Six days ago, I finished Volume X, Rousseau and Revolution, in The Story of Civilization, and am now up to page 250 in the last volume, The Age of Napoleon, of Will and Ariel Durant’s magnum opus. I shall, Deo volente, finish my self-appointed project of reading this set before the end of the year.
When I was a boy in Boonville, North Carolina, population 600 in the early 1960s, my mom used to take us shopping a couple of times a year in nearby Winston-Salem. Once I asked her why we didn’t shop there more often. The stores offered far more variety, and Winston was less than forty-five minutes away.
“Boonville is our town,” Mom said. "We shop in Winston when we can’t find what we want here. These are our friends and neighbors, and your dad’s patients. They need us, and we need them. So we shop here first.”
In January of 2018, I resolved to read my way through Will and Ariel Durant’s magnum opus The Story Of Civilization before the end of the year. It is now early November, and I am nearing the end of Volume X of this series, Rousseau and Revolution, meaning that if all goes according to plan, I will have completed the eleven volumes around Christmas.
The Durants—Will began sharing credit with his wife Ariel in Volume VII, The Age of Reason Begins—devoted the last three volumes of their epic history to the period 1715-1815. A casual observer of The Story Of Civilization might well wonder why these chroniclers of world civilization exhausted so much ink and energy on so limited a spectrum of time and place. Were they simply enamored with the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the age of Napoleon?
Not at all.
1918. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
That hour, that day, and that month brought an armistice to the First World War, a conflict that proved just the prelude to the bloodiest century in the history of humankind.
November 11, 2018 will mark the centennial of that armistice.
A Failure To Communicate
Young Lucy Clark got drunk last night
on Wild Turkey splashed with Sprite;
she grabbed her cell and hit the keys,
“It’s me. Just leave a message, please.”
“Look here, you bastard, at what you’ve done.
You offer love and then you run.
You stole my soul, you stole my heart,
but you ain’t worth a skeeter’s fart.
Let’s start with a question: Is anyone other than your correspondent sick of the public use of the “F-word?”
Hollywood actors, celebrities, politicians, commentators, bloggers and those who comment on blogs sling the word around like sailors on shore leave. (That simile is probably unfair to sailors.) When I am scouting out the news online every morning, inevitably that word pops up, most often delivered by someone snarling about a political opponent.
Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye?
Here is an online proponent for gun control, a man ignorant of the difference between a shotgun and a .22 rifle, decrying millions of gun owners as Nazis. There sits a woman who makes a point of telling her dinner companions, some of whom are eating the café’s steak special, that she’s a vegan. At the YMCA another woman throws scornful glances at the obese man working out beside her. Next up is the politician who flies by private jet to lecture his audiences about global warming. In the pews is the Christian who weekly hears sermons on mercy and forgiveness, yet plays God, deciding who among his family and acquaintances deserve heaven or hell.
In Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays, Joseph Epstein, one of America’s great essayists, includes a piece “How I Learned to Love the Draft” in which he offered his reasons for the restoration of compulsory military service. After reading Epstein’s reasons for bringing back the draft—the exposure of young people to contemporaries from all backgrounds, a greater engagement of the American people in foreign affairs, a hiatus between high school and college that might allow many young people to better determine their futures—I still oppose a peacetime draft, but I can better understand some of its benefits.
There is, however, a problem with military recruitment. A big problem.
The Way Things Go
When I was young, lost in the dark,
And stumbling round to learn to see,
A Boston graybeard in the park
Shared his take on sight with me.
“It’s funny, yeah, the way things go.
Most days you got it all tucked in
Like Beacon Hill beneath the snow;
You got a job, a girl or wife
And maybe even kids and dog.
In 2015, blogger Amanda Russo posted a humorous piece “Why Halloween Is Actually A Pretty Weird Holiday.” As Russo says, on Halloween we encourage our kids to take candy from strangers. We threaten our neighbors with “Trick or Treat.” We spend a chunk of change buying and giving away sugary treats, often to people we don’t know. We erect cemeteries in our front yards, carve pumpkins into spooky faces, and hang plastic skeletons from the trees. We put on horrific masks, scream, and scare the hoot out of unsuspecting family and friends.