This is an experiment: a few chatty words about everything and nothing, before I get on to the post. Tell me things you'd like me to talk about, but please, not our Twitterer in Chief, who gets too much of exposure as it is.
Three signs of the season here in New York City:
- Dead oak leaves in every shade of brown are being blown about, often in little swirls and flurries, by autumn winds.
- I saw a big blue truck on West 14th Street packed high with stacks of tightly bound Christmas trees, surely to be distributed to retail sites on the sidewalks of the city.
- I bought from L.L. Bean a thick wool beanie to warm my chilly ears when I go out in wintry weather. The problem: I think that people, when their ears are concealed, look absolutely silly. We humans weren't meant to be seen earless, and my beanie makes me look earless and silly -- sillier than usual, that is. So will I wear the beanie and look silly, or leave it at home and look human, albeit with half-frozen ears? Time will tell.
How America goes to war: 1861 and Later
Here is a revised version of post #76, first published on
August 4, 2013. It seems relevant today.
That New York City went to war in 1861 surprised many in the South and even some in the North, for the city had strong commercial ties to the South, and its merchants dreaded war. So as Secession loomed, the merchants advocated compromise with the South, and Mayor Fernando Wood, the slickest and deftest of politicians, even proposed that the city secede from the North, so as to maintain its ties with the South. (Not the last time the city dreamed of going it alone.) `But all that changed in April 1861, when newspaper headlines broke the news: THE WAR COMMENCED, WAR AT LAST. The South had opened fire on Fort Sumter; it was war indeed.
- Patriotism raised to a fever pitch.
- Celebration of heroes real or manufactured.
- Demonization of the enemy.
- The sobering up.
Other papers deemed insufficiently patriotic were similarly threatened, as were hotels once graced by the drawl of Southern chivalry; in every case flags were conspicuously displayed. In all these situations the police followed the crowd discreetly, so as to prevent any violence. As well they might, since an effigy was found hanging in City Hall Park with a placard in bold letters: ROPE ALL TRAITORS, and another was seen hanging by its neck out a window on a downtown street with a sign proclaiming, EVERY TRAITOR SHOULD BE SERVED THUS. More than one citizen who expressed, or was thought to have expressed, sympathy for the South or disloyalty to the President was beaten and knocked down in the street. Small wonder that the Herald staff were said to be armed, and to have pumps ready to throw boiling water on any mob attacking their building.
And the ladies? They were in it up to their delicate ears, adorning themselves with flags and bunting, cheering volunteers as they drilled, and evincing a most passionate fondness for uniforms. At a party a young woman asked her fiancé if he was going to volunteer. "Do you really want me to volunteer and get killed?" he asked. Springing up from her seat, her eyes flashing fire, her cheeks flushed, she announced, "If you are a coward and dare not fight for your country, you are not the man for me!" So if young men flocked to volunteer, they weren't inspired by patriotism alone, since to cut a shine with the girls, you had to be in uniform.
Support for the military came from surprising quarters. RADWAY'S READY RELIEF was touted in a long ad in the Times as appropriate for every man in the Army or Navy to allay inflammation, prevent mortification in case of gunshot wounds, and prevent the need for amputation. It was also a cure for malarious fevers, dysenteries, rheumatism, and other maladies. A retired Colonel Gates of the U.S. Army was quoted as saying that he would no more think of retiring to bed without a bottle of it than to go into battle without his sword. Needless to say, someone always gets rich in a war, but this was nothing, compared to the war contractors who would soon be supplying the military with the best shoddy blankets and collapsible boots available.
On Friday, April 19, the 7th Regiment marched down flag-bedecked Broadway on its way to Washington, shouldering rifles with bayonets, while a huge crowd of spectators greeted them with cheers and tears and cries of "God bless them!" Mothers watched discreetly from the back windows of closed carriages drawn up on the curbstones, while others watched from windows or rooftops, and boys scaled lampposts, trees, and fences for a better view. Other regiments would soon follow, including Colonel Elmer Ellsworth's Fire Zouaves in red shirts, gray baggy pants, and blue overcoats. A regiment of volunteers from the slums danced with delight on receiving revolvers and bowie knives, and weren't the least bit put off by reports that a secessionist mob in Baltimore had attacked a Massachusetts regiment en route to Washington: "We can fix that Baltimore crowd! We boys is sociable with pavin' stones, too!"
|The Fire Zouaves, recruited from the city's firemen, march down Broadway en route to Washington.|
Then, on Saturday, April 20, over one hundred thousand citizens gathered at Union Square for the largest patriotic rally the city had ever seen. There were speeches from five stands, and lesser spiels from front stoops, carts, and windows, as city officials, rescued from franchise scandals and complaints about manure in the streets, stood brisk and square, flanked by braided generals, as out of the mouths of orators poured acclamations: "Divine Providence ... Constitution ... flag insulted ... Christian civilization ... sacred independence ... freedom against oppression ... God." Rippling through the sea of waving flags were prayers and resolutions, plus cannon booms and cheers.
The rally in Union Square. One detail seems inaccurate: the flag flying from the George Washington statue, supposedly from Fort Sumter, seems remarkably intact.
|A man you'd love to hate. |
And so full of himself!
What I recall in World War II was more grim determination than patriotic fervor, a mood far different from the intense patriotism of World War I, which my parents told me of, including an account of a young man so ashamed of being rejected by the services that he often kept to the alleys of Indianapolis, rather than be seen on the street. Nor did the slogans of World War II match in fervent idealism those of the previous war, as for instance "Make the world safe for democracy" and "The war to end wars." Nor do I recall parades of soldiers marching off to war. In my home town of Evanston, draftees were served coffee and a sandwich by civilian volunteers and then, in the early morning hours, were whisked off by bus to an induction center. Maybe we had learned something after all.
|A World War I recruiting poster,|
just as relevant for World War II.
|A demonized Germany wading|
through a sea of dead bodies.
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