Rough Rider, Surgeon,
Architect of American Imperialism
(New York University Press)What is needed in Cuba at present is a firm but liberal and just government of the people, for the people, and by the people, under American military supervision, for the time being; this supervision to extend only to such a time as the civil government shall have become fully established.--- Leonard Wood,
Governor-General of Cuba,
1900 - 1902
We have here a corkingly executed biography of Leonard Wood, named after Fort Leonard Wood. His first assignment for the U. S. Army came in 1885, and it was to chase the terrorist of his day --- a Bedonkhe Apache named Geronimo --- through the mountain wastes of Northern Mexico.Wood was one of those impossible Calvinistic figures who could sleep on a bed of cactus, wake up at four, suitably refreshed, and force his men to dog-trot through the desert of Sonora at 120 degrees, all carrying forty pound packs. By the end of the day, all of his men wanted to drop by the wayside, while Wood was setting up camp, ranging over a mile of wasteland to find wood to set a fire, preparing tins of bully-beef and water for their dinner.
He was strangely (for the time) considerate of his enemy --- believing that if the Apaches and Chiricahuas had their own land and cattle, they would stop stealing from the ranchers (and murdering them). But he was overruled by his superiors.Col. Nelson Miles, Woods' boss, promised that if the Indians surrendered they would be given "cattle, horses, mules and farming implements. You will be furnished with men to work the farm, for you yourself will not have to work. In the fall I will send you blankets and clothing so that you will not suffer from cold in the winter time."
When the Apaches reluctantly surrendered at Fort Bowie, they --- men, women, and children --- were promptly stuffed into cattle cars and shipped, in the summer heat, to another wasteland from which they never returned, Fort Pickens in Florida.
From the deserts of the Arizona Territory, Wood ultimately came to Cuba. He was made the absolute ruler of Santiago, a city of 40,000. When he took over, he found a metropolis where "people with jaundiced skin draped over wasted muscles shuffled along streets ankle deep in garbage and excrement, their slow progress occasionally redirected around the swollen, fly-blown corpse of a horse or a mule."
As with all Calvinists, he knew that a chain of command, specific areas for specific officers, coupled with clean streets, tidy homes, and healthy people would overcome any problem. "Food was desperately needed and he had food, so he used it to control the city."
He divided the city into five districts, each with its own medical and sanitation officer and drafted 100-man work crews (with absolute disregard for social status) from the citizenry. The poor were induced to work by trading food for labor, and the wealthy were conscripted. Those who resisted were taken into the streets and horse-whipped."
"For the time being," reports McCallum, he was (at least until General Douglas MacArthur got to Tokyo half a century later) as near to dictator as any American could be."
He represented that astounding blend of toughness and administrative ability and honesty that made it possible for him, the military, and the citizens to rebuild the infrastructure of a devastated country. Amazingly, Wood promulgated for Cuba a list of "universal rights" based on the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights. He thus "granted the Cuban people a degree of personal freedom they had never known." The author calls him an "incongruous mix of Polonius and Abraham Lincoln."
§ § §
The picture that McCallum offers us in this often compelling book is of a man who reached his peak as an idealistic military and administrative genius. He would have excelled in early Soviet Russia. (Indeed a photograph of him taken in 1920 when he was campaigning for president of the United States looks alarmingly like Josef Stalin --- see Fig. 2 above). Unfortunately, criticism --- and even democracy --- did not seem to sit well with Wood as he turned into an old fuddy-duddy. During the Philippine War, his stewardship was marked by a new brutality. He personally supervised the 1905 battle at Mount Dajo in which at least 600 Moros, including whole families, were massacred. This headline appeared in New York Times:
WOMEN AND CHILDREN KILLED IN MORO BATTLE
PRESIDENT WIRES CONGRATULATIONS TO TROOPS
§ § §
In 1914 - 1916, much to President Wilson's disgust, Wood criss-crossed America calling for massive preparation for war. In a letter to a friend, Wood wrote,
The professional pacifist, the advocate of un-preparedness and non resistance, is the most dangerous of our citizens ... He is like the well-dressed and well-groomed typhoid carrier, as he goes about, poisoning the very life of the people.
For most of his last years, He was back governing the Philippines; at the same time, he was plagued by a growing paralysis, the result of a brain tumor (which finally killed him).
One critic found him to be "a conceited bore:"
He is a very frigid personality, with absolutely no sense of humor.
Far from the enterprising caretaker of Cuba --- a role that brought him the admiration of the world --- his last years in the east were contentious, his way of dealing with the "coolies" was rigid, and the results for the future of the Philippine republic, were a disaster.
Oh, yes. That line at the beginning about Leonard Wood "being named after Fort Leonard Wood" was just a yuck. He was really named after Fort Sam Houston.--- Phylis M. French
The Making of an
Half a Century Pounding
The Political Beat
(Johns Hopkins)For a longer time than you and I would care to remember, Jules Witcover has been covering American politics --- first for the Newhouse papers, then for the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and finally for the Baltimore Sun. He has written quite a few books, the last being a history of the Democrats.Witcover is an old-time reporter and it shows. His writing is easy, a bit frothy. He was part of the pump-house gang that ran American journalism back in the heady days when a fish-like drinking capacity had to be commensurate with the ability to churn out the copy.Whether he is writing about Ted Kennedy or Bill Clinton or Lyndon Johnson, whether he is telling us about his take on Nixon and Ford, McCarthyism, the "Saturday Night Massacre," the shooting of George Wallace or the demise of the quality of the Baltimore Sun, his style is one of a language watered down if not whored to reach the masses. At the funeral for her husband, Jackie Kennedy is "solemn but controlled." DeGaulle is "tall, now rotund." Prince Philip is "fairy tale handsome."He interviews Martin Luther King, "I found him to be earnest and low key ... unabashedly committed to taking to the trenches of the war against racial discrimination and injustice." During the Democratic convention in 1964, after introducing a film about his brother, Robert Kennedy "stood with moist eyes and a sorrowful gaze." As my old roommate Wally would say after reading aloud a particularly turgid piece of reportage in our college daily: "Well ... duh."
Thus Ink-Stained Wretch is not only misnamed (reporters may still be wretches, but they stopped using pen-and-ink a hundred years ago), it is a cheery, cheesy throw-away. All reporters need editors; Witcover's logorrhea could easily have been edited from three-hundred pages down to, say, a hundred or so.
The author does think that reporters getting juiced out of their minds is very very funny, whether it is a drunk put on by the Pentagon at a brothel in Panama City ("including a grotesque 'exhibition' not recommended for the queasy of stomach,") or cocktails doled out for the working press in Frankfurt-am-Main. The 1971 Rockefeller-inspired murder of prisoners at Attica is not featured, but the bus chartered for reporters is, because it was "more than amply supplied with refreshments, both solid and liquid."
"On Rockefeller's campaign trail in New York City,"
Our ethical standards took a holiday as we dug into the feast, washing it down the house's best libations.
During Muskie's campaign in 1972, Witcover fondly remembers the bar at the Sheraton Wayfarer in Bedford, New Hampshire. In 2004, he reflects on the "endless nights of good talk and drink at countless saloons from Des Moines to Manchester and on out to San Francisco and back." Thus the Fourth Estate, the ones charged with informing and enlightening 20th Century America, apparently consists of little more than a handful of beery jokesters involved in a light-hearted romp through the watering-holes of America.
§ § §
Some readers may not have my prejudice against fatuous writing. Some may actually believe that reporter Bob Novak "remains the model for old-fashioned enterprise, with a fearsome countenance that belies a warm heart." Some may not be offended by that killer phrase --- used in reference to George Wallace --- "the shooting left him confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life." Some may not even be irritated by a lecture on style, found in the early pages of Wretch: "One old grammar crank named John David pounded into me the 'infinitive of purpose' rule --- using an infinitive only to convey why an action was taken." He concludes,
With such distinctions did we wile away the postmidnight hours around the sports copy rim.
Oh, wiling away the hours, getting tanked at the local Sheraton watering-hole, waiting for the next candidate to drop by, while we, juiced to the gills, the keepers of the lights of the Republic, decks awash, completely ossified, somehow beat the deadline to make it to the offish to pound out another mash of copy. Hic.--- Lolita Lark
The Autobiography of
(Contiuum)My older sister had about ten years on me. In those post-war years, intra-familial communication was not something you worried about, so I never talked to her (that I can remember) and she scarcely spoke to me. She called me her "be-bop" brother, even though I wasn't crazy about that particular art form.To enforce this view of me, one birthday, she bought me several MGM 78s by George Shearing with such gorpy titles as "Bop, Look and Listen" and "Good to the Last Bop." I cadged these away until I could safely dispose of them, for my taste ran to a stranger mix. I did have affection for gooey music --- Doris Day, Montovani, Billy Eckstein --- all of which, thank god, I eventually outgrew. For jazz, I favored Stan Kenton, Nat "King" Cole and Artie Shaw's "Gramercy Five" --- this last complete with a thumpy harpsichord. (The band was named after a telephone exchange in New York City which made it, for me, top drawer).
Since I lived in Richmond, there were several radio stations that featured "race" music. My favorites included the uptown singers: Billie Holliday, Joe Williams, Nellie Lutcher. The latter's top hit, considered quite naughty for those pre-TV days, was "Hurry on Down," offered in a singularly breathy style:
Hurry on down to my place, baby
Ain't nobody home but me;
Move it down, roll it down,
Any way you get it down,
I'm blue as I can be;
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust
C'mon baby, you must, you must.
Mother's gone for the rest of the day,
Just think of it baby,
We'll have a long time to play...
There was also Helen Humes, whose lyrics were considered to be so tawdry that one of her records, "The Million Dollar Baby," featured a 30-second blank spot, where the following lines had been exorcised:
I've got a man who's 78;
And I'm just twenty-three;
Everybody thinks I'm crazy but
His will's made out to me.
I was also enamored of the raw country blues singers: Little Willie, Blind Gary Davis, Rev. Kelsey (and his Congregation), Rabbit Brown, and the superb, underappreciated (then and now), L'il Son Jackson:
I want you to rock me baby,
Like my back ain't got no bone;
Oh yes rock me baby,
Like my back ain't got no bone.
§ § §
To my seventeen-year-old ears, George Shearing just couldn't cut the mustard ... and years later, I am afraid, my opinion hasn't changed all that much. We are all impressed by the fact that he was born blind to an alcoholic mother, raised himself up by the bootstraps, taught himself the piano and accordion --- even though he says in one of the many asides in this book:
I don't play the accordion any more, and I got rid of the instrument many years ago, having come to the conclusion that the definition of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the accordion and doesn't.
Lullaby of Birdland, is lousy with one-liners like this. As a boy, Shearing used no cane or guide, so he was often scarred from falls and running into things.
I always thought was a shame that I wasn't christened George Spanner instead of George Shearing because if you were to take a look at my shins, legs, or arms where these scars appeared, you would know immediately that I was the "scar-spangled Spanner!"
Boffs aside, Lullaby of Birdland, like many of Shearing's recordings, goes on for a long time. A very long time. With lots of endless noodling. And not much in the way of artistic variation on a theme.
Which is, according to the notes I took while slogging through the book, that George Shearing is straightforward, a joke-loving, talented, famous, warm-hearted, courageous, trustworthy, conscientious, generous, creative, well-known, considerate, thoughtful, cultured, accepting, bright, curious, wise, proper, notable, kindly and quite enlightened.
He also writes (or dictates) prose just as he plays music: straight, no chaser, placid if not flaccid, and most significantly, without much heart. It's astonishingly like his music, much-beloved by many who are fond of sitting around in smoky cellars, breathing each others' exhalations, sipping a $10 mug of beer or a shot of whiskey from tiny shot-glasses, tapping their feet and waggling their heads, ogling the guy in front of them with the dark glasses and spotlight. For them, this book has got to be a godsend.
For the rest of us, an evening at Birdland would not be unlike twenty-four hours in the Green Zone of Baghdad. Making it through Lullaby of Birdland could be compared to --- second prize --- an entire week in Baghdad.
My sister was mistaken. George Shearing was not carrying a special banner for those seeking unusual music. Rather, he was, and still is, one who can perform well in front of a rapt audience, playing his own wildly popular composition, "Lullaby of Georgeland."
Which, perchance, should have the title of his autobiography.--- L. L. Warden