Paul Fussell, RIP

Paul Fussell, happy to have survived WWII

One of the best history books ever written, bar none, is Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, a book that elegantly and seamlessly manages to be a comprehensive overview of WWI from the English point of view and of British literature during WWI.  My copy of the book, which I got during college, still occupies a prominent place on my bookshelf.  I’ve read it so often that the cheap paperback binding has disintegrated and, when I open the book, the drift gently down around my feet.  Anyone who is interested in England’s transition from pre-War romanticism to post-War cynicism, or interested in rock-solid history, or is interested in early 20th century British literature and poetry, or is simply interested in beautiful writing, should read this book.

Paul Fussell also wrote one of my favorite essays ever:  Thank God for the Atom Bomb. In that essay, Fussell, an infantryman in Europe the Pacific during WWII, makes a very simple argument: the atomic bomb was a good thing, in that it saved both Japanese and American lives.  Had the bomb not dropped, the war would have continued onto the Japanese mainland, with substantially greater American deaths (up to 100,000 more) as well as Japanese deaths equal to or greater than those resulting from the bomb.  This was a total war, one that the Japanese started.  It was not America’s responsibility to kill its own exhausted Marines in order to keep the Japanese alive, especially because the Japanese Bushido ethos demanded war without surrender.

Aside from embracing Fussell’s logic, I have always heartily and personally agreed with his sentiment.  When the bomb dropped, my mother, who had spent the previous 3.9 years in various Japanese concentration camps in Java, was 21, weighed 60 or so pounds, had the edema of profound starvation, was suffering from two different types of malaria (so she had constant fevers), had beriberi, and was no longer interested in eating.  Had the war lasted even a few more weeks, it’s doubtful she would have survived.  No Mom, of course, equals no me.  Thank God for the Atom Bomb!

Fussell, incidentally, wrote his atomic bomb essay while revisionist scholars were mounting their decades-long, atomic-sized attack on the bomb drop.  Their contention — and the story I learned in school — was that Fat Man and Little Boy had nothing to do with the War in the Pacific, and everything to do with Truman posturing before Stalin.  Recently released documents, however, show that Fussell was correct.  While impressing Stalin might have been a by-product of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Truman’s primary and reasonable goal was to speed up Japan’s inevitable defeat, while saving the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.  (For more on this, check out this Dennis Giangreco bibliography.)

As you’ve already figured out from the heading to this post, Paul Fussell has died, aged 88.  He was a true scholar who wrote brilliantly and who possessed a rare intellectual honesty and curmudgeonliness that overrode his generic East Coast, Ivy League liberalism.

(A random aside:  Fussell’s son, Samuel, is a pretty darn good writer too.  He wrote the delightful Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, which chronicled his journey from weedy Ivy League scholar, to polished, Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque body building.)

Why can’t we fight to the finish this time, so we’ll never have to do it again?

A friend sent me a link to an editorial bemoaning the fact that, by abruptly pulling out from Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan, the Obama administration is ensuring that we’re leaving a job undone — something that invariably means one has to do it again.  If history is going to keep repeating itself, why can’t we just repeat the good parts?

World War I ended with a definitive American victory, but a dangerous, un-managed peace, one that pretty much made World War II inevitable.  By 1942, my favorite songwriter, Irving Berlin, pretty much summed up the WWII mindset, which was “do it right this time.”

[Verse:]
‘Twas not so long ago we sailed to meet the foe
And thought our fighting days were done
We thought ’twas over then but now we’re in again
To win the war that wasn’t won

[Refrain:]
This time, we will all make certain
That this time is the last time

This time, we will not say “Curtain”
Till we ring it down in their own home town

For this time, we are out to finish
The job we started then

Clean it up for all time this time
So we won’t have to do it again

Dressed up to win
We’re dressed up to win
Dressed up for victory
We are just beginning
And we won’t stop winning
Till the world is free

[Coda:]
We’ll fight to the finish this time
And we’ll never have to do it again

Trust old Irving to hit the nail on the head. And, in fact, that’s what the Allies did.  First, they destroyed entirely the totalitarian states in Germany, Japan and Italy.  Then, in those regions over which they had control (as to those the Soviets held), the Americans carefully rebuilt the nations into democratic allies.  It was a tough, long-haul job, but it prevented post-war massacres and ensured that (so far) we haven’t had to “do it again” with Germany, Italy or Japan.

Clearly, we’re a whole lot dumber now than we were in the mid-20th century. In 1991 we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq (which is one of the reasons I’ve never liked Colin Powell, whom I’ve always blamed, fairly or not, for being the architect of that foolish retreat). Now, with Obama’s help, we’re doing it all over again, only worse. Does any nation get a third chance to remedy its chronic stupidity? I doubt we will, especially because Obama is also choosing to repeat the disarmament mistakes of the 20s and 30s. Ain’t those fancy Ivy League educations grand? They go in smart and come out stupid.

I’m an armchair warrior (aka a chicken hawk) and I’m disgusted and frustrated. I can only imagine how the troops — the ones who sweated and bled — feel as they watch their Commander in Chief dismantling all of their good work.

Hollywood once again shows its callous disregard for America’s military *UPDATED*

Back in 2004, entirely coincidentally, I ended up at the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., on the same morning that veterans of the Battle of the Bulge had gathered for a reunion. Some got there under their own steam. Many, though, were on walkers or in wheelchairs. They were so frail. And so many were weeping. It was that weeping that did me in. I seldom cry on my own behalf, but I’m a sympathy weeper. Watching these old, fragile warriors break down under the weight of their memories got my tear ducts working overtime.  I still get watery thinking of those men who not only fought one of the most important battles of the war, but who then came home and honored the dead by living.  They had families, held jobs, and generally gave meaning to the freedom for which they fought.

I mention this little story because there are people out there, especially in the entertainment world, and more specifically on the set of Hawaii Five-O, who do not share my reverence for these aged warriors (free registration required):

Last week, a special group of Americans made a trip to Hawaii. This was not their first trip to Hawaii. In fact, the first time all of these men were together in Hawaii was on December 7th, 1941.

Last week, these men and some of their families were back in Hawaii again for the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Today, less than ten percent of those who served during World War II are still alive.

For the men who made this trip, there was also another tacit acknowledgement. This would be their last trip. The average age of a Pearl Harbor [veteran] is in the early nineties. In fact, there are now so few Pearl Harbor survivors left that the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is disbanding at the end of the month.

On December 9th, 24 Pacific veterans, including 23 Pearl Harbor survivors were taken to the National Cemetery of the Pacific for a memorial ceremony honoring those who fell during the attack on Pearl Harbor and those who fell during the Pacific campaign.

While the men were at the cemetery, the TV show Hawaii Five-O was filming at the cemetery. As the National Anthem was played and the ceremony went on, the CBS production crew was filming. At first they told the veterans and their families to hush, then repeatedly pushed them back and finally told them to hurry up. As the veterans were laying roses on the graves of their fallen comrades, a production employee walked through the middle of the ceremony telling them to hurry up.

Perhaps the ultimate insult came at the end, when someone with the veterans group asked if one of the cast members of Hawaii Five-O could come over and say hello to the group. The production crew refused.

These World War II vets are a tough bunch. They went through the first depression and then the Second World War. I can guarantee you they did not let this incident ruin their trip, though some of their family members might feel differently.

[snip]

CBS has issued a carefully nuanced statement claiming they would look into the incident and throwing out some boilerplate language about how they respect the veterans of World War II.

Stefffan Tubbs, who was there, provides more details about the Hollywood thought process on display:

I decided to take a closer look at the production area from the public thoroughfare and walked closer to see catering trucks, grips, associate directors, production assistants, lighting workers, countless minions and the lead director – a Hollywood-looking middle-aged man wearing a black “AD/HD” t-shirt, a play off the rock band “AC/DC.” I stopped well behind the cameras and out of view when a local production assistant politely told me to keep moving. I was not happy and told her we had WWII vets who would likely be in the area. I was told, “Sorry, sir. We rented this part of the cemetery today.” My blood started to boil, but I remained calm and moved on. As I stood behind the tent, the director yelled at everyone to: “Get out of the line of sight! If you don’t belong here, clear out!”

I made sure to go where I was basically invisible, 40 yards from the nearest camera when the director heatedly walked to me. He was not happy.

“Can you please move?” he said sternly.

“OK,” I said. “Where would you like me to go? I have Pearl survivors who are here visiting their fallen comrades at a public cemetery.”

He couldn’t have cared less and told me that if we stood behind a tent, that would be fine. He walked away completely frustrated and yelled at a local assistant: “I am doing YOUR job! You wanna come back here again? Do your job!” I felt sorry for her. It wasn’t her fault a group of vets actually came back for a realreason to this cemetery. Having been around a few movie sets, I knew this was how they were especially if the scene was behind schedule, etc. Keep in mind at this point I was alone. It wasn’t as if our entire entourage was milling about. There was only one veteran anywhere near me and was walking toward me from up the road.

Walter Maciejowski, 90, from Massachusetts soon caught up and I quickly tried to run interference so he wouldn’t get yelled at as he stood there in his cream-colored Pearl Harbor Survivors cap. Walter was clueless and was just amazed at the technology. He whispered in my ear as the scene was about to begin 75 yards away. We both stood exactly where the director had told me to stand.

[snip]

I told Walter we had to go, and we started to walk away as lead actor Alex O’Laughlin and Terry O’Quinn from Lost did their scene. As we moved out, yet another woman came up to us and with a fake smile told us Walter couldn’t take any pictures.

“Our actors get very skiddish [sic] around still cameras, sir.”

“Funny, and yet they act in front of them,” I said, ticked off because we were already leaving.

I wish he hadn’t done it, but Walter asked if they by chance had a hat for him. To his face, she said, “I doubt it but I will try.” She never did.

You can read the rest of this eyewitness narrative here.

This whole thing falls into the category of I see it, but I don’t believe it.  It’s impossible for me to understand the mindset of louts who are either so callously self-involved or so Progressively propagandized (or both) that they are unable to support old men on a last pilgrimage to a defining moment in their youth — a defining moment, moreover, that was not only one of the more savage acts in a savage century, but that also paved the way for a freedom that blessed Europe (until it squandered that gift) and was the making of a very successful modern Japan (which then decided to stop having babies).

Pearl Harbor Survivor David Shoup at the 70th anniversary commemoration at Pearl Harbor (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark Logico)

UPDATE: In the first comment to this post, Don Quixote points out that Hawaii Five-O is fairly military-friendly in content, something that I respect and appreciate.  I can’t figure out if that fact makes the cast’s and crew’s behavior at Pearl Harbor more or less unpleasant.  It’s like discovering the worms under a rock (with all due respect to bookworms, of course).  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Back in Hollywood’s golden days, the studios employed vast numbers of publicity people to make sure that people didn’t learn that the stars of wholesome, family friendly movies lived somewhat debauched lifestyles.

UPDATE II:  JJ offered so much good information, I’m copying his comment here:

A little information from the world of TV.  Whether it mitigates or not is up to you, but here’s what happened.

1) Whoever – in Hawaii – it is who schedules events at the cemetery is a retard.  (Dear Editor: I don’t actually care about the political incorrectness of using that word, it’s apposite, it stays.)  Or, perhaps it was a screw-up on the part of the scheduler for the vets.  Either way, some dingbat somewhere dropped the ball and allowed the two groups to be occupying the same space at the same time.  This unfortunate confluence was the fault of neither group – blame whoever has the appointment books.

2) CBS has no idea what the complaints they’re suddenly receiving are about, so idiot boilerplate is their best – maybe only – response.  They don’t actually have a production company in Hawaii – or much of anywhere else these days.  I would be astounded if it was an actual CBS production company.  The people who own, produce, and deliver that show to CBS for air do not work for CBS.  They are an outside, independent production company that exists as an entity for the purpose of making episodes of the show – most of them have never been within a thousand miles of Black Rock.  That production company hired that director – and everybody else on set – to make that episode.  The director is a production company employee – for that episode – and he may make all the episodes, (a probability rare to the point of vanishing), many of them, some, few – or this may be his only one.  He’s a jobber.  When you complain to CBS about him, they’re going to say, “huh?  Wha…?”  They didn’t hire him, probably don’t know him, may never have heard of him, and he ain’t their problem.  (The network doesn’t know or care about the labor, they only want to see the baby – in time for it to go out when it’s scheduled to.)

3) The production company got seriously shafted on the cost to film in the cemetery that day.  How do I know?  All production companies always get shafted on fees for the use of locations, because everybody in the world – including people who should know better – begin having visions beyond the dreams of avarice when they see Hollywood coming.  And the biggest shafting is the make-it-up-on-the-spot insurance premiums for filming on location.  If there’s a blade of grass out of place, or a broken twig on a tree after the production company wraps and leaves, you cannot fathom the megillah this is.  (Which is why they film in studios and on lots, and in Canada.  It’s why studios and back lots came into being in the first place: to avoid the never-ending problems of locations.)  The PAs all knew that if anything remotely definable as “damage” happened to any part of the cemetery or its grounds – even if committed by a Pearl Harbor veteran or somebody else – they would be the ones turning on a spit over a hot fire,

None of which excuses the shitty attitude of these overpaid, well-tanned, tower of ignorance trolls, but it may make it a bit – a microscopic bit – understandable, or maybe explicable.  The fact is most of them, being products of American education, never heard of Pearl Harbor.  Factor in the self-centeredness engendered by hanging around Hollywood, and you have a group that’s only rarely in touch with where they are.  The director, probably the senior guy present (at least on the on-the-spot management ladder, could have been gracious and understanding.  The actors as well – neither of whom I know – could also have brought matters to a halt for a respectful pause.  (Tom Selleck or John Hillerman, speaking of people who filmed in Hawaii for CBS, would have.  [Selleck would have stopped the scene, and worked out a way to get the Pearl Harbor vets into it, as objects of deep respect and honor.]   I wouldn’t know either of the two clowns mentioned above if I fell over them.

Hat tip:  America’s First Sergeant

My mother’s war, courtesy of Pearl Harbor

My mother’s heading to the hospital again today.  She’s not aging gracefully, in large part because of the damage done to her body and soul during WWII.  I thought that this would be a good day for me to reprint what I once wrote about her war (originally part of this longer post about Japanese atrocities).

In 1941, my mother was a 17 year old Dutch girl living in Java. Life was good then. Although the war was raging in Europe, and Holland had long been under Nazi occupation, the colonies were still outside the theater of war. The colonial Dutch therefore were able to enjoy the traditional perks of the Empire, with lovely homes, tended by cheap Indonesian labor. All that changed with the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Most Americans think of Pearl Harbor as a uniquely American event, not realizing that it was simply the opening salvo the Japanese fired in their generalized war to gain total ascendancy in the Pacific. While Pearl Harbor devastated the American navy, the Japanese did not conquer American soil. Residents in the Philippines (American territory), Indonesia (Dutch territory), Malaya (British territory), and Singapore (also British) were not so lucky. Each of those islands fell completely to the Japanese, and the civilians on those islands found themselves prisoners of war.

In the beginning, things didn’t look so bad. The Japanese immediately set about concentrating the civilian population by moving people into group housing, but that was tolerable. The next step, however, was to remove all the men, and any boys who weren’t actually small children. (Wait, I misspoke. The next step was the slaughter of household pets — dogs and cats — which was accomplished by picking them up by their hind legs and smashing their heads against walls and trees.)

After this separation, the men and women remained completely segregated for the remainder of the war. The men were subjected to brutal slave labor, and had an attrition rate much higher than the women did. Also, with the typical Bushido disrespect for men who didn’t have the decency to kill themselves, rather than to surrender, the men were tortured at a rather consistent rate.

One of my mother’s friends discovered, at war’s end, that her husband had been decapitated. This is what it looked like when the Japanese decapitated a prisoner (the prisoner in this case being an Australian airman):

Japanese execution0001

The women were not decapitated, but they were subjected to terrible tortures. After the men were taken away, the women and children were loaded in trucks and taken to various camps. The truck rides were torturous. The women and children were packed into the trucks, with no food, no water, no toilet, facilities, and no shade, and traveled for hours in the steamy equatorial heat.

Once in camp, the women were given small shelves to sleep on (about 24 inches across), row after row, like sardines. They were periodically subjected to group punishments. The one that lives in my mother’s memory more than sixty years after the fact was the requirement that they stand in the camp compound, in the sun, for 24 hours. No food, no water, no shade, no sitting down, no restroom breaks (and many of the women were liquid with dysentery and other intestinal diseases and parasitical problems). For 24 hours, they’d just stand there, in the humid, 90+ degree temperature, under the blazing tropical sun. The older women, the children and the sick died where they stood.

There were other indignities. One of the camp commandants believed himself to have “moon madness.” Whenever there was a full moon, he gave himself license to seek out the prisoners and torture those who took his fancy. He liked to use knives. He was the only Japanese camp commandant in Java who was executed after the war for war crimes.

Of course, the main problem with camp was the deprivation and disease. Rations that started out slender were practically nonexistent by war’s end. Eventually, the women in the camp were competing with the pigs for food. If the women couldn’t supplement their rations with pig slop, all they got was a thin fish broth with a single bite sized piece of meat and some rice floating in it. The women were also given the equivalent of a spoonful of sugar per week. My mother always tried to ration hers but couldn’t do it. Instead, she’d gobble it instantly, and live with the guilt of her lack of self-control.

By war’s end, my mother, who was then 5’2″, weighed 65 pounds. What frightened her at the beginning of August 1945 wasn’t the hunger, but the fact that she no longer felt hungry. She knew that when a women stopped wanting to eat, she had started to die. Had the atomic bomb not dropped when it did, my mother would have starved to death.

Starvation wasn’t the only problem. Due to malnourishment and lack of proper protection, my mother had beriberi, two different types of malaria (so as one fever ebbed, the other flowed), tuberculosis, and dysentery. At the beginning of the internment, the Japanese were providing some primitive medical care for some of these ailments. As the war ground on, of course, there was no medicine for any of these maladies. She survived because she was young and strong. Others didn’t.

So yes, the Japanese were different. They approached war — and especially civilian populations — with a brutality equaled only by the Germans. War is brutal, and individual soldiers can do terrible things, but the fact remains that American troops and the American government, even when they made mistakes (and the Japanese internment in American was one of those mistakes) never engaged in the kind of systematic torture and murder that characterized Bushido Japanese interactions with those they deemed their enemies. It is a tribute to America’s humane post-WWII influence and the Japanese willingness to abandon its past that the Bushido culture is dead and gone, and that the Japanese no longer feel compelled by culture to create enemies and then to engage in the systematic torture and murder of those enemies.

A day that will live in infamy

Seventy years ago today, America’s self-imposed isolationism, to which it had managed to cling for twenty years, ended when the Japanese launched their savage surprise attack against Pearl Harbor.  All told, 2,402 people died.  It was, until 9/11, the deadliest attack on American soil.  A mere six months later, the American Navy met the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway.  While that battle did not wipe out Japanese sea power then and there, it nevertheless spelled the beginning of the end for that power.  The Japanese never recovered, and the war’s end was a foregone conclusion — never mind that it took another three and a half years to achieve.

I take Pearl Harbor Day personally.  My mother was living in Indonesia at the time and the Japanese, flush with their devastating kill record against America on December 7, moved swiftly to take over Singapore, Malaya, the Philippines and Indonesia.  My mom spent the war years in a Japanese concentration camp.  Pearl Harbor day was certainly a day of infamy for her, and one that colored (and continues to color) the rest of her life.  She soldiered on, but never recovered.

I wasn’t the only one who let D-Day go unobserved

To my chagrin, I forgot to make my salute to D-Day on this blog.  My head was so taken up with my Midway post, that I simply lost track of time.  Two pivotal battles that changed the course of World War II, one marking the beginning of the end for Japan, and one the beginning of the end for Germany.  They are separated from his by 69 and 67 years respectively, but as they played out in real time, D-Day took place almost exactly after the Battle of Midway.  Both were distinguished by extraordinary bravery, heroism and self-sacrifice on the part of American and, in the case of D-Day, Allied troops.  If we forget these dates, we forget part of what makes the free world great, and that is the willingness to pay for that freedom with our blood, and the blood of our sons and daughters.

I wasn’t the only one who let D-Day go unobserved, although I think I have a better excuse than . . . President (and Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces) Obama.  He’s such a disrespectful little weasel.

One degree of separation

I’m reading Gordon Prange’s Miracle at Midway, as preparation for the Battle of Midway Celebration I’m attending in less than two weeks.  Last year, when I went to the celebration, I knew the vague outlines of Midway (turning point in war, yada, yada, yada); this year, I wanted to know more.  It’s out of print, but if you can get hold of a copy it’s a readable and informative book.

One of the things I did not know when I started reading Miracle at Midway was the fact that Admiral Chester Nimitz was the Battle’s architect.  I have a silly connection to Admiral Nimitz.

When I was at college, I got a job as medical transcriptionist for two orthopedic surgeons.  I spent two very happy years doing part-time work in that office.  The typewriter I used (yes, young’uns, a typewriter) had hanging over it this picture of Nimitz accepting the Japanese surrender:

 

What made this picture different from other copies of the same photo was the fact that, written on it were the words:  “To Dr. XXX.  Thank you.  Chester Nimitz” (or something similar to that).  It turns out that one of the doctors for whom I worked had been Admiral Nimitz’s orthopedic surgeon in the years after the war.

And that’s my one degree of separation from the great Admiral Nimitz.

George Soros: A missing moral compass

In my “real” facebook world, there’s been a lot of outrage over Glenn Beck’s excavation of George Soros’ adolescent work for the Nazis, work Soros (a Jew) engaged in to stay alive while passing as a Christian in Nazi occupied territory.  Liberals howl “How dare Beck judge Soros? ” But is that what Beck is doing or is Beck judging the person that helpless boy grew up to become?  I don’t know, because I don’t watch Beck, but here is the argument I would make if I had Beck’s forum.

A lot of people have, through circumstances, been forced to do heinous things to survive.  As a child, I certainly met my fair share, since I grew up in a world of Holocaust and Killing Field survivors.  I knew people who worked dragging bodies out of the ovens; I knew people who sorted the teeth and hair removed from the dead bodies; I knew people who worked as slave labor in the factories, making weapons the Nazis used against the Allies; I knew Germans who survived Soviet concentration camps; and I knew people who survived the Killing Fields in ways that too terrible for them to describe.  I wouldn’t dream of judging them.  I have no right to judge, and I have no will to judge them.  When one is completely brutalized and intentionally de-humanized, one does things that would be unthinkable in ordinary circumstances.

What distinguishes all the people I knew, though, when compared to George Soros is the fact that they judged themselves.  Without exception, each knew that, even though unwillingly, he or she had been complicit in deeply immoral acts, and each spent a lifetime seeking redemption.  All of them worked hard and were exemplary citizens, whether that simply meant avoiding doing harm or whether it involved more active engagement in altruistic acts.  Neither the absence of external judgment nor their own knowledge that they were responding to overwhelming external forces took that edge off.  They suffered twice, first in the doing and then in the ever-lasting guilt.  But it was the guilt that made them people of exceptional decency and humanity.

Just yesterday, I read a book describing another such soul.  The book is Anthony Flacco’s The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders. For those unfamiliar with the story, as I was when I picked up the book, Sanford Clark was a 13 year old boy who, in 1928, ended up living on an isolated chicken farm with his uncle.  Unfortunately for Sanford, his uncle was a psychopathic serial killer who abducted young boys, brutally raped and generally tortured them, and then murdered them. Sanford differed from those boys only in that his uncle needed his labor, so stopped short of murdering him. Sometimes the “labor” his uncle demanded consisted of feeding the imprisoned boys, digging their graves or even participating in their murders.

When the uncle was finally arrested, Sanford was the chief witness against him.  (By the way, I’m not telling you anything that’s not on the book jacket.  This is not a suspense story; it’s the day-to-day details that make it riveting.)  Where things get really interesting is the life Sanford led after he was finally rescued from this hell hole.  He was consumed by guilt, but his moral compass demanded that his act of contrition consisted of leading a good life.  He worked hard, married, fought in WWII, and raised children.  He was well-liked in his community.  He could never forget what he had seen and done, nor could he forgive himself, but his moral compass demanded that he contribute to the world as best he could.

All of these stories, the ones I heard growing up, or the ones we read about in books such as The Road Out of Hell, have a clear message:  even the most horrific youthful experiences need not destroy a conscience.  Soros, however, seems to have no conscience whatsoever about his complicity with the Nazis.  Unlike the people I knew growing up, who lived with and worked daily to expiate their guilt, when he looks back, he’s good with it all.  When Soros was interviewed about his wartime experiences on 60 Minutes, he expressed no regret whatsoever (emphasis added):

KROFT: (Voiceover) And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.

Mr. SOROS: Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that’s when my character was made.

KROFT: In what way?

Mr. SOROS: That one should think ahead. One should understand and–and anticipate events and when–when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a–a very personal experience of evil.

KROFT: My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson.

Mr. SOROS: Yes. Yes.

KROFT: Went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.

Mr. SOROS: Yes. That’s right. Yes.

KROFT: I mean, that’s–that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?

Mr. SOROS: Not–not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don’t–you don’t see the connection. But it was–it created no–no problem at all.

KROFT: No feeling of guilt?

Mr. SOROS: No.

KROFT: For example that, ‘I’m Jewish and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be there. I should be there.’ None of that?

Mr. SOROS: Well, of course I c–I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn’t be there, because that was–well, actually, in a funny way, it’s just like in markets–that if I weren’t there–of course, I wasn’t doing it, but somebody else would–would–would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the–whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the–I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.

The only real question one is left with after reading the above is whether Soros was always a sociopath, or whether the war made him one.  As I said, I know people who went through worse than he did, and came out human.  He didn’t.  He came out a very intelligent animal, by which I mean that he lacks the moral compass that, to me, is the single most important distinction between humans and animals.

So, whatever Glenn Beck said, he’s right that there’s a problem with Soros’ engagement with the Nazis during the War:  The problem with Soros isn’t what he did to survive; it’s that he doesn’t care what he did to survive.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

“I fought for you — and I’d do it again”

One of the best things we did on our vacation was something we slotted in during the short time we had between arriving in Seattle at the end of our cruise and boarding our plane for home.  During those few hours, we went to the Museum of Flight, which is every bit as wonderful as you’d expect a museum in Boeing’s home town to be.  (It is not, in fact, a Boeing museum, although it incorporates Boeing’s original, albeit relocated, “red barn” into the exhibit.)

The museum has all the things you’d want to find in an institution dedicated to flying.  There are meticulously restored aircraft, ranging from a perfect model of the Wright Brothers’ first plane, to the Air Force One that ferried presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon, to an actual Concorde jet.  In between are mail planes from the twenties and thirties, exhibits about women aviatrixes, histories of the giants of flight, and all sorts of cool memorabilia from the heyday of flying, when it was still a cool, jet-setting experience.

That last, naturally, was in the days before hijackings and bombings, when people waltzed onto planes, and lived the high life.  Regardless of the reality of long hours in a cramped seat, flying then was redolent of romance and adventure.  Here’s a great song to put you mind of an experience some of you may actually remember:

What really made the museum, though, was the newly opened Personal Courage Hall, dedicated to aviation during World Wars One and Two:

Personal Stories
Meet ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances as they demonstrated the highest qualities of courage, dedication and heroism. The Personal Courage Wing . . .

  • Features exhibits dedicated to telling the stories not only of those who flew, but the people who designed, built and maintained these amazing aircraft.
  • Provides a fitting tribute to that “greatest generation” and an inspiring experience that motivates and encourages the next generation of innovative thinkers and inventors.
  • Highlights stories of the American Fighter Aces and the American Volunteer Group—the “Flying Tigers”—who now make The Museum of Flight their official home.

Unforgettable Experiences
Revisit the sights, sounds and sensations of bygone eras. The Personal Courage Wing . . .

  • Tells the history and evolution of World War I and II fighter aviation through state-of-the-art exhibits, flight simulations and interactive experiences unlike any this Museum has ever created.
  • Gives visitors a feeling of reliving history through innovative exhibits and displays with highly dramatic lighting, realistic sounds and theatrical sets.
  • Provides a highly immersive environment using dioramas and displays such as observation balloons, French and German airfields, a pilots’ lounge, a French farmhouse, a battlefield trench, a Quonset hut and an aircraft carrier flight deck.
  • Includes new technology and multimedia presentations such as an aircraft ID kiosk and database, in-depth oral histories, vintage film footage and photos.
  • Offers an exciting new educational live theater program—Amazing Skies Theater—in which actors interact with visitors and bring aviation history to life by recreating characters from the military past and by retelling the courageous exploits of fighter pilots.

Priceless Artifacts
See the planes and artifacts that helped forge the history of a century and learn how that history shaped our world today. The Personal Courage Wing . . .

  • Showcases 28 restored World War I and World War II fighter planes in two galleries—including one of the finest collections of historic fighters found anywhere in the world—the internationally known Champlin Fighter Collection.
  • Includes famous fighters such as the Spitfire, Sopwith Camel and P-38, as well as the less celebrated, but extremely rare, Soviet Yak.
  • Provides a “black-box” environment that controls exposure to harmful ultraviolet light and humidity, enabling the Museum to display personal artifacts and fragile items like documents, uniforms, letters and vintage photos that previously could not be displayed.

The above description doesn’t give you a sense of the immediacy of the exhibit.  There’s something riveting about staring directly at the white silk scarf a long-ago aviator war during a WWI dog fight, or seeing the heart breaking, blue ink letter one pilot wrote to another describing a third one’s death during an aerial battle over Germany in WWII.

It helps that the wars themselves have an emotional resonance.  World War I, which was truly the birth of the modern era, was still fought with an almost insane 19th century valiance.  And World War II was, of course, the Good War.  That Allied troops may have erred and sinned occasionally does nothing to diminish the fact that these men (and women) fought with incredible courage against one of the greatest scourges in history.  The museum gives you a strong sense of the bravery, sacrifice and, frequently, good humor and eccentricity, that characterized these long-ago aviators.

My kids were riveted by the exhibit.  What engaged them from the first moment they walked through the doors was the small section dedicated to America’s Medal of Honor winners.  Side by side, mounted in towers about four feet high, stood two computers monitors.  On one, you could view information about every Medal of Honor winner, since the Medal’s inception.  (It’s the same information you can see here.)

The other computer featured interviews with living Medal of Honor recipients who fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  In each, the recipient told his story while footage played illustrating some of the details he described.  In keeping with the Medal’s purpose, each man narrated, with great humility and, almost, surprise, the way in which he rose above himself to achieve an impossible military goal or to save his comrades from certain death (or, often, both).  It was only the knowledge of our own plane’s imminent departure, coupled with our desire to see at least a bit more of the museum, that forced us to drag the kids away.

If you ever find yourself in Seattle, I urge you to carve out the time to visit the Museum of Flight and, specifically, the Personal Courage Hall.  It is worth your time.  And if you’re very lucky, you might get the added bonus we got.  As our taxi dropped us at the museum a few minutes before it opened, we saw at least a hundred people in the parking lot, all staring fixedly at next door Boeing field.  We stared too.  We would have done better to cover our ears (which we eventually did).  Within one minute of our arrival, with staggering speed and noise, an F15 took off, followed almost immediately by an F22.  We were awed by the combined magnificence of American engineering and aerial skill.

Because this post is dedicated, in significant part, to the sacrifice our troops have always made for us, I’d like to leave you with a moving video, from which comes the quote that is this post’s title. (H/t American Digest.)  My kids are learning this lesson, not through the schools, but through me.  I know yours will too.  Let’s hope we can reach the others out there as well:

Timeless wisdom from a long-forgotten Scotswoman

D.E. Stevenson, born in Edinburgh in 1892, wrote 42 novels in the years between 1923 and 1970.  Most are out of print, so I’ve had the pleasure of reading only the small handful I’ve stumbled across in local libraries over the years.  She writes about the British and Scottish middle class, always with a loving, respectful, sometimes humorous tone.  Those of her books that are my favorites are the ones she wrote during WWII.  Stevenson was intensely patriotic, and believed that the British were in an existential war that must be won in order to preserve their democratic way of life against Nazi totalitarianism.

I was recently lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Spring Magic, which Stevenson wrote in 1941, when Britain stood alone against the Nazis.  The book is ostensibly a romance, with an innocent, but gallant young woman meeting, and falling in love with, a young officer.  That story-line, however, is just a hook for the book’s real focus, which is to delineate the two things Stevenson believed gave Britain her strength and integrity:  its respect for individuals and its career military.  In book after book, Stevenson refines the theme of the goodness and power of the individual (which means her books are filled with charming, honorable characters), and the necessity of an honest, committed military class.  (Stevenson was herself the wife of a career army officer).

Stevenson’s ruminations about British strengths — and the country’s occasionally dismaying fall into suicidal weakness — make for interesting reading seventy years later.  I’d like to share with you a single passage from her book, one that is as relevant today as it was in 1941.  Just so that we’re on the same page, I’ll mention that the passage below, which has the old Laird explaining things to a young officer, reminds me of the fact that (a) in January, the moratorium on estate taxes ends, with the result that estate taxes will go as high as 55% and (b) that the phrase most often heard on Obama’s lips, in one form or another, is always “it’s someone else’s fault,” a phrase usually coupled with a false statement to the effect that, at the time, Obama knew better:

“. . . but even before the war started we had been living on our capital for years,” Mr. MacDonald was saying earnestly.

“I’ve heard it said before,” admitted Guy. “But I’m no economist, I’m afraid.”

“It is quite easy to understand,” Mr. MacDonald replied. “You know what happens when a man starts to spend his capital, and the same thing is bound to happen when a Government starts spending a nation’s wealth. Death Duties and Succession Duties are capital, but the Government has been spending the proceeds as if they were income. It would not be so bad if the Government raked in the money and invested it and spent the income — but that does not seem to have occurred to them. It does not require an economist to realise that a nation’s wealth lies in the wealth of her citizens. Moneyed people are an asset to a nation; paupers are a liability. Take a man with an income of ten thousand a year; he is a valuable asset. The State can depend upon him for a definite yearly income. Then the man dies and the property — instead of passing to his son and continuing to yield the same yearly income to the State — has to be broken up and sold to pay Death Duties.”

“I see,” said Guy, nodding.

“You see,” continued Mr. MacDonald, “every time a big estate is sold up it is a national investment sold out. No more yearly income will accrue from it to the State. It means that the Government has killed one of its geese, so that goose cannot lay any more golden eggs. In the last fifteen years or so the Government has killed off dozens of geese . . . soon there will be no more geese left, and therefore no more golden eggs.”

“It seems very shortsighted,” said Guy thoughtfully.

“It is shortsighted,” replied Mr. MacDonald. “We have been suffering from shortsighted politicians for years. This dreadful was is due to myopia on the part of our politicians — ”

“That’s true!” exclaimed Guy.

Mr. MacDonald smiled. “They wouldn’t see and they wouldn’t listen,” he declared. “They never listen to people who try to tell them unpalatable truths. Lord Roberts warned them before the last war and they said he was in his dotage. Winston Churchill, Roger Keyes, Nevile Henderson and half a dozen others warned them that Germany was on the warpath again and all they did was to disarm faster and break up our battleships for scrap . . . . I don’t know whether you have noticed,” continued Mr. MacDonald. “It is rather an extraordinary thing. Churchill has never once said ‘I told you so’ or ‘If you had only listened to me.’ He is a big man, there is no doubt of that.”