Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 10, No. 8          July 2002

Independence 2002

It has been a bad year so far for the Ravenfolk. The slings and arrows have been more outrageous than usual, and our head is, figuratively, both bloodied and bowed. First we sustained the loss of the gallant and irreplaceable Ollie Coltman of Africa in a helicopter crash, as reported. Then our Italian family member Alesandro Cirla fell to his death in the Alps; and now we must report the death of George Olmsted, distinguished family member and outstanding aviator. I owe to George one of my memorable high points when he allowed me to execute a split S in his Cap Ten. George died untimely at 46 of heart failure, rather than at the controls of an acrobatic airplane, as he might have wished.

And on top of these personal mishaps, we face the unsolvable problem of the Holy War, plus a really fearful fire-laden drought in the American Southwest. (On a further pathetic note, our household treasure, Charles the Cat, was scarfed up by a bobcat.)

But ours is not to complain. Life is essentially tragic, and while we suffer at God's dispensation, we are appropriately grateful for His continued blessings. And just remember that the Left almost won the last election - but didn't. For this we may praise the Lord!

Applications for our pistol classes show an increasing lack of combat spirit in our prospective students. We need more tigers and fewer sheep - of all ages and both sexes. Man does not do battle with his gun alone; he fights basically with his soul. Marksmanship and gun handing are in themselves not enough - mind-set is what wins. And while we can help with that, the client must in essence supply his own pizzaz.

Our friend and colleague Wiley Clapp recently did a number on the Beretta pistol, now general issue in our armed services. His piece was both accurate and honest, and he told it like he saw it. The truth, however, is only coincidentally prized in the marketplace, where sales figures are equated with virtue. The Beretta people were much annoyed by Wiley's piece and threatened commercial malice to the publication which was releasing the article. This is unfortunate, but unavoidable. Manufacturers regard periodicals as advertising vehicles, pure and simple. Most of them do not realize that the public sometimes catches on, and that there are a few journalists to whom the truth is still important. I understand that truth is "relative" in academia, and it is clear that truth is irrelevant at the marketplace - and it matters hardly at all to a politician. "To ride, shoot straight and speak the truth" were the classical personal attributes of a man. To ride is no longer a measure. To shoot straight ought to be, but seldom is. However, those who care can still make a maximum effort both to speak, and seek, the truth. Hardly anything else really matters.

We notice an increasing number of revolvers with our students. This is no bad thing, for while a self-loader is easier to hit with, the wheel gun can do all that is necessary, in the right hands. We honor the great Jack Weaver for his invention of the modern technique, and he was a revolver man first and last.

We notice that the extrusion at the bottom of the grip safety on the 1911 (the "tang tumor"?) is practically standard with today's custom pistolsmiths. It may work for some people, but it never has worked for me. Apparently my hand is not constructed correctly, so I simply pin the device shut. It is not a safety consideration, as John Browning made clear in his design of the excellent P35 pistol. Safety does not ride between the hands, but rather between the ears.

"The main weapon that terrorists use against the West is not bombs or guns, but moral obfuscation."


Remember when Vince Foster killed himself, wrapped himself up in a blanket and then stashed himself comfortably out of sight in Rock Creek Park? Maybe the people who carried that out are still alive and still know the whole story, but it is also possible that the Arkansas hatchetmen have turned them off permanently. And according to O.J. Simpson, the guy who cut Nicole Simpson's throat is still wandering around loose in the Brentwood area. And we know what Lon Horiuchi did because he said so. Our system of jurisprudence is strange indeed.

We certainly hand out a lot of argument and confusion on the subject of "education," but nobody seems to know just what it is. Is education the answer to 2+2=? Is it knowing the difference between a mammal and a reptile? Is it knowing how to run for office? Or is it owning some kind of certificate or diploma to tack your name onto? Certainly it seems that today a college degree is no more than a job ticket, and not a too reliable one at that. Looking back over all those years it does seem to me that a high school diploma in 1935 signified a good deal more in the way of "education" than a Ph.D. does today. Time passes, of course, and times change, but if we are called upon to spend money on education it would be nice to know what it is we mean to spend money on. Personally I do not think that education can be quantified. Some people are just brighter than others, all the way through the game. Taxpayers' money may be of some help, but it does not seem to improve dumb kids much. According to recent widely publicized tests, American kids are conspicuously dumber than those in other First World countries. (What is called the Third World does not seem to count.)

It used to be said that one was "educated" at a given institution. My father was sent a letter from Mrs. Stanford explaining that he was the young man Mrs. Stanford desired to be "educated at the Stanford University." Apparently what happened before or after his attendance at Stanford was not pertinent.

Well, we now have a United States Department of Education. I imagine those people know what they mean by the word, but if so they are not making themselves clear about it.

The Mannlicher operation seems to be in decline. Dynamit Nobel, with a branch in New Jersey, is the current importer, but we talked with a rep on the phone and she did not seem to understand what the company is selling. Neither, for that matter, does anyone at the factory, as far as I can tell. This means that everybody now should have not one but two Steyr Scouts. The SS is demonstrably much the best general-purpose rifle. It will become increasingly hard to get. Carry on!

I think it should be established as a principle that you should never try to sell what you prize, whether that be books, wines or people. Our colleague and family member Curt Rich leads an unhappy life selling cars - by his own account. He loves cars and is a rally driver of some consequence, but he should not try to sell cars, as his customers just do not get the picture. As to that, I have long held it an unhappy practice to sell one's firearms. I want my treasured weapons to find good homes, but that is not a matter of a price tag. Clearly no humanitarian can ever be a slave trader. The slave trade was established in both the Eastern and the Western worlds long before philosophy, religion or architecture. It is still with us, I understand, in parts of Africa, but it is hardly a job for anyone who loves people. This last virtue has to be reserved for clergymen.

Cougars are proliferating in the rural Southwest, along with bears. The cougar is an attractive animal, but some sort of accommodation is necessary here. I do not consider this beast to be fearsome, but some do. A full-grown male will be as big as a man, but evidently he only runs after things which run away from him - like joggers. Even a small but noisy pet dog can run a full-grown cougar up a tree. At least one has moved in on us here at Gunsite, and this certainly adds to our rural ambience, even if it scares the city slickers. I did a certain amount of boondocking in the Southwest as a youth, but I saw only two unmolested cougars in all that time, and I just cannot consider them to be scary. Thell Reed's father kept one as a pet for some years, and he used to romp with it, which I do not consider to be a sound idea, but nobody ever got cut up. Bobcats are another matter - much smaller, but much scratchier. The frontier expression used to suggest that a particularly tough human being could "lick his weight in wildcats," but "panthers" were never mentioned. It is now fashionable out West to call the cougar a "mountain lion," which I think overly dramatizes the beast. A lion is something else entirely and must not ever be confused with painter, panther, puma, catamount - or cougar. We have a good photograph of one taken within the city limits of Prescott, and we put it on our 2002 calendar.

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

Greek Proverb

The Swiss contingent of the Ravenfolk reports that the Swiss political tradition continues in decline, edging away from confederation and toward true federation. The Swiss refer to themselves officially as "the Swiss Confederation" (Confederatio helvetii), but the encroachments of the European Union, with its emphasis on administrative efficiency, tends to play down the traditional autonomy of the Swiss cantons in favor of a centralized government. From what we hear, the Swiss people at large do not fancy this, but their elected politicians do. One of the great weaknesses of either the democratic or the republican form of government is the probability that the legislature truly speaks not for the people, but rather for itself. This trend is obvious in Britain where, despite the fact that the great majority of the British favor the death penalty, their masters in Parliament refuse to consider it. The Swiss government still runs a pretty good show, but our Swiss friends individually report doubts concerning the future. This is doubly troublesome to us shooters in view of the long-established Swiss tradition of private marksmanship. The people like that, but apparently the politicos do not.

Have you run across the new term for literary affliction know as PPP? That stands for Pernicious Pronoun Perversion, and it is confused by the inability of an author to decide about either the number or the gender of a subject when referring to it with a pronoun. We used to think it was a great joke to quote Polonius with "Each to their own selves be true," which sounds ridiculous - or used to, but not so much anymore. When calling upon "everyone to take their seat," we are assuming that "one" is more than a singular. Apparently it is just too agonizing to call upon everyone to take his seat, that being sexist, elitist and racist, and also illegal, immoral and fattening. But I see PPP growing all the time as one indication which lets us differentiate good English from bad. Of course, good English is frowned upon in egalitarian circles, but only egalitarians need worry about that.

I am happy to say that I got the story of Ollie Coltman's adventure with the buffalo down pretty much as desired. Both Ollie and his wife Susan told me that my account of the exploit was the only one they had read that got it right. When we consider that history is not what actually happened, but rather what people said happened, it is a great pleasure to know that what I said happened was as close to the fact as first-hand memory can make it.

Among other depressing signs of the times, we note the decline of reading for pleasure. Not many people today read at all, since they would rather look at the tube and allow some hired hand to edit their thoughts. And those who do read, do so mostly for self-improvement or general information. They read works on how to manage their money, or plant their garden, or raise their pets. Only a minority it seems read for the mental pleasure to be derived from the appreciation of words. It is characteristic of these latter folk to re-read - that is to read a book again after having put it aside in a previous year. When you ask a friend if he has read, say, Mark Twain, he may respond that yes he had read such many years before, usually when he was in school, but only once. I have discovered in my very long life that a really good book does different things for you at different stages in your life. What I got out of Walter Scott in high school was expanded enormously when I read the same work again twenty years later. One's ability to appreciate literature changes and expands with maturity, and possibly with age.

That being the case, I recently ran across a short reading list requested of me by a client, and discovered that a measure of my enjoyment could be found in those books which I had read not once, but several times. Thus I have come up with a "re-reading" list dedicated to both my pleasure and yours. Tastes are not the same, thank God, but many pleasures may be enjoyed similarly, if not equally, by people of different backgrounds and different tastes. So what follows now is a brief list of those works which I think are worth reading a second time, and possibly a third or fourth time, depending, of course, on where you start. If you pay attention to this list it will interfere with your television time, and this may be very much to your advantage. I suggest you put your televisor in the garage or in the guest bedroom and plug it in only on those special occasions, such as moon landings, military victories and inaugurations, which may merit your special attention. Thus:
"She," "King Solomon's Mines," and "Allan Quatermain" by Sir Henry Rider Haggard. The first is the greatest and stands as an all-time classic.

"The White Company" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This, by the author of the Sherlock Holmes canon, defines the essence of Medieval romance.

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway. This is not highly regarded by the admirers of the master, but I think it is the best war story of modern times. It includes the best accounting of gun fighting that I know of.

"The Dance of the Dwarfs" by Geoffrey Household. This is a fantasy involving the possibility of a curious evolutionary development of natural chemical warfare.

"Beat to Quarters," "Ship of the Line," and "Flying Colors" by C.S. Forrester. These three adventures relate the career of Captain Horatio Hornblower in his time as shipmaster. If you want to know what life at sea was like during the Napoleonic Wars, you will discover it better from Forrester's work than from any historical account.

"The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien. These constitute the ultimate in epic fantasy and are generally lumped together as "The Lord of the Rings." Tolkien is so great that he constitutes a world by himself, and a world well worth exploring. The despairing struggle of good versus evil is better portrayed here than anywhere else in literature, and Tolkien's lapidary prose is worth reading by itself as a lesson in the use of the English language.

"The Brave Bulls" by Tom Lea. The fiesta brava is not for everyone, but I find it entrancing, explaining as it does the elegance of grace under pressure and man's triumph over fear.

"Aphrodite" by Pierre Louÿs. This may be called elegant Victorian pornography, though that may seem a contradiction in terms. Eroticism entertains most people, and French translates surprisingly well into English.

"The Long Rifle" by Stewart Edward White. This is the definitive adventure novel of the westward movement, following one man's saga through adolescence to maturity, as father of the "Boone Gun" which opened the frontier.

"The Big Sky" by A.B. Guthrie. This is something of a companion to Stewart White, done with a bit more narrative artistry but covering the same subject with main concentration upon the mountain men between Lewis and Clark and the Mexican War.

"And A Few Marines" by John W. Thomason. This may be considered something of a specialty for those who understand and appreciate the tradition of the US Marine Corps. It is marvelously well written and, as an added treat, it is personally illustrated by an author who knew whereof he spoke.

"Fancies and Goodnights" by John Collier. This is a collection of fanciful anecdotes. I have often thought that if I had ambitions as an author I would like to be as good a storyteller as Ernest Hemingway, but use English as well as John Collier. Collier's stories are great fun, as well as being jewels of technique.

The King James version of the Old Testament. This is pretty much necessary if one is to understand how we got to where we are and what we should do about it.

The complete verse collection of Rudyard Kipling. In my opinion, Kipling's verse is better than his prose, but it is all good, and all very enlightening.

"Reminiscences of a Ranger" by Horace Bell. This is Bell's account of life in Southern California in the period between the Gold Rush and statehood. It is especially enjoyable to people who were raised in Southern California and know what the place was like before it was ruined following World War II.

"Meditations on Hunting" by José Ortega y Gasset. This is the Old Testament of the hunter, and it explains completely just where hunting exists as a core of western civilization. Ortega wrote this in Spanish, but it translates very well into English, and I find that it deserves more interlineation than almost any volume in my library.

Family member T.J. Johnston suggests that the airlines, not the government, should establish that their aircraft are safer because their air crews are armed. The customers could then decide which lines to fly. Good thought!

"In the beginning you ride in the back seat and somebody else takes care of everything. But one day, all of a sudden wham, you are grownup, you can't ride in the back seat anymore. Duty means giving up the back seat and taking the wheel."

Daniel Young, Graduate Speaker at Hillsdale College, Class of 2002
Doing one's duty should be a practice acquired in adolescence. One should understand about it before he is authorized to drive, drink or vote. It is certainly what should be imparted in high school, but such thinking is unfashionable. It is even - perish the thought - politically incorrect, but we had better get it across to our young people if we have any hope of winning the Holy War.

Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal use only. Not for publication.