Wednesday, July 03, 2013

World War II hasn't started yet . . . threads

This is a shout-out to my cousin Marilyn, the blonde with the hairbrush. Her big brother, my much-loved cousin Dwayne, died just a few days ago. Dwayne Brimhall was the oldest grandchild of the woman in this photo, my maternal grandmother Susan Elizabeth Redd Butler, the daughter of Mormon pioneers to the American West.
Since Marilyn lived in Mesa, Arizona and I lived in Schenectady, New York we weren't childhood buddies, or even acquaintances. I came to Mesa this once on the train with my mother to be shown off, and for photos like this one to be taken. It is the summer of 1938, I think. None of us are much concerned about the gathering storm in Europe yet. Though in the end, my mother's youngest brother, my Uncle Merwin, (Elbert Merwin Butler) will go to this war and serve on Okinawa.

Here is a letter Merwin sent us from Okinawa that my mother saved. At the time the photo was taken, most of the people in the salutation hadn't yet been born. Four little brothers and a sister! In the photo I am still an only child.

See the rubber stamp on the envelope? I Googled the phrase and found out that there weren't enough ships to transport the troops home rapidly after the war ended, so they carved this stamp (probably from an eraser) to put on letters sent home. It's an electoral threat. (Single-click on the image to enlarge.)

I've mentioned my thrift-store book-shopping expeditions. Last week I also got Winston Churchill's Memoirs of the Second World War, which is an abridgment of his 6-volume history published in 1959. ( I had always thought I would read that. Someday!) Still, it comes in at a respectable, if daunting, 1016 pages! There is a new introduction and an epilogue. I knew Churchill was a good writer--we all know tag-phrases from his great speeches--but I must say it is a pleasure to read clear and expressive English like this! So, once again, Franz Kafka in the also very well-written book by Frederick R. Karl, has to wait. . .

This is from Churchill's first chapter, "The Follies of the Victors" I want you to pay special attention to the masterful use of semicolons in series to convey the building blocks of a reasoned assessment.

"It is my purpose as one who lived and acted in these days, to show how easily the tragedy of the Second World War could have been prevented; how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous; how the structure and habits of democratic states, unless they are welded into larger organisms. lack those elements of persistence and conviction which alone can give security to humble masses; how,even in matters of self-preservation, no policy is pursued for even ten or fifteen years at a time. We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead direct to the bull's-eye of disaster. We shall see how absolute is the need of a broad path of international action pursued by many states in common across the years, irrespective of the ebb and flow of national politics.

It was a simple policy to keep Germany disarmed and the victors adequately armed for thirty years, and in the meanwhile, even if a reconciliation could not be made with Germany, to build ever more strongly a true League of Nations capable of making sure that treaties were kept, and changed only by discussion and agreement. When three or four powerful governments acting together have demanded the most fearful sacrifices from their peoples, when these have been given freely for the common cause, and when the longed-for result has been attained, it would seem reasonable that concerted action should be preserved so that at least the essentials would not be cast away. But this modest requirement the might, civilisation, learning, knowledge, science, of the victors were unable to supply. They lived from hand to mouth and from day to day, and from one election to another, until, when scarcely twenty years were out, the dread signal of the Second World War was given, and we must write of the sons of those who had fought and died so faithfully and well:

"Shoulder to aching shoulder, side by side,
They trudged away from life's broad wealds of light."
--Siegfried Sassoon"
(Churchill, pages 12-13)
(June here again!) I want you to notice the stunning cumulation of long series strung together by commas.
And because we are on THIS blog, the use made of quoted poetry to wind things up.

I'll wind this us for now. Except that I can't help thinking about the current world, the lighted flares which threaten to become greater, or even lesser, conflagrations, consuming lives and property like something from Biblical prophecy. You need only to visit one cemetery, or know one wounded veteran to gather deep resolve to do something, if only we knew something to do!

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