I really enjoyed "Lafayette had great admiration for the newly formed United States of America. Before he died, he arranged to have American soil taken from Bunker Hill and placed on top of his grave, and to this day an American flag flies at his grave site in Paris.
Steve J. Kapp,
James R. Gaines never answers his own question of how the Marquis de Lafayette so quickly ingratiated himself with General Washington in August 1777. Gaines dismisses the father-son explanation as "unsatisfying" and then suggests that both men, being "aristocrats in a monarchy," had "the pursuit of fame" in common. That may be true, but it does not explain how Lafayette went from being yet another newly arrived and unsolicited volunteer to a member of Washington's inner circle in a month.
William B. Claycomb
Gaines' assertion that the victories in Trenton and Princeton were "militarily insignificant but symbolically critical" is questionable. Washington and his army had been chased out of New York and across New Jersey. The British were only about a one-day march behind the Americans: if they had caught up to them and forced battle, Washington's army would almost certainly have been destroyed. When Washington boldly crossed back into New Jersey to fight at Trenton, he destroyed a Hessian brigade and killed its commander. In the follow-up fighting at Princeton, he beat Cornwallis' rear element and consolidated the American situation to the degree that he and his army could then go into winter quarters in Morristown. Trenton and Princeton were indeed militarily important victories.
Emory Allen Burton
Although billions of dollars in international aid have been poured into rebuilding an Afghanistan shattered by years of war, Afghans remain mostly bystanders at projects planned and implemented by outsiders who come for a while, do their work and depart. Those of us who knew prewar Afghanistan and its historic culture can only cheer the modest but insightful efforts of Rory Stewart ("Rosanne Klass
New York, New York
Kerouac's flat tire
Dozens of readers were dismayed that we didn't explain the admittedly bizarre 1641 painting of a largely naked Tapuya woman holding a severed human hand and hauling a basket in which a human foot can be seen ("Albert Eckhout, for a while court painter to the governor of Dutch Brazil, appears to be an allegory of the ritualistic cannibalism that, according to some, was practiced by the Tapuya people of the Amazon. The German artist Zacharias Wagener, who resided in Dutch Brazil at the same time as Eckhout, wrote that Tapuyas did not bury a body but ate it in the belief that the dead were better off inside the living than left to "the heart of the dark land." —Ed.