WORD OF THE DAY – DECIMATE

Kill One in Ten.

Originally from the Latin: decimatio (decem – ten). Historically decimation was a form of military discipline used by senior commanders in the Roman Army to punish units or large groups guilty of capital offences, such as cowardice, mutiny, desertion, and insubordination, and for pacification of rebellious legions.

It has since come to mean to kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of, as “the project would decimate the fragile wetland wilderness.” Or more recently, “the hurricane decimated everything in its path.”

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Graham Greene wrote about this concept, in the historical sense, in his novel, The Tenth Man.

A group of Frenchmen were being held hostage in a Gestapo camp. A German officer enters the cell one afternoon and announces that there were three murders in the town last night. He is ordered to shoot one in ten of them in the morning. There are thirty men in the camp, therefore three men must be shot. He doesn’t care who. They choose. They chose by lot. Louis Chavel was the tenth man.

Things get tricky from there, but Greene supplies a heavy dose of irony as the plot unfolds.

Book Notes

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

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So, I finished one book and started another. I finished The Snows of Kilimanjaro and started Sweet Tooth.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a book of short stories by Ernest Hemingway, some I have read before and some of which were new to me and I was reading for the first time. The last story in the collection was The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, my favorite Hemingway story and quite possibly my favorite short story of all time. The last time I read this story I was in my 20s. I remember when and where I read it and under what circumstances I was my reading it. It made such a large impression on me. So, these many years later, I read it again with great joy and new eyes. It still made a great impression on me and revived many fond memories. This story taught me at an early age that Hemingway lived by code and it was possible to even have a code. This was an early and important teaching in my life and one I have always tried to live by.

I picked up Sweet Tooth and began to read it. Within 10 pages I knew I was going to like it. First of all, it was dedicated to Christopher Hitchens. One of my favorite writers and one to whom I most look up to and strive to write like when I attempt to write nonfiction. It is not easy. He has set a high bar. A few pages in McEwan references some of my other favorites writers and books as well. These are writers of fiction who are also my heroes: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Vladimir Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. All of which I have read. I am betting this book will prove to be a good read!