Rose-colored Lens on War

By Bob Litton

A friend of mine up in Medford, Oregon, was practically gushing last week with praise for Victor Davis Hanson’s book The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern (2010). My friend is a retired USMC lieutenant colonel and a veteran of the Vietnam War. He is preoccupied with military history as well as 1st Amendment issues. He likes to press my nose into the war pee, hoping thereby to render me as addicted as he.

I am about three years younger than my friend and I was in the military, but I went into the air force and served during that ambiguous period of no war, but under the hovering threat of total war, known as “The Cold War”. Although I honor the veterans of our modern hot wars — particularly those who served in World War II — I do not see any conflict as a moment of glory.

But back to Hanson. My friend wrote in his latest email that Hanson “argues that war is the highest, most important expression of human achievement.” I looked Hanson up in Wikipedia. Hanson was born in 1953, but I saw no record of his ever serving in any military branch. (The draft ended in 1973.)  A child of well-educated parents, Hanson himself enjoyed an extended collegiate career and became a professor of classics and military history. He is now teaching at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

I did watch a YouTube video of Hanson speaking to a small audience in a library. His primary message that day seemed to be that, because the general public does not study war enough nowadays, we have ceased to distinguish between “good wars” and “bad wars”. Instead, we have taken to condemning all war as “bad”.

I was not interested in reading any more books on warfare, although I had gained some enlightenment in my undergraduate years from reading Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, particularly the sad tale of the slaughter of the neutralist Melians. I also slogged my way through other Greek and Roman historians as well as the gory epics by Homer and Virgil. In preparing for this essay, I did check out, in Wikipedia, the Danish-German military theorist Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (1780-1831) and the German general Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800-1891). Much of the information below comes from that source. A major exception is Moltke’s famous comments on peace and war in his Dec. 11, 1880, letter to international law expert Johann Kaspar Bluntschli.

Clausewitz was the man who famously declared that “war is policy carried out by other means” in a dialectic involving opposing wills; the object, he wrote, was to impose one’s will on a foe. Another basic tenet of his was that the defense usually has the advantage because it not only consists of the regular army but also militias and partisans, in other words, a country’s whole population. His “trinitarian” view of an effective force required (1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; (2) the play of chance and probability, within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and (3) its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason. Another of Clausewitz’s pronouncements (which the G.W. Bush administration would have done well to take to heart) was his evaluation of military intelligence: “Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain…. In short, most intelligence is false.”

Helumth von Moltke the Elder regarded strategy as the practical art of adapting means to ends. Also, he realized the great defensive power of modern firearms, and that the “enveloping attack” was more formidable than the attempt to pierce an enemy’s front. His main thesis was that strategy had to be understood as a system of options, since only the beginning of a military operation was capable of being planned. His most frequently quoted statement on peace and war is in the second paragraph of his letter to Bluntschli:

“First, I find the humanitarian striving to lessen the sufferings that come with war completely worthy. Eternal peace is a dream — and not even a beautiful one. War is part of God’s world-order. Within it unfold the noblest virtues of men, courage and renunciation, loyalty to duty and readiness for sacrifice — at the hazard of one’s life. Without war the world would sink into a swamp of materialism. Further, I wholly agree with the principle stated in the preface that the gradual progress in morality must also be reflected in the waging of war. But I go farther and believe that [waging war] in and of itself — not a codification of the law of war — may attain this goal.”

I see all kinds of logical problems with that paragraph; can you? In the first sentence, what kind of humanitarian improvement is he imagining? Changing warfare into a tag football match? And when did God give Moltke the authority to describe His “world-order”? As for the “virtues” of courage and renunciation, I think of the man who three decades ago went repeatedly into the freezing waters of the Potomac River to rescue survivors of a plane crash there, dying himself as a result of his efforts: where is war a part of that event? Nobody, not even soldiers, is asked to display their courage every day; and any serviceman or woman who has enlisted is already giving up years of his/her life for their country. This reminds me of Gen. George Patton’s assurance to his troops in the movie Patton (I don’t know how authentic it is, but it does reflect Patton’s attitude): “Nobody expects you to die for your country; they want you to make that other poor bastard die for his country!”

I confess,  Moltke’s sentence about the world sinking into “a swamp of materialism” is unfathomable, especially if it means that the slaughter known as war is materialism’s opposite: idealism. How is a field of bloody bodies an ideal situation? Finally, his remark that warfare must include a “morality” element reminds me of Abe Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, wherein Abe said: “Both (sides in the Civil War) read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other….The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes.”

And General William Tecumseh Sherman, who thoroughly displayed his ability to wage “total war”, said,  “I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers … it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

The Civil War was in fact the costliest war — in terms of lives lost — of all America’s wars and lesser conflicts. During the first 100 years of U.S. history, a total of 683,000 were confirmed dead due to war, 623,026 (91.2%) of them during the Civil War. Over the next 100 years, 626,000 Americans were killed in wartime, of which 405,399 (65%) died in World War II. In that regard, then, the Civil War can be considered the costliest war in U.S. history, with World War II running a close second.

The recent conflicts have not left the U.S. unscathed either. Between 2003 and 2012, a total of 4,804 American servicemen and women were confirmed dead in Iraq. And, as of Nov. 13, 2013, three thousand three hundred and ninety-five U.S. military personnel have died of war-related injuries in Afghanistan since 2001; and, of course, the “operation” still is ongoing there.

As for economic the costs of war, because of the multitude of variables involved only rough estimates can be obtained. Nonetheless, in June 2010, the Congressional Research Service published a report for Congress. Therein, the tally for the Civil War (in 2011 dollars) comes to $79,742 million (11.3% GDP) for the Union and confederacy combined. The total for World War II was $4,104 billion (35.8% GDP).

The economic costs of the Iraq/Afghanistan “operations” are still accruing, but, according to a study made at Brown University, the total from 9/11/2001 through FY 2013 has been $3.1 trillion.

I apologize for not including the losses suffered by other nations, particularly the United Kingdom. To have included those figures would have involved so much of my readers’ attention that they very likely would not finish my essay.

Now back to Prof. Hanson’s distinction between “good” and “bad” wars. I recall he claimed that World War II was a “good” war, presumably because we did not initiate it and our foes were enslaving whole populations and seeking world domination. I do not know what he would classify as a “bad” war — possibly the Spanish American War or even the Vietnam War. Oddly, he did support Bush regarding the Iraq invasion.

I basically take issue with the classifications “good” and “bad”. As far as I am concerned, no war is good: they are all inhumane, extremely costly in lives and resources, and extended in time (i.e., the end of one usually leads to the start of another [e.g., WWI], and the ethnic hatred that is promulgated during any war can extend into the subsequent peace period).

I prefer the terms “necessary” and “unnecessary”— terms which dislodge the moral element. I am not a jingoist, but that does not make me one who will not resort to violence to protect my family and friends. We have to be prepared to defend our nation, but to play policeman for the world is both costly and futile; albeit, I will concede that, shrinking as the world has too much and too fast, it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid playing policeman, preferably in tune with a world organization.

Moreover, in our nuclear age, hardly any government uses the term “war” anymore: the usual word since Korea has been “police action” or, better yet, “operation”. That is due partly to the fact that “war” implies an unconditional surrender is needed to end it, and we often enough would be satisfied with a simple “cessation of hostilities”. Another reason is that most of our recent conflicts have not been between nation states but between tribes or sectarian groups within a nation, with other nations interfering. The main point I am trying to make, however, is that, should any war become necessary for us to be a part of, we should not glorify that war.

War is not glorious; it is hideous.








By Bob Litton

Note To Reader: This is another of those essays I wrote in a time long, long ago and in a place far, far away. However, I think it is still timely.
— BL

In the summer of 1977, while I was editor of a small weekly paper in the Texas Panhandle, I wrote a feature article about an 86-year-old woman who, it was said, had been the first girl born in the little town.

As a young woman she had attended a nearby college where she majored in art.  Back in those days, I’m told, most young women who sought a higher education were in reality attending a “finishing school”.  That is, they were improving their graces while awaiting a proposal of marriage.  As soon as they got married, they packed away their palettes or, if music majors, relegated their talent to Sunday hymn-singing.

At any rate, that’s what this woman did.  She quit painting.  “I couldn’t stand the smell of the turpentine,” was her excuse to me.  Apparently she never considered water colors.

She became what I call a “squaw”.  She concentrated on home-making.  She allowed her brain to atrophy by not using it for anything more complicated than preparing the weekly grocery list.  She surrendered all judgments to her husband and a great deal of the conversation as well.

In fact, I had a difficult time getting the information for my article because every time I asked her a question, her husband would answer it.  And most of his answers related more to what he had done than what she had done.  The husband had had a rather interesting life of his own as one of the city’s leaders, but the story I had come for was about the woman and I was determined to get it.

One peculiar exception to this lady’s squawism was that she retained her membership in her own church.  She was a Methodist and he a Baptist.  Each Sunday for the 50-odd years of their marriage they had walked to separate churches to worship.

With that anecdote as background, perhaps you will understand why I am more pro-women’s rights (and obligations) even than many feminists.  I want to see them paid the same as men for equal work and do the work.  I’m glad to see them take responsible positions in political parties and in government.  But, I want to see them fight in wars, too, pay the same insurance premiums I pay, relinquish their advantage in child custody litigations, and even open doors for themselves.

The main thing, however, is that they learn a job skill that will help them survive if their husbands die first.  I don’t know what happened to the couple in the anecdote above, but I do know that, if he had died during his working years, she would have been a basket case—unless a second husband quickly appeared.  She didn’t know how to do a damned thing that would earn money except be a maid.

Many elderly women now on Social Security — their husbands’ Social Security — have to live within the meager bounds of their government checks.  Although the law allows them to earn a certain amount, they simply don’t have any saleable skills.  If they had learned a trade of their own, the burden of life in their sunset years wouldn’t be as heavy.

In yet another way women were hamstrung by the social dictate that they be ignorant and helpless in certain areas.  By never being taught by their parents and husbands how to deal with car salesmen, home repair workmen, and the like, when they became widows they were left vulnerable to con artists.

I suppose in a way I’m beating a dead horse.  Women have gained a lot in the workday world since World War II, when the conflict made their entry into the factories a necessity.  Some of the economic inequities still exist but are being whittled away day by day.  Yet, in individual instances I still see squawism of the old sort: A story was related to me just yesterday of a man retiring on a pension and then divorcing his wife of forty years, leaving her with no income and no job skill.

And, although the Democrats made a big deal out of the fact that a woman had finally been nominated as vice-president by a major political party, the fact remains that Geraldine Ferraro supposedly lost the Southern vote because of the attitude that “a woman belongs in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant.”  This despite the historical experiences of Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher.

Yes, there is still a long way to go.

November 1984



Good Ol’ Boys

By Bob Litton

I’ve recently been refreshing my memory by reading a little bit of ancient history. All kinds of visions can come out of musing over ancient history to those who are susceptible…as I am.

One fact I picked up was that the Chinese for centuries looked upon soldiers as being  on the bottom rung of the social ladder together with thieves and beggars. While most peoples had only three social classes, the Chinese had five: scholars, farmers, artisans, merchants and soldiers. Note how humanistic yet utilitarian their sense of social values was. Of course, in actual fact the warlords were frequently on top of things, from the material standpoint at any rate.

In the West, soldiers, while seldom considered to be the first in the nation — the obvious exceptions being Sparta and Rome — were nevertheless usually accorded at least second place. Plato, for instance, dreamed of a perfect society ruled by the Guardians (philosophers), protected by the Soldiers and supported by the Common People.

All this got me to thinking how we might classify people in the United States, especially in Texas. That’s how I came up with the categories of Good Ol’ Boys, Ostriches and Pollyannas. You will please forgive me if my nomenclature is not very original; I considered it important to stick to the old-fashioned names for things rather than confuse matters by inventing fancy new ones.

For those of you who don’t know or who may have forgotten, a “good ol’ boy” is one of the established figures of a community, very often the great-great-grandson of an early settler of the area.  He and his kin will own much of the property and be involved in most of the essential enterprises either directly or in some hidden fashion. He may or may not be on any of the local governing bodies, but he and the other “good ol’ boys” still dictate what decisions are made by those bodies.  He knows what’s going on in secret councils because he’s there, although he might find it expedient to deny as much. If a new entrepreneur comes into town offering something the “good ol’ boy’ either doesn’t like or doesn’t understand, he’ll try to cut the new man out by passing the word along via the other “good ol’ boys” that the fellow is to find financing hard to come by and other means of community support unavailable.

Next comes the “ostrich”. He hasn’t been around as long as the “good ol’ boy”. Maybe he’s just the great-grandson of a settler. Still, he doesn’t threaten the “good ol’ boy’s” authority and is useful for being on the front line where the dirty work gets done. Although the “ostrich” might be one of the politicians, that doesn’t mean he’s one of the decision-makers. He knows what goes on in the secret councils only because the “good ol’ boy” tells him. Sometimes edicts from the secret councils of the “good ol’ boys” are positive decisions in terms of the community. And sometimes they will have a negative effect on the community but foster the fortunes of the “good ol’ boys”. The “ostrich” realizes when either situation is the case, but he nevertheless supports the negative decision just as enthusiastically as the positive. That’s why he’s called an “ostrich”.

Last comes “Pollyanna”. Although the title is feminine, a true “Pollyanna” can be of either gender. “Pollyannas” simply don’t know what’s going on, not even enough to stick their heads in the sand. They can be dangerous for that very reason. That’s why “good ol’ boys” stay away from them as much as possible and watch their tongues whenever an encounter cannot be avoided. “Pollyannas” are not necessarily newcomers. Their lineage in a community might actually be longer than a “good ol’ boy’s”. They are simply naïve. Even when a bit of skullduggery is explained to them point by point they have a hard time seeing where the villainy lies. On the other hand, they quickly jump at superficial faults which they have learned to recognize by rote…like dirty language.

All three terms — “good ol’ boys”, “ostriches” and “Pollyanna’s” — have been around for a long time. However, I believe this is the first time they have been brought together in a sociological essay. Odd.



Double-think Representation

© 2011 By Bob Litton

May I presume to point out something to the body politic?  You demand that your “representative” voice and vote the regional interests of his district or you’ll “vote him out”, while at the same time you complain that he doesn’t have the gumption to “bite the bullet” on difficult issues because “all he’s interested in is being re-elected.”

Doesn’t this strike you as somewhat a situation of “double-think”?

I can understand, but still do not much respect, representatives who send out questionnaires to their constituency, tabulate the responses and then vote according to the majority opinion of those who filled out the questionnaire.  Yes, that’s “voting your constituency”, all right, or at least the part of it which has enough interest or anger to fill out a questionnaire.

I never fill them out myself.  The questions are always phrased in such a way as to anticipate short answers where only longer answers are sensible.  Also, they often put the respondent into a situation of “either/or”.  Too many issues decided by our legislatures have more than two alternatives and, even when there are only two, the value of one choice over another depends on some factor being left out of the question.

Certainly it is proper for a legislator to feel out his constituency.  I submit, however, that the purpose of such feeling out is not to have a majority of the constituents do his job for him but rather to see if they have any insights or possible solutions which he and his colleagues have not even thought of yet.  This warrants a few phone calls or even a visit home, not a questionnaire.

When a man or woman runs for office, especially for the first time, ideally their primary message to the people should be: “Here is my general philosophy.  This is the kind of person I am.  Any decisions I make on specific issues are going to be decided on the basis of the personal principles I am espousing to you.  The part I take in any particular issue is going to be guided by how it will benefit the larger group, not the smaller group.  If that is the kind of person you want in office, then vote for me.  If not, then vote for the other guy.”

Of course, in the real world that’s not how it works.  But then, the real world is also in a mess.

The Monahans News, January 27, 1983


Poetic Residue

By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS:  It has been several months now since I published a couple of my poems.  Most of the poems posted on this blog were written many years ago, when I was young and fancied myself a poet. One of two exceptions  is “Humanity’s Eye”, which I wrote and posted last October; I was surprised by its worthiness, since I have seldom felt any poetic impulse in many years and had concluded that I was all dried up in that art form. The other exception is “The Eumenides Revolt”, which was written last summer and posted in September.
My readers might not agree that “Humanity’s Eye” is as worthy as I believe it to be; that’s okay, for I have become accustomed to friends not appreciating my poetry as much as they do my prose. However, during my undergraduate years I wrote a couple of poems — “Blue Phoenix” and “The Cost of Living” — which drew some praise from a minor American poet who was a professor at one of our state universities (not one I attended). Those two poems were posted here last September.
     Now I have only two poems remaining from that long ago. Neither of them has earned nods, not even from my friends. Part of the reason for that, I believe, is their brevity: E.A. Poe argued that a poem can be too short as well as too long. However, some critics have claimed that Ezra Pound’s two-line verse “In a Station of the Metro” is one of the ten best American poems ever written: I do not agree.
     Another possible reason for my friends’ indifference is that they did not realize what I was trying to do. When reading any serious writer’s work, one should try to determine early on just what he or she is attempting to produce: What is its purpose? After doing that, one can gauge whether the writer has succeeded in reaching his or her goal. So, at the risk of insulting your intelligence, I will briefly relate what I intended when I composed these two brief poems.
     “The Cold War” is a bit of humorous whimsy. I enjoy puns and other extraordinary parallels in meaning. One day, as I was struggling mightily to conquer a severe cold, I realized that I was involved in a kind of war — a cold war — and how funny that imagery would be if conflated with terms of the geopolitical phenomenon so-called. Of course, my struggle with the head cold actually engendered images of a “hot” war, so one could mark that down as a demerit. But the point is that the whole production was done in fun and was meant to be funny.
     “Fantasia on the Sublime” was originally intended to be a longer poem — much longer. The idea for it came to me while I was reading a newspaper account about a whale that had wandered into an inlet near Seattle and apparently could not figure out how to extricate himself. For some reason I have forgotten, after I had composed the lines you will see here, I decided not to proceed any further. From a literary structural standpoint, I viewed the poem as an exercise in using “landlubber” imagery to describe phenomena on the ocean and in the sky. It is similar to my poem “How the Crow Conned the Owl” (posted in March of last year), where, in contrast to Homer’s similes, I used human images to describe bird behavior.
     I hope these clarifications will not impede your enjoyment of the poems below. Perhaps it is only because I am their “Daddy” that I cling fondly to them, but I will continue to do so to my dying day. I like them, and a writer is his own worst critic.
— BL  


©1995, 2011 By Bob Litton

          Villainous usurper!  You’re massed within,

            Abetted by a treacherous nostril!

           How you’ve gained on me in my old age!

           Used to rout you in a single night,

           Perspiring under heavy quilts.

           Now the nights are four.

           It isn’t fair you’re allowed an equivocal age,

           While I must admit sincerity.

            In the fiercest onslaught of your typical siege

            You make me tremble with ague

            Until only the added misery of suffocating heat

            Burns you from your trenches in my flesh.

            Slowly you drip away,

           Yet I’m no victor–

           But a sweat-drenched battlefield.

           Imagining it’s over isn’t permitted;

           For your insidious regrouping forces,

          Driven underground,

          Secrete charges in my head;

           And these, ignited by an innocent spring breeze,

           Explode with a damnable “Achoo!”


©1995, 2011 By Bob Litton 

            Pacific at peace

            Seems a varnished, rockless earth; a sprouting of waves;

            And the wind, an errant plow, tills at butterfly pace.

            Herds of white buffalo-clouds graze and move on,

            Quiescent, inexorable,

            With grey bellies,

            Through their fenceless range.

            The sun, in decline, reigns without rule.

            Still, the lazy monarch,

            His throne ribbed with apathy,

            Smirks like a full-fed lion,

            Stretches over his wrinkled bed,

            And warmly



What a Difference a Name Makes!

©2011 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: The following column was originally published in 1982 in The Monahans News, during my term as editor there. In 2011, I included it among the 200 articles and columns published in my CD book collectively titled A West Texas Journalist.
Since it was written more than three decades ago and is solely concerned with Texas political figures, it is obviously very localized and dated now — actually, it is more of an historical document. However, it yet bears some timeliness, as the electorate is still vulnerable to confusion when looking at politicians’ names. (I was very frustrated during this current primary campaign because I could find so little information on some of the statewide candidates.) Also, I believe it retains some interest through its humor: hardly any Texas election campaign ever goes by that was not funny in various ways. We’ve got more political clowns than any other state in the Union…although South Carolina and Arizona are hot on our heels.
Anyway, sit back, relax, and try to enjoy it.

We received a political news release from State Comptroller Bob Bullock this week in which he thanks the press for their coverage of both primaries, Democrat as well as Republican.

“I feel I can appreciate it more than most,” said Bullock, noting that he had had as his opponent in the Democratic primary a man named Robert C. Calvert.  “The name ‘Robert Calvert’ is an honored and respected name among the people of Texas and has been for more than 40 years.

“Mr. Robert S. Calvert, now deceased, was state comptroller for some 26 years.

“The Honorable Robert W. Calvert is a former member of the Texas Legislature, former speaker of the House, former member of the Constitutional Revision Commission, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, and now a practicing attorney in Austin.

“Mr. Robert C. Calvert was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for state comptroller, as I was.”

The daily papers in Texas did, in fact, explain the differences in persons in an attempt to eliminate as much confusion as possible.  That particular situation in itself did not strike me as so remarkable as the number of similar instances in Texas’ recent past.

You perhaps remember the case back in 1976 when Don Yarbrough of Houston was elected to the Texas Supreme Court.  That happened because many voters mistook him—or rather his name—for either Ralph Yarborough, former U.S. senator from Texas, or for Don Yarborough, an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.

The state legislature held a rare hearing in early 1977 to consider Yarbrough’s removal because of charges of forgery and perjury against him.  In the midst of the hearing, Yarbrough suddenly resigned, and Gov. Dolph Briscoe appointed Charles W. Barrow to replace him.

During this latest Democratic primary, Barrow himself was considered by some observers a sort of name-magnet for John M. Baron, who nevertheless failed in his attempt for a seat on the State Supreme Court.

Then we have the politicians with names nobody would wish off on even a politician—especially a politician.  But we shouldn’t hold them to account for what their parents do to them.

Take for instance Warren G. Harding, present state treasurer, who is bowing out of the runoff against Ann Richards, for Travis County commissioner.  Apparently, Harding was named after the 29th president of the United States, during whose term in office the Teapot Dome scandal occurred.  This latter day Harding, however, at age 61, was obviously born before the Teapot Dome affair (which began in 1922) and therefore was named after a man who was still considered ethical and moral in the minds of most Americans.  Ironically, the state treasurer is letting the runoff pass him by because he is under the cloud of two indictments handed down April 23rd accusing him of having two state employees work on his campaign.

Another judge, Woodrow Wilson Bean, had two names he could play with—Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the U.S.; and Judge Roy Bean, the so-called “Law West of the Pecos”.  He chose to play with the latter.  The modern day Bean, as a matter of fact, was the judge who unsuccessfully tried to defeat Texas Supreme Court Justice Charles Barrow in the Democratic primary.

Now, I can understand why Bean wouldn’t want to play up the Woodrow Wilson part of his name, because, rather than crooked, President Wilson has gone down in the history books as rather too virtuous and idealistic and uncompromising.  So much so that he eviscerated the Versailles Treaty.

But the present day judge’s use of Judge Roy Bean was getting a little too folksy, if you ask me.  (Which I realize you didn’t.)

All of these instances make me wonder if some parents don’t purposely name their children after historical personages with the idea in mind that such names will be of some assistance in the glorious political campaigns of the future.  As I’ve tried to illustrate above, however, that design can backfire.

I think it would be wiser — if one insists on endowing babies with historical names — to choose those of daring desperadoes.  That’s what the sage parents of former State Treasurer Jesse James did.  With a name like that, you can’t go anywhere but up in the world.

— The Monahans News, May 9, 1982

What Is Love?

By Bob Litton

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what love is in my own life.  What I have experienced in the past, and at times called “love”, I now look back on as some lesser emotion — like adolescent dependency or lust.

However, I have seen what I considered to be love — genuine love — in others’ lives.  In one instance, it was a little old lady who came to my brother’s carpet store to buy carpet to replace the worn-out floor covering in her living room.  Her husband had died a few months before.  When she started talking about how his cigarette ashes had dropped down on the carpet beside his easy chair, she choked up and, in a voice almost gasping for words, said, “He didn’t do it on purpose.  He didn’t know those ashes were spotting the carpet.”

Another time, I was watching a 60 Minutes segment about thalidomide children.  One of the victims, now a mature woman, had married and had two sons.  She had only stubs for legs. Like the two other thalidomide victims featured during the segment, she didn’t feel sorry for herself but seemed very well-adjusted and cheerful.

The most striking thing about her, however, was the way she met her husband.  She had been fitted with artificial legs and most of the time did quite well on them; but one time, when she was walking down a sidewalk, she fell and couldn’t get up.  A man came along and helped her get back on her legs.  Subsequently he became her husband.

Both of that woman’s sons loved her, and her husband loved her.  There was a difference, however, in that the boys had grown up knowing her as their only mother; so, in a sense, they had no choice but to love her.  Her husband, on the other hand, had had a choice, unless you hold that romantic love is inevitable and unavoidable.

Alpine Avalanche, February 15, 1996


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