Marcus and Ernie

Marcus Aurelius 121-18o
Ernie Pyle 1900-1945

A note from Radarsite: This is a reposting with revisions of an older Radarsite article. – rg

“The universe is transformation. Life is opinion.”

This is one of my favorite aphorisms by one of my favorite authors, that wise and gentle original “Philosopher King” Marcus Aurelius. A sensitive, contemplative soul, forced by circumstance to become a warrior, to protect his people and his land from the barbarian invaders. But just what does it mean? To me, there are two separate messages interwoven into one important truth.

The universe is transformation. Change is natural; it is what this universe is all about. You must never allow yourself to become bitter and resentful about the changes in your life, change is not a personal affront — even though at times it may seem that way — it’s just the natural course of things.

Life is opinion. Your life is basically how you perceive it. What, he asks, about this present moment in your life is truly unbearable? Usually, the answer is, Not much. If you perceive your life as being useless and of little value, then that is probably the way it will be. But — and here I think is the really important part — the ultimate power over the quality of your life rests within yourself. Things happen outside of ourselves over which we have little or no control; but we can control our reactions to these events. To me, this is ultimately a positive message of strength. A call to be honest with yourself and accept responsibility for your own life and your own happiness. To be grateful, not resentful.

Now, what about Ernie Pyle?

It seems that a lot of the articles I’ve written lately started out as comments to other writer’s essays. I think maybe these are some of my best things, because they were written in the passion of the moment and express sincere, relatively unfiltered emotions. This, hopefully, is one of these.

Earlier this week I had the good fortune to read Shane Borgess’ excellent and moving piece in Political Vindication about the recent discovery of Ernie Pyle’s long-lost death photo. Shane’s wonderful story and that poignant photograph brought me back to another time in that other world of that other America of the Forties. I can think of absolutely no one to relate to in today’s vacuous world of empty suits to compare to the stature of our beloved Ernie Pyle. He was OUR OWN personal and reliable WWII war correspondent. A tough and gritty little guy writing for all us little guys. A courageous little guy, though, who we all liked to think embodied that inherent valor of all of us regular little guys. And he was courageous; of that there is little doubt. Ernie Pyle didn’t get his stories over martinis at the Officer’s Mess; he got them by living with the GIs on the front line and suffering their deprivations and sharing their dangers — which is, ultimately, how he died — like the soldier he was.

Even as a kid I remember being almost brought to tears by the news of Ernie Pyle’s death, shot through the head by a Jap sniper — and my father actually was brought to tears. That’s just the way it was. We all loved him that much.

My intention here, though, is not to try to retell Shane’s beautifully written essay — I couldn’t compete with that. My purpose here in bringing up Ernie Pyle once again is to remember a story about him and to share it with those of you who may not have heard it before. I think it’s worth remembering, so here it is…

FDR also loved and admired Ernie Pyle; and just after the Jap sneak attack on Pearl Harbor he had Pyle and his wife to dinner at the White House. During their conversation FDR confided in the newsman just how badly we’d been hurt by the Japanese attack — a lot worse than the American public ever realized. FDR never asked Ernie Pyle not to write the story, although he certainly had that power.

Ernie Pyle never wrote anything about it (as FDR knew he wouldn’t). Even though it would without doubt have been one of the biggest scoops of the day. He never wrote about it because he knew it would hurt American morale at a very critical time in this new war.

Unfortunately, very unfortunately, that wonderful unspoken “gentleman’s agreement” between these two great men, a beleaguered American President and a tough little newshound, these two men who admired and trusted one another, is just unthinkable in today’s post-Watergate age of mutual distrust. And this, I think — along with that natural unquestioned patriotism of ours — is a loss sorely felt.

Alas, we have no FDRs today, and certainly no Ernie Pyles, and we are all the poorer for it. As I pointed out in an earlier article, patriotism itself is now a tremendously contentious and inflammatory subject of debate.

In short, we have changed. We have changed as a country and we have changed as a people. And this subject of change, of course, brings us back again to our gentle and wise Marcus Aurelius.

As we get older we are all confronted with change; it is in our face every minute of every day. Our whole world looks different and acts differently than the one we were accustomed to. Older folks often feel lost, strangers in a strange new world, a busy, self-absorbed world, disinterested in our inconsequential personal memories. And we can indeed easily become bitter and resentful. After all, the world has moved on and left us behind.

But the really difficult question here, the one that’s so devilishly tricky to separate out from our conflicted emotions and our biased judgments is this one: Are things really getting worse, as they certainly seem to be? Is this old familiar country of ours rapidly descending into some alien and unrecognizable form of multicultural Socialist anti-nation? Are our children any more selfish or stupid than we were? Are our morals more lax? Our resolve less firm? Or are we just experiencing those normal reactions to normal change.

Or are we, in the final analysis, hopelessly biased judges who should recuse ourselves from this case for our obvious lack of objectivity?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, do you?

In summation:

I miss you Ernie Pyle. I miss everything you stood for. And I miss us, too. The old us, the us I grew up with and understood.

And Marcus, old friend — I’m trying, I’m really trying…

Thank you Shane Borgess for your beautiful article and for bringing us back to a time in America when patriotism wasn’t just expected but was actually popular. – rg