In one of the multitude of homes which my family inhabited as a peripatetic Navy family, we lived next door to a man who’d been in the army during WW2 and liberated one of the camps. I was 9 going on 10 and always sidling up to him to ask him what it was like. Sometimes he would talk. Mostly he would cry.
My mother would look at me with that jaundiced look which I have since co-opted for my own children: “Why are you bothering the neighbors?” I understand her now, having asked that very question of my mischievous brood, when they’ve followed their individual daimons into high naughtiness. At that time–and even now–I had to appease my hunger to hear people’s stories. History has always fascinated me, but not from an intellectual standpoint. There has to be a personal hook. I want to hear how an individual loved and suffered and laughed and threw tantrums during important passages of the human race’s travels through time. I want to feel what they felt as if I were feeling it.
So the other day at the Provincetown library, when I ruffled through a young adult biography of Winston Churchill, the hook which grabbed me was the link to my own experience: my travails with my 15 year old daughter, who is equal parts troublemaker, creative artist, incisive psychologist, entertainer, and sensitive soul. I love her deeply and worry about her all the time. Churchill’s misspent youth full of backchat, overspending, and bad grades, followed by an adulthood as one of the greatest statesmen of all time, gives me hope. Having dealt with any number of teachers and administrators with their supercilious moral rectitude and low opinion of my daughter, which she certainly earned, and their anger with me because I can’t ‘fix her’ to their immediate liking, I am gratified to see that troubled adolescents can turn out to be outstanding adults.
I know this anyway, from my own husband. He’s told me some hair-raising stories about feeling alienated, getting drunk, and climbing the columns on the front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was about the same age as my irascible middle child. He’s become the most devoted and finest figurative sculptor living today, and one of the cleanest living people I know. But his parents must have wrung their hands.
It’s even more solace to read about Churchill and to think about what he accomplished across the great span of time, from the Boer wars to WW1 to WW2. There’s a lot to be said for an independent-minded person, and those kind often struggle with authority. Churchill, and my wild child, are two such.
Being intrigued with Churchill, I’ve become intrigued with that tapestry of time. I’m just beginning research into the period and I have a lot of questions. Why was North Africa such an important area during WW2? After the despair and tragedies of WW1–France lost 1.25 million men, and they were a country of only about 40 million people–how did Europe fall into WW2 a mere 20 years later?
Was it because the reparations demanded of Germany after the first world war were too great? One friend of mine claims that we would have avoided WW2 if Germany had won WW1 and centralized Europe under its aegis. Or was Germany at that time just warlike enough, and prejudiced enough, that Hitler would have gained a foothold even under conditions of an alternate universe?
And what about Churchill sinking French ships to avoid the French Navy being turned over to the Germans? Didn’t the French self-scuttle a bunch of their own ships a year later, for the same purpose? Did Churchill need to infuriate De Gaulle and the French? Was he a brilliant man but also an a**hole, as another friend claims?
From this vantage, the beginning of my research, I see that Churchill had some serious flaws. He could not avoid the British Imperialism that has led to severe injustices across the world. It’s a kind of arrogance, an unquestioning assumption of superiority, and it is mirrored in the US imposition of Pax Americana.
Note to Obama: we should not be in Afghanistan. Why are you listening to your generals tell you we can win, when the crackerjack Russian army couldn’t? What will history say of you for that error in judgement? And why the hell has the response to British Petroleum’s dreadful spill, which will damage the world for centuries, been so slow and backward? What kind of arrogance is at work here?
I am voting 3rd party with next election. I can’t bring myself to vote Republican. I can’t stand the bigotry that’s become entrenched in the Far Right. Also, despite what the simple-minded think, people can be both pro-life and pro-choice at the same time. I am one of those people.
But Obama is a big disappointment. He talks good but he’s not accomplishing what we’d hoped.
History is happening now, repeating itself, waiting to be learned from. And my daughter is still evolving.