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"Often Sought, Scarcely Found"
THREE WEEKS, VOLUME 1 ISSUE 17 - SEPTEMBER 28, 2002

"The history of the world is the record of the weakness, frailty, and death of public opinion."

Cover
On Iraq, A Remedial Summary of Mesopotamian History, by Henry William Brownejohns
Notices
Notes on Commemoration, by Eliza Anne Bonney
Mr. Pataki, by The Editors
Apologies to Fitz-Greene Halleck, by Alexander Swartwout
Corrections and Addendum
The Weather, by J. Ephrain Underhill

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ON IRAQ

A REMEDIAL SUMMARY OF MESOPOTAMIAN HISTORY

 

In These Pages, More Than Your Congressman Knows

 

The Editors Reluctantly Enter the Fray, Fully Expecting to be Ignored

&

A Dissent, For What It’s Worth

 

 

by Henry William Brownejohns

The much-denounced tyrant, Mr. Hussein, must at least be credited with promptly and effectively calling our President’s bluff, and showing that Mr. Bush’s hand, contrary to his protestations, was all Howitzers, and no doves.  Over the preceding months, Mr. Bush had gently coaxed his Terrorism War away from the terrorists, and on to his favorite despot, all the while insisting that his aim was not a new war, but Mr. Hussein’s submission to decade-old United Nations orders.  As the publicity campaign was waged, Mr. Hussein went about his business, probably a little satisfied by his predictable inclusion in America’s bellicose plans.  And lately, with Mr. Bush’s imaginary deadlines and unintelligible ultimatums exhausted, and the Presidential call to war reaching its height, Mr. Hussein, with a vaudevillian’s timing, acceded totally to the U.N. demands.

The tension in the White House lasted all of twenty minutes, before the President emerged and proclaimed Mr. Hussein’s sudden concession inadequate.  So while the soft-hearts on the East River began to hammer out plans for enforcement and arrange a Baghdad hotel suite for the weapons inspectors, Mr. Bush was already making final plans for invasion, as if Iraq had, instead of saying ‘Uncle,’ said ‘Your mother.’  Perhaps somebody stole that day’s newspaper from the White House stoop.

More likely, Mr. Bush simply never intended to let Mr. Hussein off the hook.  Mr. Hussein has never endeared himself, by embarrassing the President’s father in surviving the last expedition to Baghdad, and subsequently trying an assassination on the senior Mr. Bush; and tangentially, the failure of the present campaign to turn up the villain, Mr. bin Laden, has made it that much more risky to be a high-profile non-Christian autocrat, with a published street address.  America’s most brain-dead simpletons understand the nature of Mr. Bush’s vendetta, and it would be a tremendous relief if the administration would simply begin addressing the situation on its merits.  Until they do, Mr. Hussein’s obvious maneuvers will continue to make Mr. Bush look like a petty debutante.  If he hates Mr. Hussein, let’s hear it that way, and if he can persuade Congress that this is reason enough for war, then let’s let him try.

A week later, and no such dignity.  Instead, the administration’s Foreign Policy sheet has been released, seemingly after the fact, and with total disregard to Iraq’s concession of the week prior; and it declares that a new era in American aggression has begun.  Without irony, without apology, the administration has proclaimed this country’s intention to attack, without provocation, any political body it deems a threat,  previous to the brandishing of said antagonism, and without the advice or consent of any institution or ally.  The thing has been read once or twice by each of your editors, and we admit to being impressed that the rhetoricians in the State Department have managed to avoid the phrase ‘Shoot first, ask questions later,’ but as to the ethical merit of the paper, it is abhorrent, and as citizens, we don’t remember asking for anything like it.  It is more than a little embarrassing to be so misrepresented by our governors, and so we here enter the pointless debate over the imminent war with, well, everybody.  Pointless, because Mr. Bush has made it clear that he has made up his mind, both by saying directly so, and by ignoring Iraq’s gesture – which, granted, was itself tongue-in-cheek, and only meant to draw out the truth of Mr. Bush’s intent.  And pointless, further, because the Congress have, typically, run from the fight, and forgotten the authority and responsibility bestowed upon them by the Constitution to check a rampant executive.  The debate has been one of the sorriest in American history, because it never included a counter-argument, against war – the entire public discussion has been about mere calendrics.

So what is our purpose?  Partly, we squawk to posterity, so that there is little question where we stood back when, and to let it be known, down the road, that even as America was dragged to its lowest moral depth, it still harbored our sort, who boldly dissented on the grounds of old-fashioned humanism and age-old practicality, if not on newer bases, like adherence to international law.  Also, our egos become conflicted over this sort of argument, because its resolution seems so clear and apparent to us, its contrary arguments all so common-sense; yet we hear none of it considered by the public or the pundits, who seem to dwell on arcana and nonsense, when they even approach relevance at all.  So we often end up stating what seems to us the obvious, only to be graced with a bundle of letters praising our subtle thought and our incisive commentary.  And for some mail, we shall always go an extra yard.

And our last and perhaps most important mission here is to simply inform a nation poised for war about the place they are about to obliterate.  When Iraq, prostrate, becomes the fifty-first state, and is paved with hotels, we only hope that our countrymen who go to visit will do so with some shred of enlightenment about its vast, fascinating history, and not blow through with the boorish ignorant enthusiasm which comes so easily to us.  The truth is, Iraq is so rich in significance and studded with antiquity that the American psyche cannot approach comprehension without much preparation.  So we here offer a primer as a last resort to blind imperialism; at the very least, let us dignify our representative’s aggression with a popular enlightenment.

 

 --

A HISTORY OF IRAQ.  The oldest towns in the world are about five thousand years ancient, and they are in Iraq.  Literally ‘between the rivers,’ Mesopotamia was a fine old marsh and grassland, fed by the Tigris and the Euphrates streams.  It was, apparently, as good as anyplace to set up a town, the locals finally having become exhausted with the small-scale agriculture and nomadic subsistence farming that was so chic at the end of the Stone Age.  Whatever the inspiration, civilization was established here, and to date, the mounds of those old burgs are still around to take one’s picture in front of.

The builders of these towns soon formed a loosely-bound nation, which we know today as Sumer.  This was in the lower extremity of the Tigris and Euphrates plain, which, it must be remembered, was at the time as far North, or further, than the current Baghdad.  The ample silt output of the two rivers has built most of modern Southern Iraq in only the last few thousand years.

The Sumerians got humanity off to a rousing beginning, building the great ziggurat temples of Uruk, Eridu, and Ur; and, legendarily inspired by the god Enki, of wisdom and water, invented the world’s first written language, cuneiform.  In this premier abstract symbology, they set down not only trading records and religious texts, but humanity’s first literature, the peculiar and entertaining Epic of Gilgamesh.  It is one of the great shortfalls of our modern education that the entirety of Gilgamesh – so overflowing with raunchy erotica, chivalric battles, fantastical creatures, absurd instances of magic, and bawdy naturalism - is not required reading, like the duller Beowulf.  The editors, anyway, recommend it.

The Sumerians kept themselves busy raising sheep and goats, and growing barley – for beginners, they were adept diggers of irrigation canals.  It is widely held that the Sumerians were the inventors of the wheel – though they seem to have invented it for pottery-making, and only incidentally did one get attached to a cart.  It is as surprising to learn that the plough was conceived of by the same people, who started out with wood ones, and quickly moved on to copper, and then to bronze.  By 3000 b.c.e., the Sumerians had made more than a few giant leaps out of the Neolithic.

To the North of Sumeria, a Semitic people had settled around a city known as Agade, though this metropolis has yet to be located by archaeology.  After their capital, we know them as the Akkadians, and for several centuries, they coexisted in relative peace with the Sumerians to the South.  By 2300 b.c.e., the Akkadians, under a fellow called Sargon I, became more aggressive, and the two populations began to mingle – about as tranquil a conquest as the region would see in its history.  The combined Sumerian-Akkadian nation, an ethnic as well as a political mixture, would, in the next century, come to be known as Babylonia.  The novice should not be ashamed at his own awe, if this already seems too many illustrious names for such a lately put-upon backwater.  The author himself, in research, was impressed once and again.

Babylonia, centered around the great city of Babylon on the Euphrates (this, too, can still be visited, though its splendor is understandably less than it once was – I understand only the outer walls are still discernible), was, according to the Old Testament, the last stop before the Garden of Eden.  The number of ancient texts praising the size and magnificence of the city of Babylon is enough to break a sturdy shelf, and reading just a few of them, it is fairly clear that Babylon was the Gotham of its day.  In a world the human population of which was still barely a million strong, Babylon was said to extend ten miles in diameter, and was so crowded that certain districts’ streets weren’t wide enough to walk down, but the buildings were accessed by hatches in the roof.  Time machines still pending, we shall have to take the often excitable ancient historians at their word, but regardless, the gist is clear: we probably would have liked it there.

And as we had our Laguardia - or our Giuliani, depending on your stance - Babylon had Hammurabi, who reigned between 2123 and 2081, b.c.e.  Indeed, he was arguably more Giulianiesque, if we consider his most famous achievement, the Code of Hammurabi.  This was a great diorite cylinder, upon which was carved the first set of laws, the first effort at uniform, secular justice in human society.  Its slant was towards the lex talionis - an eye for an eye - but the records of the age indicate that Hammurabi himself was surprisingly merciful for the inventor of such a terse constitution.  The cylinder itself resides today in the Louvre, tangible to any doubters, but safe from the dismantling urge of the U.S. Attorney General.  As Hammurabi gave us laws, we must also not neglect to realize that he gave us courts, hearings, and those unfortunate barnacles of due process, lawyers.

Babylon had seven centuries to thrive, and did, by all accounts.  Our own grand town hasn’t yet been around for  five, and has only really got going the last two – so the example of Hammurabi’s city is still an unfamiliar standard for us.  But in 1595 b.c.e., Babylon was sacked by he Hittites, who had come across from Anatolia, though the Hittites never planned on staying.  They conquered the Babylonians, and disappeared to whence they came.

It took two centuries more for another political entity to exert authority over Babylon and the surrounding nation, and when at last one did, it was another Semitic people, the Assyrians, who moved in from the West.  Rather than  simply occupy and rebuild the old (a thousand years by then, already) Babylonia, the Assyrians built anew in its midst.  Their major towns were on the Tigris, including Ashur, Kalakh, and Nineveh (also, apparently, still around for postcards).  The Assyrians, though credited with authority over the region, really spent the bulk of their time suppressing the revolt of the resident Babylonians, and the old town of Babylon was overrun repeatedly, pillaged every time. 

The Assyrian dynasty is a neat one, in that it is easily followed from father to son, for four generations.  Sargon II set up the family, and was followed in turn by his son Sennacherib, grandson Esarhadden, and most famously, great-grandson Ashurbanipal.  Under this last king, the Assyrian Empire stretched so far as to include Egypt to the West, and reached to the edge of India in the East.  Ashurbanipal died, leaving no sons, and the Assyrian influence quickly waned – allowing, in less than one generation, the first successful rebellion in Babylon since occupation.  This was the second coming of the Babylonian Empire, sometimes referred to as the Chaldaean, and its beginning was marked by the notorious reign of the king Nebuchadnezzar.

Besides an appearance in the pages of the Bible as a nifty villain, Nebuchadnezzar was known for the rebuilding of Babylon to a glory equal to, or even greater than, its previous one.  He built the Hanging Gardens, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (the immense walls of Babylon, glazed with brightly colored bricks, occasionally get included among the seven wonders also, though that leaves one unforgivably with eight).  And on every brick of the rebuilt city, the king had imprinted the phrase “I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.”  The current Mr. Hussein has learned some of his gusto from the despots of yesteryear; all new construction in Iraq, including all of Mr. Hussein’s royal palaces, is done with bricks inscribed with the name Saddam Hussein.

The second ascendance of Babylonia came to an abrupt end, as did any sort of ethnic sovereignty for the Mesopotamian people, with the conquest by the Persians under Cyrus the Great, in 538 b.c.e.  The Persians, technically, were an Aryan race come down from Central Asia, and are the ancestors of today’s Iranians, though, as the forthcoming chronology indicates, any claims to ethnic purity in the region are hard to make, considering the passage of millennia of mixture, conquest, and reconquest.

The Persians were in fact an agglomeration of various tribes – including the Kassites, the Elamites, the Lullubi, and the Guti – all finally united under the impressive figure of Cyrus, nothing less than a Caesar of the Middle East.  In some form or another the Persian Empire would survive right up to the advent of Islam, in the eighth century of the common era.  Cyrus conquered Babylon, and established a Persian center in Mesopotamia at Susa, further down the river.  He left the Empire in the charge of Xerxes, something of a favorite historical tyrant around here, not only for his mellifluous name.  The hot-tempered Xerxes, pursuing the Greek army across the Dardanelles, came up with the novel idea of building a floating bridge across the strait.  With his entire army and cavalry in crossing, a great squall is said to have kicked up, drowning tens of thousands of his force.  Xerxes, in a splendid display of futile, unmanaged rage, ordered that the water be flayed, and it was, by those few deputies of his still around to serve.

The Persians enjoyed a couple centuries of dominance, though their steady rival in the West, the Greeks, soon began to make headway, and under Alexander the Great, completely overran them.  At the time of their defeat to the Greeks, the Persians were led by king Darius III.  Darius has a dubious fame, having been defeated at least three separate times by Alexander, though every time his army outnumbered Alexander’s at least two to one.  Darius is still studied by our cadets today, as a bad example, and a foil for Alexander’s revered strategic acumen.

Alexander’s empire famously stretched from Italy to India, and the region of Iraq was quickly becoming something of a go-between, rather than a desirable thing in its own.  After Alexander died – in Babylon, in fact, where he was allegedly stored in honey for transport back to Macedonia, if I am to believe my colleague Mr. Underhill – the immense empire was divided up among his generals.  Seleucis got the biggest portion, which included Mesopotamia and Persia, and there established the Seleucid dynasty, in 312 b.c.e.  This is the era in which that much-heralded Hellenisation took place, as the Greeks resident in Asia (they came to be called Bactrians) spread their marbled culture to the heathens on the steppes.  Not much else besides this art-historical footnote came from the Seleucid era, though, because it was more and more difficult to suppress the natives of the region, and power struggles ensued between the Bactrians, the Parthians (the prevalent Persian tribe of the time), and the Semitic and hybrid peoples left around from the old days.  Finally, the Parthians won out in 247 b.c.e., and set up a dynasty under the legendary kings Mithridates senior and junior. 

The Parthians held out against the new threat of Roman expansion for several centuries, robustly enough that Augustus Caesar declared, with all due concealed humility, that the Euphrates was ‘far enough’ for the Roman Eastern front.  Trajan, in 114 c.e., pushed a little further, and won Mesopotamia for Rome, but only briefly, before ceding it back to the Persian conglomerate; and Septimius Severus did the same in 198 c.e. – the last time until 1920 that a vaguely Western power would preside over old Sumer, though not for lack of trying.

By 226 c.e., thanks to the longevity of the Parthians, the region was under the control of a revitalized Persian Empire, led now by the Sassanian dynasty (again, after the dominant tribe).  Nitpicking historians will point out that the uniformity of the Empire was so negligible that the term is likely misplaced, but for our purposes, we must concede to ugly generalizations.  It was a chaotic era, after the Sassanians, with one or another Persian faction controlling the resources of the region – but the common denominator is always their Persianness, and the supremacy of the Persian state religion, Zoroastrianism.  It would not be until the middle of the seventh century that a distinct people would migrate into the area, and dominate its culture and politics.

This occurred after the death of Mohammed, in Arabia, in the year 711.  The cult of Islam he established there spread ferociously among the Arab population of the peninsula, and gave that nomadic people a reason to organize and expand.  Not a decade after Mohammed died (leaving his followers confused and aimless – he left no sons, and no directions for the continuation of his line), Muslim Arabs had made their way North to Syria, and had established bases on the Persian Gulf, such as that at Basra, now an important Iraqi port-city, for an extended campaign against Persia.  While the military front was only slowly pushed North into Iraq, the spiritual one moved much more quickly.  The Persians, even as they fought, were being converted, and the Arab conquest happened not so much by force of arms, but by an assimilation of morality.  There is no date given for any victory over the Persians – instead, they simply fade into the preceding chapters of history, their authority replaced by a Muslim one.  It is important, even to understand such late developments as yesterday’s news, to remember that the ethnic distinctions remain to a considerable extent.  Additionally, the complicated evolution of Islam spawned at least two major divisions of the faith, after followers of Mohammed’s son-in-law, and those of his closest deputies – the Shi’ites and the Sunni, respectively.  Neither recognizes the authority of the other’s institutions, in a similar manner to the divide between Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity.  So the region under scrutiny has now become populated by Muslims, Sunni and Shi’ite, and amongst them Arab, and non-Arab, not to mention the finer distinction of Semitic and non-Semitic.  For starters, modern Iraq counts 95% of its citizens as Muslim, but 60% of them are Shi’ite (a few Zoroastrians remain, among other stubborn minorities).  The notorious government, however, is dominated by the Sunni, even though it spends much of its energy oppressing its religious kin, but ethnic rivals, the Kurds.  The Sunni hold on power exists for mainly historical purposes - all subsequent Islamic Empires were Sunni dominated, and the Sunni have since enjoyed advantages in education and influence, though Iran, almost entirely Shi’ite, and Shi’ite governed, is a sizable exception.

Baghdad was founded in 762 c.e., by the caliph Abu Jafar, on the site of a church where the potentate allegedly spent “the sweetest and gentlest night on earth.”  While a good night’s sleep may seem a frivolous motivation for the establishment of a capital, let us withhold judgement, governed as we are by legislators arbitrarily operating on a geometric square in the Maryland swamp.  Baghdad turns out to have been ideally located in fact, far enough upriver to be protected from marauders, but accessible to every crossing trade-route, which made it the Babylon of its age - and concurrent with the Dark Ages in Europe, the most cosmopolitan town in the world.

With the Islamic caliphate established in Baghdad (it had been in Damascus previous), a Golden Age of Islamic culture bloomed, hardly surpassed by Athens or Rome at their height.  The Pericles of the Baghdad scene was the caliph Haroun al-Rashid, who reigned between 786 and 806, as part of the Abbasid dynasty, after the uncle of Mohammed, from which the line was presumably descended.  Under Haroun’s watch, the storytelling tradition saw its greatest achievement realized in the tales of the Thousand Nights and One Night (in which Haroun makes more than a few appearances himself); the arts and architecture were raised to magnificent heights; astronomy and calendrics were all but mastered; and mathematics was refined with new techniques, including al-Jabra, and the use of the al-Gorizm (less lucid English-speakers might try repeating these names a few times quickly, to achieve that elusive understanding).  Though many pages could easily be inked in praise of the splendors of the Islamic prosperity of the ninth century, I must press on with mostly mute assurances, and the unsurprising news that such a halcyon era ended in decline, circa 950.

At this time, the region saw the arrival of the Seljuk Turks, more or less a roving cavalry that had made its way across Central Asia, in a peculiar sort of conquest-by-hire.  As the Seljuks, like the Hittites before them, didn’t particularly aspire to political power other than the strength of arms which allowed them a relative freedom in moving about the continent, they found themselves frequently retained as a mercenary force by the local kings they encountered, when those kings were in some kind of civil conflict.  When the Seljuks arrived in Baghdad, they became a sort of indentured guard to the declining caliphate, until it occurred to them that they were, by virtue of their brute authority, really the ones in charge.  Known in this role as Mamluks, history generally credits these Seljuk bodyguard-kings with their own dynasty beginning around 1055, even though the caliphate was maintained as a figurehead.  However, the machinations of the Islamic schism had had a wider effect by now, and around the Islamic world at least three separate caliphs claimed authority, with one in Tunisia, another in Anatolia, and the puppet Abassids in Baghdad.  The Seljuks cemented their hegemony with the exploits of their greatest hero, Saladin, who repulsed the Crusades, and brutally.  For a while, Saladin’s influence – and his deliverance of Jerusalem - was enough to persuade much of Islam that the Baghdad caliph was the authentic one.

As the politicking and fluctuating borders begin to overwhelm the student of Middle Eastern history, a simplifying force wipes clean the confusion.  In 1258, the Mongols swept across the land, quite literally levelling everything in their path.  The splendors of Baghdad were flattened by a son of Ghengis Khan’s, reportedly several times, and the unofficial count states that as many as 800,000 people were killed during the sieges.  As it was, the Seljuk guard had largely begun to lose interest in the region, and was moving West toward settlement in Anatolia (they would become the first Turks in Turkey), so the Mongols faced little resistance.  The Baghdad caliphate was effectively eliminated, and for a hundred years at least, a typical Muslim was unsure to whom his soul should defer.

The Mongols made no attempt to consolidate their gains, or establish a government.  Rather, when Ghengis – who had retired back to China – finally died, his sons were called back home to decide upon his inheritance, and once there never really got back to the business of ransacking.  The vast swath of destruction across the continent was left ungoverned, and poised to reassume its pre-Mongol dithering.  The vacuum left by the departure of the Mongols was subsequently filled by another roving people, these the Ottoman Turks.  Sunni Muslims, ethnic Turks, the Ottomans began to develop an early sense of themselves as the saviors of the Islamic Empire.  Under a sultan who proclaimed himself caliph as well, the Ottomans took Constantinople in 1454 and made it their capital, Istanbul; and under the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, they took Baghdad and Mesopotamia in 1534, which they would hold for almost four hundred years.  With the Ottoman seat far off in Istanbul, however, the rest of the Middle East under the Empire’s control, including Iraq, was viewed as an Imperial backyard.  Baghdad became a secondary, or tertiary provincial city, while the Turks focussed their diplomacy and expansionism toward Europe.

This is the condition in which Iraq entered the twentieth century, even as the Ottoman Empire was a shambles going into the Great War.  Allied by treaty with Germany, the Ottomans fought as much with themselves as with the British and the French, and it was little surprise that by 1917, Western Europe once more controlled the river valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, and everything through to the Mediterranean.  The modern Middle East was about to be haphazardly created out of the conquered, and dissolved, Ottoman Empire.  Incidentally, with the fall of the last sultan, Islam also lost its last caliph, and so remains today essentially vicarless.

Oil had been discovered in Iran and on the Arabian peninsula by 1917, and the British and the French agreed to monopolize the industry as part of their reward for victory in the World War.  Clever cartographers were called up, and the region was divided into separate states called Iraq, Palestine, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Syria, with Iran to the East.  The purpose of this patchwork, drawn up by the Sykes-Picot agreement, was to enable both Britain and France land access across the desert to the site of oil discovery – Britain was given the Mandate for Iraq, the French for Syria, the two would co-govern Palestine, and so on.  The British, in a simplistic attempt to placate the Arab population of their new charge, installed King Feisal, the son of the sharif of Mecca, in Iraq.  Indeed, this era saw the installation of history’s most impressive array of puppet potentates, and a reflective soul must wonder if present crises would be so dire if that first generation of Pinocchios hadn’t been so ridiculous.  Regardless, in 1927, things looked especially well for the Brits, as oil was then uncovered within Iraq itself, and particularly demeaning for the resident Arabs.

By 1930, the English couldn’t deny demands for Iraqi sovereignty any longer, and offered the country a nominal independence, though one underestimates the Brits if they think this was a serious humanitarian gesture.  Iraq existed, but it remained little more than a staging ground for British petroleum interests, and the entirety of its credibility rested on British satisfaction with the oil output.

Iraq, and Baghdad in particular, during this adolescent era, is an example worth studying, to keep free of any misconceptions we may harbor about the current conflicts.  Baghdad itself was home to nearly a quarter-million people, and as far as it was self-governed, that governing class was a mixture of literate Sunni Muslims and the 80,000 Jews – the largest minority in Baghdad – who made up the intellectual middle class in Iraq, and had done so for thousands of years.  (Abraham himself is said to have been born in Uruk, around 1850 b.c.e., before wandering off toward Canaan, and setting up shop.)  This Jewish merchant caste, supported by British-educated Muslims, held sway until about 1950, when the advent of Israel drew the Jewish population out of all of its enclaves around the world.  The Jewish population of Baghdad today, though it does exist, is minute, and obviously wields little influence.

In 1958, Iraqi patience with even their presumably independent puppet regime gave out, and a military coup, under Abd al-Karim Qasim, seized power.  In a familiar scenario, the new nationalist government of Iraq argued that Kuwait, its Mandate-born neighbor to the South, and an obstruction to Iraqi shoreline, was really a natural extension of Iraq, and it would be seized.  (Kuwait existed, the cynic will be happy to know, as a convenience to the United States, who complained when it was left out of the Anglo-French monopoly after World War I, and was obliged with a neutral emirate ideal for shipping and trade on the northern Persian Gulf coast.)

The United States dispatched 50,000 soldiers to Lebanon, poised for war with Iraq.  The standoff lasted a few months, before the Qasim government tempered its threats, and the British persuaded the Americans that all-out war wasn’t necessary.  The United States went elsewhere, hunting for Communists, the whole incident depressing for its suggestion that History really lacks any imagination at all.

About ten years prior, in Syria, a political movement was founded by a Sunni Muslim, Salah al-Din al-Bitar, and a Greek-Orthodox Christian Arab, Michel Aflaq, which favored a sort of socialist Arab nationalism.  It rejected the arbitrary divisions imposed on the Arab and Muslim people by the victorious Western powers, and envisioned a broad self-sustaining secular Arab economy based on Western demand for oil.  The movement became known as the Ba’ath Party, and soon had devotees in every fledgling Arab nation.  Of course, the installed monarchs and military juntas that had formed since the end of the war were disinclined to the Ba’ath vision, but popular sentiment was strong, and in Iraq, the Qasim military government was overthrown in 1963 by Ba’ath Party supporters.  Idealists might have suspected at the time that Baghdad was about to lead the way into modern prosperity in the Middle East.  Most of those idealists were shortly assassinated by a young member of the party, Mr. Hussein, who assumed most offices of Iraqi authority by the mid-seventies.  During his purges of the late sixties and seventies, foreign powers looked on nervously, because the Ba’ath Party message had been distinctly too red for the West’s taste, and the original overthrow worried those governments that Communist sympathizers had got control of the oil supply.  In the first years of Mr. Hussein’s career, Iraq signed pacts with the Soviet Union, and it seemed certain that American capitalism had lost another customer.

But then Mr. Hussein began to show himself less concerned with socialist pan-Arabism than with absolute power, and the Western world breathed a sigh of relief – here was a fellow they could understand, and Iraq’s alliance was accepted by the Western powers.  And when the Western-supported Shah of Iran was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, and the Ayatollah promptly applied to the Soviet Union for assistance, it was clear which tyrant the democratic West was bound to favor: Mr. Hussein.  In fact, the Ayatollah had been exiled from Iran for years previous, and Mr. Hussein, either for personal taste, or because he disliked the feel of Islamic fundamentalism, expelled Mr. Khomeini from Iraq as well, and made a powerful enemy.  In 1980, Iran and Iraq skirmished over the sandy waterway which divided the two nations, but really two immense egos triggered the ferocious war between the countries, which lasted eight years and more than a million lives.  The Ayatollah’s alliance with the Soviet Union meant that the United States lent its resources to Mr. Hussein and Iraq – and whether our national memory wants to look on this as a necessary compromise or a lapse in judgement, it must not be ignored.  Ten years of Mr. Hussein’s reign were spent establishing himself with direct American support, and less than three years passed between the cessation of American aid, and the beginning of our own war with Iraq.  (The as-yet offline nuclear reactor in northern Iraq which was destroyed by an Israeli air-strike in 1981 was likely built with American advice, though such a thing won’t easily be admitted by any official with respect for his own career.)

As for Mr. Hussein’s various transgressions, no sympathetic history can apologize for them.  The Kurds, as the attentive might recollect, are a leftover, unaccounted-for population of Sunni Muslims come down from the multifarious Aryan tribes of the old days, who reside across a swath of land which includes Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.  Like scores of their ancestors, the Kurds have been trying one revolt after another, only to be trounced repeatedly by the occupiers.  When the Iran-Iraq War was exhausted, in 1988, the Kurds tried again, this time only to be met with the full force of the undistracted Iraqi army, and were routed.  This is the occasion on which Mr. Hussein tried out his newly devised chemical weaponry, on the town of Halabjah, killed thousands, and ended the uprising.  At the time, though the United Nations made a bit of a stink, the United States was not in the business of protecting the underdog, and let Mr. Hussein alone.  Only when he became restless, and overran Kuwait, as Qasim had promised in 1958, did the U.S. take notice, and the pathetic exercise of the Persian Gulf War ensued.  Mr. Hussein has been nominally contained, consequently, but Iraq is as ragged as the days after the Mongols rode through.  In 1994, Mr. Hussein initiated a canalization project in the Southern region of Iraq, meant to drain the marshlands which have been the traditional topography of the area since the Sumerians settled there.  Do not expect Mr. Bush, last among the tree-huggers, to propose environmentalism as a motivation for war; but the endeavor has alarmed the ecologists nevertheless, and the fear is that the lost marshlands might be the last straw for an already beleaguered Middle-Eastern ecosystem.  And this is to say nothing of the historical merits of keeping the marshes – they are the last vestiges of the landscape which inspired and nurtured human civilization, after all.

An understanding of Mr. Hussein’s emergence and his original political affiliation is enough to make clear the fallacy of Mr. Bush’s assertion that he is another Islamic fundamentalist, like Mr. bin Laden.  In fact, Mr. Hussein is merely canny enough to see the effectiveness of fundamentalist rhetoric on his own people, and certainly knows the fear such yammering stirs in the West – think back to how alarmed you were when he proclaimed how we would all burn in the fires of hell, and be routed from the holy land by the warriors of Allah.  Such talk simply has a lot of rhetorical zing to our ears, used as we are to the dull platitudes of advertisers and the safe proclamations of middling politicians.

But the very last thing on Mr. Hussein’s mind is the health and well-being of Allah.  Osama bin Laden considers Mr. Hussein a heathen, and no doubt Mr. Hussein considers the former something of a hick, even if he is impressed by his ruthlessness.  Just as Mr. Hussein waged tireless war against the Ayatollah, no doubt he would do the same against another Islamic regime which threatened Iraq’s longed-for dominance of the Middle East.  The Arab nationalism of the early Ba’ath Party has been perverted, in Mr. Hussein’s mind, into a sort of neo-Babylonianism, with Mr. Hussein in the role of Nebuchadnezzar.  If the initial motivation had been for the good of the Arab world, Mr. Hussein, like all the best megalomaniacs, has insinuated himself into the forefront of the movement.  He now holds the offices of President of the Republic, Secretary General of the Ba’ath Party Regional Command, Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and Prime Minister – among others.  Note how the keywords of just about every political style known to man appear – president, chairman, revolutionary council, secretary-general, commander.  This is titular hocus-pocus of the highest order.

All of this neither forgives nor implicates Mr. Hussein in the current hullabaloo, though I think it certainly rouses sympathy for the rest of the Mesopotamians.  With a wide view, though, there is little to be proud of for our own part, and a wavering patriot would be well to hope this imminent cataclysm will be the last, and best, in a long, long series of them.  I suspect our own despots have the wrong reasons for their huffing, and I wonder if they have enough of a historical conscience to restrain themselves from repeating their predecessor’s mistakes.  The truth is, though Ba’ath pan-Arabism technically failed to hold power, the concept has largely succeeded - the Arab world has a unique cohesion to it, and a war in Iraq today would be a challenge to keep contained. 

Though I am loathe to resign to the garish belligerence of our executive, and though it may be a little coarse to put it so defeatedly, Iraq’s foreign minister, Mr. Aziz, was probably on the mark when he brushed off one of our snivelling Congressman with “We are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.”  Whatever ensues, one can only hope that it results in a quick return to the tranquility of peace so sporadically enjoyed by the area,  not only for the well-being of the residents, but so that those of us with gentler motivations may once again venture out and visit the world, without having to feign a Canadian accent.  And let it percolate across the way, beneath the scowls of our respective autocrats, that Iraq’s history is no less of a distinction for the species than our own.     3W

(home)


 

 

NOTICES

 

OUR IMMINENT RETIREMENT

It has become too much for us to continue to ignore the torrent of rumor regarding this publication’s future.  The dregs and the cream of this grand city, both, have been preoccupied to distraction with talk of either THREE WEEKS’ mortality, or its perpetuity.  If only to set so many millions at ease, so that they might concentrate instead on the plentiferous problems facing modern America, we here announce that indeed, this, the seventeenth, shall be THREE WEEKS’ penultimate number.

The reasons are numerous and of little interest to any but the most gossipy, though they will probably leak out in our prose over the next two issues.  Rather, let it simply stand that this endeavor was, from the beginning, too impossibly generous to survive.  We spared our readers the condescension of being advertised to, and provided them with that much more space for enlightening assay.  We opted, early on, to insist the readership keep its spare change for other trivia, and gave them our efforts in exchange for nothing but their heartbeat.  And we have resisted all attempts at subscription, as much because such regularity dilutes the happenstance potency of our triweekly revelation, as because it overextends our personnel, and our willingness to spend so much time in the post office.  We have conducted ourselves, over the course of the past year, in the manner most conducive to pure thought and exposition, without all the extraneous distraction of commerce.  And as surely as it killed Socrates, it has finished us.

Do not read regret into any of this.  We are more content with a year of idealism under our belts than we would be in a decade of compromise – and we shall have plenty of time to accumulate that still.  Indeed, for our admirers, we beg patience and not dismay.  Hardly is this a passing, as much as it is a first flowering.  Our editorship here shall be ending, but be sure that what has happened here is nothing less than the supernovian appearance of four new voices bursting into the barren vacuum of American thought. 

Do not trouble yourselves with speculation as to who amongst us did what to whom, to deliver the death-blow to this partnership – whether it was Mr. Swartwout and Mr. Brownejohns’ frequent spats, or Ms. Bonney’s cavalier treatment of the deadlines, or Mr. Underhill’s temperamental aloofness.  And do not pry too forcibly your suspicion that Mr. Peckinpaugh, the accountant, might be somehow responsible.  Think instead of how proud you may one day be in boasting to your grandchildren, that you were keen enough to recognize, at its inception, the dawn of a new era in letters, and that as much as is possible, you knew us when we were still, proverbially, kids.

The subsequent issue of THREE WEEKS, if the editors’ egos are to be relied upon, will include further explanation and plenty more excuses for our egress – though not at the expense of one last dose of critical insight and lucid pragmatist disquisition.  For the moment, the reader is recommended to savor the present sheaf for its own merits, and would be well-advised to do the same for every facet of his life.         3W

(home)


 

MEMORIALS

 

NOTES ON COMMEMORATION

 

 

REMEMBRANCE REMEMBERED

 

A Few Observations Made September 11th

 

by Eliza Anne Bonney

 

Time, mercifully, has pulled us through the viscid last days of the grim anniversary, though the confectioners in the news-rooms did everything possible to delay the passage.  We were left, for more than a week prior, without a newspaper to read, or a television to stare at, because every medium was bubbling over with humiliating, infuriating waves of treacle.  The arrival of September 11th itself was, subsequently, like a mixture of Christmas morning and a dentist’s appointment – both of which we are happy to greet, but not certain whether it was because we were in true anticipation of the event, or because we desperately wanted to have the thing over with.

Enjoying our new status as one of America’s most respected institutions, THREE WEEKS was granted a laminated card and a place among the journalists and television hacks overlooking the hole in downtown Manhattan, to observe the highly touted ceremony that would bring ‘closure’ to a traumatized people.  The lot of us were stationed on a sun-drenched, windswept deck of the World Financial Center building, which consequently became overcrowded with cameras jostling for railing-side spots, as a poignant backdrop for their talking heads.  The rooftop, which had been just out of reach of the destruction,  must have been host to a hundred and fifty television cameras, and hundreds of individuals in support of them.  Nevertheless, it was an exclusive crowd, all donning plastic credentials strung around their necks, every one having been certified by the F.B.I., and metal detectors in the lobby.

The international press corps was mixed with a substantial contingent of police officers, firefighters, and assorted luminaries, all waiting their turn for an interview, to be beamed via satellite to any of the hundred networks represented on the roof.  I opted to mingle, though not too close to any of the camera set-ups, which were already being disrupted often enough by their neighbors.  More than a few times did an ABC man stumble into the CBS shot, and a Boston Globe photographer apparently had his telephoto lens sticking uncouthly into the frame of one of the cable stations, until a nervous producer was able to swat him away.

The ceremony being conducted below was of secondary interest to the horde of correspondents on the roof.  Periodically, some would peer over the edge to see the survivors arrayed in a circle in the dusty hole of the ruin, or to catch a glimpse of Mr. Bloomberg or Mr. Giuliani while the names of the victims were read aloud.  The whole ritual had been so overexposed before ever taking place, however, that nobody took much interest when everything went as planned.  The politicians reading ancient speeches (see this paper’s editorial on Mr. Pataki) stirred no-one up above, and the names of the dead often became unintelligible as a cold wind picked up from the West.  Some interest was piqued when a fellow from the Times checked his watch, and discovered that the somber roll-call was running more than an hour and a half longer than it was intended to – and the irreverent reporters duly paused over the sandwiches that had been circulated, to consider the morbid implication.

The most harrowing drama of the day, for the fourth estate anyway, involved an enormous American flag which was roped to the building above our terrace.  Measuring easily a hundred and fifty feet across, some of the more melodramatic individuals in attendance speculated that the thing, if it were made of natural fabric, might weigh eight hundred pounds.  As the wind picked up - and with eighty local weathermen ringing out in earpieces across the roof, we knew full well that it was now gusting up to sixty miles an hour, and blowing steady at twenty - some worriers announced the possibility of this flag coming unhooked and tumbling down on top of us all.  The building managers came out, listened for a moment to the ferocious rippling of the enormous banner and the whipping of the cables against the windows, and proclaimed that no-one should sit or lean against the building, but must stay at least five feet from the side at all times.  A velvet rope was strung up to enforce the rule – though most of us muttered our doubts about how safe that paltry shield would make us from such a tremendous pennon.

The building superintendent himself confided that if it broke off – and here he even admitted that he fully expected such a catastrophe no later than three or four in the afternoon, if the wind kept up – then it would certainly wipe out the whole of the press corps.  Some of the crews on the ends of the roof didn’t get wind of this rumor, but I can assure the reader that for the rest of the day, most of the international press was preoccupied with certain death from above, at the whim of a giant American flag.

These are ironic people, when they aren’t working, but sadly, once they assume the authoritative pose of the correspondent, they devolve back into humorless cutouts.  Not one report was filed that day about the terrible flag standoff, even as the colors boomed and blustered right over the heads of the newsmen.  And when a table belonging to Fox News was wafted up into the air and over the edge of the building, plummeted twelve stories, and landed twenty feet from a gathering of startled police officers, again, nobody – out of more than a hundred reporters - thought it prudent to inform the world.  The newsfolk were too protective of their fragile viewership - who all expected something terrible to come out of the sky that day anyway - to broach the possibility that this year’s terror might be from television furniture or an oversized pennant, and not bearded zealots in airplanes.

Across from our terrace, another enormous flag was draped over the Deutsche Bank building, itself still covered in scaffolding pending its extensive repair.  This other flag also suffered the ill effects of the stiff wind and shoddy craftsmanship, and much jockeying about was conducted by the dutiful cameramen that day to keep it out of any frame, lest it convey a frail image of our nation’s symbol.  For this other flag had been torn clean in half by about one in the afternoon, and now flapped limply in two great pieces.  Paper cups and reporter’s notes continued to be swept from the press camp, and as this detritus mixed with the dust kicked up from the site below, the day often degenerated into a surreal scene of hovering garbage and clouds of soot; not unlike the same place, twelve months past.

By the time the President arrived, the lot of us were raw from wind-burn, though every loose object on the roof had at last been firmly weighted down or was long gone, so Mr. Bush was in no danger from plummeting debris.  Several of the less hardy television crews had abandoned the place altogether, feeling that their anchormen looked too battered and windblown to convey the quiet sobriety everyone at home expected of them.  While Mr. Bush mulled around below, the red alert was lifted by the building managers, regarding the deadly flag above – a few extra cables had been attached.  At once, the motorcade departed, death by star-spangled banner was averted, and we all realized that the day was over, the anniversary was had, and, as every pundit had promised, now we could all get back to normal.

 ---

Following up on my day at the World Trade Center site, I was not surprised to hear things had not gone smoothly elsewhere, either.  The underachievement of the politicians was understandably superceded by the excesses of Nature, which had actually killed a fellow in Columbus Circle, by means similar to the news-desk incident downtown.  A plywood board was whisked off a skyscraper under construction, and whizzed unpredictably down into the throng, striking some unfortunate.

Across the river, in Jersey City, memorial planners had hauled out the old sentimental standby of a flock of doves, to be released after some solemn tribute.  Anyway, who knew that there are professional memorial-dove handlers, with trained birds meant for just such a rite? (The birds, as reported in this very periodical, have a knack for finding their way home, so the impresario takes no loss, and the ecosystem has nothing to worry about an influx of pigeons.)  Such professionals, the Jersey City folk discovered, were understandably booked for the day, and so the do-it-yourself spirit drove them to acquire eighty white birds from a local poultry market.  These were squab, however, and had never had occasion to fly before in their life, so when the prayer was read, the tribute made, the flag raised, and the birds released, they tumbled out in such an unseemly and haphazard flock, that they may as well have been under fire from a squad of pea-shooters.

            At least one bird flew straight into the Hudson, and drowned there.  Another perched atop the helmet of a construction worker in attendance, presuming him an ally.  Still another huddled beneath the speaker’s podium, and the rest either walked around in a daze, or flew into the sides of the surrounding buildings, or straight into the crowd.  They had been spared from a fate in a soup-bowl, but hadn’t been given the wits to do much anything else.  At least the chaos took the mourner’s minds off their sorrow.  And two birds, so far, have been recovered by an organization of bleeding-hearts, who have promised to exercise them until they can achieve a little more lift, and fend for themselves.  Otherwise, if you are in Jersey City, and you see a white pigeon huddling under a bush, or out cold after flying into a ground-floor window, you know he will make a fine soup, if you can bring yourself to debase the memory of last year’s dead so impolitically.                                        3W

(home)


EDITORIAL

 

MR. PATAKI

 

AN UNCONCEALED AMBUSH

 

Our Problems with the Governor

 

Ordinarily, we would not preëmptively assault a public figure, unless in the context of some broader issue, just as a dignified privateer would never fire on a ship-captain unless the latter were engaged in a hostile action.  We have not set out to systematically insult one individual at a time until we had lambasted every lackwit we’ve ever been sour towards, even if it pleases our conscience, and is easily within our powers.  But in the case of Mr. Pataki, we are confronted with such an enigmatic and hazardous character, who is at once such a dodger of critical attention and a menace to reason and humanity, that we must take our shots at him without the pretext of an enveloping issue.  And Mr. Pataki himself has behaved in such a low and disgraceful manner, and has lately been so public with his display, that the time has come, and the circumstances have arrayed themselves, for us to simply load our cannon and aim it at the Governor in his berth.  If you are the dandy type who’d rather the public let the public figures be, plug your ears.

The matter is, Mr. Pataki has ambled out into the center of our television screen just one too many times for us to keep quiet about it.  He stands there and smirks, reaching heights of disingenuousness not seen in American politics since Boss Tweed twirled his cane on Broadway.  Mr. Pataki is taking this opportunity – and the airtime bought for him by the state – not to campaign on his merits, but to ‘thank’ us, though we doubt he knows to whom he speaks.  While an election looms, and the social infrastructure of the Empire State withers, Mr. Pataki would like us to believe he hadn’t noticed the season, as he was too busy wiping tears of gratitude from his eyes.  The Governor, as innocent as a rose-cheeked cherub about the impending runoff, says that he is proud of us, the people of New York.  It reeks of pandering, and such contrivance only blooms from the most profound cynicism – and not the kind we admire.  Mr. Pataki’s cynicism is the sort that supposes itself superior to the suspicions of the populace, and one that assures him there is nothing ignoble about walloping the television electorate over the head with the sentiment stirred by anniversarial talk of last September.

In other gubernatorial complots, we have heard a lot of braggadocio about Mr. Pataki’s crooked health care plan.  He claims to have devised a system which will insure every family in the state, should they all come asking.  And simultaneously, Mr. P brags about the miraculously shrinking welfare rolls.  Indeed, specialists from every ivory tower are in a haze to explain this week’s report that while unemployment is rising like a helium balloon, somehow welfare recipients continue to disappear.  For the specialists, and the laymen, let us explain the trick.

Since the advent of Mr. Pataki’s Family Health Plus, which promises to provide coverage to even the most destitute, a unique equation has been set in place to determine eligibility.  Your editors have discovered, for example, that a city resident seeking such assurance will be deemed ineligible if they are earning more than $750 per month.  The ruse is that by weeding out such ‘overearners,’ there remain resources to help the really poor.  This is obviously an unrealistic proposition.  Such an income does not cover a set of bedsheets in this town, and the Governor’s plan drastically underestimates what it means to be poor.  The calculus for the state health plan seems to have been figured out with 1950s dollars – and leaves families earning a poverty wage, and well below, labeled middle-class by the State.  And while these ‘middle-class welfare parasites’ are left to make due without medical coverage, the welfare statistics have magically been improved for the applause of Conventioneers.  In general, the mathematics involved in determining eligibility for Mr. Pataki’s antisocial health plan make it virtually impossible for anyone to be accepted into its embrace, quite defeating the purpose of offering such assistance.  An applicant truly as poor as the state requires is probably already dead, and certainly doesn’t have a home.  Not too many of those folks, unfortunately, are keen to take advantage of the opportunity.  Mr. Pataki is like Andrew Jackson against the Indians -  a treaty in one hand, a gun in the other.  So long as our attention is on the former, he won’t shoot us with the latter until his re-election is secure. 

Mr. Pataki has duped a few labor unions with his smug assurances – though he has been obstructive to their efforts until this month – and he has persuaded the fickle and insensate Hispanic vote largely into his favor, though to them as well he had been callous before August.  And the cruel fact that such a demographic remains generally below the economic median (though not so absurdly poor to garner assistance from the Governor’s out-of-touch equations), and thus below the scope of any of the benefits of Mr. Pataki’s stewardship, is the sort of thing, for whatever reason, that the Latino community’s political leaders are perpetually oblivious to.

All of this is more abstruse than the easy muckraking of old, like repeating the tabloid tales about Fidel Castro and other unlikely, dead, and fictional notables signing Mr. Pataki’s petitions for ballot space.  And our gripes are also less visceral than those we privately make whenever old George winds up on the tube again, bothering us with his terrible poise, his idiotic demeanor, and his sick, disquieting smirk.  He ambled out this way on September 11th, and delivered a better man’s speech, because he does not possess the wit or the gumption to try out his own.  The whole thing shall be an embarrassment in a later age if it is remembered at all; and with our venom spent, we only hope that Mr. Pataki’s term will be the same, come November. 

In merciful conclusion, it has simply dawned on us that Mr. Pataki represents so much of what we have come to despise about the modern American politico.  He views his calling as a sort of game, disconnected to its real effect on his citizens, and without a conception of the potential for actual usefulness.  And what ices the matter, is that he does not even play the game well, or with the slightest grace.     3W

 (home)


 

ANCESTRY

 

APOLOGIES TO FITZ-GREENE HALLECK

 

A FAMILY CONNECTION IS DISCOVERED

 

The Poet, the Soldier, & the Author, Bound by History

 

by Alexander Swartwout

 

Ignorance, like disorder, is the natural state of things, and it is only corrected by an effort of the will.  In my case, it happened that knowledge of the wider world became directly related to knowledge of the self, though upon reflection it is clear that this is often the case.

Directly, I am referring to the appearance in this paper’s fourteenth issue of a mention of the poet Fitz-Greene Halleck, who, inexplicably, is the only American, and one of only three authors altogether, who are honored in Central Park’s pathetic ‘Literary Walk,’ upon the Promenade.  I do not intend to rescind this paper’s criticism of the monument – Mr. Halleck is hardly the most deserving American man of letters for a prominent shrine, and it remains a shame that New York’s only literary canon consists of three shabby statues - a Scot, an Englishman, and a Connecticutian.

But the truth is that Mr. Halleck was virtually unknown in these offices prior to our discovery of his monument, and it was more than a little disturbing to come upon an American scribbler we knew so little about, but which an earlier age had deemed worthy of bronze.  So I ventured to know a thing or two more about Mr. Halleck, and discovered, besides a competent and forgotten poet, practically a lost member of the family.

Mr. Halleck, in his heyday, was a member of the Iron Grays, the New York City militia renowned during the years around the War of 1812, and the Grays were under the command of none other than Captain Samuel Swartwout, distant patriarch of this author’s clan.  Some of Mr. Halleck’s best known works were a series of newspaper verses entitled the Croaker Papers, published after Mr. Halleck’s service expired.  In one of their quaint stanzas, he writes, “Sam Swartwout, where are now thy Grays?  Oh bid again their banner blaze O’er the hearts and ranks unbroken!”  Since this discovery, your author has returned to Mr. Halleck’s monument, and not without a little more affection.

Sam Swartwout was the son of Abraham Swartwout of Poughkeepsie, a hero of the revolution.  Sam’s brother, Robert, was also a soldier, a brigadier in the War of 1812, and, like Sam, retired to civilian life in New York City, and afterward Brooklyn.  Additionally, most of the land between Weehawken and Hoboken, and another tract near Newark, was bequeathed to the brothers Swartwout, and stayed in the family for a generation more.  Though some of the Swartwout’s successes were already well known to the present author, this vast, unrealized inheritance was not – and the unfortunate turn since taken by those lost lands has become all the more a personal defeat.

As for Mr. Halleck, one can only presume that he won the honor of the Central Park statue by his deft sociability, and his high standing in the community.  The Hallocks (young Fitz-Greene changed the spelling to suit his literary aspirations) were among the first pilgrims off the boat, and Fitz-Greene’s ascendance to something resembling artistic achievement was probably enough to excite a young, self-conscious America into paying him excessive tribute.  This does not excuse Central Park’s neglect of Irving, for just one example, but at least it explains the cult of the formerly obscure Connecticutian.  And his attachment to the Swartwout’s history is enough to rescue him from the editor’s disdain as well.  He is recommended to any reader desirous of competent, if antique, American verse; and he is thanked, if belatedly, for closing a circle of attachments which began with the Swartwout Pater firing his musket at the Redcoats, and concludes with the youngest Swartwout firing his own rounds at this era’s imposing rank of imbeciles.  Thus THREE WEEKS is properly in Mr. Halleck’s debt, just as he is in THREE WEEKS’.  So, across two hundred years of misadventure, the parties are even.    3W

(home)


 

 

CORRECTIONS & ADDENDUM 

We cannot be above graciousness and humility, particularly to such a reader as Mr. Jordan Miller, who has read us carefully enough to spot a badly chosen phrase in Ms. Bonney’s missive on suntanning two issues gone.  Particularly as Ms. Bonney has been hip-deep in subatomic physics for the past month, the gaff is especially aggravating, but we come clean.  Indeed, ultraviolet radiation is in no way “bigger” than the microwave sort, but is higher-energy.  Though so many equations as Mr. Miller provided were unneccesary to persuade us - we chalk it up to severe linguistic fatigue, and not a gaping hole in Ms. Bonney’ scientific literacy.

            Further gratitude is afforded Rabbi Avraham Gilman for his attempt to elucidate the digital significance of Rosh Hashanah.  He shows us how the Talmud is able to make 1 out of 7, allowing the new year to come on the seventh month.  As even the good Rabbi is bemused by the technique, we would be interested to put him together with the excessively arithmetical Mr. Miller, and see if they can’t hammer out a sturdier scriptural rationale for the High Holy Days.

(home)


METEOROLOGY

 

THE WEATHER

 

The arrival of autumn was so subdued and unremarkable, that Nature seemed to be daring us to rake our usual muck about her exploits, like a politician keeping mum to make the campaign reporters fret about making copy.  From the last day of summer, to the first of fall, the temperature differential was less than a degree Fahrenheit, and the sky was as pale and blue one as it was the next.

The end of summer and the beginning of fall are not traditionally disparate round these parts, not like late winter and early spring, or even late spring and early summer.  The air is typically calm, the sky clear this time of year – a good time, as we remarked in the last number, to take stock of things, as the Jews dutifully do.  Resolutions made in this weather are more rational, more likely to be adhered to, than those ones gentiles make in January, hung over and suffering from the deepest depressions of Winter.

And it is a good time, also, to reenter the aired-out bunker of the classroom, with one’s brain thoroughly out of condition after a summer’s worth of rot.  The city is noticeably more placid, now that the youth have been reinstituted, and it spurs reflection over the discrepancy between one’s adolescent opinions and his adult ones.  As a sprig myself, autumn was the apocalypse, a great orange and brown oblivion into which the careless days of summer would perish.  Now I am pleasantly reminded of the crackle of dried leaves on the quadrangle, though it is not my loafers making the sound; and the ease and pleasure with which a temperamental soul like myself can now walk down a quiet side street any week-day before two.

The autumnal equinox, a week past, was almost totally overlooked, and for understandable cause.  A fit of drowsiness has overtaken your editor, so that it was not certain whether the days were noticeably shorter because of celestial mechanics, or excessive snoozing.  And the striking uniformity between one day and the next has aided in the sleight-of-hand that Fall has wreaked on us.  Though the continuous sky has not flinched or faltered, we are nevertheless being threatened by tropical storms, and keeping a vigil against that rare beast of the season, the hurricane.  Looking at the clear outline of the skyline, it is hard to conceive of even an inconvenient drizzle, let alone a real destructive act of Nature – but that complacency, one supposes, is exactly the source of the hurricane’s potency.

Anyway, I am given to understand that Tropical Storm Isidore will be upon us exactly in time to coincide with this paper’s release.  After three weeks of steady clarity and unwavering mildness, it is not a little too accommodating to our persecution-complex that the day one of us must make his way to the printer’s and back with several boxes of our fragile news-leaf, it is scheduled to rain as it hasn’t since April.  Let the reader not pucker at our complaint; we only hope to put out our plans for the day, so that we don’t ever stand accused of sitting back and commenting on the weather, and not encountering it.  In fact, of the many great surprises afforded us during the execution of this noble project, one of the greatest has been how much time we have spent not thoughtfully cloistered away in our writing-rooms and thinking-dens, but how much of it we have spent blustered by winds, hammered by rains, and generally roughed up by the impossibly various elements.  As much as THREE WEEKS has bound itself to the indoor fates of humanity, and the dry developments of Thought, we have been plunged bare into the wild anarchy of Nature.  That these two have coincided, that human endeavors have forced us to meet raw creation, seems to confirm to us that this column has not been in vain, and has not been superfluous in the least.  The weather demands attention.

            And if our recollections of youth are still untainted, the weather will get plenty of attention from inside those stifling chalk-scented classrooms.  Every development of the clouds, every utterance of rain, and every suggestion of snow, as I recall, is occasion for distraction.  Quite possibly, it is here that your editors developed this meteorologic philosophy, as an extension of that reflex to the exclamation ‘It’s snowing!’ which awakes the dozing algebra student like a fire drill.  Autumn may be quiet, then, the same way a new page is blank; for the purpose of being inscribed with novelty, and the inspirations of Nature.         J. Eph. Underhill

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