Saturday, January 22, 2011

Umnak Island, 9 July 1944


Pitzler darling…

Today rounds out my first week here, and I can make a few preliminary judgments. This is a long way from being heaven, but after 980 is at least a haven. The change is like beating yourself on the head with a rubber covered mallet after warming up for two months with a spiked mace.

The big difference seems to be that the proportion of early ACS men is higher here than at the old station. A large number of the local fellows came in just before or after Pearl Harbor. And the ACS volunteers of that period are certainly better companions than the boys drafted later from Camp Crowder and way points.
Here there is a general interest in ideas, in discussion. The talks while not brilliant (perhaps the bull sessions do not seem so because there is a local beer session) are lively and far-ranging. There are only a few men who attempt verbal compensation for their sexual repressions. News is valued here. The incredible thing at 980 was that there was no interest in the war. Or almost none. But here at least a third of the men take the pony edition of Time or Newsweek. Nearly everyone reads the daily bulletins posted in the mess hall and operations building. Maps are posted and on some colored pencil shadings mark the daily advance. The implications of each new advance are discussion, intelligently and hotly.

Just as important as the tolerance of books and ideas is the general respect for the comfort of others. I can recall no group of men more soft-spoken or considerate of the rights of their fellows. There are exceptions, of course. We have one in our hut, a noisy punk who stops and shouts from stupidity rather than malice. But the rest are respectful of others’ right to sleep and quiet. They ask permission before turning the radio on or off. They shut the door softly. The old 980 warcry, “They get more sleep than I do,” does not ring out daily. In fact, it is not even known.

Part of the difference in attitude may stem from the weather, which has been better here than it was during my stay at the old post. Winter tensions may have been present here. They may have melted in the war air. And part of the difference is undoubtedly due to the physical plant. The huts are less crowded. And the rec hall makes it possible for men to spend their leisure outside of them. (According to Senor Juan , some of the men spend so much time at the pool table they walk sideways from habit.)

I have a DH Lawrence explanation: the landscape. At the old post we sat on the side of a mountain and the wind was always trying to blow us off. We were pressed between the mountain and the sea. And while the scenery was more spectacular than here, I always felt crowded, huddled. Here the view is pastoral. The main feature is the great, level, meadow-like marsh. We have room enough to breathe.

But the basic difference seems to be this is a better bunch of men.

Tomorrow I go on KP. It is worked differently here than at the old post. The KPs work a meal a day for a week. Their kitchen chores are in addition to their job. So when I knock off work at eight this morning I’ll report to the kitchen to wash the tables, the dishes and mop the floor. Senor Juan assures me that the work can be finished by 9:30.

It looks like a sleepy day. For besides missing a bit of morning sleep with the kitchen contingent, I have join the rest of the graveyard shift in a hike down the road to the hospital at 1 pm for the monthly inspection of genital organs—the old immaculate infection deal. 

Probably the reason I feel so pleased with this place is that I am back at work on the novel [Day of the Dead]. I do a bit of work while I have free time “at the office” and then polish it up in the evenings at the hut. At least that has been my system for the last two days. I am again rewriting the first five chapters. I have combined one and two, and three and four into two rather long chapters, which should meet the main objection that Ann had to them [Ann Elmo—Murray’s agent]. The big test will be in going on from here. I may be able to send you some of it within a week. At last I feel satisfied with chapter two—the action in the car after the gunplay starts. 

I finished Point Counterpoint today. Huxley’s controlled pessimism is so much more deadly, so much more impressive, than the Lawrence overwash: “If men went about satisfying their instinctive desires only when they genuinely felt them, like the animals you’re so contemptuous of, they’d behave a damned sight better than the majority of civilized human beings behave today. It isn’t natural appetite and spontaneous instinctive desire that makes men so beastly—no, beastly is the wrong word; it implies an insult to the animals—so all too humanly bad and vicious, then. It’s the imagination; it’s the intellect, it’s principles, it’s tradition and education. Leave the instincts to themselves and they’ll do very little mischief. If men made love only when they were carried away by passion, if they fought only when they were angry or terrified, if they grabbed at property only when they had need or were swept off their feet by an uncontrollable desire for possession—why I assure you, this would be a great deal more like the kingdom of heaven than it is under our present Christian-intellectual-scientific dispensation. It’s not instinct that makes Casanovas and Byrons and Lady Castlemaines; it’s a prurient imagination artificially tickling up the appetite, tickling up desires that have not natural existence. If Don Juans and Don Juanesses only obeyed their desires, they’d have very few affairs. They had to tickle themselves up imaginatively before they can start being casually promiscuous. And it’s the same with the other instincts. It’s the possessive instinct that’s made modern civilization insane about money. The possessive instinct has to be kept artificially tickled by education and tradition and moral principles. The money-grubbers have to be told that money-grubbing’s natural and noble, that thrift and industry are virtues, that persuading people to buy things they don’t want is Christian service. Their possessive instinct would never be strong enough to keep them grubbing away from morning till night all through a lifetime. It has to be kept chronically gingered up by the imagination and the intellect. And then, think of civilized war. It’s got nothing to do with spontaneous combativeness. Men have to be compelled by law and then tickled up by propaganda before they’ll fight. You’d do more for peace by telling men to obey the spontaneous dictates of their fighting instincts than by founding any number of Leagues of Nations.”

I think I’ll run through the rest of Huxley I haven’t read if they have them in the library: Antic Hay and Chrome Yellow. (Didn’t we read that one on the Heranger?)

No letter from you today. But one of these days, le deluge. By the way, don’t forget to keep sending the New Yorker and, when it comes out, the copy of Adventure with the last short story in it. I believe it will be on the stands when you get this letter. 

Well, my darling, a fifth of the time is in now. It seems an eternity. But someday even four more eternities like it must end. Until then I’ll find the distance between us with thoughts and letters, Nunny.

Your
M

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