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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Condolence Letters

A famous scene in Saving Private Ryan depicts General Marshall reading Lincoln's letter to a woman who had reportedly lost five sons in the Union Army:

Justin Bank and Gardiner Harris at The New York Times:
The legacy of the Lincoln-Bixby letter would far outlive its writer and recipient. Indeed, the controversies began many decades later. For two weeks in August 1925, a drama played out in the pages of The Times as a Bixby descendant went looking for the original copy of the text. This led to renewed interest (and scrutiny) of the famous correspondence, culminating in an exclusive Times report that two of the famous Bixby boys did not die during the war.
In the coming decades, the story would keep evolving. A 1933 Times editorial was among the first speculation that the letter was actually written by Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay. Multiple pieces of reporting and bookswere dedicated to resolving the question of the letter’s authorship and the fate of the Bixbys. As recently as July 2017, a team of forensic linguists published research they believed confirmed Hay as the author.
The circumstances of the Lincoln controversy are far different from those surrounding Mr. Trump. But the long drama around Lincoln’s correspondence shows that when private offers of condolence become public, they can mutate into an entirely different conversation.
Lena Felton and Taylor Hosking at The Atlantic:
The Trump administration is scrambling to defend the president’s characterization of his communications with grieving military families, including rush-delivering letters from the president to the families of servicemembers killed months ago. Donald Trump falsely claimed this week that he had called “virtually” all fallen servicemembers’ families since his time in office.
According to Roll Call, by 5 p.m. on October 17, the White House had asked and received information from the Pentagon that indicated “senior White House aides were aware on the day the president made the statement that it was not accurate—but that they should try to make it accurate as soon as possible, given the gathering controversy.”