Posted in book review, Miscellany

The young heart at flame

Who would have thought of it? The evening was alight with pillars of fire, and Washington was burning. The heart of the young republic streets was filled with a cacophony of screams, footsteps, and hollers as the king’s soldiers from the old country unfurled the British flag over the capital city. It was August 24th, 1814, thirty-eight years after the U.S. become a sovereign independent country from Great Britain.

The British invasion of Washington resulted from a combination of a longing to bring back its former colony and vengeance upon the former colony’s brazen-faced act of independence. The U.S. invaded the British territory of Canada in 1812, attacking the city of York, modern-day Toronto as well as Port Dover, which saw American troops destroy a large number of food supplies. However, thanks to the Canadian militia and the Native American forces, the U.S. attempt to take over British-ruled Canada flopped and only fueled the British fury for the imperious behaviors of the young country. To destabilize American power from within, the British supported the Native Americans, who continued to resist the U.S.’s westward expansion and impressed American merchant seamen to become crew on British ships, alluring them with better pay and higher career prospects. Moreover, the British could devote their time to the American affair when the war against France ended triumphantly, exiling the French leader Napoleon to St. Alba in 1814. So, it was ripe time for the British to march into the streets of the American capital city during the presidency of James Madison.

However, the British army was not altogether barbaric in ransacking civilian houses and burning historical and cultural artifacts like the Taliban. For example, the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001 that were incredible historical artifacts showing a spectacular combination of Indus and Hellenistic civilizations. The British didn’t harm the U.S. Patent Office, whose then-superintendent Dr. William Ornton’s plea for preserving the artifacts of humanity chimed the bell of the universal mind. They also didn’t set ablaze on civilian houses or buildings, except for the Capitol Building and the U.S. Treasury building. However, they did capture many of the valuable pictures and works of art, including the paintings of George III and Queen Charlotte from the President’s House (modern-day White House), later transported to Bermuda. How duplicitous it was to find the portraitures of the royalty from which Americans bled to gain independence owned by the American President’s House!

That might have become a great war between the two countries ended in the British retreat, thanks to the American blessing of untamed natural climate. An unexpected tornado pushed the British back to their ships and carried them back to their motherland, the Queen’s land. Come to think of it, America has been blessed with luck and timing, not to mention everlasting youth. Yet, this relatively unknown part of American history I have recently learned from a history magazine confirms that history is a series of vengeance on generations upon generations, as Herodotus observed. In that regard, the British burning of Washington reminds me of Julius Caesar’s burning of the library of Alexandria, the Greeks’ burning of Troy, and Nazi Germany’s burning of Paris. American is certainly no exception to the natural cycle of human history, invading and invaded, continuous in cycle and epicycle.

Posted in Film Review

‘Major Dundee’ (1965) – film essay

download

Ambition, made of sterner stuff, is the solder’s virtue that chooses gain, which darkens him. Bravery, comprised of nobler spirit, is the solder’s honor that elevates the soldier’s merit to the echelon of Homeric virtue of arete, the excellence of man leading to achieving a supernatural feat of heroism. An excellent soldier with arete knows no boundary of political, religious, social, or racial division and transcends the subjectivity of time. Major Dundee (1965), an American western film directed by Sam Peckinpah, cogently translates a balanced, objective equilibrium to test the validity of the soldiers’ virtues on the continuum of the Homeric arete in the background setting of the American Civil War.

images

Major Amos Charles Dundee of the Union Army (played by Charlton Heston) is a man of primitive ambition of glory sent to head a squalid prisoner-of-war camp in the New Mexico Territory. There he meets his former friend turned foe Confederate Captain Benjamin Tyreen (played by Richard Harris), who bears a grudge against Major Dundee for his betrayal of friendship. The notable tension between the two always remains even after their uneasy but necessary collaboration. Still, the esprit de corps consisting of unlikely but able-bodied characters sets to take out the Apache War Party in the new territories. Major Dundee sets out for the campaign not of pure divine patriotism but his glory despite his contentions with Captain Tyreen, who is more morally honorable and culturally sophisticated than himself.

960full-major-dundee-screenshot

It is Captain Tyreen, the renegade leader of the southern rebels who embodies the model of the arete, combined with moral integrity and soldierly fitness fabulously demonstrated in his effortlessly stylish habiliment. He is a dandy gentleman with decency and learning and an exemplary soldier and leader with justice and bravery. The refinement of civility as incarnate in the figure of Captain Tyreen is vividly contrasted with the rough intransigence of Major Dundee through the exterior appearances and actions of the two opposite characters. Even Captain Tyreen’s attitude toward the colored Union soldiers surpasses Major Dundee’s languid attitude toward his colored soldiers fighting for the same cause.

images

“Major Dundee” is a new type of western that abandons its common thematic elements consisting of noble savages, self-righteous lone gunslingers, the arch-villains, and beautiful women in pursuit. It is a new type of western that begins to be aware of the societal changes in the reflection of the nature of humanity with bold actions of likable bravado and admiring characters that are not circumscribed in the extreme ambit of norms and conventions with an artistic touch of vivid realism. Despite the rather unsatisfying commercial success of the film when it first came out, I find this film both entertaining and thoughtful in the historical background of the Civil War, showing true bravery equipped with respectful integrity of a person, friend or foe. There is no better sign of excellence in man than the bare demonstration of the act.

download

Posted in book review

‘The Saga of the Pony Express’, by Joseph J. DiCerto – review

The Saga of the Pony ExpressThe Saga of the Pony Express by Joseph J. DiCerto

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

19th Century America was rapidly expanding her territory to the west with the growth of population. So the inception of a rapid mail service across the continent to deliver important business documents, letters of importance both private and governmental, and newspaper articles was inevitable. But it was a risky business to do because crossing the continents at that time meant a perilous adventure fraught with hostile Indians, highwaymen, treacherous desert weathers and temperature, and other unforeseeable elements indicating danger.

DiCerto tells the reader of historical and cultural backgrounds on which the birth of The Pony Express as a joint venture of William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddel was founded against the odds, when the United States as a young nation in the world started to mark herself as a burgeoning western country with booming commerce and increasing population on a vast land in comparison with the European counterparts. During its operation, the service reduced the time for messages to travel between the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts to about 10 days, which is remarkable even for today’s standard of mail transit time. And it is a notable achievement of the Phony Express that the message carrying President Lincoln’s Inaugural Address was delivered from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, CA by a legendary pony rider Bob Haslam in record 8 hours.  In this book, the author explains about how the Pony Express came to exist despite its short lifespan (April 3rd 1860 ~ October 1861) with the advent of the transcontinental telegraphic system.

The author also relates with his consummate story-telling skills venturesome tales of the fearless young riders of the Express and their work routine, work conditions, and their interesting anecdotes, all of which are based upon veritable document records with pictures. The book is never a bore with the scintillating discourse of the historical context smacking of wits and love of the subject matter by the author who, in fact, asserts that this book is his child out of a long labor of love and passion for this awesome historical enterprise in the American history.

Posted in book review

By Ox Team to California by Lavinia Honeyman Porter

By Ox Team to California: A Narrative of Crossing the Plains in 1860By Ox Team to California: A Narrative of Crossing the Plains in 1860 by Lavinia Honeyman Porter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I like reading historical and social accounts of writers both famous and ordinary, such as travelogue, diary, and letter because they reveal something about the authors’ personalities and the social milieus of the times that look to be beguilingly fictitious with frankness and stupendousness that reality brings about.  In this regard, this book is an informative and enjoyable read.  It’s a story of an intelligent and brave woman’s narrative of her six month journey with her husband, younger brother (although he later decided to stay in Colorado instead of venturing to California), and their little son overland to Sacramento, California by an ox-driven wagon. The story is read as if the author were telling her tale of pioneer adventure to West for a fresh new start. In the course of her narrative, readers can also peep into the general outlook on the Native Americans whom the author shows sympathy toward and the panoramic view of immigration trail usually congested with ox or mule driven wagons. This is a valuable record of an enterprising and educated woman unafraid of the perils of long journey overland with a “go-aheaditiveness” attitude which is still so uniquely part of the American character.

저장