Lapham’s Quarterly Winter 2008: States of War (partial review #1)

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts reviewing or referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]


This is not going to be a speed-read issue, though it may well be engrossing. Page 1 is the first flimsy sheet after the cover and usually contains a single quote. The other side, Page 2, contains all the publisher data before the Contents start on Page 3. I spent more than a half-hour researching the Page 1 quote’s author. Lapham’s Quarterly has a way of doing that, piquing one’s interest to explore further.

The quote: “Perpetual peace is a dream, and not even a beautiful dream, and war is an integral part of God’s ordering of the universe… Without war, the world would become swamped in materialism.” — General Helmuth von Moltke

A fuller variation of the quote is “Perpetual peace is a dream, and not even a beautiful dream. War is an element in the order of the world ordained by God. In it the noblest virtues of mankind are developed; courage – the abnegation of self; faithfulness to duty, the spirit of sacrifice: the soldier gives his life. Without war the world would stagnate, lose itself in materialism.”

Aside from the altruistic self-sacrifice expressed, what really jumped at me was the world ‘swamped or lost in materialism’. Horrors, that we should create and possess things. Who is this Moltke? It happens this quote is from Moltke the Elder and not Moltke the Younger. The Elder was quite the Prussian war strategist in the 19th century. The Wiki link alone (first previous) will give you pause. That is just Page 1!

This Winter-2008 issue is the very first issue of Lapham’s Quarterly.  ‘Volume 1, Number 1’.  The format appears very similar to subsequent issues and therefore well-thought in advance. (I didn’t start reading Lapham’s until Fall 2011: The Future, due to a well-read friend’s suggestion.)  Lenin, bin Laden, St. Augustine, Goebbels, Queen Elizabeth I, Bush, Krishna.  Only the names change.  There are no innocents.

221 pages of reading and art reproduction to the Sources section at the end. Check.

Table of Contents including this issue’s Voices in Time sections of Calls to Arms, Rules of Engagement, Field Reports, and Postmortems. (4 sections instead of the usual 3.) Check.

Those contents list authors and the year and place of their essay/extract. To name a few just from the first section: Homer, General George Patton, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., V.I. Lenin, Saint Augustine, Osama Bin Laden, Joseph Goebbels, Krishna, Queen Elizabeth I, George W. Bush, and William Shakespeare. Wow. What’s not to like?

The ‘Among the Contributors’ section (paragraph summaries of some authors) (p. 8) include Winston Churchill, Herodotus (the Father of History and a frequent Quarterly contributor), and Private First Class Jessica Lynch, ‘injured in an ambush during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003’.

The World Map, always in the Introductory section and depicting theme elements on a global scale, is NOT present in the first issue.  (I lied.  I found it at the end on pp. 220-221.  Apparently it has since been expanded in content and moved to the front.)

Editor/publisher Lewis H. Lapham’s Preamble is titled The Gulf of Time.  The former editor of Harper’s Magazine is, as always, eloquent, insightful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking.  In this first LQ issue and Preamble he lays the foundation for reflecting on history and Voices in Time.  A few fragments:

” “He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living hand to mouth.”
During my years as editor of Harper’s Magazine, I could rely on the post office to mark the degree to which I was living in what Goethe surely would have regarded as straitened circumstances.”  …

“The afternoon mail added to the weight of evidence making the case for what I didn’t know and wasn’t likely ever to know, and, over a period of years, I came up with a risk-assessment model wired to the sound of the human voice. If, on first looking through a dispatch from the Yale University library or the White House Situation Room, I couldn’t hear the voice of its author, I let it go the way of the Carolina Parakeet.”  …

“On the assumption that the blessed states of amnesia cannot support either the hope of individual liberty or the practice of democratic self-government, Lapham’s Quarterly grounds its editorial premise on the risk-assessment model that allowed me to edit Harper’s Magazine. If the words on the page translate into the sound of a human voice, I don’t much care whether the author sets up the mise-en-scène in 1740s Paris or Harlem in the 1920s.”

“We have nothing else with which to build the future except the lumber of the past—history exploited as natural resource and applied technology, telling us that the story painted on the old walls and printed in the old books is also our own.”

“An acquaintance with history doesn’t pay the rent or predict the outcome of next year’s election, but, as the season or occasion requires, it makes possible the revolt against what G. K. Chesterton once called, “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about”;”

“To bring at least some of the voices of the past up to the microphone of the present, Lapham’s Quarterly chooses a topic prominent in the news and, within the perimeter of that topic, assembles a set of relevant texts—literary narrative and philosophical commentary, diaries, speeches, letters, and proclamations, as well as essays and reviews by contemporary historians.”

“To accept as a consequence the price being paid to the piper in Iraq is to acknowledge the truth of the old Arab proverb that says we have less reason to fear what might happen tomorrow than to beware of what happened yesterday. I know of no better reason to read history. Construed as a means instead of an end, history is the weapon with which we defend the future against the past.”

LQ is generous with free access to much of its content.  The full Preamble and many items from the rest of the issue can be read online at https://LaphamsQuarterly.Org.

The first section, Calls to Arms, is indeed that.  ‘Follow me into battle, I’m right behind you all the way!’  Gen. George Patton is George C. Scott is George Patton.  If you have ever seen the movie Patton, the opening soliloquy is Patton’s gritty fire and brimstone speech to his troops prior to D-Day in WWII.  (Available free, previous link.)  Throughout history the Calls seem similar.  It is right to fight.  We must do this.

The rest of the section follows suit.  Kuwait 2003, Iraq 1917, Clermont 1095, and Troy c. 1250 BC.  Popes, saints, queens, tsars, presidents.  Bin Laden, Goebbels, Tecumseh, Krishna, even 19th-century lecturer John Ruskin.

‘Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war.’  (Hymn I remember from childhood.)

Sidebar quotes:

“It takes fifteen thousand casualties to train a major-general.” -Ferdinand Foch. (p. 35.)

“There never was a good war or a bad peace.” -Benjamin Franklin, 1773. (p. 51.)

Section 2, Rules of Engagement, awaits.  To be continued…

7 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Winter 2008: States of War (partial review #1)

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