Charles Snowden Arthur, Jr.
Captain, United States Navy
Retired Navy Captain Charles Snowden Arthur Jr., U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1938, was ambitious, searching and intellectual. He also was quirky, unorthodox and unconventional.
He proposed marriage to a woman days after giving her a Myers Briggs personality test. In his second career as a high school English teacher, he delighted his students by doing a yoga headstand before they took final exams.
"You know how teachers can be? Stale. Can run out," said Mary Bullock, who taught English alongside him at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. "He was always new and always fresh. Everything he knew was always integrated with everything else. He didn't have just little pockets of information to show how smart he was."
In the classroom, he drew from his interest in Western and Eastern philosophies, his fascination with the function of the brain and his intriguing Navy career.
"Snow" or "Snowden," as he was called, rose fast in the Navy. He was one of the first in his Annapolis class to command a ship during World War II and later worked at the Pentagon, where he saw raw intelligence reports during a bleak period in the Cold War.
With the Americans, the Soviets and NATO maneuvering for nuclear power in the early 1960s, he expressed his concerns outside the chain of command -- a significant violation of military protocol that precipitated his leaving the Navy.
Captain Arthur always felt he took the correct course of action, had no regrets and went on to a satisfying post-military career as a teacher.
Among his favorite sources of inspiration were British writer Aldous Huxley, German poet Johann von Goethe and Oswald Spengler, the controversial German philosopher who wrote "Decline of the West."
He especially liked Spengler's writings, which he used to calculate when civilization would crumble. It was less a literal study in societal implosion than an intriguing game, and he did not mind if friends laughed at the whole idea.
He was a lithe and charming man, an athlete fond of tennis and mountain climbing. He loved the serenity of fishing with his daughter, Nancy Arthur McDaniels.
"He was like an older brother when I was a kid," she said. "I was his fishing buddy. . . . He showed me what a wild strawberry plant looked like. His job was to fish while I looked for wild strawberries."
Her father often related to her through books. "My mother taught me how to read, and my dad taught me what to read," said McDaniels, now a library clerk for the city of St. Paul, Minnesota.
There was, for example, Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" and "Civil Disobedience" when she was 16. Her father subscribed to the Catholic Worker and was delighted when, at age 20, she visited the movement's founder, Dorothy Day, in New York. He loved seeing someone engaged in an interest.
At Washington-Lee, Captain Arthur was lenient with students who chose to write about a topic different from one he assigned. He liked to grade on originality.
Bullock, the Washington-Lee colleague, said Captain Arthur found ways to incorporate his own passions with assigned literature. When he was learning Jungian psychology, he brought the study of the subconscious to Herman Melville's novel "Moby Dick."
"He'd try to figure out what Melville must have been like to write what he did," Bullock said. "It was not just, 'Let's learn about whaling,' but 'Who is Melville, and what made him write?' He said 'Moby Dick' is not read just because it's required for Advanced Placement courses."
Captain Arthur was the elder of two sons born to a Colorado mining engineer and an elementary school teacher. He was a Boy Scout and often went fishing and camping with his father and his uncles. At 16, he entered the Naval Academy and became a varsity swimmer and cheerleader.
He commanded destroyers during World War II and the Korean War. He also helped devise the Navy's Directives Issuance System, which organizes instructions from the Navy Department and from naval commands worldwide and is still in use.
His career entered a dark phase in the early 1960s, when he was stationed at the Pentagon during the Berlin Wall and Cuban missile crises. He was convinced that General Lauris Norstad, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, was trying to start a nuclear confrontation with the East Germans.
"Snowden thought it was true and was very perturbed and went over people's heads," said Hilda Mintzes, a longtime friend. "He went to [U.S. Supreme Court Justice] Byron White and other people at their homes."
Mintzes added that although the Navy brass frowned on Captain Arthur's behavior, her own boss at the time, the Navy's chief psychologist, called him "the most brilliant officer we've ever had in the U.S. Navy."
Captain Arthur later received a master's degree in literature from the University of Maryland and joined the Washington-Lee faculty. He retired in 1983.
Three years later, his wife, Anne, died. He soon met Birgitta Ingerod, whom he surprised with the Myers Briggs test. She was from Sweden and a bit reserved about so many personal questions on one of their first dates. She was not sure what he was looking for, but whatever it was, he must have found it. They became engaged almost immediately.
She said she discovered his intellectual breadth as their home in Washington came to resemble a library branch. "Books came in here every second day through the mail," she said.
The books aided his work as an instructor at American University's Institute for Learning in Retirement. He taught courses with titles such as "Love and Hate in the Nursery," about how childhood influences affect an artist's later work and philosophical outlook.
He continued to enjoy the company of Naval Academy friends and attended the monthly Class of 1938 lunches. One fellow attendee, retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert McNitt, recalled Capt. Arthur as a convivial man who had less interest in rehashing the "old days" than talking about "philosophies and big ideas."
"He had a depth to his life that was remarkable," McNitt said.
Captain Arthur, 86, died of prostate cancer February 26, 2004.
ARTHUR, CHARLES SNOWDEN JR
CAPT US NAVY
VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 03/31/1940 - 03/31/1962
DATE OF BIRTH: 07/25/1917
DATE OF DEATH: 02/26/2004
DATE OF INTERMENT: 05/06/2004
BURIED AT: SECTION 66 SITE 6626
ARTHUR, ANNE EASTMAN
DATE OF DEATH: 01/04/1986
DATE OF INTERMENT: 01/07/1986
BURIED AT: SECTION 66 SITE 6626
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Posted: 3 July 2004 Updated: 4 August 2004