November 30, 2003

Today in history

In 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens -- better known as Mark Twain -- was born in Florida, Missouri. His contributions to American letters and to our unique civilization are enduring. In his memoir Life on the Mississippi, Clemens recounted how he came to choose his memorable pen name, remembering the example of Captain Isaiah Sellers, late riverboat veteran.

At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner's discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands-- a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.

Also worth noting, in 1874 Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, England. I would argue that Churchill was the single most important political figure of the 20th century. His unflinching courage in facing up to Hitler's expansionist totalitarianism changed the course of history and prevented a collapse of Western civilization in Europe.

Churchill was a great writer and orator, and always eminently quotable. Many of his insights are perfectly applicable to our situation today, as noted earlier this year by his grandson Winston Churchill III. This one comes to mind often:

If you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance for survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.
Posted by Alan at November 30, 2003 12:17 AM