November 11: The Notebook

Item 1: I’ve wondered to myself at what point I’ll consider deer roaming around central Berkeley as unremarkable as, say, crows. A picture of a deer in the front yard comes to mind, maybe eating some choice vegetation (though the plants in yards to either side of us are probably a lot more delectable). It seems we’re getting pretty close to that day. During our late evening walk, The Dog and I had two encounters with big hooved springing mammals. The first was a little startling as an adult-sized deer bolted from a front yard across the street and make a pretty good racket as it crossed a couple of hedges. Then it did that sproingy run that deer do all the way up the street into the dark. A few blocks away, The Dog got alert to something across the street, and two more deer went clattering up the pavement, paused at the next corner, then hung a right and vanished. I wonder who the next arrivals in the neighborhood will be. Mountain lions looking for a snack? No — coyotes are a lot more likely.

Item 2: Sometime in the last couple months, an old colleague of mine called attention via Facebook to a remarkable series of articles in the Ann Arbor Chronicle–what I’m guessing is an “alternative weekly.” The serial is running under the title “Washtenaw Jail Diary.” The Chronicle hasn’t announced a publication schedule, but a new installment seems to appear every couple of weeks. Elsewhere, I said I look forward to the new chapters the same way mid-19th century Londoners probably looked forward to the next piece of “A Tale of Two Cities.” But this jail diary isn’t fiction. It’s a story of an anonymous 40-something middle-class white guy who gets tossed into the county lockup. What makes the stories riveting is the writer’s skill in narrating his sudden passage from what he took to be “normal life”–telling the boss he’d be in late for work while he takes care of some business–to felony inmate. The Number One asked question about the series: What did the author do to wind up in jail? He hasn’t said yet.

Item 3: It’s November 11th. Veterans Day. Armistice Day. Remembrance Day. An occasion to reflect on a war so monstrously costly that a sequel was unimaginable. Today, we can imagine anything except, perhaps, an end to the killing.

Today’s Top Research

My foray into matters of Irish Americana tonight has me reading about the Irish community, German Americans, and World War I. Yes: Irish Americans and German Americans made common cause to try to keep the United States out of the war. Ireland’s longstanding grievances against Britain motivated the Irish; support for the Fatherland inspired the Germans. I’ve found lots of interesting and informative stuff on the topic, but I wound up searching the New York Times archives for stories about William Jennings Bryan’s role as an advocate of U.S. neutrality.

I found one precious item from June 1915, a week or so after Bryan had resigned as secretary of State because he could see by President Wilson’s reaction to the Lusitania sinking that his argument didn’t stand a chance in the administration. The item is about a speech that Bryan was supposed to make in Chicago to the Sons of Teutons. The group had invited Bryan, thinking he would inveigh against U.S. ammunition shipments to Britain and France and renew his call for an embargo. But when the Sons of Teutons found out that Bryan instead intended to urge the warring parties to enter peace negotiations, they met him at the train station and said the speech was canceled. At least that was the Times’s version of events.

I came across a more recent item, too: a March 1967 piece by historian Barbara Tuchman (“The Guns of August,” etc.) published in The New York Times Magazine and titled simply, “How We Entered World War I.” I haven’t read Tuchman’s books for decades, but this article is a reminder of why her histories are so accessible: she was a great writer (and yes, a capable historian, too). I found this in her description of the American and German diplomatic struggle over limits to submarine warfare: “Each time during these months when the torpedo streaked its fatal track, the isolationist cry to keep Americans out of the war zones redoubled.”

“… The torpedo streaked its fatal track.” I’ll remember that one for awhile.

Eleventh Hour, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Month

Armistice/Veterans/Remembrance Day

“… So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,

And they shipped us back home to Australia.

The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,

Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.

And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay,

I looked at the place where me legs used to be,

And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me,

To grieve, to mourn and to pity.

“But the band played ‘Waltzing Matilda,’

As they carried us down the gangway,

But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,

Then they turned all their faces away. …”

From “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” by Eric Bogle (audio).