- Ed Ricketts’s 1942 War Treatise: A Personal Introduction
A few years ago Nancy Steinbeck, the wife of Steinbeck’s son John IV, aka “Catbird,” introduced me to John Lovejoy, the son of the senior Steinbeck’s close friends Rich and Tal Lovejoy. Our email correspondence was quite productive, resulting in Lovejoy’s contribution of a remembrance about his father’s friendship with the author and the publication of one of his father’s original poems. The first of these items appeared in the Fall 2008 Steinbeck Review, and the second, “Silence (Written Near Monterey Bay),” in the Fall 2007 issue. Happily, I was able to vet John’s writing and offer suggestions, changes, and improvements, and we became long-distance friends. Then Nancy informed me that John had discovered a family heirloom in his father’s papers: a typed copy of a treatise on war composed by Steinbeck’s friend Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts. According to Ricketts scholar Katharine Rodger, a fragment of this typescript exists in Stanford Library’s special collections in a box within the Ricketts collection (ref. #Mo291).
Buoyed by his extensive reading and keen intellect, in this reflection on war, Ricketts helps his readers connect to other historical personages who also reflected on and wrote about martial conflict. For example, the essay mentions the Chinese war theorist Sun Tzu’s On Warfare (circa 600 bc) and Hitler’s autobiographical Mein Kampf (1925). It also draws on the thoughts of German philosopher Oswald Spengler, whose Decline of the West first appeared in 1918, and the Chinese poet Li Po. Since recent essays on Steinbeck have speculated on the extent of his conversance with these writers, as well as on his acquaintance with Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s Principles of War (published posthumously in 1832), this treatise confirms that Ricketts had read many of these writers, and thus the probability is high that he discussed them with Steinbeck and other members of their somewhat left-leaning group of friends who met frequently for intellectual stimulation at Ricketts’s laboratory [End Page 47] in Monterey. Robert DeMott’s Steinbeck’s Reading (1984) confirms that works by Sun Tzu, Hitler, and Spengler were in Steinbeck’s personal library, but the Ricketts essay further affirms the intellectual connection with war theory. Steinbeck’s frequent references to these writers in his correspondence also attests to his wide personal reading on this subject.
Of particular interest in the Ricketts treatise are the insights into war offered by a nonmilitary observer—an outsider, so to speak. Most scholars are well aware of Steinbeck’s creative observations on war strategy—for example, his suggestion to FDR of a way to devalue the German mark as well as his suggestions to an American general in Vietnam that may have brought about the disarmament of land mines that were routinely killing American soldiers. Ricketts also shows readers a creative mind at work, suggesting that in order to win a war abroad, the developers of strategies must read and understand how German and Japanese minds view war—especially since Japanese strategy stems from Eastern thought that is not familiar to most Westerners. Accordingly, Ricketts immersed himself in the works of war theorists, in biographies of present and former foreign ambassadors, and in the essays by both German and Japanese writers who speculated about approaches for victory and strategies to avoid defeat. As Ricketts writes in his second paragraph, “Furthermore, if there is any truth at all in the old saw about knowledge being power, then the more we know about these things, the more fitted we’ll be to fight the good fight and to make philosophically what sacrifices we must make.”
Since Hitler was influenced by Nietzsche, Goethe, and Spengler, Ricketts concentrates on these source materials to see what they may reveal. After a discussion of Mein Kampf, Ricketts recommends secondary analyses of German ideas by William R. Shirer, Harry W. Flannery, and William F. Dodd, among others. The essay compiles an impressive reference list for readers to “find out about World War II.” Specifically, Ricketts wants people to “get to know how the enemy is thinking” and to “become...