Free at first, free at last, free forever

“Ruby-throated hummingbird. I found it on the walkway to the FBI agent’s house—a chew toy with iridescent feathers. Did it take a wrong turn into plate glass, did a cold front drop it from the sky? I cupped it in my hand and carried it home. I’d keep it till it died, then save the feathers. But it didn’t die, so I put it in a shoebox with a saucer full of red sugar water. When I opened the box the next morning, out it flashed to perform hover-and-dive routines around our TV, now resting on a lampshade, now trying to drink our curtains. I finally caught it with a butterfly net, spooked it into my hand, its heart whirring like a refurbished quartz watch, and opened the door. It shot free then, above our house, its wings renewing with the sky secret promises I would never understand.” – Lance Larsen, “A Brief List of Discoveries on My Paper Route”

Taking secrets to the grave

“American suspicion of clandestine militarization had been aroused as early as 1923 when Earle Ellis, a marine corps undercover agent, had disappeared in the mandates after gaining passage to the islands on pretense of doing nature studies. Japanese authorities had informed our naval attaché only that Ellis had died of unknown causes on the island of Palau, in the western Carolines. Chief Pharmacist Lawrence Zembsch, of the American naval hospital in Yokohama that had been established in World War I, was sent to investigate the circumstances of Ellis’s death. Zembsch returned with the major’s ashes, but in a stupor, apparently drug-induced, and suffering from amnesia. He was hospitalized, with some hope that his recovery might clear the mystery. Unfortunately, Zembsch was killed in the naval hospital when it was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1 September 1923.” – Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, U.S.N. (Ret.), And I Was There

And thereby hangs a tale

“In the navy she [Agnes Meyer Driscoll] was without peer as a cryptanalyst. Some of her pupils, like Ham Wright, were more able mathematicians but she had taught cryptanalysis to all of them, and none ever questioned her superb talent and determination in breaking codes and ciphers. She understood machines and how to apply them. . . . But her principal talent was her ability to get to the root of a problem, sort out its essential components, and find a way to solve it.” – Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, U.S.N. (Ret.), And I Was There

But we do so enjoy kicking people when they’re down

“We don’t force bankruptcy debtors to give up every asset they own in order to get a bankruptcy discharge, recognizing that people need means to live after bankruptcy and need some way to get back on their feet. There is no societal benefit (in fact there is a great cost) in making people homeless or taking all of their clothes.” – Nathalie Martin and Ocean Tama, Inside Bankruptcy Law

Wait, wait, don’t tell me

“ ‘Information,’ writes Walter Benjamin, is ‘incompatible with the spirit of storytelling.’ For Benjamin, ‘half the art’ of telling a story lies in learning not to tell the news; narrative should suppress reportage, achieving instead ‘an amplitude that information lacks.’ Another name for this ‘amplitude’ might be what Flannery O’Connor calls ‘mystery’— fiction’s capacity, as she puts it, ‘to penetrate the concrete world’ of everyday facts, revealing ‘the image of ultimate reality.’ What she means is that reading allows us to face away from the world, and, in so doing, see through it. We read because we want to be somewhere else, but the best books make us realize that ‘elsewhere’ is where we already are. So, writing can turn toward or away from the known and the knowable, aiming at either information or mystery. One direction reports, reproduces, represents; the other points elsewhere, bringing the unprecedented into presence.” – David Winters, “Patterns of Anticipation”

Some would prefer they be enslaved

“We do not allow people to file for bankruptcy and discharge most of their debts to be nice. The philosophy is that relieving people of their debts allows them to get back into and contribute to the economy once again. This is considered good for our overall economy, though this theory is not without some controversy.” – Nathalie Martin and Ocean Tama, Inside Bankruptcy Law

Off the rack

“The making of foreign policy in World War II came out of the great Allied conferences dominated by the military where the military staffs were the working members, and the civil arm, except for the two chiefs of state, was represented meagerly, if at all. Pomp and uniforms held the floor and everyone appeared twice as authoritative as he would have in the two-button business suit of ordinary life. Human fallibility was concealed by all those beribboned chests and knife-edge tailoring.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Not the way to bring about co-prosperity, my friend

“On the borders of India the Japanese gamble had failed—although the fight went on—when Kohima was relieved and communications restored between Imphal and the Dimapur Road at the end of April [1944]. General Mutaguchi’s troops were left at the end of jungle trails without supply arrangements and with the monsoon pouring down. They fought on while they died of starvation and disease. By the end of June the fanatic offensive had crumbled into rain-soaked and putrefying chaos. When retreat was finally ordered in mid-July Japanese casualties including ill and wounded had reached 85 to 90 percent and the dead numbered 65,000 out of the original 155,000. On these same trails the refugees of the exodus of 1942 had dropped and died, now to be covered by the rotting corpses of their conquerors. The senseless tides of war rolled and receded impersonally over the shadowed uplands of Burma.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Hail, Britannia

“No nation has ever produced a military history of such verbal nobility as the British. Retreat or advance, win or lose, blunder or bravery, murderous folly or unyielding resolution, all emerge alike clothed in dignity and touched with glory. Every engagement is gallant, every battle a decisive action. There is no shrinking from superlatives: every campaign produces a general or generalship hailed as the most brilliant of the war. Everyone is splendid: soldiers are staunch, commanders cool, the fighting magnificent. Whatever the fiasco, aplomb is unbroken. Mistakes, failures, stupidities or other causes of disaster mysteriously vanish. Disasters are recorded with care and pride and become transmuted into things of beauty. Official histories record every move in monumental and infinite detail but the details serve to obscure. Why Singapore fell or how the Sittang happened remains shrouded. Other nations attempt but never quite achieve the same self-esteem. It was not by might but by the power of her self-image that Britain in her century dominated the world.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Blattaria

“Every little thing you give up gives you more time to waste as an artist; everyone needs to waste time, it’s essential to Being, but most people let our culture at large waste their time; as an artist I want to waste my time in my own way, in the kinds of ways that, for me, lead to making something. Everything in our culture is supposed to save time, to give us more time, but nothing does, everything only robs us of time. Oh, Mary Webb, where are your snowdrops now? The flower fairies are not happy about any of this: they need the imagination to survive. Not that long ago, if you were at a dinner party and someone wondered out loud what was the fastest animal on earth, an hour’s worth of lively conversation would ensue. Nowadays someone invariably grabs their phone and looks up the answer and ends the conversation. As if knowing were more interesting than wondering! I would rather wonder than know. By the way, it’s a cockroach.” – Mary Ruefle (interview by Bradley Harrison in Denver Quarterly)

Calling all angels

“Standing on a truck at daylight to address the company, Stillwell explained the plan of march and laid down his rules. All food was to be pooled and all personal belongings discarded except for what each person could carry in addition to weapon and ammunition. A journey of some 140 miles lay ahead with a river and a mountain range to cross. The pass lay at 7,000 feet. They must make 14 miles a day; any slowing of progress would require more food than they had and would risk being caught by the rains. He warned that the party could only survive through discipline. Anyone who did not wish to accept his orders could leave now with a week’s rations and make his own way. He looked around; no one moved. ‘By the time we get out of here,’ he finished, ‘many of you will hate my guts but I’ll tell you one thing: you’ll all get out.’ At the head of the column he set the pace at the regulation Army rate of 105 steps a minute. . . . Imphal was reached on May 20. Through careful planning and relentless leadership Stillwell had brought his party out without a single person missing—the only group, military or civilian, to reach India without loss of life. Many of those who walked out under his command did hate his guts but all 114 knew they owed him their lives. He came out, reported a correspondent, ‘looking like the wrath of God and cursing like a fallen angel.’ He had lost 20 pounds. His already spare frame was worn down to a minimum, his hands trembled, his skins was yellowish with jaundice, his eyes sunk in their sockets.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

And then they set out

“The road gave out and all vehicles, except jeeps for carrying supplies, had to be abandoned, including the radio truck and the radio set itself which weighed 200 pounds. Last messages were sent. The sergeant bent to his work, tapping, listening anxiously and tapping again. The message to Brereton in India advised him of the route and stated ‘we are running low on food with none in sight.’ He was asked to send food and bearers and medicines to meet the party at Homalin and to alert the Indian Government that tens of thousands of refugees and Chinese troops were heading for India along the various trails as far north as the Hukawng valley and that it was urgent to stock the trails with rice and to send police and doctors ‘or thousands will die. . . . Large numbers on way. All control gone. Catastrophe possible.’ The Stillwell party should reach the Uyu in three days. ‘This is our last message.’ To the War Department via Chungking Stillwell did not admit the worst since they could not help anyway. ‘We are armed have food and map and are now on foot 50 miles west of Indaw. No occasion for worry. Chinese troops coming to India this general route. . . . Believe this is probably our last message for a while. Cheerio. Stillwell.’ The radio was then smashed with an axe and codes and file copies burned.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China (ellipses in original)

And some more than that

“Headquarters was moved 50 miles north of Mandalay to Shwebo, where the Japanese planes pursued. Among the staffs a sense was rising not only of military disaster but of personal danger. Some self-reportedly were in ‘a state of funk,’ others relapsed into passivity, not knowing what to do. The railroad was the worst problem. Stillwell was determined to get troop trains down to bring out the 22nd Division but Chinese organization was lax or nonfunctioning. Because none of his staff was technically authorized to issue orders to the Chinese he went back to Mandalay himself to try to stir up action. He returned over the bridge among the stream of retiring troops while below in the river others were crossing in ferry boats. On the road to Shwebo, clogged with trucks and caissons and the piled carts of refugees, the mass of retreats moved in dust and heat and the sour smell of fear. Once-proud Sikhs were dirty and disheveled in ragged turbans. Chinese soldiers marched with frightened eyes in a strange land where they could not shed uniforms and slip away into the countryside. Yellow-robed bodies of Buddhist monks lay on the ground, shot by the Chinese who believed them to be spies in disguise. Japanese Zeros flew over, strafing the road with machine-gun fire. Chinese generals in their cars, and British officers conscious of the ‘natives,’ were concerned not to lose face, but everyone was conscious that all had lost face.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Ballsy

“Government bureaus had departed for upper Burma, Indians of the police and clerical staffs were fleeing, Burmese employees melted into the population. Fires and looting, fifth-column groups and night-roaming marauders took over. All that remained of the civil administration were demolition squads awaiting the Governor-General’s last-minute order to blow up the docks. On the last night at Government House, the Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, and a residue of his staff dined in lonely finality with only the cook and the butler left out of 110 servants. The halls were emptied of the tall Chaprassis, Indian attendants in long white coats and scarlet and gold waistcoats whose only duty was to stand and wait as silent statues of imperial rule. After dinner the Governor and his aide and one or two others played billiards under the portraits of past Governors of Burma. The portraits’ clam, indifferent gaze seemed to irritate the aide, who took up a billiard ball saying, ‘Don’t you think, Sir, that we ought to deny them also to the Japs?’ and let fly. The others joined in, hurling balls wildly into ripping canvas, perhaps in frustration, perhaps in some dim recognition that their rule was passing. ‘It was a massacre,’ the Governor said afterwards, meaning the portraits, but the Empire, too, which had ruled by prestige, was in tatters.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China