A Taste Of Victory

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Not so long ago, indeed well within a lifetime, there was no “dearth of heroes” in this country, to quote the title of our opening article a little out of context. At the end of what John Hay called our “splendid little war” with Spain, there seemed to be a plethora, and the occasion shown above still exudes the pride and joy of that moment. The setting is the Hudson at New York, with Grant’s Tomb on the far left, and the event is the spectacular naval parade in honor of Admiral George Dewey and his thunderous victory over a Spanish fleet at Manila Bay on May i, 1898. He lost not a man, and totally destroyed the enemy. The scene above occurred on September 29, 1899.

The little war that started out to free Cuba had ended in the acquisition of an empire in the Far East. The white man’s burden had been picked up by President McKinley (following explicit instructions vouchsafed him in response to prayer, he told a conference of Methodist bishops). Now, Dewey had steamed up the harbor in his flagship Olympia , which appears in the foreground flying, for sentimental reasons, the burgee of that earlier hero, David Glasgow Farragut. Behind in column are New York, Indiana, Massachusetts, Texas , and an escort of cruisers and revenue cutters. The river was awash with excursion boats, tugs, and the yachts of new millionaires. Afterward there were salutes, fireworks, electric displays, and a great parade on land led by another here. Governor Theodore Roosevelt. No one, or almost no one, doubted the virtues of what Harper’s Weekly proclaimed this “assertion of American power” and of “the old English temper” in our people.

In a day when world power, let alone our footholds in the Far East, seems to bring us only trouble, in times when we must tolerate the intolerable and conceive the inconceivable, and when the “old temper” has so diminished, how strange and bittersweet this triumph seems! The painting, done by the noted marine artist Fred Pansing, hangs today largely unnoticed, on permanent loan from the Museum of the City of New York, in the bar of the all-male Harvard Club of New York, whose license to serve restorative potions, we read, is threatened by an intrusive new militancy called Women’s Lib. As the club’s clientele changes in sex and outlook, the Naval Parade will no doubt wind up, like so many other things once thought proud and wonderful, in the attic.

—Oliver Jensen