Notes from In-house exile: When Battles Are Lost…
(3) March 20, 2020
I am reading Antony Beevor’s: The Battle of Arnhem; but reading these days is different. I can usually get immersed in a book and be totally lost to the world. This is a skill I first mastered back in my elementary school days when the Brooklyn Public Library (Grand Army Plaza branch) served as my unofficial after-school childcare provider until my mother came home from work. Reading was like dreaming, and every day I could experience a different dream: dinosaurs, WW-2 fighter planes, space travel, whales, science fiction…. I could escape and be anywhere and everywhere in time, place or space. My love of reading was so great that my mother ordered me (back then children actually obeyed their parents) to make sure I did my homework before I “started doing that reading!” I did my home work fast, because it was the only thing that stood between me and my reading for fun time. And so, every day as a member of the latchkey kid club, between milk and cookies, I would read until 5:PM and then dare the dangerous Brooklyn streets with arms full of books to take home to continue my dreaming.
But today reading Beevor’s book I find for the first time that it’s hard to keep my mind in the 1940’s. There is something about the existential urgency of the Covid-19 plague; and how we are all at some level participants in its story of isolation, illness and death. A plague is inescapable, even for those of us who could always find refuge from life’s storms in books. Covid-19 is a persistent uninvited guest in our minds; it won’t leave us alone even if we are, as I am at this moment, alone. Thinking as I am reading ‘Arnhem’ (I guess using that ELA reading skill of: “What does this passage remind you of?”) about how the strategic thinking ability and the leadership quality of Generalship so influences the outcome of a battle (again ELA referencing Carl von Clausewitz’s book: On War).
In all of Beevor’s books (e.g. Stalingrad), it does not matter how strategically smart the German command was (and they had an excellent class of highly studied and experienced military leaders, as well as a highly competent group of military scientist, engineers and technicians); their effectiveness would always be ultimately undermined by the immoral and deranged German nation’s leader, Adolph Hitler. Humanity is indeed fortunate that Hitler’s narcissistic and self-absorbed personality constantly got in the way of the decisions of his best military experts. But when a country is fighting a war against a virus pandemic, having an ethically challenge psycho-pathological leader, leads that nation to death and destruction; alas the delusional leader (whether they were only a corporal in the last war; or used faux ‘bone spurs’ to avoid going to war completely) always assumes that they are the best and most capable of experts; after all, did not the snarling and hateful frothing ‘wisdom’ of the masses place them in power?
One of the ideas that motivated my first book: Report to the Principal’s Office is this idea (something I learned as a superintendent) that there is no other more powerful singular force in a school building then it’s principal. An ineffective principal can cause even the potentially best school to under-perform; while a highly effective principal can efficaciously cause a school with the potential to terribly under-perform, to actually over-perform its potential! The quality of leadership matters so much.
And so, how on earth, in a time of great national suffering, collective fear and despondency, did we as a country fall so far down; so as to go from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to Trumps racist ‘Kung-Flu’ rants? Well, they can’t blame this one on Black folks!