It Gets Better

September can mean a lot of different things to different people: fall is here and the hills will be lit afire with changing leaves, the temperature outside cools to a comfortable level, kiddos go back to school, university is in session, life takes on a slower more regular schedule. September is also suicide awareness month. I am what people in the industry (yes there is a suicide industry) call a suicide loss survivor. I had never quite put label to my reality until I started researching for this post, but there it is: I am a loss survivor. Nearly ten years ago I split up with a man whom I had been with for several years. He had battled with depression and suicidal thoughts for the majority of his life. Soon after our split he decided to assert his last act of control and committed suicide. Needless to say, my world was rocked. Not only had I been learning to live without my partner, but all of a sudden I had to learn to live with all of the questions, guilt, and pain of what he had decided. It was suddenly and sharply real that I would never see or hear him again. Though we had not worked out as a couple, he was still the person at that time who knew me better than just about anyone else in my world, and he would no longer be in mine.

Most loss survivors go through the same feelings and emotions; disbelief, numbness, anger, guilt and a hole deep, deep down inside. When left behind after a suicide there are no answers, only speculation and that speculation is so deeply painful.  Loss survivors begin to question what they themselves have done wrong and it is common to hear of people close to the suicide victim taking their own lives not long after or being put on to suicide watch. I do not believe that many people with suicidal thoughts take this reality into consideration, especially when feelings of loneliness are intertwined in the person’s psyche. Susan Rose Blauner hits on this fact when she writes in her wonderful work on mental health and suicide survival, How I Stayed Alive When My Brain was Trying to Kill Me, “I wonder if they ever consider the fact that they are choosing to kill someone while wounding many others”.  I had never quite thought of Mark’s suicide in those terms but it rings true still today. Suicide is a violent act, and those who care for the person are being caught in the crossfire. Though they may not have a physical ailment, it can be mentally debilitating. One thing that loss survivors or suicide bystanders need to remember during the time of hurt, blame and loss is that everyone who attempts or succeeds at suicide is doing so for very personal reasons. This is their last act of control in a world that has spun out, it is their release of the pain and anguish that they have been dealing with, it is their decision. Blauner writes, “I think that when you don’t know what to do with your pain and are feeling unloved, suicide seems like a better choice than life.”  It is this escape from pain that drives most suicidal tendencies. It’s not that those who are suicidal don’t want to live; it’s just that they can’t deal with the pain any longer.

Fortunately there are many different resources available for people who need help, though we can as a society do much better in dealing with mental health crises. Whether you are feeling at the end of the line and ready to leave it all or are a suicide loss survivor here to pick up the shattered pieces left behind, know that there is help. The key is that you will have to want to get help and crucially, feel that you deserve help. Nationally there is the suicide helpline. It runs 7 days a week 24 hours a day and can be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255 (talk)or online https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .

It doesn’t matter what part you have to play in a mental health crisis, the people on the hotline are there to help.  Whether you are a concerned friend or family member, a suicide loss survivor or someone on the brink, they can lead you in the right direction off the edge. There are also several other web pages that have been started by suicide survivors that are a great resource for all involved to see that you are far from alone in what you find yourselves faced with: http://www.itgetsbetter.org is one of the more famous, started by Dan Savage (of the Savage Love column and podcast) and his partner as a response to the shockingly high rates of suicides amongst LGBTQ teenagers. It has resources and many different videos of people discussing their life and how at one point it all felt hopeless but that if you can hang on it will get better. Another  http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=urgent_crisis_suicide_prevention

is a page put out by the depression and bipolar alliance which is a little more scholarly in appearance and full of information. The last online source that I have for you (and please be aware that there are many many more available and I just personally found these to be comprehensive and useful) is http://www.lostallhope.com/ .  Lost All Hope is a web page that was created by suicide survivors and is a sort of crowd sourced platform, on which people share their story and support each other. There are also plenty of references to books and other sources. I found the chat space of this page to be very eye opening and a great safe space to find those who have been through similar situations.  Unfortunately the suicide horror is one that is shared by many others.

Here at the Jackson County Public Library we have partnered with Vaya Health to offer a mental health screening kiosk that is private and easy to use. It is located on the second floor next to the young adult section. The same mental health tool is offered online at http://www.vayamindful.org/ .  Please use whichever one feels more comfortable. Vaya Health manages public funds for mental health, substance use disorder and intellectual or developmental disability services in twenty-three North Carolina counties, including Jackson, Macon, and Swain. I tried the kiosk myself and found it easy and private. They ask a couple of demographics items at the beginning which are used solely for statistics purposes — a name is never attached or personal information of any kind. I did look through the privacy statement as well and Vaya Health was very explicit in the fact that they do not gather personal information, or sell any information to a third party. The demographic stats are solely for informational purposes to help Vaya Health better serve the community. It also must be noted that the information that the mental health screening does offer is not to be a replacement of a medical diagnosis. One of the best options that the kiosk offers is that they have the numbers and people to connect you with immediately to get the help that you need. If you do not feel comfortable with either of those local options you can call the Vaya Health directory line where they will connect you with mental health resources in Western North Carolina, 1-800-849-6127. You can use that number for yourself or for someone that you are concerned about in your life.

Just remember that asking for help does not make you weak, it does not make you broken past the point of no return. On the contrary, asking for help is one of the hardest things that we humans can do. I was lucky to have a large and loving support system, and for months I thought that I had myself under control. I am after all a Taurus and like a bull it’s hard for me to seek help of the personal kind. Then one day it just hit me. I was past the point of denial, of numb disregard.  I felt simply broken, lost. I didn’t know where to turn and I thought that I would never be able to let the pain leave. I believed in a way that I deserved to live with it. I could no longer stand it. A friend referred me to a lovely woman who was able to take me on at a sliding scale after I told her my circumstance. She was able to change my life and the trajectory that I was on. I never thought that I would benefit from such an arrangement and neither had Mark —  that is exactly why he never got help. I chose not to follow his footsteps.

Here are several books available in the Fontana Regional Library System:

How I stayed alive when my brain was trying to kill me by Blaunder, Susan

Why suicide?: answers to 200 of the most frequently asked questions about suicide, attempted suicide, and assisted suicide by Eric Marcus

Manic: a Memoir by Terri Cheney

Cracked not Broken: surviving and thriving after a suicide attempt  by Kevin Hines

Truman vs. MacArthur

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army streamed across the 38th parallel attacking the poorly equipped Republic of Korea (ROK) soldiers, driving them southward.  With the backing of the United Nations Security Council, President Harry S. Truman ordered General Douglas MacArthur to send  members of the 8th United States army, then on occupation duty in Japan,  to reinforce the South Korean troops in their fight against the Communists.

Truman was Franklin Roosevelt’s choice  to run with him as the Vice Presidential candidate in 1944.  At that time Truman was a senator representing Missouri, chairing a committee looking into waste in the war effort.  He served in World War I with the Missouri national guard.  After the war Truman was a businessman and a machine politician before being elected to the United States Senate in 1935. Roosevelt and Truman won the election, but Truman was only vice president for 81 days, when FDR had a stroke and died on April 12 1945.

Douglas MacArthur’s father  had served in the United States Army in the Civil War.   MacArthur  won an appointment to West Point.   After graduation, he was posted to the Philippines, where he won a Medal of Honor.  Before his service in World War II, he served in Europe in the Great War, he was superintendent of West Point, and  in 1930, he became Chief of Staff of the United States Army.  While he was in Washington, President Hoover assigned him to drive the Bonus Marchers out of Washington, D. C. in 1932.   MacArthur retired from the United States Army in 1937 and he was appointed military advisor to the Philippines’ Army.   After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, MacArthur was recalled to active duty and by the end of World War II, he had earned his fifth star.  When the United States occupied Japan at the end of the war, MacArthur was put in charge of the country.  He was still in that position when North Koreans invaded the south on June 24, 1950.

Because MacArthur was known as a loose cannon to politicians, it was suggested to the President he be specific in any orders he gave the general.   Truman already had  issues with the general, particularly when he entered the Republican Presidential primary in 1948 without resigning his commission. (1)  On the other hand, MacArthur had little respect for President Truman, whose only wartime experience was in World War I.   Also, MacArthur was virtually running occupied Japan without bothering to pass his actions through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which were above him on the chain of command.

When fighting started on the Korean Peninsula in June 1950 and MacArthur was put in charge of American forces, it did take not long for the general to come into conflict with the JCS and civilians in the Defense and State Department, as well as the President, who was  the Commander in Chief.   The North Korean Army pushed ROK troops and elements of the 8th American army into a perimeter around Pusan in southeast Korea.   MacArthur suggested UN forces attack the Communists behind their lines with an amphibious landing at the west coast port city of Inchon.   Despite fears Inchon would be a failure, it was a success and UN forces counterattacked  from the Pusan perimeter and drove the Communists north toward the 38th Parallel.

Crossing that line was a political decision as well as military one.  On September 21, President Truman, in response to a reporter’s question, stated the decision as to whether or not to cross the 38th parallel was in the hands of the UN. (2)  Before the end of the month, the Chinese Communist government  warned that if the ROK and UN allies went north of  the 38th Parallel, the Chinese would enter the war.

Truman and the general had never met, so the president and his advisors thought it might be a good idea to have MacArthur brief Truman in person in either Hawaii or Wake Island.  The meeting took place on the seabound atoll in the middle of the Pacific  Ocean on October 15,  1950, with the general making no bones about being beckoned by Truman to a political conference when he had more important things to do. In the course of the meeting, Truman asked MacArthur whether or not he thought the Chinese would join the fight in Korea.  MacArthur downplayed this by saying he planned to withdraw American forces from Korea by Christmas.  A few weeks later, the Chinese joined the fray and ruined the general’s plan. (3)

The basic difference was between the president’s containment policy in Korea and MacArthur’s plans to expand the war (police action).  In December, the Joint Chiefs  sent a order to MacArthur reminding him that the security of the Eighth Army was paramount, because it was the only defense Japan had, and, if necessary it should  be withdrawn from Korea. Furious, the general made his feeling known:  He suggested blockading China, using naval bombardment to diminish the Chinese capacity to wage war, and to use the Chinese nationalist army in Korea.  Before the end of the year the President ordered MacArthur to pass any statements, speeches, etc. through the JCS for approval.

Throughout the winter and the early spring of 1951, MacArthur, ignoring Truman’s order, made statements either to the press, political leaders, or to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that made clear he wasn’t agreeing with his superiors as to policy on the Korean peninsula.  By April President Truman had had it with MacArthur’s efforts to join with Republican politicians and newspapers that opposed him. The last straw, according to Truman, was when the House Minority Leader, Joseph Martin of Massachusetts, read a letter  into the record from MacArthur in which he suggested turning the Chinese Nationalists loose on their rivals on the Chinese mainland.

After consulting with his advisers, Truman asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their opinions about MacArthur and what to do about him. The chairman, General Omar Bradley, determined that MacArthur was opposed to the policy Truman had set out, and as Commander in Chief, he had the right to relieve a general in whom he no longer had faith.  The other members of the JCS agreed with Bradley, MacArthur must go. (4)  The president’s  decision  was announced at a one AM news conference on April 11, 1951.  MacArthur was ordered to turn his commands over to General Matthew B. Ridgway.

The general and his family landed in the United States a few days after his firing.  He received a ticker tape parade in New York and addressed a joint session of Congress, where he finished his speech by quoting the old barrack room ballad, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”   A shortly after his appearance before the joint session, MacArthur spent three days testifying before a combined session of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees.  After MacArthur, the committees heard from Secretary of Defense Marshall, Secretary of State Acheson, and Chairman of Joint Chiefs Omar Bradley.   Marshall and Bradley’s testimony, some of it behind closed doors, painted a different picture to the Senators than MacArthur’s vis a vis the state of American armed forces and the Russians and Chinese. (5)

1952 was a presidential election – Republican Dwight Eisenhower beat Democrat Adlai Stevenson – Truman retired to Missouri and MacArthur faded away.

(1) Actually, MacArthur later denied he was an open candidate, but rather supporters in Wisconsin got themselves on the state’s ballots.  It turned out  after all Harold Stassen was the state’s real favorite son, because the general only received 11 votes on the first ballot at the Republican convention and 7 on the second to Stassen’s 157 and 149.  William Manchester,  American Caesar, p. 620.

(2) Transcription of HST Press Conference, 9/21/1950

(3) Manchester suggests  having two elderly men meet  for the first time at an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, when both were travel weary (Truman was seven time zones away from Washington, MacArthur was three from Tokyo), was ludicrous.  American Caesar, p. 708.

(4) Brands, The General vs. the President, pp. 297-98.

(5) Brands, The General vs. the President, pp. 331-369.  These pages contain an excellent summary of the committees’ hearing.

For further reading:

Clay Blair.  The Forgotten War: American in Korea, 1950-1953.

H. W. Brands.  The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War.

David Halberstam.  The Coldest Winter:  America and the Korean War.

William Manchester.  American Caesar:  Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964.

David McCullough.  Truman.

On Line:

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Volume 7, Korea

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951, Volume 7, Prt. 1, China and Korea 

Truman Press Conferences, 1950-1951 

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.

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

 

 

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!

“War is all Hell”

William T. Sherman was one of the more famous generals of the American Civil War.   Best known for his march through Georgia in 1864-65, cutting themselves off from their supply trains.  His armies foraged off the territory they were traveling through, reaching Savannah right before Christmas 1864, in time for Sherman to present the President of the United States with a Christmas present of the Georgia city.  By the spring of 1865, Sherman continued his march, this time northward through South Carolina and North Carolina, where he accepted the surrender Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army.

 Sherman didn’t believe, like a lot of military officers, that war was a gentleman’s game.  For example, when boats  and trains carrying his troops were shot at, Sherman sent soldiers to burn buildings in the towns where the shots came from and placed hostages on the trains and boats.   When he was the military commander in Memphis in 1862, he sent families south through Confederate lines as retaliation for his troops being shot at.

Almost as controversial was Sherman’s policy toward runaway slaves.  As a Democrat, Sherman was against freeing slaves, the opposite view from his brother John, the Republican senator from Ohio.  When the Union army moved into Tennessee following the battle at Shiloh, slaves thought the troops were their salvation.  Sherman  gave Union commanders permission to take slaves as long they could prove they were used in the war effort.

Sherman first encounter with combat was at First Bull Run.  After that, he was sent to Kentucky when he was forced to leave to recover from mental problems.  At Shiloh, Tennessee, in April 1862, he fought alongside Ulysses Grant.  He followed Grant as the Union commander in Memphis.  After spending a number of weeks in Memphis in 1862, Grant ordered Sherman to move downstream and attack Confederate forces near Vicksburg, Mississippi.   Although that expedition was a failure, it set the stage for Grant’s attack on Vicksburg the following year, when, after a long siege, the Confederates occupying the city surrendered on July 4, opening the Mississippi and splitting the Confederacy.   The next target for the two generals was Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga campaign was Grant’s last in the West, before he was sent to Virginia by President Lincoln to oppose Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.   Before Sherman and Grant got to East Tennessee, the Union Army of the Cumberland was soundly beaten by Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee as Chickamauga in Northern Georgia.  Sherman and Grant’s task was to raise the siege placed on Rosecrans’ Union forces in Chattanooga by Bragg’s army, which occupied high ground around the city.   In two months, the Union Armies of the Tennessee and the Cumberland drove the Confederates into Georgia, setting the stage for Sherman’s Atlanta campaign and eventually the March to the Sea.

For much of the the next year, 1864-65, Sherman’s army strived to capture Atlanta by not confronting Joseph Johnston’s Confederate army head on, but rather using flanking attacks.  The one time he did order a full frontal attack, at Kennesaw Mountain, it was a disaster for the enemy was dug in, in well built trenches.   Sherman’s army attacked with 15,000 men and suffered twenty percent casualties.   After that, the only barrier keeping Sherman from Atlanta was the Chattahoochee River, which he crossed July 17.  After a series a battles around the city, Sherman, tired of bloodletting, settled in for a siege, which ended on September  1st, when the Federals learned the enemy had retreated.

Sherman famed March to the Sea through Georgia began on November 15.   His army was divided into two wings both heading generally southeast.  The Confederates thought Augusta on the border of South Carolina was the target, so Jefferson Davis sent Braxton Bragg to defend the city.  But right before Christmas Sherman’s army reached the outskirts of the real destination, Savannah.  Since the defenders of the city had withdrawn, the local government declared Savannah an open city, saving it from destruction.  Sherman sent President Lincoln a telegram presenting  him with Savannah as a Christmas present.

The Union army occupying Savannah rested in preparation for the next step in their advance through Confederate territory: South Carolina.  Where Sherman governed his troops actions in Georgia, that was not the case in South Carolina.  Union soldiers were looking forward to causing as much damage in South Carolina as possible because they knew that’s where the war started.  The state capital, Columbia, was heavily damaged by fire, which Sherman blamed on Confederate troops under the command of South Carolina native Wade Hampton.   As Jacqueline Campbell states, historians have debated the cause of the extent of the damage in Columbia.  Having read both sides of the argument, I have come to the conclusion it was a combination of the Confederates burning cotton to keep it out of the hands of the advancing Federals and Union soldiers getting their hands on liquor and carrying on with drunken partying while setting fires.

The Spring of 1865 found Sherman and his army in the Old North State, where the war was winding down. The original plan which he and Grant had cooked up had Sherman’s army moving north through North Carolina to Lee from the rear.  However, Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia  to Grant on April 9 at Appomattox Courthouse.  That ended that aspect of the war in Virginia.  President Davis and other members of his administration had already escaped southward by train, but making it clear he wished the war to continue.   In the meantime, Sherman was pursuing General Johnston’s army in the piedmont of North Carolina, hoping to negotiate  a surrender soon.  That happened on April 26, two weeks after Lee’s capitulation.

The books listed below include Sherman’s Memoirs;  Biographies by Eisenhower, Fellman. Kennett, and Marszalek;  Flood’s study of his relationship with General Grant;  and finally Campbell, Hess, and Trudeau’s books on the Atlanta campaign, the march through Georgia and beyond.   There is caveat about General John Eisenhower’s book:  he died before it was published and the person who edited it evidently didn’t have a background in Civil War history for the Union Army of the Tennessee and the Confederate Army of Tennessee are thoroughly mixed up the book.

Battles and Leaders of the Civil WarVolume 4.

Jacqueline Glass Campbell.  When Sherman Marched North from the Sea:  Resistance on the Confederate Home Front.

John S. D. Eisenhower.  American General: The Life and Times  of William Tecumseh Sherman.

Michael Fellman.  Citizen Sherman:  a Life of William Tecumseh Sherman.

Charles Bracelen Flood.  Grant and Sherman.

Earl J. Hess.  Kennesaw Mountain:  Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign.

Lee Kennett.  Sherman:  A Soldier’s Life.

John F. Marszalek.  Sherman:  A Soldier’s Passion for Order.

William T. Sherman.  Sherman: Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman.

Noah Andre Trudeau.  Southern Storm:  Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Steven E. Woodworth.  Nothing But Victory:  the Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865.

Persepolis

“In 1951, Mohammed Mossadeq, then prime minister of Iran, nationalized the oil industry. In retaliation, Great Britain organized an embargo on all exports of oil from Iran. In 1953, the CIA, with the help of British intelligence, organized a coup against him. Mossadeq was overthrown and the Shah, who had earlier escaped from the country, returned to power. The Shah stayed on the throne until 1979, when he fled Iran to escape the Islamic Revolution.

“Since then, this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prison defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

“One can forgive but one should never forget.”

-Marjane Satrapi

Paris, September 2002

 

In the less than two page introduction of the graphic novel titled Persepolis, author Marjane Satrapi  provides a succinct synopsis explaining the political and cultural climate of Iran leading up to the Islamic or Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. Just as she is quoted in writing above, Iran is balled up into many of our western understandings of the Middle East–a discourse that is usually riddled with overtones of violence, religious extremism, terrorism, etc. In the wake of several bloody attacks claimed by ISIS or ISIL just this year, the recent hostage switch in Iran, the Syrian refugee crisis and civil war, and fear-mongering western ideologies, the message conveyed by Satrapi through her autobiographical comic Persepolis is something we need now more than ever.

Generalized news accounts of conflicts, wars, political events, etc., are much more effective and humanized when there is some form of personal account or narrative to supplement with more macro narratives. Take, for instance, the haunting piece of photojournalism that has dominated the covers of newspapers, magazines, and online articles the past week: the photograph of a shocked, silent, and bloody 5 year old boy, Omran Daqneesh, who was rescued from the site of an air raid in the city of Aleppo. His numb gaze is the product of the Syrian civil war. There are many other children like him. Many other children, like Omran’s older brother who died in that same raid, or 3 year old Aylan Kurdi whose drowned body washed upon Turkish shores around this time last year, who are forever silenced. The photographs of Aylan Kurdi and later his morning father started an urgent conversation in Europe regarding the treatment and permittance of refugees fleeing Syria. The parallel between people like Omran Daqneesh’s story and Marjane’s in Persepolis is that readers and viewers can all see the effects of extremism on individual people–people who do not have a say in the trajectory of their own country’s embattlements.

Persepolis is both an autobiography and Bildungsroman. It begins with a young Marji who begins to explain how the revolution in Iran is affecting her and her classmates on a personal level. The great thing about graphic novels is how effectively an image can communicate information in a much more viscerally striking manner. In the image below, Satrapi provides the reader with a snapshot of events that led to the image that many of us attach to Iranian women after the revolution. The veil, or hijab.

satrapi_persepolis

As stated earlier, the importance of learning the rich history of certain countries and people is invaluable to our understanding and tolerance toward any given situation regarding human rights, religion, ideology, etc. Perceptions of Iranian people and culture is challenged when we see people like Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin becoming the first Iranian woman to win a medal at Rio 2016 Olympics. Throughout her Taekwando match and after, she wore a veil or hijab which covered her hair and neck.

The matter of the hijab, chador, niqab, and burqa has dominated recent news stations as well. Over a week ago on a beach in Nice, France, a woman was forced to remove her burqini by four French police officers who were enforcing the recent and controversial ban on burqinis. Burqini is a term used for a type of swimwear that covers the entire body leaving the feet, hands, and face visible, allowing Muslim women to sunbathe, swim, etc., while covering their body. The burqini ban is mandated by French mayors as a result of the Bastille Day terrorist attacks in Nice earlier this summer.

Persepolis provides a context of humanism rather than terrorism when talking about issues dealing with the hijab and other topics related to Islamic cultural and religious institutions. While Marji rebels against the mandated veil because it does not fall in line with her’s or her mother’s beliefs, the floor becomes open for discussion and understanding when reading about a person’s individual experience with the sometimes controversial garment. In Iran, shortly after the revolution gained enough speed to begin mandating certain aspects of Sharia law, Marji is met with the same resistance and oppression that the sunbathing woman mentioned earlier faced when a group of women wearing veils chastises and threatens Marji for wearing her blue jean jacket and Michael Jackson button. In this book, the dichotomous world of right and wrong is surpassed–ultimately providing a space for considering the places in between two dichotomies.

Persepolis is usually catalogued in Young Adult sections of libraries, making way for young people to critically think about and process certain issues that are otherwise glossed over in all-too-predictable and inaccessible dialogue.

Bear in mind that this analysis of Persepolis is coming from someone who was born in 1989. I had no prior understanding or knowledge of Iran other than what has been in the news since I can remember. Persepolis is often times taught in high schools, an environment where students’s perceptions are constantly changing–their minds making room for both fictional and real human experiences.

Persepolis follows young Marji as she grapples with the changes in the political, social, and religious landscape of Iran. Marji idolizes various revolutionists, social theorists, and activists, including her uncle Anoosh who dies at the hands of prison guards of the revolution because he is considered an infidel. As Marji grows older and witnesses the country around her transform into an isolated country ruled by Sharia law, she only becomes more and more resistant to this transformation. She continues to rebel in various forms–from attending protests to wearing “westernized” or “decadent” clothing. Her mother knows how serious the revolution is. In a stingingly memorable part of this work is when Marji’s mother tells her that she is risking being imprisoned and executed. What’s worse, her mother warns her, is that virgins cannot be executed. This means that an imprisoned young woman like Marji would first be married to the leader of the revolution, raped, then executed. In fear of this brutal reality, Marji’s parents agree to send her to school in Austria. While Marji is keen on leaving the Islamic republic and its ideals in her past, she begins to realize that there are still so many aspects of Iranian culture that she is adamant about defending. She sees parts of herself “assimilating into western culture” and simultaneously gains pride in her heritage. Marji falls in love with Reza, moves back to Iran to attend university, challenges many inequitable institutions in her Tehran university, graduates, and, well, you’ll have to read the rest.

Though the images are provided in a stark palette of black and white, Satrapi presents the reader with a story that explores the gray areas. Please give this book a read. In honor of Banned Books week, which is upon us, this book has been challenged and banned in various locations.

Enjoy!

LD

Letters to and from the front, II

Recently I was prowling the book donations at the thrift store where I volunteer  and I came across a copy of  War Letters:  Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll.  The Legacy Project, which is the source from which these letters came, was founded in 1998 as a gathering place for veterans and their families to donate correspondence written by members of American armed forces to and from their families while on active duty.   Since its founding  the Legacy Project’s name has been changed to  “The Center for American War Letters,” and it’s collection is housed at Chapman University in Orange. California.  War Letters was made into a documentary on PBS’s American Experience, which can be watched on YouTube.  Unless otherwise noted, the excerpts  quoted below come from War Letters which was copyrighted ©2001 by Andrew Carroll.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States armed forces were already fighting an undeclared war in the Atlantic Ocean trying to protect conveys supplying Great Britain.  The Japanese aggression made it clear American service men and women would be scattered around the globe, especially after Germany declared war on the United States.  How were families who had relatives stationed abroad going to stay in touch with their loved ones?  And vice versa how were members of the armed forces going to get letters from remote parts of the world delivered to their families at home.   Confederate women who were left in charge of the southern plantations couldn’t rely on their postal service to deliver letters to their husbands in a timely fashion, but times and technology had changed immensely in three quarters of a century.

Writing from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was doing basic training, Morton D. Elevitch wrote to his mother: “This week they are teaching us to kill.  Now you probably looked away and shuttered.  Well, Mom, I don’t like the idea, either,  but we all know its for our good….By the way everything is done in double time this week .  We move in place and from place to place on the double — puff puff.”  (War Letters, p. 196)

Tracy Sugarman to his wife June, from Great Britain, March 1944:  “Reading material, Junie. Things like Reader’s Digest – Coronet, Cosmopolitan maybe. When you send them pooch – *have them in a package* – otherwise some news hungry soldier or sailor will swipe them & they’ll never get here I’m told”.¹

During World War II, the United States Post Office made it easier for service and their families to stay in touch with each other.  Victory Mail, or V Mail as it was commonly known made use of standard size stationary and microfilm to speed servicemen’s mail.²    Sugarman occasionally used VMail to write to his wife.  An example is here.

Servicemen would receive correspondence from home about siblings also in the service.  For example,  Bill Lynn’s mother wrote to him in September 1944 giving him news about his older brother Bob:  Dear Billie, will drop you a few lines as I haven’t from. and I have good news, from the last letter I sent you.  Bob will back in the States at the last of this month.  I sure was happy when I read the telegram from the government last night.  I hope you are well and O.K….well I didn’t know what to send you for xmas but you can be looking for a box, and I hope you will like it.  so write me soon.”  Lynn was killed in the Pacific in 1945, three days after his nineteen birthday.  (War Letters, pp. 222-223)

Some American servicemen were abroad when their children were born.  Lt. Walter Schuette wrote a letter to his daughter:  “You arrived in this world while I was several thousand miles from your mother’s side.  There were many  anxious moments then and since.  This message comes to you from somewhere in England.  I pray to God it will be given to you on or about your tenth birthday. I hope to be present when that is done.  It shall be held in trust by your mother or someone equally concerned until that time….With this letter you will find a war bond of $2500 maturity value, and list of names.  A list of names to you, honey, buddies to me.  Men of my company, who adopted you as their sweetheart when you came into the world.  It is these men who bought you the bond as a remembrance of when they were soldiers with your daddy…”   Happily, Walter Schuette was able to read that letter to his daughter, Anna Mary, in 1953!  (War Letters, , p. 227)

After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945 and the United States dropped two Atom bombs on their homeland, peace barely lasted five years.   The Cold  War was between the Communist world, primarily the Soviet  Union, its European allies, and the Chinese; and the western democracies centered around NATO.  In East Asia, counties such as Korea and Vietnam were split:  Communists to the north and NATO allies to the south.   On June 25, 1950, forces of North Korea, backed by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea.  President Truman sent American military forces, commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, under the auspices of the United Nations to help the South Koreans.  MacArthur’s force quickly drove the Communist North Koreans back to the border with Chinese Manchuria.  But that victory didn’t last long because Chinese forces made a surprise raid into North Korea and defeated the American and South Koreans at the Chosin Reservoir, eventually driving them back to to the 38th parallel.

In a letter to his father, Pvt. Bob Hammond describes the bitter fighting at Chosin from his hospital bed in Japan:  “Three days and nights of bitter fighting went on with heavy losses on both sides.  We were outnumbered 10 to 1. We were trapped and surrounded.  We had over 200 wounded guys.  I watched  a good buddy of mine die of wounds and lack of medicine.  I cried, I felt so utterly helpless.  On Dec. 1, 1950, we were ordered to fight our way back to the Marine Div. which was 8 miles back.  We had about 30 trucks which were carrying the wounded.  We went about 2 miles and suddenly a slug ripped thru my knee and chipped the bone.  I got into an ambulance which had 16 men in it.  We moved slowly and passed a few roadblocks and before I knew it, it was dark.  They were on all sides of us and we were masecured (sic).  Our driver was killed and the ambulance crashed into a ditch.   Machine gun slugs tore thru the ambulance killing a G.I. and Capt. sitting across from me. He slumped on me and I shoved him back in order to get the rear door open.  It was jammed, but I jarred it open in few minutes and fell out….”  (War Letters, p. 335)

In the 1950’s it was Korea, in the 60’s and the 70’s it was Vietnam.  The following  is an except from a letter from a young demoralized American Marine, L. Cpl. Stephen Daniel writes to his parents telling about the death of a close friend:    Mom and Dad:  Well its Friday morning.  Last night one more Marine died.  No one will ever here (sic) or care about it except his parents and us.  A good Marine has died and there is no nation to mourn for him or fly our flag at half mast.  Yet in this one night this Marine did more for his country than any President or Senator ever did.  His name was Corporal Lee…He was a good Marine and a better person.  He didn’t deserve dieing in a damn country not worth fighting for.  He didn’t deserve diein’ for people who won’t even fight for themselves.” (War Letters, 412-413)  Eight months later, on Easter Sunday, 1969, Daniel fell victim to a sniper’s bullet and died on the spot.

War correspondence, as we seen in the few excerpts above, dealt with many concerns.  Most important it created a lifeline to connect the service person with a touch of home when they serving far away.

¹http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp-stories/loc.natlib.afc2001001.05440/pageturner?ID=pm0024001

² http://postalmuseum.si.edu/VictoryMail/

Paul Fussell

Paul Fussell was an American scholar best known for his writing about World Wars I and II.  He was a veteran of the latter conflict as a 20 years infantry officer who served in Western Europe after D-Day. He was wounded, after which he received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.   After the war, Fussell resumed his education, eventually earning a PhD in English literature.  His writing on that subject is more of interest to academics, but his books relating to combat have reached a broader audience.  The Great War and Modern Memory,  Wartime:  Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, The Boys’ Crusade:  the American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-1945, and Doing Battle: the Making of a Skeptic are the most important of these. The first two that show the contrast between the cultures of the two wars will be the focus of this essay.

The Great War and Modern Memory is probably Fussell’s best known work.   It outlines the British experience in World War I and how that influenced writers, especially poets, reliving that part of their lives.   Fussell, as he does in all his books in this vein, writes about the frustrations the lower ranks have to put with in the combat environment.   According to Fussell that war is ironic; for example, battles seldom go the way planners think they will.  At the battle of the Somme in 1916, for example, the Allied artillery pounded the German positions leading generals to think that foot soldiers will be able  to walk into German trenches unopposed.  Instead, the infantry marched into withering machine gun fire and the British took 6,000 casualties on the first day.

The war was not fought the army veterans who commended the British troops who were sent to France expected.  Cavalry was useless against machine gun fire and the infantry tactics had similar success against artillery fire.    New weapons such as machine guns,  gas, airplanes, and tanks  were new ways to kill and maim.  These new killing machines kept large armies from advancing and the war on the Western front stalemated to trenches with a no man’s land in between.  Fussell writes a lot about the influence that conflict had on poets and other writers who romanced the war.   He notes the war poets, such as Siegfried Sassoon, Thomas Hardy, and Wilfred  Owen,  contributions to the Oxford Book of English Verse.

Fussell’s does in writing non-fiction what some authors, such as Heller in Catch 22 and Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five, did  in fiction.  Of course Fussell is a veteran of combat in Europe in 1944-1945, where he was a young second lieutenant in the infantry.  He dedicated The Great War and Modern Memory to the sergeant who was killed beside him in France in 1945.

After reading Fussell’s books, the difference in the American culture in the twenty years between the two wars is obvious.   In the movie theaters, talkies had arrived.  Radio brought news and entertainment into people’s homes.   Celebrities who once was seen only in the big screen now were heard on the radio on a weekly basis.  Big band leaders such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman had their own radio shows.  Hollywood produced patriotic films, some involving combat starring John Wayne who never served in the military.  Meanwhile,  in Britain, the BBC kept broadcasting educational programs while the bombs were falling on London during the blitz.

Acronyms, which were a holdover from the New Deal, were popular, especially in the military:  SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) or my favorite COMAMPHIBFORSOPAC (Commander, Amphibious Force, South Pacific).   There were some others which made their way into civilian language, FUBAR, for example.

The big difference between the American experience in the Great War and World War II was that the American government decided when to declare  on Germany in 1917, but Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor took that decision out Roosevelt’s hands in 1941.   Once in the fight, Americans had put up with shortages at home and rationing.   Not to the extent it happened Britain, where rationing continued until 1954.

A green reporter encountered an infantry squad on the front line in Europe and asked what they would say to the people at home:   “…Tell them it’s more serious than they’ll  ever be able to understand…. Tell them it’s is rough as hell,   Tell them it’s rough.  It’s rough, serious business.  That’s all. That’s all….”

Samuel Eliot Morison

I believe it was when I was in Junior High that friend of our family gave me a copy of Samuel Eliot Morison’s book Admiral of the Ocean Sea:  a Life of  Christopher Columbus.   That was my introduction to the writings of Dr. Morison, who, unbeknownst to me when I was a teenage boy, was a historian studying the naval history  of the new world.  Over the years, and he wrote and published just short of his death in 1978, Morison produced seven books relating that aspect of American history, besides publishing his fifteen volume History of United States naval operations in World War II,  and multiple books on the history of  his native New England, as well as co-authoring an American history textbook in 1930 that is it’s 7th edition.   For the purpose of this blog I am going to concentrate Morison’s book  The Great Explorers.

 The Great Explorers is an abridgment of  The European Discovery of America :  The Northern Voyages and The Southern Voyages .  When Morison wrote the preface to the latter volume, he dated it exactly two years before he died at the age of 88.  While writing these two volumes, he was traveling all over the world tracing the voyages of Columbus and the men who followed him to the coasts of North and South America, and in the cases of Magellan and Drake, circumnavigated the globe.  Morison concentrates on the voyages, how they arrived at the Americas, the ships they sailed on, not what happened after they got here.  For some reason I can’t figure out, Morison wrote about the northern voyages before the southern ones, although he suggests Columbus’ trips laid the ground work for the rest of the fifteenth and sixteenth century explorers.

Columbus made four trips to the Americas.  The first one as we learned in school was in 1492.  Although Columbus sailed under the colors of the Spanish kingdom Castile and Aragon, he was born Cristoforo Columbo¹ in Genoa long before it was considered Italian.  Columbus and a number of other Europeans believed if one sailed west across the Atlantic they would find a short cut to East Asia.   On his first voyage he took three vessels:  The Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina.  The first was 85 feet in length, the two were smaller. Morison reckoned Columbus touched San Salvador and Cuba on that trip.  The Nina was only the one that made it back.  During the second and fourth voyages Columbus visited Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola.

A quarter of a century after Columbus set foot on the “New World,”  Ferdinand Magellan was in Seville, giving up his Portuguese citizenship to become a subject of Emperor  Charles V of Spain.  Two years afterwards Magellan was in command of five ships with a commission to explore the Pacific Ocean.  His fleet sailed south along the coast of South America, through the strait which now bears his name, and out into the Pacific in the latter of November 1520.  By February the following year, he reached the Caroline Islands and by March, after touching at Guam, he was in the Philippines; where he died during a battle with natives on April 21.  Eighteen survivors made it to back to Seville on the Victoria, Magellan’s flag ship, which had sailed three and month before.

Unlike Magellan, Sir Frances Drake survived his circumnavigation and went up the west coast of the Americas besides.  Drake was regarded as a naval hero to the English and a pirate to their enemies, the Spanish.  The purpose of this voyage was two f0ld:  first, harassment of the Spanish settlements in the Americas, second, exploration. Unlike the voyages of the Spanish and Portuguese, Drake’s was funded by private monies.  There were six vessels in his fleet, which sailed in December 1577, headed by the “The Golden Hind,” armed with a total of 56 guns and, in addition to crew members, men at arms.  Each time they found a Spanish  settlement  it was attacked.    The English expedition traveled as far north as what is now known as San Francisco Bay.  Despite Drake claiming that part of Calfornia for Queen Elizabeth I,   the Spanish built a series of missions there.  The voyage ended in Plymouth harbor on September 26, 1580.  The whole expedition was profitable for the investors, the throne, and Drake as well.

Unlike Drake, John Cabot was an explorer. Cabot is the anglicized version of his Italian name, Giovanni Caboto.   Cabot’s home base in England  was at Bristol on the Avon River which empties into the Irish Sea.  Cabot made his first seaworthy trip to North America in 1497 by sailing due west to the southern tip of Ireland, then west northwest before resuming a more westerly direction, which took him directly to the island of Newfoundland off the coast of what became Canada.  For the next 36 years several Englishmen and a Portuguese, Joāo Alvares Fagundes, made voyages to Newfoundland and Labrador on the mainland. Toward the end of the 16th century, the English became involved in the search for the fabled Northwest Passage.  Martin Frobisher  made several voyages, all of which ended in failure.  John Davis was another mariner who failed to find it.

The first voyage under French colors was led by a man of Italian descent, Girolamo da Verrazzano, whose first trip led to landfall of the present coast of North Carolina.  Sailing north from the outer banks, he came the Narrows that leads into what is now New York harbor.  From there he explored the shore opposite what we now call Long Island and from there proceeded to what become Maine, where he had contact with natives.  Verrazzano was followed to North America by a native of Normandy, Jacques Cartier.    Cartier made three visited North America three times between 1534 and 1542.  On his third voyage, Cartier founded a colony named Charlesbourg-Royal after the Charles duc d’Orléans, son of the King of France.²

Morison’s book is filled with illustrations of old maps, which gives readers an inkling of the geographical ignorance that Europeans had of the western approaches to the Far East from Europe.  Particularly not realizing there was a whole large continent between Europe and Asia.  In addition to those maps, there are portraits of many of the explorers and photographs the author took from his flights which traced to routes used by the explorers to find their way west.

Author’s note:   To be sure the Europeans brought war and disease to the indigenous peoples of the “New World,”  and started a genocide that lasted in North America until late in the nineteenth century.  But Morison concentrates on the voyages, how they arrived at the Americas, the ships they sailed on, and how they navigated without any of the modern aides modern sailors have at their disposal.

 ¹ In Portugal he was known as Christovão Colom.

² Archaeologists discovered remains of the colony in 2006 at the junction of the Cap Rouge River and the St. Lawrence River.