Jun. 25, 2014

Thoughts in a Garden

by Andrew Marvell

What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind from pleasure less
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that Ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.

"Thoughts in a Garden" by Andrew Marvell from The Complete Poems. © Penguin, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1947, Anne Frank's diary was published (books by this author). She began keeping the diary in 1942, when she was 13, and she wrote it during the two years that her family was in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam. They were discovered in 1944 and taken to concentration camps, where Anne died of typhus in 1945. After the family was captured, Otto Frank's secretary, Miep Gies, found the diary and gave it to Mr. Frank after the war. He published it, but only after removing things he felt were too personal. It has been translated into 65 languages — the English version first came out in 1952 — and a 1995 edition restored the excised material.

"It's an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I — nor for that matter anyone else — will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Still, what does that matter? I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart."

It was on this day in 1942 that Dwight D. Eisenhower became the commander of the U.S. troops in Europe. He had been a military man for more than 20 years, but he'd never seen combat. All he'd ever done was train soldiers. He would go on to become supreme commander of the entire Allied Armies in Europe, and he helped plan many of the major offensives during the European theater of the war, including D-Day.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949), George Orwell (books by this author), born Eric Blair in a small village in Bengal, India (1903). He went to an English boarding school, and after graduation he traveled to the British colony of Burma, where he served for five years as a colonial policeman. He eventually grew so disgusted by the imperialism he was a part of that he quit his job as a policeman and moved back to Europe to become a writer. He spent a few years living in poverty in London and Paris, working as a dishwasher and hanging around with hobos and prostitutes, and he wrote his first book about the experience, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). Worried about what his parents would think of the book, he published it under the pseudonym George Orwell, the name he wrote under for the rest of his life.

In 1937, he traveled to Spain to write about the Spanish Civil War. When he arrived in Barcelona, communists and anarchists were running the city. At first, he saw it as a kind of utopia, where everyone was equal and no one was poor, and he signed up to fight against the Fascists. He later witnessed the Communists suppressing democracy as fervently as the Fascists had done, and he decided that revolutionaries on the left wing were every bit as dangerous as those on the right. He wrote about his experience in the book Homage to Catalonia (1938).

Orwell once said, "Every line of serious work that I have written [since the Spanish Civil War] has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism." At a time when most British intellectuals still supported Communism, Orwell became one of the first leftist writers to speak out against Stalin. He began to work on a political allegory about the Communist revolution, and that work became the novel Animal Farm (1945). Because England and Russia were still allies at the end of World War II, he had trouble publishing the book, but when Animal Farm finally came out after the war, it made Orwell famous.

Orwell spent the last years of his life writing 1984, about a future in which England has become a totalitarian state run by an anonymous presence known only as Big Brother. He died a few months after it was first published, but it has since been translated into 62 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies.

Orwell said: "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns ... instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink."

The Korean War began on this date in 1950, when North Korean soldiers invaded South Korea. The Korean peninsula had become a Japanese colony in 1910, but with Japan's surrender to the Allies in 1945, all the Japanese territories landed in the laps of the Soviet Union and the United States. The two superpowers could not agree on the best way to bring about Korean independence, so — without consulting the Koreans — they settled for dividing it along the 38th parallel. The Soviet Union occupied the northern territory and accepted the surrender of Japanese forces there; the United States performed the same function in the south. It was intended to be a short-term division, but within a few years, the two halves had formed independent nation-states that were backed by their respective superpowers.

It was an imperfect solution, however. The leaders of both nations wanted reunification, but they had very different ideologies, and neither side was particularly happy to stay within its own borders. Thousands died in a series of border skirmishes before the Korean War had even begun. The U.S. government kept a watchful eye on the situation, increasingly worried about the expansion of communism. When the North Korean People's Army crossed the 38th parallel and marched into Seoul, the United Nations Security Council condemned the action and authorized military intervention. America and its allies geared up for war — not just in Korea, but a global war against communism, wherever it spread. And thus, the invasion of South Korea also marked the start of the Cold War.

Conditions in Korea made fighting difficult. "On the other side of every mountain [was] another mountain," battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel George Russell remembered. The weather was also especially hot and dry that first summer; soldiers often had to resort to drinking contaminated water from the rice paddies. In the winter, low temperatures dropped well below zero, and many troops died of frostbite before they ever made it to the battlefield. And spring brought torrential rains.

American strategy changed over the course of the summer, and what had begun as a defensive operation became an offensive one. China shared a border with North Korea, and the farther north the United Nations forces came, the more alarmed the Chinese government became. Mao Zedong sent Chinese troops to the aid of North Korea and threatened a full-scale war with the West. This led to a disagreement between President Truman and his commander in Asia, General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur was vehemently opposed to compromise when it came to communism, and Truman wanted to avoid World War III. Truman eventually fired MacArthur, and peace talks began in July 1951. Two years later, on July 27, 1953, the two parties signed a cease-fire agreement, although hostilities continued for several more months. There was no official end to the war because the war had never formally been declared. Five million people — about half of them civilians — died, were wounded, or disappeared as a result of the conflict. The border between the two countries remained virtually unchanged, and in 2013, North Korea declared the 1953 armistice invalid.

The Korean War is sometimes known in the West as "the Forgotten War," falling as it does between World War II and Vietnam. South Koreans often call it the "6-2-5 Upheaval," and in North Korea, it's officially known as the "Fatherland Liberation War." And in China, it's known as "The War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea."

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