You were a great dog, Snoopy Beagle
Some Americans do not readily confess to the reading of comic strips. One suspects they do not wish to appear shallow or superficial. But, in the case of “Peanuts,” by the late Charles Schulz, few people seem to suffer from such inhibitions. The essential goodness of the man, Charles Schulz, came through to readers in the form of the adventures and misadventures of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy and all the rest.
Since the passage of Charles Schulz to that great Heaven where there is no shortage of ink, paper and ideas, our world has been a poorer place. Personally, this observer mourns the loss of Snoopy the Beagle most of all.
Charlie Brown never did much to hold my attention. I suppose he was such a klutz that he was a painful reminder of all the klutzy things we all do from time-to-time. I never read the strips featuring Lucy. She was such a difficult person and I took no joy in either her antics or even in her inevitable comeuppance. But Snoopy the Beagle was an entirely different matter. Maybe it is because I think many dogs I know are better than some people I know.
Snoopy played two roles near and dear to those who fly airplanes and to those who have served their country in peace and war. In fact, I would be hard pressed to choose between Snoopy, the intrepid World War I Aviator and Snoopy of the French Foreign Legion defending Fort Zinderneuf from being overrun by hoards of scimitar-swinging men on camels. Both of Snoopy’s roles have something to teach us about the human condition.
Snoopy, the World War I flying ace, spoke to us about courage. Given the primitive state of aviation technology in World War I, just taking flight was a major risk. Those early aircraft engines were very unreliable, and frankly, even the flight instructors of that era were possessed of highly imperfect knowledge of just what made a fixed-wing aircraft fly and which flight attitudes were inherently dangerous. It was truly a time of trial and error and, all too often, error won.
Add to the twin risks of imperfect machines and imperfect knowledge the risks of air-to-air combat and ground fire and one must conclude that the World War I fighter pilots were extremely brave or foolish and, probably, a bit of both. Whenever I saw Snoopy flying his doghouse against the Red Baron and his cronies, I always felt Charles Schulz was reminding us about something important.
Yet Snoopy’s defense of Fort Zinderneuf is, perhaps, even more inspiring. But to really understand what Charles Schulz was telling us one needs to read or reread Beau Geste by Percival Christopher Wren in which the author tells the story of three brothers with overactive chivalry genes.
Michael “Beau” Geste joins the French Foreign Legion to protect the name and reputation of a favorite aunt. In a classic failure of intra-family communications, his brothers: Digby and John follow “Beau” into the French Foreign Legion and all but John are killed either in the defense of Fort Zinderneuf or after its fall.
Every time I saw Snoopy manning the battlements of Fort Zinderneuf, I was reminded of a time when chivalry, gallantry and dogged (no pun intended) determination were more prized than today.
Actually, we have no way of knowing what Charles Schulz was thinking when he sent Snoopy out to do battle in the skies over Flanders Fields or set him in the grim defense of Fort Zinderneuf, but I like to think that Schulz was using pen and paper to give us a subtle reminder of the brave men who were willing to risk all for God and family and country and for their fellow aviators and soldiers.
It is too bad that we won’t see Snoopy again. But we are grateful for the joy he gave us.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today.