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.
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.
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.
“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.
The 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.
By 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.