Saturday, March 21, 2009

many beautiful things were lost

For those of you not offended by the passive voice, today's headline comes from Harry Turtledove's Walk in Hell.

I have written two posts about Harry Turtledove's books (
i live to learn; could you help me place this call?). He is an alternate history writer. His premises are interesting, but his writing style lends itself to hackery.

The series I am reading consists of eleven books -- all based on the premise of "what-if-the-south-had-won-the-Civil-War." The series takes the premise through a second "civil war," the First World War, and the Second World War -- where the United States and the Confederacy are pitted against one another.

I have almost finished the third book. And I am beginning to feel like a soldier stuck in a First World War trench. A gas attack may come as a blessed release.

On the other hand, the newly-christened
Felipe has been reading true literature. James Jones' trilogy: From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line, and Whistle. Following his read of All Quiet on the Western Front.

The comparison makes me feel as if I showed up wearing shorts and t-shirt for theater opening night in Morelia. He gets well-crafted ideas. I get words. Words. Words.

But after several thousand, this poetic little sentence showed up in reference to the tragedy of war: "Many beautiful things were lost."

The sentiment is true of every war. And those lost beautiful things are not just possessions. More importantly they also include the loss of relationships, relations, and -- too often -- liberty itself.

Several weeks ago I finished the most recent biography of Andrew Jackson: Jon Meacham's American Lion. I have read several Jackson biographies. He has never been my favorite president, but he certainly established precedent to empower the Executive.

Whether or not he had been elected president, he would have been a unique American character. And Meacham does a very good job of describing the man, rather than merely relating another Age of Jackson history.

Many beautiful things were lost during his lifetime -- including the first bonds of union that would lead to the Civil War twenty-four years after he left office.

If you do not want to wade through all of Turtledove's works to learn more about the human condition, I would recommend instead the Meacham biography, where lessons of ambition appear on nearly every page.

[Note: I forgot to include one point in this little stream of consciousness piece. You might ask where is Mexico in all of this?

Well, there is a connection. President-General-Exile Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (or, as we know him, Santa Anna), during one of his many falls from grace sought exile in the United States. In 1837 he actually met with Andrew Jackson in the White House.

Santa Anna was soon on an American warship to exile in Mexico. All of that just one year following the Alamo.

Of course, it was Santa Ana who lost that war. Eleven years later, Santa Ana's inability to defend Mexican territory resulted in the loss of its northern territories.

But that is another tale.]


Calypso said...

Andrew Jackson a first rate ethnic cleanser. The master of some of U.S. history that makes me ashamed.

Steve Cotton said...

Calypso -- I have no doubt that the Cherokees would echo your sentiments. There is always a danger of applying anachronistic principles to history. In the case of Jackson his stance on slavery and the Indians cannot be so easily excused. Both issues were highly contested in the early 1800s. Jackson simply chose the wrong moral road. We can credit him with saving the union on the issue of tariffs -- there's that word again. And he did lay the groundwork of a strong Executive that Abraham Lincoln used during the Civil War. Others would weigh that history against the danger of central authority. My take: he is not one of my favorite presidents.

jennifer rose said...

We're all out of school. The competition over what you're reading is over.

FWIW, I'm reading Fabric of Reality, a book about quantum mechanics, at the same time I'm reading Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. You've paid your dues, and now you're free to read anything you desire. Well, except maybe for a Harlequin novel.

Steve Cotton said...

And here I was thinking I was auditioning for the Books Gang on Richard Lander's blog.

If you think this post is "what I read this summer," wait until tomorrow.

I suppose I would be less than gallant to point out that I picked up the book blog habit from a certain witty woman in Morelia. But my mother brought me up well enough not to mention that type of thing.