Jewish World Review Jan 3, 2012/ 8 Teves, 5772
Signed with their honor
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | I think continually of those
who were truly great . . .
What some of us think of as the
He may be best known for his solo climb up Petit Dru, a great granite pinnacle in the French Alps, over an untried course that is now known as Bonatti's Pillar. He found a new route up the face of the Matterhorn, too. He preferred to climb alone, which was just as well, for who could have kept up with him? Yet he will be remembered best not for his being a great mountain climber, perhaps the greatest, but because of another ascent, one that took half a century, and all because he refused to lose his hold on his own honor.
He was no caricaturist's idea of the gentleman -- a well-dessed type sitting in some drawing room reading the
At 24, he was a natural for the team that restored a nation's faith in itself after Mussolini's fascist interregnum by planting the Italian flag atop K2, the second-highest mountain in the Himalayas and therefore the world.
Only he never got to the top. And for nefarious reasons. He and a Hunza porter carrying oxygen to the team's highest camp at 26,000 feet couldn't find it. It had been concealed, and the two were forced to spend a shattering night alone out in the terrifying, unrelenting cold. The porter,
When he first told the world of how he had been abandoned,
A decade later, a leader of the expedition, to save his own reputation, tarred him by accusing Mr. Bonatti of siphoning oxygen out of the tanks to hinder the others' climb. That did it. The country boy sued for libel and won, but the accusation still stung, and was the subject of many a dispute in mountaineering circles. Then, in 2004, another leader of the expedition wrote a memoir that basically vindicated
The book would win the Pulitzer for history in 1952, tracing what the great waves of immigration to this country from the 1830s to the end of the 19th century had in common. All these immigrants of motley origin but common purpose would begin as a strange people in a strange land, and become more American than the Americans, unfolding new dimensions of the dream they had come to fulfill.
Later the professor would go on to study other formative immigrations, like those of the Puerto Rican and black Americans from rural to urban America. His death at 95 last September would bring a long and understanding life to a close.
It wasn't just his subject matter that would break new ground for academic historians, but his lyricism and idealism, and his then unorthodox research. For he would rely on diaries, letters, family memories, and, yes, even newspaper accounts to tell his epic story. The result revealed new truths, or rather brought old ones to light. As one reviewer put it, his was "history with a difference -- the difference being its concern with hearts and souls."
Sadly, the profession of historian seems to have become more concerned with statistics than soul-stirring revelations since his time. Indeed, to call it a profession, rather than a calling or passion or delight, is to hint at the trouble with a field that seems to have fallen for every changing contemporary fashion, losing its way in a tangled forest of fleeting ideologies.
All histories may be a reflection of the time in which they are written, but the worst are only that, an exercise in what historians call presentism rather than an immersion in the past.
"Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America," Professor Handlin would recall. "Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history." And his sense of honor would not let him acquiesce in the abandonment of the next wave of the oppressed, the newest searchers for the American Dream. For he was not only a man of memory but of honor.
As an undersecretary of defense in the Reagan Years, he was the unheralded
Star Wars, the stationing of missiles in
He wasn't much interested in publicity. Or sweeping rhetoric. He was a thinker, a policymaker, a patriot. A man of the West when it stood embattled, he was also a man of honor.
I think continually of those
who were truly great . . .
Born of the sun, they traveled
a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed
with their honor.
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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