Monday, March 7, 2016

Attack of the Killer Cocktail Sombreros - op-ed

Lawrence Hall, HSG

Attack of the Killer Cocktail Sombreros

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is one of the most admirable people in history. As a 34-year-old professor at Maine’s Bowdoin College he was beyond military age in 1862 but decided to enlist in the 20th Maine Infantry because of his profound belief in freedom for all.

Chamberlain is best known for his leadership in the Battle of Gettysburg. Surrounded and almost defeated by the 15th Alabama during a fierce battle among rocks and trees, with few remaining men still able to fight and out of ammunition, Chamberlain did something quite illogical – he ordered a bayonet charge, which saved the Union position. Unlike Viet-Nam era generals, who led from radios in air-conditioned bunkers, or modern generals, armed with pearl-handled resumes’, who lead from luxurious executive jets, Chamberlain led from the front.

In an era of theatrical facial hair sculpturing, Chamberlain adorned himself with a death-or-glory moustache that Asterix the Gaul might find a bit too much. General Chamberlain’s ‘stache all by itself could have frightened some of the Confederates on Round Top into surrendering.

Chamberlain fought in numerous battles, and was awarded the Medal of Honor, small compensation for the pain, infections, and operations he suffered all his life from multiple wounds.

After the war, Chamberlain served as governor of Maine and then as president of Bowdoin College. Chamberlain was not a backslapping fund-raiser; he also taught, at different times, every subject in the curriculum except science and mathematics.

In 1880, as commander of the militia, Chamberlain was called upon to resolve violence in the state capital of Augusta due to a contested election. He and his men ejected armed occupiers from the capitol and kept the peace for twelve days until the Maine supreme court made a ruling. On one occasion during this near-rebellion he faced down a mob that was determined to reoccupy the state house and kill him. He turned down bribes offered by both sides, being a man of honor instead of a deal-maker, and that was the end of his political career.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain died in 1914, honored for his courage, gallantry, and love of freedom.

Bowdoin College, another of Chamberlain’s great loves, does not at present appear to love freedom as much as he did. Students are being punished, and might be expelled, over sombreros.


The putative objects of cultural appropriation and hurt-feelingness are not even real sombreros, but rather 2-3” party decorations, surely made in China, which a couple of giddy lads balanced on top of their heads after an encounter with a few glasses of merriment several weeks ago.

Perhaps the decorations should have been little homburgs, derbys, top hats, Prussian picklehauben, berets, trilbys, busbys, fedoras, fezes, kepis, kippahs, tams, tarbooshes, turbans, Mao caps, hoodies, cowboy hats, Irish walking hats, or workers’ hard hats. But wait – possibly neither the administration nor the students at progressive Bowdoin have any familiarity with workers’ hard hats.

Bowdoin’s administration collapsed tearfully into full Aunt Pittypat smelling-salts mode while accusations of cultural bias and the We Want Answers thing flew through the clean Maine air like General Pendleton’s cannon fire over the wheat fields at Gettysburg.

Yet the college did not cancel its annual Cold War party (that Stalin – what a fun guy) the same night of the attack of the cocktail sombreros, nor did the cafeteria modify its Mexican day menu the same week.

As a teenager applying to Bowdoin, Chamberlain needed help in prepping his knowledge of Greek and Latin, since the mastery of both was required for admission. Now, one supposes, young Chamberlain would have to demonstrate proficiency

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