An American Saga

As a literature professor at the Naval Academy, James Webb--former combat Marine, Senator from Virginia and Secretary of the Navy--taught British and Irish poetry of the early and mid-20th century. T.S. Eliot's "Gerontion" and "Journey of the Magi" are "masterpieces that I had read at least a thousand times," he said. But unlike the gerontic's disenchanted voice ("I was neither at the hot gates/ Nor fought in the warm rain") or the magi's ambivalent tone ("This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death?"), Webb's new memoir, I Heard My Country Calling (our review is below), unconditionally celebrates his Scots-Irish heritage and bone-deep commitment to his country.

Disagreements among the men in his family on U.S. leaders' objectives bolster patriotism, not diminish it: "The communists lost 1.4 million soldiers in the [Vietnam] War, by their own count. On a tactical level, they did not win the war. But understandably, after observing the Johnson administration's policies during two years in the Pentagon, my father was personally concerned about his son fighting in a war whose strategy seemed vague and misdirected. He never ceased to be proud of my service. As a father, I felt similar emotions when my son volunteered to fight as an infantry Marine in Iraq," Webb explained.

Asked if he identifies with Will Goodrich, the Harvard-educated Marine (nicknamed "Senator") in his 1978 novel Fields of Fire, who is mistrusted and shunned by both the military and the intelligentsia, Webb replied, "One of life's realities is that if you are willing to question prevailing orthodoxy you will have your share of people who disagree with you." With his latest book finished, Webb intends to spend some time considering his next career move: "In one way or another, I will always remain involved in issues that affect our country's future." --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

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