Page 16 THE VILLADOM TIMES III • March 18, 2009 into near-total eclipse. The German-American community once held big parades in honor of Friedrich von Steuben, the “baron” and “Prussian general” who served as George Washington’s drill master, later as a field commander at Yorktown, and helped win the American Revolution. The eclipse may have occurred because some Americans do not like to admit German ancestry. We are the biggest ethnic group in America, and the most invisible. Steuben was not really a baron. He was a member of the lowest rank of the aristocracy by dint of the fact that one of his ancestors, a Lutheran clergyman, married the daughter of an aristocratic family. He was not a general, either. He finished his career in the legendary Prussian Army of Frederick the Great as a captain after Frederick wrote “Captain Von Steuben can go the devil” on his fitness report. Frederick wrote exactly the same farewell note to Gerhard Leberecht von Blucher, who crushed Napoleon at Waterloo after the Duke of Wellington held Bonaparte to a bloody stalemate with an “English” army was that was mostly Scottish, Irish, and German. Steuben spent 20 years as a civil administrator in South Germany before the American Revolution elevated him to a justified fame, and was constantly plagued by unsubstantiated rumors that target a life-long bachelor. Whatever else he may have been, Steuben was definitely a Prussian, and to Germans from Hanover, Baden, or Bavaria, this would dispose him to be about as popular as a Yankee in Georgia, a Japanese in Korea, or an Englishman in Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day has probably survived because Patrick was a saint, though one might tend to forget this when confronted with popular symbols of Celtic culture, including leprechauns, pots of gold, and green bread and beer. Saint Patrick’s Day has suffered from a certain degree of irony because Saint Patrick is rightly celebrated for bringing Christianity and the literate influences of Gallo-Roman civilization to the warrior tribes of Ireland, thus creating a distinctly Catholic civilization with a vast respect for literature and art. Saint Patrick was English, but he represented the benign aspects of English culture. The Anglo-Norman invaders who began to encroach on Ireland starting in 1170 with William Strongbow were ethnically Franco-Norse rather than “English,” but they set the stage for what would happen over the next nine centuries, notably under Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was English and is not fondly remembered in Ireland. Those Irish willing to part from their own culture were pushed through a strainer where they concealed their heritage to survive, and the others were allowed (or forced) to slip back into illiteracy and agriculture to pay rent to their English landlords. Some years ago, one of my Korean tutorial students saw the movie “Michael Collins,” and remarked, “I never knew until I saw “Michael Collins” that the English were just like the Japanese.” Close, but not quite perfect as a metaphor. Whatever else may be said of them, the Japanese built the Korean school systems. Whereas, in going over the enlistment forms of Irish soldiers who fought at the Little Bighorn, I found that the corporals and sergeants –ethnic heirs of one of Europe’s great literary heritages who grew up when England controlled Irish schools -- generally signed their names with an X. The Japanese did not force the native language into the status of a dialect, though after a couple of Collins-type exploits against Japanese diplomats and a bomb chucked at Hirohito’s car, they had a try at it. Colonizers are never fondly remembered, but England’s colonization of Ireland was a prime example of crass commercial brutality. The fact that Saint Patrick’s Day has been homogenized into a celebration of a sentimentalized peasant culture that may never have existed is due to two outside factors: Most Americans are loath to offend England, and most Americans do not want a holiday to be too religious, more especially too Catholic, even when it is named for a saint of the Catholic church. Witness how the stores celebrate Christmas and Easter. Saint Patrick’s Day is rightly celebrated in America beyond other ethnic holidays because, among other things, the Irish helped save the Union during the first three years of the Civil War, when trained troops were in short supply. At the Battle of Bull Run, when the Anglo-American troops panicked and ran, the Irish regiments recruited in New York City and Jersey City held together and preserved what was left of the Union Army’s morale. Had it not been for the experienced soldiers from Ireland – many of whom, ironically, seem to have been trained in British regiments – the Union cause might have collapsed in 1861. As their own officers told the women of New York City who presented them with their regimental flags, the Irish were fighting to preserve America as a unified nation, not a crazy-quilt collection of separate states at the mercy of a predatory Britain. Britain’s government backed the Confederacy. British shipyards produced the “Alabama,” a Confederate raider that sank 60 Northern ships on the high seas and all but crippled the U.S. Merchant Marine, and the “Shenandoah,” which burned most of the whaling fleet in the Bering Sea – commendably, in both cases, with no loss of life. The Confederate rifle of choice was the British-made Enfield. The only breech-loading cannon in the Confederate arsenal was the British Wentworth – one of them cut a Union soldier in half at the Battle of Gettysburg, while the remnants of the Irish Brigade and the Irish Legion were fighting to save the Union from the slave-holders and the British. The Irish won their right to be taken seriously as Americans during the Civil War. Perhaps that is why Saint Patrick’s Day belongs to all Americans. Without the valor of the Irish in the war that saved America from being partitioned into free states and slave states, the rest of us might not be living in a free country. Once a year, people put out toy leprechauns and green food and we remember Saint Patrick’s Day as it is celebrated in America. Not everyone celebrates in the same way. A few years ago, the police in my town rounded up a phenomenal number of high school kids who were reportedly drinking alcohol at an illegal house party, and brought all the students to school in a bus. Saint Patrick’s Day is not a national holiday, but even if it had been, this would not have been the right way to celebrate. Saint Patrick was a genuine saint, and a genuine hero of the expansion of Christian civilization. This is important to remember in discussing white ethnic holidays in America. Time has not been kind to some other ethnic holidays. Columbus Day has come under attack because Columbus said the people he named “Indians” would make good slaves, and because the Spanish conquistadors whose arrival his discoveries facilitated touched off one of history’s genocides. Nobody is sure how many Native Americans died prematurely due to the first Columbus Day, but the numbers probably eclipse what the Belgians did to the Congo. When the Indians who died of contagious disease were replaced by slaves brought from Africa, a new facet of sin and ugliness opened up. In the Ridgewood school systems some years ago, the students were so astounded to learn that people of color were not eager to celebrate Columbus Day that they created a holiday called “Alladay” so people of all cultures could celebrate their contributions to America. I thought that was a great idea. Ridgewood also celebrates African, Caribbean, and Asian cultures during the school year. The Asian Festival in particular is a huge event and features cooperation among the Japanese, Koreans, and the Chinese, with Asian Indian and Filipino contributions also widely appreciated. Elsewhere, Columbus Day is in eclipse, but I think Italian-Americans deserve a holiday. I suggested some years ago that Giuseppe Garibaldi would be a good focal point for a holiday. I was criticized by people who want to keep Columbus Day on the calendar and don’t like Garibaldi, perhaps because he spent his entire career at odds with the Pope. Garibaldi was one of the great leaders of irregular troops in recent history. His soldiers were so effective that Prussian professionals rated them as the toughest adversaries they had ever faced, and many of the Garibaldini came to America afterwards and helped build a new nation based on principles of liberty and tolerance. Columbus never set foot on the North American continent. Garibaldi once lived on Staten Island. He was offered command of the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War, but turned down the offer because he was needed elsewhere. Considering the track record of most Union generals before Ulysses S. Grant, and the size and economy problems of the Confederacy, Garibaldi probably would have crushed the Confederacy in six months, but as Grant once told Otto von Bismarck, a long war may have been a moral necessity to convince the American people to put an end to slavery. Steuben (STOY-bin) Day, from what I’ve seen, has gone Saint Patrick’s Day belongs to all Americans Letters to the Editor Dear Editor: I am the widow of a WWII Army Air Corps veteran and am now the wife of WWII South Pacific/Marine Combat Corpsman. I have been following the years-long saga of the Ho-Ho-Kus/Ridgewood VFW and the model railroad club with more than average interest. As a good friend of the widow of one of the men who arranged the lease to the railroad club, I believe that these men would be shocked and angered by the attitude of the current model railroad club members who apparently refuse to discuss the terms of their extremely generous lease with the owners of the building, except through the lawyer representing the railroad club. That lawyer now threatens legal action against the VFW to stop their “harassment.” This harassment consists of the VFW expecting the terms of the lease to be honored. Perhaps there is an attorney in the area who would be willing to offer his or her services to help counteract the legal roadblocks being thrown at the VFW concerning the restricted use of their own building. I don’t know if any of the model railroad club members are veterans of any of the many wars or police actions of the past half century, but if there are any, they should be doubly ashamed of the actions of their club. The members of the VFW, through their service all over the world, have made it possible for all of us to live lives free from oppression. Each one of them has a story of sacrifice and bravery which goes far beyond what civilians can imagine. The railroad club members owe their freedom to construct their model railroad layout to these very men they now ignore. Following VFW issue Janet Lindemann Alverson Ho-Ho-Kus Dear Editor: The members of the Washington Elm Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 192 (Ho-Ho-Kus-Ridgewood) in Ho-HoKus would like to publicly express our gratitude to the young ladies of Brownie Girl Scout Troop #1168 and their co-leaders Tamra Coleman and Una Murray for the caring and delightful “Snowmen Valentine Treats” given to us recently. At the VFW Post 192 February meeting, Brownie Elisabeth Murray presented the 25 handcrafts in a cellophane, ribbon-wrapped wicker basket with a large card signed by all the Brownies to Mike Prudenti, two-year trustee of the Post, and me. We sincerely appreciated their thoughtfulness. The treats are being given out to each of the veterans as they attend the monthly Post meetings. The Washington Elm VFW Post 192 is the official Veterans of Foreign Wars Post for the municipalities of Ho-HoKus and Ridgewood since its chartering by the National VFW in 1939. All military personnel on active duty or honorably discharged veterans are invited to call (201) 445-1121 to see if they qualify to join the National VFW’s local Post. May God continue to Bless America! Stanley A. Kober Washington Elm VFW Post 192 Commander Ho-Ho-Kus--Ridgewood Appreciative group