On this day in 1944, American soldiers of the 101 Airborne Division at the Belgian town of Bastogne were surrounded by German forces. In what later became known as the Battle of the Bulge, the American forces were caught off guard when Hitler launched a surprise counteroffensive.
At 11:30 on the morning of December 22, German couriers with white flags arrived at the American lines, delivering a letter demanding the surrender of the Americans.
The acting commander of the 101st, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, read the letter. After pausing for a moment to reflect and to ask for input from his subordinates, he scribbled the following laconic reply:
To the German commander:
The American commander
The German couriers spoke English, but they were puzzled by the general’s reply. As U.S. officers escorted them back to the defensive line, they explained to the Germans that “nuts” meant the same thing as “go to hell.”
The soldiers of the 101st continued to hold their ground under the attacks of the Germans for the four days that followed until the siege was finally broken with the arrival of U.S. tank forces of the Third Army, led by Lieutenant General George S. Patton.
The laconic reply has a long military tradition that dates back to the Spartans of ancient Greece, who were known for their blunt statements and dry wit. In fact, the word “laconic,” meaning “concise, abrupt” is a toponym, originating from a region of Sparta known as Laconia (See July 5: Toponym Day). In Spartan schools, for example, a boy whose reply to a question was too verbose was subject to being punished by having his thumb bitten by his teacher (1). When Philip II of Macedon – the father of Alexander the Great — invaded Greece in the third century BC, he sent the following threat to the Spartans: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”
The Spartan’s replied: “If.” (2).
Today’s Challenge: Your Best Advice
If you had just three words of advice to someone younger than yourself or three words of advice to give to your younger self, what would those three words be? Brainstorm some pieces of advice, like the examples below, that are just three words each. Select your best piece of advice and use it as your title; then, write a paragraph explaining why those three words are so important.
Get a job
Always eschew obfuscation
Read good books
Don’t get tattoos
Go to college
Value your education
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
1-Cartledge, Paul. Spartan Reflections. University of California Press, 2003: 85.
2-Online Etymology Dictionary. Laconic. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=laconic.