HST and the Cold War in the Far East

If Harry Truman had had his way he would have continued being a senator from Missouri instead of presiding over the Senate as Vice President of the United States.  One rainy afternoon on April 12 1945, while Truman was gathered with Democratic bigwigs in the Speaker of the House’s office for a drink and some gossip,  he received a message to call the White House as soon he could.  He made the call and was told told to get to the Executive Mansion as fast as possible.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died in Hot Springs, Georgia.  Harry Truman was now the President of the United States.  In a few minutes he had gone from the presiding officer of the United States Senate to Commander in Chief of American armed forces worldwide.

Truman would be president for the last four months of World War II.  He would be the one who made the decision to drop two atom bombs on Japan to bring the war to a sudden close.  To the west of Japan, the Korean peninsula, which had been under control of Japan, was liberated in the north by the Soviet Union and in south by the United States.  The Americans and the Russians agreed on the 38th parallel as the border between South Korea and North Korea.  Both countries withdrew their troops in 1948, the same year Harry Truman pulled a political upset and beat New York governor  Thomas Dewey in a close presidential election. The president wanted to get the United States off the war footing where it had been for the last nine years.  He thought it was time for federal government to spend money on the domestic front:  housing, schools, etc.  After his election, Truman submitted a budget that cut the military expenses by a lot.  Most of the defense dollars went to support the American military in Europe, where the Russians had gained control of Eastern Europe and closed the border between East and West Germany  (with British, French, and American sectors of occupancy).  By this time the Russians had successfully tested their own atom bomb, causing the men who advised the president on national security to pause and reflect the course the nation was taking with its foreign policy.

So soon after the close of World War II, the President of the United States did not have the security advisers the occupant of the White House does today.  The National Security Council was only three years old in 1950, and this period was before  the likes of Henry Kissinger,  Zbigniew Brzezinski, and other global security experts. The  United States and its western allies had won World War II along with the Soviet Union, who had taken  over Eastern Europe and as Winston Churchill had said famously in the speech had gave at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘Iron Curtain’ has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia;...”(1)

Two years later, the Chinese Communists sent the Nationalists high tailing to Formosa, thereby winning the Chinese Civil War.

Even though the United States had been involved in the liberation of  South Korea from the Japanese, that part of Korea was not included in the nation’s defense plans.  At this point, the United States had it’s hands full governing Japan as part of its occupation duties, so President Truman and his Secretary of State Dean Acheson decided to leave South Korea to the United Nations, who wanted to hold elections across the entire country, both north or south.  The Communists in the north opposed this as they had in eastern Europe.   The chief executive of the Republic of Korea, Syngman Rhee, agreed with the UN, and threatened to invade the People’s Republic of Korea, so when the United States withdrew their troops from the south, they left the South Korean leader with limited arms for his army.   One volume of the  Foreign Relations of the United States for 1950(2) describes the status of the Republic of Korea (ROK) from the point of the United States Department of State in the six months prior to the start of the Korean War.

The correspondence between the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Department of State personnel  revealed two problems causing dissension   between the two countries:  inflation in ROK and that nation’s movement  away from democratic processes. (3)   In April 1950, the focus changed markedly when Secretary Acheson received a communication from Korea describing the Korean Army ‘s victory over an estimated 600 North Korean trained guerrillas near the border. (4)

In a May issue of U. S. News and World Report, Senator Tom Connelly (D. Tex), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated that the United States would eventually abandon South Korea to the Communists.  The Secretary, Mr. Acheson, and others in the State Department fought back, denying that Connelly’s opinion was the policy of the United States government.   President Rhee told Ambassador John Muccio he resented the United States’ reluctance to supply his armed forces with surplus F-51 planes, particularly when the North Koreans were building their armed forces. (5)   Within weeks the American Embassy in Seoul sent recommendations for furnishing F-51s to the South Koreans. (6)

Throughout May 1950, Ambassador Muccio tried to get the Secretary and other top officials of the State Department to mention Korea in speeches and other communications with the press and invite people from other government departments to visit Korea when they were in the Far East. (7)

On June 23,  the State Department received a recommendation from the embassy to reduce personnel in KMAG (U.S. Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea) because the ROK Army was doing so well on its own. (8)  Early the next morning the North Korean  Army attacked across the 38th parallel.

My next blog:  “HST and Korean War”

(1) William Manchester and Paul Reid,  The Last Lion:  Defender of the Realm, p. 960.

(2) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950: Korea, Documents 1-58 https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1950v07/comp1

(3)Documents 1-24.

(4)Document  25

(5) Documents 31- 33, 35-38.

(6) Document 41

(7) Documents 45, 54

(8) Document 58

For further reading

Clay Blair.  The Forgotten War:  America in Korea, 1950-1953.   Part I,  pages 3-59

Robert J. Dovonan.  Conflict and Crisis:  The Presidency of Harry Truman

Eric F. Goldman.  The Crucial Decade and After:  America, 1945-1960.

Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas.  The Wise Men:  Six Friends and the World They Made.

David McCullough.  Truman.

Cabell Phillips.  The Truman Presidency.

The Other Self-Help Section

The older I get, the less I know for sure. I’ve always prided myself on being a bookworm and looking to literature for all the answers, and the stacks of books at my house get pretty overwhelming sometimes. Being overwhelmed by my ever-growing reading list is a little counter-productive to my search for answers, so in recent years I’ve turned more and more to children’s books for their simple wisdom. Board books in particular are a favorite lately – you can gnaw on them as you read without doing too much damage to the book. How great is that?

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Grapes fill my heart with happiness, for real.

Monique Gray Smith’s My Heart Fills With Happiness is written from the perspective of a little girl going down the list of things that make her happy. Such as singing, dancing, and walking barefoot in the grass. Those things make me happy too, although my singing and dancing might not make those around me happy. The book invites the reader to dwell on the little joys in life, and the little joys amount to a lot of joy in the heart if you let them.

Keeping on the happiness theme, Ball by Mary Sullivan is a story about a day in the life of a dog whose greatest joy in life is chasing her ball. The book begins in a flurry of excited activity when her little human wakes up and plays ball with her while getting ready for school. When the little human leaves for school, our little dog is bereft. She spends a lot of time trying to play ball with the laundry basket, the cat, and the baby human. When she naps, she even dreams about playing ball. Now, you may wonder why this dog doesn’t get another hobby, perhaps one like writing, which is best done in the dark abyss of solitude. I wonder why too. That’s not the point – I can’t solve her problems for her. Anyway, eventually the little human gets home and, oh my gosh, so much joy and excitement. The moral of the story is, joy is best when shared, or something like that.

 

ball
Ball‘s dedication. *sobs*

Moving on to my current mood, I’m Grumpy by Jennifer and Matthew Holm is a book I should really read every morning with my second cup of coffee. Grumpy Cloud is woken up early by chirping birds; he loses his hat in a gust of wind; he drops his ice cream; he gets rained on. (Wait, what?) And yet, after all of those small tragedies happen, he says, “I’m just grumpy because,” leading me to be believe that the real problem is not his circumstances but how he relates to him. When his happy friend Sunny tries to cheer him up, he finally explodes in a torrent of rain and thunder, after which outburst no one wants to be around him. Is there anyone reading this who cannot identify with Grumpy Cloud? (Or Sunny Sun, for that matter?) The good news is, Grumpy Cloud’s moral conscience starts to nagging him, and he makes amends to the beings that he hurt, gaining a little humility and an attitude of gratitude in the process. Grumpy Cloud occupies a special place in a shadowy corner of my heart.

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Of course, some board books are more terrifying than inspiring.

And because I tend to find the best wisdom and advice in the poetry section, here’s a nugget of humility from Judith Viorst’s collection What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About? :

“Trying”

I only cheated a tiny bit.

I never thought you’d notice it.

And besides, I wanted so badly to be the winner.

And it’s true that I told a little white lie

When I said that I hadn’t eaten the pie.

But I was starving, and it was forever till dinner.

This toy that I shouldn’t have taken but did

Belonged, I admit, to a whole other kid.

But I’m hoping you won’t think I’m a terrible sinner.

I know what I shouldn’t. I know what I should.

And I’m trying my very best to be good.

I’m trying my very best – but I’m still a beginner.

Celebrating Audiobook Month

audiobook icon      June is Audiobook Month!

When I was a kid (back in the dark ages when recordings were 12-inch LP records), my brothers and I loved sick days. Not because we wanted to miss school, but because being home in bed was a chance to listen to our recordings of Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass read by the talented Australian actor Cyril Ritchard (here’s a brief excerpt). The recordings, four LPs each, captivated us, and to this day my ideas about Alice, the Duchess, and all the other Lewis Carroll characters are influenced by those recordings.

We also had a few other spoken recordings, such as Lionel Barrymore’s rendition of A Christmas Carol and Thornton Burgess reading from Old Mother West Wind. Later we acquired a wonderful recording of J. R. R. Tolkien reading passages from his books – the Elvish poetry is especially fascinating, though my favorite reading is “Riddles in the Darkfrom The Hobbit (when Bilbo first encounters Golum, deep underground). But these spoken recordings were relative rarities in our lives.

Today, audiobooks are plentiful, ranging from early children’s books such as The Cat in the Hat through a complete reading of The Bible. You can checkout an audiobook version of The Hobbit, James Patterson’s latest hit, or The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. And you can listen to non-fiction too, including books such as Temple Grandin’s The Autistic BrainJames Kaplan’s biography Sinatra: The Chairman, and Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.

There are many reasons people choose audiobooks; some like to read while commuting, exercising, or doing housework or chores. Others simply find it more relaxing or they are able to focus better on the words. Those with vision issues or reading challenges often find audiobooks much more enjoyable than trying to read print books. And audiobooks are portable! You can listen at home, in the car, at the beach, while walking or jogging, or anywhere else you happen to be.

There are numerous educational benefits to book-listening as well. Studies have shown that children who listen to audiobooks show a 67% increase in motivation, a 52% increase in accuracy, and a 40% increase in recall compared to print reading alone. Comprehension goes up by a whopping 76%, which makes sense since 85% of what we learn comes via listening. Listening increases vocabulary, aids in learning pronunciation, improves reading speed, and allows children to experience books at a higher reading level than they can read themselves.

audiobook infographic

So if you thought using audiobooks wasn’t ‘real’ reading, think again! Audiobooks have as much to offer as print books; they’re neither more nor less worthy of attention, just different.

Audiobooks come in a variety of forms:

  • Most libraries offer CD audiobooks. And don’t forget that in addition to your home library’s collection, your library card gives you access to all the FRL library collections PLUS all of the NC Cardinal consortium libraries.
  • Playaways offer preloaded books such as Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Lee Child’s One Shot, each single title on a small device you can slip in a pocket and take anywhere.
  • You can check out e-audiobooks from our library website, including e-Inc and OneClickdigital for all ages, and NC Kids for additional children’s books.
  • For teens, SYNC is offering different free e-audiobooks every week through the summer.

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a few of the Playaways (top left) and CD audiobooks available at Macon County Public Library

Children’s audiobooks come in several forms these days. In addition to standard CD audiobooks, our libraries offer book kits which include both a book and a corresponding CD audiobook recording as a single checkout. Some favorites are Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Sandra Boynton’s Frog Trouble and Rhinoceros Tap, and the classic MadelineAnother book-audio combination is Vox books, which have an audio recording built right into each book. Don’t Push the Button and Going Places are examples of this recently-introduced format. And as I already mentioned, there are several e-audiobook sources accessible from the library website.

Many audiobooks are narrated by a single person, while others have multiple readers for a more theatrical effect. I happen to love books read by their authors. Hearing an author reading his or her own words gets right to the source. And often there is an accent to add even more to the experience. Some author-readings that are rated particularly engaging are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.

But books read by others can be equally appealing. Some recent award-winning audiobooks are Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train, Daniel Silva’s The English Spy, Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale, and Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy.

If you haven’t tried an audiobook before, Audiobook Month is a great time to give this format a try. If you are already an audiobook lover, what are some of your favorites?

Outstanding Oddball Movies

Having received some good feedback when I shared some of my favorite re-watchable movies, I thought I might again share some favorite movies.

Now in my earlier movie blog, the movies I shared were pretty non-controversial.  It’s pretty easy to see that Casablanca is not only one of my favorites, but MANY people consider it a top-ranked film, if not the best film of all time.  It has been broadcast on US television more than any other film.

Not far behind that in repeated US broadcasts would be two other films from my list: The Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life; and as for popularity, the original Star Wars trilogy just celebrated the 40th anniversary of its origin, seemingly gaining in popularity as it goes along.

Finally, even the most quirky of the films I submitted (Young Frankenstein) is found listed among the best comedies of all time.  So I clearly have my “likes” aligned pretty closely with popular and critical viewpoints, or so it would seem.

BUT…I have some other films I like, maybe even REALLY like, and they are not quite in the same league as the five movies I previously blogged about.  In fact, they are quirky, idiosyncratic, and somewhat “non-mainstream” – some might even say “oddball.”  

I’ll start with rolling out a film by a French director released 20 years ago-  The Fifth Element.  Director Luc Besson first envisioned the story when he was sixteen, and it took him 22 years to get it made. It tells the story of an ex-military special forces major in the 23rd century (played by Bruce Willis), who gets involved in saving Earth when a young woman (actress Milla Jovovich) literally falls into his life.  Bruce Willis’ character is a down on his luck but principled cab-driver, and when “Leeloo” drops into his flying taxi-cab, the fast-paced plot takes off.  It seems “Leeloo” is the “Fifth Element,” the keystone to a weapon which can defeat a recurring and otherwise unstoppable evil being. While the plot on one level seems to be fairly straightforward science fiction, the movie has been described as “over the top;” “unhinged;” “…fun and boasts some of the most sophisticated, witty production and costume design you could ever hope to see;” “may or may not be the worst movie ever made;” it’s also been called the “best summer blockbuster of all time.” I’ll just say I find it funny, interesting, and reflective of humanity being stranger than any aliens.

Another very quirky film I enjoy is Raising Arizona. While “The Fifth Element” is 20 years old this summer, this next film was released 30 years ago in 1987.  Directed, written and produced by the Coen brothers Joel and Ethan, it was a very creative attempt by the famous (infamous?) brothers to make a film as different as possible from their previous movie, “Blood Simple.” The film is, in my opinion, VERY funny.  It tells the story of a crook/cop marriage (Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter) running aground because of the couple’s strong desire to have children but inability to do so.  They hear of a local family having quintuplets, and decide to kidnap one for themselves.  From there it quickly becomes a madcap, screwball plot involving the crook husband’s criminal pals, the husband and wife’s increasingly strained relationship, and the involvement of a private investigator also known as “the Biker from the Apocalypse.” There is a scene beginning with the robbing of a convenience store that seems irresistibly funny, along with a later scene of a bank robbery that has been ranked as one of the best bank robberies ever filmed. Yet for all the offbeat characters, the movie is strangely heartwarming. It also has some good quotes – I’ll drop one for you: “My friends call me Lenny – but I got no friends.”

Another movie from the far side is a fantasy movie (no science involved, but instead “a kind of magic”) titled Highlander. This tells the story of Connor MacLeod, born in 1518 in Scotland. He is “killed” in 1536, but finds out he is an Immortal, a sub-race of otherwise normal humans who cannot die except by decapitation. The movie actually starts hundreds of years later, in the late 20th century.  It is the time of the Gathering, when the various surviving Immortals begin to hunt and kill each other in order to gain “The Prize” – a sort of superpower which could lead to the winner being the ruler of the world, although just what that means is fairly undefined.  Much of the movie showing Connor’s history comes in the form of flashbacks, featuring his allies (foremost Sean Connery as an Immortal Egyptian named (improbably) Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez) and his enemies, mainly the Kurgan, a very bad savage Immortal. Called “the greatest action film” and “no equal among sword-and-sorcery flicks,” I think there are at least three or more reasons why I like this movie: 1) Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod – his accent seems weird, but his facial expressions and acting makes you think at times this really is a 400+ year old character; 2) Clancy Brown as the Kurgan – his scene in the church is unnerving and convinces you this guy is an evil nutcase; 3) the soundtrack by Queen – the band wrote many of the songs specifically to match the mood of the scenes where they are played.  This movie inspired sequels, a fairly long-running television series, and a tagline you might recognize: “There can be only one.”

Another “weird” movie is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension. Featuring the eponymous Dr. Banzai as a polymath physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot and rock musician, it sort of comes across as a wired/manic/updated version of the pulp hero “Doc Savage.”  Like the Doc, Buckaroo has a team to help him in his adventures – the Hong Kong Cavaliers (vs. Doc’s Fabulous Five), and also like Doc Savage, Buckaroo finds himself saving the world from villains and monsters.  In the movie, Buckaroo invents a device that lets him travel through solid rock; and while testing it and simultaneously setting a land speed record with his jet car by going through a mountain, Buckaroo accidentally brings back a strange creature.  News of this reaches an alien (played by John Lithgow) who has been inside an asylum for the criminally insane – he escapes and one of the strangest plots then ensues.  Toss in a romantic angle (the long lost twin sister of Buckaroo’s deceased wife), another group of aliens at war with the evil ones, a new recruit for the Cavaliers, and the involvement of several of Buckaroo’s support groups (similar to Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars) and you have yourself one absurdist movie.  Why in the world did I like this?  Well, I am a bit of a fan of absurdist humor (such as Monty Python) and the weird but light-hearted story seemed to invite re-watching due to its complexities.  (Why is there a watermelon hooked up to strange devices in Buckaroo’s laboratory?  Is Rawhide (Buckaroo’s lieutenant) really dead? Why is the only female Cavalier in Tibet?)  The movie seems to be set up in a very detailed alternate reality, and there are constant references to this larger reality that are only mentioned and hinted at.  Two interesting facts: Buckaroo’s right hand man (Rawhide) is played by the same actor [Clancy Brown] who was the Highlander’s main antagonist, the Kurgan; also, there was a sequel set up for this movie that never happened – Buckaroo Banzai against the World Crime League. (I wish they’d done that one!)

Well, there you have some oddball movies that have found a spot in my heart.  Feel free to check one or more out if any stir your interest; they are all available through Fontana Regional Library or the NC Cardinal system.

Do any of them stir fond memories for you if you’ve seen them?  Or, like me, do you have your own list of “weird but good” films?  Share in the comments please!

Picture books!

Occasionally, I have to meet new people. Even more occasionally (thank goodness), I will meet a new person who, upon learning that I work at a library, will say some version of, “I like books – if they have pictures in them!” They will then look at me expectantly with an expression of inane smugness, waiting for a guffaw at their clever joke.

They don’t get the guffaw.

I actually do like books with pictures in them. One of the perks of working at a library is getting to see all the new books as they arrive, and new children’s books are the most exciting.

One of my favorite new books that came to us recently is I Am NOT A Chair! by Ross Burach. The story is about a giraffe named Giraffe who, on his first day in the jungle, keeps being mistaken by the other animals for a chair! Giraffe is not, in fact, a chair, but you’ll have to read the book yourself to see if he ever finds a voice to assert his place in the world.

Giraffe is not a chair
Yeah, right.

Now, if you’re a little over-analytic like I am, you might suppose that the other animals don’t recognize Giraffe for the giraffe that he is because the jungle is not his natural habitat. Luckily a quick online catalog search will turn up plenty of non-fiction books about giraffes to satisfy your need to be right. Libraries to the rescue!

Giraffe is a book
Oh my gosh. Look at that face.

Moving on, we have Escargot by Dashka Slater, a story about an arrogant a charming French snail on a mission to eat the salad at the end of the book, provided the salad meets Escargot’s distinguished culinary expectations. The plot moves along at a snail’s pace and is punctuated by solicitations for compliments from the self-obsessed self-confident title gastropod, but the character development and expressive illustrations will make it worth your time to read. I won’t entirely spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say that Escargot’s gastronomic horizons are broadened.

Escargot salad
Hold the salt, please!

If Escargot whets your appetite, follow it up with one of the plentiful picture-laden cookbooks gracing our non-fiction shelves. Of particular interest might be Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking Patricia Wells’ Salad As A Meal, which has just enough salad recipes to make you feel healthy while flipping through its pages. (Feel free to skip straight to the bread chapter, though, and don’t forget about the perennially hungry public servants at your friendly local library when you’re handing out free samples!)

And here, because a book of poetry is really just the same as a book with pictures, I will end with a poem.

“It Was Early” by Mary Oliver

It was early,
which has always been my hour
to begin looking
at the world

and of course,
even in the darkness,
to begin
listening into it,

especially
under the pines
where the owl lives
and sometimes calls out

as I walk by,
as he did
on this morning.
So many gifts!

What do they mean?
In the marshes
where the pink light
was just arriving

the mink
with his bristle tail
was stalking
the soft-eared mice,

and in the pines
the cones were heavy,
each one
ordained to open.

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.

Little mink, let me watch you.
Little mice, run and run.
Dear pine cone, let me hold you
as you open.

Barbara Tuchman

Recently, when I was reorganizing my personal library, I noticed I had a number of books by the American writer Barbara  Wertheim Tuchman, including one I used in my last blog, The Zimmerman Telegram. Her topics ranged time wise and  geographically  from  ancient history  to the twentieth century and from the Far East to the Americas.  Like David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ms Tuchman wrote history for the lay reader, not the academic.

Barbara Wertheim was born in New York, educated in a private school there and went to college at Radcliffe, a private women’s college in Massachusetts.  Two years after graduating from Radcliffe in 1933, she went to work for Nation Magazine, which  was published by her father.  She published her first book, The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700, in 1938.  Her  second book, Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, came out in 1956.  In 1958, she delved into the United States’ involvement in World War I with The Zimmermann Telegram. Two years later  came  The Guns of August, her take on the opening months of the Great War and her first Pulitzer Prize.   After that,  in 1966, Tuchman investigated the world in the years leading up to World War I in  The Proud Tower.   Next, she used her experience in the Far East as background for her book about the American experience in China, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, centered around General Joseph Stilwell, who was the ranking American general in the China-Burma theater in World War II.  That book, published in 1971,  earned Tuchman  her second Pulitzer Prize.

Before her death in 1989, Tuchman wrote five more books.   Notes from China was her view of China during a six-week trip she took in 1972.   Nine years later, she published Practicing History, a combination of essays on the writing of history and reprints of articles she wrote in the 1930s and thereafter.

Tuchman’s book about 14th century Europe,  A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century,  concerned Enguerrand de Coucy, a french nobleman who lived through a turbulent time fraught with wars, disease, and a little Ice age.   Why do governments develop policies that go against their best interests?   This is the question Barbara Tuchman tries to  answer  in The March of Folly:  From Troy to Vietnam.   Her last book, The First Salute: A View of the American Revolutioncame in 1988, the year before she died from a stroke at the age of 77.  I’ll have more to say about this book and Stilwell and the American Experience in China below.

Tuchman’s interest in China stemmed from her stint as a volunteer researcher at the Institute of Pacific Relations immediately after graduation.  As such, she spent an extended period in the Far East, include a month in China in the mid-1930s.  Her book Stilwell and the American Experience in China, is not really a biography of General Joseph Stilwell, who spent most of his military career in that part of the world, but rather she uses Stilwell as symbol of the American experience in the country through the first half of the 20th century.

When Stilwell first arrived in China in 1911, it was a long way from being a modern country.  But rather, it was broken up into regions governed by warlords.  At the end of World War I, the Japanese took over German concessions in China  and gradually strengthened their hold on Chinese  territory.  Stilwell was in and out of China during the 1920s, during which Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Chinese Revolution (Kuomintang) died, and his place  was taken as the leader of the Kuomintang by Chiang Kai-Shek.  “Vinegar Joe” was Stilwell’s nickname  he earned stationed at Fort Benning, where he had a reputation of not suffering fools gladly. By the end of the 1930’s Stilwell had been promoted to Colonel.  The Sino-Japanese War started in 1938, but Stilwell stayed in China until May 1939.  On his way home, Stilwell found he had been promoted to Brigadier General.

In World War II, Stilwell rose among the general officer ranks to become a four star general in command of the China-Burma-India theater.  He attended the Cairo Conference in 1943 along with  Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, representing the Free Chinese.  His first order of business was to open a road from China into Burma, which was under Japanese control and posing a threat to India.  But, as usual, Stilwell had a hard time getting individuals and allies he could work with.  He didn’t trust his allies (the Chinese and the British), and most of all, he didn’t get along with Chiang Kai-Shek.  He was recalled to the states in October 1944 and worked there until his death in 1946,

Tuchman addresses the American Revolution, partially in the The March of Folly and to a greater extent in The First Salute.   She doesn’t attempt to cover the whole war, instead sets the Revolutionary War in the conflict between Great Britain and Holland and France. The book opens on November 16, 1776, when an American ship, Andrew Doria, flying the flag of the Continental Congress from her mast,  sails into the harbor of St. Eustatius on  the Dutch West Indies, her cannon saluting Fort Orange. Then the fort returned the salute, making it the first time an American flag was recognized by a foreign power.   

When Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty at the start of World War I, he found the Royal Navy  had changed very little since end of the 18th century, the period Barbara Tuchman writes about.  Tuchman finds a lot to criticize both the British government and its military leaders for.  Neither those who ruled nor those who commanded took the trouble to find  out about the geography of America or about cost or what it took to transport soldiers and/or materiel from Great Britain to there.  What they did realize was the importance of keeping control of the West Indies which was a depot for Dutch merchants to export critical supplies to the colonies.  Admiral George Rodney was given the task of capturing St. Eustatius.

Rodney, according Tuchman, was a class above his Royal Navy colleagues.  “Thinking outside the box” would be the modern phrase that would suit the admiral well.  However, when giving the assignment to keep the French fleet from reaching Yorktown and trapping Cornwallis and British army, he failed.  To find why, you will have to read the book.

Tuchman’s books:

The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700 (1938)*

Bible and the Sword (1956)

The Zimmermann Telegram  (1958)

The Guns of August (1960)

The Proud Tower  (1966)

Stilwell and the American Experience in China (1971)

Notes from China (1972)*

A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century (1978)

Practicing History (1981)

The March of Folly:  From Troy to Vietnam (1984)

The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution (1988)

  • – Not available in NC Cardinal

 

 

Repeat Readings

Several months ago I wrote about movies that I had re-watched again and again; specifically, movies I had seen at least 5 times. I talked about why I’d ended up watching those films as much as I had, and about the movies themselves.  I actually got a fairly big response to that blog posting – apparently lots of folks either liked the particular movies I mentioned, or they just shared the same habit of re-watching some of their own personal favorites.

I later realized that for some people, the urge to re-read favorite books is also strong.  While for some, reading a book once and moving on in search of something new is the preferred method, for others the desire to re-visit a favorite title is compelling.

Probably one of the biggest examples is how people read and re-read the holy writings of the world’s various faiths.  Or beyond that, for hundreds of years people have read the writings of the great poets, turning to them on multiple times.  Shakespeare, as well, is a perennial favorite.  I think part of the appeal in this class of writing is the depth of what is there – multiple readings reveal new insights, especially as we grow older.

Beyond the Bible, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare, multiple readings are also a joy for readers of fiction, especially if the work is longer or part of a series.  I have read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien multiple times, and so have others I’ve spoken to.  I know a group of people who read and re-read the entire Harry Potter novels (in order, of course!) – sometimes on an annual basis.  I’m also aware of the following popular novel series that are re-read by fans:

One of the keys to this particular category is that many of the series can be started by fairly young readers and still have enough depth and detail to make an older reader want to pick them up.  The Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling (see earlier link), in particular, follow a young set of protagonists as they age to young adulthood.  If read for the first time as a younger person, re-reading can evoke not only the pleasure of “discovering what happens” but also re-capturing in some sense the youth we may have had as first-time readers.

Another set of titles that are often re-read may or may not lead the reader to other books in what is actually a series, although many may not be aware there are sequels to the title that they are re-reading.  Titles that come to mind are The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Wizard of Oz, A Wrinkle in Time, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Tarzan of the Apes. [Although the latter title should make one want to read the next title in the series (The Return of Tarzan), as the first book really is a bit of a cliffhanger.]

Still another group of titles are those that are not necessarily part of a series, but where the author either creates a memorable heroine or hero or does such a strong job establishing the setting that they create a desire to re-visit the author’s creation.  Classic examples of this might be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Little Women by Louis May Alcott, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, or A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  (If you want to get a multitude of opinions from a group of Dickens fans, ask them to name the best of his 14 or so novels)

Besides individual titles, there are authors who have such a strong voice that people come back to their works, whether novels or short stories, repeatedly, regardless of genre or subject matter.  Three such authors that come to mind for me are P.G. Wodehouse, Neal Stephenson, and Roger Zelazny. I would read or re-read pretty much anything they wrote.  And I could name more, of course – all readers have favorite authors, but those three seem striking for how they create interest whether they are writing about golf, Baroque history, or the possible end of the world.

Finally, there are those “quirky” books that maybe no one else you know re-reads, but you find yourself picking them up again and again. I’ve heard of folks who re-read Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.  I think the title I’ll pick as an illustration of this type is one from an author I just mentioned, Roger Zelazny.

Late in his life and writing career, he wrote a book called A Night in the Lonesome October. It was his last book, and one of his five personal favorites.  The plot is pretty bizarre, incorporating a Chthulu-like end of the world scenario, and is narrated by Jack the Ripper’s dog.  But one of the reasons I read it, besides the references to other novels, movies, and fictional characters, is that the book has thirty-one chapters, each linked to October 1-31, and for some reason, I have often picked it up on October 1st and read a chapter each night as the month progresses.  I’ve done this enough times that, while it does not happen every year, it does seem to be becoming a tradition with me.

 

So do you have any books you re-read?  Share some in the comments, if so; and happy re-reading!

“Over there, Over there! The Yanks are coming!”

Before being elected the Governor of New Jersey and President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson came from academia where he wrote a book on Congressional government and the need for reform.    After he was elected president on a  reform platform, he remarked to someone, “It would the irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs,” (1)      Although, rumors of war were rampant in Europe, closer to home  the civil war in Mexico brought the United States government into conflict with the Huerta administration, whom Wilson decided not to recognize.  As a result, Wilson came in conflict with the British government in 1913, when they  decided to recognize the Huerta regime to protect their oil interests. (2) American interference in the dispute south of the border led, later, to the Germans trying to foment a war between the United States and Mexico.   Wilson ‘s policy toward Mexico was what the Germans needed to woo the Mexicans to become involved in the war that was spreading from Europe to other parts of the world.   An alliance with Mexico, who had a long common border with the United States,would play to the advantage  of the European nation, especially if the former became involved in the war on the Central Powers’ side.yanks

In late 1913 and early 1914 rumors were swirling around Washington and the southwestern United States about German soldiers being in Mexico.  In April 1914, American naval forces landed in Vera Cruz ahead of a German steamer and met with armed Mexican opposition.  The Mexicans suffered over three hundred casualties and the Americans almost 100.   A few weeks later the Mexican civil war leaked over the United States border, when General Francisco (Pancho) Villa led a raid into Columbus, New Mexico, destroying property and killing nineteen people.  President Wilson sent a “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico under the command of General John J. Pershing to capture Villa. (3)   Pershing failed in his quest to capture the Mexican warlord, because as Robert B. Asprey contends, the president and his advisors, “Lacking accurate information and not  understanding the dynamic forces at work in the impoverished country, the Wilson administration greatly embarrassed itself and extricated its military forces only with difficulty.” (4)

In the run up to the presidential election in 1916 Wilson pushed his idea for mediation to end the war.  He sent his closest advisor, Col. House, to negotiate with both sides to no avail.  This time, unlike the election of 1912, the Republicans had united behind one candidate, Charles Evans Hughes.  The President’s party used the slogan, “He kept us out of war,”   meaning both the European war and conflict with Mexico.  Both the popular vote and electoral college votes were close, with Wilson winning both.

With the election over, President Wilson could concentrate on preparedness and trying to keeping German agents from preventing aid to the Allies from crossing the Atlantic.   The Black Tom explosion in  July was one example of this, although it took over twenty years before the American government could pin responsibility for it on the Germans.  Some members of the Imperial German Government’s diplomatic corps were sent home with help from British code breakers in Room 40, who were reading German codes, since the latter government couldn’t believe that anyone could read their messages and didn’t change their codes throughout the war. (5)

In January 1917, before the Imperial Government announced the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare,  the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann sent a telegram, in code, to the German Ambassador in Mexico,  instructing him to suggest to the Mexican government if they joined forces with the Germans against the United States they could reclaim land they lost to the latter country in the 1840s.   The Germans were also interested in controlling the Mexican oil industry which supplied the Royal Navy with fuel for their ships.

Room 40  intercepted and decoded Zimmerman’s cable, but “Blinker” Hall, who commanded Room 40,  decided, at first,  to put it in his desk drawer rather than pass it on to the Americans, for fear members of Wilson’s administration would  realize the Royal Navy was also reading their coded messages too.   Eventually, the British government forwarded a copy of Zimmerman’s cable to the United States government.  Wilson and his advisors were not terribly surprised  by the German actions toward Mexico because the Germans were suspected of being behind other actions during that country’s civil war.

It was not the cable that upset Wilson the most, even the Germans suggesting the Mexicans attack the United States in order to reclaim lost territory, but rather it was the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare.   He did, however, break off diplomatic relations with the Germans  on February 3, 1917, which sent their diplomatic staff home. But even then, Wilson would not  immediately threaten Germany with the United States entering the war on the side of the Allies.  Wilson stated in his note, ” We do not desire any hostile conflict with the Imperial German  Government,..”  His next step was to appear before a joint session of Congress to explain his actions. (6)

On April 2,  the President returned to face a joint session of Congress to ask them to declare war on the Imperial Government Germany and its allies. (7)  In contrast of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s appearance before Congress on December 8, 1941, Wilson’s speech was much longer as he outlined a litany  of Germany’s actions that required going to war with the Imperial Government, not the German people.  Four days later, April 6, 1917, Congress did what the President requested, the United States was at war.

By the way, the other week, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius noted that President Trump’s ordered rocket attack on a Syrian air base April 6, 2013, took place 100 years to the day the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. (8)

(1) Quoted in Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917 p. 81.

(2) Link, p. 117.

(4)Asprey, War in the Shadows:  the Guerrilla in History, Volume 1: 229.

(5) In World War II, the Japanese Navy also couldn’t believe anyone was reading their codes.  As a result, the United States Navy set up an ambush at Midway and later  was able to shoot down General Yamamoto’s plane, killing him.

(6) Link,  p. 268;  Tuchman, p. 151.

(7) Link, pp. 281-282.

(8) David Ignatius, “Trump enforces the ‘red line’ on chemical weapons“, Washington Post website, 4/6/17.

For further reading:

Christopher Andrew  Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Robert B. Asprey.  War in the Shadows:  the Guerrilla in History.

Arthur S. Link.  Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era: 1910-1917

Barbara Tuchman.  The Zimmerman Telegram.

Earth Day

Warm sunshine.  Rainy days.  Blooming plants.  The Earth is alive in this wonderful Spring season!  This is the perfect time to have Earth Day.  I guess that is why in 1970, 47 years ago, the first Earth Day was observed.  Earth Day is held to  “demonstrate support for environmental protection”.  Topics can include environmental clean up and awareness to endangered/extinct animals.  What Earth Day looks like is unique to each community.

Some community groups come together to do clean ups and activities to promote taking care of our precious planet Earth like clean ups of local parks and waterways to keep the environment in good shape for wildlife.

In Swain County, the NC Cooperative Extension is offering a free Norway Spruce Seedling to the public on April 29th from from 9 to 12.  While this is not exactly on Earth Day, it is close to the actual day and Arbor Day, which is April 28, so it makes sense that they would do something on this particular date.

In Jackson County they are having the annual Greening Up the Mountains Festival.  It will be their 20th year of doing this and according to their website it is, “Strengthened by its early roots as an Earth Day celebration, the festival includes a focus on environmental protection, sustainability, and promotion of local businesses and civic groups.”

Fontana Regional Library has materials available to help you and your family learn about Earth Day including ideas of how to get you involved in keeping our Earth clean and healthy for years to come.

The Earth and I by Frank Asch

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals

The Earth Book by Todd Parr

Earth Day by Julie Murray

Every Day is Earth Day by Jane O’Connor

Every Day is Earth Day:  A Craft Book by Kathy Ross

Celebrating Earth Day:  A Sourcebook of Activities and Experiments by Robert Gardner

Earth Day:  Keeping Our Planet Green by Elaine Landau

It’s Earth Day! by Mercer Mayer

Earth Day Birthday by Pattie Schnetzler

Biscuit’s Earth Day Celebration by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Engineering an Awesome Recycling Center with Max Axiom, Super Scientist by Nikole Brooks Bethea

The Smash! Smash! Truck by Professor Potts

Don’t Throw That Away!  A Lift the Flap Book About Recycling and Reusing by Lara Bergen

Recycling is Fun by Charles Ghigna

Recycling by Rebecca Pettiford

What Milly Did:  The Remarkable Pioneer of Plastics Recycling by Elise Moser

The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle:  A Story About Recycling by Alison Inches

We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child

Plastic Free:  How I kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry

Waste and Recycling by Sally Morgan

One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul

Remake It!:  More than 100 Recycling Projects for the Stuff You Usually Scrap by Tiffany Threadgould

Eco Books:  Inventive Projects from the Recycling Bin by Terry Taylor

Why Should I Recycle Garbage? by MJ Knight

Recycle EveryDay by Tammy Gagne

The Great Trash Bash by Loreen Leedy

Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth by Patty Born Selly

Planet Earth:  25 Environmental Projects You Can Build Yourself by Kathleen M. Reilly

Taking care of our Earth is key to its survival.  Take a moment and think about how you can make an impact whether you decide to start recycling regularly, plant something, or just take the initiative to clean up trash in your neighborhood.  It all matters and your efforts do make a difference!  Happy Earth Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

March: Book 1

john-lewis-by-eric-etheridge-and-march-book-one

The first book in the graphic novel series titled March opens with John Lewis in his office on the day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. He and Rosa Parks are standing in his office talking when an African American family from Atlanta comes in, asking to see Senator Lewis’s office. They realize that they are standing in front of Lewis and introduce themselves. The woman with the small children explains to Lewis that she wanted to see how far he had come. This moment sets the backstory of a young John Lewis into motion.

march1_02

Growing up as a sharecropper’s son in rural Alabama, John Lewis explains that he was always a little different. He takes the time to tell a beautiful, hilarious, and heartbreaking account of how he took a strong liking to the chickens of his family’s farm. He would feed them, look after them, look after the eggs, and preach to them. He would write sermons and deliver them to his chickens. Lewis attributes his ability to deliver sermons and speeches to the time he spent delivering them to his chickens. Strongly present in this autobiographical account are experiences seared into Lewis (and all other blacks) in the 1950s South. Lewis began noticing that he was not living the same way that the whites were. The white students rode nice school buses while the blacks rode the rickety old ones. His parents would constantly remind him to “stay out of the white man’s way,” or “don’t start any trouble.”

Lewis saw the Supreme Court decision of Brown V. The Topeka Board of Education, and, logically, remembers thinking that everything would change for him and the other black students–that he would be afforded the privilege to ride on the new buses. No such thing occurred.

In a cathartic and defining moment, Lewis recalls the first time he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voice over the radio. He was delivering a sermon wherein he stressed the importance of the “Social Gospels.” King’s speeches further ignited the fire within Lewis that demanded social justice, godliness, and dignity for all humans.

As a young man, Lewis begins to consider going to college. He secures a position at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville where he works in the cafeteria, meeting faculty, students, deans, presidents, etc. He delved further into philosophy, history, religion, and the social gospels. Soon, he begins to look into Troy University, a college that was close to his parents in Alabama. Troy, however, was an all-white school at the time. He applied as a transfer student and never heard back.

It was after this lack of response from an all-white school that Lewis reached out to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For a couple of weeks, Lewis was in correspondence with King’s attorney Fred Gray and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Eventually, they set up a time for Lewis to meet King. King was quite invested in Lewis’s story of trying to get into Troy.

march-4

In an unsettling and strongly reminiscent tone, Dr. King reminds Lewis that trying to get into an all-white school in the South could bring a lot of adversity into his and his family’s and his neighbors’ lives. King warns that they could be bombed, beaten to death, lose their jobs/livelihoods. These possibilities were frighteningly still all too real in the desegregated US. John Lewis went to his father to discuss the process of admission. Troy State would need to be sued; John Lewis’s parents would have to sign with permission, etc. At first, Lewis’s parents wanted to be supportive, but in the end, they decided against giving him permission for the very reasons that Dr. King told him earlier.

march-book-one-lewis-aydin-powell-2013

Once John’s parents decided against pursuing the Troy University issue, John Lewis decided to go back to Nashville, TN to resume his studies. He let Dr. King know by letter, and attributes this later serendipitous moment to the “spirit of history.” In Nashville, John Lewis was attending the First Baptist church downtown when he was introduced to Jim Lawson, a man who was conducting a workshop on nonviolence. This First Baptist church had an all-black congregation who had moved churches when their integrated church still forced them to worship from the balcony. Jim Lawson was a graduate student at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt at the time. He taught the small group at the church the words and ways of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other peaceful activists. “Jim Lawson conveyed the urgency of developing our philosophy, our discipline, our understanding. His words liberated me… I thought, this is it… This is the way out” (77-79). This is when John became an active member in the sit-ins of Nashville. He explains how they studied the ways of nonviolent assembly. The students were gassed with an insect bomb in a certain lunch counter. They were brutalized by civilians. Ignored or threatened or physically hurt by police. 

This graphic novel does such justice to history by taking Congressman Lewis’s experiences and activism and making it come even more alive through the kinetic medium of comics. He went from a sharecropper’s son to a congressman. This trajectory is one that we should all be watching–learning. It is important to read the battles that were fought and won so that we can assemble and protest today. Please stay tuned. I will cover books 2 and 3 in the next blogs!