Neutrality: an Explosive Step Closer to War

 

When I started this series detailing how the United States became involved in the Great War (afterwards World War I), I envisioned two parts, but when I realized how complicated the story was, I realized it  was going to take three.    Last month’s episode involved the sinking of the Lusitania.  The current blog describes how German agents in the United States used sabotage to keep American products from reaching the Allies, principally Great Britain and France.   The third, in April, will narrate Germany’s attempts to involve the United States in a conflict with Mexico, resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and how that finally tried President Wilson’s patience.

Black-Tom

President Wilson’s attempt to keep America neutral was difficult for a number of reasons: first, American businesses were making money off  the war.   Second, there was a large percentage of foreign born persons living in the United States.  The 1910 Census showed 1.21 million were British and almost double that were German.  The latter population was targeted by the German Ambassador to the United States, Count Johann Heinrich Andreas Hermann von Bernstorff, who was given the assignment of organizing a spy and sabotage network to keep Americans from helping the Allies with their war effort.   The German military and naval attaches did the hands-on work to see to it the Imperial Government’s plans were carried out. (1)

In 1915, the German network was at work on the New York waterfront, using crew members from ships that had been quarantined for the length  of the war to do their dirty work.  Bombs went off on either vessels that were docked or ships that had left New York and were at sea.  American authorities suspected German sabotage but could prove nothing.   At that point the federal government had no agency like the FBI or the ATF to investigate and make arrests in cases like they do today.   Instead, the Justice Department turned to the New York City Police Department.  Howard Blum’s book Dark Invasion traces that story.

New York was not only the place where German agents were carrying out acts of sabotage.   One was caught trying to blow up a newly built dam on the Rio Grande River in New Mexico.   Later, another confessed to blowing up a black powder magazine on Mare Island, California.  In June 1915, a man of German descent, Erich Muenter, using an alias, set off a bomb inside the U. S. Capitol in Washington and then took a train to Long Island and shot financier J. P. Morgan.  He was arrested soon after but died in jail before he could tried.  (2)

Two of Germany’s top agents in New York were Franz von Papen and Franz von Rintelen.   Von Papen was posted to Washington as a military attache in the German embassy.  Papen’s colleague von Rintelen was a junior in the Admiralty staff who had worked in a New York bank before the war, and was sent there to oversee his nation’s efforts to undermine American attempts to finance and supply Great Britain and France’s war. German agents both in New York and Baltimore used real and shell companies as fronts.  For example, Norddeutsche Lloyd (NDL) was a real German corporation, while the Eastern Forwarding Company (EFCO) was not. Von Rintelen set up cells in east coast ports and New Orleans; the members of each one did not know about the cells in other cities.  Eventually the American declared both men personna non grata and expelled them from the country.  With help from Room 40 British cryptanalysts, Rintelen was taken off the ship he was traveling on by British authorities and made a prisoner of war before being extradited back to the United States to face charges stemming from his activities there.

However, the biggest case of sabotage involved the Black Tom Munitions Depot in New Jersey.  The depot was owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, the entity responsible for shipping war materials destined for Great Britain, France, and Russia.  On the evening of July 16, 1916, a vast explosion ripped through the terminal, shattering windows in Manhattan, damaging the Statue of the Liberty, and waking sleeping people over a wide area.  Night watchmen on duty at the terminal sounded the alarm when they first spotted flames, but with over two million tons of explosives on site a disaster was waiting to happen.  The fact that the railroad had been violating federal regulations by keeping explosives on railroad cars and barges tied up to the pier masked the sabotage carried out by German agents. Not until a Congressional investigation in the 1930s was the truth uncovered. (3)

Further to the south, Baltimore was another port of interest to Germans, especially when the Imperial Navy constructed two commercial submarines, designed bypass the Royal Navy blockade of the German coast.  The crews of these ships were ostentatiously civilians but in reality, for the most part, belonged to the Imperial Navy.    The first of the two submarines, U-Deutschland, arrived in Baltimore harbor on July 10, 2016.     When the resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917, the U-Deutschland was converted to a warship.

(1)   British spies were active in the United States as well.  Christopher Andrew’s books on the MI5, the British Secret Service,  listed below, outlines their means for keeping track of the Germans.

(2) Muenter was a German professor at Harvard until he disappeared in 1906 after poisoning his wife.  When he surfaced nine years later, he had re-married and was called Frank Holt.  Before his adventure in Washington and Long Island, he volunteered to help the agents of the German IIIB network in New York.  Blum,  pp. 3-11,  279-333.

(3) Witcover.

For further reading:

Christopher Andrew,  Defend the Realm:  the Authorized History of MI5.    pp.  71-79

Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only,  pp.  30-50

Christopher Andrew,  Her Majesty’s Secret Service,  pp. 86-127.

Howard Blum,  Dark Invasion: 1915, Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America.

Robert Koenig, The Fourth Horseman: One Man’s Mission to Wage the Great War in America.

Jules Witcover,  Sabotage at Black Tom:  Imperial Germany’s Secret War in America.

“What do y’all want to be called?”

[Excerpt: When All God’s Children Get Together, “Segregation Woes and New Life Today”]

by Ann Miller Woodford

ann-woodford-wnc-artistAnn Miller Woodford is our guest contributor to this Shelf Life in the Mountains. She is a native of Andrews, NC, and is an author, artist, speaker, and founder/Executive Director of One Dozen Who Care, Inc., a community development organization in western North Carolina.

“What do y’all want to be called?” That used to be a frequent question asked of Black people in the region. Even Blacks still do not agree on what term is offensive, so my advice has been to follow those who research the most inoffensive terms, such as major newscasters. The terms “Colored” and “Negro” went out in the 50s and 60s. However, it must be understood that some older African Americans held on to those terms far too long, since those were much preferred over being called “Nigger,” “Darkie,” “Spook,” “Coon,” “Jungle Bunny,” “Porch Monkey,” “Boy” or “Girl.” The term, “Afro-American” also is becoming antiquated, but “Person of Color,” “African American” and “Black” are still viable terms, if one must distinguish our race of people.

Just as White Appalachians often feel disrespected when typecast as “rednecks,” “hicks,” “country” or other derogatory labels, Affrilachians do not appreciate disparagement by other racial groups, as well. It should be understood that though any group may tease themselves in jest; they do not appreciate others ridiculing them with politically incorrect labels. We should, however, note that the use of “African American” can be applied to a White Native of Africa such as the South African-born actress and activist, Charlize Theron. On the other hand, Black people who are not naturalized citizens of the United States are not African Americans.

We all have the African, Scots Irish, and Cherokee blood that makes up Black Appalachians, because White masters had children by slave women. Some people do not use the term African American, because they know some others choose Black by skin color, or some would rather not be called any racial name; they say just call me human.

The late Rev. Frank Blount of Murphy mentioned that his mother was “left puzzled” by not knowing exactly what her ethnicity was. Mrs. Blount said that as a student at Virginia Union College, people often asked her what she was by race. They also did that to my sister, Mary Alice Miller Worthy, and the One Dozen Who Care, Inc. president, Patricia Hall, in the places where they have worked. All three considered themselves to be African American.

Not many families ever discussed their racial mixture, because it could cause embarrassment, concern, or upset. Folks like my father’s family, though they had the same mother and father, ranged in color from very white skin of his two youngest sisters to the dark brown color of my father’s skin.

“Out of wedlock” children, especially if bi-racial, in past days, were often put down inside and outside of families.

In a taped interview in the late 1960s for a college paper, I came home on holiday and asked the question of some Black people in the Happytop community of Andrews, “What would you rather be called — colored, Negro or Black?” My grandfather, Cleve Miller, an octogenarian at the time whose own mother was a slave until she was nine years old, answered the question in a self-determined way: “African is what I would rather be called!”

During that same time, two of his oldest grown children said that they would rather be called “Colored.” School-age youngsters I interviewed at that time, refused to be called any of those terms.

Since legitimate media reporters, such as, newspaper, radio and television reporters, commentators, and anchor persons must keep up with current terminology, it may be wise to pay attention to any politically correct wording that they use. Most Black people in our region seem to respectfully endure the word “Colored,” although most wonder why it is even a question anymore.

AW Ptg Grampa w sausage mill

Portrait by Ann of William Cleveland “Cleve” Miller, her grandfather

The Lusitania: United States One Step Closer to War

April is the 100th anniversary of the United States declaring war on Germany and its allies the Great Powers.   The Wilson administration’s decision to go to war was not taken lightly or in haste. In fact, it was almost two years after the sinking of the Lusitania that  The president  appeared before a joint session of Congress on April 2, 1917 and asked that body to declare war.  Woodrow Wilson’s  speech outlined a number German actions – specifically unrestricted submarine warfare, committing sabotage in the United States and attempting to lure Mexico into the war on their side –  that justified this country being involved in what many Americans viewed as a European conflict.   This will be a two-part blog:  the first dealing with the sinking of the Lusitania;  the second,   German efforts at sabotage in the United States  and the  Zimmermann Telegram.

The submarine brought a new dimension to warfare on the world’s oceans.   A vessel that traveled under the water, out of sight of other vessels, had an advantage over the ships they were targeting.   Before the submarine, if a warship stopped a merchant vessel belonging to an adversary or a neutral nation, their crew would board that ship, determine it was carrying forbidden cargo, send the crew safely off, and then sink it.   During the the early part of the Great War, submarines would surface, would use that procedure and sink the ship with a torpedo.   Neutral shipping would be left alone by the Germans as long they were not carrying contraband.   That is until the British started using neutral nations’ ships, such as American freighters, to carry war materials.  Early in February 2015, the German government stated that the area around the British Isles would be considered to a war zone and ships carrying contraband would be targets for U boats.  The German action was partly in response to the Royal Navy blockade of Germany’s coast. (1)

 The RMS Lusitania was scheduled to sail from New York on May 1, 1915, with cargo and passengers on board and Liverpool as her destination.  The German Embassy in the United States took out an advertisement in the New York newspapers warning Americans not to sail on British ships.   For the most part that warning was ignored by the Americans who had booked passage on her.

The day before the  Lusitania sailed out of New York harbor, a U boat backed out of its berth at Emden, Germany, followed the estuary of the Ems River into the North Sea, and set a northerly course that would eventually take it around the British Isles and Ireland to it’s patrol sector in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland.   Periodically the U-20  would send radio messages back to it’s base in Germany, unaware that the Royal Navy code breakers in Room 40 in the Admiralty in London were intercepting them. Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger and the commanders of  the six other U boats at sea were under orders from the Hochseeflotte (High Seas Fleet) to hunt British ships and sink them without warning. ( 1 )

While the codebreakers in Room 40 knew the approximate location of the German U boats, they had no knowledge of the position of British passenger or merchant ships in the waters around the British Isles, where the submarines were on the prowl looking for targets.  Messages had been sent to masters of British vessels whose voyages took them past the south coast of Ireland to avoid headlands, choose a course that took up the middle of St. George’s Channel,  zigzag to minimize their ships as targets,  and to time their arrival at the Liverpool bar so they wouldn’t to stop to take on a pilot.

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Woodward Wilson was trying to find a way for the United States to bring peace to the war fought mostly in Europe.  When the conflict had broken out in the summer of 1914, Wilson had told the American people to be “neutral in thought as well as action.”   President Wilson sent his closest advisor Colonel Edward M. House on a peace mission to Europe  in January 1915 on the Lusitania.  On that voyage, the captain raised the United States flag when the vessel approached the Irish coast.

Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger’s U boat reached the southern coast of Ireland on 5 May.  Before he encountered the Lusitania on 7 May,  Schwieger attacked four other vessels.  He sunk two of them with torpedoes, shelled one after sending its crew away,  the torpedo he used for the fourth  mis-fired.  When the Lusitania appeared in his periscope, Schwieger released a torpedo.  It struck the ship on the starboard side, causing an explosion.  There was a second explosion minutes later causing the liner to sink in eighteen minutes.   Only 764 persons of the 1962 total of passengers and crew survived.  Of the dead a number were women and children,  and 128 were Americans.  After the fact, the U boat commander claimed he didn’t recognize the profile of the liner until after he had launched the torpedo and a crew member recognized her.   Most authors who have written about the tragedy claim Schwieger was being disingenuous. The German government justified the sinking by claiming the liner was carry munitions in its cargo holds, pointing to the second explosion as proof. In Great Britain, the sinking raised a number of questions; primarily, why hadn’t the Royal Navy sent destroyers to guide the Lusitania through treacherous waters where German submarines had been active.   On 10 May, the First Lord of the Admiralty (Winston Churchill) appeared at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons to answer members’ questions.  Part of  one of  Churchill’s answers: “I have stated that two warnings were sent to the vessel, together with directions as to her course. I made that quite clear. If the hon. Member asks if a special escort was sent out my reply is “No.” No exception was made to the regular method by which our seaborne commerce is conducted.” (2 )

For almost a year extensive diplomatic correspondence was carried out between the American State Department and the German Foreign Office. (4 ) In February 1916, the Germans agreed to quit sinking neutral vessels.  America stepped back from war, for at the least time being.

(1) For those readers who want to read the German government’s note, use the following: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1915Supp/subch1

(2) Patrick Beesly, Room 40: British Naval Intelligence, 1914-1918, is the best source on Room 40, but the only copy in Cardinal in owned by Forsyth County’s Central Library, which is closed for renovation.   Beesly lists the reasons that could have contributed to the liner sinking so fast and questions the disappearance of documents that could answer several question relating to the Lusitania.

(3) For the full transcript of Churchill’s statement, use this link:   http:n//hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1915/may/10/statement-by-mr-churchi

(4)To read this correspondence: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1915Supp/ch8

For further reading:

Christopher Andrew,  Her Majesty’s Secret Service,  pp. 86-127.

A. Scott Berg,   Wilson,  pp. 362-369.

Erik Larson, Dead Wake:  The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.

Diana Preston, Lusitania, an Epic Tragedy.

 

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

with only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population (see ACLU infographic at the bottom of this bl0g).

Several weeks ago, the Jackson County Public Library hosted a screening of Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot for the 50 year anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery. Those who marched were demanding their right to vote. Those who marched were demanding that their fellow Americans had rights equal to theirs. It was when I watched this documentary produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center that I realized much of my understanding of America’s civil rights era was static–stuck in the 1960s. That didn’t last long. Selma:The Bridge to the Ballot began to bear striking similarities to the current social climate in which we all live now. I had become part of a truly frightening thing–history forgotten on the old dusty textbook pages–then that very same history is once again repeating itself–right under my nose. When history is treated like a cyclical, dynamic, and multidimensional entity, current events can be seen through a lens that is not only more holistic in understanding but also vital to our understanding of justice, freedom, and equality. Justice, freedom, and equality granted to all citizens of the United States…not just a few. So, I ask myself, are all citizens of the United States equal? They should be. But not even on paper are we all equal.

Consider the police shootings of black men, a nation that is arguably as divided now as in the times of the Civil War, and the sobering reminder that racism is still alive, well, and thriving in the land of the free. Michelle Alexander aims her eagle focus on the incarceration situation in the United States. She directly links mass incarceration and our prison booms to inherent, insidious racism that pervades various institutions that were set in place to protect its citizens.

Leading up to the march from Selma to Montgomery, several oppressive institutions specifically in the south, were stifled, reformulated, and renamed in order to keep current with federal legislation such as Emancipation, Desegregation, Civil Rights, etc. In her book titled The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander takes the reader on a journey through the lives of Africans brought as slaves and indentured servants to the Americas, their fight for dignity, human and civil rights, their triumphs, their tragedies. She focuses her keen eye on the issue of mass incarceration of specifically black men (although she does acknowledge that the issue of mass incarceration is facing men and women, black and brown in this country).

Alexander starts her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by explaining social caste, the concept of race and how it began, white supremacy and how it justified and propelled the European slaughter and brutalization of American Indians and Africans (and later freed African American citizens). In the quote below, Alexander explains how both caste and class are understood and negotiated in the mind of America:

“We avoid talking about caste in our society because we are ashamed of our racial history. We also avoid talking about race. we even avoid talking about class. Conversations about class are resisted in part because there is a tendency to imagine that one’s class reflects upon one’s character. What is key to America’s understanding of class is the persistent belief–despite all evidence to the contrary–that anyone, with proper discipline and drive, can move from a lower class to a higher class. We recognize that mobility may be difficult, but the key to our collective self-image is the assumption that mobility is always possible, so failure to move up reflects on one’s character. By extension, the failure of a race or ethnic group to move up reflects very poorly on the group as a whole” (13).

In the quote above, Michelle Alexander gets down to the root of upward mobility in society and how it is possible for some and extremely difficult and unlikely for others. She explains that this misconception informs many people’s understanding of certain classes not as locked in and static, but somehow able to overcome the restrictions of class and caste. Below, she breaks down race in the United States much like she does class and caste:

“The concept of race is a relatively recent development. Only in the past few centuries, owing largely to European imperialism, have the world’s people been classified along racial lines. Here, in America, the idea of race emerged as a means of reconciling chattel slavery–as well as the extermination of American Indians–with the ideals of freedom preached by whites in the new colonies.

“In the early colonial period, when settlements remained relatively small, indentured servitude was the dominant means of securing cheap labor. Under this system, whites and black struggled to survive against a common enemy, what historian Lerone Bennett Jr. describes as ‘the big planter apparatus and a social system that legalized terror against black and white bondsmen.’ Initially, blacks brought to this country were not all enslaved; many were treated as indentured servants. As plantation farming expanded, particularly tobacco and cotton farming, demand increased greatly for both labor and land” (23).

So now she explains why race is so important in our society–our country. Race is something that shaped our country for good or ill, and that’s why Alexander urges that we simply cannot live under the false understanding that we are, in fact, in a colorblind society. Simply by understanding that most black people are here because they were brought in chains as servants and slaves, many of them and their ancestors and their descendants (still) perishing under awful circumstances, one cannot assume that we all have equal opportunities in this society. Below, Alexander explains the dehumanization phenomenon that occurs when already slave-powered imperialism and demand upon land and labor meets indigenous populations:

“The demand for land was met by invading and conquering larger and larger swaths of territory. American Indians became a growing impediment to white European ‘progress,’ and during this period, the images of American Indians promoted in books, newspapers and magazines became increasingly negative. As sociologist Kelly Kilty and Eric Swank have observed, eliminating ‘savages’ is less of a moral problem than eliminating human beings, and therefore American Indians came to be understood as a lesser race–uncivilized savages–thus providing justification for the extermination of native peoples” (23).

She then explains the trajectory that imperialism, slavery, and racism takes on–ultimately leading to the ideology of white supremacy:

“The notion of white supremacy rationalized the enslavement of Africans, even as whites endeavored to form a new nation based on the ideals of equality, liberty, and justice for all. Before democracy, chattel slavery in America is born” (25).

Emancipation was soon passed. The plantation economy was in shambles in the South. Poor whites began to see themselves better than their newly “freed” black neighbors, because, the few rights poor whites possessed were still much more. After the Emancipation, the economy was in shambles. Alexander explains: “Even among poor whites, the collapse of slavery was a bitter pill. In the antebellum South, the lowliest white person at least possessed his or her own skin–a badge of superiority over even the most skilled slave or prosperous free African American” (27).

But once Emancipation was enacted, the same story plays over again, just by a different name. Vague laws were created and vehemently enforced, creating an inmate population that led to “convict leasing,” a program that put convicted blacks on a bidding block for private bidders looking for labor:

“Once again, vagrancy laws and other laws defining activities such as ‘mischief’ and ‘insulting gestures’ as crimes were enforced vigorously against blacks. The aggressive enforcement of these criminal offenses opened up an enormous market for convict leasing in which prisoners were contracted out as laborers to the highest private bidder. Douglas Blackmon, in Slavery by Another Name, describes how tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested during this period, many of them hit with court costs and fines, which had to be worked off in order to secure their release” (31).

Through convict leasing programs, slavery was reborn–just under a different name. There were high death rates for the prisoners as well as no means to pay off debts. The private bidders who “bought” the laborers were even less invested in the laborers than slave owners were about their slaves, according to Alexander.

She goes on to explain that the harsh punishments for insignificant “crimes” resulted in the first of many prison booms in the U.S. The boom was mostly made up of young black males, resulting in what Alexander calls a new caste. An undercaste.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the Populist party gained momentum when they began to try and unite people among class lines rather than racial ones. After the populist party gained much speed and support by insisting that poor whites and blacks unite and demand social justice together, conservatives and liberals alike were alarmed. Conservatives saw this boom for the populist party as a reason to drive a wedge between poor whites and blacks again:

“Segregation laws were proposed as part of a deliberate effort to drive a wedge between poor whites and African Americans. These discriminatory barriers were designed to encourage lower class whites to retain a sense of superiority over blacks, making it far less likely that they would sustain interracial political alliances aimed at toppling the white elite. The laws were, in effect, another racial bribe. As William Julius Wilson has noted, ‘as long as poor whites directed their hatred and frustration against the black competitor, the planters were relieved of class hostility directed against them’’’ (37).

“The general public generally traces the death of Jim Crow (era) to Brown v. Board of Education, although the institution was showing signs of weakness years before. By 1945, a growing number of whites in the North had concluded that the Jim Crow system would have to be modified, if not entirely overthrown. The consensus was due to a number of factors including the increased political power of the blacks due to migration to the North, and the growing membership and influence of the NAACP, particularly its highly successful legal campaign challenging Jim Crow laws in federal courts.

“Far more important in the view of many scholars, however, is the influence of WWII. The blatant contradiction between the country’s opposition to the crimes of the Third Reich against European Jews and the continued existence of a racial caste system in the United States was proving embarrassing, severely damaged the nation’s credibility as leader of the ‘free world.’ There was also increased concern that, without greater equality for African Americans, blacks would become susceptible to communist influence, given Russia’s commitment to both racial and economic equality. In Gunmar Myrdal’s highly influential book An American Dilemma, published in 1944, Myrdal made a passionate plea for integration based on the theory that the inherent contradiction between the ‘American Creed’ of freedom and equality and the treatment of African Americans was not only immoral and profoundly unjust, but was also against the economic and foreign interests of the U.S.” (38).

After the Civil Rights Movement garnered support and success with the help of JFK and LBJ, Alexander explains that this moment of triumph was short lived. Just like in the past, slavery by a new name was emerging: “With the success of the Civil Rights Movement and the launching of the Poor People’s Movement, it was apparent to all that a major disruption in the nation’s racial equilibrium had occurred. Yet as we shall see below, Negroes stood only a ‘brief moment in the sun.’ Conservative whites began, once again, to search for a new racial order that would conform to the needs and constraints of the time. This process took place with the understanding that whatever the new order would be, it would have to be formally race-neutral–it could not involve explicit or clearly intentional race discrimination. A similar phenomenon had followed slavery and Reconstruction, as white elites struggled to define a new racial order with the understanding that whatever the new order would be, it could not include slavery. Jim Crow eventually replaced slavery, but now it too had died, and it was unclear what might take its place. Barred by law from invoking race explicitly, those committed to racial hierarchy were forced to search for new means of achieving their goals according to the new rules of American democracy” (40).

It is here that Alexander explains what she means by “new Jim Crow.”

“For more than a decade–from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s–conservatives systematically and strategically linked opposition to civil rights legislation to calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime. Civil rights protests were frequently depicted as criminal rather than political in nature, and federal courts were accused of excessive ‘lenience’ toward lawlessness, thereby contributing to the spread of crime. In the words of then–vice president Richard Nixon, the increasing crime rate ‘can be traced directly to the spread of the corrosive doctrine that every citizen possesses an inherent right to decide for himself which laws to obey and when to disobey them.’ Some segregationists went further, insisting that integration causes crime, citing lower crime rates in Southern states as evidence that segregation was necessary.

“Some segregationists went further, insisting that integration causes crime citing lower crime rates in Southern states as evidence that segregation was necessary. Unfortunately, at the same time civil rights were being identified as a threat to law and order, the FBI was reporting fairly dramatic increases in the national crime rate. Beginning in the 1960s, crime rates rose in the United States for a period of about ten years. Reported street crime quadrupled and homicide rates nearly doubled. Despite significant controversy over the accuracy of crime statistics during this period (the FBI’s method of tracking crime was changing), sociologists and criminologists agree that crime did rise, in some categories quite sharply. The reasons for the crime wave are complex but can be explained in large part by the rise of the ‘baby boom’ generation–the spike in the number of young men in the fifteen-to-twenty-four age group, which historically has been responsible for most crimes. The surge of young men in the population was occurring at precisely the same time that unemployment rates for black men were rising sharply, but the economic and demographic factors contributing to rising crime were not explored in the media. Instead, crime reports were sensationalized and offered as further evidence of the breakdown in lawfulness, morality, and social stability in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement”  (40-41).

Throughout this book, as you can see, there are worlds of knowledge regarding our current social state. Below is an infographic by the ACLU explaining the mass incarceration age in America. Alexander explains how laws like “three strikes you’re out” and mandatory sentencing, racial profiling, and more has led to the new Jim Crow era. Black men experience much harsher sentencing for minor drug crimes compared to white men. This is not a political issue that divides us among party lines. This is a humanitarian issue that must be treated like any other Human Rights issue across the globe. massincarceration_20110617_0

If you want to help, donate to Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and more.

LD

“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.

Churchill’s “The World Crisis”

As we get closer to November 11, Veteran’s Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in the UK, we need to remember those have sacrificed their lives so we can live in freedom.  One hundred years ago the Great War was being fought in Europe and the Middle East.  As I do every year at this time, I remember my uncle, Patrick Morrison, who served in the Seaforth Highlanders and survived the Great War, both on the western front and at  Gallipoli, which is the subject of this blog!

Followers of my blog will have deduced by now I am a admirer of Winston Churchill.  I have in my personal library most of his important works of history and a lot of books written about him.  The one book of Churchill’s I was missing and wanted was his The World Crisis , a four volume history of the Great War.   A few months ago, I thought about buying the one volume paperback edition of his abridgement, but before I could, a co-worker found a hardback copy at an estate sale and presented it to me without knowing  how much I desired that particular  volume.

In the earlier  world war, Churchill was not the hero he was to the British people he was in the Second World War.  To be sure he was in the top ranks of the government, but not as prime minister.  He started out the conflict as First Lord of the Admiralty (the political head of the Royal Navy), running the most powerful arm of the British armed forces, scattered all over the world; working with the sea lords, the professional commanders of the fleet.

For more than a century the enemy lay just across the English Channel in France, but now the foe was the German High Seas fleet based on the east side of the North Sea, and the ally was the French.   Accordingly, when the threat of war became clear in August 1914, the fleet was dispatched to a base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands just north of Scotland, where it could easily confront the Germans on the North Sea.  Great Britain was drawn into the war by guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium from invasion by the Huns, as the Germans were called then.  An ultimatum was sent to the German government, due to expire at midnight August 4, 1914.  Churchill describes the final minutes leading up to that fatal midnight thusly:

 “It was 11 o’clock at night–12 by German time–when the ultimatum expired.  The windows of the Admiralty were thrown open in the warm night air.  Under the roof…were gathered a small group of Admirals and Captains and a cluster of clerks, pencil in hand,  waiting.  Along the Mall from the direction of the Palace the sound of an immense concourse singing ‘God Save the King’ floated in.  On this deep wave there broke the chimes of Big Ben; and, as the first stroke boomed out, a rustle of movement swept the across the room.  The war telegram, which meant ‘Commence hostilities against Germany’ was flashed to ships and and establishments  under the White Ensign all over the world.  I walked across Horse Guard’s Parade to the Cabinet room [at 10 Downing Street] and reported to the Prime Minister and the Ministers who were assembled there that the deed was done.”

Churchill’s main contribution, and perhaps downfall, at the Admiralty was the Dardanelles campaign.  The Dardanelles is the body of water that connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara in northwest Turkey.  As long as the Dardanelles was in the hands of the Turks, the Russians were blocked from a southern all year route out of Black Sea past Constantinople  and westward to the Aegean Sea.  Of all the Allies’ ill gotten attacks against Germany and its supporters, the Dardanelles was one of the most unfortunate and Churchill was at the heart of the planning of this fiasco.

At the heart of this unfortunate plan was the fact that the land war on the Western Front had reached a stalemate barely four months into the war.  Churchill wanted, as he did in World War II, to advance allied forces in the Mediterranean, this time  against the Austrians and Turks, who were both a part of the Central Powers.   According to Churchill, the planning for attacks against what was left of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) began in January 1915.   Churchill convinced the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, of his plan to use an Allied fleet made up partially of older dreadnoughts and some modern ships to force their way up the Dardanelles toward Constantinople.    There were differing opinions as to whether this could be accomplished by the Navy alone or whether troops would be needed to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula which bordered on the left side of the Dardanelles.

After two months of planning, the Royal Navy, along with a smaller group of French ships, attacked the Turkish forts along the waterway.  The Turks, expecting a attack, mined the Dardanelles between its opening to the Aegean Sea and the Narrows, which guarded to entrance to the Sea of Marmara.    The modern battleships of the British fleet were out of range of the Turkish forts until they entered the Dardanelles and came in contact with the Turkish mines, some of which the Allies did not know the location of.   The French admiral’s flagship was sunk with virtually all hands lost.  Some of the British ships were severely damaged and retreated.  The War Council, at Churchill’s behest, voted to use troops to invade the Gallipoli Peninsula.    The causalities from the invasion were horrific and Churchill was the scapegoat and he was sacked from the Admiralty.

Reading Churchill’s version of  events while he was First Lord of the Admiralty reminded me of a Max Hastings quote I used before when I was the discussing Churchill’s role in the Dardanelles/Gallipoli affair:  “Churchill believed himself exceptionally fitted for the direction of armies, navies, and air forces.  He perceived no barrier to such a role in the fact that he possessed neither military staff training nor experience of higher field command.”   Comparing his activities in both the world wars, he made his greatest errors in the Mediterranean theater.   When you are reading Churchill’s account of both wars, Hastings’ opinion  is very apt.

 

America the Dutiful

Freedom of information is an internationally recognized fundamental human right (as an extension of freedom of speech). The ideology of free speech is thought to have emerged in ancient Athens in the late 6th or early 5th century BC. England’s Bill of Rights 1689, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1791), The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)- these historic and foundational documents all enshrine the free communication of ideas as “one of the most precious rights of man” and a core principle of democracy. Your freedom of speech is being fought for every day:

edasnerhwofmay2013The free access to information is not a privilege, but a necessity for any free society. One of my favorite things to do as a young man was wander through the stacks of my hometown library. I’d just browse until I found something interesting. Libraries have definitely changed my life.

-Ed Asner

“Freedom of information” is often referred to today in terms of government transparency- like the Freedom of Information Act. But there are other informational avenues under attack, less often recognized. As part of Banned Books Week, libraries in Macon, Jackson, and Swain Counties have been celebrating & raising awareness  with displays encouraging the public to check out books that are frequently challenged or banned. Since 1982, more than 11,300 book titles have been challenged (the ALA publishes a list of the 100 most frequently challenged book by decade if you want to be a renegade reader!).

Authors are not only guaranteed the freedom to write what they want (some limitations may apply), everyone has the freedom to read what they want (read fREADom – Celebrate the Right to Read for my soapbox rebuttal to “What about the children?”)

Stop by your library and checkout a banned book!

Freedom of Speech has been interpreted as freedom of expression in any media and extends into freedom of information and the right to privacy (the EFF has won several court cases protecting privacy and free speech online).  In addition to Banned Books Week, we observe Banned Websites Awareness Day on the Wednesday during Banned Books week, Sept. 28th this year. This day seeks to raise awareness of the growing information censorship in schools and libraries alike.

Part of this issue relates to CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), enacted by Congress in 2000 to “protect” children from accessing harmful or obscene content on the internet. This legislation was tied to the funding mechanism which subsidizes internet for schools and public libraries. In order to protect their funding (better safe than sorry?), many organizations over-filter and reach well beyond the requirements of CIPA. This, combined with an imperfect technology, means that access to many legitimate, educational websites is blocked for children, teachers, librarians, and the general public.

img_1210

Many schools even block access to social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter. Some of these students are tasked with learning about media and outreach avenues as a means to educate and are not given access to the tools they need to learn. We’re doing a disservice to students (and teachers) by limiting their experiences; in addition to not getting practice critically filtering web-based information on their own, we’re also reinforcing the idea that social media & the internet are distractions to learning rather than tools to connect, communicate, and educate. Teaching students that the internet is a cesspool and a waste of time… well, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By shielding people from the internet, we foster exactly what we’re trying to protect them from— and failing to cultivate good digital citizenship in the process.

orwell-quoteThe issues of censorship go beyond publicly funded institutions. There have been 20 documented government ordered “internet shutdowns” globally in the first 6 months of 2016.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, anyone can claim ownership of content and have it removed from web hosts or search engines without any proof and without any recourse or appeal (in practice- most web hosts and content providers don’t want to/can’t spend the time needed to investigate claims and will simply remove content automatically). Many times, bots (rather than actual human beings) issue takedown requests en masse and without review, sometimes with hilarious results (Warner Bros mistakenly files DMCA takedowns for its own websites).

What can you do? Exercise your freedom— inform yourself and express yourself. And support the rights of others to do the same— just don’t take those unfollows on Facebook during election season too personally!

 

 

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/

Letters from (and to) the Front, Part I

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.

 Coincidentally, I was reading Drew Gilpin Faust’s Mothers of Invention : Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, which contains excerpts of letters written by Confederate women to their husbands on the front.  Also, in my home library I have a copy of Tracy Sugarman’s My War: a Love Story in Letters and Drawings.  Unfortunately, that book is not in the NC Cardinal system, but a large collection of his letters to his wife is preserved on the Library of Congress website, so I decided to include his book in this blog. One other book that excerpts from letters written by soldiers serving in the Union army in the Civil War is Earl J. Hess’   The Union Soldier in Battle.  The first part of this blog will have excerpts from letters from the Civil War and World War I, the second letters from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Separation in families during wartime can be traumatic both for the member of the armed forces being away from his or her family and the family at home.  But these days email and social media help to shorten the distance with almost instant communication and air travel makes leave at home realistic despite long distances to the site of deployment.  Imagine being a woman in the Confederate south, where the postal service left something to be desired, hearing about a major battle and not knowing for weeks, or even months, if your loved one is whole or not; or even alive or dead.  Faust cites a letter from a woman who tells her husband she wishes him to be wounded or suffer an amputation, so he comes home deformed, and not be attractive to other women in a culture where there was a shortage of men.  In World War II, distance was a problem in correspondence traveling from home to the various fronts, and vice versa, especially when  there were armies and naval forces that were on the move.  In some cases the soldier or sailor would receive a “Dear John” or “Dear Jill” letter ending a relationship.

The contents of letters depended on their origin.  Dr. Faust discovered that women left to manage large plantations, while their husbands were off fighting, doubted their ability  to take the man’s place running complex business and cultural environments.  Some of these women hired old white men to manage the slave laborers, while others did it themselves, trusting the black slaves to help with the planting, raising, and harvesting of the crops.

 The letters Dr. Hess uncovered had to do with men writing about combat experiences about which the southern women were totally divorced from, at least if they lived far beyond the armies.  A New York regimental surgeon replied to a question from his wife as follows:  “You have asked for a description of a field after the Angel of Death has passed over it; but I do no more so than I can give you an idea of anything indescribable.  You must stand as I have stood, and heard to report of battery upon battery, witness the effect of shell, grape and canister–you must hear the incessant  discharge of musketry, see men leaping high in the in the and falling dead upon the ground…hear their groans…see their eye grow dim in death, before you can realize or be impressed with its horrors.”

Confederate Captain William Harris Hardy gave his wife the following description of combat:   “All the firing had ceased, everything was calm and still after the awful storm save the awful shrieks of the dying and wounded which were great came from every quarter in every direction.  Cries for help, for water, brother calling brother, comrade for companions.  In ten feet of where I lay was a Pennsylvania Yankee with his bowels shot out….  We left before daylight.  I don’t know what became of him.”

In War Letters, a World War I ambulance driver, George Ruckle, wrote this description to his family:  “I’ll never some of the sights I saw and how bravely our men and the French bore their wounds.  Men with arms and legs torn off would never utter a groan during the whole trip to the hospital.  At one place some new batteries came up their horses were picketed  in a clump of trees.  I saw a shell land in the middle of them and the next minute there was pile of 50 or 60 dead horses.”

On the other hand, soldiers of the Civil War era could  not describe what they saw on the battlefield, either because they didn’t want to relive the experience or they didn’t want to scare their correspondents.   Illinois soldier wrote this: “I shall not attempt to describe what I saw, of dead wounded and suffering .  It would be an absolute  impossibility  and if it were possible my heart would shrink from such a task.”   Another Illinois soldier phased it this way, “a scene that it impossible describe either to a writer or artist”

At the of the war to end all wars, Lt. Lewis Plush reflects on his memories of the war to his parents  as he sails back to the United States:  “There was a war,  a great war, and it is over.  Men fought to kill, to maim, to destroy.  Some return home. others remain behind on the fields of their greatest sacrifice.  The rewards of the death are the lasting honors of martyrs for humanity; the reward of the living is the peaceful conscience of who play of life and plays it square.”