The Paw Paw River Journal
Noblesse oblige My Webster’s says noblesse oblige is a French term for the obligation that people who are in a position of responsibility have to those under them. In other words, if you have power over people you are supposed to treat them well. We all know that doesn’t always happen. There is another old saying, “power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And that is in direct opposition. In the case of France that is where the first saying probably came into use. Back in those days France was ruled by kings. There was a huge gulf between the aristocracy and common people. Little understanding on both sides, and it led to a bloody revolution. Someone told the royal family, “The peasants have no bread to eat.” Marie Antoinette (bosom buddy of the King, so to speak) is supposed to have said, “Well then, let them eat cake!” True or not, it illustrates an abysmal ignorance on the part of royalty. After that out came the guillotine, followed by the most horrible bloodletting you can imagine. In our own case, purveyors of comedy have made hay with this idea of power corrupting. Think of Don Knotts as Deputy Barney Fife in “Andy of Mayberry.” Here is a small man given some power (and one bullet to carry in his shirt pocket). He runs amuck with it, and it is very funny. One of my own personal favorites is an actor named Strother Martin. He did several films in which he is a small man with a thirst for power. For instance, Paul Newman’s film, “Cool Hand Luke” where Newman’s character is in charge of a prison work detail, and he hands out punishment saying, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” When there is a failure of noblesse oblige in real life it can be downright tragic. A good place to observe this is our Armed Forces, especially in wartime. Then, the need for manpower is so immediate oftentimes men are put in command over others and they’re really not up to it. For instance, Herman Wouk’s novel “The Caine Mutiny”; in it he has a character named Capt. Queeg, captain of a U.S. Navy destroyer, clearly in a job above his capabilities. He almost loses his ship and crew in a bad storm. The whole story revolves around the court-martial following that. Incidentally, in the movie version Humphrey Bogart plays Capt. Queeg most brilliantly. I can remember some instances of this failure from my own time in the Air Force. In basic training we did a lot of exercises, calisthenics, and marching. We had a Pfc. (one step above a lowly Pvt.) in charge of some of our conditioning exercises. He was merciless… and I’m sure he got a big kick out of making us suffer. When I was overseas in Burma, we had a Capt. in our operations office that was much like that. He loved to pull rank on anyone beneath him. We also had a Jeep driver who was often the recipient of his bullying. That Jeep driver took us out to our airplanes and picked us up when we returned. Nicknamed “The Dealer”… yes, he was an expert at cards, he was a lowly Pvt. and that’s just the way he wanted it. He didn’t get his hair cut, and his khakis were wrinkled. I asked him one time why he didn’t shape up and become eligible for promotions. He said, “Lootenant, if I do that they will have a hold over me. I’ll always be worried that they’ll bust me! I like it this way!” I got acquainted with the Dealer when I was working nights as operations officer. You had to sort of be in charge of comings and goings of the whole base. He was working nights also, and there was little traffic. So to while away the time he offered to teach me to play cards. Most interesting! And it was costly for me, but we had fun. Officers on the base had to take turns censoring mail. We were supposed to read all outgoing mail to make sure no wartime secrets were being divulged. It was a horrible job and we all hated it. What would a lowly Jeep driver know that would give comfort to the enemy? So I used to initial outgoing mail for the Dealer and he appreciated that. I did the same thing for another friend, a sergeant nicknamed ‘Stashe. He had the most luxuriant facial hair and had been overseas for almost two years. It showed. One night there was a real test of the noblesse oblige theory. The aforementioned Capt. came in and landed after a trip somewhere. The Dealer went out to meet his ship. Props stopped turning, cargo door opened, and the Dealer stood by his Jeep coming to attention with a smart salute. When the captain stepped out, the Dealer dropped the salute, slumped, and said, “Aw… somebody told me there was VIP aboard (very important persons).” The captain ignored the sarcasm and climbed in the Jeep saying, “All right, Dealer, when I want any s—t out of you, I’ll kick it out of you!” I’m not sure who won that little exchange, but I do know that noblesse oblige took a hit that night. And it’s a memory that has stayed with me through all the years… one of the threads back there woven into the golden tapestry of life. A whole ‘nother life from the one we’re living now in these storybook towns along the Paw Paw River.
Coloma Library News
101 Things Happened on the Mackinac Bridge On Tuesday, Sep. 11 at 6:30 p.m. the Coloma Library is pleased to host Michigan Notable Author, Mike Fornes for an entertaining, and informative presentation about Michigan’s iconic five-mile span that has seen historic, tragic, and hilarious events. Since construction began in 1954, the Mackinac Bridge has withstood gale-force winds, the pressure of crushing ice flows and blinding snowstorms. Since opening in 1957, it has been struck by lightning and hit by an airplane and a ship – yet still stands as perhaps the safest five miles of I-75. Take a trip through the first six decades of the bridge’s history and you’ll experience unusual crossings, triumph and tragedy. Parades of vehicles and pedestrians have crossed over the Mackinac Bridge and flotillas of ships have passed under it. Hear the stories, see the photos and meet the people who have made this engineering wonder a symbol of the state of Michigan. Book Club The Coloma Library Book Club is meeting on Thursday, September 20 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “Mrs. Poe” by Lynn Cullen. Generally, depending on demand there are titles available for check-out at the front desk. The book club regularly meets every other Thursday and is always looking for new members. Story Hour Story Hour is on a short break and will resume on Wednesday, September 19 at 10:30 a.m. Call 468-3431 with questions on any Coloma library activity.