Thursday, January 23, 2003

Patton Couldn't Stand Him

Cavalry sergeant shooting jeep with broken axle

Everybody else loved him, including the brass that he loved to take down a notch.

I just heard the news that Bill Mauldin died today, of complications of Alzheimer’s.

My father, like all GIs in Europe (except Patton) loved his stuff. He cut out and kept the cartoons from Stars & Stripes; I still have some of them. I also have a first printing of "Up Front", Mauldin's first book.

After the war, he continued drawing. Probably my all-time favorite shows Lady Liberty being menaced by a huge monster from across the ocean, with hammer-and-sickle eyes. "Maybe it would go away", says his Everyman character, "if we put out the light". Have things really changed that much? Replace the hammer-and-sickle with a crescent-and-star ....

Just another reminder that our collective memory of things like WWII is slowly going away. Soon, all that will be left is "official" histories, old letters, and second hand memories. We're in a dangerous period, with some people saying "War of any kind is too horrible to contemplate" and others saying "Think what would have happened if Hitler had won". Then there's the ever popular "WWII would have been much shorter and less brutal if we'd only <fill in the blank>". As long as we have folks that remember that kind of war, we have a very effective brake on those who want to do it again. I have no doubt that one of the chief restraints on the Soviet Union in the Cold War was that, when you said "More deaths in the first exchange of hostilities than in all of the Great Patriotic War", it really meant something to the war dogs running the Kremlin.

WWII was a very near thing. We could have lost. This is a thought that is anathema to the current crop of "chicken hawks" -- we might lose. Things might not go our way. I don't see this happening in Iraq, but it is always something to think about. The fact that "We're the Good Guys" (as we keep telling ourselves) counts for nothing in the Great Scheme of Things.

Anyway, here's a selection of Mauldin's most enduring characters, Willie and Joe

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