It is one of the simplest, yet most horrifying forms of punishment one can imagine: throw a prisoner into a dark, empty cell, lock the door, provide no food or water, and leave them to die. Auschwitz’s notorious Block 11–known appropriately as “the death block,” and full of “starvation cells”–was meant to punish prisoners with torture. It is hard to imagine being put in the Suffocation Room, designed to make individuals suffocate from lack of air, or the standing cells, tiny areas less than a square yard in which four people would be held and sitting was impossible. They would stay like that for days, leaving the cells to work a full day of hard labor only to return at night and be forced to stand. Many would die of exhaustion in the holdings, each of which had one tiny opening to let enough air in to prevent the prisoners from suffocating.
Chesterton wrote somewhere that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder, with thanks “the highest form of thought.” As strange as it may sound at first blush, he was saying that gratitude is an activity of the intellect as much as an emotional response.
I’ve not read Chesterton in a decade, but I have just read Mark Vanhoenacker, the pilot-scribe whose award-winning book, Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot, has me reconsidering Chesterton’s line.
The American Revolution was won on October 17, 1777, when John Burgoyne surrendered his British and German troops in upstate New York after losing a pair of battles—the disastrous ending of the British campaign to drive a line along the Hudson River Valley and thereby isolate radical New England from what they assumed were the more moderate colonies of the central and southern seaboard.
One of the most striking things about the Iliad and the Odyssey is the simultaneous universality and strangeness of the poems’ characters. We understand, for example, Hector and his wife’s need to speak about—and, at times, partly believe in—life after the war and the future of their young son, Astyanax, even though they both know there will be none. In book six, in a brief break from battle, Hector meets Andromache on the city wall, plays with his son briefly, and tells his wife he has no choice between life and death, only between a courageous death and a cowardly one. Still, he asks the gods to allow his son to “rule all Troy in power / and one day let them say, ‘He is a better man than his father!’” Homer ends the poem with Hector’s corpse burning on a funeral pyre, but in most other accounts of the war, Astyanax is thrown from the same wall to his death shortly after the fall of Troy.
Can a city be tuned like a piano? When J.S. Bach composed “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” he demonstrated that a new process of tempering notes and playing multiple keys at once could make music more pleasing. Jonathan F.P. Rose has written The Well-Tempered City to argue that tempering, or balancing, certain qualities within cities can make urban centers more resilient, prosperous, and harmonious.
How is war reported or summarized to the people back home, in whose name it’s usually being fought? How do they view the actions of those who fought it—or the war in its awful wholeness? These are questions haunting our day, and questions obliquely considered in a new biography of Ambrose Bierce, most of whose output after his soldiering years concerned or was influenced by the Civil War he fought in.
The state’s intervention into everyday life can be worrisome, whether it’s a new tax policy, a new environmental regulation, or more government surveillance. But it’s something people can usually live with. But in her new book, No Child Left Alone, Abby W. Schachter delves into how the federal government has been meddling in the bedrock of human society: the family.
For a generation of Americans, his name was synonymous with failure. Before the Great Depression was great, it was the “Hoover Depression.” Shantytowns built during its worst years were “Hoovervilles.” Pulled-out, empty pants pockets were “Hoover Flags.” These unhappy memories of Herbert Hoover and his presidency persisted for years after he left the White House—so much so that Mario Cuomo, in his 1984 keynote speech to the Democratic convention, could attack supply-side economics by saying: “the Republicans called it trickle-down when Hoover tried it”—and expect a knowing, visceral response from his audience.
“The Ugandists and the Territorialists are jumping up on chairs, shouting furiously at the President; their faces are distorted … the electric lights in the hall are turned off … The noise and tumult continue for a long time in the dark hall,” wrote Russian Zionist leader Leib Jaffe, describing the scene at the Seventh Zionist Congress on July 28, 1905.