Wednesday, May 23, 2001
: . Poor Stephen Ambrose. Having to resort to retro red-baiting to get what he wants. Ah, but the WWII Memorial design is not even Nazi-like. More like what Nazi design would appear if it turned tricks: A portrait of the Reichstag as Pretty Woman. If Hitler had won the war and the world were swamped with the Fuhrer’s tourist baubles, something akin to WWII Memorial models would probably sell like Berliners. Even Cuba has more tasteful tributes to its fallen comrades. Strange that Ambrose should cite the fighting men and women of the Greatest Generation as the American 20th century’s paradigmatic heroes. For Ambrose, the nation’s most awesome heroic feat in the past hundred years—the triumph of Democacy over Totalitarianism—can never be attributed to one Great Man. The 18th c. had Washington whose monument stands like an engorged shaft on one end of the Mall while the 19th c. had Massa Lincoln whose marble temple stands on the other end of the Mall. But the 20th c. is no He generation. It was the age of The People and why shouldn’t The People have their piece of the Mall, their monument to wrap thickly across the Mall’s middle like a WWF championship belt? Why yes, of course. And The People also deserve a populist tribute, grand in scale but with modest lines (like the allegedly modest, self-effacing folk it celebrates), not the Trump Stonehenge:
The charge that the design is Nazi-like is absurd. It is a Stalin-like charge. When all else failed, Stalin and the Communists fell back on accusing the supporters of anything they instinctively opposed as being Fascist. But the design is democratic. It expresses the concept that we were all in the war together by honoring all the states and territories, all the people of the United States.
I wonder who ‘they’ are (Liberals? Pacifists? Sissy Gen X-ers?) and why their opposition should be ‘instinctive’ not ‘carefully considered’ or ‘rational.’ What was it I read again about generations? ‘Except as a primitive means of telling time, generations are not a serious category…Belonging to a generation is one of the lowest forms of solidarity.’
: . ‘We want big. We want fast. We want far…We are Americans.’ A hilarious column by Maureen Dowd. Could she really be this Liberal?
: . Judith Thurman, biographer of Colette and Isak Dinesen, on the enduring allure of charisma:
[W]hen the chemistry of the brain is finally understood we will discover that the attraction emanating from a charismatic person or thing stimulates very ancient, even atavistic circuits. The evolution of society has been away from hierarchy, but the human race is still wired for it. We seek to tame, or at least to propitiate, the powers we can't control by submitting to them, and the figures who have seized or been invested with supreme authority have learned, in the long, erratic "progress" of civilization, to make ritual gestures of obeisance to those they rule—the laying on of hands, the washing of feet, the sharing of bread—at the same time that they flaunt the emblems of their hieratic splendor: crowns, sceptres, and gorgeous robes…And when the charismatic figure is sincere, or seems to be, in her display of respect for those beneath her in the hierarchy, which is rare enough, she evokes a gratitude from the objects of her benevolence out of all proportion to her actual good deeds. Condescension is experienced as communion, and that is the essence—the magic trick—of charisma. For it humbles and exalts at the same time.