Monday, December 7, 2015

the last book I ever read (Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, excerpt ten)

from Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell:

It’s how I originally got onto the topic of Lafayette in the first place. Representative Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida sponsored a bill called the American Heroes Repatriation Act of 2003. Intended to finance digging up the remains of U.S. war casualties buried in French cemeteries and reinterring them over here, the bill went nowhere. “The remains of our brave servicemen should be buried in patriotic soil, not in a country that has turned its back on the United States and on the memory of Americans who fought and died there,” Brown-Waite told the New York Times. “It’s almost as if the French have forgotten what those thousands of white crosses at Normandy represent.”

Not long after reading that, I happened to be in the Berkshire Mountains to attend a wedding and stopped in at Arrowhead, the house where Herman Melville wrote Moby-Dick. I was struck by a tiny silk dress in a glass display case, said to be what Melville’s wife, Elizabeth Knapp Shaw Melville, was wearing as a two-year-old in 1824 when she was presented to the Marquis de Lafayette on his visit to Boston. That was when I started researching Lafayette’s return to America. If the French had forgotten America’s help in World War II—and they had not; they just opposed a preemptive war in the Middle East based on faulty intelligence that most Americans would end up regretting anyway—it seemed obvious that Americans had forgotten France’s help in our war for independence in general and the national obsession with Lafayette in particular. A fixation symbolized by a family hanging on to a little girl’s dress for generations because she was wearing it when she met him, an event Elizabeth Melville herself probably had no memory of.

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