H.W. “Harry” Crocker III has taken it upon himself to resurrect the reputation of George Armstrong Custer, perhaps the most politically incorrect man who ever lived. Custer was the Army officer who, surrounded by whooping Injuns, lost his scalp at Little Bighorn. Except, to Crocker’s telling, Custer lost nothing that day on Little Bighorn, not his scalp and certainly not his life. In fact, he went on to a rich and rollicking life afterwards. As I wrote in 2018, Crocker told this imagined life with “enough masculinity to make any soy-boy clutch his pearls.” And this is the story Crocker tells, a supremely tall tale sure to offend the limp-wristed of all genders.
Crocker is well known to Crisis readers for his terrific, rollicking, one-volume history of the Catholic Church, Triumph, and his Crisis columns dating back to 2002, especially his notorious—or hilarious—article praising natural family planning for not working.
Crocker is also the Vice President and Executive Editor of Regnery Publishing, a former political speechwriter, an author of several well-received military histories, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War, and a comic novelist whose first novel, The Old Limey, was a Barnes and Noble-featured book.
I had a chance to catch up with him recently on his new Custer book, a comic adventure novel with more than a few twists, Catholic and otherwise, titled Armstrong Rides Again!
Ruse: My first question is sort of a comment. The world is going to Hell, so why are you, a Church historian, writing comic novels?
Crocker: I figure people need a break. You know, “The world is too much with us…”
Crocker: …and don’t you feel better after laughing?
Ruse: The best medicine?
Crocker: It doesn’t hurt.
Ruse: We ought to explain the book. It’s about Custer surviving the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Now he’s an anonymous knight-errant in the West.
Crocker: Right. It’s a series. The first one picked up at the Little Bighorn. This one starts in San Francisco, where he meets Ambrose Bierce—the famous sardonic wit. He wrote The Devil’s Dictionary and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. He was a fierce skeptic and a former Union soldier. Together, he and Armstrong—that’s Custer’s nom de guerre—become soldiers of fortune in a Latin American country. It’s all played for excitement and laughs.
Ruse: Yeah, I got that; but there’s some political commentary, too, some religious commentary…
Crocker: Not in a preachy way…
Crocker: We live in a mad time. People get too used to craziness. Just blurting out unpopular truths can be funny—and make a point. These days, we even need reminding what a man is, what a woman is.
Ruse: No mistaking that in your book. Custer’s a hero; the men are men; the women are definitely women.
Crocker: There’s a great Burns and Allen episode where Gracie is asked what makes for a great marriage, and she says, “Well, first you have to have a man and a woman…” and the audience bursts out laughing for her saying the obvious. But she’d be Twitter-banned today.
Ruse: Burns and Allen? You just dated yourself.
Crocker: Austin, there’s more wisdom in old TV shows and old Westerns than in most modern philosophy.
Ruse: Let’s get back to the book. There’s a Catholic priest who’s a major figure.
Crocker: He’s also a naval officer.
Crocker: The good guys are on the Church’s side.
Ruse: Except for Ambrose Bierce.
Crocker: He’s saved by his martial sense of honor.
Ruse: Why should Crisis readers read your book?
Crocker: It’s funny, isn’t it?
Crocker: And a page-turner, I hope. It’s entertainment—that’s its own reward. But it’s also about patriotism and loyalty; about religion and secularism; and about the smug, self-serving madness of liberalism. By the way, teens like it too—at least my kids’ friends do—so if you want to indoctrinate some kids, there you go.
Ruse: Is there another volume in the works?
Crocker: Yup—it’ll have even more religion, but, again, with a plot driven by action, adventure, and humor. Armstrong might just keep riding, his glittering sabre shining like the light of faith. You like that image?
Ruse: It’s a good one to close on.
Crocker: Well, then, thank you much.