[This originally appeared at The Imaginative Conservative]
It’s hard not to laugh when my students think they’re imitating or comprehending the zeitgeist of—whether to honor or mock—the 1980s.
Though, in almost every way, it’s impossible to fault them for this.
The individual members of the incoming freshman class will have entered this world sometime in 1996 or 1997, a full seven to eight years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. To their active and eager minds, the 1980s meant lots of repetitive electronic pop music, an MTV that actually played music videos, leg warmers, bright colors, big checks and plaids, baggy pants and oversize shirts, top siders, goofy hair styles, televangelists, “duck and cover” safety from nuclear weapons, general happiness and prosperity, and John Hughes movies. It was a time before time, an era without wardrobe malfunctions, wacky chief executives, or reality TV.
Not all of these memories are wrong, of course, just selective.
From what I can tell, most current students idealize the decade in much the same way my generation—coming of age in the 1980s—viewed the 1950s. That nearly perfect decade represented peace, prosperity, primitive rock music, American assertion of power without lots of consequent deaths, innocence and naiveté, white t-shirts with packs of cigarettes rolled up in one’s sleeve, poodle skirts, leather jackets, James Dean shades, motorcycles, Marlan Brando cool, and tail fins on huge cars.
Everything, of course, was in black and white as well in the 1950s.
Well, so we thought.
But, two things must be remembered by those of us who lived in the 1980s and who want to teach our students the truth.
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Soc. Are we to say that we are never intentionally to do wrong, or that in one way we ought and in another way we ought not to do wrong, or is doing wrong always evil and dishonorable, as I was just now saying, and as has been already acknowledged by us? Are all our former admissions which were made within a few days to be thrown away? And have we, at our age, been earnestly discoursing with one another all our life long only to discover that we are no better than children? Or are we to rest assured, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, of the truth of what was then said, that injustice is always an evil and dishonor to him who acts unjustly? Shall we affirm that?
Soc. Then we must do no wrong?
Cr. Certainly not.
Soc. Nor when injured injure in return, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all?
Cr. Clearly not.
Soc. Again, Crito, may we do evil?
Cr. Surely not, Socrates.
Soc. And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the morality of the many-is that just or not?
Cr. Not just.
Soc. For doing evil to another is the same as injuring him?
[Originally published at The Imaginative Conservative]
Should one generation ever consider itself greater than any other generation, past or future, Edmund Burke warned in his magisterial Reflections on the Revolution in France, the entire fabric of a civilization might very well unravel and, ultimately, disintegrate. Our modern ears have no right to discount Burke’s argument as simple hyperbole. What takes centuries to build and hone, however, can take moments to undo. We have witnessed numerous generations since Burke wrote this, and we have seen the arrogance of several, but most especially the Vatican II generation and the so-called “counter-culture” generation of the 1960s. To this day, we suffer from the arrogance of each. They each, in the name of toleration, progress, liberalism, and humanitarianism to submit to their teachings blindly. As one great Canadian and Stoic man of letters argued in the early 1980s, “They shout about love, but when push comes to shove, they fight for things they’re afraid of.”
Once a generation succeeds in separating itself from past and future, it harms not just civilization but the very dignity of man. The individual man, unanchored, becomes, Burke noted darkly, “would become little better than the flies of summer.”
At the beginning of his Histories, Herodotus notes that a normal person enjoys 26,250 days in his or her life, no day ever exactly like another. I’m not quite sure I want to count how many days I have left, assuming I could even know such a thing. It’s certainly very wise of the Good Lord not to let us know such things.
Still, as I think about my own days, some wisely spent, others squandered, I have only a few serious regrets.
One of my two most important—at least as it hovers over my being—is that I never actually met Dr. Russell Amos Augustine Kirk in person. I had the opportunity several times, but I never took advantage of these. There are lots of reasons why this happened (or, as the case really was, failed to happen), but they really all came down to the same thing—I took too much for granted while in my 20s. I seemed invulnerable as did those I loved and admired. As one of my other heroes, Neil Peart, once wrote, “We’re only immortal for a very short time.” My immortality seemed rather assured as did that of those whom I respected. Strange considering my own father died when I was only two months old. Yet, that happened before I was conscious of the world, and the whole story of his death had much more mythical significance than real influence.
Life has a funny way of teaching us each the lessons we so painfully need to learn, and I was rather shocked in the summer of 1994 when I heard that Russell Kirk had passed away. I was only 26, but I knew I had missed my chance to meet the great man, a man I had studied intensely for about six years at that point.
One hundred thirty years ago today, the United States military engaged—for the last time—the American Indians. The conflict, often known as the Battle of Wounded Knee, should appropriately be called the tragedy or massacre of Wounded Knee, for it was nothing short of a travesty. The last actual battle of the Indian Wars was that at Skeleton Canyon against Geronimo and his forces, four years earlier, in 1886.
Beginning in October of 1890, tensions between a significant group of Sioux Indians and the U.S. Government reached toward the tipping point in South Dakota. Many of the Sioux had begun to adopt a nativist religion, recently imported from Nevada, called the “Ghost Dance.” The dance, a complicated movement that hoped for the end of the world with the intermixing of the living and the dead, had been founded by Jack “Wovoka” Wilson, a Paiute Indian. In his famous messiah letter, he had written:
“When you get home you must make a dance to continue five days. Dance four successive nights, and the last night keep up the dance until the morning of the fifth day, when all must bathe in the river and then disperse to their homes. You must all do in the same way.
“I, Jack Wilson, love you all, and my heart is full of gladness for the gifts you have brought me. When you get home I shall give you a good cloud [rain?] which will make you feel good. I give you a good spirit and give you all good paint. I want you to come again in three months, some from each tribe there [the Indian Territory].
There will be a good deal of snow this year and some rain. In the fall there will be such a rain as I have never given you before.
Grandfather [a universal title of reverence among Indians and here meaning the messiah] says, when your friends die you must not cry. You must not hurt anybody or do harm to anyone. You must not fight. Do right always. It will give you satisfaction in life. This young man has a good father and mother. [Possibly this refers to Casper Edson, the young Arapaho who wrote down this message of Wovoka for the delegation].
Do not tell the white people about this. Jesus is now upon the earth. He appears like a cloud. The dead are still alive again. I do not know when they will be here; maybe this fall or in the spring. When the time comes there will be no more sickness and everyone will be young again.
Do not refuse to work for the whites and do not make any trouble with them until you leave them. When the earth shakes [at the coming of the new world] do not be afraid. It will not hurt you.
I want you to dance every six weeks. Make a feast at the dance and have food that everybody may eat. Then bathe in the water. That is all. You will receive good words again from me some time. Do not tell lies.”
Many of the American Indians of the Southwest had a deathly fear of ghosts, and Wilson’s faith failed to catch on there. But it spread rapidly on the northern Great Plains, especially among the Sioux. The Sioux, of course, had not only been recently defeated as a people, but they had lost their entire way of life—the buffalo hunt—and the U.S. had brutally confined and imprisoned them on strictly (and unjustly) governed reservations. Among the most corrupt was the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Here, the people not only adopted the Ghost Dance, but they added to its tenets, claiming that a “ghost shirt” would protect the wearer from bullets and other weapons of the whites.
In its attempt to control and attenuate the Ghost Dance, the U.S. military decided to arrest two of the most prominent Sioux leaders, Sitting Bull and Big Foot. Ironically, neither man had thought much of the Ghost Dance movement, seeing it as contrary to the Sioux vision of life. The arrest of Sitting Bull went horribly wrong, resulting in the great man’s death in his underwear. During the subsequent arrest of Big Foot (who was deathly ill with pneumonia), the U.S. Army (the Seventh Cavalry, once led by George Armstrong Custer) demanded all the arms of the Ghost Dancers. During the disarming, a Sioux fired a shot, and a medicine man threw dirt in the air (the signal for the end of the earth). A firefight broke out, and the U.S. military killed—very quickly—anywhere from 150 to 200 Sioux. Many of the wounded Sioux remained on the field—without aid—through harsh, freezing weather. When photographers arrived in the scene, they found the field littered with grotesque frozen warriors. Twenty-five U.S. soldiers died.
The importance of Wounded Knee cannot be exaggerated. It was a horrible end to a horrible series of Indian Wars (most unjust and brutal) that had begun almost immediately following the Civil War. That the massacre occurred in 1890, the same year as the “closing of the American frontier,” at least as Frederick Jackson Turner understood it, has not been lost on historians. Further, the actions of the U.S. Army at the time proved many of the republican fears of a standing army as originally expressed during the Founding and Jacksonian periods. The fight with the American Indians also undid the Jeffersonian legacy of the “empire of liberty” in which the American Indians were to be treated as future citizens of the republic, as best and most brilliantly expressed by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
For those interested in the tragedy of Wounded Knee, see Jerome A. Greene’s most recent book, “All Guns Fired at One Time”: Native Voices of Wounded Knee, 1890, published in October 2020 by the South Dakota Historical Society Press (sdhspress.com).
The Stratford Festival is following up on the success of its recent Shakespeare Film Festival with a $10-a-month digital content subscription, Stratfest@Home, offering more Shakespeare and more films, along with new commissions, music, conversation, cooking and comedy. A free film festival, with a theme of Hope Without Hope, will once again be offered on Thursday evenings.
“At this particular moment of pandemic, with social isolation once more upon us, nights growing longer and winter approaching, we need the consolation of community like never before. With these viewing parties and the many related artistic programs in Stratfest@Home, we invite you to enter the warmth of the Festival bubble,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.
a growing library of Festival-related legacy films, interviews & discussions;
new content like the filmed-in-Stratford mini-soap opera Leer Estates, holiday specials for Halloween and U.S. Thanksgiving, and video introductions to the young actors currently studying at the Festival’s Birmingham Conservatory;
coming in 2021, the game show Undiscovered Sonnets and the concert series Up Close and Musical.
The free film festival begins this Thursday on YouTube. Already on the schedule are:
October 22: The 2011 production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night featuring the late Brian Dennehy (a great version that my wife & I saw in person – it includes cool songs by then-artistic director Des McAnuff, who worked with Pete Townshend on the Broadway version of Tommy);
October 29: The Stratford Festival Ghost Tours Halloween binge.
November 5: The 1994 production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. This one’s a legendary part of Festival history.
November 12: The 1992 production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, with a young Antoni Cimolino as Romeo and Anne of Green Gables’ star Megan Follows as Juliet.
November 19: The 2000 production of Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex, a Festival commission. Playwright Findley was in the acting company with Sir Alec Guinness for the Festival’s inaugural season in 1953.
November 26: The Early Modern Cooking Show U.S. Thanksgiving binge.
December 3: The 2010 production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, starring Christopher Plummer. (Another great version that we saw live — and also got Plummer’s autograph on his memoirs!)
December 10: The 2008 production of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, starring Christopher Plummer.
December 17: All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, a lecture with readings.
My uncle (Norman Eliasson) served with the 10th Armored Division and used his German to pass through the German lines in December 16, 1944 thus avoiding capture and possible execution. His plan was simple he said, “Achtung!Deutsche Soldaten der 1. SS-Panzer-Division Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler Hierkommt der Feldmarschall! (“Men of the… here comes the Field Marshall!”) The Germans all stood to attention –obeying orders as my uncle had hoped- so my uncle and his fellow American soldiers drove right through the front lines in their jeep without a single shot being fired until they were long gone !
My uncle did get in trouble getting through the American lines because the American soldiers of the101st Airborne quizzed him about baseball and my uncle who had not grown up in America knew very little about the game. He had been to Ebbets field however and managed to name some Dodger players. But what really convinced them was his knowledge of Jewish delicatessens in New York, the subways and the streets. My uncle had been a delivery boy during high school! And of course, he could speak a little Yiddish as well (very similar to German).
Like most Highland natives, Auld Pop had a vague knowledge of a thing called barbecue, but had never actually eaten any. He was, however, intimately familiar with whisky. In fact from 1914-1933 he often made his own. I do not know and have no knowledge if he ever sold any of his poteen. I do know he used to say, “Prohibition? What’s that? No excise officer ever kept a Highland man from his dram.” “Does love make the world go around? Well aye, mon. “Strrruth! . But whisky maks it go around twice as fast. Aye! An’ gies a mon a sonsie gizz, aye! ThAAt’s a sonsie face – a jolly, smiling face!.
It’s Five O’Clock. “Whisky is liquid sunshine.” said Robertson.
“I hae always felt that distant train whistles heard in the dead of night are God’s way of letting us know the best days are fast runnin’ awa! .Time’s chariot is running by.An’ the broken hairt it kens nae second spring again, though the weary warld dinna cease frae its greeting. Aye, we are a’ togither tonicht for a wee while. But the parting day is comin’. The whiskey, and romance eventually runs out and the night will soon turn to day. Aye. Ye are a leal n’ true mon, Johnny. You stood by me and Jimmy here in a very dark moment. You and the lads and the Dins- were willing to brave the shadows ‘ death. Medal o no’ yer the bravest mon o’ the Regiment. If Auld Port were here today, he wad understand.” “Aye”, said Johnny. “Aye,” said Jimmy Auld Pop said, “here’s a toast to the Ants and to Auld Port! TO AULD PORT! TO THE ANTS! they said. It was dark that night in in the distance they could hear the thud of the German guns round Wipers (Ypres). Auld Port, Captain Dick MacDonald Porteous had led them in many a trench raid but would never do so again. That morning, as dawn broke Auld Port was killed. They told his parents it was a stray bullet. Auld Pop, who was there, said, “it was a Jairmen sniper for sure. Aye. “
He used to have conservations with his Argyll Squaddies, Jimmy Quigley and American Johnny Robertson. Hae ye a smoke?” he asked. “Aye!” said Johnny, ““Matches?” he asked. “Enough to burn Rome,” said Johnny. “Whiskey?” he said “Enough whiskey for the a river of pain, loss and sorrow For the Abhainn nam Manach itself -that’s the River Beauly for a Lallan laddie like ye, Johnny! “ “Are ye fou, Johnny lad? ” “No’ yet, Tommie!” “An’ ye, young Jimmy? “Chan eil fos tamuill beag Brathair mathair!” Johnny, and what’s That? I ken it’s yer mither-leed (language). Auld Pop: “He says, not for a little while yet, uncle!”“ Said Johnny To be or not to be, drunk on whisky, that is the question in the rright-true Saxon tongue. ( a distant train sounds its horn) Auld Pop grew thoughtful
May 10. 1915 Lang Syne.
Lochaber No More (funerals for an Argyll. “LOCHABER NO MORE” that was known to be played during WW1 Military funerals with Gun Volley at specific parts of this tune.
Lyrics for “Lochaber No More” :
FAREWELL to Lochaber, farewell to the glen,
No more will he wander Lochaber again.
Lochaber no more! Lochaber no more!
The lad will return to Lochaber no more!
The trout will come back from the deeps of the sea,
The bird from the wilderness back to the tree,
Flowers to the mountain and tides to the shore, But he will return to Lochaber no more!
O why should the hills last, that never were young,
Unperishing stars in the heavens be hung;
Be constant the seasons, undrying the stream,
And he that was gallant be gone like a dream?
Brave songs will be singing in isles of the West,
But he will be silent who sang them the best; T
he dance will be waiting, the pipes will implore,
But he will return to Lochaber no more!
Child of the forest! profound is thy sleep,
The valley that loved thee awakes but to weep;
When our fires are rekindled at dawn of the morn,
Our griefs burn afresh, and our prayers are forlorn;
The night falls disconsolate, bringing no peace,
No hope for our dreams, for our sighs no release;
In vain come the true hearts and look from the door,
Auld Pop (Thomas Munro, Sr.) said we should always look to God’s providence with great humility. In all our affairs and business of a family and nation we had to depend upon His blessing.
Both my father and Auld Pop believed that the family was the basis of our culture and civilization and If God were not acknowledged there we would have no reason to expect his blessing. Auld Pop often said the “best laid plans o’ mice an’ men aft gang agley.” For enriching a family or nation some are so grasping and avaricious and Midas-like that they forget what really matters which is love and the happiness of one’s race and line.
Yes, that was an expression I often heard that we should have pride in our race and line (as Munros and as Gaels) and that we should “Dread God” (Biodh T-eagal Dhe Oirre; we should reverence unto God: this is the ancient Munro motto of course). Money was important, of course, because one needed bread “but man did not live on bread alone” and also “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” I think it was very clear to me that my father and grandfather were unfailing opponents of the passion for wealth, advancement in society or the preoccupation with material things. Neither man played golf of spent more time than necessary with business associates preferring to spend their holidays and weekend entirely with their wives and children. My father and grandfather taught me to read and write before I went to school and gave me the rudiments of Spanish, Latin, French and Gaelic at home. They considered children to be God’s gifts, a heritage, a blessing and special a reward : a thousand treasures in one.
They often spoke of “our splendid ancient heritage” which I suppose was our entire civilization of music, poetry, literature, art, language, song and our faith and free institutions. My father and Auld Pop also lived through the Great Depression and had memories of the Highland Clearances and the Great Hunger of the 1840’s. They had seen war, experienced hunger, exile and immigration and knew that there was no absolute security to be found in material wealth anywhere at any time. At best money could be a cushion but over and over I was told the “man was the gold and that a man could not be measured by the colour of his skin, or by his speech, or by his clothes and jewels, but only by the heart” (from Mika Waltari) Real wealth was richness of experience, joy in friends and family and delight in conviviality, music, verse, art and literature.
Too sickly to fight in the Great War, Christopher Dawson volunteered for civilian duty and spent roughly fourteen years reading and drawing up ideas to prepare for a career in writing. He had received a profound mystical vision on Easter, 1909, while visiting Rome. In that vision, the nineteen-year old Anglo-Welshman believed God had commanded him to record the entire history of the world, showing him all times and all peoples at once. Determined to live up to what God had asked him, he began building upon an already solid liberal education.
During these years, he kept extensive notes and journals influential writings included in his notes came from the significant historians, anthropologists, and thinkers from every school of thought from his day. Generally, he took notes in the same language as the original texts, and he delved deeply into Plato’s Laws and the various writings by Aristotle, Xenophon, and Heraclitus. In his journals, now residing at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, one can see vividly that Dawson readily moved through a variety of languages including English, French, Greek, and Latin.
In the same notebook, presumably after reading the above authors, Dawson concluded tellingly: “All the events of the last years have convinced me what a fragile thing civilization is and how near we are to losing the whole inheritance which our age might have acquired [sic] enjoyed.”
In addition to his voluminous academic and scholarly reading, he also devoured wht works of Jane Austen, Henry David Thoreau, P.J. Wodehouse, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells, R.H. Benson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and a huge selection of science fiction, historical fiction, American westerns, and English detective stories. G.K. Chesterton, especially, influenced Dawson, as the latter regarded him as “one of the greatest champions of Christian culture in our time.” Chesterton’s most influential work on Dawson was his epic poem, The Ballad of the White Horse [read from this?]. This poem, perhaps the most significant call to arms for twentieth-century Christian Humanists, equally inspired C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Russell Kirk.