,” Kaspar cried,

“Who put the French to rout;

But what they fought each other for

I could not well make out;

But everybody said,” quoth he,

“That ’twas a famous victory.”

Robert Southey, The Battle of Blenheim

One of my favorite military historians died today, John Keegan.  A Brit, Keegan wrote with skill about the history of war, and never forgot the human element, as he demonstrated in his magisterial The Face of  Battle, which looked at conflict through the ages from the point of view of the common soldiers at the sharp end of the spear.

He firmly believed that different nations viewed military history from different perspectives depending upon how they had fared in their recent wars:

 

It is really only in the English-speaking countries, whose land campaigns, with the exception of those of the American Civil War, have all been waged outside the national territory, that military history has been able to acquire the status of a humane study with a wide, general readership among informed minds. The reasons for that are obvious; our defeats have never threatened our national survival, our wars in consequence have never deeply divided our countries (Vietnam may — but probably will not — prove a lasting exception) and we have never therefore demanded scapegoats or Titans. In that vein, it is significant that the only cult general in the English-speaking world — Robert E Lee — was the paladin of its only component community ever to suffer military catastrophe, the Confederacy.

 

For the privileged majority of our world, land warfare during the last hundred and fifty years — the period which coincides with the emergence of modern historical scholarship — has been in the last resort a spectator activity. Hence our demand for, and pleasure in, well-written and intelligent commentary. Hence too our limited conception of military-historical controversy… It does not comprehend questions about whether or not, by better military judgment, we might still govern ourselves from our national capital — as it does for the Germans; whether or not we might have avoided four years of foreign occupation — as it does for the French; whether or not we might have saved the lives of 20 millions of our fellow countrymen — as it does for the Russians. Had we to face questions like that, were military history not for us a success story, our military historiography would doubtless bear all the marks of circumscription, over-technicality, bombast, personal vilification, narrow xenophobia and inelegant style which, separately or in combination, disfigure — to our eyes — the work of French, German and Russian writers.

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6 Responses to John Keegan: Requiescat in Pace

  • I find Maj-Gen J F C Fuller one of the most stimulating military historians.

    Liddell Hart is also well worth reading

  • I loved the Keegan’s book The Penguin Book of War: Great Military Writings. Keegan taught me what is war. After that, I managed to publish about terrorism.
    I will buy the book you mentioned: The Face of Battle

    He was really great. Requiescat in Pace.

    May God give peace for his family.

    Best,
    Pedro Erik

  • The Penguin Book and other Keegan’s book (The History of Warfare) can provide a very good idea of “all about the war”

  • I have always been a history buff;especially military history. My critique of books on History is always viewed from my experiences as a platoon leader in Vietnam and Cambodia. Thucydides was a soldier and described the dirt and grime of warfare with realistic perceptions. John Keegan unfortunately was medically unable to serve in the military.This probably led to his interest in military history and his appointment to Sandhurst. British historians always seem to have a bias when writing history involving their own nation which is probably the only way they can survive academically there; John Keegan maybe less so. I have writen my own book about my experiences before during and after Vietnam;more so for my children and posterity than any profit. As A Catholic I will pray for the soul of John Keegan, as I do for the near one hundred men who lost their lives in my infantry company in Vietnam and Cambodia during combat there
    Respectfully
    Stephen J. Candela M.D. F.A,A.O.S.

  • “British historians always seem to have a bias when writing history involving their own nation which is probably the only way they can survive academically there”. I’m not sure what you mean by this. There is a tradition of individualism in English historical writing which can be off-putting to Americans. Undergraduates are encouraged to write essays which develop a strong argument which then serves as a springboard for discussion, rather than ‘objective’ minor dissertations with copious footnotes. Military historians are not afraid to be revisionist, even iconoclastic when it comes to myth-busting. In the 1960s John Terraine set about demolishing a whole raft of myths regarding the 1914-18 War which had become ingrained in the public imagination since the 1930s and which owed not a little to the skewed interpretation of Liddell Hart and others. Terraine may have overstated his case but a later generation of Great War historians has largely agreed with him. Sadly the myths persist.

    For the Second War, Correlli Barnett debunked the Montgomery myth and then turned his attention to the interwar and postwar periods. His masterly and devastating analysis of government failings has upset politicians of the Left (for his criticism of the post-war Welfare State) and the Right (for his ridiculing of the idea that Britain could sustain a world-power role in the post-war era). Yes, he’s controversial, polemical even, but that’s not the same as being biased.

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Pagett, MP

Thursday, July 19, AD 2012

British military historian John Keegan dearly loves the United States, and has visited the country many times.  However, he thinks we have an appalling climate in the summer, especially the hot, muggy summers of the Midwest which he experienced first hand on his initial trip here in the fifties.  He has compared the US climate in the summer in the Midwest unfavorably to the climate in summer of much of India.  Having endured the current heat wave in Central Illinois for many weeks, the worst since the great drought of 1988, I am inclined to agree with him.  Perhaps it is my Newfoundland blood, but I have always been fond of cold weather and despised hot weather.  In tribute to the agony inducing qualities of heat, I submit this poem by Rudyard Kipling.  With this poem, no commentary by me is necessary!

The toad beneath the harrow knows

 Exactly where each tooth-point goes.

The butterfly upon the road

Preaches contentment to that toad.

Pagett, M.P., was a liar, and a fluent liar therewith

He spoke of the heat of India as the “Asian Solar Myth”;

 Came on a four months’ visit, to “study the East,” in November,

 And I got him to sign an agreement vowing to stay till September.

March came in with the koil.  Pagett was cool and gay,

Called me a “bloated Brahmin,” talked of my “princely pay.”

March went out with the roses. “Where is your heat?” said he.

 “Coming,” said I to Pagett, “Skittles!” said Pagett, M.P.

April began with the punkah, coolies, and prickly-heat, –

 Pagett was dear to mosquitoes, sandflies found him a treat.

 He grew speckled and mumpy-hammered, I grieve to say,

 Aryan brothers who fanned him, in an illiberal way.

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10 Responses to Pagett, MP

  • “mumpy-hammered”

    I would love to be abe to use this adjective, but finding its meaning is difficult. Is it “uneven,” as in the weathered nose of an old seaman?

  • Pagett was dear to mosquitoes, sandflies found him a treat.
    He grew speckled and mumpy-hammered, I grieve to say,
    Aryan brothers who fanned him, in an illiberal way.

    As in those old movies set in the tropics where there is only a single fan running, which turns slower the more oppresive the heat . The Indian summer is a killer. My solar myths dissipated when I took a train trip across central India one June, it felt like the train was passing through an endless oven, an antechamber of hell, that the only recourse was to pass out; After that experience I had neveragain begrudged the senors their siestas. And the damned mosquitoes, if only they’ll suck your blood without all that buzzinng in the ears. Defy the Sun!!/a>.

    Airconditioning is the greatest invention… Lee Kuan Yew

  • I have long sung the praises of modern air-conditioning Ivan!

  • Old Man Lee insisted that all government offices in Singapore be airconditioned and efficient from the earliest days, Donald – quite unlike in my native India where till the early 2000s it was always Jarndyce and Jarndyce made worse by the intolerable heat.

  • It says, “He grew speckled and mumpy — [he] hammered, I grieve to say,
    Aryan brothers who fanned him, in an illiberal way.”

  • I respectfully disagree with Mr. McClarey.

    I do not scrape heat and humidity from my car windshield.
    I do not shovel heat and humidity from my driveway.
    I am not encumbered with a coat, a hat, gloves and a scarf when there is heat and humidity.
    I cannot enjoy wading in the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania in bitter cold and snow. I cannot get there in the snow of the Alleghenies.

    January and February are the year end time in insurance accounting. I loathe it, having done if for almost 20 years, and thanks to the NAIC Model Act, it is worse than it used to be.

    Air conditioning, swimming pools, the wading pool near PNC Park, all are available to my family in the summer. Winter is full of cold weather, short days and too much office work.

  • “I do not scrape heat and humidity from my car windshield.”

    True. You merely enter a car with the air of a blast furnace until the AC kicks in and makes driving bearable.

    “I do not shovel heat and humidity from my driveway.”

    As opposed to mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, trimming hedges, etc, in tropical heat while coming up close and personal with a large part of the insect kingdom.

    “I am not encumbered with a coat, a hat, gloves and a scarf when there is heat and humidity.”

    Nope, one is merely arrayed in endless sweat and exhaustion while struggling to get from point A to point B in endless blazing heat and suffocating humidity.

    “I cannot enjoy wading in the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania in bitter cold and snow.”

    Ice fishing and ice skating has its charms for those of us who appreciate the bracing weather of winter.

    “January and February are the year end time in insurance accounting.”

    You have me there.

    Air conditioning, swimming pools, the wading pool near PNC Park, all are available to my family in the summer. Winter is full of cold weather, short days and too much office work.”

    Hot chocolate, sweaters and furnaces all recharge us after we engage in winter sports. The sleeping in a warm bed after a great winter’s day can’t be beat.

  • “I do not scrape heat and humidity from my car windshield.”

    True. You merely enter a car with the air of a blast furnace until the AC kicks in and makes driving bearable.

    In winter, you are hit with another blast of ice cold air and shiver until the car engine warms up.

    “I do not shovel heat and humidity from my driveway.”

    As opposed to mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, trimming hedges, etc, in tropical heat while coming up close and personal with a large part of the insect kingdom.

    Mowing the yard gives me a nice tan – as long as I remember to use sunblock the first time it gets warm. Pulling weeds and trimming bushes lets me work up a sweat without having to go to the gym – which, for me, is important since the señora and I have a four year old boy and a seven month old baby.

    Summer gives us flowers and fresh local farm grown fruit and vegetables. Summer provides the opportunity to have one’s own vegetable garden. Did I enjoy working in the massive garden my dad planted for years? Not at the time. But, we did enjoy the corn, cucumbers and tomatoes. Not to mention the peaches, pears, plums and apples that we usually had in abundance. Those apple trees provided all the apples and then some for my grandmother to bake pies we enjoyed until the next summer.

    Oh, I almost forgot – after twenty years of losing, baseball is fun again in Western Pennsylvania.

    “I am not encumbered with a coat, a hat, gloves and a scarf when there is heat and humidity.”

    Nope, one is merely arrayed in endless sweat and exhaustion while struggling to get from point A to point B in endless blazing heat and suffocating humidity.

    You forgot to mention the slush slop that gets tracked in everywhere. I take the Port Authority bus to work. Geez, there is nothing dirtier than one of those buses in the winter. Slush and salt on the floor and God knows how many viruses are circulating from coughs and sneezes.

    “I cannot enjoy wading in the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania in bitter cold and snow.”

    Ice fishing and ice skating has its charms for those of us who appreciate the bracing weather of winter.

    One of my regrets is that I did not learn to ice skate. Such is the once desolate life that was growing up in Portage County, Ohio. fortunately, ice hockey is very popular in Pittsburgh and there are several indoor rinks to choose from, as well as an outdoor rink in PPG Plaza. I do have skis, but no thanks to my job in insurance reporting, skiing is out of the realm of possibility.

    “January and February are the year end time in insurance accounting.”

    You have me there.

    I knew it.

    Air conditioning, swimming pools, the wading pool near PNC Park, all are available to my family in the summer. Winter is full of cold weather, short days and too much office work.”

    Hot chocolate, sweaters and furnaces all recharge us after we engage in winter sports. The sleeping in a warm bed after a great winter’s day can’t be beat.

    You are quite right there – until January 2nd. Then, winter is something to be endured.

    Sorry, Mr. McClarey, I had to argue…before baby Charles wakes up from his afternoon nap and wants to be fed, carried, played with and bathed.

  • Some men PF argue for fun and some argue for profit. I do it for both! 🙂