Here is an excerpt from an article written by William Zinsser. To read the complete article and sign up to receive his weekly posts at The American Scholar website, please click here.
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Last week, on an archeological dig through some fragments of my past, I came upon a mimeographed sheet of paper. It was folded in half, and on the front flap, in typewritten letters pale with age, were the words:
THE 885TH BOMB SQD. ENLISTED MEN’S MESS WISHES YOU A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS
It was the menu for my 1944 Christmas dinner. I was an Army sergeant attached to an Air Force squadron that dropped supplies at night to partisans in Nazi-occupied Europe. We were stationed at a base in the heel of Italy, a region of desolate poverty. I don’t remember that our life had any graces. We lived in tents, hunched against the frozen Italian winter, keeping warm with a makeshift stove that we ran on the same high-octane gas that fueled the bombers.
Yet someone had gone to the trouble of typing out a Christmas menu, arranging the appetizers and entrees and fixings in descending tiers, according to the conventions of restaurant typography. The first tier said:
Fruit Cocktail, Stuffed Celery, Olives, Turkey Soup, Pickles , Croutons, Giblet Gravy
Next, in similar groupings, came Roast Turkey, Bread Dressing, Creamed Potatoes, Hot Rolls, Bread, Butter, String Beans, Cranberry Sauce, Marmalade, Coffee, Cream and Sugar, Pumpkin Pie, Mince Pie, Cookies, Oranges, Tangerines, and Fruit Punch.
Turning the page, I found another block of typing:
Alone of all American holidays, Christmas has been held inviolate, and will be observed throughout the Army by order of the War Department. By this wise exception men may have a brief respite from the grim business of war to restock their spiritual strength and reexamine their position in terms of the religion of their nation. This they may do with an untroubled conscience. They will reflect that the tenets preached by Him whose birthday is holy throughout the western world are sound, worth dying for, the very marrow of our culture.
That some of these professed tenets may not be practiced for awhile is due to human failings and makes them not less true. They have been appraised in the perspective of time, they have survived many wars, and will survive this one.
With stout hearts, we see victory, if not near, certainly clearly in view. Then and only then we may resume our cherished habit of peace on earth and good will to all men.
Who wrote that? I wondered. Churchillian eloquence isn’t ordinarily associated with the Pentagon. Whoever it was, I like to think that for a few moments, in that forsaken place so far from home, all of us—including non-Christians and non-believers—were comforted and nourished by his words.
Looking at that menu today, so many Christmases later, I think of all the places where young American men and women have since been sent—Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan—to fight wars that were more ambiguous. Ours was the last “good” war; we never doubted that the Nazis and the Japanese had to be defeated. We saved the world and sailed through life secure in the gratitude of our countrymen.
[To read the conclusion of this brilliant article, please click here.]
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William Zinsser is the author of 18 books, including On Writing Well.
In my opinion, it is (by far) the single best source of of advice on writing. Be sure to purchade the 30th anniverary edition, now available in a paperbound edition and sold by Amazon for only $8.41.
Every December, David Brooks announces his Sidney Awards to those who during the concluding year have written what he considers to be the best essays. Because I have such great respect for his judgment, I am always eager to read those I had not previously read…and am never disappointed.
In a column written for The New York Times, he announces the 2010 recipients. Please click here to read his comments about each.
Michael Lewis for “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds” published by Vanity Fair.
Hanna Rosin for “The End of Men” published by The Atlantic.
Beth Kowitt for “Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe’s” published by Fortune.
Sam Anderson for “The James Franco Project” published by New York Magazine.
William Deresiewicz for “Solitude and Leadership” published by The American Scholar.
Darin Wolfe for “To See One’s Self” published by American Scientist.
“Everybody’s worried about the future of print journalism, but this has been an outstanding year for magazines. On Tuesday [December 28, 2010], I’ll offer more suggestions for holiday reading.”
Thank you, David Brooks.
Many years ago, I read in a newspaper about a father who gave his children gift-wrapped batteries with an enclosed note, “Toys not included.”
He said the looks on their little faces were “priceless.”
Then he brought out the toys.
I have never forgotten that quotation and assume that those who received the batteries will never forget that Christmas.
For 12 years, on his last show before Christmas, David Letterman has Jay Thomas on to throw a football to knock the meatball off the top of the Late Show Christmas Tree. And for 17 years, Letterman has invited Darlene Love to sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. (They were both on last night). Like many, I love to see these each year. By the way, Darlene Love was just elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and will be inducted in 2011.
In addition, Jay Thomas tells this amazing story about a small car crash, and the Lone Ranger coming to his aid. It’s a great story.
So, here they are (from earlier years on the Letterman Show). Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year.
(I’ll be back to blogging a little — or a lot — next week, and more often after January 1).