Category Archives: History

Are we about to send ‘advisers’ to Ukraine? Seem familiar?

I guess we’ll have to repaint them first — some none-desert color.

The Ukrainians need heavy tanks to fend off the increasingly desperate efforts by Vladimir Putin to crush their country.

I’m glad they’re about to get them. And I hope and pray that a peaceful solution can soon be found — not the kind of “peaceful solution” Putin would like, in which Ukraine is under his thumb and the world trembles in fear of him, but one in which it is a safe, self-governed nation, living next to a Russia that will never do this again.

But right now, they need the tanks. So it is a good thing that the Germans are going to provide Leopard 2s, and allow other European nations to share theirs. But they refused to do it if we weren’t in it with them, so we have decided to hand over some Abrams main battle tanks.

The Pentagon had been unwilling to do this, “citing concerns about how Ukraine would maintain the advanced tanks, which require extensive training and servicing.” By contrast, the Leopards are relatively simple to maintain and operate, or so I read.

But since the Germans wouldn’t agree without our participation, we’ll be sending the M1s. They mostly likely won’t arrive until the fall, but that’s not the point. The Leopards are what is needed to help resist the expected spring onslaught. They’re a gesture of solidarity. To the Germans, this gives them the ability to say to Putin, “Hey, don’t just blame us…” That’s the point of all this.

Assuming, though, that we follow through, and assuming also that they are impossible to keep running without having a bunch of experienced people maintaining them, it seems highly likely that we’ll soon have “advisers” in Ukraine. They may just be maintenance crews for the most part, but it will be a presence we don’t have now.

(Mind you, I’m no expert on tank operations and maintenance. I couldn’t change the oil on an Abrams any more than I could repair a television. And maybe we can teach the Ukrainians everything they need to know before the tanks arrive there. But it doesn’t sound like the brass over here think that can be done. At least, they didn’t think so last week. It’s one thing to teach people to drive the tank and fight with it. It’s another to keep complex machinery going once it’s deployed, and that doesn’t sound to me like a long-distance procedure.)

There have been Americans in uniform there before now. But this will be different. It won’t be combat troops, but it will be people who are essential to the war effort, even if mainly in a political and diplomatic sense. Meanwhile, we have elements of the 101st Airborne Division right next door in Romania. And soon the 10th Mountain Division will also have a presence there.

Is this the moment that historians will look back on, 50 years from now, as the one that the “Ukraine Quagmire” began? Assuming historians still exist then. I mean, assuming this (or something else) doesn’t lead to the nuclear exchange that we worked so hard — and successfully — to avoid during the Cold War. Which is what enables us to sit around and argue now about how that was accomplished.

Will this be like when JFK sent the 500 advisers in 1961, to reinforce the 700 Ike had sent in 1955? (A sort of follow-up to the ones Truman sent in 1950 to help the French, but the French ignored the advice.) By the end of 1963, there would be 11,000 Americans in-country.

Today, the consensus is that boy, we really screwed that up. Correct me if this is not what you would say, but I can imagine most Americans saying, “We just kept sending more of our boys over there to a place where we had no business being.”

And Americans tsk-tsk about the foolishness, and worse, wickedness of it all. And they’re so sure they’re right, and that they are so much wiser then the Best and Brightest who got us into Vietnam, and couldn’t get us out. Or refused to get us out, until Nixon came along and saved the day by abandoning Saigon.

Myself, I can — with the benefit of hindsight — point to a truckload of mistakes and miscalculations made that got us deeper and deeper into a conflict that was simply not going to turn out our way. But I also look back and see how every mistake was made, and how it didn’t look like a mistake to those making it.

A lot of people around me think they know better. I guess I’m writing this to make sure they’re noting this as it happens — assuming I’m reading it right, and something similar, or at least analogous, is occurring. Yes, the situations are different in a thousand ways. But what I’m pondering here is the bits that seem familiar.

It would be great if we, as a country, could have foresight that is half as perfect and accurate as everyone’s hindsight is regarding Vietnam. That would lead inevitably to a happy ending in which Ukraine and the rest of Europe are safe, and Russia has learned the lesson we’d like it to learn.

But we don’t have that, and right now — in light of this and that and the other thing in the real world we’re looking at — it seems right to send the Abrams tanks. I hope and pray — yep, I’m repeating myself — that it is…

This is what a Leopard 2 looks like. This one was just a prototype, but it was the only image I could find in the public domain.

 

2022: The Year in Obits

That headline may seem odd, but I was just trying to think of something that sort of addressed my topic, but wouldn’t sound as nekulturny as “Top Five Dead People of 2022.” Which would have reflected the post more honestly.

Anyway…

This is a time of year when newspapers and other outlets crank out “Best _____ of the Year” lists. I’m not sure why they still do it. In the dead-tree days, we had a reason: It was the time of year when you had the greatest amount of space (on account of all the Christmas-shopping ads) and the least amount of real news. But I guess the beast still has to be fed. We also did it because at that time when content was badly needed, a lot of people were taking end-of-year vacations, before things got busy in January. And this didn’t require reporting — someone just needed the patience to dig through the year’s pages.

Such non-news stories generally mean little to me. “Best Books of 2022” means nothing to me, because I’ve never been interested in the hot books of the moment. When I read, I’m going to choose from the best (or at least, most engaging to me) of that which has been published since (and frequently before) Gutenberg, knowing that I’ll never live long enough to read everything I’d like to read from the best of the 19th century, not to mention other eras. Why waste time on the latest tattle, or the hottest young novelist?

And as I’ve grown older — and especially since COVID — I’ve gotten the same way about current movies. Why go see the “Avatar” sequel when I didn’t much like the original, and I can stream something like “The Grapes of Wrath” or “His Girl Friday,” or “Is Paris Burning?” far more cheaply and conveniently, and without some popcorn-munching kid kicking the back of my seat? (By the way, those three aren’t my three fave films. They just popped into my head, for different reasons. They are: the film I won’t let myself watch until I finally finish reading Steinbeck’s original, which I have steadily failed to do; my actual fave comedy; and a film I’d always meant to see, but didn’t see until recently, and I was more impressed than I thought I would be.)

But you know what does interest me, aside from Dave Barry’s always-entertaining review of the year? The annual list of who died. I like to be reminded of the passing of people who have left a significant mark on our world — not so much because it tells me something about the past year, but because it provides a fascinating, personal perspective on the entire time in which they lived. It’s an interesting, fresh way of being reminded why the world I live in is the way it is, told through the lives of people who played memorable roles in making it that way. These deaths bring history to life, you might say.

And occasionally I’m surprised by the deaths I have missed. I was particularly surprised to learn that Bette Davis had left our presence in 2022, when she would have been 114. (She actually died at a more reasonable age in 1989.) It took me a moment to realize why The State had placed her picture with this story, and initially the search function was unhelpful. But then I searched on “Davis” instead of “Bette,” and found that someone associated with publishing the “Extra” pages of The State‘s e-edition didn’t recognize that the screen legend was not Miles Davis’ wife, Betty. So it was worse than simply misspelling “Bette” in the cutline.

But we all make mistakes — you’ll probably spot some below — so let’s move on from that before I get embarrassed, too.

Looking back, here are the Top Five People Who Actually Died this year, in my view…

Dang it! I don’t have time to whittle it down that far! With apologies to Nick Hornby, here are the Top 25. Of course, I’m putting them in order, so you can see what would have been my Top Five. But I thought those would all be boringly obvious, and it was more interesting to keep going:

  1. Elizabeth II — I doubt I need to explain this, except to say that I had to think for a moment before putting her ahead of the first pope to abdicate in 700 years. But still, she was such a part of our lives for SO long. She set too many records to get bumped to second place. And Pope Benedict only held on for less than eight years before, you know, quitting. Lilibet wasn’t one to quit. And she was a good queen.
  2. Pope Benedict XVI — Oh, and since stories I read this morning failed to name him, to my frustration, the last pope to quit, without external pressure (unlike Gregory XII), before this one was Celestine V, in 1294. He only lasted five months. I suppose I could write a book about the more recent ex-pontiff, but since I’m just getting started on my list and need to move on, I’ll just say nothing against him, but note that I’m glad our pope is now Francis.
  3. Mikhail Gorbachev — On another day (that is, a day on which Benedict had not just died) I might have put Gorby in second place, and debated whether to put him in first. He had more effect on the world than any Soviet leader since Stalin, only in a good way. Don’t try telling Putin that, though.
  4. Pelé — As you know, I’m constantly trying to throw in a little something for sports fans out there, conscious that most of y’all care more about athletics than I do. But I didn’t have to strain myself on this one. This guy was a superhero, and his superpower was football. (Real football, the kind where you use your feet.) Not having been a big fan of this sport, the first thing I usually think of when Pelé’s name comes up is that scene from “Vision Quest” when Elmo the cook talks about seeing him on TV. That was great…
  5. Jerry Lee Lewis — He wasn’t the King, but he knew the King. There are a lot of things to remember about The Killer — hammering the piano with his feet, marrying his 13-year-old cousin. Great balls of fire. But you know what I always think of? The time when he was arrested trying to break his way into Graceland. He had come to show E who the real king was. Well, he wasn’t the King, but he knew the King, you see.
  6. Sidney Poitier — I wrote about his passing earlier, and thinking back, it hits me that I still haven’t seen “A Raisin in the Sun” or “Lilies of the Field.” But I’ll tell you this: I definitely intend to see them well before I shell out money to see that “Avatar” sequel. In fact, I’d much rather sit and watch “To Sir With Love” another five times, back-to-back, than see that CGI nonsense.
  7. Madeleine Albright — She and Dick Riley were my two favorite members of Clinton’s Cabinet. Hers, of course, was the weightier position. She came along at the time when Democrats were going on about the “peace dividend,” and reminded us that in keeping with the liberal notion of America’s postwar role, we were still “the indispensable nation.” That ticks some of y’all off, I know, but not me. I appreciated it.
  8. Loretta Lynn — I was never a big fan myself, but I’m fully cognizant of her impact on our culture. I also enjoyed the movie. My favorite part was the way Levon Helm (see Ronnie Hawkins, below) absolutely embodied the Coal Miner himself.
  9. Wolfgang Petersen — My favorite Clint Eastwood movie wasn’t directed by Clint Eastwood. It’s Petersen’s “In the Line of Fire.” He also gave us “Air Force One,” and before that, “Das Boot.”
  10. Ray Liotta — One of the people who are here because they were “so young,” not so long ago. And he had a distinctive quality on screen. The first time I saw him was in Jonathan Demme’s action-comedy “Something Wild.” Jeff Daniels was funny, Melanie Griffith was sexy, and Ray Liotta was scary. Of course, he expanded on that in later roles, especially “Goodfellas.”
  11. James Caan — From Sonny in “The Godfather” to the Dad on the “naughty list” in “Elf,” he made his distinctive mark on the Hollywood of his times.
  12. Tony Dow — Yeah, I know Wally was older than the Beave and me, but it’s still a shock for him to be gone.
  13. Dwayne Hickman — Again, youth personified when we knew him. Oh, and for you clueless kids out there — we’re talking Dobie Gillis here. You don’t know who that was? Next, you’ll say you don’t remember Maynard G. Krebs.
  14. Ivan Reitman — Not one of the great filmmakers of his time, but he certainly had an impact, via  Meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Ghostbusters II (1989), Twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990), and Dave (1993). My fave might be “Dave.”
  15. Hilary Mantel — An unusual character, but an impressive writer. And while I read and enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, I can congratulate myself that while she is gone, I still have the experience of reading The Mirror and the Light in my future.
  16. David McCullough — He not only told us, compellingly, the stories of Harry S. Truman, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Panama Canal, and the Wright brothers. He also narrated Ken Burns’ “The Civil War.” Dude got a lot done in his 89 years.
  17. Meat Loaf — In drafting a list of notable names, how could I leave out this one?
  18. P.J. O’Rourke — A gifted commenter on our times, even if he was a libertarian. And don’t forget, he also was a frequent panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”
  19. Ronnie Hawkins — I don’t put him here because of his own music, about which I know little. I put him here because The Band’s first job of note was backing him up — before they did the same for Dylan. So nice work, Ronnie, because I do love those guys.
  20. Mark Shields — I enjoyed his commentary on PBS, and when he was spoken of upon his death as a decent man and a man of faith, that was no surprise. I attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for the first time in 2004, when I was there for the Republican National Convention. At one point I looked around me, and saw someone familiar: It was Shields, sitting there alone. I suspect he was much in demand on the Sunday morning network political talk shows, but there he was at Mass. Not a big thing, maybe, but it made a favorable impression on me.
  21. Bill Russell — He may not have been as big as Pelé, but he was a giant in professional basketball (and not just because he was 6’10”). He was “the centerpiece of the Celtics dynasty that won 11 NBA championships during his 13-year career.” Red Auerbach called him “the single most devastating force in the history of the game.”
  22. Ronnie Spector — With the Ronettes, she gave us “Be My Baby.” And you can’t beat that, can you?
  23. Dirck Halstead — Another celebrity journalist. Don’t know him? Well, you’ve seen this picture, haven’t you? And this one? Does this guy look familiar?
  24. Nichelle Nichols — Better known to you as Lt. Uhura. I wasn’t a huge Trek fan, and I can’t say I knew her, but my old friend Burl Burlingame could. So I’m including her, as much as anything, as a way of remembering Burl.
  25. Sonny Barger — The only member of the Hell’s Angels I would have been able to name if you had asked me (you can thank Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson for that). Not that that’s a good thing, but he was a significant figure in the culture — and the nightmares — of the ’60s.

That’s enough for me. Who makes the top of your list?

Are people REALLY still fighting over ‘Happy Holidays’?

I suppose I’ve been too focused on such things as the actual war — you know, that thing in Ukraine. I didn’t even realize this conflict was still going on, until I saw this headline this morning:

The war on ‘Happy Holidays’ isn’t about Christmas

I reacted to that by tweeting, “People are still feuding over this?” Somehow, I had made it this far through the season without hearing about it. But that must be because I’m getting better at filtering out Kulturkampf nonsense. Anyway, my former neighbor and our sometime (but not in quite a while — ahem!) commenter Jen Fitz responded to my tweet thusly:

One day all the people working so hard to be offended this month will band together and just admit they can’t endure basic human interactions and everyday friendliness. Then they will immediately splinter again, but this time in vicious feuds over the correct way to take offense.

Yup. Anyway, back to what I was saying, if that “war” is still going on, I think maybe it’s now outstripped Afghanistan as “America’s longest.”

When did it start? I dunno. If you trying Googling that, you get an assortment of dates. You also get different accounts about who started it. I tend to think it was started by the simple-minded folks who started getting upset about “Happy Holidays” and launching verbal attacks on Starbucks. But even they were reacting to something, as the History Channel website notes:

Despite the commercialization of Christmas, it was still considered mainly a religious holiday for much of the 20th century. Over the last decade or so, secularists, humanists and atheists became more vocal about the separation of church and state….

When some popular retailers stopped using the word Christmas in their promotional materials and supposedly instructed their employees to avoid saying, “Merry Christmas,” it lit a fire under many Christians.

It also fired-up several cable news hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, both of whom many believe took charge of the modern-day War on Christmas and made it a grass-roots campaign. As word got out, hordes of Christians signed petitions and boycotted the stores, forcing some to change their stance. Other stores continued to use general terms to refer to December 25….

That’s about when the actual “shooting” started in this “war.”

Libertarians and the Identity Politics crowd, of course, returned fire immediately, and this column, though coolly and civilly presented, reflects the ones-and-zeroes approach of so many on both left and right today, describing the “war” in these terms: “I am declaring my allegiance to one idea of America that opposes another: inclusive vs. exclusive.”

Unlike Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, Kate Cohen seems to be a kind and reasonable person. But she is still way too ready to draw battle lines and leap to choose a side.

My position is different. My position is, there is no war. Never has been. It’s particularly absurd if people who do believe in the war say it started in recent decades, with the adoption of “Happy Holidays.”

Because that was always with us. Or long enough for living, mortal humans to say “always.” The first date I come up with when I Google it is “by the 1860s.” I’m old, but that predates even me. I’m also a bit too young to remember the launch of the song “Happy Holiday,” back in 1942. Of course, Henry Ford would have had an immediate and nasty explanation for why Irving Berlin chose that wording. Folks may associate him with the F-150 today, but he’s probably our nation’s most prominent anti-Semite:

Henry Ford was an avid proponent of the idea that someone — or more precisely, some group — was waging a war on Christmas. “Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth,” according to The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem, a widely distributed set of anti-Semitic articles published in the automobile magnate’s newsweekly during the 1920s. “People sometimes ask why 3,000,000 Jews can control the affairs of 100,000,000 Americans. In the same way that ten Jewish students can abolish the mention of Christmas and Easter out of schools containing 3,000 Christian pupils.”…

I was about 4 years old at the time the TV show “Happy Holidays from Bing and Frank” aired. But by that time, I saw and heard the phrase everywhere. I didn’t take any note of the John Birch Society’s screed in 1959 against the “assault on Christmas” carried out by “UN fanatics…” Of course, as far as could see, nobody during my childhood took much notice of that group except MAD magazine, which gave me a somewhat comical impression of the organization.

Anyway, the phrase was everywhere when I was growing up, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the ACLU — although the ACLU would later do what it could to stir up unnecessary fights over creches and the like. The phrase dates to a time before the Culture Wars. And it always made sense. And you didn’t have to be lighting the menorah to see that.

Even Christians — assuming they were knowledgeable about their own faith, and their own culture (which some Christian sects, and especially those individuals whose embrace of “Christianity” extends no further than having a cultural identity to cling to) — had, and have, good reason to say “Happy Holidays.” Particularly if they’re Catholic, or Anglican, or Lutheran or Methodist. But any Christian does. Let’s see… between the semi-secular Thanksgiving and the end of the 12 days of Christmas, in the Western church we have:

  • Advent, beginning four Sundays before Dec. 25. That’s right — despite almost everything you hear out in the commercial-cultural complex this time of year, it is not “Christmas” at the moment. Not yet. It’s Advent — which lasts longer.
  • The Feast of Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8. Although admittedly, this one’s not huge among most of our Protestant friends.
  • The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12. Of course, I don’t suppose many of the folks who complain about “Happy Holidays” celebrate this one. They’re too busy being furious that people who do celebrate it keep trying to get into our country. Even though, since 1945, she has been the patron of all the Americas.
  • Hanukkah, which is going on right now. Not Christian, you say? Well, the three most prominent figures in the Christmas were Jewish, so it seems related to me. Hanukkah sameach, Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
  • The 12 days of Christmas, the first one being on Dec. 25. Of course, we don’t know what time of year Jesus was born, but these are the days when we celebrate the Nativity.
  • The Feast of the Holy Family, on the Sunday between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
  • The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. Oops, there we go again — being reminded that Yeshua bar Yosef was one of those Hanukkah people.
  • The Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6. Remember, we don’t sing “We Three Kings” before that day.

And according to my math, that means we Christians have multiple, plural holidays during this period that many oversimplify as “the Christmas season.” I may be leaving some holidays out there, but I need to draw this silly subject to a close at some point.

Which I will now do, leaving you with a “Merry Christmas” since that’s the next one up. But I also wish you happiness on all these other holy days. Yeah, folks, that’s the etymological root of “holidays.” We may have added a lot of secular meaning to them, but they are holy days.

So, you know, cut it out with the “war” nonsense…

What will we do on V-E day?

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Today is Dec. 7, which means it’s my father’s birthday, so of course I’m thinking about him. He would have been 94 today.

Others may recall that something else happened on the day my Dad turned 13. The above picture refers to that, of course. Dad helped a friend, who had a paper route, deliver extras about that news. Here he is at around that age. (Or maybe a little younger. I think boys were allowed to switch from knickers to long pants at about 13, but now — despite all the times he reminisced about that coming-of-age moment — I don’t remember exactly, and I can’t check by asking him.)

These dates from the 1940s still loom large, even in the mind of someone like me, who wasn’t born until eight years after the war ended. (OK, I realize there are a lot of people out there who are grossly ignorant of history — even such recent history as this — and the date might mean nothing to them. But it means a lot to me, and not just because of my father.)

This morning, I looked at an appointment card on the kitchen table my dentist’s office gave me the other day. I figured I’d better enter it into my Google calendar before the card gets lost. I found that I HAD entered the appointment on the right date already, but I had the time wrong. So I fixed it. Good thing I looked.

Anyway, that date, for my next cleaning, was June 6. So there I sat on Pearl Harbor day marking something down for D-Day.

I wonder what we’ll be doing on V-E Day?

Experience the stories of South Carolinians who fought in Vietnam

Occasionally, I have given y’all a heads-up about programs happening at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum — an ADCO client.

Well, the museum has something very special coming up on Friday, Veterans Day. It’s been in the works for years, enduring many setbacks, from COVID to the flooding of the space where it is located.

My own father, like many South Carolina veterans, played a small role, being interviewed for hours back in 2017 by Fritz Hamer, then the curator of history at the museum. We lent a few of his artifacts and souvenirs from those days.

Fritz Hamer interviewing my Dad in 2017 about his Vietnam experiences.

It’s called “A War With No Front Lines: South Carolina and the Vietnam War, 1965-1973.” The exhibit fills the 2,500-square-foot brick-lined, vaulted part of the museum that was once the water cistern for the Columbia Mills building when it opened in 1894 as the world’s first electric textile mill.

You can read more about it here, on the special website for this exhibit. Also, here’s a press release I wrote about the opening. On the “news” page of the site, you can read previous releases about recent events that have been building up to this opening, such as lectures by Vietnam veterans, and the huge, impressive diorama of Firebase Ripcord that’s stationed at the museum’s entrance. A lecture will be featured at noon Friday comparing the experiences of Vietnam veterans to those of servicemen who fought in previous wars.

And it’s all free on Friday and Saturday this week. It’s a good opportunity to check out the whole Relic Room, if you never have, but especially this new exhibit.

My father is gone now, but so many of these veterans are still with us, and it’s long past time for their service and sacrifices to be honored, and their stories told. I’m very glad the museum is doing this. It’s still coming together as I write this, but what I’ve seen looks good. I hope you check it out…

A tribute wall to South Carolinians killed in action.

You don’t have to ‘celebrate’ anybody; just know what happened

The start of the Columbian Exchange. It will not be a good deal for the folks on the shore.

I don’t think I ever have — but then I don’t work for the Post Office.

I mean, I worked yesterday. I’m pretty sure everybody at ADCO did. Although I just realized I can’t swear to that, since I don’t go in to an office any more.

But did you? And whether you did or not, what did it mean to you?

Yeah, I know the “holiday” for those who take one was yesterday, but the real day is tomorrow. Anyway, I write about it now because Hunter Limbaugh got me to thinking about it on Facebook this morning:

Columbus Day? Indigenous Peoples’ Day? Put me down for the latter. My take on Columbus is pretty simple: There was courage in the sailing into the unknown thing. Pretty much nothing else about him or what transpired as a result of his trips is worthy of honor or celebration. One doesn’t have to fret about judging historical acts by contemporary standards in order to conclude that even without demonizing the person, his actions ought not be celebrated.
(NB: America was only “discovered” from a Eurocentric perspective. The people who lived here were well aware of its existence).

Hunter, as y’all probably know, is a conservative Republican who served in the Legislature back in the ’90s (when being labeled “conservative” meant you were conservative, and not a lunatic who doesn’t think about anything, ever).

I wrote a response to that on my iPad at breakfast, but now I don’t see it. I was having some trouble on Facebook this morning. It’s not a straightforward, rational platform like Twitter. But enough about that.

Anyway, I’ll try to reproduce what I wrote here…

My own take on Columbus isn’t really “simple,” except in this regard: I don’t know why everybody has to react in terms of how they feel about the guy, or in ones-and-zeroes moral terms: He was a good guy, or he was a bad guy. He is my hero — or no, the “Indigenous Peoples” are my heroes. Stop worrying about whom you’re going to celebrate. You don’t have to celebrate anybody.

I think in terms of the significance of that moment in history, the start of what is known as the Columbian Exchange. Its effect on life on Earth was more than phenomenal, more than monumental. It was the biggest thing to happen since we had started speaking of years in Anno Domini terms. And when I say “life on Earth,” I’m not just talking about Homo sapiens. I mean all life — animals, plants, insects, microbes, and how all of them affected each other — sometimes in good ways, sometimes in horrific ways.

The quibble over whether he “discovered” America seems silly. He had never seen it before; the people who backed his voyage had never seen it. None of them had a clue this place even existed. So yeah, when he ran into those islands down there, he “discovered” them.

Not that he knew it. His whole expedition was based on an idiotic misconception. Far from being the sage who alone knew the world wasn’t “flat” — all educated people knew it — he was the doofus who thought it was way, way smaller than it is. He never let go of that belief, which is why these continents are named for someone else.

So why was his “discovery” a big deal? Nobody had made such a fuss about the Vikings when they came here, or the Irish monks who came before them. And of course, the world wasn’t taking note when some prehistoric Asians wandered across the land bridge from what would someday be Russia. It was 15,000 years ago (or whatever date you choose), and notes hadn’t been invented.

And that’s the thing. That’s what made it a big deal — the biggest of its kind that had ever happened. He didn’t just land and live the rest of his life here, or go back and forget about it. He went home and told everybody, and then came back. And multitudes followed him. And then people started zipping all over the globe, back and forth. I think of the way Charles Mann describes the moment, in his book 1493, when the globe fully became a village: It was quite a few years after Columbus’ voyages, but it wouldn’t have happened without him (or wouldn’t have happened as it did, when it did). In 1564, some Spanish ships met up with some Chinese vessels in the Philippines, and worldwide trade got started. Before long, you had Italians eating tomatoes and folks in India putting hot peppers in their food, and potatoes basically ending famine in Europe — and all of those things came from this hemisphere.

And yes, the American Indians (yes, that’s how I refer in the aggregate to the many cultures who lived here — I’m not going to second-guess Russell Means) suffered — far more than most people realize. It was so horrible, it’s hard to wrap your head around. It’s way bigger than a guy named Cristóbal Colón coming over here and being mean to the people he met. The people of this hemisphere had never encountered smallpox or other European diseases, and contact killed about 95 percent of the population from Alaska down to Tierra del Fuego — the microbes spread way, way faster than the white intruders did. Until recently, historians didn’t realize how populated this side of the world was in 1491, because it took several centuries for Europeans to spread to all parts of it, and by the time they encountered most of these cultures, everybody was long dead and gone.

Was this some demonic plot on the part of Columbus? Did he think, “Man, I hate those indigenous peoples over there, I think I’ll go kill them all?” Nope. He didn’t know how to be that evil. Not that he didn’t do his share of awful things in his life, in his quest for gold and glory. But not that. The germs just caught a ride, and unleashed hell on millions of unexposed people.

Bottom line, the whole thing is way more complicated than Italian-Americans making a hero out of this guy in the 19th century, or modern folks making him out to be a monster. He’s just this guy who stumbled into something, and changed the whole world.

And all of us should take note of these changes, if we’re to understand the world we live in. It’s not about the guy. It’s about what happened…

 

Remembering (or not) the royal funeral

Of course, I refer to the funeral of King Edward VII, on May 20, 1910.

Y’all remember that one? It was a biggie. I cite the first paragraph of The Guns of August:

I don’t mean to disrespect Her Majesty’s funeral yesterday, by any means. Based on all I’ve heard and the few photos I’ve seen (the reverence, the solemnity, the dazzling colors — except for the two disgraced princes in mufti), it was splendid — as it should have been.

I’ve just got this one on my mind because a couple of days back, I started re-reading the Tuchman book. I’m using the term “re-reading” loosely here, because I didn’t finish it the first time. After it shifted to the Eastern front, it seemed to bog down. All I remember about it was the incompetence of the tsar’s government (sort of like Putin’s in Ukraine), which gave me a bit of insight into why the revolution happened.

So I decided to start over, partly because I knew the first chapter was awesome, beginning with that portrait, excerpted above, of the old world that was about to end — that ruled by closely related kings, attending the funeral of their kinsman. He was known as “the uncle of Europe,” which Mrs. Tuchman explained thusly:

Anyway, I had remembered all that — not each and every relationship, or even the precise number of royal highnesses and such in the cortege. But I had remembered the main points — the pomp and splendor, the significance of this last gathering of the fam, and the general reasons why this was all to come to an end.

But I didn’t remember everything. And that’s my point. When I was young, I remembered any book I had read — no matter how much earlier — in absurd detail. Not photographic memory exactly, but I remember details clearly, and could quickly find them. Long before Google, I could in a brief moment find a quote I wanted in a book read 20 years earlier, by leafing through it thinking, OK, it was in the upper part of a left-hand page, and it was before this… but after that… a couple more pages… there! And when I got there, it was as I had remembered.

To some extent, that’s still there. And I remembered there were certain alarming ideas current in Germany at the time, and how I was impressed when I first read about them, thinking, As much as we make of Nazi ideology, this stuff didn’t just come from the twisted mind of Hitler a generation later….

But I had forgotten her portrait of the most prominent of those foreign cousins riding in the cortege — Kaiser Wilhelm II. “William” was glad his uncle Edward was dead. It meant, he thought, he — and Germany — would get more recognition, more respect. Note the way the author describes the kaiser’s reaction to Edward’s triumphant visit to Paris a few years earlier:

(Sorry about all the long screenshots, by the way. I would copy and paste much shorter quotes, but Google Books won’t let me, so I do this. I know it’s rather unsatisfactory. I don’t do it just because I’m lazy; retyping introduces a greatly increased possibility of errors.)

I’d forgotten what a cranky, needy child the Kaiser was. Of course, he comes across a lot like Trump — all that whiny me, me, me. Maybe it strikes me more strongly now because I first read that chapter pre-2016, when Trump was still this ridiculous figure from the 1980s whom we are all free to ignore.

Now, I think, Well, as messed up as our democracy not is, and as much as I like and will miss the queen, here’s another reason to appreciate that we don’t have a monarch. Think about it. As much as Trump tried to become king — on Jan. 6, and so often before and since — he failed. But imagine how much more awful things would be were he a sovereign, and his identification with the country were such that he was the country and the country was him? (Yes, I know this isn’t the Middle Ages and things were different by 1914, but there’s still the psychology of identification that lies at the heart of the idea of monarchy.)

Of course, if we had a monarchy, Trump would never have been the king. But let’s not get lost in speculative details.

Anyway, that’s not my point. My point is to bring up one of the few fun parts of getting older: It’s forgetting things, and enjoying the delight of rediscovering them.

It’s not that I’ve become a goldfish. I remember most things, and since I’m an intuitive type, I pretty much always remember, and can accurately describe in general terms, the forest. Which is what matters to someone who thinks the way I do. But I let go of a lot of the trees.

I first saw this coming on maybe 15 or 20 years ago (or, from my perspective, a few days ago) when I suddenly realized that I longer remembered all of the lyrics of every single Beatles song. I had always taken that knowledge for granted, and now there were many holes in it. Big deal, I was able to say to myself — those weren’t details I needed in my life. Still, it was a loss.

Then, about the time I entered my 60s, the delightful thing came along: I didn’t retain any new TV shows I saw. Oh, I remembered what Jethro did in “The Beverly Hillbillies” back in the mid-60s. But I could watch an episode of some British murder mystery and enjoy it in 2012 or later, and then come back in a year or so with NO idea whodunit, and enjoy it all over again. Because my personal hard drive was no longer adding this stuff to the database.

Which is awesome. Lately, my wife and I have been rewatching “Endeavour” from the beginning, and having a great time. Oh, something about a scene will be familiar; I might even say “I know this scene; this is the moment I realized the writers were basing this episode on ‘The Great Gatsby’.” But I still won’t know what’s going to happen. And there are episodes I don’t remember at all.

Which is great. It’s so much easier to be entertained whenever I want to be. I don’t have to look so hard for “new” content.

For some time, I’ve been thinking, What if this could happen with books, too? I mean, what if I could completely forget O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, and start over and experience it for the “first time” again? That would be bliss.

I’m not there yet, by any means. But this bit of forgetfulness with the Tuchman book is a promising beginning…

Maybe it would help to have a POINT to the story

The Washington Post ran a review of the new Tolkien prequel — financed by the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, or at least by his company — today.

It was headlined, “‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ is beautiful, banal boredom.

Which, frankly, was about what I expected. I think if Tolkien thought what had happened (in his imagination, not Tommy Westphall’s) in Middle Earth 3,000 years earlier was as compelling as The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, he’d have written the stories out, rather than summing them up in an appendix.

Coincidentally, the Jesuit magazine America ran something related today, headlined “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings: Telling Stories to Save Lives.

It concentrates on those Oxford writers as besieged Christians taking comfort from their friendship — and their work — in a time and place of growing indifference and even hostility to faith, and it’s worth reading. You can probably do so without subscribing as I have — as I recall, America still uses the model in which you can read two or three pieces before the pay wall goes up.

Frankly, when I read Lord of the Rings, I saw it as a warning against the isolationism that was so dominant in Britain and this country before the Second World War. (The writing of the work started in 1937 and continued until several years after the war.) I tended to see Sauron as Hitler, Saruman and Wormtongue as the quislings who were undermining Europe — I mean, Middle Earth — ahead of the orc blitzkrieg, and Gandalf as the sort of Churchill/Roosevelt figure who ran about trying to wake everyone up before it was too late.

But yes, Tolkien’s mind was working on deeper levels as well, as the piece in America notes:

Everyone loves an underdog, of course, but these tales feel more meaningful than a standard superhero film because their authors had their eyes on a deeper set of truths. Sin and corruption are real, but salvation is still available. They knew, as Tolkien explained to Lewis in the early years of their friendship, that the Christian story is the truest story, of which all others are echoes. When all appears to be lost, we always have recourse to the deep magic from the dawn of time.

Recently, I drew your attention (or tried to, anyway) to a homily by Bishop Barron in which he used the experiences of Bilbo Baggins as an example of what God expects of us — that we’re supposed to get out and encounter the world and have a great adventure, not sit comfortably in our hobbit holes smoking choice Shire pipeweed, and enjoying the copious food and drink of our larders.

Anyway, however you interpret it, it helps for your story to have a point, and consist of more than breathtaking CGI scenery and battle sequences. Those can leave you feeling rather empty…

What would we do if we had REAL inflation?

Yeah, I know we have real inflation now. Of course, unless the economy has come to a halt and is in danger of sliding into deflation, like during the Depression, we always have inflation. It’s just it’s somewhat higher right now. Now, it’s more like what we lived with in the early ’80s. It feels familiar, unless you’re very young.

Oh, and before you think I’m shrugging it off, not only the young are feeling the pinch. My wife, who is the one in the family who has to make our modest income stretch to feed and house us (this is not a task you would want to assign to me), reminds me of it frequently. She did so multiple times when we were shopping together yesterday, and that was at Walmart. She normally shops at Aldi.

But what I mean is, what if we really had the kind of inflation — commonly called “hyperinflation” — that really shows your country is messed up and falling apart? You know, the kind that means your whole system, or your leadership, needs to be replaced? I mean, the kind that you’d think we were having now, if you listened to Republican politicians. And for that matter, some Democrats.

Including some Democrats I really like, such as Abigail Spanberger, who’s in a tough race for reelection to her congressional seat up in Virginia. There was an update on that race on the front page of The Boston Globe today (see above), and it said in part:

Spanberger and her Republican opponent, Yesli Vega agreed that inflation is the most pressing issue for voters.

“We’re facing a time when people have to decide whether they’re going to pump gas or buy groceries,” said Vega, a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a former law enforcement officer who still serves as an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. “I do believe that we’re in the condition we are right now because of President Biden’s failed policies and representatives like Abigail Spanberger enabling him every step of the way.”…

“I have certainly found that people want to talk about gas prices, they want to talk about grocery prices, they want to talk about the challenges they’re facing,” Spanberger said after a recent Fredericksburg event highlighting the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last year that she supported.

“I’m acknowledging the problem and trying to fix it,” she said. “Your other option is somebody who’s just trying to cast blame for the problem.”…

Anyway, I look at this situation in which polls keep showing that voters care more about inflation than anything — as this story states, “ahead of abortion rights, an increase in violent crime during the pandemic, a war in Europe, and attacks on voting rights.” And, presumably, global climate change.

The worst problem in the world? Presumably, you don’t think that if you live, say, in Ukraine. But America is apparently full of people who, at this moment at least, think 8.5 percent inflation is our biggest problem.

They might have had a point, if they were living in the Weimar Republic 100 years ago.

I met a guy named John Toland in 1976. I gave him a ride from the airport to the book festival that had brought him to Memphis. I wasn’t really there to talk to him. I wanted to talk to Mary Hemingway about her new book, being a huge fan of her late husband. The publicists set me up to have lunch with her, but asked me to pick up Toland, who had just come out with a weighty tome about Hitler. I hadn’t read his book, wasn’t planning to read his book, but I gave him a ride, and enjoyed chatting with him.

Years later, I finally read the book, and it left an impression. (I recommend it.) Burned into my memory in particular is an anecdote it related about the night of the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler and a couple of his boys were hanging out in the beer hall, waiting for the time to make their move. They decided they would blend a bit better if they all were holding beers. So one of his boys went and bought three brews.

They cost three billion marks.

Not having the book at hand — I’m not sure where it is now — I looked up  “Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic” in Wikipedia. It stated in part:

A loaf of bread in Berlin that cost around 160 Marks at the end of 1922 cost 200,000,000,000 Marks by late 1923.[14]

By November 1923, one US dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German marks.[16]

The line about the cost of bread reminded me of another anecdote I read somewhere years ago. I can’t remember whether it was in Toland’s book or somewhere else. Anyway, a woman was on the way to buy a loaf of bread. She had a laundry basket overflowing with paper money to pay for it. Some emergency came up, and she had to put down the basket and go deal with it.

When she came back, someone had dumped out the money and stolen her basket.

Now that’s inflation.

But you don’t have to go back to Weimar to find examples of serious, profound inflation problems. As I’ve often mentioned, I lived in Ecuador when I was a kid. I lived there longer than I lived anywhere growing up — two years, four-and-a-half months. I’ve never been back there since leaving in 1965. But I became aware of the fact that at some point, the currency that we used there in my day — the Sucre — had been ditched, and the U.S. dollar adopted in its place.

One day, I decided to look that up — also on Wikipedia. In my day in Guayaquil, a Sucre was worth a nickel — it took 20 to make a dollar. I didn’t realize it had been declining in value for years. In 1946, it had taken only 13 to make a dollar. After I left, things sped up. In 1970, the dollar was worth 25 Sucres. In 1983, it took 42. In 1990, it was 800 Sucres, and it plunged to 3,000 in 1995.

Just before the switch to the dollar standard in 2000, you needed 25,000 Sucres to buy what the dollar would buy.

That, too, is real inflation, even if not quite on the billion-for-a-cerveza level. I can see how someone living under those conditions might see it as the biggest problem of the moment.

But 8.5 percent? You’d think a country that saw that as its biggest problem didn’t have any real problems.

And yet, we do — and inflation is one of those problems, although not the worst. For the first time in my life, the first time in our 246 year history, our republic is in profound danger. It could really, truly be falling apart. Look at the number of people who are outraged — our senior senator suggests we’re on the verge of riots in the street (again) — that the government thought it out to go take back those classified documents you-know-who stole and hid in his place down in Florida.

Also, many of the same people, and others, think — and I’m using the word “think” very loosely here — that we ought to turn fine people like Rep. Spanberger out of office over something that is in no rational way her fault — inflation. Note the comments in that Globe story from guy who voted for Biden in 2020, but says maybe he’d vote for Trump next time, “because in Donald Trump’s time, we didn’t have these issues.” (How’s that for steel-trap, cause-and-effect logic? As we all know, the condition of the U.S. economy depends entirely on who happens to be in the White House, right?)

These are serious problems, and considerably more disturbing than this other actual, but more transitory, problem, inflation.

Remember, Germany came up with a “solution” to their Weimar problems.

That solution was Hitler…

Adolf and his posse sitting in prison after the Putsch, all hoping someone else offers to buy the next round of beers.

The Hero’s Journey

Sometimes in this distracted age, our myths let us down.

I got to thinking about that this morning:

OK, I remember that Obi-Wan let Darth win. It was a deliberate sacrifice, which I’m sure means a great deal in the theology of the Force, or would if there were such a theology. For us caught up in the film, I suppose the point was that it was so important to let the guys rescue Princess Leia, and even more importantly, destroy the Death Star (remember what it did to Alderaan), that he was willing to give his life to make it happen. (I’m not entirely sure why he couldn’t do all that and beat Darth, too, but I suppose Darth needed to live so there could be another movie, and so Anakin could be redeemed in the end.)

But anyway, he lost. And in this case, I’d rather see Rep. Cheney win and You-Know-Who lose. But I guess we can’t have everything.

My point, if I have one, is that this reminded me of something I’ve thought about a good bit lately. Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for several years, but I’m not asking you to be impressed — I suppose others have thought about it for millennia. It was when I was reading Rubicon by Tom Holland.

And as always, when I read about those days, I’m struck by how much the Trojan War comes up. Over and over and over again. It’s like the Greeks just had this one story they kept going back to, and of course, the Romans — as industrious as they were in so many other ways — couldn’t be bothered even to come up with one story of their own, so they stole the Greeks’. Which was their way.

If they came up with another story — like the one about Odysseus/Ulysses — they couldn’t even separate that new one from the big one. Sure, that’s about him and his boys being lost for years on the way home — but they were on the way home from… the Trojan War.

It even comes into the Romulus and Remus story, although I’m always forgetting how exactly.

Seems like they could have come up with some other stories. But they didn’t. They liked that one, and they stuck with it. Sort of makes me feel bad that I’ve never read the originals — not the Iliad, or for that matter the Aeniad. But you see, I have no Greek beyond Kyrie Eleison, and my Latin — despite the best efforts of the legendary Mrs. Sarah T. Kinney of Bennettsville High School — remains inadequate to tackling literature. I mean, I know that Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, but I don’t know what comes next.

And yes, I know millions of people over the ages — or a lot of them, anyway — have contented themselves with translations, but it just seems that after all this time, I could have made myself learn Greek. But I didn’t, so I leave it alone. I know the basic story, though — that horndog Paris caused a heap of trouble, and it went on for a bunch of years, and ended with a fake horse. I content myself with that. At least I don’t have to study Communism or Nazism or anything to get what the war was about. Pretty basic, really, even though it’s a bit hard for a modern mind to fully grasp why most of those other people went along with having a war over it.

That’s not my point, though. My point is that I started thinking about it again lately when I read a piece in The Wall Street Journal headlined, “The Power of Our New Pop Myths.”

Yeah, I know — the paywall. Actually, it’s getting in my way at the moment, too — some problem with my password I’ve had for about 20 years. Which I’m not going to change. But anyway, the subhed is “Marvel, Star Wars and other franchises have become central to our culture by returning to a primal form of storytelling.,” and it begins like this:

And so forth. It’s sort of related to a complaint I frequently voice about Hollywood being unable to come up with fresh stories. They just keep recycling the same yarns. (How many Spider-Man origin movies have we had in the past few years?)

Kind of like with the ancient Greeks and Romans, but at least we have more than one story. There’s Marvel, there’s Harry Potter, there’s Bilbo Baggins, and Dune if you like. There’s the Matrix. All of which are at least entertaining, the first time you hear them.

And of course, between the Trojan War and Peter Parker, we Westerners who have at least paid some attention to the actual bases of our culture have had, with the help of the ancient Hebrews, the rich stories of the Bible, and a religion that speaks to me and many others of eternal verities, which if you’ll forgive me, I find even more meaningful than learning about the Kwisatz Haderach.

Which brings me back to Bishop Barron, who as you know continues to impress me with the power of his Sunday sermons.

He had a good one this week, in which he got all Jungian on the way to teaching an important lesson about what God wants from us.

His title was “Go on a Hero’s Journey,” and in it he gets into such stories as “The Hobbit.” It’s about how comfortable Bilbo was in his Hobbit hole, as hobbits tend to be, and beyond that about the inconvenient fact that that’s not what God wants. Like the dwarves who invade Bilbo’s sanctuary, and like Gandalf, he wants us to get out there and have an adventure, one that actually matters.

Anyway, I’m not going to recite the whole sermon to you; you can watch it below. I recommend it highly…

Sometimes, history is quite disappointing

I’ve remarked a number of times recently, I think, on the fact that no matter how much history I think I know, I keep getting slapped in the face by the fact that I don’t know squat about it.

Even when you limit it to a certain period I’ve obsessed over, I keep learning things that you would have thought anyone would have known. But I didn’t. Makes me humble — almost. I wish it would make those people on both sides of the CRT battles — who all think they know everything they need to know about what went before, and what it means — humble. Or at least quiet them down a bit. Because they get tiresome.

I had this happen again a few minutes ago. For reasons having nothing to do with this post, I happened to look up a town called Jeannette, Pennsylvania. A guy named it for his wife. It’s a pretty new town, only founded in 1888. You’d think it was out West or something, but no. Near Pittsburgh, which is only out West if you’re in Philadelphia.

Anyway, I read that its 2010 population was 9,654. Which made me think of my hometown, Bennettsville. Y’all know, of course, that I use that term “hometown” loosely, as only a Navy brat can. I grew up in America — mostly — rather than one bit of it. But I was born there, and it was the place I returned to in the summers, and I spent the entire 9th grade at Bennettsville High School, back when there was one (go, Green Gremlins!). I feel a great fondness for the place, but as I’ve said repeatedly, I could walk all the way through downtown on Main Street and not be recognized by anyone, unless I got lucky.

So I looked up B’ville on Wikipedia as well, and found that as I thought, the population was close to the same — 9,069 in 2010.

But then I read on, and got to this:

The city of Bennettsville was founded in 1819 on the Great Pee Dee River and named after Thomas Bennett, Jr., then governor of South Carolina….

I’d never thought about it before, but I guess I’d always assumed it had been named for, you know, somebody who lived there in the early days. Some plucky pioneer who was among the first Europeans to turn the sod on the banks of the Pee Dee, or who operated a ferry, or some such.

But no, this guy was just — the governor. Some guy from Charleston. It appears he raised some questions about the conduct of the Denmark Vesey investigation, trial and executions. Perhaps the points he raised were to his credit. It’s a bit hard to tell, because the article isn’t very well written.

But that’s all irrelevant to the point that, aside from having it named for him, I don’t see anything that indicates he had anything to do with Bennettsville. Or Marlboro County, for that matter. Or the Pee Dee, even.

Which is rather disappointing. It’s like founding a town and naming it for Henry McMaster, even though he’d never been there. Don’t you think that’s kind of lame? I’d think it was lame even if Henry were a more interesting and distinguished governor. Which, as we know, wouldn’t take much.

I’m not lobbying to change it, of course, even though B’ville has plenty of more interesting sons and daughters — Hugh McColl, Marian Wright Edelman, or if you want someone more recent, Aziz Ansari. I mean, come on — it was the home and base of operations of Sen. Jack Lindsey! Why, my Uncle Woody embodies the town, far as I’m concerned, and could entertain you enormously telling stories about it. But it’s not named for him, either.

But again, I love the name “Bennettsville,” and wouldn’t change it. It has a certain warm, rounded feel. It’s part of my own deepest identity, one of the essential “B” names and words for which I’ve always felt such a keen comfort and affection. (Have you seen me in my new B hat?) Like the color blue.

I just wish we had a better reason for the name. Maybe there is one, and it didn’t make Wikipedia. I’ll have to ask Walter Edgar, next time I see him. Being a real historian, he knows stuff like that…

Yet another way baseball could save America

One of my grandfather’s baseball teams. That’s him squatting on the right. Note that some guys wear jerseys that say “P.O,” while others don’t.

My wife brought this story to my attention this morning, knowing I would like it: “Companies worried about worker turnover could try baseball.”

It’s about how measures that employers instituted at workplaces a century ago might help with today’s Great Resignation problems. A number of things were done to make workplaces more pleasant, but this was my (and the headline writer’s) favorite step:

Goodyear President F.A. Seiberling … embraced employee welfarism with a wide-reaching program in Akron, Ohio, that included an improved working environment, a thrice-a-week employee newspaper, a housing development and even a company baseball team to make workers feel like part of the “Goodyear family.” Confronted with the same problems, his crosstown competitor Harvey Firestone followed suit.

These companies met others on baseball fields in a league they organized that spanned at least two other states. The brick stadium where the Firestone Non-Skids played (named for the company’s first treaded tires, “non-skids”) seated 4,500 cheering workers, and it still stands in front of the old company headquarters. The idea was that when employees sat in the stands and cheered for the company, they’d be more loyal, and as a result, they were encouraged to do so. Goodyear told workers in 1920, for example, that attending the games alone wasn’t enough; “moral support, organized cheering, [and] boosting 24 hours a day” were critical as well.

The quality of baseball had to be good enough to attract these fans, though. In rising industrial cities like Akron and Michigan’s Flint and Grand Rapids, where there were no professional teams, fans typically watched amateur clubs compete. Industrial teams played as part of that environment, and so increasingly, companies hired men who were good baseball players. During World War I, Frank Stefko remembered hearing from a fellow soldier, Glenn “Speed” Bosworth, that Goodyear was hiring ballplayers in Akron, so after the war, he traveled to the Rubber City from Scranton, Pa. The personnel office said the company didn’t have openings until he mentioned Bosworth’s message. “Oh, you’re the ballplayer!” They hired him on the spot….

It worked. Employee morale and longevity improved, as did productivity. Employers did this not just to be nice guys, but because it was good for business. It also helped stem union efforts — until the Depression led to cutbacks in such expenditures, so the great heyday of unions arrived in the 1930s.

My wife knew I would like the story because of my grandfather. She never met him — he died of lung cancer when I was four — but he found some time to teach me some basics of baseball before we lost him.

And playing baseball on the workplace team is a big part of his legend. I’ve told you all this before, but I’ll tell you again, because I love these kinds of stories from the days when this was a baseball-loving country. Here’s something I wrote about it before, with a picture of the house where my grandmother lived with her family before her marriage:

Here’s how she met my grandfather — she would see him walking past her house on the way to the train station each day in a suit and straw boater, carrying a bag. She thought he was a salesman, and the bag contained his wares. Actually, he was a ballplayer, and bag contained his uniform and glove. He worked for the Post Office, but he only worked there so that he could play ball for its team. He was a pitcher. Gerald “Whitey” Warthen would eventually be offered a contract with the Senators, which he turned down to work in his father’s business.

A couple of minor corrections: He worked, I think, for the Railway Post Office, which I take it was some subset of the P.O. we all know. More importantly, he wasn’t just a pitcher, as I have learned since reading about him in recent years in old copies of The Washington Post and other local papers. He was also an infielder. Basically, he played anything as long as it was baseball. Oh, and before he launched on this working-for-baseball period, he had been captain of the team at Washington and Lee.

Anyway, I guess I am genetically predisposed to see baseball as a great way to attract employees. Unfortunately, the end of that story in the Post sounds a discouraging note:

Today, companies are also experimenting with ways to boost worker welfare in the context of the Great Resignation. Baseball spectatorship has been replaced by team-building activities that include workplace climbing walls, wine-tasting events, table tennis, family picnics, free lunches and special doughnut days. At the turn of the last century, employers experimented to identify which perks resonated with workers. While the jury is still out on whether such programs will be successful today, companies are following in the footsteps of NCR, Goodyear and Kellogg’s in experimenting with programs that employees find meaningful and useful — enough so to stay in their jobs.

You see that? No baseball. That’s the sad state of America today. Baseball is no longer seen as a way of pleasing the masses. Is there any hope for us?

But he’ll remember with advantages What feats he did that day

This is pretty cool.

A significant number of the actors from HBO’s “Band of Brothers” did this a couple of years back, 20 years after the release of the series. But I didn’t see it until now.

I wish I’d seen it on D-Day itself, but hey, the Battle of Normandy was still far from won on June 7. So I pass it on, and hope you enjoy. Curahee!

It starts with “Captain Winters,” but you’ll recognize a number of the guys. Quite a few are Brits, which works well with Shakespeare, as they don’t have to put on American accents. But there are some Yanks as well — “Malarkey” and yes, the incomparable “George Luz.” (Actually, Luz should have done it as an impersonation of Major Horton.)

One or two of the guys look too young to have played soldiers two decades earlier. But on the whole, you see graybeards who seem ready to play the “old man” part of the “Henry V” speech:

He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’

Of course, the real old men, the ones with real scars to show, are all gone now. At least, all the ones whose portrayers in the series had speaking parts. (Unless you know of someone I don’t know about.) To them truly should go the honor.

But I also honor everyone involved in this series. And I’m glad quite a few of the real guys were still alive to see the tribute, and be a part of it.

I think this is James Madio, who played Frank Perconte. Isn’t it?

Well, at least I know more about history than THESE guys…

You know how, for the last three weeks, I did really badly on the Slate News Quiz but still beat the Slate staff person assigned to compete that week?

Well, half of that happened this week. I only got five right out of 12, for an embarrassing 186. But this time, I got creamed by Technology Editor Jonathan Fischer, who scored a 370.

So let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk about history. I’m a lifelong student of it, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how very, very little I know about it. Even with the small slices in which I’ve taken a particular interest through the years — World War II, the first years of our republic at the end of the 18th century, Rome in the time around Julius Caesar’s assassination — I am constantly shocked at the major things I suddenly learn that I did not know. Happens all the time.

For instance, reading all those Patrick O’Brian novels has made me try to learn more about the Napoleonic Wars, and particularly the Royal Navy during that period.

Well, I was over visiting my Mom the other night, and she always watches “Jeopardy” in the evening. This night, the Final Jeopardy question — or rather answer — was the one you see above, under the category, “The Early 19th Century”: “Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve signaled ‘Engage the enemy’ around noon & surrendered at 1:45 PM during this battle”.

So we know he’s French, and it’s the early 19th century, and one can reasonably assume that this was a battle of some significance — a fleet action, say, as opposed to a meeting between a couple of frigates, where you wouldn’t have an admiral in charge. And Villeneuve’s name was vaguely familiar to me, but I wasn’t sure which significant battle he had lost. As far as I knew, it could have been the Nile, or Algeciras. Although I don’t think those were known for being brief.

So I just went with the biggest one of all, and said “Trafalgar.” The climax (and end) of Nelson’s life, his greatest triumph — the one that got him the column.

But I didn’t know, and I felt bad about that.

Soon, though, I felt better.

The three contestants all answered some variant of “What is Waterloo?”

Seriously, they did. These were three fairly bright people — they did well on plenty of other answers — and all three of them had bet money that an admiral was in command at Waterloo.

Oh, and it was Trafalgar. But I should have known, as a Jack Aubrey fan.

Anyway… if y’all want to take the Slate quiz, here’s the link. If you don’t do any better than I did, you don’t have to share…

 

 

 

Well, then… I don’t wanna be king.

What’s the main thing you do at a medieval feast? Or a Viking feast, for that matter?

You hoist a joint of meat up to your mouth with one hand and chomp down on it with great relish. That’s the main point of the feast. Oh, there are other activities, such as drinking ale or mead from a horn so that you have to drink it all before you put it down, or pulling serving wenches down upon your lap and laughing “haw, haw, haw!”

All of which, of course, is often frowned upon today, often with good reason. But I’m here to stick up for the savage-eating-of meat-thing, which more and more people try to discourage us from doing.

And now meddling scientists have gotten in on the act:

(CNN)Meat-heavy banquets have long been thought to be a common feature of early medieval life for England’s kings and nobles, who are often depicted feasting on legs of animal flesh and knocking back goblets of ale in the great halls of their realm.

However, a new study that examined the dietary signatures contained in bones of more than 2,000 skeletons has cast doubt on this assumption, finding that most Anglo-Saxons ate a diet rich in cereals and vegetables and low in animal protein — no matter what their social status.

Archaeologists were able to glean this information by analyzing the presence of different isotopes, or variants, of the elements carbon and nitrogen in bone collagen. Bones preserve an isotopic record of the different types of food an individual consumed over time. The study mainly looked at ribs, which represent a period of 10 years before a person’s death….

This is discouraging. I mean, what’s the point of being a king if you can’t display appalling table manners while enjoying a joint?

If this is true, then when I get a time machine, I may go to some other period instead. There’s always ancient Rome, but I don’t want to have to eat while lying down…

I’d like to find some more books like ‘Sapiens’ to read

The most impressive bit of prehistoric art I’ve ever seen, from the Cave of the Hands in Argentina.

Or to spread it more broadly, like that — by which I mean Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari — and like some other, similar books I’ve read in recent years. They include:

  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond.
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann.
  • 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, the sequel to the previous.

Remember how I said my New Year’s resolution was that I would finally start reading all those many fascinating books I had put on my Amazon list in recent years, and my loved ones had so kindly given me? I said I would start with the ones I received for Christmas (pictured on the post), and go on from there.

In that post, I mentioned that I had just finished, on New Year’s Eve, reading Sapiens. And stated my intention to charge forward and spend the whole year reading other interesting new books that would broaden my mind, instead of rereading things I’d read multiple times before, such as the volumes of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novel series.

So what have I been doing? Well, the last few days I’ve found myself rereading Sapiens. And I’m again being thoroughly fascinated by all the interesting things I had already forgotten, even though I had read it so recently. (An aging thing, I guess. I never had trouble in school remembering things over summer vacation. But I guess I don’t retain things that easily now, being less “impressionable.”)

Just this morning, I was reading again how we humans messed up our lives with this whole Agricultural Revolution thing. And how we couldn’t help ourselves. But this time I took time to leaf to the back to check out a footnote, and found it was referring to… Guns, Germs and Steel. Yeah, I thought I had read something else that told me giving up hunting and gathering was a raw deal… not that we can do anything about it.

There’s a connection here somewhere to my decreasing interest in the “news” of the day, and the same stupid, overly simplistic arguments about what’s going on around us being offered by “both” sides — you know, the ones and zeroes people. (Not that I ignore current events entirely. For instance, this morning I learned a lot from a piece in The Wall Street Journal about the shadow war being conducted between Israel and Iran — something I had known next to nothing about.)

More and more, I’m interested in the Big Picture. I’m more fascinated, for instance, by how sapiens outlived (and quite likely of course, killed off) the Neanderthals — except for a few bits of DNA that I and other people of European ancestry are anachronistically carrying around. That interests me more than, say, how the billionahuhs are exploiting the proletariat — or, if you prefer the “other” interpretation (among the two and only two that we’re allowed), how the job-creators are building a better world.

I’m not sure that what I’m talking about here is “Big History,” which I’ve heard a good bit about recently. A lot of that has to do with all those billions of years before our ancestors came along and started walking on two legs. And those eons seem a bit… sterile… to me. I’m more interested in the last few million years — and particularly the millennia between what Harari calls The Cognitive Revolution and the Agricultural Revolution (between about 70,000 and 10,000 years ago), and what happened in the few millennia after that, shaping the world we now live in.

The books I’ve listed at the top of this post fit right in that sweet spot. So, to some extent, does one of those books I asked for for Christmas: The Discovers, by Daniel Boorstin. I started to read it long before I developed this recent interest, and remember being impressed at his description of one of the greatest bits of “progress” that has ever oppressed us: the measurement of time. But before I finished it, I misplaced my copy, and have been wanting for all this time to get back to it.

I also want to read those novels in that small stack as well. I mean, I know what happened to Thomas Cromwell, but I’m interested to find out how Hilary Mantel tells the tale.

But I want to read more in what I think of as the Sapiens category — the story of how humans got from hunting and gathering to where we are.

I’m particularly hoping Lynn Teague reads this, and has some good ideas. She’s the only archaeologist I know, and these books fit largely within her field…

Welcome to 1939. (Or is it more 1938, with worse to come?)

For weeks now, I’ve been wondering: Is this Ukraine business just something that will pass (just bluffing and maneuvering), to the point that a year from now we’ll hardly remember it? Or is this what it was like to live in 1939? Of course, I’ve fervently hoped it was the former.

So much for my fervent hopes on this front.

Oh, by the way, before I continue: All of you who hasten to jump on what you consider to be misguided historical allusions, just calm down. No, I don’t think Putin (or for that matter, Trump) is Hitler. I don’t think the MAGA phenomenon equals the Nazi party. I don’t for a moment consider the forces leading to this moment to be precisely the same as those that led Europe into its second conflagration in a lifetime. Nor do I know what will happen next.

You see, I actually am a student of history. I study it. I am constantly perplexed by it. Almost daily, I am stunned by something I didn’t know about it, and should have known. And I think about this, a lot.

What I’m talking about here is less about explaining this moment in a neat bumper-sticker encapsulisation. It’s really more about me still trying to understand 1939.

It’s always puzzled me. I grew up in the years in which the course of the 1930s and 40s were plain, and fixed, and obvious. I marveled at things: How was it possible that after the events of 1939, the vast majority of Americans believed this was something we could stay out of? I applauded FDR’s foresight and courage with the Lend-Lease Act and all the other ways he tried to keep Britain free until our own blindness ended. Which stunningly, did not happen until Japan, for its own complex reasons, attacked us and Hitler, demonstrating his madness to anyone who had not yet perceived it, declared war on us. It was one of history’s more remarkable turnarounds. On Dec. 12, 1941, Congress was planning on interrogating the director a film regarded as a bit too supportive of Britain’s war effort. The sentiment motivating that vanished in a flash in the days before the scheduled hearing.

But that wasn’t about just the American brand of isolation, not entirely. Britain had been just as attached to magical thinking in 1938, when it applauded Neville Chamberlain for bringing home such an awesome deal from Munich. During my lifetime, poor Chamberlain has been condemned as the ultimate appeaser. But he was doing exactly what the folks back home wanted. Britain had understandably had enough of war on the continent from 1914-18, and wanted to avoid any more of that sort of thing at pretty much any cost. A lot would have to happen before the voters wanted to exchange Chamberlain for that war-monger Churchill.

Oh, speaking of war mongers, there goes that Brad saying that what needs to be done in 2022 is just as obvious as what should have been done in 1938 would be 20 years later!

Nope. Try to keep up, folks. I don’t know what to do right now. I think my man Joe Biden has been doing fine, doing and saying the right things, even though so far we’ve seen that there is no “right thing” that will dissuade Putin from doing what every fiber of his being urges him to do. And I certainly don’t think we need to dig up George Patton and have him sweep in there with the Third Army posthaste. Even if we could.

It is precisely because I’m so uncertain about how to solve the problem that makes me think, “So this is what 1939 was like.” Those people, lacking omniscience, were also clueless. I’ve wondered all these years how they could have been so clueless, and now I’m getting a little insight into it.

Hence my headline.

I choose 1939 for obvious reasons, most notably I suppose the invasion of Poland. But what if what is happening is more of a prelude, more like the Anschluss than Poland? I got to thinking that reading Robert Kagan’s piece this morning, “What we can expect after Putin’s conquest of Ukraine.

After. As in, the Baltics. Assuming we can know the future. Which we can’t. But it was an interesting piece.

It’s hard enough to know the present. Oh, some things seem obvious enough. When The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Putin wanted “muscle Moscow back to the superpower table,” I was all dismissively omniscient on Twitter, which of course is what Twitter is for:

Oh, I am so smart.

But I know so little about the complexities of what motivates Putin and the base he plays to, and about a thousand other relevant things. Sure, I think I understand the destructive power of a great nation that has been humiliated. It eats at Putin, just as it ate at those who lined up behind Hitler in the 20s and 30s.

But of course, it’s always more complicated than that, isn’t it? When I finally got around to reading The Guns of August several years ago, I was startled to read about the long-standing ideas that pushed Germany into war, and how much they read like something Hitler would have written 20 years later. The Germans had been into this master-race stuff for awhile.

And just this week, I ran into something that mentioned the West’s hero of the Cold War, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. OK, so he was kind of a cranky, back-and-forth hero, hard for us to always understand, but we applauded when he condemned communism exposed the gulag. Anyway, as so often happens, running across his name made me want to look up something about him, so I went to Wikipedia, where I found:

According to William Harrison, Solzhenitsyn was an “arch-reactionary”, who argued that the Soviet State “suppressed” traditional Russian and Ukrainian culture, called for the creation of a united Slavic state encompassing Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and who was a fierce opponent of Ukrainian independence

Of course, this Harrison guy also accused the author of “hankering after an idealized Tsarist era,” which doesn’t really seem consistent with his writings. So maybe we shouldn’t believe all Harrison tells us.

But it underlines how little I know about how Russians and for that matter Ukrainians think and feel about their own respective national identities, and what that might motivate them to do. Basically, I’m so ignorant I don’t know whether that Harrison guy is full of crap or not.

I need to read and study and think about this a lot more. Which seems like kind of a self-indulgent luxury right now, with Russian boots on the ground…

Today may be George’s birthday, but I’m thinking about ‘Lincoln’

The very first time I posted a “Top Five” list on this blog — during the first year, on Jan. 9, 2006 — I threw away the opportunity.

I did the most obvious topic of all — best movies of all time — and while the five were all completely deserving, I didn’t really think about it. I listed them, and didn’t even bother to explain my choices. I guess I just thought there was all the time and space needed in the future to fill in the gaps.

Here were the five:

1. “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
2. “The Godfather.”
3. “Casablanca.”
4. “The Graduate.”
5. “High Noon.”

Recently, I had occasion to ask, “Why wasn’t ‘His Girl Friday’ on the list?”

Well, I was asking myself something similar last night when, just before hitting the hay, I watched a few minutes of Spielberg’s “Lincoln” after seeing it was available on Prime.

And of course, since I needed to get to bed, I spoiled myself by scrolling to the very best scene of all. I’ve talked about it here before. Which, for whatever reason, I can’t find on YouTube — although here’s a piece of it, for some reason messed up with a sepiatone effect.

It’s that scene when Abe explains to his confused Cabinet exactly why the 13th Amendment has to pass, and has to pass now, before the war ends. It is the most amazingly perfect explanation of a political situation — of perhaps the key legislative moment of our nation’s history — that I have ever heard or read. His explanation of why the Emancipation Proclamation is on the ragged edge of uselessness (something many in the room likely understood, but as we see all the time these days, the audience does not), all the contradictions he has had to navigate to get this far without such an amendment — treating escaped slaves as “contraband,” which meant regarding them as property, which meant respecting the laws of the rebelling states, and sometimes regarding them as a foreign entity when his most core conviction is that they are not, and so forth…

And it’s all delivered by one of the best actors who’s ever lived, in what is probably his greatest performance, speaking in that backwoods aw-shucks way Lincoln had, the plain man so comfortably dissecting the most complex truths…

It’s amazing. And while this is the best, the film contains scene after scene like it. I remind you of the one in which Tommy Lee Jones takes his oh-so-self-righteous fellow Radicals to task by demanding that they try thinking, just for once, about the opportunity before them: “But… Hasn’t he surprised you?”

And so forth.

It would be amazing, a top-drawer film, on the most superficial of terms — based on mere wonder at how much they make Day-Lewis look like Lincoln. See the image above from my Prime account. I mean, if Lincoln didn’t look like that, he should have.

But there’s just so much more, in every detail. Of course, one is tempted to dismiss in on those grounds alone — Spielberg was such a mature master craftsman, at the peak of his game (which impresses us more — Scorsese’s raw “Mean Streets” or his polished “Goodfellas?”), and he had so many resources that previous generations never dreamed of. He was deliberately making a great film, and he did it.

Lacking that freshness factor, it seems out of place on a list that includes “Casablanca” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Those people had no idea whatsoever they were making something for the ages. It just happened. Poor combat-fatigued Jimmy Stewart was just trying to get a movie cranked out, having just returned from the war, and Capra was just doing that thing he always did, loving America the way he did…

But it’s right up there, however you count its virtues.

Anyway, I just wanted to say something about it, again (yes, I’ve praised it and praised it before).

Confession time: When I got the idea to write this, I was thinking this was Abe’s birthday (although Wikipedia had set me straight before I started writing). When I was a kid, and we celebrated both of them separately, I always had trouble remembering which was the 12th and which was the 22nd. I mean, come on — they’re practically the same number.

So I guess it’s just as well we mashed them into one day. Although, of course, I don’t think I’ve ever had that day off. Whatever…

Bonhoeffer and the stupidity factor

You know how I have made this resolution to finally start reading all the good books around the house that I have asked for over the years? I don’t know how many there are, because they’re all over the place and I haven’t done an inventory.

But there’s one I need to move up on the list: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas.

I say that because something about the martyred theologian has been brought to my attention a couple of times in recent days.

It’s the fact that he considered stupidity to be more dangerous than evil. And in my book, when a guy who stood up to the Nazis and was executed for trying to rid the world of Hitler says something like that, we should sit up and take notice. Because he knew a thing or two about evil.

Here’s a quote:

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it. Reasoning is of no use. Facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied. In fact, they can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make them aggressive. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.”

This addresses a question I’ve been pondering a good bit over the past six years — since, you know, 2016. I haven’t written that much about it, because I don’t feel like I can answer my own question — and raising it just gets people so upset. So what’s the point?

Oh, I’ve referred to it in passing. Deep down in a post, you can find me saying things like, So which is it: Is Trump evil, or stupid? Or rather, since he’s obviously both, which is the main problem? What are we dealing with?

Then, of course, the next logical step is to ask the same question regarding his supporters. Because Trump isn’t the actual problem. Trump was an idiot, and a slimeball, for decades, and we all knew it. He was famous for these characteristics. But no one took him seriously. He was just some gross clown at the edges of our society. Sort of a Kardashian, or one of those people on Jersey Shore.

Then, in a complete reversal of American political history up to that point, people started voting for him. So the question becomes, what happened to them — these voters? Yeah, we’d had a long buildup of gross, mindless partisanship for two or three decades leading up to it, and a lot of it was ugly, but what caused it all to go off a cliff in 2016?

I’ve written a good bit about that. But I’ve generally avoided that one question that keeps occurring to me: Is it evil, or stupidity?

Whenever I’ve been about to tackle it with some determination, I dismiss the question as itself being stupid: Obviously, both things are at work. There’s a lot of foolishness out there, and a lot of plain, rotten meanness.

And does it matter what label we put on it? Well, yes, I think so, at least on a moral plane. Being stupid doesn’t make you a bad person, does it? And yet, people often get more offended at being called stupid than evil, don’t they?

So why go there? These folks seem angry all the time anyway; why make it worse? The thing to do is try to think of something to do or say that would make things better, not just increase the massive heap of ill feeling in the world.

In fact, that’s the last thing I want. I want to turn down the temperature, calm everything down, get people to stop being furious and start listening to each other and learn how to live together. To stop thinking in terms of ones and zeroes, and start seeing each other as fellow humans.

But the fact that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these things makes it worth trying to understand better what he was thinking. He wasn’t some idiot Twitter partisan sniping at the “other side” to elevate his own side (“You people are stupid!” “No, we’re not; you are!”). This was a thinking, spiritual man willing to wrestle with moral complexity, and to give everything in that cause.

And there he was, face-to-face with the greatest evil of the past century, if not of all history. And he sat there in his prison cell and wrote that as bad as evil was, stupidity was the greater danger.

Of course, some of why he did this is self-evident: Nazism was stupid. It was an ideology for brutish, ticked-off people, for brawlers battling in the streets, outraged at their lot in life between the wars and wanting something that would show the rest of the world how wrong it was.

But of course, it was also evil as all get-out. Which parts were mainly evil, and which parts mainly stupid? And what was the relationship between the two factors, as they worked together to make horrors happen?

Seems worth exploring. So I need to read that book…

Happy Birthday, Dad…

At this time 80 years ago, the attack hadn’t come yet. I’m writing this at 11:14 a.m. our time, but it’s still 0614 at Pearl Harbor. If I remember correctly without looking it up, the Japanese planes arrived at 0755.

At least some of them came in over the Waianae mountains. When my wife and I visited the museum in 2015, I pointed toward the range and told her that’s where they came from. I had seen those ridges often enough from our backyard when I was in high school.

Burl cut in to provide perspective. He said yes, they came from there, but they didn’t skim low over them the way you may picture it. They were up high — when they bombed the harbor they were that high, he said, pointing to models that were little larger than flies glued to the ceiling of the museum entrance, about 10 or 12 feet above us. I had had no idea. Of course, the torpedo planes had to get low, but the bombers did not. At any rate, the way those battleships were lined up next to Ford Island, if you missed one from that height, you hit another.

There are other details I’ve known at one time or another, but I’m not going to look them up to check.

Today is about memory rather than precision. But there is one memory I’d like to check out, to make sure I have it just right: As I recall from being told, that afternoon my Dad helped another kid deliver papers with news of the attack. It was an extra, if it was the Post. Probably also an extra if it was the Star.

It was my Dad’s 13th birthday, and that’s how he celebrated it.

I’d like to hear him tell the story again, so I have the details fresh in my mind.

But I can’t.

Did he use this bike to deliver those papers? I don’t know…