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Of Measuring the Ground By Lyman Jones Austin IT WAS NOT until I read the last sentence in Dugger’s The Politician that I figured out why lately I had been thinking of a man I knew as a boy of ten a man born in 1836. 1836, Andrew Jackson in the White House, the Alamo, San Jacinto, Texas a republic by force of arms, among other studdings of that year. If you have not yet read The Politician, Dugger closes with this: “If the holocaust comes and if there is still a human history, the global American hawkery of the Johnson Period will be understood as a principal cause of World War IV \(Dugger earlier judges, correctly, that we have long since been in World I finished the book in one sitting, ending about four a.m. in a moonless Central Texas night, and I remembered Mr. Cleveland, sitting in the parlor of my grandmother’s house on a bank of the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania. It was Christmas Day, 1930, and Mr. Cleveland had come to eat with us. It was the third time I had thought of Mr. Cleveland the only name I ever knew him by in the past couple of months: as I put down the Johnson biography, as I listened to Sissy Farenthold and John Henry Faulk at the Austin nuclear-freeze demonstration, and again as I talked with nuclear-freeze proponents at the Travis County Democratic Convention. Mr. Cleveland was what his generation would have called a “spare” man, that is, slightly-built, about the size of a good horse cavalryman. He wore a shiny, blue-black, almost ripe-mulberry suit, a starched white shirt, a black necktie and Congress gaiters. His beard was a nicely-trimmed “grizzle,” the beard and his sparse hair as white as the snow outside the windows of grandmother’s parlor. There was no senility in him: his mind was clear, his voice clear and firm, and his talking became, for a boy of ten already enamored of history, living history. History, as taught in post-World War I Pennsylvania, was punctuated heavily with wars. Mr. Cleveland had served in the Army of the Potomac, uncles in the 1812 and Mexican Wars, and his father in the Revolution, marching and boating with General John Sullivan’s raiding columns up the Susquehanna to destroy the New York State longhouses of the British-armed Six Nations the confederacy of the Iroquois. In that expedition, Mr. Cleveland’s father had marched over the very ground we talked upon, returning, after Yorktown, to settle in the Susquehanna Valley. Mr. Cleveland knew about war as history: he had listened to father and uncles, there was his war he called it, as Yankees did when I was ten, the War of the Rebellion and there were in his time the countless Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the various U.S. expeditionary incursions into Central America, and World War I. And he believed, he told the small boy, in grandmother’s parlor after ham and turkey and Yankee-style oyster and black walnut dressing and mince pie, that there would be another World War within the decade. He said this as a man who had studied his fellows for close to a century and had found them warlike. He foresaw truly: Japanese would be slaughtering Chinese within six years, Germany would smash Poland within nine years of that Christmas Day. AND HE SAID something else to the small boy: someday, as man continues to build bigger and ever more destructive weapons, there will be a last war. It is in us, he said; simply it is in us. I have given this a “grey-teel” of thought, Mr. Cleveland said. Look at us professed Christians, he said: Christ visited among us to give us Light as symbol and we chose the Cross as our totem. The old man’s color and voice rose as he traced the use of weaponry the flintlocks and smoothbore muzzleloaders and sabers and bayonets of the earlier wars, the adoption in his own war of breechloaders, the swift-firing revolver and repeating rifle, all the way to the hideous use of automatic weapons and huge aerial bombs and deadly gases and tanks and bombers and 16-inch-gunned naval vessels. I tell you, young sir, said Mr. Cleveland, man has always turned his tools into weapons, always, since Cain and used that weaponry to murder his own kind. Near the end of the two-hour conversation, lesson rather, Mr. Cleveland went to grandmother’s bookcase and took down a complete Shakespeare, opened it to Henry the Fifth, Act IV, Scene 1, and asked me to read a passage he pointed out. This is the background: It is the night before Agincourt and Henry’s tiny army its ultimate weapon the longbows of Welsh archers is camped near a French Army ten times its size. Henry, disguised, walks about the camp, joining groups of soldiers about their fires as they wonder about the certainty of a bloody dawn. One soldier a youngster named Will listens to the disguised king talk of the justice of Henry’s cause. It was Will’s reply Mr. Cleveland asked me to read aloud to read of that long ago St. Crispin’s Day on Christmas Day, 1930. Will: “But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopp’d off in a battle, shall come together at the latter day and cry all: ‘We died at such a place .. “I am afeared there are few die well who die in a battle . . Mr. Cleveland then directed the boy to turn to a preceding scene: it is the French camp, and a breathless messenger breaks in upon the Constable of France, an old and cynical soldier who has faced the longbow before, announcing, as the foppish Dauphin brags of the many English he will kill upon the morrow: “My Lord High Constable, the English lie within fifteen hundred paces of your tents.” The Constable, slowly, sarcastically, with a sense of doom, puts down the messenger with: “Who hath measured the ground?” There ended the lesson from Mr. Cleveland, historian and prophet to a small boy. AND IT IS that question of the Constable’s, I suppose, that conjures up for me Mr. Cleveland as I hear Reagan Administration officials, yea, even the Great Ron Himself, talk about “limited” nuclear war, “survivability” in nuclear war, and all the related insanities so glibly mouthed. It is the question I hear again as I read the last sentence of The Politician, as I listen to a Sissy or a John Henry, or, from the other face of the coin, an Edward Teller. 22 JUNE 4, 1982