Grateful Memories of a Slow Learner

When a 1954 graduate of the West Point Military Academy consented to read and critique an extended monograph I had written on the strategic imperial phenomenon of Private Military Companies and Security Services (also in the clandestine or covert world), I was fearfully hesitant to let him do so. For, he was a very learned and keen-minded man, and a retired Lieutenant General then also teaching as an Adjunct Visiting Professor at Yale University. Although he was a beloved teacher there, he was also known for his incisive candor and his intimidating trenchancy.

After he had closely read and marked up the then-unpublished essay, he told his secretary to have me call him on the telephone at his private residence in the countryside of Vermont. I did and we had a very good conversation, ranging over many topics of moment, to include the methods and grave consequences of the British East India Company historically. Suddenly he said: “You have so much packed into this essay — but you’re all over the place. You must write a large and disciplined book about this topic.” I told him I would never do that, in part because it was not among my main interests, and, in any case, even if I did make an acceptable book for publication, it would be mightily resisted because my thinking about this topic is too unconventional and too critical of certain predominant (and often squalid) oligarchs.

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From the Editor:

To Robert Hickson
From Brian Kelly

Dear Robert, thank you for this magnificent essay, so aptly titled “Grateful Memories From a Slow Learner”.. Using Gore Vidal was an ingenious way of delivering the truth by contrast. There is so much history in your extensive essay. Tremendous insights here, as to the reality of the motives of the powers-that-be (agents of the demonic “powers of this air”) behind the wars that are “good for business” and the abuse of the patriotic military men who nobly lived the life of honor (many still do). I am in admiration of this chivalrous “Fighting Quaker from Philadelphia,” General Smedley Butler. Butler, like General Odom, is, as you often note of other good men, a man “without a false tone.” Sadly, Gore Vidal, is a pathetic and tragic figure. A prolific cynic, a wasted genius, a catastrophe awaiting the dissolution of soul that erodes any vestige of hope — as only hate can. I wonder, with people like Vidal (and his fascination with antichrist, Julian the Apostate), if deep down, consciously or unconsciously, they hate themselves so much that they even want God to hate them. Could that be the root of his vitriol? As goodness and love are self-diffusive, evil and hate are self-constrictive. As you demonstrate, there is no joy in the words of Vidal. Chesterton, as you highlight in conclusion, was a man of gratitude: “The test of all happiness is gratitude.” Vidal failed the test — as did the apostate persecutor Julian, as did Judas. They could not enjoy anything “even their pride.”