Sunday, May 27, 2012

Aaron Copeland - Fanfare For The Common Man

It's not often that I get to open a post with a speech from a Vice President - in this case, an All American fascist speech from Vice President Henry Wallace in 1942, looking forward to what he knew would be a tough fight:
This is a fight between a slave world and a free world. Just as the United States in 1862 could not remain half slave and half free, so in 1942 the world must make its decision for a complete victory one way or the other.

As we begin the final stages of this fight to the death between the free world and the slave world, it is worth while to refresh our minds about the march of freedom for the common man ...


Some people declare, and Hitler believes, that the American people have grown soft in the last generation. Hitler agents continually preach in South America that we are cowards, unable to use, like the "brave" German soldiers, the weapons of modern war. It is true that American youth hates war with a holy hatred. But because of that fact and because Hitler and the German people stand as the very symbol of war, we shall fight with a tireless enthusiasm until war and the possibility of war have been removed from this planet. We shall cleanse the plague spot of Europe, which is Hitler's Germany, and with it the hell-hole of Asia — Japan.

No compromise with Satan is possible. We shall not rest until all the victims under the Nazi yoke are freed. We shall fight for a complete peace as well as a complete victory.
Much of the speech is cringe-worthy.  Fascist is not too strong a term, and may in fact explain why F.D.R. didn't choose his as his running mate in 1942.  But Wallace hit the nail on the head in this passage: Hitler did have contempt for the American fighting man.  Hitler thought they wouldn't fight, or couldn't fight well, because we were a debased, mongrel race.  He thought that the New World was filled with the utermenchen who would one day perforce kneel to the Aryan Tausendjähriges Reich.

Hitler learned different.  He wasn't the only one in the last century to misunderestimate this Republic, and its fighting men and women.  "Common" means something very different here than it does in Europe (or in the Faculty Lounge).  America excels at taking the Common Joe, giving him the tools and the objective, and watching as he crushes Adolf, or Leonid, or Osama.  What common means here is summed up in the picture shown below:  "Uncommon valor was a common virtue."

(Image via Wikipedia)

That valor was purchased at the cost of almost 7,000 American dead.  27 were awarded the Medal Of Honor.  Ronald Reagan in his famous The Boys of Pointe du Hoc speech amplified this same theme:
And behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. And these are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor."

I think I know what you may be thinking right now -- thinking "we were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day."
It didn't come free.  Common? You keep using that word.  I do not believe that it means what you think.  This Memorial Day weekend, remember them, the "common" men who freed the World.

Aaron Copeland understood this in 1942, when he wrote this music.  The music is pure American, as was the subject.

Bootnote: the title seems to have been a surprise to Eugene Goossens, the conductor of the Cincinnati Philharmonic, who has asked Copeland to write the piece.  Asked why not "Fanfare For Soldiers," Copeland replied that I am all for honoring the Common Man at income tax time.  Good man.


libertyman said...

Goosebumps. And your characterization of it being quintessially American is apt. I think we should play this at graduation.

Old NFO said...

One of my Masonic Lodge brothers was a 1st LT in the Rangers at Point du Hoc, when it was all said and done, out of 65 in his company, six were still standing. To this day he can recite each one that died or was injured and where it happened... They DID exhibit uncommon valor that day among many others...

Mark Alger said...

A FWIW quibble, our orchestra here in Cincinnati is called the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO). I was taught as a sprat that there's a technical difference between the two types, but apparently that's not so.

Copeland's fanfare is actually more prominent in the repertoire of the subset-of-the-whole of the (perhaps better-known) Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, which was led for most of its existence by the late lamented Maestro Erich Kunzel, a much beloved figure in the city. I believe they've even recorded it several times.

I'd wager that hundreds of thousands of young folk in the city got some or all of their musical education at Kunzel's Pops concerts in the park.


bluesun said...

Is it wrong that I only recognize the beginning and my brain keeps wanting it to burst into an Emerson Lake and Palmer synthesizer-fest?

Borepatch said...

Old NFO, I don't expect that Memorial Day is about barbecues for him.

Mark, noted. It sounds pretty cool to have a program like that growing up.

Bluesun, not to me it' not. ;-)

Kansas Scout said...

Please expand on why you think Wallace's speech is fascist. I have studied fascism and I don't see it there.