Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Umnak Island, 15 July 1944

Hello Childbride…
[Mom loved elephants, and this 14-page letter starts out with a Bemelmans story about an elephant cutlet…you probably had to be there.]
I didn’t write yesterday. I was so sleepy I could not stay awake. Again I did not sleep myself out before dinner and again Jack Martin and I started on another short walk after dinner. This time we headed for the nearest PX to buy soda crackers and cheese to go with our 10 p.m. tea, which has become a tradition. We ended by climbing half way up our local mountain.
It was a walk to remember, up a series of undulant wavelike slopes broken by a few short, steep hills. A red fox barked at us, another followed us for a while, doglike. We went through patches of violets as large as pansies, and across fields of the white weedlike flowers that are ubiquitous in this area. In one field the weeest of williwaws was blowing and the white flowers and the blue lupines bowed in different directions. It reminded me strangely of the pizzicato section of the third movement of the Tschaikowsky Fifth.  [See some of photographer Bill Stevenson’s images of Umnak, which I cannot reproduce here, at http://www.worldofstock.com/closeups/PRE4844.php]
How little I remember of the courses I took at Washington ten years ago. Señor Juan and I were debating the age of the Aleutians—how long they have been above water and whether they are rising or sinking. He seemed to think they had risen from the ocean in the pretty much their present shape within the last few thousand years. My memory about the subject is vague but I think I recall Professor Martin sticking out that long neck of his and saying something about 50,000 years. Since one theory of the arrival of the ancestors of our Indians from the Orient is that they came across a land bridge it seems this land must be sinking, not rising. But then it may only the area up around the Bering Straits which sank. It would be handy if the Information Please people would try, and mistry, one of my questions for an Encyclopedia Britannica would be a real help up here.
Which reminds me, I remember reading a review within the past year of a life of Bering.  … I would like it very much, as living within sight of his cold, opaque sea, makes me ashamed of not knowing about hi. If you can’t find the one about Bering, see if a book on the economic geography of the Pacific Northwest (including Alaska and the Aleutians) is available. I believe that Prof. Martin and another geographer edited on in 1940 or 1941—an anthology. If the section on the Aleutians looks like anything, I’d like to have the book.
Another course I have almost forgotten is weather and climate. The cloud effects yesterday were marvelous, especially at sunset as we came down the mountain around three o’clock. But I had a hard time remembering more than the names of the formations. In fact, about all I can remember on weather and climate is the rhyme from the New York Times Magazine article: “Fish scales and mares tails, make tall ships furl their sails.”
After reaching a ridge where we could see both the sea and the ocean we sat on a moss patched basalt hummock, pried off the lid to a can of cheese (using my tostone as a lever) and spread the Roquefort on the crackers with a big paper clip. Jack wished for wine and I wished for you. He recalled a cartoon printed in the Saturday Evening Post recently showing a GI sitting under a tree with a book of verse in his hand, a bottle and a loaf at his side and saying “well, you can’t have everything.”
Jack is an extremely interesting companion, and I am sorry that his tour here is almost over. While on the ridge he was telling me about his relationship with Roger Mastrude. Or should I say Major Mastrude?
As I have already mentioned, he met Roger at Fort Lewis. They became inseparable.  Jack would go to Mastrude’s place in Tacoma. Roger’s folks considered him a second son, and Jack stuck up for Mr. Mastrude in his arguments with Roger. He even listened to the old man playing the violin, which is not a pleasant experience.
Jack used Roger’s car and they wore each other’s clothes and drank each other’s drinks. When Roger needed some money to help Tarz [Tarz was one of mom’s oldest and best friends, from junior high school on] get home from Chile, Jack offered to loan him two hundred.  But Roger said, “Why don’t you buy my car.” Raj was soon to be transferred and wanted to get rid of the old Studebaker. Jack gave him a hundred some dollars and agreed to pay the rest in convenient chunks.
Roger was shipped east. Jack stayed behind—he was in a different outfit—and was so blue he thought e was going crazy. One day he went to Kent on a pass, got drunk, overstayed his leave and turned over the car racing back to the fort. It was badly dented but still ran. That same day his transfer to the ACS came through and he left for Seattle.
He was quite broke and could not get the car repaired. He took a room at the Virginia Hotel and shared it with a girl he met in the lobby. He believes she used it professionally while he was out and her presence, he said, made him drink even more. At the time he was twenty and had been in the Army two years.
When his orders came to go to Fairbanks, Jack still had not repaired the car. He took it in to a garage and asked how much the bill would be to leave it for a year. He told the man he would send him the rent after his first month in Fairbanks. He had not told Roger or Roger’s folks (in whose name the car was still registered) that there had been an accident.
When the month was up the man in the garage sent Jack a bill for $27 for the year. But he also sent a duplicate bill to Mr. Hartwick, who went to Seattle to see what the score was. He found the car wrecked and Jack gone and decided that Jack had taken a runout. He paid the bill and told Jack about it and Roger told Jack in a letter—but plenty. He implied a runout and Jack, angry, answered only by wiring him another hundred. He has not heard from Roger since.
They were very close. Jack feels the break badly. He wants to send Roger the rest of the money he owes him but doesn’t know his address. And he hesitates to write to Roger’s folks.
Jack is far from perfect. He is almost morbidly moody and his dislike for one of the officers here borders on the pathological. I believe it is a psychological transference by which he fixes his feeling of frustration after four years of army life upon one individual. The officer in question is popular with a majority of the men I have talked to here. 
Speaking of Jack’s moodiness reminds me of my own and that reminds me that Jack and I look alike. Or rather, he looks like a mixture of Craig and me. He has a long Irish face with brown wavy hair and pyramidal eyebrows which shoot up when he furrows his forehead in conversation. His eyes are brown, his nose long and straight, and his teeth rather poor—all there but too small and a little bent in. Until today he had a mustache, and he still has a stubborn chin.
I have a considerable admiration for him. He has managed to retain his individuality in the Army and yet the boys say his is one of the most efficient operators in the system. He gave up smoking six weeks ago because he “had enough of those things” and stuck to it. He is about the first person I have known personally who quit so easily. He seldom swears, and the only time he has mentions his sexual conquests was a casual reference to the girl he lived with in Seattle. About her, no details. This, too, is a reaction to the banalities and brutalities of army life. He has respect for his own privacy.
He is very efficient. He refers to most of the men as either “the bastards” or “the little men.” The former are the characters, the Brooklyn boys, the loudmouths. They are the ones who find stimulation in Betty Grable, who subscribe to nudist magazines and have pornographic accounts of St. Bernard sodomy in their wallets. They shout in the movies and spit on the messhall floor. The little men are what at APO 980 are called the Boy Scouts. They are Army Babbits, collectors of merit badges, solid citizens in embryo. And they are the most important and helpful men in an outfit like the ACS for they do their work well and bureaucratically. They are efficient clerks but poor companions for one who is at all contemplative.
Jack despises the little men for their lack of intellectual interest. He is very young so his intolerance of banalities is very strong. Further, it is a buffer he uses to protect himself. By feeling himself different he is able to remain different, to keep an interested in ideas and abstractions.
One of his tricks is to start arguments between the little men. I saw him in action on this front one. He pretended to be reading “The Robe” by Lloyd Douglas when one of the men came into the hut. The man was a connoisseur of cowboy stories and spoke disrespectfully of Mr. Douglas. Whereupon Mac, the missionary from Mexico, defended Douglas and all his works. Jack said just enough to keep the argument going. He was immensely pleased to follow this trivial debate between simple souls over mediocre authors.
He plays this trick on anyone. The other day he got Johnny Hazen, whose gods are Weyerhaeuser and the Republican Party and who thinks Time Magazine is pro-New Deal, into an argument with John Pedersen, a Henry Wallace Democrat. Jack, who has no interest in politics, considered this debate as unimportant as the literary debate. I tried to convince him otherwise, but my heart isn’t in it.  I can’t get particularly worked up over Dewey vs Roosevelt.
I intend to vote for FDR again, of course. But I do it without particular enthusiasm. If Wallace gets the second spot on the bill I will be happier but I cannot help believing that the best of the New Deal is dead. It was a product of emotional drives which have spent themselves.  Between the 1944 Roosevelt and Dewey there is, I believe, less difference than between the 1936 Roosevelt and Landon; or between Cox and Harding in 1920.
Dewey’s campaign has a stench. He is appealing to tiredness and mediocrity. But he is not tired or mediocre. He promises to be different than the current administration and does not define the difference. But there are many, many differences which would be beneficial.
If elected, I doubt that he would do disastrously. He is more capable than Harding. Bricker would have been used by those who have pulled his political strings all along. But Dewey by reason of his very ambition, his ruthless personal ambition, is not likely to allow himself to be a cat’s paw. He will want to be reelected.
After all, Dewey is intelligent. (It is intelligent politics on his part, for instance, to play down his intelligence, to pose as Mr. Average Guy, in a period when people are tired of brilliance and want desperately to be let alone.) And his is intelligent enough to realize that internationalism is now a popular fetish. He would be unable to repudiate it as Harding did. I don’t believe he would try.
He has already committed himself to cooperation with Great Britain. And the wealthy conservative opinion, which would be more influential with him than that of any other economic class, now appears to be all for cooperation with Russia. They have their eyes on a postwar market of 180 million people in a rich but ravaged land. So with “the best people” from the editors of the Saturday Evening Post to the president of the Chamber of Commerce recommending that he play ball with Russia, I think he would try.  And if we get along with Britain and Russia after the war we got her made, as the Aleuts put it. There is no one important left for us not to get along with. France is through as a major power. Germany and Japan will be crushed, their war potential broken and their people very likely broken too. The rest of the world bloody well has to get along without us.
As for domestic actions, the biggest thing will be employment and reconversion. The Republicans cannot deny the responsibility of the federal government in this field. They cannot again say it is a matter for state’s rights. Part of the campaign is that they can handle demobilization better than Roosevelt. Admitting that the responsibility for employment rests on the national government, they have broken from the Hoover past. Dewey elected would have to try, and try to the fullest of his abilities, to find a national solution to the problem or face political disaster in 1948. He would have to extract guarantees from whatever firms get the war plants which have been built by government funds that in operating them certain minimums of employment would be maintained. Failing to do so would be courting the fate of Hoover. And Dewey’s cold, lusterless, implacable ambition should keep him from making that mistake. It would drive him to the same decision that Roosevelt would make for warmer reasons.
I hate to think of some of the Congressmen who would ride into Washington on Dewey’s blue coattails. But then Roosevelt has brought in his share of Martin Smiths and would carry some back with him this time too. And Rankin and Pepper and their ilk are sure to be there. The Democrats do not have a very liberal supply of liberals these days.
It would be wonderful if U.S. political parties split so that all the Tafts and Vandenbergs and Rankins and Brickers were on one side, and the Wallaces and Willkies and Roosevelt on the other. Then the issues would be clearer. But a lot of other things would be wonderful too, things that won’t happen.
So I’ll vote for Roosevelt again. But it won’t be a passionate ballot. At best it will be a hopeful vote, at worst a mere tribute to a tired man whose heart is in the right place.
If I sound particularly disillusioned about politics, it may be because of reading “A Diplomat’s Wife in Mexico.”
The O’Shaughnessys were intelligent people, Catholics in a Catholic country, genuinely fond of Mexico, anxious for peace between our country and Mexico. And yet, for all their good intentions, they were unable to escape the prison of their environment—they were at best diplomats when what was needed was at least a statesman  or, better yet, a human being.
O’Shaughnessy came to Mexico on October 8th, 1913. Madero, with covert U.S. support had overthrown Diaz. The Henry Lane Wilson had aided and abetted Heurta in overthrowing Madero. Madero was murdered, perhaps with Wilson’s approval. Certainly Wilson did nothing to save him. At that time the Democrats took office and H.L. Wilson was recalled. For a time we had no representative in Mexico City., the O’Shaughnessy’s came as charge d’affaires. Their work was complicated by the presence of Henry Lind, Woodrow Wilson’s personal observer on the scene. Lind and O’Shaughnessy did not see eye to eye.
O’Shaughnessy had a diplomatic background. He had been stationed in Turkey, Russian, France. He had met all the best people, and he considered them the best of all possible people. He had a diplomat’s respect for power and those who wield it. All these traits his wife echoed.
In Mexico City he dealt with the government of Huerta, which Wilson would not recognize because it was stained with Madero’s blood. To the north, Carranza and Villa marched with rebel armies. Lind advised Wilson to arm these rebels and see that they got power: O’Shaughnessy advised him to recognize Huerta because (1) he had a legitimate claim on the presidency; (2) he had proved he could keep order. 
How great the appeal of legitimacy and order to the diplomatic mind. One or the other or both have been responsible for our major diplomatic blunders of modern times—our recognition of Franco, who could keep Spain quiet; our dalliance with Bagdolio, who was the legitimate premier; our support for George of Greece, who is as legitimate as he is anti-democratic.
But it is understandable. A diplomat’s function is to deal with governments, to make binding agreements. And for a binding agreement it is necessary to have a stable government. Legitimacy is an asset to stability, and stability is the sine qua non. So the diplomat thinks.
O’Shaughnessy thought that way. Very deeply. For example, his wife writes, “we visited the statue of Hidalgo, commemorating the spot where he met the viceregal forces in 1821. It always seems to me a sad spot, for when the Spaniards fell, with the exception of Diaz’s thirty years, the last stable government of Mexico also fell.” Later she says, “I keep thinking what a grand thing dictatorship is if it is on your side.” Dicatorships are stable and O’Shaughnessy wanted a stable government to negotiate with. So he pressed his recommendations for recognition of Huerta on Washington. Lind leaned just as hard upon the opposite wheel. So nothing happened, and Mexico tore herself apart with revolution.
In all this however, there is one gleam of hope. We did not take over Mexico. We did not commit the final aggression. And now, a quarter century later, we are firmly committed against such actions. We are fighting a war against those who commit them. We still feel a faint warmness toward Finland because she stood up to a nation that made demands which infringed upon her sovereignty. That we feel kindly toward Finland in spite of the fact that her fight against Russia then and now indirectly damages us is, I believe, a feather for us. We indirectly affirm the ideals for which we fight.
Feeling as we do, then, fighting aggression in two hemispheres, disapproving, at least tacitly, an aggression which has helped us, I hope we will never again backslide, we will never again arbitrarily use our power against the helpless. 
(After that I almost feel like an, “Amen.”)
I haven’t told you much about the hut because I am so seldom in it. I do most of my letters to you in the operating room in the quiet spots of the graveyard shift, and most of my reading in the recreation hall. The rest of the time I am either sleeping, eating, or going for a hike or to the library.
The only time that I am just sitting around in the hut—as I was so often just sitting around in the one at 980—is after sundown when we come in from the hikes. That is usually around ten or ten-thirty and Jack and I have a ritual of tea. We haven’t missed a night yet. We always drink a potful between the time of our arrival and the time for me to go to 11:30 chow or, in case I skip the meal, to the graveyard shift. Over the tea we swap stories, trading an account of Christmas dinner at the Ford’s for a bit about Fairbanks nightlife, or matching a bit about life in our pup tent with a piece about his life in a wanagan (a one-room sled-house) in Fairbanks. He lived in the damndest places. When the housing shortage was at its worst he spent two weeks in a big wall safe.
I had two letters from you today—the ones written July 10 and 11. Your mail is coming very regularly now and is the biggest part of my current lack of unhappiness. …
Haj’s passing Dr. Hartwick’s inspection please me greatly. Has she eaten anymore ducks or fences?
I am jealous of Bert Bogue’s visit to Bosham. Somehow it seems that little bit of England should be all ours (except for the English, of course!) the thought of a bombhole in the roof of that beautiful little house angers me. It is a personal affront, a gratuitous insult to humanity. To attempt to destroy a life so complete as that represented by the Hamblings is to strike at the essence of gentleness. And there could be no mistaking of anything near there for a military objective. Almost as bad is the thought that the great, impersonal war—not some very personal, individually hated Luftwaffe pilot—has browned that beautiful lawn.
I wonder who has Joan and Geoff’s house now. And I wonder about Karl and Hanni almost as much. And Jack and Mary still owe us a letter. You know, he probably was in on the invasion, “picking sand from his fingernails” on the Normandy beaches. Remember how he loved Mont  St. Michel?
I am sorry Myrtle isn’t moving in with you and hope that circumstances make it possible for her to make a third in the houseboat. But if not, I am at least glad she is so near. It should be a place of refuge, to you as well as to her. Does anyone know yet where Bill is going? Or is it a secret.
I still haven’t received any of the packages that are en route. For that matter, none of the second class mail has started reaching me yet. I should get a tremendous stack of newspaper and magazines and packages one of these days.
Don’t bother about the jackknife. It is not in the least important. If you run across a little turning can opener I might be able to use it next winter when they say the hotplate will be handy for making soup.
There are a lot more vegetables in our food here so I don’t need the lime and vitamin tablets so much. …But I’ll take them if you want me to.
M
 

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