TAYLEN LI

Dear students,

The process for finding the best battle (Famous Battles essay = FB essay) to write about is a tricky one for two reasons. #1. It is such a monumental choice because writing the FB essay is a long and exacting process, combining the principles of journalism (verification of information and sources, and context, among others) with a goodly dose of creative nonfiction. #2. Because human history hinges on certain battles (which is why they are famous) the battle you choose will be expressive of larger conflicts and ideas that are vital to know about, and writing the essay must dig into all of that, requiring a patience and resolve to see the job through. Part of the process in choosing is eliminating options, and below see the work of Taylen as he eliminates choices, and finally justifies the winning battle.

1. My interest in writing a Famous Battles essay on the decisive Battle of Santa Clara was initially sparked by its relationship with the greater Cuban Revolution and the role it played in overthrowing corrupt Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. I was also interested in simply learning more about the renowned Cuban leader Che Guevara, whose historical prominence I have heard so much about. However, my overall curiosity and appeal towards the modern country of Cuba was certainly the driving factor in researching the Battle of Santa Clara, for I was originally intrigued by the matter through an NHD project on the Cuban Missile Crisis I had done in middle school. However, I had never thought of continuing my study of Cuba’s revolutionary era during the Cold War. Upon discovering the Battle of Santa Clara, I had mixed feelings. This was because while the battle seemed very significant in that it was a decisive victory for Castro and the Cuban revolutionaries under Commander Guevara against the regime of Batista, I just didn’t feel the same interest I had originally felt. Perhaps it’s just me, but the battle seemed a bit unexciting to write about compared to the enthralling event that was the Cuban Missile Crisis and the other battles that, in my opinion, had much higher stakes for the combatants. Another factor that contributed to my diminishing interest was the lack of action and overall atmosphere of the Battle of Santa Clara. The derailing of an armored train by guerilla warriors and rebelling rail workers under the leadership of Guevara sounds remarkable at first thought, but in reality, I don’t believe I could write an entire essay, a good one, about the obstruction of a locomotive and the ensuing fight that I found nearly no information about. 

2. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was certainly the most famous of the three I chose due to its prominence in the First Indochina War, which marked the end of French colonial rule in Indochina during the height of the Cold War, and ultimately led to Vietnamese independence and the later Vietnam War. Despite its prominence as a historical battle, it was the battle that least interested me out of the three because of the overwhelming focus on military strategy and tactics. While it is understandable and necessary to incorporate the important technical aspects of Dien Bien Phu, such as the specific defensive fortifications that the French built and the Viet Minh’s employment of entrenchment and sapping, into a Famous Battles essay, it was the engulfing amount of military strategy that made up the battle when I was researching that made me uninterested, and would probably make the readers as well. I would rather incorporate numerous aspects like creative nonfiction, contextualization, military leadership, environmental factors, and social dynamics, like the civilian experiences. 

3. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir, to me, was the most thrilling and compelling battle to research about. I believe this battle would be best suited for an extensive and unique Famous Battles Essay due to a variety of factors, including the fascinating location and terrain of the battle, the complex battle strategies used by both sides, the size of the engagement and the intensity of the combat, consequential aftermath and impact on the Korean War, and much more. The thing that first attracted my attention to the Battle of Chosin Reservoir was the freezing cold weather and icy terrain that it took place in. The battle was mainly fought around a 78-mile-long icy road that connected the North Korean city of Hungnan and the Chosin Reservoir during the harshest winter weather conditions of the Korean War – it seemed like something straight out of a movie. To add on just for fun, while researching, I learned a shocking fact about the sub-zero temperatures of the battle – bullet wounds would sometimes freeze, keeping soldiers from bleeding out until they safely retreated to the inside of heated tents. Along with the danger of dying from soldier-to-soldier combat, there was the risk of frostbite and a number of other medical conditions that soldiers could acquire in the cold climate, further adding to the gripping atmosphere of the battle. The second aspect that brought the battle to my interest was the different stages of it, culminating in the remarkable Evacuation at Hungnam. As I read about the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, I thought that it would be much easier to write about because I could go chronologically in relation to the stages of the battle, which include the initial Chinese surprise attack by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army on the UN troops, the encirclement of the Chinese forces on the UN forces around the reservoir, the ultimate withdrawal of UN forces to the port city of Hungnam because of the overwhelming Chinese forces and harsh weather, and the final conclusion of the battle and its impacts. This, along with the other characteristics of the battle, will suit for quite a detailed and engaging essay. 



MONTSERRAT REYES

Roald Dahl’s “The Hitchhiker” and O. Henry’s “After 20 Years”

Roald Dahl has had a place on my bookshelf, and in my heart, since I was a little girl. Seeing his name again in this short story brought back memories of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. Before reading the story, I had high expectations for his storytelling, and, of course, he did not disappoint! “The Hitchhiker” starts off with the narrator taking his new BMW 3.3 Li for a ride up to London. When children get a new toy, they immediately want to open it and play with it, and in some way, the narrator expresses this course of action but, instead, his toy is a brand new car. Dahl sneaks some childlike wonder into this narrative – as he fully enjoys his new ride on a “lovely June day” he takes in the “haymaking in the fields and… buttercups along both sides of the road.”

            While driving, he notices a person with a thumb raised in the air on the side of the road. He formerly being a hitchhiker gives the man a lift. “I knew just how it used to feel to be standing on the side of a country road watching the cars go by, and I hated the drivers for pretending they didn’t see me.” The narrator hasn’t let wealth disconnect him from the person he was before and is still compassionate to people who are in the situation he was in. After the man on the side of the road hops in, they make small talk and the conversation leaks into how fast the narrator’s car can go. He says, “‘One hundred and twenty-nine miles an hour’” and the hitchhiker doubts it. To prove him wrong, the narrator starts applying more pressure on the accelerator and just as they get to one hundred twenty miles per hour, a police motorcycle is on their case. They are stopped and as the policeman questions them he writes down their names in the “dreaded book of tickets.” The driver is given the fine and they are free to carry on with their lives.

            After getting in trouble, the narrator is upset but asks the hitchhiker why he lied to the police about his job. The passenger teases him a little which increases the narrator’s, and the reader’s, curiosity. I can’t say I wasn’t shocked when the hitchhiker revealed that he took the narrator’s belt, shoelace, watch, driver’s license, his wife’s broken ring, etc. Since he takes something as insignificant as, for example, a shoelace, it stresses how good he is at the craft of stealing. It makes me wonder if there are people like this in real life. Can someone really tug the laces off my shoes without me noticing? Or could this potentially show how unaware the narrator is of his surroundings? The passenger finally says that he is a pickpocket, or as he calls it, a fingersmith. The name “fingersmith” is a clever way to twist something that is normally thought of as bad, in this case pickpocketing, into something that sounds like a real job. The fingersmith also believes that he is above normal pickpockets because he is very stealthy and never gets caught. Since this is the case, he might feel that he deserves a better title. I suppose everyone wants to feel proud of their talents, and the hitchhiker is no exception.

But then the narrator focuses back on his own life and recalls what the police said about going to jail for speeding and his dilemma makes him panic. The fingersmith senses his worry and pulls out the policeman’s ticket book! The narrator’s reaction is: “I nearly swerved the car into a milk truck, I was so excited.” The snatching of the ticket book provides the reader with a sense of relief for the characters because after getting to know them in the beginning, they start to form a bond with them. The fingersmith suggests that breaking the law is okay because he gradually gets the reader on his side as the story progresses and the reader feels bad when the narrator gets into trouble. This makes the reader think that they don’t deserve to get into trouble and presents the idea that there are no punishments for breaking the law if you manage to avoid getting caught.

I couldn’t be the only one making exceptions for their rule-breaking! At first, my views on pickpocketing were negative, but now it’s a curious topic that intrigues me, especially after reading that their skills could get them out of trouble. By getting this reaction out of the reader, it is clear Dahl wants the reader to think outside of their own lives and get into the minds of other people. Throughout the story, the reader’s perspective changes, which causes them to feel a sense of victory when the ticket book is stolen. 

            When it comes to stealing the ticket book from the policeman, I can’t decide whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. The policeman’s “dangerously soft and mocking” voice makes me think that he deserves it because he is so full of himself. Not only that but I also thought it was good because, in the end, the two characters didn’t really deserve to get into a lot of trouble. But they were breaking the law, so maybe they were deserving of some punishment. And maybe, stealing the book was bad because people that caused more harm might’ve been written down there, which puts others in danger and lets criminals escape. Aren’t they considered criminals since they broke the law? What is defined as bad law breaking? What is defined as reasonable lawbreaking? In my opinion, they didn’t hurt anyone, so they didn’t do anything wrong, which justifies stealing the ticket book. Then again, the question–what if their recklessness eventually caused an accident?–arises. It feels good that they get away with it, but this is because Dahl makes the reader support the bad guys and creates a bond of friendship that opposes the justice system, contrasting the message being sent in the next story, “After Twenty Years”.

Turning our attention to O. Henry’s “After 20 Years”, the way the author describes the setting makes the tone sound mysterious, but also calm.  I can suddenly picture the shops lined up on both sides of the road, empty of life, when the story starts. “Now and then you might see the lights of a cigar store or of an all-night lunch counter”, which puts a picture in mind of dark windows, and the select few that have light, stand out. The attention turns to the character looming in the darkness. ‘Silky’ Bob is a fugitive, and the “little white scar near his right eyebrow” portrays him as such and adds a hint of edginess to his character. His “keen eyes” make it clear that he is waiting for something to happen, or that he just might be alert to his surroundings. In addition, his pale complexion can be linked with sickness which is could be a cause of not having enough earnings due to running away from the law.

            So, Bob is waiting for someone. This someone is a friend, and 20 years ago (hence the title) they decided to meet at this appointed time. His friend, Jimmy, the beat cop who speaks with Bob without revealing his identity, keeps his promise too, but they never ended up having their reunion, because Jimmy realizes that his old buddy Bob is a wanted criminal. The fact that Officer Jimmy did show up at the “‘appointed place on time’” clearly makes him a reliable and trustworthy person because he kept his promise even after many years. I know if I were in his position, I wouldn’t have been able to even remember the person I was meeting with, let alone the time we were supposed to meet! “‘Somehow I couldn’t do it myself, so I went around and got a plain clothes man to do the job.’” The lack of confrontation indicates that he never wanted to harm Bob. Even though he felt this way, he couldn’t let Bob keep wreaking havoc, so he decided to do the right thing and turn him in. By doing this, he preserves their old perception of each other. In the end, when Bob thinks of who actually arrested him, the stranger that Jimmy sent will probably pop up in his mind because he was the one who acted. Therefore, Jimmy won’t always be the bad guy in Bob’s head. 

            If we compare the lessons the authors are trying to teach from “The Hitchhiker” and “After 20 Years” we notice that they’re complete opposites. In the former, Dahl gives the reader a story where they are happy that the bad guys win, but in the latter, the story ends up disappointing us when Jimmy turns Bob in. One suggests that being bad is good, and another suggests that being bad is, in fact, bad. Both stories show how society either “root[s] for the underdog or the lawbreaker” (quote from Mr. Watt’s question) and that people’s morality depends on which side is more appealing to them, considering that they receive the details on the side they support. And at times, they might just choose a side because their place in society already puts them on that side. What I’m trying to get across is that, if someone reading the story is a thief, they will justify the fact that it is okay to steal because they don’t want to identify as a bad person. Human nature does this naturally, as we don’t want to be in the wrong most of the time. Now I’m not saying that everyone who read the story and was happy that they got out of trouble is a thief, because then I’d have to admit to being this form of crummy lawbreaker! I’m just explaining why someone may be compelled to choose that side if they’re in a similar situation as the character. No matter what side you are on, and how you view society, both stories are entertaining. On the surface, they might just be another piece of writing, but after taking a deep dive, I realize how much a few pages can hold. I’m looking forward to reading more stories, but for now, I can officially say that I’ve completed my first quiz for Mr. Watt!



LEONA ZHOU

The Hobbit is a highly captivating book, for it’s almost impossible to resist turning to the next page. The first sentence of the book introduced a creature who has no beard, who is inclined to fat in the belly, and who is about half of our height called a hobbit, and this hobbit is called Bilbo Baggins. J.R.R Tolkien has a captivating voice, and the book has two climaxes, unlike most other books that I’ve read. The whole entire book is about a timid hero – Bilbo Baggins is also descended from the Tooks, who were adventurous hobbits – whose Baggins side is content to sit at home by the fire with a cup of tea and a smoldering pipe, who is convinced by Gandalf the wizard and Thorin Oakenshield and his 12 dwarves to go on a dangerous adventure to recover their treasure that was stolen by a vicious and murderous dragon named Smaug. The first climax was when Smaug was shot in the stomach or heart through his only opening by one of the Lake-men generals called Bard. The second climax was when Thorin shows his true self; that is, selfishness and obsessiveness in his love of treasure, and his being unwilling to give up anything for it. This then started war with the elves, the Lake-men, the Goblins, and wolves. From that we can tell that Thorin has a bad side to him, and that again proves that The Hobbit is a fascinating book because J.R.R Tolkien scores each character like a composer of the heart. Gandalf is of utmost importance. He was the one to volunteer Bilbo into the whole adventure, and he conditioned the company, making them stronger and more flexible throughout the journey. He guided them, saved them, and taught them in this way. To give an example, in Chapter 2, page 36: “Not until then did they notice that Gandalf was missing. So far he had come all the way with them, never saying if he was in the adventure or merely keeping them company for a while”. In this way, Gandalf was conditioning them, making them rely on themselves, sparking their independence, so they could work together through gruesome times. Later, he left the dwarves to go on to Mirkwood by themselves, bidding them adieu at the entrance to the gloomy wood, warning them to stay on the track, which they did not. Even though absent, he keeps track of them: he’s busy and has many things to attend to. In this way he was strengthening the company, while still keeping a look-out for them. 



JASON QIN

JASON IS READING LORD GRIZZLY BY FREDERICK MANFRED. This novel, written in 1954, is the authoritative creative nonfiction masterpiece by Manfred, far far superior to the more recent The Revenant, which was made into a Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle of the same name. In Manfred’s work, buffeted by many long hours exploring the countryside where Hugh made his 247-mile crawl, and by reading over 100 books written by and about mountain men of the 1820s, the reader is launched into a veritable time capsule, hurtling back exactly 200 years ago to experience, along with ole Hugh Glass, the rough-and-tumble nature of frontiersman life.

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When Major Henry states that the “Fact is, one could almost claim we’ve slipped a little, fallen behind the red devils. The red devils sacrificed animals to live; we sacrificed humans”. He is stating that the “red devils” are more morally advanced than the whites because instead of sacrificing humans, they sacrifice animals, the humans being people like Jesus Christ, and the animals being the grizzlies that the Indians worship as their “giver of life” (73). Not only that, but the Indians feel genuinely sorry about sacrificing the bear, as they “bring him the best food they have left” when they have a shortage of food (73). However, Jesus Christ was not really sacrificed, he was executed as an enemy of the state because he promoted a religion that did not include the Roman emperors as gods; however, the Roman leader Pontius Pilate had initially shown resistance to punishing him, and had reluctantly taken him into the garrison to flog him as a token. When presenting his victim to the Jews, who for religious reasons wouldn’t enter the garrison, they screamed at the top of their lungs, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” As a point worth noting too, Jesus was claiming that he was the Son of God, which had been prophesied in the Old Testament, and the Jews were not happy with this fulfillment of prophecy.

Hugh despises this pro-Indian stance from Henry, as he states that all of these deaths are because of “his love-the-redskins sermons,” and that if he did not let “the Rees off easy last June,” none of this would be happening (79-80). This statement proposes a Machiavellian idea that if one must choose, one would rather be feared than loved. Who says that the Rees would care if the whites loved them? It does not change the fact that they are encroaching on their land and threatening their way of life by cutting them out of trade. People will always fight for their own interests, for example, the Romans executed Jesus Christ because a monotheistic religion would have and did threaten the fabric of their society, and the Indians who sacrificed bears, simply wanted food. Since simply respecting their traditions and their people does not give the Rees what they want, the Rees will continue to fight. Therefore, from the perspective of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, it would have been best if Major Henry had been absolutely brutal with the Rees. Would that have been good for the Rees? Of course, it would have not.



JASON QIN

Chaim Potok’s The Chosen throws the reader into a bildungsroman, a coming of age story, of two Jews, Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter, during the tail-end of World War Two and its aftermath as the horrors of the Holocaust are unveiled to the public, and movements like Zionism rise to debate the idea of the Jewish nation-state… all of which comes to a head in Chapter 13.

Chapter 13 starts Book 3, which begins Danny and Reuven’s education at the Samson Raphael Hirsch Seminary and College, where Danny is studying psychology and Reuven is studying mathematical logic, and Danny is miserable. He is solely interested in Freudian psychoanalysis, while the psychology taught in the College only consists of experimental psychology, taught by a Professor Appleman. He rejects it, as he sees zero connection between rats and mazes, mathematics, and the mind. However, after some heated venting, Danny decides to consider Reuven’s suggestion to talk to his professor about it after class. When Reuven comes home, he narrates to us his father’s passion for Zionism and how his passion for it is affecting his health, as he will do anything for the Jewish nation-state in Palestine.

Reuven and Reb Saunders

One must understand the significance of Reuven’s father being an avid Zionist. Danny is Hasidic, son of a tzaddik (leader of a group of Hasids), and that tzaddik, Reb Saunders, despises Zionism. He believes that the Jewish nation-state should be built by the Messiah, and not by “Jewish goyim,” or as he puts it, “contaminated men” (198).

When the second semester rolls around, Danny finally decides to meet with Professor Appleman, and he finds out that because Freud is not the only source of truth in terms of psychology, Reuven begins coaching Danny in math. Back at home, the reader learns about a Zionist rally at Madison Square Garden, where Reuven’s father is going to give a speech, on possibly the largest stage in New York, which may or may not be a huge success and be published in many newspapers that Reb Saunders may read. In school (Reuven switches between home and school a lot), Reuven can feel the tensions rising, and Zionist and anti-Zionist groups form, everyone but the Hasids on one side. It seems as though Chaim Potok is building to a climax, letting the tensions simmer until they finally break, with the Madison Square Garden rally.

Mr. Malter’s speech is a massive success, and Danny is banned from speaking to Reuven. At this point in the novel, it seems as though this is Reuven’s low, as while the Zionist movement is making headway, it is causing many personal problems. While others are cheering, Reuven is “alternating between violent rage at Reb Saunders’ blindness and anguished frustration at Danny’s helplessness” (232). While the world is moving around him, he is stuck in a quagmire that his shattered friendship left behind.

This novel is not just about two boys growing up, for Chaim Potok makes sure that every world event is timed perfectly with his story, and in reality, this time period allows for the most tumultuous character development for these two Jewish boys. Rooted in external issues out of their control, such as the Hasidic tradition that is forced on Danny, The Chosen brings the gut-wrenching feeling of injustice to the reader, and all of it culminates in Chapter 13.

Reuven may very well be caught in the worst possible time in history, as who knows, perhaps this situation is playing out somewhere else in the world. Not only that, Mr. Malter explains Reb Saunders’ reaction by saying that “he has no answer anymore to [his] Zionism,” that he needs to uphold an example as the tzaddik (232). Perhaps Reb Saunders is not targeting Reuven with his rage, but the movement of Zionism as a whole. However, that does not explain his explosions he had “yesterday at breakfast, last night at supper, and this morning again at breakfast,” nor does it negate how Reuven is being personally affected (231). Although Reb Saunders’ anger is not directed at Reuven individually, Reuven clearly feels the effects. He hates Reb Saunders with a “venomous passion,” so much so that “it began to affect [his] schoolwork” (234). Reuven clearly feels the effect of the passions of an unjust man, so who is to say that personal injustice is not being inflicted onto him?

AARON HUR responds:

I appreciated the fact that you talked a lot about Zionism, and the contrast between Reb Saunders and Mr. Malter’s beliefs. I think that the whole basis of that chapter was centered around Zionism, and eventually Mr. Malter’s speech, leading to perhaps the end of Reuven and Danny’s friendship. Something that you said that stuck out to me especially was when you were talking about Chaim’s strategy for writing the book: “This novel is not just about two boys growing up, for Chaim Potok makes sure that every world event is timed perfectly with his story, and in reality, this time period allows for the most tumultuous character development for these two Jewish boys.” I agree that all of these events, the start of WWII, Roosevelt’s death, the Holocaust, all world events that take place in this book, are timed to sort of throw a wrench in Danny and Reuven’s life. I additionally agree that it all culminates in chapter 13. This is the high point in the controversy between Danny and Reuven’s family, and although it has been stirring up throughout the book, Reb Saunders has had enough of it, as it gets unleashed in Chapter 13.