My favorite cooking show is Two Fat Ladies: a pair of elderly British spinsters cook the old-school way, with a sprinkling of history and literature thrown in. In one episode Jennifer Paterson, the ‘color commentator’, said something like the following:
“Do you know, Clarissa, that Scottish women used to have all their teeth pulled as a coming-of-age present. They thought dentures were more elegant.”
“Impossible, Jennifer! That’s too ridiculous. It must be anti-Scotch propaganda.”
“Oh no, Clarissa. It isn’t!”
I asked myself: could people really be so foolish as to throw away a set of good teeth for dentures? Just for convenience or vanity?!?
About a week after watching that episode, my copy of Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl came in the mail.
Roald Dahl also had most his teeth pulled– for vanity and convenience. As the author Donald Sturrock explains it:
Dahl made sure that all his literary royalties went to charity, but out of the sales and syndication of Shot Down Over Libya he allowed himself one important luxury– a splendid new set of false teeth, crafted by Lord Halifax’s dentist himself, with a plate made out of a “mixture of gold and platinum,” and a price tag of $380. This “new set of clackers,” as Dahl joyously described them, still left a “tidy hunk” for the RAF, but they were a source of great pleasure to their owner, who believed that in most cases real teeth were more trouble than they were worth. Removing them, in his view, was a radical but undoubtedly prophylactic measure– preferable to years of infections, toothache and expensive dental treatment.
Curiously, this was not an opinion he had formed as a result of his head injuries, but one arrived at while a trainee at Shell. Thus, at the age of twenty-one, just before he went to Tanganyika, he had paid a visit to Leslie Wright, a top Harley Street dentist, to have most of his teeth extracted and artificial replacements fitted.
Now bear in mind readers, Roald Dahl was an educated man (at least as well educated as any college graduate now, though he didn’t go to university), and he made the choice to have his perfectly healthy teeth pulled sometime in 1937. So, we’re not talking about healthcare in the 1870s or some such.
Roald Dahl, the womanizer, the British Secret Agent, the literary genius, chose to swap his teeth for dentures. Imagine being one of his conquests, like Rep. Clare Boothe Luce, rolling in the hay with a young man then- SLURP!- his teeth fall out. Vote for Britain!
I shouldn’t laugh too much. There was a war on and men were scarce.
My point: Roald didn’t just make one stupid decision about his teeth. After having lived with dentures for some time, he tried to get other more impressionable people to make the same bad choice he did. Again, Sturrock’s words:
He [Roald Dahl] browbeat his mother into having her teeth removed as well, before turning his evangelical zeal on his siblings. They put up more resistance. But Roald continued to try and persuade them, getting increasingly impatient , foul-mouthed and irrational when Alfhild in particular refused to go. He was delighted when, in the mid-1950s, he persuaded his brother-in-law, Leslie Hansen, to go to an American dentist and have all his teeth extracted. Hansen’s subsequent decision not to have any new teeth fitted at all and to live the rest of his life chewing on his gums surprised him. But only momentarily. It soon became yet another eccentricity to savor.
Unsurprisingly, Leslie Hansen was plagued by mental instability. He had something like a nervous brake-down instigated by Roald’s American patron, Charles Marsh, who liked to play with weak people. But back to those vanity-dentures…
In my neck of the woods we have two sayings: “throwing good money after bad” and “misery loves company”. These idioms both apply to Roald Dahl’s dentures, because they describe an unwillingness to admit that one has been wrong despite ample evidence to the contrary. These idioms can also describe someone’s selfish desire to pull other people into the same bad choice, as part of the first screw-up’s ‘flight’ from the reality of their original mistake. “See, I wasn’t wrong!” the Roald-Dahls say, “Here are more victims to prove it!”
This frame of mind, what the Germans call, Realitätsflucht, or ‘flight from reality,’ neatly describes NATO and the US’s involvement in the Ukraine, a situation that is devolving into a needless civil war.
I’m not quite into middle age yet, but even I can remember being ‘here’ before: on the eve of the destruction of the Former Yugoslavia; the invasion of Iraq; the destabilization of Libya. I’ve seen enough American ‘humanitarian’ intervention to know that our armed services have been co-opted for private interests, they no longer serve ‘American’ interests in any way, shape or form.
I have sympathy and compassion for young enlisted people who join the military thinking that they’re protecting the homeland. Everybody has the right to a learning curve. What disgusts me are those servicepeople who are old enough to remember Yugoslavia, etc. and who repeatedly recommit to US adventurism overseas.
To The ‘Roald Dahls’ of the Military Industrial Complex: This isn’t about “duty”, an “oath” or “professionalism”. You’re old enough to know better. This is about taking personal responsibility for your actions. This is about growing up. What you have embarked on in the Ukraine is evil; you are fermenting unrest so that Western oligarchs can grab more resources. You’ve seen this movie before and you know how it ends. Conscientiously object. It’s the right thing to do. There is life after a dishonorable discharge; you’ll probably find it to be a better life, because you’ll have regained your self respect. Don’t pull a bunch of naive kids down with you.
I have a great deal of respect for Ukrainians: my favorite professors, coworkers, and my favorite writer have all come from this country. I was even engaged to a Ukrainian for a while. (Long story!) I have some understanding of their culture and world-view and I respect them for it; they deserve better than an American-inspired kleptocracy.
The Ukrainians have suffered immensely in the past when Americans stirred the pot in Eastern Europe. Something like 8 million of them were starved by our ally Stalin in the aftermath of the American-funded regime change in Moscow, which put the Bolsheviks in power. It’s shameful that any Americans are involved in rolling those dice again. Shameful.
Out of (misplaced) pity for those seasoned US servicepeople who don’t opt out of fighting for Maidan, I hope that the Atheists are right, because I wouldn’t want to answer for igniting the next Holodomor.
You’ve been here before. Make the right choice.