Thursday

Sep. 2, 2010

The Hay Rake

by Kate Barnes

One evening I stopped by the field to watch the hay rake
drawn toward me by two black, tall, ponderous horses
who stepped like conquerors over the fallen oat stalks,
light-shot dust at their heels, long shadows before them.
At the ditch the driver turned back in a wide arc,
the off-horse scrambling, the near-horse pivoting neatly.
The big side-delivery rake came about with a shriek—
its tines were crashing, the iron-bound tongue groaned aloud—
then, Hup, Diamond! Hup, Duke! and they set off west,
trace-deep in dust, going straight into the low sun.

The clangor grew faint, distance and light consumed them;
a fiery chariot rolled away in a cloud of gold
and faded slowly, brightness dying into brightness.
The groaning iron, the prophesying wheels,
the mighty horses with their necks like storms—
all disappeared; nothing was left but a track
of dust that climbed like smoke up the evening wind.

"The Hay Rake" by Kate Barnes, from Where the Deer Were. © David R. Godine, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

In 1945 at about 9 a.m. on this day in Tokyo Bay on board the USS Missouri battleship, surrounded by the sunken wrecks of Japanese ships in the harbor, Japan formally surrendered to the United States.

A Navy chaplain delivered an invocation, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played, and General Douglas MacArthur read a few remarks. Then, the Japanese delegation signed the official documents. Carried out in silence, the whole ceremony took about 10 minutes, and General MacArthur walked off the ship without ever having looked at — and without having shaken hands with — the Japanese delegation.

It was on this day in 1901 that Theodore Roosevelt uttered his famous words "Speak softly and carry a big stick." He was vice president at the time and was giving a speech at the Minnesota State Fair. He continued: "If the American nation will speak softly and yet continue to build and keep at a pitch of the highest training a thoroughly efficient Navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far."

This Monroe Doctrine that he was talking about was a policy dating back to 1823, from a speech that President Monroe delivered at one of his State of the Union addresses. At the time, a lot of colonies in Latin America were struggling for independence from Spain, and the U.S. was worried that other European powers might step in and take over these fledgling republics, claiming them their own colonies instead.

So President Monroe said that if any European nations tried to newly colonize any Latin American lands, the United States would consider this a sign of aggression and would intervene to fight off these would-be European colonizers.

Monroe likely meant for this policy to deal with immediate problems of protecting newly independent lands, but the words he said took on a life of their own. Teddy Roosevelt bolstered and expanded the idea of America policing the Western Hemisphere with his Big Stick diplomacy, which he described as "the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis." He passed it off as a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.

The Monroe Doctrine and its spinoffs have served as a central part of America's foreign policy since then, invoked by many presidents. In the intervening years, it's been the precedent for U.S. intervention in Latin American countries like Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cuba.

Less than two weeks after Vice President Teddy Roosevelt uttered these famous words at the Minnesota State Fair, President William McKinley was assassinated, and Teddy Roosevelt found himself the youngest person ever to serve as president of the United States. His Big Stick diplomacy, as it came to be known, served as the centerpiece of America's foreign policy under his administration.

On another occasion, he said, "If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble, and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power."

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