Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The annual Garcia y Vega cigar 

Regular readers know that I write about my father, the medieval historian John Bell Henneman, Jr., on the anniversaries of his death on July 7, 1998, and of his birth on November 1, 1935. Also, on every All Saint's Day I wander outside and smoke a hideous Garcia y Vega cigar. Dad smoked Garcia y Vegas and similar cheap cigars as long as I can remember, and the smell of them evokes strong memories. So I'm back in the house, stinking of cheap cigars, thinking about my father.

As it happens, earlier in the evening I stumbled across a paper given in memory of my father by the late, great professor of history at Dartmouth, Charles T. Wood. I remembered what a great friend Charlie Wood was to my father, and it also reminded me that there is an attenuated blogospheric connection: Professor Wood was an inspiration for at least a couple of the Power Line trio (and that made me think that my father would have loved Power Line).

My copy of Charlie Wood's paper, "Olivier de Clisson and Valois Biography," comes with a handwritten note across the top: "I can only hope this says things both fresh and familiar about your Dad. -- Charlie Wood." The first couple of pages does indeed include insights into my father as a young man and some medievalist "inside baseball" that might be interesting to amateur students of the period. There is also relevance for today's reader; even though Professor Wood wrote and delivered this paper in 1999, it contains observations that bear on controversies that have dominated the blogosphere during the Iraq war, including the problem of unemployed soldiers and the proper regard for the United States military waging a brutal counterinsurgency. Finally, Wood's paper derivatively explains me, even though most readers of this blog "know" me far better than Charlie Wood did.

If John Henneman's formal introduction to the Middle Ages came during his undergraduate years at Princeton, his preceptor there was Norman Cantor, not Joseph Strayer. I can't say whether that difference influenced John's intellectual development in any significant way, but I do know it had an impact on the speed and eagerness with which I tried to make his acquaintance after he entered graduate school. That is, following John's NROTC-mandated years of naval service, it was Norman, not Joe, who wrote his principal letter of recommendation to Harvard, and since, at that point, I was a member of its History Department, I can testify to the extent to which that letter served not just as a catalyst for John's admission, but also as a spur to my own desire to meet him. In particular, because Norman reported him to be "terribly nice," not the kind of assessment he made about fellow medievalists even then, that made me anxious to see just what it took to elicit such favorable words.

Still, because John had taken several of Strayer's courses before doing his doctorate under Charles Taylor, he naturally tended to think of himself as the student of both men. And that this belief had substance is nowhere better demonstrated than in the books on Valois taxation that Bill and Peggy have just discussed, for they are works whose intellectual ancestry clearly goes back to Studies in Early French Taxation, the monograph that Strayer and Taylor co-authored in 1939.

Nevertheless, if John gained his reputation as a French institutional historian concerned with Valois finance, that was not the person I met during his first days in graduate school. On the contrary, at that point he seemed more a disciple of Thomas Carlyle, a man deeply committed to the hero in history and hence also inclined to believe that only the great were worth studying. Understandably, given that outlook, he saw biography as his true metier, and he even predicted that the culmination of his career would come with publication of his definitive biography of Louis XI. Early on, at least, the model he hoped to emulate was Delachenal's five volumes on Charles V, a coverage that struck him as about right, though on more cautious days he thought that possibly he could do the Spider King in three.

Be that as it may, these opening remarks may provide a useful context for underestanding some of the personal background that helped to shape John's final book, Olivier De Clisson and Political Society in France Under Charles V and Charles VI. That he turned in the end to Clisson's career was in some senses a return to his earlier biographical vision, and that he chose to write about a military man seems in keeping with John's own beliefs, ones formed as much by his Virginia heritage as by naval service. It was that combined legacy, too, that had earlier undergirded what I can only call the unbending Henneman stubbornness with his he continued to defend the military even at the height of the Vietnam War. On the other hand, that this defense was far from blind is suggested by the simultaneous interest that some of his articles began to take in fourteenth-century routiers and echorcheurs -- undisciplined and out-of-control former mercenaries largely drawn from the impoverished nobility of France's north and west -- for this interest seems not unrelated to his attempts to come to grips with the growing indiscipline of an American army capable of massacres like My Lai. What made Clisson expecially interesting, I suspect, was the fact that, even though he came from this same nobility and was an exemplar of its extraordinary arrogance, he could at times transcend its limitations, possibly because he enjoyed extensive personal resources and recognized the extent to which military success depended on an army with clear goals and unmatched discipline.

While Charlie Wood's paper in memory of my father describes him primarily as an economic historian, in fact he revived his interest in military history when I was a teenager, mostly because I had become interested in during junior high (yes, I played war games, and yes, I belonged to the "Military History Book Club"). Eventually he taught a course in Western military history at the University of Iowa, where he spent the middle years of his career before coming to Princeton as History Bibliographer. Since his primary area of specialty was 13th and 14th century France, he knew a lot about routiers, the unemployed knights -- soldiers, actually -- who devestated Western Europe during that period. One of Dad's iron rules of history was that unemployed soldiers were very dangerous. Therefore, however supportive of the United States military Dad would have remained had he lived into his seventies, there is no doubt that he would have deplored Paul Bremer's decision to disband the Iraqi army without giving the soldiers some other job to do. Nevertheless, almost every day I wonder what he would have thought about the other various controversies that have washed over the American wars in the Muslim world. For that matter, I'm sure Paul Mirengoff and Scott Johnson would join me in wishing that they could hear what Charlie Wood and John Henneman thought about the American confrontation with radical Islam.

We love you, Dad.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Nov 02, 07:25:00 AM:


I always read this one about your father.

When I'm in town on special days (birth, death, Father's Day, Christmas, etc.), I try to swing by his site to pour a shot and beer over the old man to remember him. I share a bit with my grandfathers too for good measure, and light up a stogie.

My smoke is generally Cuban. FWIW, I'm told that GyV were once rolled in Havana, and were good smokes.

I'd bet your father would understand if you put a Garcia ring on a finer stogie, and washed it down with some Macallan.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Thu Nov 02, 08:57:00 AM:

In the family files there are many pictures of your father as a boy in grey cadet uniforms - whether as an auxillery to the New York 7th Regiment with which various family members had an association or in some other capacity you may know far better than I. Since Margie always got copies of family photographs it is probably that you already have these, but the advantage of giving them to Margie was that they all accumulated in one place. I'd be happy to send you and the Charlottesvillain scanned images of him from the archives.  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Thu Nov 02, 09:17:00 AM:


Another fine tribute. Thanks for waving the family banner. I love the Powerline tie-in. Dad certainly would have found Powerline essential reading. (I also note your post leaves out your brief membership in Army Explorers, a key part of your "military" resume, IMO).

GMT: The cadet uniforms our father wore back in the 1940s were from an outfit called the Knickerbocker Greys. I honestly don't know too much about it, but Uncle Ned would certainly be able to fill in the blanks. Apparently they still exist, as google yields this:

What is/are the Knickerbocker Greys?

The Knickerbocker Greys is a not-for-profit, non-discriminatory, leadership-developing corps of spirited boys and girls that has been a New York institution since its founding in 1881. Cadets learn discipline and the habits of orderliness, and from that they develop leadership capabilities themselves: how to motivate others, deal with subordinates firmly but respectfully, and command a group of peers. These elements of leadership will help them in all areas of their school lives now and with their jobs and families later in life.

The important thing to me when I was a lad was the uniform of the Greys also included a sword, which I wielded on many occasion against many an imaginary foe.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Thu Nov 02, 10:25:00 AM:

Ah, yes, Uncle Ned also appears in those uniforms, staunchly beside his big brother. Now do those uniforms still exist, I wonder, along with the swords, and are the minor villians wearing them as they swashbuckle across the livingroom at your house?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Nov 02, 10:58:00 AM:

We have both of Dad's swords, the other being from his years as a Navy officer.  

By Anonymous Laura Blanchard, at Thu Nov 02, 11:01:00 AM:

Thank you for posting that fine tribute to your father from Charlie Wood. I often think that there's something wonderfully fitting about the fact that Charlie's last publication was a brochure for Dartmouth on its war memorials, "The Hill Winds Know Their Names..."  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Thu Nov 02, 03:04:00 PM:

Another fine tribute indeed.

It shouldn't surprise me that you played war games in junior high. (I still have a lot of them in a couple of boxes up in the attic.) Did you have a subscription to Strategy & Tactics?  

By Blogger mledeen, at Thu Nov 02, 04:15:00 PM:

I'm SOOO with Anonymous. Parents want their children to be better than themselves. Smoke a fine cigar. I'll be glad to contribute.

Your dad was part of a generation who understood that you cannot understand human history without studying war. Today for the most part war is treated as an abstract concept, part of morality-speak rather than a serious matter requiring serious attention. We are all indebted to him for taking it seriously and to you for reminding us.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Nov 02, 11:49:00 PM:


I did indeed have a subscription to Strategy & Tactics, which was extended for free for a number of years on account of my father. He actually helped the SPI guys with a project at my behest. That alone is worthy of a blog post...  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Nov 02, 11:53:00 PM:


Thank you for the kind words. I wish so much my father were available to talk about this war. I'm sure I'd be a much better writer if he were.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Fri Nov 03, 01:39:00 AM:

Thanks for sharing.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Fri Nov 03, 10:39:00 AM:


I certainly look forward to that post. (I'm trying to remember a medieval-period SPI game and drawing a blank.)  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Fri Nov 03, 03:09:00 PM:


It was Agincourt, if memory serves.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Fri Nov 03, 06:12:00 PM:

Much as I would prefer that TH not deny himself the pleasure of a fine cigar (and good peaty scotch whisky too, while we're on the topic), his ritual Garcia y Vega is a communion, and that powerful association of the scent of cheap cigar is the gateway to memory. You can't appease such spirits with a Cuban cigar. Have a fine stogie on other days: have your father's smokes on his birthday.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Sat Nov 04, 09:12:00 PM:

Thanks, C'villain. Were you TH's usual opponent?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Nov 05, 06:38:00 PM:

The 'Villain was not my usual opponent. The 'Villain was but a twerp when I was playing wargames, and generally doing his own thing. He has improved a lot with the passage of years.  

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