Friday, December 10, 2004

Changing Times

I never seem to be reading the current issue of anything. This morning it was the September issue of Chronicles. Chilton Williamson's column "What's Wrong With The World" contained the following couple of paragraphs which struck me as particularly demonstrative of how the world and this country have changed. Not just computers and other gadgets but a completely different ethos. (The point of his essay is not Iraq or even war in general, despite how this excerpt begins, but education, spurred by a notice in The New York Times that the ambitious middle class family these days sends it children not to summer camp but to "getting-into-college camp".)

The Spanish-American War was the direct (though infinitely more successful) forebear of the calamitous Iraqi war now being fought. Yet, while the war in the Philippines produced atrocities far exceeding those of Abu Ghraib, the Cuban campaign had its gallant aspect, provided in considerable part by Theodore Roosevelt's volunteer Rough Rider regiment -- which, so far as I am able to recall, has no parallel in subsequent American warfare The Rough Riders included recruits from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and clubs such as the Knickerbocker of New York and the Somerset of Boston. (Hamilton Fish, Jr., the ex-captain of the Columbia crew, was among the first casualties on the slog from Daiquiri over to Kettle Hill.) It included as well hunters, ex-sheriffs, cowboys, mining prospectors, and mountain men from the Western territories -- uncouth frontiersmen who had hardly suspicioned the existence of anything like a Fish, a Page, or a Channing.

Roosevelt was initially pleased by the refusal of the bluebloods to lord it over their social inferiors by demanding commissons for themselves, being content instead to serve under whatever roughneck they were assigned to; after the regiment had returned stateside and been mustered out, he was delighted to be able to claim that not a single man had backed out after volunteering for service nor failed to do his enitire duty. As for himself, Roosevelt explains in "The Rough Riders",

"During the year preceding the outbreak of the Spanish War, I was assistant secretary of the Navy. While my party was in opposition, I had preached, with all the fervor and zeal I possessed, our duty to intervene in Cuba and to take this opportunity of driving the Spaniard from the Western World. Now that my party had come to power, I felt it incumbent on me, by word and deed, to do all I could to secure the carrying out of the policy in which I so heartily believed; and from the beginning I had determined that, if a war came, somehow or other, I was going to the front."

Imagine Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, or Douglas Feith forming a regiment and taking it to the Iraqi front. Or a modern-day Harvard or Columbia graduate volunteering for service with it. Really, it is unimaginable. Probably fewer than ten percent of American males with college degrees have ever handled a firearm. America in 1898 was still a whole society, raising up whole men. The difference between then and now is, to some degree, the difference between summer camp and college camp.

Unimaginable indeed. Oh, surely the ivy league is not completely unrepresented. But they are also just as surely counter ivy league cultural.

[Chronicles has a website (linked above) but this article is not on it.]