Waterloo- The Unthinkable Happens- The Defeat of Napoleon

Napoleon the Emperor

Napoleon has been called a giant for the ages. His influence resonates to this day not only because of his military genius, but in law and governance.

Born on the island of Corsica in 1769 to a family of minor nobility, he would be Emperor of France in 1804. He first commanded men in battle when he was 24 years old. His greatest victory was at Austerlitz, where he defeated the combined forces of Russia and Austria in 1805.

Napoleon as Emperor

Napoleon as Emperor

He was unstoppable. Whole careers in the Prussian, Russian, and British Armies and Navies were spent fighting Napoleon for almost 23 years. By the time the battle of Waterloo in 1815 he was seen by many European countries as the embodiment of the Anti-Christ.

Waterloo was one of the most decisive military encounters in history.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington

At the battle two of the greatest commanders of the age met on the battlefield. Both men are 42 years old. Both men have been campaigning for a long time. Wellesley spent the last decade fighting in India and Spain against Napoleon.

Wellesley is a native of Ireland. As a colonel in1796, he saw action in the Netherlands and in India. He fought in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at the Battle of Seringapatam. As a major-general, he won a decisive victory over the Maratha Confederacy at the Battle of Assaye in 1803.

Arthur Wellelsey

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington

He rose to prominence as a general during the Peninsular campaign (Spain and Portugal) of the Napoleonic Wars. He was promoted to the rank of field marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the French at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. When the Battle of Waterloo he commands an allied army, together with a Prussian army under General Blücher.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt

Blücher is the commander of the Prussian army. He was 72 at the time of Waterloo and the only man to have beaten Napoleon more than once.

His self-confidence and career record had a positive effect on his army. He helps to keep morale amongst the Prussians high with his tough attitude.


Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

The Allied Army and the Napoleonic Wars

The Allied army under Wellesley was a coalition of British, Dutch, Belgian and German soldiers. Napoleon described Britain as ‘the most powerful and most constant… of my enemies,’ (Cummins, 2009).

Both sides have fought for 23 years. They begin with the French Revolutionary wars in 1792 and continuing with the Napoleonic Wars from 1803. Both sides are full of veterans who have several tours. All the generals, both Allied and French, fought each other before. Many of them have made fortunes and reputations fighting these wars.

Napoleon had built up his army from a few veterans. They are mostly disenchanted peasants and conscripts. All are hastily trained having been assembled at short notice.

His strength lay in his veteran artillery and cavalry, which were greater than Wellington’s. He relied on surprise and aggression rather than firepower, his priority was to break the enemy’s frontline.

Wellesley’s army is not large enough, but is skilled. The British and allies have 70,000 men, the Prussians have 70,000. The French have 72,000 men.


Wellesley understood military matters. He had never been beaten by the French and had a reputation as a talented coalition general.

His experience in India and the Peninsular Campaign of 1811 when the British went to support Portugal and Spain against Napoleon helps. He is a meticulous planner and prepares for the battle in great detail.

Lay of the Land

He uses hand drawn maps that shows where his troops would go. This helps him to get the lay of the land. Waterloo is on the main road to Brussels. Wellesley wants to use ridges on the battlefield. They give him protection, screen his movements without being flanked.

The enclosed country has deep ravines around the villages that will protect his right flank. This also makes it impossible for the enemy to turn into it.

Wellington decided that his best plan was to stand firm until the Prussians could come to his aid. He lined the majority of his troops up out of sight behind the ridge. He and garrisons his men some in front at the farms of Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Papelotte.

In the center of the right flank is a country house called Chateau de Goumont (usually called Hougoumont). The house was loop-holed for firing ports. This house would become the center of the battle.

Wellesley supervised the preparation of the battlefield. His strengths are his strong leadership and the overwhelming numbers of his allies the Prussians.

Waterloo Painting


British Weapons

The howitzer was a short barreled cannon. It had a steep angle of fire that allowed it to be fired over obstacles. It allowed the artillerymen to shoot at angles without seeing what they were shooting at.

The shells had a short fuse that exploded, called shrapnel. Small balls inside the cannon balls similar to shotgun shells that decimated French formations of infantry or cavalry. This was a major advantage of the Royal Artillery.

Some of the British Infantry had the Baker Rifle. It allowed for sniping at an extended range. The rifle was machined with a grooved barrel that allowed the bullet to stabilize in flight. Its range was 300 yards more than 4 times the range of the French musket.

This brings to mind the old military adage, “Where do you start to kill the enemy? Where does he begin to kill you?”

 Baker Rifle

The Baker Rifle

Wellesley’s Plan

Wellesley had the allies occupy strong points. This was designed to break the momentum of the French attacks. His army occupied a rising ground at the forest of Soigne.

Wellesley drew up most of his troops to the north of the Ohain road on the reverse slope and out of sight. This would protect his soldiers against the fire of the French artillery and allow for them to fire down on advancing French cavalry and infantry.

Wellington had massed the bulk of his army on his right flank and occupied the Chateau de Goumont (called Hougoumont).

His left flank lightly held. He expected Blücher to show up to reinforce the Allied left flank. Only one brigade was fully exposed as a diversion.

Napoleon’s Plan

Napoleon’s plan of attack was simple. He needed a fast, complete victory. He knew time was of the essence. He wanted to annihilate Wellington’s forces with straightforward frontal blows.

Napoleon aimed to create a diversion by attacking Hougoumont first. Artillery was the key. Following a heavy artillery bombardment to soften the defenses on the Allied center and left. He would mount a full attack on the ridge where the British were.

At 1300 he would give the overall command to his field commander Marshal Ney. His men would launch a diversionary attack on Goumont in order to attract some Allied reserves from the center.

A great battery of some 80 guns was formed for a heavy artillery bombardment on the Allied center and left. This was to soften the defenses.

The Battle

No artillery was brought forward during the assault of Hougoumont. The Prussians swept behind the French. Wellesley had over 140,000 men with the arrival of the Prussians. He outnumbered the French two-to-one

The French were locked in the center. The Prussians were on the right flank and the British were at Hougoumont.

Cavalry was known for its speed, mobility and shock value to create chaos. With no artillery support at the top of the hill the French cavalry attack was stopped by the greater range of the British weapons.

Waterloo is cavalry country. It has gentle, rolling hills, no great obstacles to allow a maximum number of half a ton of man and animal to attack on-line. Horses are a herd animal and this is what allows them to charge.

By now 23 years into the war the British have learned a few things. The British square formation was against the cavalry at it advanced. The British square simply moved around and through the horses.

By the time the French charge the landscape is littered with bodies and equipment. Conditions of the battlefield have changed. The soil becomes mud with high traffic.

It stops the full charge of the horses. Most horses will not ride over human beings. Napoleon’s beloved Calvary Marshal Ney makes 12 charges. He is stopped in the quagmire of litter on the battlefield.

French assault of the Hougoumont begins to fail after dark. It is hopeless. 5,000 Frenchmen died trying to take Hougoumont.

By the evening Wellesley knows he has defeated the French.

Waterloo Lay of Land

The Battle of Waterloo

Hougoumont was the key to Waterloo and it gave the edge to the Allied Army. 47,000 men died or were wounded on the single, bloodiest day of the Napoleonic Wars (Gabriel & Boose).

Lessons Learned

At Waterloo we have the defensive specialist in Wellesley facing off against the offensive genius in Napoleon. Wellesley was a dispassionate commander who never allowed his ego to interfere with common sense. He was steady and calm in the battle.

Napoleon was not in his top form that day. His army was full of poorly trained conscripts and he made a poor decision in his subordinate commanders. He was brilliant, passionate, but ultimately intemperate (Cummins, 2009).

He was already very sick by then and deterioration in his overall ability. He had become arrogant and overconfident in his own abilities. The Napoleon of before 1815 would not have lost this battle.

He underestimated his opponents and appointed second rate commanders. His greatest mistake was his lack of personal control over the battle.

Wellington described his victory as a ‘damned near-run thing’. The battle was closely fought and either side could have won. Mistakes in communication, leadership and judgment led, ultimately, to French defeat.


Cummins, J. (2009). History’s Greatest Wars. New York : Crestline Publishing .

Gabriel, R. A., & Boose, D. W. (n.d.). The Great Battles of Antiquity A Strategic and Tactical Guide to Great Battles that Shaped the Development of War . Westport, Connecticut : Greenwood Press .





The Lost Generation


The term “The Lost Generation” was used to describe a group of literary figures of the 1920’s living in Paris. It was used to describe writers who came of age after World War I and before for the Great Depression.

Hemingway made the term popular in his novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” Gertrude Stein gave him the term when describing the displaced generation of World War I veterans who lost their innocence in the war. She acted as a literary godmother to many of the writers of this generation.

Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises

The group rejected the post-World War I values of America. They believed due to the carnage of World War I there was a loss of morals. The phrase “do good unto others and have good done unto you” was no longer true. The idea of hope was lost.

World War I

The Industrial Revolution would change warfare in World War I (WWI). Death was caused killing on a massive scale- tens of thousands of men killed in a single day.

At the Battle of the Somme, one of the largest of the war, 1 July and 18 November 1916 more than a 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed. J.R.R. Tolkien was wounded in this battle and it greatly influenced his writing of the “The Lord of the Rings.” Nothing like this killing was seen on this scale before.

On the first morning of the battle more than 20,000 British Soldiers were killed and 37,000 were wounded. In the end it gained the allies only 8 miles of land.


Battle of the Somme

There was a thought at the start of the industrial age that machines should serve humanity. The idea of machines to slaughter people was never possible before. Tanks, gas, submarines, planes, machine guns- overwhelming massacre of humanity by the very machines that would be used to serve it.

WWI was a turning point in history because technology was used for mass violence on an almost industrial scale. Many veterans, including Hemingway, Tolkien, Fitzgerald and C.S. Lewis were changed forever by the violence of what they saw.

The Movement

Hemingway said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

The artistic energy in Paris in the1920’s was immemorial for its time and unsurpassed in its creativity. The decade exploded with life full of experimentation and promise.

Genius thrived, classics were created and careers were made. The men and women who made this possible left their nation behind. Yet, in their writing captured its spirits. In self-imposed exile, they wrote some of the most acclaimed and influential literature of all time.

Poets and writers worked to recreate the literary form. Hemingway worked to create a single, simple style of prose. This is how it began.

Before World War I

On the eve WWI, American students immersed themselves in the works of European literature. All of them were descended from the “old country.” They hoped to discover their own artistic voice.

Young American writers found little in their homeland to influence their writing. They read about epic events in the books of the French writer Émile Zola and Russian writer Leonard Tolstoy.

They were educated in the values of old world Europe. They learned from European books the ideals of courage, valor and hope. As WWI started and got worse they felt compelled to save that culture. The culture of their fathers and grandfathers.

The Ambulance Service

Archibald MacLeish was an American poet, writer, and future Librarian of the US Congress. He joined the ambulance service in France. A fresh out of high school Hemingway followed to escape his Midwest upbringing.


Archibald MacLeish

The Red Cross Ambulance service in France and Italy almost served as a college extension courses for romantic Americans wanted to take part in the great adventure. The ambulance service gave them great food, congenial experiences, furloughs to Paris and uniforms to meet girls.

John Dos Passos went to the famed prep school Choate Rosemary Hall. After graduating from Harvard University in 1916, he served as an ambulance driver in the war.

Dos Passos

John Dos Passos

As a modernist writer, and most overlooked, he became connected with the Lost Generation. He was drinking buddies with F. Scott Fitzgerald. His Harvard classmate was E. E. Cummings. He was a longtime friend of Ernest Hemingway.

It was on Dos Passos recommendation that Hemingway would move to Key West, FL.

The Aftermath of War

Europe was lost in the carnage of WWI and destroyed. Amid the destruction of Victorian Europe, Dos Passos and the other writers developed left-leaning politics that left them against war and in support of workers’ rights.

As ambulance drivers these young Americans saw war at its worst. They served in the trenches, they saw disfigured soldiers, and watched the flower of European society die in mass slaughter.

Dos Passos was at the battle of Verdun. MacLeish lost his brother. Three months after the war he found him lying in a ditch in Belgium in his full uniform. It destroyed him.

These aspiring poets and writers watched the destruction of their beloved Europe. Gone was the world they had read about. In 1919 they returned home.

Back Home

America came into the war only the last 18 months. Over 100,000 Americans were killed and twice that number wounded. But due to America’s geographical isolation and rich mineral resources the country prospered while Europe was in shambles.

The casualties for the British was 900,000 killed and more than 2 million wounded. France lost 1.3 million men and 4 million wounded. Germany had similar numbers with double wounded. America had largely been untouched by the war.

We start to see the first glimpse of the superpower that America would become. America refused to join the League of Nations.

While they had been gone the country had changed. Industrial Revolution is in full swing in American and the idea of Prohibition starts. The stock market was booming. A time similar to the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Many American veterans felt they had sacrificed for nothing. The American WWI vets felt disenchanted. Their values changed by their experience. They felt lost in a haze of aimlessness.

They felt that no one understood what they had experienced. No one knew who they were. This is decades before we understood such psychological trauma. Many of them had several jobs and felt restless.

The Return to Paris

Writing was a time honored impossibility in America. Very few writers managed to make a living enough to support their families. Rumors of cheap living overseas got back to the veterans because Europe was in shambles. The American dollar was very strong due to the booming US economy.

Graduates of Ivy League schools were once again influenced by the books they had read in college. The chance to return to Paris and to experience the stuff they had read about was too much of a temptation to resist.

Many of the WWI vets had fond memories of Paris from the war. The first writers of the Lost Generation went forward to their future in Paris.

The Changing Values

After the destruction of Europe, there was a relief of being alive. Everyone wanted to celebrate. It was the reverse of survival guilt- it was a Survivor Celebration.

The American writers walked into a city that had a wild desire to dance, drink, to squander what little they had and to have sex. A gasp of relief to feast on life.

All the rules were broken both social and taboo. It was an atmosphere where anything went. There was no judgment because there was a sense of doom because they all realized life is short. It was an environment of changing ideas.

Gertrude Stein and Sylvia Beach

Picasso was redefining art. Gertrude Stein was reimaging prose. French saloons are the central point of conversation and gossip in Franco society.

Stein’s saloon at Rue des Fleurs was constantly busy with people coming and going. It was a mandatory stop for culture and talks of avant garde art.

Stein with her life partner Alice Toklas loved to entertain. Her guest list reads like a who’s who of literary and art greatness in the early 20th century.

Stein and Tolkas

Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas

Pablo Picasso was a central character early on in Stein’s saloon. His Cubism would go on influence an entire generation of painters. He painted a famous portrait of Stein.

Sylvia Beach’s bookstore “Shakespeare and Company” was a literary crossroads. A Princeton grad in WWI she had been a nurse. She had a soft spot for WWI veterans.

Her store was a central hub for the growing number of returning veterans. They used her store mail, money and inspiration.


The Seine River divides Paris into two parts- the left bank and the right bank. May of the lost generation artists were drawn to the left bank of the Seine in Paris due to the cheap apartments and cafes. The right bank was the decadent part of the city where all the hotels were.

As they arrived many of the writers began to write. MacLeish observed that the youth of Europe had been slaughtered. Paris was the reaction to this carnage.

Death of a generation implied the death of tradition. It was the start of the Modernist movement.

Modernism is characterized by a self-conscious break with traditional styles of poetry and art. Modernist writers experimented with literary form and expression, adhering to Ezra Pound’s maxim to “Make it new.”

Liberated from the tradition artists and writers in Paris sought to make art new. They weren’t sure how to do it.

Ezra Pound was a poet of immense talent. He translated French, Chinese and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics into modern prose.


Ezra Pound

A restless and energetic man he edited T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” into a tight, sharp poem. The haunting poem invokes images of a generation living in the aftermath of war.

The poem was the first successful product of a Midwestern American living in Paris in the 1920’s. It would not be the last.

Learning the Craft

James Joyce was an Irishman living in Paris. His book “Ulysses” was published by Sylvia Beach on February 1922, in Paris. It is considered to be one of the most important works of modernist literature.

Ulysses’ stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose changed the writers thought of the craft. The book is full of puns, parodies, and allusions, as well as its rich characterizations. It is a funny story the chronicles the appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904.


James Joyce

The book is a highly regarded novel. It is no small fact that the book changed the course of modern fiction.

Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921. He immediately starts honing his writing talent. He borrowed books from Shakespeare and Company.

He read D.H. Lawrence. Lawrence was an English novelist and playwright who wrote about emotional health, vitality, spontaneity and instinct. His work represents an extended reflection upon the dehumanizing effects of modernity. He loved the themes running through the work.

He read the titans of the Russian literary canon, such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. He felt changed and moved by his experiences.

Under Pound he found an editor and publisher. He learned to distrust adjectives and to tell a tight story with short, simple sentences. In return Hemingway taught Pound how to box.

Partying Like Rock Stars

Stein acted as a mentor to Hemingway. She told him a writer see things while a reporter merely sees words.

Stein could not understand the excess of the young writers. She thought that between the ages of 18 to 25 a person becomes civilized. Men who went to war at that age could not be civilized. She continued to play host and teacher in her saloon.

Paris cafés were well lit. You could stay there all day as long as you ordered coffee. Due to the shattered French economy foreigners were forbidden to take jobs. They milled around sharing ideas.

The Lost Generation drank in excess. They didn’t go home to eat or sleep. They went from café to café to live public lives. Prohibition had started in America.

The two favorite bars frequented by the expatriate Americans was “The Dingo” and “The Jockey.”

MacLeish became acquainted with the silence his poetry required. He spent days in the Paris library reading everything he could. Pound’s advice to his friend was to read and to get to the European classics inside and out.

All of them felt if they immersed themselves in ancient literature while living this extravagant lifestyle they felt they could somewhere with it. Another poet who followed this advice was E.E. Cummings.

In 1917, with the First World War ongoing in Europe, Cummings enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with his college friend John Dos Passos.

Due to an administrative mix-up, Cummings was not assigned to an ambulance unit for five weeks, during which time he stayed in Paris. He fell in love with the city, to which he would return throughout his life.

Cummings returned to Paris in 1921 and remained there for two years before returning to New York. His body of work encompasses approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays. He was an artist with numerous drawings and paintings.

He is remembered as an eminent voice of 20th century English literature.

John Dos Passos traveled all over Europe and Asia using Paris as a stopover to rest and plan. He captured all of it in his novel “Manhattan Transfer.” It was all about tactile experience that could be used to fuel writing.

Manhattan Transfer

Manhattan Transfer

The Outcome

American writers living in Paris were writing about their native land. Paris allowed for a deepening of their ideas. It strengthened their concept of what they were doing and what they wanted.

In time they become a collective grouping of the way forward for writing. Even as their writing became more widely read they were not popular with big publishing companies. The long established publishers saw them as brash and arrogant.

As in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” small presses allowed a lot of younger writers to get the word out. The best part was with no censorship.

F. Scott Fitzgerald- This is for you Scott!

Hemingway’s first set of short stories was published this way. America immediately took notice of the lean, muscular prose and vernacular writing filled dialogue. It was F. Scott Fitzgerald, who introduced Hemingway to Scribner and Sons publishing.

Scott had already published “This Side of Paradise.” The novel turned the Princeton grad into the chronicler of the Jazz Age. He was an overnight American success story. Along with his wife Zelda he embodied the excess of the Jazz Age.

Upon arriving in Paris as a successful writer had the opposite effect. He was not seen as a serious writer because he had not suffered for his art. Being poor and scrounging had a certain nobility to it.

Scott was more Right Bank Paris. A place filled with deluxe hotels and gold, white lobbies. This is the image of all that was wrong with America for the Left Bank writers.

Hemingway was the darling of the Left Bank. The real difference between Fitzgerald and Hemingway was the discipline they brought to writing.

South of France

Fitzgerald went to the South of France to finish his book, “The Great Gatsby.” Here he met Sara Murphy. She had dated Picasso and was now married to Gerald Murphy.

Gerald and Sara were wealthy, expatriate Americans who moved to the French Riviera in the early 20th century. With their generous hospitality they threw legendary parties.

They created a vibrant social circle that included a great number of artists and writers of the Lost Generation. They made an art out of eating and drinking.

For Scott and Zelda to in the orbit of Gerald and Sara was an exciting thing. This experience would become the basis for “The Great Gatsby.”

Scott and Zelda

Scott and Zelda

Learning a Craft

Hemingway would agonize over his manuscripts, He would make corrections and scribble things out and rewrite. Over and over until he got it just right with the right words.

Hemingway felt that writing was something to be done to perfection. Hemingway felt that writers like Fitzgerald, who changed their writing for slick magazines like Esquire hoarded their talent. Too much could destroy the talent of the telling the truth.

When Hemingway read a rough draft of the “The Great Gatsby” he knew it was a masterpiece.

Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Hemingway went to Pamplona, Spain for the bullfights. It gave him the material for “The Sun Also Rises.”

His landmark novel of wild years spent in Paris and Spain popularized the expression of “The Lost Generation.” In the work there are clear sad overtones of an unhappy ending.

In The End

The phrase along with Hemingway’s book depicted this generation as characterized by doomed youth, hedonism, and uncompromising creativity. The wounding of their generation, both literally and metaphorically, by the experience of war.

To varying degrees, these virtues and vices were to be found in the life-story of nearly every member of the Lost Generation. It was their way of finding sanity in a world gone mad.

Aside from their wild lifestyles, though, what is most striking is the astonishing range, depth, and the influence of the work produced by this community of American expatriates in Paris.

This outburst of creativity was supported by an explosion of small-scale entrepreneurialism in the creative arts. Much of the literature produced by the American Modernists was published by small presses, also run by expatriates, including Shakespeare & Company, Contact Editions, Black Sun Press, Three Mountains Press, Plain Editions, and Obelisk Press.

A list of the canonical works of inter-war American literature produced in Paris, following the landmark publication of Joyce’s Ulysses by Shakespeare & Co. provides a key to the literary future of the United States.

Fitzgerald described the generation as finding, “All Gods dead, all wars fought, all faith in man shaken.”

The Now

I believe we have stumbled on such a unique in time again in the here and now. The new “Lost Generation” are the two million American men and women who have fought for the last decade plus in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Churchill was referring to the ongoing efforts of the Royal Air Force pilots fighting the Battle of Britain. This pivotal air battle was with the German Luftwaffe with Britain expecting a German invasion.

But the same can be said of the many young Americans who have fought this same war in continuous back-to-back tours. Along the way losing loved ones both “over there” and “back home.”

The excess of the “The Lost Generation” can be seen in today’s veterans. More about this later. I better close this one out.





Book Review: The Seven Storey Mountain and Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist Monk who was an influential poet, social critic and spiritual writer. He was one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. He was born in Prades, France to a New Zealander father and an American mother.

He was educated at Cambridge and Columbia University. He entered the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky in 1941. In 1949 he was ordained as a catholic priest.

He was the author of more than 60 books. Including the story of his conversion, Seven Storey Mountain (1948), a modern spiritual classic, earned international acclaim.

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

Being a Trappist Monk

Merton felt called to be a Trappist monk. He had an Augustine-like conversion to Catholicism. He lived a richly textured life as an author, social activist, philosopher, but the essence of Thomas Merton was undoubtedly his profound spirituality.

He knew he must be open to be molded and formed by the Catholic Church into a man of virtue, prayer, integrity, and holiness.

As a Trappist monk, he felt living a cloistered existence, along with the monastic discipline is the surest path to achieving inner peace and freedom. By eliminating the distractions of daily life he could concentrate solely on God.

Trappists bind themselves to this form of living by taking public vows in accordance with the norms of Catholic Church law. They may additionally profess to obey certain guidelines for living a Christ-like life.

Their intention is to imitate Jesus by living a life based on the vows of evangelical chastity, poverty, and obedience, which are the three evangelical counsels of perfection.

The Seven Storey Mountain

The Seven Storey Mountain reflects on the life of Merton. His quest for his faith in God leading to his conversion to Roman Catholicism at age 23.

He left behind a promising literary career and resigned as a teacher of English literature at St. Bonaventure’s College in Olean, New York. He entered The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in rural Kentucky on December 10, 1941.

Merton seems to be struggling to answer a spiritual call. The worldly influences of his earlier years have been compared with the story of St. Augustine’s conversion as described in his ‘Confessions.

7 Storey Mountain

The Seven Storey Mountain


How a book becomes a bestseller there is always an element of mystery when it happens: why this book at this moment? The most essential element is timing.

The ”Mountain” appeared at a time of great disillusion in 1948. We had won World War II, a bloody conflict with millions of casualties. The cold war had started, and the public was looking for reassurance.

Merton’s story was unusual. A well-educated, and articulate young man withdraws into a monastery. And the tale was well told, with liveliness and eloquence. Merton’s prose is clear and he tells the story of a complicated subject simply.

One sign of the book’s impact was the resentment it inspired in certain quarters. Not only with hostile reviewers, but with religious readers, who thought it inappropriate for any monk to write.

Writing is a form of contemplation. Merton talks about the freedom he felt in pursing God. It hit a chord with a public that was tired of war. It was a story of a man changed by his God who wanted to live in a fuller and spiritual life.

In the 1950s, Trappist monasteries experienced a surge in young men presenting themselves for the monastic communal life. A bit of Catholic lore that, after the book’s publication, many priests entered monasteries or seminaries with a copy in their suitcase.

A Revelation

In ‘Confessions of a Guilty Bystander’ Merton was on an errand for his monastery. He had a sudden insight on a corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district in downtown Louisville on March 18, 1958. It allowed him to redefine his monastic identity with greater involvement in social justice issues.

He writes, “…suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people…” He found them “walking around shining like the sun.” He closed by saying, “it is the function of solitude to make one realize such things.”

Merton’s Death and Influence

During his long years at Gethsemani, Merton changed from the passionately inward-looking young monk of ‘The Seven Storey Mountain’ to a more contemplative writer and poet. Merton became well known for his dialogues with other faiths and his non-violent stand during the race riots and the Vietnam War of the 1960s.

By the 1960s, he had arrived at a broadly human viewpoint, one deeply concerned about the world and issues like peace, racial tolerance, and social equality. He had developed a personal radicalism.

Merton and Dalai Lama

Merton and the Dalai Lama

His views had political implications was not based on ideology, rooted above all in non-violence. He regarded his viewpoint as based on “simplicity” and expressed it as a Christian sensibility.

On December 10, 1968, Merton had gone to attend an interfaith conference between Catholic and non-Christian monks in suburban Bangkok, Thailand. He was intending to go on to Japan and explore Zen (a form of Buddhism).

After speaking at the conference, while stepping out of his bath, he was accidentally electrocuted by an electric fan. He died 27 years to the day he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani. He is buried at the cemetery at the Abbey.

Merton Grave

Merton’s Grave


Merton, T. (n.d.). Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.



Book Review: Seven Pillars of Wisdom- T.E. Lawrence and the Battle for the Arab World

T.E. Lawrence and the Battle for the Arab World

One of my all-time-favorite film is Lawrence of Arabia. It is a sweeping epic that is one of the greatest movies of all time. It tells the story of the power of one man who makes all the difference by being at the right place, at the right time.

Thomas Edward Lawrence known as T. E. Lawrence, was a British Army officer. His liaisoned during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, and the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18.

He was at the center of the war in Arabia and was key in their war of liberation. In the end he would hate himself because he felt he had betrayed them.

The Man

Lawrence was a complicated man. He was charismatic, brilliant and utterly self-loathing. After World War I he would be called “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Uncrowned King of Arabia,” and “The Desert King of Arabia.” Despite all this fame he would go into hiding after the war.

He was only 5’6 tall but described by contemporaries as touched by the divine. Men would follow him to their deaths. He would never seek the glory he had won in war.

Lawrence’s father, Sir Thomas Chapman, left his first marriage when he fell in love with the family governess, Sarah Junner. His parents assumed the name of Lawrence and remained unmarried. He was the second of five illegitimate sons.

He was born in Tremadoc, Wales, in 1888. His illegitimate status liberated him from the traditional class system of England.

Throughout his childhood he wanted to prove himself. He would go without meals, cycle for dozens of miles and stay out all night. All this was to prove himself to be tough.

He was fascinated by all things medieval. He loved studying the history of the Crusades. His childhood was taken up with reading books about epic battles, codes of chivalry and legendary heroes.

The Scholar

His passion for medieval studies would take him to the Middle East. As a young undergraduate from Oxford he studied the design of the great Crusader castles that dotted the landscape of Jordan and Syria.

This was a dangerous and exotic destination for a student in the opening years of the 20th Century. In three months he walked more than 1100 miles without seeing another European face.

This gave him insight into the Arabs. He learned among the nomadic tribes of the Middle East that hospitality was something more than a name. They would give him food without taking payment.

His experiences and graduate thesis was seen as remarkable. He returned to the Middle East as an Archeologist. He would spend the next seven years there.

He became more and more fluent in Arabic. He spoke daily to the Arab workers and learned their deep resentment towards the Ottoman Turks that ruled Middle East.

Lawrence as a Scholar

In Egypt as a Archeologist

The Ottoman Turks

For more than four centuries the Ottoman Empire ruled the Middle East from Constantinople to Mecca. Over the last hundred years the empire was weakening. It was known as, “the sick man of Europe.”

Europe was heading towards World War I. The Germans offered to build a new railway to Baghdad in exchange for an alliance with the Turks. The railway was the key to increase commerce and success.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

The book that recalls Lawrence wartime service with the Arabs is “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” It is one of the most celebrated adventure books of the 20th Century.

The book also refers to a rock formation called “the seven pillars” of the Wadi Rum region of Jordan where Lawrence operated.

It is from his book we know what happens next.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Intelligence Officer

At his archeological site the railway was scheduled to pass through. He started his intelligence career by making notes on the survey of the railroad and feeding them to the British Foreign Office.

The Great Game was afoot. From his early efforts Lawrence learned tradecraft and the importance of the railway. Once World War I started he became an officer in the British Army.

The Arabs

At the beginning of the 20th Century the Arabs were a poor and desolate people. They were not far removed from the Native Americans of the North America in stages of developments. They were a nomadic people who moved across the desert landscape in caravans with camels and sheep.

They had started a small rebel army against the Turks. Their main forces were in the religious city of Mecca. The dream was to find an Arab nation. Their goal was to bring together the hundreds of feuding tribes under a single government.

The Arabs wanted self-vote, independence from the yoke of the Turks and unity. Brutality was a hallmark of Ottoman rule.

Staff Officer

At the start of the war Lawrence was working in the Intel Section of the Cairo Office of the British Consulate. He was a horrible soldier. He forgot his belt, his hair was too long and he was always late. Life was rough for him as a staff officer with his academic temperament.

Egypt was a strategic part of the British Empire. It overlooked the Suez Canal and gave access to land routes to India. Most important it gave access to oil.

Lawrence was bound to a desk making reports supporting Arab insurrection against the Ottomans.

In May 1915 his brother, Frank, died in the war. At this point the war was going badly for England. The British Army had been slaughtered and stopped at the Turkish port city of Gallipoli.

Turkish victory allowed the enemy to fight elsewhere. Turkish troops were shipped south threatening Egypt. The Brits decided to recruit Arabs to fight for England.

The Turks knew that if the Arabs united they could pose a problem. In Damascus, the Syrian capital, the Turks tried to appease the Arabs.

Call to War

In 1915 the Arabs were ill prepared and badly allied. Hussein bin Ali, was the Sharif and Emir of Mecca from 1908 until 1917. He initiated the Arab Revolt in 1916 against the Ottoman Empire.

Sharif wanted a guarantee of Arab independence from Britain in exchange of Arab help. If they fought they would get self-rule.

In spring 1915 the Brits hoped an Arab revolt would delay the Turkish advance south from Damascus into Egypt. That promise was a call to war.

Liaison Officer

Lawrence could see the macro view of the importance of the struggle of the national Arab movement. Early in the struggle that Arabs had a few victories. Within the weeks the tide turned.

The Turks, using German artillery and planes, began to win battles. The revolt became stagnant with little British support. The movement had only a few thousand tribesman, with no central command, and lacked modern weapons.

Many of the Brits thought the revolt was over before it had begun. Lawrence went to investigate if the Arab Revolt had a future. His fluent Arabic and knowledge of local customs made him a perfect fit for the mission.

This was a dangerous expedition. He had to contend with a fierce desert and a land full of bandits. After a few weeks he believed that the revolt could succeed if the movement had a real leader.

Lawrence met Emir Faisel one of the sons of the Sharif of Mecca. Lawrence impressed Faisel with his knowledge of Arab culture. Over the next few months he provided gold and guns. He acted as a combat multiplier for the Arabs.

Within a few weeks the revolt was on its feet again.

Other Allies

British support of the Arabs was not popular with the other European allies fighting in World War I. The French wanted Syria after the war. They were rivals with the British in that part of the Middle East. It was about the discovery of oil in the region.

The British and French made a deal. At the conclusion of the war the French would get Syria and the Brits would get Palestine (later Israel) and modern day Iraq. The modern borders of these nations were drawn up at this historic meeting.

Becoming Lawrence of Arabia

Faisel suggested that Lawrence dress like an Arab. Over the next couple of months he became one of them. Lawrence was a natural actor. He enjoyed playing the part. He got caught up in the romanticism of being a modern crusader.

In the end it worked. It allowed him to immerse himself.. Over the coming weeks he went from being a liaison to a combatant. He led raids and fighting with the Arabs and gained their trust and respect.

As the months passed Lawrence had limited contact with his British superiors but did find out about the deal. He decided not to tell Faisel.

In the end the British would not stick to the deal. This would led to a 100 years of deep anger that still haunts the modern Middle East. The message was well received- “We (the Arabs), are good enough to die for you (the Western World) in your war but not good enough to rule our own ancestral land.”

When ISIS talks about betrayal this is what they are talking about.

This lie would haunt Lawrence for the rest of his life. For him keeping the promise was a matter of personal honor. He knew for the British the deal with the Arabs was about getting rid of the Turks so Europe could take over.

In a last bid for Arab independence he came up with a plan.

 lawrence as a arab

Lawrence as an Arab


Audacious Plan

Lawrence planned for was for the Arab Army was to get to Damascus before the Allied armies. Looking at the map of the Middle East with Morocco in the west, Baghdad to the east Damascus is the heart of the prize.

On the coast of Jordan sat Aqaba. Aqaba was a Turkish-garrisoned port in Jordan. It threatened British forces operating in Palestine. The Turks had also used it as a base during their 1915 attack on the Suez Canal. Lawrence planned to use as a base to attack Damascus.

If the Arab Army could capture the city they could claim liberation. For Lawrence the greatest challenge was keeping the tribes together. Auda abu Tayi was a great warlord. He was a famed warrior. Faisel was the ruler but Auda was the knight errant that kept the tribes united.

Anthony Quinn Auda abu Tayi

Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi

My favorite scene in the movie of Lawrence of Arabia goes like this. T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) has offered Auda abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn) money to join him in the attack on Aqaba. The great reply sums up the Arab attitude, “Auda will not ride to Aqaba for the British gold, he will ride to Aqaba because it pleases him.”

The plan called for a small group to ride across the desert. The Arabs knew that the vastness of the 200 miles of desert was to their advantage. The capture of Aqaba was the future of the Arab Revolt.

In the end 200 Arabs attacked a heavily fortified Turkish stronghold. The Arabs only suffered 2 casualties. From here the Arab Army could attack into Syria or Iraq.

Return to Egypt

Lawrence returned to Egypt. He was recommended for the Victorian Cross (the British Medal of Honor) and a promotion to Major. He was deeply conflicted between his loyalty to the British and the Arabs.

Four months after Aqaba Lawrence returned. The capture of Aqaba transformed the war for both the British and the Arabs. The port could be used to support combat operations all the way to Damascus and from there into Turkey.

It was decided that the Arab Army would move north into Jerusalem. The Arabs took Jerusalem. The British followed right behind. For a medieval scholar to march into the Holy City with a Crusader Army and to free it from oppressive Turks must have been a crowning achievement for Lawrence.

A group of Zionist (Jewish homeland nationalists) approached the British about a Jewish homeland. These declarations flew into the face of the promises made to Sharif that Palestine would be an Arab Homeland.

Things fall apart

After the Arabs and Allies move the Damascus the Turks flee. The Arabs thought they would have an Arab King. Faisel was seen by the Arabs as the likely king.

With the war winding down the plans of the French and British began to emerge. Faisel walked out of the meetings as he saw began to see the final plans. The Arabs were only given a small part in the planning of the new Middle East.

Lawrence left Arabia. He writes that Britain was his wife and that Arabia was his mistress. He feels that he lied to the Arabs.

The Legend Begins

An American reporter named Lowell Thomas started writing about Lawrence of Arabia. His story is told through news reels and newspaper stories.

Lowell Thomas

Lowell Thomas

Back in England Lawrence a high profile campaign for the Arab cause. He writes “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” He publically turned down his medals in protest over the treatment of the Arabs.

In the end the Arabs were pushed south into the Arabian Peninsula. French got Syria and the British got Mesopotamia and Palestine. The Arabs refused to hand over their countries.

The Arabs ignored the final World War I Versailles Treaty. Faisel was crowned king of Arabia.

Five months later the French arrive. King Faisel was ordered to leave Damascus. The Arabs talk about revolting against yet another oppressor.

Lawrence was contacted by Winston Churchill to help sort out the Middle East. He went to Cairo to explain the Arab position. In Iraq the ousted Faisel was crowned king.

Arabs revolted again. The French and British Armies attacked and Damascus and Baghdad were bombed. In the end a compromise was made.

The same issues are still there a hundred years later. Almost nothing has changed. Zionism, fanatical tribesmen (Al Qaeda and ISIS), and Arab nationalists work to suppress the fanatics (Arab Spring in 2011).

Faisel only ruled for ten years. His sons were all killed in 1958 by Baathist Party members. One of them was a young Saddam Hussein.

In the end

In the end Lawrence had seen almost six years of constant tension and violence. Being so close to violence for which he took an exaggerated responsibility took its toll. He would spend his middle age in hiding.

He joined the Royal Air Force as an enlisted man under an assumed name. He wanted to be anonymous.

Lawrence real love was in motorcycles. In speed he was free from the world of the intellect. Going fast allowed him to stop thinking.

lawrence on a motorcycle

Lawrence on a motorcycle

At the age of 46, two months after leaving military service, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his motorcycle in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles. He swerved to avoid them, lost control, and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935.

The spot is marked by a small memorial at the side of the road.

Lawrence memorial

The Memorial


He had been at the center of six crucial years that laid the foundation of many of our modern problems we face today.

His contribution to the West’s understanding of the Arab mind is still relevant today. It resonates with what we see going in Afghanistan and Iraq today. When western powers go to the deserts of Arabia bad things seem to happen to both civilizations.


Lawrence, T. (2013). Seven Pillars of Wisdom . CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform .





Pat Tillman and The Essence of Virtue


I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a “hero” and “warrior” especially. My own experiences on this subject are limited and narrow. More often than not my mind always goes back to two brave friends who fought and died upholding a proud tradition of sacrifice and honor.

I had a lot in common with both men. All of us were Italian and the same age. We liked to read books and we all loved being in the army. There the similarities stopped.

Both men could not have been more different in personality and temperament. In my heart and memories their lives are forever linked.  In the worst of conditions and times, the legacy of these two men steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed.

The names of these two brave men were Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni and Captain Phillip T. Esposito. Both men were my friends.

I miss them fiercely because through their lives they displayed chivalry. They were like modern knights. This is true of all of you on the receiving end of this email. Men of nobility, not by birth but by action.

The Essence of Virtue

John Russell, an English Writer, said, “Collision is as necessary to produce virtue in men as it is to elicit fire in inanimate matter; and chivalry is the essence of virtue.” You can’t make steel without fire. In our conversations we are tempering the steel within us.

Hopefully these essays are causing you to think, learn and lead better lives. Here is another example.

I just got through reading a book for the third time about Pat Tillman called “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman” by Jon Krakauer.  It is a great book.

Where men Win Glory

“Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman” by Jon Krakauer

The way Krakauer is able to articulate why Pat Tillman was willing to walk away from a $3.5 million dollar contract and join the army. He becomes a private in the Ranger Battalion and make $1250 a month. He does it because he felt strongly about his country being at war. He wanted to do something about it. Krakauer calls this trait in Tillman “the essence of his virtue”.

Tillman was an obsessive journal keeper. Using his journals and interviews with the family Krakauer is able to give us a glimpse into Tillman. We see how he was feeling and what he thinking.

The night before enlisting Pat would sit at computer to try to figure out his feelings of why he wanted to join the army. This is best captured in a document titled

“Decisions” dated April 8, 2002-

Many decisions are made in our lifetime, most relatively insignificant while others are life altering. Tonight’s topic…the latter.

It must be said that my mind, for the most part, is made up. More to the point, I know what decision I must make. It seems that more often than not we know the right decision long before it is actually made.  Somewhere inside, we hear a voice, and intuitively know the answer to any problem or situation we encounter.  Our voice leads in the direction of the person we wish to become, but it is up to us whether or not to follow.  More times than not we are pointed in a predictable, straightforward, and seemingly positive direction. 

However, occasionally we are directed down a different one. In my case, a path that many will disagree with, and more significantly, one that may cause a great deal of inconvenience to those I love.

My life at this point is relatively easy. It is my belief that I could continue to play football for the next seven or eight years and create a very comfortable lifestyle for not only Marie (his girlfriend of 8 years he met in his freshman in high school and was with him until he died) and myself, but be afforded the luxury of helping out family and friends should the need arise.

The coaches and players I work treat me well and the environment has become familiar and pleasing. My job is challenging, enjoyable, and strokes my vanity enough to fool me into thinking it’s important. This all aside from the fact that I only work six month a year, the rest of the time is mine.

For more reasons than I care to list, my job is remarkable. On a personal note, Marie and I are getting married a month from today. We have friends and family we care a great deal about and the time and means to see them regularly. 

In the last couple of months we’ve been skiing in Tahoe, ice climbing in Utah, perusing through Santa Fe, visiting in California, and will be sipping Mai Tais in Bora Bora in a little over a month. We are both able to pursue any interests that strike our fancy and down the road, any vocation or calling.  We even have two cats that make our house feel like a home.  In short, we have a great life with nothing to look forward to but more of the same.

However, it is not enough. For much of my life I’ve tried to follow a path I believed important.  Sports embodied many of the qualities I deem meaningful: courage, toughness, strength, etc. while at the same time, the attention I received reinforced its seeming importance.  In the pursuit of athletics I have picked a college degree, learned invaluable lessons, met incredible people, and made my journey much more valuable than any destination.  However, these last few years, and especially after recent events (referring to 9-11), I’ve come to appreciate just how shallow and insignificant my role is. I’m no longer satisfied with the path I’ve been following…it’s no longer important.

I’m not sure where this new direction will take my life though I am positive it will include its share of sacrifice and difficulty, most of which will be falling squarely on Marie’s shoulders. Despite this, however, I am equally positive that this new decision will, in the end, make our lives fuller, richer, and more meaningful.  My voice is calling me in a different direction.  It is up to me whether or not to listen.”

Pat Tillman would die in Afghanistan almost two years to the day he wrote this. He was voted “Best Ranger” by his peers in Ranger School and awarded a Silver Star. Krakauer points out more important than how he died is how he lived.  I think this “essence of virtue” was displayed in both friends Bruno and Phil.


Pat Tillman

They both had the ability to inspire others by their personal example and how they lived their lives. I can tell you from experience the impact they both had my life has been profound because both were excellent leaders.


Krakauer, J. (2009). Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. New York: Random House Publishing .


Becoming a Man of Letters


Through my writing I am attempting to become a Man of Letters. A man devoted to literary or scholarly activities.

The second meaning for a Man of Letters is a Humanist. A classical scholar or student of the liberal arts. A man who turns the classics of philosophies to come closer to living a more meaningful life by trying to understand the universe in which we live.

The Written Word

My first concern is to the written word. I am striving in no small way to become a renaissance man. By focusing my energies on history, philosophy, politics, art, drama, poetry, and literature (classic and contemporary).

My goal is to be renowned for pure breadth of my erudition and expertise in the arts. To do this you have to correspond with experts in the fields of endeavors that important. That is why I write every day. In doing so I am already becoming a better man.

By writing to you every day is has helped me to organize my writing and I can already see leaps in only the first 10 days. Sharing with you insights to writing and military history has made my life immeasurably better. I am always open to constructive criticism. It’s how one grows.


Reflection helps to build character. Writing and introspection has amazing therapeutic benefits. Writing down your deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in your life can really help you view a situation. Some writers have found their immune systems strengthened. Others have seen their personal relationships improve. Sometimes entire lives have changed.

To do anything well you have to practice a lot. I write to you guys, update several websites where I work on blog content, attempt to write three to four letters or postcards a day. All of in the end is to become a better writer whose prose is more efficient and effective.

Man Reading

The Power of Reading 

This is a known fact for becoming an adept Man of Letters

A Humanist

The second meaning for a Man of Letters is a Humanist. A classical scholar or student of the liberal arts. A man who turns the classics of philosophies to come closer to living a more meaningful life by trying to understand the universe in which he lives.

I am striving in no small way to become a renaissance man. By focusing my energies on history, philosophy, politics, art, drama, poetry, and literature (classic and contemporary).

My goal is to be renowned for the pure breadth of my erudition and expertise in the arts. To do this you have to correspond with experts in the fields of endeavors that important. That is why I email all you every day. In doing so I am already becoming a better man. Each of you is my greatest of friends.

By writing to you every day is has helped me to organize my writing and I can already see leaps in only the first couple of weeks. Sharing with you insights to writing and military history has made my life immeasurably better. I am always open to constructive criticism. It’s how one grows.

Building Character

Reflection helps to build character. Writing and introspection has amazing therapeutic benefits. Writing down your deepest feelings about emotional upheaval in your life can really help you view a situation. Some writers have found their immune systems strengthened. Others have seen their personal relationships improve. Sometimes entire lives have changed.

To do anything well you have to practice a lot. I write to you guys, update several websites where I work on blog content, attempt to write three to four letters or postcards a day. In the end is to become a better writer whose prose is more efficient and effective.

Practicing the Craft

A known fact for becoming an adept Man of Letters you have to spend long, solitary hours writing. I best at this first thing in the morning. I get up at four every day and spend the next six hours writing, exercising or reading.

I also have been trying to get out more. Using the writing to live an isolated life is no excuse. A couple of local hangouts have become my stomping grounds. This allow for important social interaction and lively conversations. Many of them are perfect fodder for writing material.

I am a t-shirt and jeans, hamburger and beer kind of guy. My family on both sides were deep blue collar in the coal mines and steel mills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Despite that I have been trying to become more cultured. I have been going to local museums, local expositions and visit the library almost daily. All of these places are provocative and help kindle ideas.

In the end I have tried to develop an appreciation for art, music, poetry and the great literary works. It’s been hard trying to find balance between contemporary and classical art forms. I have been trying to do it all without being a snob. Being a pretentious know-it-all is no gentleman at all.

Kurt Humanist

Kurt Vonnegut on being a Humanist

Being a Gentlemen

My mother once said, “A true gentleman understands the reality of a situation and does the kindest thing to help a person.” In the end it’s never about where you live but how you live.

Glad to have you guys along for the ride. Tomorrow we will start our study of war and literature. One day will be about the many forms that war may take. This will be the narrative vehicle we use to study history.

The next day will begin our study of literature will start at the beginning of recorded time. Great literary works provide a backdrop as to how man reacted to warfare and his changing world around him.

To have an understanding of both will help us live more meaningful lives. Know you are loved, missed and thought of often.

Book Review: Malcolm X


The Autobiography of Malcom X, as told to Alex Haley, is one of my all-time favorite books. What I really loved about the book is the strength of his words. The reason I love the story is the power of the idea to able to change yourself through education and discipline.

Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcom X, as told to Alex Haley

The book is much more than a story of a dynamic and controversial black leader it is the story of being able to hold yourself to an ideal and to change the world around you with that ideal. Much in the way generals command armies or the way Jesus and Gandhi affected the lives of billions.

A Way to Think about History

Think of history as a long banquet table. Each of the guests at the table represent a period of history. Before them is a feast of ideas and experiences. Each guest has something to say about the time they lived in.

Looking at history as a guest, you can talk to and share ideas. That is the essence of these emails. I try to explain the why, how and when of the time period. Looking at the time period of Malcolm X is complicated. Complicated because it deals with the ugly issue of race. Like war, it is a subject that gives both us meaning and how we handle it defines our culture.

At the beginning

When you look at the issue of race you are looking at the idea of skin color. Before America was settled in the early 17th century African slavery had been the primary labor force for producing wealth in Europe for almost 200 years.

As America grew so did the hunger for slaves. The overwhelming majority of slaves shipped to the New World were captured and sold by other African tribes. The majority of native tribes in Eastern Africa are Muslims.

Slavery is not new. In Islam, slavery has a long tradition. A beaten people are sold off as war booty. Usually in one generation the enslaved tribe becomes a part of the new, conquered people.

The idea of multi-generational slavery system is a European invention.

Slavery in Africa

Slavery in Africa

Europeans developed an idea over several centuries that should not enslave each other. They could fight each other, kill each other in wars, but they did not enslave each other. Christians did not enslave Christians.

The great advantage of Africans is they that were outside of the European community. Most of the Africans were Muslims- a constant source of irritation for the west, even today. For the first time race becomes a marker who can be enslaved and who could not.

Slavery in America

As America grew so did the need for cheap labor. By the time of the American Revolution in 1776 there were 700,000 African slaves in America. The ideals of freedom of the American Revolution passed by the African- American slaves.

With the invention of the cotton gin in 1794 there is a huge demand for labor. Most slaves are shipped south to work on large plantations. Cotton is the boom of the early 19th century. It leaps from $150,000 a year to $8 million a year as an industry.

Cotton was the engine of wealth in America. It was centered on the South where the majority of plantations were due to good soil and yearlong good weather. The fuel was slavery.

At the time of the American Civil War 90 years later there were almost 2 million Africans slaves in America. Most of the slaves have been in this country for three to five generations. They have lost all knowledge of their homeland, culture and customs.

Whipped Slave

A Slave Who Bears the Scars of being repeatedly beaten

This American Experience is very different for most immigrants. Many take great pride in their culture and continue to speak their native tongues for several generations.

After the Civil War and Emancipation a great watershed in American black history was the Great Migration to Northern cities just before the First World War. According to the 1910 census, blacks were overwhelmingly rural and Southern.

Three out of four lived rural areas and nine of ten lived in the South as a result of working on large plantations. A half century later, almost three-fourths of them would be city dwellers. An overwhelming majority would have little to no education.

The Great Migration North

As America prospered from World War I, the Great Migration was a bitter disappoint for most blacks. Their rapid infusion into large, northern cities soon produced ghettos. Blacks soon found themselves, again, segregated as second-class citizens.

Blacks were kept out of white neighborhoods by threat of violence. Racial discrimination was made worse by the Great Depression. Many blacks faced economic hardships as a part of their daily life.

This is no different than other new ethnic group coming to America except one- blacks did not choose to come here and the color of their skin is a defining trait in how they are treated.

This is the world that Malcolm X was born into in 1925.

Malcolm’s Early Life

I believe that Malcolm X is one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century. His journey from a street hustler, to a prison cell to his trip to Mecca is a fascinating story of transformation and the power of choices.

To his admirers, he was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks. He stated that the right of Americans is not about “freedom” but really about “equality.” He indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans. His detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence.

Malcolm Little was born May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. He was the fourth of seven children of Grenada-born Louise Little (née Norton). She was of mixed European ancestry and heritage. She had red hair and passed this onto Malcolm.

Malcolm X was orphaned early in life. His father, Earl Little, was killed when he was six. Earl was an outspoken Baptist lay speaker, and admirer of Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey. Malcolm states that he was killed by a local white hate group that opposed him.

His mother was placed in a mental hospital when he was thirteen. He lived in a series of foster homes.From age 14 to 21 Malcolm held a variety of jobs while living with his sister Ella Little-Collins in Roxbury, a largely African-American neighborhood of Boston.

Then after a short time in Flint, Michigan he moved to Harlem, New York in 1943, where he engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping.

He was called “Detroit Red” because of the reddish hair, he inherited from his Scottish maternal grandfather. Most African-Americans are of mixed European ancestry.

In late 1945 he and four accomplices committed a series of burglaries targeting wealthy white families. In February 1946, he began serving an eight-to-ten year sentence at Charlestown State Prison for larceny and breaking and entering.

Conversion to Islam and Education

During his imprisonment, he met fellow convict John Bembry. Bembry was a self-educated man he would later describe as, “…the first man I had ever seen command total respect … with words.” Under Bembry’s influence, Malcolm developed a voracious appetite for reading.

In 1948 he converts to Islam. In 1950 also began signing his name “Malcolm X.” He explains in his autobiography that the Muslim’s “X” symbolized the true African family name that he could never know.

He says, “For me, my ‘X’ replaced the white slave master name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.”

In 1952 he was released from prison and he begins to preach for the Nation of Islam. He would be a part of the Nation of Islam until 1964. In 1964, he breaks with the Nation of Islam. That same year he performs Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the obligatory trip for every Muslim who is able to do so.

Malcolm Teaching

Malcolm Teaching

After the Hajj, he visited several countries around the world learning more and more. Upon his return to the US he becomes one of the most sought-after speakers on college campuses.

His Death

February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was preparing to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom when someone in the 400-person audience yelled out.

As Malcolm X and his bodyguards tried to quell the disturbance, a man rushed forward and shot him once in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Two other men charged the stage firing semi-automatic handguns.


Except for his autobiography, Malcolm X left no published writings. His philosophy is known almost entirely known from the many speeches and interviews he gave from 1952 until his death.

The book is the story of one of the most dynamic and controversial black leaders in American history. It was dictated to Alex Haley. It was published in 1965, the result of a collaboration between Malcolm X and Haley.

Haley co-authored the autobiography based on a series of over 50 in-depth interviews he conducted between 1963 and Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination. Haley is the author of “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.”

Cropped Roots

Roots: The Saga of an American Family

Both books stimulated great interest in genealogy among all Americans and an appreciation for African-American history.

Malcolm is credited with raising the self-esteem of black Americans. His words and ideas reconnected many disenfranchised blacks about their African heritage.

The Idea of Self-Empowerment

Malcolm’s transition from hoodlum to Muslim Minster is a story of how he educated himself, transcended his circumstances and confronted his rage. His story resonated me for several reasons.

As an Italian-American I know a lot about my family through stories. But I am connected forever to an ethnic group where I don’t speak the language and to a land I have never been to. I see myself as purely American but the world sometimes something else.

Throughout my life I have been characterized by all things, “Italian.” Because of my olive-complicated skin I am more often thought of as Hispanic. Ironically, I speak Spanish but not Italian (I grew up in Florida and all my friends were Hispanic).

Imagine going through life with a Japanese last name but looking like an extra from the Godfather. You’re not “Italian enough” because you don’t have a long, voweled filled name ending in “etti” or”elleni.”

Malcolm’s story tells us that we can transform ourselves through education. By exercising our mind, we define “our reality.” This is only something you can do in America. It is the basis for all the ideals that make us great.

Malcolm X was a man of contrasts. He was a product of the times in which he lived.

Malcolm Pointing

Malcolm At A Rally

Impact of the Book

American Whites and Blacks are victims of Europe. The blacks through colonialism. The whites through suppression, discrimination and murder.

There is in America a conflict between these two victims. Deep down all our secrets are the same. We present the world with a secure self. Deep down there is a timid, craving and terrified self. We, black and white, want the promise of America.

Malcolm’s story erases those lines. His words are lines of poetry and prose. He is a master storyteller telling both fiction and confession of what it is like to a minority in America.

His story is an autobiographical account of his experiences of what is like to be black in America in the mid-20th century. He tells the story directly and without disguise.

Like most great books it is the story of a person’s journey as much as it a work of literature. We see the ghosts of the living and the dead. Of America’s past and her future. Warts and all you get a picture of what America is like, both good and bad.

What I learned from his book and a lifetime of studying war is that most conflicts do not resolve themselves. They simply fade through fatigue and exhaustion.

Both parties simply learn to get along, but they both insist they were right, even as the conflict marches into memory.

This is the story of racism in America. The bottom line is that no one is going anywhere. The essence of the book is a mystical communion where Malcolm comes to terms with his anger. He learns he will never win, but can make a difference in helping people reach their potential through education and example.

Even in a great war there is everyday life. It is a book of ancient themes. I loved reading it.


X, Malcolm., & Haley, A. (1987). The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. New York : Ballentine Press.




On Writing, Agony and Grief


Hope this blog finds you all well.

I have given a thought to this post and what we should start with. I wanted to talk today about how we view ourselves as men, as soldiers, and as Americans. I will start with my favorite writer of all time- Ernest Hemingway.


Papa Hemingway

By looking at Hemingway and other writers I have been able to find my “own voice.” By telling you about other writers and writing as a craft I will be able to teach myself. “To teach is to learn twice.”

On Writing Well

William Zinsser is a wonderful writer, editor and teacher who has taught at Yale and Columbia University. His one book “On Writing Well” acts as a companion to “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. Both are essential guides for the struggling writer.

Zinsser wrote another book called “Writing To Learn.” The book is a vital tool for everyone who wants to write clearly about any subject. The idea is to use writing to learn.

On Writing Well

On Writing Well

I will use these emails to talk about writing, culture and the war we have all been affected by. What history will probably call “The American- Afghan War.” All of you are veterans of it. By exploring it we can learn why we there, what happened and where we are going. This is history in its purist and most beautiful form.

Before we go there and before we teach I have something deep and troubling to talk to you about. Its about Bruno, the war and its seductive hold on me.

Grief and Agony

Bruno’s death combined with the acquittal of the bastard who murdered a close of friend almost broke me inside. The two events are completely separated. They are forever linked in a larger narrative in my mind called “The War Experience.”

Veteran Grief

A Soldier Grieves for his friend

The day after Bruno died I started to feel a Zen experience of being physically and emotionally outside of any event that was happening around me. I would have a chorus of screaming and explosions going off in a movie loop in my mind. I have had a dull headache for almost six years.

I thought time would make some things seem better. There has been a softening but the dull ache has grown into a solid pain. It almost felt like I was having a stroke (a bad metaphor).

In the first year there was a light ringing in my ears. It seemed like I was really starting to understand what had happened. The emotional pain was like a blood clot forming on my brain. My inner ear had a ring and I had picked the smell of Afghanistan wherever I went.

My head seemed to be spinning as I tried to make sense of the horror of what happened. The tragedy of Iraq (Phil’s murder) and the violence of Afghanistan (Bruno’s death) all came together. I felt like a heavyweight boxer had punched me. I could never seem to get my mind straight. I would forgot why I was in places, what I had to eat the day before, and what was happening.

In the second year I began to feel more and more like a stroke victim who couldn’t put his condition into words. I felt tongue-tied, slacked-jawed and mildly retarded trying to explain what happened. I could only say I was, “F*cked up.”

By year three I felt like I was full-on on hypomanic episode. The ringing was still there, but now everyone had too much to say- everything came in too fast.

I would try to take everything in but it would be too much. On top of all this I had decided to go back to Afghanistan to make sense of it all. In old idea that by returning to the scene of the crime you can decipher what had happened and why. I spent those two years in a mental fugue.

Following the mania in the fourth year there was a depressive crash. With it came deep and profound questions that, in truth, have no real answers or at least answers that seem to satisfy what had happened and why.

After a few months of being in the spring of 2012 I had months of insomnia followed by days of blackout sleep. I just wanted to sleep, and not get out of bed- just to rest, just a timeout from life is what I seemed to need.

In the fifth year I continued to ask myself difficult questions. What is the point of this?” What is the meaning of this? Can someone tell me? To be honest no real answers have ever come.

I better cut this one off. God Bless you guys.