It’s very hard to imagine a Captain Freddy Spencer Chapman existing today

Extreme experiences produce extreme courage, this article, which summarizes the highlights of a book about Capt. Freddy Spencer Chapman, describes a level of courage and commitment that is well nigh unbelievable.  Capt. Chapman was a British army officer who, when trapped behind enemy lines in Malaya, launched a massive guerrilla warfare offensive that ultimately saw 4000 Japanese troops pursuing him:

In a new biography, historian Brian Moynahan recounts how the young officer successfully led a tiny resistance war that wrought such havoc on Japanese supply lines that local commanders were convinced they were looking for a 200-strong force of Australian guerillas and dispatched a force of 4,000 to catch them.

[snip]

Wading through swamps, hacking his way through dense vegetation, struggling to navigate when he could barely see the sun, let alone any landmarks, he became weak as his food supplies dwindled to nothing.

His original intention had been to rendezvous with another pocket of British resistance fighters.

But when he arrived at the prearranged point, he discovered that he had been left behind – assumed lost or dead.

Undeterred, Chapman unleashed his guerilla campaign.

In the ‘mad fortnight’ that followed, as Chapman later referred to it, he crept through the jungle night after night to lay charges on railway bridges and roads, derailing troop and supply trains, and blowing convoys of trucks high into the air before raking them with bullets and grenades.

Chapman estimated that, together with the help of two other British officers, he derailed eight trains, damaged 15 bridges, cut the railway track in 60 places, destroyed 40 trucks or cars and accounted for between 500 and 1,500 casualties.

It was, as Earl Mountbatten would later describe it: ‘more than a whole division of the British Army could have achieved’.

The risks were not Chapman’s alone.  The Japanese, like the Germans, enjoyed mass reprisals, so the death of Japanese soldiers would mean the mass slaughter, by bayonet, fire and more, of an entire Chinese village.  I think, though, that Chapman made the right decision not to allow this grotesque form of blackmail (for that’s what it is when an occupying army engages in mass reprisals against the local civilians).  After all, he must have known from the Rape of Nanking, and from the way in which the Japanese had conducted the war to date, that the Japanese would have done horrible things regardless of the attacks against him.  At least with the attacks, Chapman and his team were doing something that would result in the enemy’s ultimate destruction.  Chapman paid a price — suffering for years from nightmares the replayed those horrible deaths — but I doubt he ever questioned his own actions.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for that book if it ever hits American shores. What an amazing person he must have been.

The lessons about bullies that we seem determined not to learn

So often, there are what I call “matched sets” of stories in newspapers.  This happens when one article makes a point, and another article perfectly illustrates that point.  Today, Spiegel provided the perfect pairing of the way in which the modern Western (that is, Leftist) world refuses to learn lessons, but insists on repeating the fatal mistakes of yesteryear.  The first article, part of a collection Spiegel is running to mark the 70th anniversary of WWII’s beginning, points to the fact that Europe’s appeasement stance was like steroid juice to Hitler, spurring him on to ever greater heights of aggression:

In the years leading up to World War II, Britain and France underestimated just how determined Adolf Hitler was in his lust for conquest. The failure of Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement meant war was inevitable.

[snip]

Chamberlain, the conservative product of a family of politicians, was part of a large faction that sought to appease Germany by fulfilling its wishes, provided they appeared legitimate and were not enforced with violence.

Appeasement was a policy that fed on emotions as well as intellect, at least with Chamberlain. The British prime minister had lost his beloved cousin in World War I. From then on, he advocated the basic principle of all pacifists: Wars have no winners, only losers.

[snip]

Historians have since realized that the military situation for the Western Allies was far from hopeless. Hitler had exposed western Germany by moving troops eastward for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. In addition, Germany’s gasoline reserves were barely sufficient for a four-month military campaign. Significantly, senior German military officials feared a world war. A small group, which included Beck and Weizsäcker, even planned to stage a coup in the event that war broke out.

But while Hitler shrugged off his generals’ warnings — “I know that England will remain neutral,” he said — the worst-case scenarios being painted by British and French experts played into the hands of those politicians who wanted to avoid war at all costs.

There’s so much more (and I urge you to read the whole article), but the above certainly makes the point: “I know that England will remain neutral.” A natural bully can immediately tell when his victim is going to abase himself for good ‘n all.

One would think that Germany, of all countries, would understand that, once bullies get a head of steam from dealing with compliant victims, little can stop them short of the brutist of brute force.  Yet the same day saw this article about a judge’s supine position in the face of demands from a known terrorist:

In Germany, it seems, it’s okay to name children “Jihad.” A Berlin court has ruled that the name Djehad is neither denigrating nor offensive — even if the child’s father is a man considered by German intelligence agents and the United States to be one of the country’s most radical Islamists.

A Berlin court ruled this week that a man suspected of being one of Germany’s leading radical Islamists, can name his son “Djehad,” an alternative spelling of the Arabic word jihad. A city official had previously rejected the name because of its connotation of Islamic holy war.

A city official said it had rejected listing the name in the city’s birth registry because it could endanger the child’s welfare. Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, the term “jihad,” which in the West is usually regarded as meaning “holy war,” has had negative connotations in Germany. The child’s father himself, German-Egyptian Reda Seyam, is being monitored by German intelligence agencies and is known to have fought as a jihadist in Bosnia.

But this week a local superior court, following previous rulings in an administrative court and a regional court, said the name was unobjectionable.

In its ruling overturning the city’s decision, the court argued that “Djehad” is a common first name for Arab males that also evokes the duty of Muslims to promote their faith both spiritually and within society. The use of the word as a first name, the court argued, was in no way denigrating or offensive.

The court conceded that, in recent years, radical Islamists have used the term to express the idea of an armed struggle against people who don’t share their faith. But that could not justify a restriction of the right of the parents to choose their child’s name as they see fit, they said, adding that the parent’s motives for selecting the name were irrelevant.

Again, I urge you to read the whole article, but the cited material gives you a sense of the way in which the German intelligentsia is bound and determined to worship at the feet of its new overlords.

On the anniversary of the start of WWII, remembering when Hollywood supported Good Wars

Today is the 70th anniversary of Germany’s bombing campaign against Poland, the official start of World War II.  I thought, therefore, that this song from 1941′s Babes on Broadway was just right.  It is an explicit tribute to beleaguered Britain, which was, at the only time, not only the sole nation fighting the Nazis, but also on the receiving end of the Blitz:

Vera Lynn — a hit again

I am extremely fond of Vera Lynn’s music.  I was therefore delighted to read that (a) she is still alive and, at 92, looking wonderful and (b) she is still a chart topping hit in England:

Dame Vera Lynn yesterday became the oldest living artist to make it into the Top Twenty.

At the age of 92, she entered the albums chart with We’ll Meet Again – The Very Best of Vera Lynn.

The album was released to coincide with the 70th anniversary on Thursday of the declaration of war.

Entering the charts at number 20, she overtook U2, the Stone Roses and Eminem.

A spokesman for her record company Decca said: ‘She has proven that music of this vintage and significance can still resonate with the British public.’

The forces sweetheart kept up the spirits of millions of Britons with her songs and personality during the Second World War.

Read the rest here.

Here’s We’ll meet again, which is one of her best:

My mom is a Hiroshima bomb survivor too *UPDATED*

Tomorrow is the 64th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and you can expect the usual breast-beating about how unutterably evil we were to target Japan’s civilian population.  Here in Marin, a “Hiroshima survivor” is going to read poems and speak about her experiences.

I freely acknowledge that this survivor went through a horrific experience that I hope is never again repeated.  Still, I’d like to acknowledge the other Hiroshima bomb survivors.  My Mom is one of those survivors.

My Mom wasn’t in Japan when the Americans dropped the bomb.  She wasn’t anywhere near Japan.  She was in Java, a civilian in a Japanese concentration camp, on the verge of starving to death.  But for the fact that the atom bombs immediately terminated the war in the Pacific, she would have died.  She didn’t have another month or even another week.  She needed the war to end instantly.  It was the bombing at Hiroshima that enabled her to survive the war.

Nor was my mother alone.  Truman didn’t drop the bomb only to impress the Soviets or to play with an exciting new toy.  He dropped the bomb because he’d been credibly advised that the Japanese were not going to surrender, but would fight the war on their own ground — and this was true despite the fact that the Japanese knew as well as the Americans did that the Japanese could not win.  In July 1945, Truman was looking at the possibility of up to 50,000 more American deaths, plus all of the Japanese military and civilian deaths.  (And that’s not even counting the Marines already suffering unthinkable torture in Japanese camps and slave works, or American, Dutch and English civilians imprisoned all over the Pacific).  Given that the Japanese had started the war and then refused to end it (even though they were losing), one big bomb that would kill the same number of Japanese with no American casualties seemed like a very good idea at the time.

So as the media predictably inundates us with stories of Japanese Hiroshima survivors (or I assume it will based on past history), feel free to sympathize with their very real suffering.  Please, however, take a minute to remember the other Hiroshima survivors, those whose suffering at Japanese hands was ended because of that same bomb.

UPDATE:  Thomas Lifson, who was kind enough to link to this post, adds an important bit of information: D.M. Giangreco, a military historian who is one of the people most intimately familiar with the invasion of Japan, has written a book on the subject, Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947, which comes out in a month or two.  I’ve corresponded with Mr. Giangreco and can assure you that he knows the subject intimately.  If this subject is at all interesting to you, you should get the book.

Seasick warriors

Seasickness.  It’s an utterly vile condition, worse, I think, than any other type of motion sickness.  When you’re seasick, your entire body is rebelling against you.  Worse, there’s no escape.  You’re trapped in the middle of an endless ocean, feeling about as bad as it’s possible for a human to feel.

Add something to that seasickness:  fear, anticipation, exhilaration, worry.  Imagine yourself loaded down with gear and weapons, packed like sardines with other men, many as sick as you are, and heaving your guts out.  The worst part is knowing that, when the boat lands, you can’t just find a quiet place to sleep off the sickness.  Instead, the boat isn’t landing at all.  You’re going to be transferred to an even smaller boat (more seasickness), which will stop far short of the beach.  Then, weighed down with gear, dehydrated from vomiting, dizzy, and frightened, you have to wade through waist high water, all the while facing a withering hail of enemy fire.

When I imagine the suffering and horror of such an experience, I recoil.  It seems too dreadful to exist in reality.  And yet, 65 years ago tomorrow, on June 6, 1944, 160,000 men — Americans and men from all parts of the British Empire — did precisely what I described.  Seasick, frightened, and cold, they stormed the beaches of Normandy, and began the true end of the worst war in human history.

What few people appreciate is that, until June 6, 1944, the Allies had no ground presence in Western Europe.  [UPDATE:  As George reminds me, the Allies had spilled a lot of blood creeping up the Italian boot.]  Although the war had been fought bitterly in the Pacific against the Japanese, the only attacks the Allies had been able to make against the Nazis had been air raids and covert operations.  With the exception of Spain and Portugal, Western Europe was completely under Nazi control.  The air raids were ferocious, but they merely softened things up.  They could not displace Nazy hegemony.  It was D-Day that truly brought the war home to the Nazis.

Another thing that few people realize is that June 6 was only the beginning.  Those who survived that fearsome landing found themselves in horrific fighting conditions, trapped by hedges, lost from each other in unfamiliar terrain, and overwhelmed by long-term Nazi entrenchment.  Yet they kept on fighting, and fighting, and fighting.

All this fighting culminated in the horror of the Battle of the Bulge, during December 1944 and January 1945.  We remember that Battle today because of that Christmas in and around Bastogne, when a small group of Americans held out desperately against the Germans’ last big offensive, waiting for help to arrive.  I was in Bastogne more than 40 years after the event, and the smell of death still hung over the place.  The air felt sorrowful.  So many died there — but they did not die in vain.  Their sacrifices marked the true end of the German military.  From that point onwards, there was no going back.  The march onto Berlin was inevitable.

In 2004, my family traveled to Washington, D.C.  It was pure coincidence that, when we arrived at the WWII Memorial, a reunion of veterans of the Battle of the Bulge was meeting there.  They were no longer stalwart, upright young men.  They were frail old men, dragging oxygen tanks, clutching walkers, and being pushed in wheel chairs.  Nevertheless, they were still warriors.  They had fought in one of the greatest battles in the history of the world, and despite the scars, inside and out, each man there knew that he had done something of tremendous significance, and he carried that greatness with him.  As for me, I embarrassed my family dreadfully be weeping so hard they practically had to carry me out of there.

And so to those men of the greatest generation, whose travails began with the terrors of D-Day and ended with the triumph of taking Berlin, I say “Thank you.  Thank you so much.”

Nazi lies linger *UPDATED*

Ted Bromund is worried that Obama, by going to both Buchenwald and Dresden in the same trip is about to do something symbolically awful.  Buchenwald, of course, was one of the infamous Nazi labor camps located right in Germany itself.  It was not a death camp, and was not used specifically to exterminate Jews, but it had an appalling death rate.  Those who died were political prisoners and the “unfit”.  Pardon this lengthy Wikipedia quotation, but I think it’s important to put it here.  (You can go to the Wikipedia article for the missing footnotes and hyperlinks):

Although Buchenwald technically was not an extermination camp, it was a site of an extraordinary number of deaths.

A primary cause of the deaths was illness due to harsh camp conditions, and hunger was also prevalent. Malnourished and suffering from disease, many were literally “worked to death”, as inmates had only the choice between slave labour or inevitable execution. Many inmates died as a result of human experimentations or fell victim to arbitrary acts perpetrated by the SS guards, and yet other prisoners were simply murdered—the two primary methods of execution were shooting and hanging. At one point, the ashes of dead prisoners would be returned to their families in a sheet metal box—postage due, to be paid by the family. This practice was eventually stopped as more and more prisoners died. [citation needed]

Summary executions of Soviet POWs were also carried out at Buchenwald. At least 1,000 Soviet POWs were selected in 1941–2 by a task force of three Dresden Gestapo officers and sent to the camp for immediate liquidation by a gunshot to the back of the neck, the infamous Genickschuss, using a purpose-built facility.

The camp was also a site of large-scale trials for vaccines against epidemic typhus in 1942 and 1943. In all 729 inmates were used as test subjects, with 280 of them dying as a result. Because of their long association in cramped quarters in Block 46, the typhus killed more people and infections lasted longer than would have been the case had healthy adults been infected with the disease.

Number of deaths

The SS left behind accounts of the number of prisoners and people coming to and leaving the camp, categorizing those leaving them by release, transfer, or death. These accounts are one of the sources of estimates for the number of deaths in Buchenwald. According to SS documents, 33,462 died in Buchenwald. These documents were not, however, necessarily accurate: Among those executed before 1944 many were listed as “transferred to the Gestapo”. Furthermore, from 1941 forward Soviet POWs were executed in mass killings. Arriving prisoners selected for execution were not entered into the camp register and therefore were not among the 33,462 dead listed in SS documents.[4]

One former Buchenwald prisoner, Armin Walter, calculated the number of executions by shooting in the back of the head. His job at Buchenwald was to set up and care for a radio installation at the facility where people were executed and counted the numbers, which arrived by telex, and hid the information. He says that 8,483 Soviet prisoners of war were shot in this manner.[5]

According to the same source, the total number of deaths at Buchenwald is estimated at 56,545.[6] This number is the sum of:

* Deaths according to material left behind by SS: 33,462[7]
* Executions by shooting: 8,483
* Executions by hanging (estimate): 1,100
* Deaths during evacuation transports: 13,500[8]

This total (56,545) corresponds to a death rate of 24 percent assuming that the number of persons passing through the camp according to documents left by the SS, 238,380 prisoners, is accurate.[9]

So, just to be clear, in that one camp alone, Germans used and slaughtered almost 60,000 civilian prisoners (Jews, Communists, gays, royalty, intellectuals, Jehovah’s witnesses, priests, etc.)

People died at Dresden too.  If you ask your reasonably well-informed person about Dresden, that person will tell you (a) that Dresden had no military importance; (b) that it held only a priceless art collection that was destroyed; and, most horribly of all (c) that 250,000 people died in a single night.  (Which would make it worse than Hiroshima’s initial impact.)

As Bromund details in another article, however, the Dresden story we all know is propaganda from the master himself, Josef Goebbels.  Yes, there were air raids.  Yes, there was a fire.  Yes, people died.  And yes, art and old buildings were destroyed.  Bromund explains, however, that the Dresden bombing was no worse that that the Allies visited on other cities; that they were substantially less than the bombings the Germans made on London, Plymouth, Poland, Rotterdam and Belgrade; that Dresden was in fact a City of major military importance, with an important railway depot and more than a hundred factories working for the war effort; and (and this is the big one) that Goebbels increased by as much as a factor of ten the number killed in the bombing in order to inflame people’s sensibilities.

That was then.  This is now.  And now you know — you just know — that Obama is going to find an equivalence between Buchenwald and Dresden.  In rounded pontifical tones, he’ll casually conflate the Nazi’s deliberate slaughter of millions of innocent people with a strategic wartime attack on a significant military target.  And then he’ll apologize.

UPDATE: Not only do Nazi lies linger, but the list of Obama lies grows. Turns out that Obama’s reasons for going to Buchenwald have nothing to do with a celebration of his uncle’s role in the camp’s liberation, and everything to do with cold, hard politicsLeo Rennert thinks that, just as such a political trip didn’t work for Reagan, it won’t work for Obama but, sadly, I think Rennert’s wrong.  The difference is the media.  The media loathed Reagan and played up the political angle of his trip.  Here in American you have to turn to a German publication to start discovering the truth about Obama’s lie.

Torture, real and imagined

Paul Begala wrote an article at HuffPo contending that, following WWII, Americans executed Japanese as war criminals for water-boarding.  While I’m certainly willing to concede that water-based tortures numbered amongst the myriad tortures the Japanese used against POWs, it is absolutely ridiculous to believe that these Japanese soldiers were executed because of the water tortures.  In the grand scheme of things, that was nothing.

One of the Anchoress‘ readers forwarded to her a letter someone wrote (maybe as a comment to Begala’s own article) pointing out that actual historical documents put the lie to Begala’s claims:

Good Afternoon,

I have spent the better part of the morning reviewing the International Military Tribunal for the Far East’s indictment, trial, some testimony, the  sentences and the execution of sentences, e.g.; the Tokyo Trials.

What inspired me to get into looking at the charges and subsequent trial and eventual execution, was former Clinton hack and current Obama insider who manipulates information on CNN, Paul Begalia’s recent claim  that we executed individuals for waterboarding in 1948.  Here is Begalia’s recent column, note that he does not name who it is that we purportedly executed for this “crime”:

Yes, National Review, We Did Execute Japanese for Waterboardin

Instead of a mainstream publication, Mr. Begalia chose to go to a far left extremist publication, the Huffingtion Post, which shows the level of their journalistic skills, and what their reputation should be….I mean, if I can find this information in a few hours, so should any journalist be able to uncover Mr. Begalia’s lies, but I digress.

Begalia on CNN the other evening while discussing the alleged “atrocities” by the Bush Administration with former White House Spokesman Ari Fleicsher, stated that we had executed members of the Imperial Japanese Army for waterboarding, or water torture.  Fleischer called him on it, stating that he believed that Begalia has his “history mangled” and later, the National Review called him to task, believing that Begalia was referencing Yukio Asano, who was convicted of torturing Fliipinos by tying them to stretchers and drowning them, as well as burning them with cigarettes.  Mr. Asano was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor, and this sentence was hardly for waterboarding.

Begalia then goes into some song and dance, naming individuals who I have personally never heard of, that claims we did in fact execute indivuals for waterboarding.

Thankfully, Yale University has an excellent web site called the Avalon Project, which lists all of the documents, transcripts and pleadings from both the Nuremberg Trials and the Tokyo Trials.

Here is the actual Indictment:

There were seven individuals who were executed for war crimes stemming from the International Military Tribunal for the Far East:

General Doihara Kenji, spy (later Air Force commander) Convicted on Counts 1, 27, 29, 31, 32, 35, 36, and 54

Baron Hirota Koki, foreign minister Convicted on Counts 1, 27, 29, 31, 32, 54 and 55,

General Itagaki Seishiro, war minister , Convicted on Counts 1, 27, 29, 31, 32, 35, 36 and 54

General Kimura Heitaro, commander, Burma  Expeditionary Force Convicted on Counts 1, 27, 29, 31, 32, 54 and 55

General Matsui Iwane, commander, Shanghai Expeditionary Force found guilty of class B and C war crimes; e.g.; for his participation in the atrocities committed at Nanking.

General Muto Akira, commander, Philippines Expeditionary Force Convicted of Counts 1, 27, 29, 31, 32, 54 and 55.

General Tojo Hideki, commander, Kwantung Army (later prime minister) Convicted of Counts 1, 27, 29, 31, 32, 54 and 55

http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/International_Military_Tribunal_for_the_Far_East_-_Sentences/id/1508175

http://www.trial-ch.org/en/trial-watch/profile/db/facts/akira_muto_82.html

None of these individuals were convicted for “waterboarding”!!   Although  some of the Defendants were convicted of Count 55, which was failing to observe and protect prisoners of war from the Allied forces as per the laws and customs of war, it is a far far, downright impossible stretch to conclude that any of the Generals who were convicted and hung were convicted and executed because of their involvement in anything that remotely resembles modern day waterboarding!

Do you think Mr. Begalia will offer an apology for his lie?  Do you think anyone from mainstream media will call Mr. Begalia to task for his lie?

I think not.

Shame on you Paul Begala!!

Keith In Tampa

In other words, while water-boarding might have been in these individuals’ repertoire, it was not the sum total of their acts.

As for me, I have my own reasons for doubting Begala’s history. My Mom was a 17 year old Dutch citizen living in Indonesia when Pearl Harbor took place. What a lot of people forget is that, after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese didn’t just take the Philippines, they also swept over Malaysia and Indonesia. My Mom ended up being interned for the duration of the war. She was shipped from camp to camp.

For reasons I don’t understand, the conditions the Dutch experienced were much worse than those that the American civilians experienced in the Philippines. The camp leaders treated these civilians with unimaginable brutality. This was separate from the “ordinary” horrors of disease and starvation.

The routine torture (that is, one that happened on more than one occasion) that lingers with my Mom, the one that still gives her nightmares so many years after the war, is when the prisoners were collectively punished by being made to stand for 24 hours in the tropical sun, without food, without water, without bathroom breaks — indeed, without any breaks at all. The weak, the sick and the elderly died where they stood. The survivors carried the memories. Her best friend’s father, imprisoned in a men’s camp, was beheaded for some infraction. This was routine.

There was one commandant who was worse than the rest. According to my mother, he had “moon madness,” and every month he went crazy and embarked on his own round of random torture directed against the women and children under his command. My Mom won’t even talk about what he did.

I mention all this to make a point: Of all these Japanese prison commanders who routinely inflicted the most horrible tortures on the Dutch civilians in their charge, the guy with the moon madness was the only one executed after the war. Just knowing that fact makes Paul Begala’s assertions absolutely ridiculous on their face.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in an incredible novel about the civilian experience under the Japanese during WWII, I highly recommend Neville Shute’s A Town Like Alice. Although it’s ostensibly about an English woman in Malaya, it’s actually based upon the true story of a Dutch woman in Indonesia.

All of this brings me to one more point about whether something is “torture” or not.  In a psychiatric, self-actualized, self-realized, navel gazing world, torture can be anything that makes you unhappy.

Many years ago, Wendy Kaminer wrote a wonderful book called I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help, in which she pointed out that psychiatry, especially pop psychiatry, needs psychic pain in order to exist. Without in any way denigrating psychiatry’s usefulness, Kaminer points out that its spread through popular culture in the 1970s resulted in a leveling, with all pains being equal.  She noted that women who had escaped Cambodia’s killing fields and women dealing with suburban angst were treated as sufferers of exactly the same magnitude in pop culture parlance.  Both felt pain, therefore both were victims and both deserved precisely the same amount of sympathy.

With this kind of leveling (a leveling, that incidentally takes place at the opposite end of the spectrum, where an athlete or actor is accorded “hero,” rather than merely “star,” status), how in the world can our culture reasonably differentiate between true torture, which is the infliction of immense physical or emotional pain, and mere high stress infliction, against self-styled warriors who have taken upon themselves the task of killing our own citizens in the hundreds, thousands or even millions?  If someone is made unhappy, it must be torture, right?

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

Der Fueher’s Face

In a comment to my earlier post about talk with an ideological foe being dangerous, Gringo mentioned a classic anti-Nazi piece of Hollywood propaganda (made when Hollywood viewed America as the ally, not the enemy).  I found it at YouTube (of course), and share it with you.

And for those of you who are I Love Lucy fans, I think you’ll enjoy William Frawley assuring Americans that they will win the war:

Another door to the past closes

I didn’t know about it, but in 1945, a celebrated dogfight occurred over Germany, with an American pilot, James Finnegan, shooting down Germany’s top ace, Gen. Adolf Galland.  Here’s what happened in the air 63 years ago:

In an interview Mr. Finnegan gave 12 years ago for a Web site devoted to Galland’s career (members.aol.com/geobat66/galland/galland.htm), Mr. Finnegan said that on the day he shot down Galland, he was escorting some Allied bombers when he “saw two objects come zipping through the formation, and two bombers blew up immediately. I watched the two objects go through the bomber formation, and thought, ‘That can’t be a prop job … it’s got to be one of the (new Messerschmitt Me) 262 jets.”

He fired off a 3-second burst, then hit the throttle on his P-47 and found “I was going so fast, I went right through everything, and guessed my speed at about 450+ mph.” Mr. Finnegan figured he had hit one of the German jets, but wasn’t sure, so he “recorded it as a probable.” The “probable” turned out to be Galland and he was indeed shot down.

It was only much later that Finnegan learned that he had shot down Germany’s top flyer.  And it was even later, in the 1970s, that the two met and became friends, reminiscing about their war time experiences.

This is news today because Mr. Finnegan died on Tuesday, aged 85.  The war may have been the reason he made the newspaper upon his death, but I find equally newsworthy the fact that he went on after the war to live a good life and raise a family that extends far into the next generation:

During the war, Mr. Finnegan met an Army nurse named Frances in France. They married after the war and began a family.

He worked as an engineer for Pacific Telephone & Telegraph and during his off-hours he kept flying planes until, at his wife’s urging, he grounded himself until the 1970s, when their children were all grown and he could take to the skies again.

“She was fine with it,” Dennis Finnegan said. “She used to fly with him all the time.” Frances Finnegan died three years ago.

By 1977, Mr. Finnegan was working as the San Francisco liaison between Pacific Telephone & Telegraph and law enforcement agencies. When he retired from that position, he got a job as an investigator for the Marin County district attorney and later became chief investigator. He retired from that job in 1987 and opened up a private investigator business, which lasted until he had a debilitating stroke in early 1998.

Mr. Finnegan is survived by two daughters, Michelle Sabourin of Santa Rosa and Kathleen Willmers of Kenwood; three sons, James Finnegan of Fresno, Dennis Finnegan of Novato and John Finnegan of Long Beach; 12 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

R.I.P., Mr. Finnegan.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to

The Progressives are crying for our boys to come home, but these seem to be crocodile tears, designed to hide a desire to harangue and insult them when they do return. After all, whether you’re looking at the Ivies’ refusal to allow military recruiters on campus or Code Pink’s assault on the Marines, you just kind of pick up on the fact that those on the Lefter side of American politics hate the military, and will continue to do so even if every soldier, sailor, marine and flier sleeps on American soil.

How different from times past. I was listening to old-time radio and was lucky enough to hear the wonderful Vera Lynn, Britain’s WWII songbird, singing her war anthem “We’ll Meet Again.” A quick trip to YouTube, and I found this little montage of the boys Vera dreamed would come home:

And here’s another YouTube video, this time with Lynn’s song set to moving pictures of our troops today:

If you like what you hear of Vera Lynn, you can hear a couple of her other great war tunes here (“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”) and here (“There’ll be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover”). Also, if you enjoy “Nightingale,” try to get hold of Neville Shute’s moving little wartime book, Pastoral, in which that song plays a large part.

Boys in the movies

Almost exactly a year ago, I did a post I entitled Manly men, Girly men and Peter Pan. In it, I tried, ineffectively, I admit, to figure out America’s cultural trends regarding men. There’s the manly trend, exemplified by the Marines and much admired in certain romance novel genres; the Peter Pan trend, which sees boys remaining in perpetual adolescence, something manifest in the infantile clothes young man wear, with the falling down pants, backwards caps and unlaced shoes; and lastly, there are the girly men, who claim to be heterosexual, but who are so feminized a new word has been created for them: metrosexuals.

As for me, I like manly men, although I can tolerate a few metrosexual touches, such as remembering to put the toilet seat down or helping to tidy up after dinner. Perhaps another way of saying that is to say that I like manly men with good manners.

Because of my preference for men, I’m not much of a fan of modern movie stars, all of whom I find too boyish to be attractive. I got over my boyish star phase when I was 11 and had a mad crush on David Cassidy. Then, when I was 12, I read Gone With The Wind and discovered Clark Gable, both of which made me a lifetime fan of men, as opposed to boys. (And do keep in mind that one of Rhett Butler’s distinguishing features amongst Scarlett’s many admirers is the fact that he is a man while they are boys, even when they are boys who go off to fight and die.)

Think about it: if you’ve been lusting after Clark Gable for your entire life, what’s the likelihood that, as an adult, you’re suddenly going to switch gears and find attractive a little weenie like Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom or Leonardo DiCaprio. Although all are nice to look at and DiCaprio is, I think, a real actor, they simply don’t exist in the same testosterone universe, and that’s true no matter how much the latter try to buff themselves up. Gable was a man, the others are mere boys.

I’ve always thought that the boy phenomenon in Hollywood originated with James Dean, although it didn’t become the only game in town until the 1990s. (There were leading men before the 1990s; now there seem to be only leading boys.) However, I’ve run into another theory, this one cropping up in Jeanine Basinger’s completely enjoyable book The Star Machine, which examines the way in which the studio system created stars. With regard to the changes in the star system once World War II began, Basinger posits that it was the deficit of grown men, and the necessary rejiggering that the studios had to do that created the legion of hairless boys in lead roles:

The first and most pressing need for the [studio] machine [when the War started] was to find new male stars. Hollywood immediately set to work to develop other stars to replace the actors who had gone to war. The top priority for what the machine wanted in a man was simple: one who was available. That was going to be older men, star look-alikes, foreigners who had escaped to America, guys who were 4-F, or young and boyish-looking fellas. Some male movie stars had legitimate deferments from combat. John Wayne was thirty-five years old in 1942, and this put him at the ceiling for draftibility (the cutoff was age thirty-five). He was also a married man with four underage dependents. Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire were over forty. William Powell was forty-nine, Bogart was forty-two, and Tracy was forty-one. These men did their part, but they were too old to be drafted into active service. New movies to star those who stayed behind were immediately put into the works. Handsome men with accents — and in a war story an accent was an asset — were groomed: Philip Dorn, Helmut Dantine, Paul Henreid, Jean-Pierre Aumont, and Arturo de Cordova. When Gable enlisted [a manly man thing to do], all the studios created Gable look-alike: John Hodiak, Lee Bowman, John Carroll, James Craig. But the main fodder of the star machine as World War II hit the studios in the pocketbook was the last group — the young, boy-next-door type. The all-American man was about to become a 4-F kid.

After the boys of World War II, the “leading man” would never be the same. The teen idol was born with the retooling of American manhood into a younger, thinner, more sensitive-looking guy. The effect of World War II on shaping the “new hero” as a “sensitive” male has never been fully explored. [Here Basinger adds this footnote, with her own emphasis: We've still got him. He's basically taken over: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt (who has since transferred himself into the "man" category by muscling up and buzzcutting his hair), Orlando Bloom. Once the "boy star" emerged, he would not go away.] *** When the men went to war, the boys took over. (pp. 467-468.)

Isn’t it ironic that the most manly war in modern American history should leave as its legacy the “boy-ification” of American culture?

Irving Berlin and Churchill

Did you hear the story about Irving Berlin’s lunch with Winston Churchill during WWII? It’s a very funny story, it’s true, and it’s part of the larger and very wonderful story of Irving Berlin’s musical This is the Army. Berlin wrote This is the Army both to boost American morale and to raise money (which it did, in spades). Although originally intended for a short Broadway run, it ended up touring America, being made into a movie, and being performed in England, as well as the European and Pacific theaters of War. The English tour was the occasion for this great story:

For prominent Americans wartime London was remarkable for the easy access they enjoyed to the highest echelons of British society. Berlin received an invitation to have lunch with Winston Churchill at 10 Downing Street. Throughout the course of the war, Churchill had been entertained by dispatches written by the celebrated Oxford don Isaiah Berlin, who was assigned to the British Embassy in Washington. On hearing that the writer he so admired was visiting London, Churchill hastened to invite Isaiah Berlin to lunch. Through a bureaucratic mixup, however, the invitation went out to the songwriter rather than the political commentator.

On the appointed day, Irving Berlin presented himself at the prime minister’s residence, where he was escorted to a comfortable room and given a cigar and a glass of brandy. In time, Churchill appeared, still under the impression that his guest was Isaiah Berlin. The prime minister wasted little time on pleasantries. “How is war production in the United States?” he demanded.

Berlin was taken aback by the question. He was a composer and performer, not a war correspondent. “Oh, we’re doing fine,” he hesitantly answered.

“What do you think Roosevelt’s chances of reelection are?”

Uncomfortable at being called on to play political pundit, he gave the obvious answer. “I think he’ll win again.”

“Good,” Churchill replied. “Good.”

“But if he won’t run again,” Irving offered, “I don’t think I’ll vote at all.”

For the first time, he had Churchill’s interest, not that he welcomed it. “You mean you think you’ll have a vote?” Churchill asked, a note of wonder–or was it British irony?–creeping into his voice.

“I sincerely hope so,” Irving said.

“That would be wonderful,” Churchill replied, appearing to sum up. “If only Anglo-American cooperation reached such a point that we could vote in each other’s elections. Professor, you have my admiration. You must stay for lunch.”

Throughout lunch at 10 Downing Street, Irving was haunted by the feeling that he was well out of his depth. Why had Churchill addressed him as “professor”? He stopped trying to reply to Churchill’s probing questions and fell silent. Eventually Churchill turned his back on his taciturn guest. The awkward lunch finally came to a conclusion, and as Churchill left the room, he whispered loudly to an aide, “Berlin’s just like most bureaucrats. Wonderful on paper but disappointing when you meet them face to face.”

If you’d like a sense of the show, I’ve included a couple of clips below, one lauding the Air Force, the other the Navy. All the performers you see in the clips, incidentally, are real members of the Armed Forces (most with performance backgrounds, of course), rather than Hollywood stars and extras. Who you don’t see in the clips is Ronald Reagan, who was then a Lieutenant working in Hollywood on morale boosting projects, and who had a role in this movie too. Aside from Reagan, who served at the Army’s behest, there were other actual Warner Brother stars in the movie as well but, with the exception of a couple of George Murphy and Frances Langford numbers, they did not provide the musical content, which was left to the real troops.

And here’s a nice piece of trivia from the movie:

This film is the only one to star a U.S. President, a U.S. Senator, a state governor and two Presidents of the Screen Actors Guild. Ronald Reagan was President of the U.S. from 1981-1989, Governor of California from 1967-1975 and President of SAG from 1947-1952 and 1959-1960; George Murphy was Senator from California 1965-1971 and President of SAG 1944-1946. They filmed the movie prior to having been elected to any of the offices mentioned.

UPDATE: Perhaps because I’ve spent the last 30 minutes mentally back in WWII (an era that pre-dates my birth), when our country cared about the military and its fight to defend freedom, I somehow found startling the results of the gala for “CNN Heroes.” All the “heroes” sound like great people, creative and hard working, but I did find it a bit peculiar that, while our country is at war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the heroes did not include (and, indeed, the roster did not even contemplate) people whose heroism includes actually putting their lives on the line so that others can live free.

The whole free world should remember Pearl Harbor

December 7 marks the 66th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is certainly a day which will live in infamy, but it’s also a day that the free world should remember with gratitude. Up until December 7, while America had been helping England in sub rosa fashion, she had otherwise ostensibly sat out the war in Europe. The only country still fighting was England. Otherwise, Western, Northern, Central and parts of Eastern Europe were under Nazi control, while North Africa was held by the Italians and the Nazis. Every nation but England had either welcomed the Nazis, given up, or been destroyed into submission — and the sad truth was that England could not hold out much longer.

As John Meacham describes in the fascinating and delightful Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, Churchill was desperately working on Roosevelt to try to get ever more American support, including an open declaration of war, but time was running out and Roosevelt was playing coy. It was the devastating Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet that catapulted a formerly unwilling America into the War. The Japanese had awoken the wrong sleeping tiger. Although there were many times during the course of the War that it looked as if nothing could turn back the Nazi and Japanese tide, it is clear in retrospect that Japan’s decision to bring America into the conflict sounded the death knell for those totalitarian nations.

And so I remember Pearl Harbor and the 2,386 Americans who died that day. But as a citizen of the free world, I also remember Pearl Harbor as the day the sleeping American tiger was unleashed, so that it could defeat the dark stain spreading across the world.

U.S.S. Arizona

Neutrality and truth

There is an extraordinary story hidden behind the latest album Swedish soprano Anne-Sofie von Otter is releasing. The album itself should be lovely and moving, because it’s a collection of songs from Terezienstadt, including lullabies a nurse composed for her charges in the days (weeks?) before she and they were shipped off to Auschwitz and death. What’s amazing, though, is the back story — the story that inspired Otter to make this recording:

Her tragic tale begins on a train, as so many war stories do. Anne-Sofie’s father, Baron Göran von Otter, was a Swedish diplomat in wartime Germany, adjutant to the ambassador. On the night of 20-21 August 1942, travelling from Warsaw to Berlin, he became an involuntary witness to the Holocaust.

Standing in the corridor because he could not get a sleeper, the diplomat saw an SS officer glancing in his direction. When the train stopped at a station, both men got off for fresh air. On the pitch-dark platform, the SS man asked for a light for his cigarette. Von Otter produced a pack of matches with a Swedish crest. ‘I must talk to you,’ said Kurt Gerstein.

‘With beads of sweat on his forehead and tears in his eyes’ (as von Otter reported to his superiors), Gerstein explained that he was head of a Waffen-SS Technical Disinfection unit, responsible for supplying poisons and gas equipment. ‘Yesterday,’ he told von Otter, weeping uncontrollably, ‘I saw something appalling.’ ‘Is it about the Jews?’ said the diplomat.

Over the next six or eight hours in the train corridor, having examined Gerstein’s papers and satisfied himself of his credentials, von Otter heard a detailed account of the mechanics of genocide, the gas chambers, the mass graves. Gerstein gave chapter and verse, the names of senior personnel, the look in a little girl’s eyes as she was shoved naked to the slaughter. ‘I saw more than ten thousand die today,’ he wept.

He implored the Baron to inform the Swedish government, in the hope of stopping the slaughter. ‘I had no doubt as to the sincerity of his humanitarian intentions,’ said von Otter, who promptly wrote a report to Stockholm and heard nothing more. Not long after, he was recalled. When he looked for his own report in Foreign Ministry files, there was nothing to be found.

Gerstein, after risking his life with further confessions to foreigners, gave himself up to the French in April 1945 and was charged with war crimes. In prison, he wrote a full account of what he had seen and a letter to von Otter requesting corroboration of their meeting. The diplomat’s reply arrived a few days too late. Gerstein was found dead on July 25, 1945, either by his own hand or murdered by fellow-SS inmates. He had originally joined the SS in order to investigate the death by euthanasia of his mentally disabled sister-in-law.

‘My father never talked,’ says Anne-Sofie von Otter with sombre concentration. ‘Not just about Gerstein, about anything. We didn’t even know that his grandfather had been prime minister of Sweden for two years. What I know, I heard from my mother who was with him in Berlin. But I had the feeling growing up that it troubled him deeply, not getting Gerstein’s information out, not being able to save Gerstein’s life. A strong sense of guilt hung heavily over the rest of his life. He was not a particularly courageous man, but he was always driven by a sense of trying to act and do right, something he tried to pass on to his four children.’

Von Otter’s career stalled, possibly because his 1942 report compromised Sweden’s blind-eye neutrality. He rose no higher than consul-general in London, and died in 1988. ‘He was not a happy man,’ says Anne-Sofie. ‘He felt a failure in his career, his family weren’t close to him and it must have preyed on his mind that millions of people were being gassed all the time when he was unable to do anything. Not to mention Gerstein’s death, a man of his own kind who was also trying to do the decent thing. He tried hard in London with me, the youngest, but he didn’t manage to be the sort of father that makes my heart reach out to him.’

That’s what political neutrality tends to mean.  Not a principled stand for peace, but actively turning a blind eye to evil (or as in the case of the Swiss, playing banker for evil).

Hat tip: RD

Giving aid and comfort to the enemy today and yesterday

During any other war, the following list that Vasko Kohlmayer complied would show treasonous conduct. In this War, it’s politics as usual:

• They have repeatedly conceded defeat in Iraq with Harry Reid claiming ‘this war is lost;’
• They purposefully downplay any and all American military successes;
• They have sought to portray our troops as violent and brutal thugs;
• Jack Murtha accused our soldiers of being cold-blooded murderers while John Kerry alleged they terrorize women and children at night;
• Dick Durbin compared our military personnel to Nazis and Pol Pot’s henchmen;
• The have sought to paint our military commanders as stooges of a manipulative president (the Petraeus hearings);
• They have called our Commander-in-Chief ‘stupid,’ ‘loser,’ ‘incompetent;’
• They seek to extend constitutional protections to foreign terrorists and enemy combatants;
• They have outed and obstructed an important eavesdropping program designed to monitor terrorists’ phone calls and e-mails;
• They are trying to eliminate crucial components of the Patriot Act;
• They have repeatedly leaked classified information;
• They lobby for the release of most Guantanamo Bay detainees most of whom are dangerous terrorists;
• They have sought to destroy the reputation of the American military by making scandals out of minor incidents (Abu Ghraib);
• They have portrayed America’s main terrorist detention facility (Guantanamo Bay) as a torture chamber even though it is the most supervised and inspected prison in the history of warfare;
• By manufacturing bogus scandals they have seriously damaged their country’s reputation in a time of war;
• They have forced the resignation of an effective defense secretary (Donald Rumsfeld) and a number of other administration officials committed to winning this war;
• They visit and praise America’s enemies even those responsible for the deaths of American troops (Nancy Pelosi in Syria);
• Dennis Kucinich called the Iraq war ‘wrong’ and ‘immoral’ in the presence of Bashar Assad, the head of the Syrian regime that is a sponsor of terrorism
• They want to run and cut from the battlefield in the middle of a war.

You can read here the rest of what Kohlmayer has to say.  (H/t:  American Thinker.)

We live in a topsy-turvy world.

In a somewhat similar vein, because it involves dealing with the enemy — although I’m thinking of dealings, not during the war, but once victory is achieved — I have to comment on something that flashed through my head yesterday as I was watching Ken Burns’ The War (which I’ve been slowing getting through, courtesy of TiVo).   One of the guys interviewed was a Marine pilot during the War, and for that, he gets kudos forever.  However, the things he said during the show make him sound as if, in the here and now, he’s a kind of ordinary anti-War Democrat.  Since I haven’t walked a mile in his battle tested shoes, I’m loath to criticize his viewpoint, but I can and will criticize something stupid he said.

Speaking of the enemy, he said that, by 1944, word was getting out about the atrocities the enemies were committing.  He added, though, that he wasn’t rushing to blame them, because he always wondered what Americans would do under similar circumstances.  A little “stupid bomb” popped off in my head, because we don’t need to wonder, we know.

During World War II, when it came to the Japanese taking over a territory, official policy (not the aberrant behavior of individual troops) resulted in the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan death march, and the civilian concentration camps in which tens of thousands of civilians were tortured and died.  (No link for that last.  I grew up hearing those stories from my mother, who survived the camps.)

During World War II, when it came to the Germans taking over a territory, official policy (not the aberrant behavior of individual troops) resulted in the Death Camps, which not only wiped out 6 million Jews, but sought to enslave and/or destroy whole populations of Gypsies, Poles, Communists, Homosexuals and other “undesirables.”  That doesn’t even count the horrors the Nazis visited on civilian populations without the bother of a death camp.  Mass graves still reveal themselves today outside of forgotten villages once under Nazi control.

During World War II, when it came to the Russians taking over a territory, official policy (not the behavior of the much tried Red Army troops, behavior that was indescribably cruel, but perhaps understandable after what the Germans did to the Russians) was to turn the territory into one giant Communist prison.

During World War II, when it came to the Americans taking over a territory, official policy was the Marshall Plan.   And you can’t downplay American humanity in this regard by saying that the Americans hadn’t suffered the way the Russians had, for example, so they were going to be softer and kinder to their defeated enemies.  To begin with, when the Japanese and Germans engaged in their inhuman conduct, they were on the ascendant in their wars, and hadn’t suffered either.  This was their standard M.O., and not the results of soldiers pushed to the brink.  And to end with, the Americans had suffered terribly.  The Marines and Navy in the Pacific, the Army in Europe, and the Air Force all over, had suffered unimaginably.  But at the end of it all, our goal, the American policy carried out by American troops, was to build up the countries taken in war, not to engage in the wholesale slaughter and enslavement of the civilians.  (The same holds true, by the way, for the Brits.)

And so I’ll say here and now that American and British values, at least as they played out during their peak during WWII, were better than other values.  They’re still better, although most Britains, and many Americans (notably House Democrats) seem to have forgotten that fact.  You won’t hear any moral relativism from me.  When American values are good, they’re the best.

An interesting movie review & what it says about American culture

There’s a new movie out about “homegrown religious fundamentalists who kill in the name of God” — and Manolah Dargis, who writes movie reviews at The New York Times really wants to like it. You’ve got to admire Manolah. After all, who in America doesn’t want a solid documentary about the homegrown Western Islamists who are engaging in an ever escalating kill cycle. I want to learn more about the very British boys who blew up 52 people and injured 700 others in 2005. Or about Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, who killed 10 people and wounded 3 more in Washington D.C. And it would be interesting to get more information about the recent German discovery of a major plot to target American interests in that country, with one of the arrestees being a German man who had converted to Islam.

Frankly, I admire a Times journalist who appreciates a movie like this. It’s probably a good movie even if it doesn’t touch upon the homegrown terrorists in Iraq who are responsible for thousands of Iraqi deaths, or the homegrown terrorists in Bali who are responsible for hundreds of Balinese deaths, or the homegrown terrorists in the Philippines who are responsible for hundreds of Filipino deaths, or the homegrown terrorists all over Africa who are responsible for hundreds of thousands of African deaths, etc.

Wait! Gosh! I’m am sorry. Ignore everything I just said. I got so excited by the first sentence in Dargis’ review, and made so many assumptions about it, that (a) I didn’t read the rest of the review and (b) I read the first sentence wrong. Here’s what the first sentence of the review really says: “The first thing you should know about the documentary ‘Lake of Fire’ — an unblinking look at the violent fight over abortion in the United States, including those homegrown religious fundamentalists who kill in the name of God — is that it was made in black and white.” The terrorists Dargis is talking about are the people who target abortion clinics.

Now, before I get to the real review, about the real movie, let me riff a little about the attacks on abortion clinics. They were and are inexcusable and do indeed manifest the same religious craziness that characterizes the Islamists. Even if you believe abortion to be profoundly wrong and murderous, the people who work at abortion clinics are acting lawfully. In any civilized country, if you have a problem with legal acitivty, you don’t kill people, you work to change the law. That is, those who bomb clinics or kill doctors are no better than any other criminal. But the thing to keep in mind about the anti-abortion activists who went violent is that the heyday of that kind of violence is over.

Between 1993 and 1998, three doctors and four clinic workers were brutally murdered in four shooting incidents and a clinic bombing. There have been no killings since then. According to statistics kept by the National Abortion Federation, most violent acts have declined dramatically or vanished entirely in the last decade. Between 1977 and 2000, there were 17 acts of attempted murder. There apparently have been no attempted murders since then. The last, very isolated, bombing was in 2001, with bombings peaking before 1991. There are still random acts of arson but only 6% have occurred in the 21st Century. That doesn’t mean people aren’t still trying, but they’re trying less: while there have been a total of 93 attempted bombings and arsons since 1971, only 16% took place in this century. All the numbers are like that (declining) except for one — trespassing, which has increased dramatically. My suspicion is that what the NAF calls “trespassing” is what is reported in the papers as “picketing. ” That is, in lieu of violence, abortion opponents have opted for nonviolent protest instead.

Most importantly, the acts of violence come from loners. Every major anti-abortion organization condemns violence and the decline in violence means that their voices are the ones dictating conduct in the field. To the extent there is a violent arm of the abortion rights movement, it is small, discredited and increasingly ineffective. In this regard, the abortion rights movement is the exact opposite of the Islamic jihad movement which is encouraged from the top, which has almost no voices from within Islam speaking against it, and which is growing ever more aggressively violent. Keep those facts in mind as you read the rest of this post about the movie review.

The movie is a British 2006 documentary called Lake of Fire. One of the movie’s strengths, says Dargis, is that it interviews “heavyweights like Noam Chomsky” to make more “sober points” (presumably, given Chomskey’s presence, sober points about how bad the anti-abortion crowd is). These sober points are necessary because, in Dargis’ view, the filmmaker commits the unforgivable sin of showing abortion. Having teased you above with mere clauses and sentences from the review, let me give you the first three paragraphs, in full, including Dargis’ honestly stated reaction:

The first thing you should know about the documentary “Lake of Fire” — an unblinking look at the violent fight over abortion in the United States, including those homegrown religious fundamentalists who kill in the name of God — is that it was made in black and white. This is critical. Because the other thing you should know about this fascinating, discomfiting, at times unpleasant, confused and confusing film is that it sets off extremely graphic images of actual abortions against a notorious photograph of a woman who died after an illegal motel room abortion, visuals that are inflammatory if, for the most part, also germane.

Not everyone will agree about the abortion visuals, including, perhaps, those who worry that such explicit imagery can speak louder than any pro-abortion-rights argument. It’s an understandable concern. Because they are filmed (the dead woman is immortalized in a still photograph), the abortions are unnerving, which is why I suggest that the faint of heart skip the rest of this paragraph. After the first operation, a second-trimester abortion, the doctor sorts through a tray of fetal parts, including a perfect-looking tiny hand and a foot, to make sure that nothing has been left inside the patient, which might lead to poisoning or even death. The doctor then holds up the severed fetal head. One eerily bulging eye looks as if it’s staring into the camera and somehow at us.

My initial and admittedly angry first thought about these images was that the director, Tony Kaye, was just resorting to shock tactics. The film doesn’t employ narration or on-screen texts that reveal his views on abortion; instead, there are 152 minutes of talking-head testimonials, on-the-street interviews and archival and new visuals. This means that you have to pay extra-special attention to his filmmaking choices, to the way he juxtaposes sights and sounds and who gets to speak and when.

It is in this context that Dargis expresses gratitude for the fact that such Leftist heavyweights as Noam Chomskey and Peter Singer inject their ideas into the film. Incidentally, for those of you who know Chomskey, but not Singer, Singer is the Princeton ethicist who created the modern animal rights movement (PETA-style); who believes parents should have a 30 day window within which to euthanize less than perfect newborns; and who thinks bestiality is okay, provided that the cow consents.

Anyway, after this start, the rest of the review is a muddled mess about context and images and credibility. You can read it yourself, but you won’t learn anything.

For me, the review highlighted, not just the Left’s, but everyone’s unwillingness to look unpleasantness in the face. We no longer live a raw life. People don’t die at home, they die neatly in hospitals. Criminals aren’t hanged in public spectacles, they’re dispatched in quiet, clinical rooms. As a squeamish type, I don’t generally mind, but it does seem to me that it interferes with our ability to understand just how bad things can be. With the Iraq War, our dead or their dead are filmed discretely from afar, both out of respect for the family’s of American soldiers and for fear that it could inflame things.

But maybe people need to be inflamed. One of the fascinating things about Ken Burns’ show “The War” is the newsreel footage he shows, both from the late 1930s and the 1940s. Keeping in mind that this was an era when married couples were not shown sleeping in the same bed and when the word “pregnant” was considered practically obscene, I would have expected the news footage to be equally discrete. Surprisingly, it wasn’t. Starting in 1938 and throughout the war, the newsreels people saw in theaters graphically showed victims of the Nazis, the Japanese and the Italians. Whether dead or dying, there they were, skeletal bodies, whose missing heads, gaping wounds, or other terrible war injuries and insults were caught for eternity in black and white. Even more shocking to a modern American, audiences got to see equally horrible images of Allied soldiers too.

I think that the old-time filmmakers showed these images because they could predict the audience reaction: when the audience saw the horrors of war visited on the innocent and the Allies, they would be outraged at the perpetrators; and when they saw the horrors visited on the Axis powers, they would feel self-righteous vindication. Nowadays, we can’t be sure how people will react and, in the mainstream media, I think the Powers That Be are worried that people might in fact react precisely as they did in the late 1930s and the War years: with outrage at the deaths Islamists inflict, whether these deaths are civilian or military; and with grim satisfaction over the deaths of these same Islamists. And you certainly can’t have that type of reaction, since it is the antithesis of the multi-culti, PC thinking that has been drilled into us for so many years.

Cosmic ironies

Note: I originally posted this bit of family history in August 2006. I’m reposting it now, inspired by two things: Ken Burns’ excellent “The War” (I swear the man’s a conservative) and Ahmadinejad’s pretending that the Holocaust’s historical reality is open for some sort of debate. I think both — the one almost sublime, the other evil and ridiculous — are reminders that these stories still need to be told, if not by the first generation, the generation that lived it, then by the second generation, the one that grew up hearing about it.

My mother is a very circumlocutious story teller. She bounces around chronologically and is remarkably free with indefinite pronouns. This means her stories can be a bit difficult to follow. On the plus side — and this is a plus side that completely outweighs the minor difficulties involved in teasing out the facts — her stories are absolutely fascinating. She’s lived an incredible life, as did my father, and she has an amazing memory, both for her own family history and for my dad’s (he’s gone, so he can’t tell me those tales).

Today I got my father’s history, more of it than I’ve ever known before. My paternal grandfather, whom I’ll call Max, came from Roumania (or Russia). He was at one time a successful shopkeeper. Unfortunately, though, he had a terrible gambling problem, and ended up losing his store at a card game. With nothing to keep him in Russia (or Roumania), he ended up in Berlin shortly after the turn of the last century. There he met my maternal grandmother.

My paternal grandmother, whom I’ll call Judith, came from the Galicia region in Poland. Family lore had it that her father was a prominent rabbi or cantor (I incline to the latter, and I’ll tell you why in a bit). When Judith was a young girl, her mother died. In accordance with Orthodox Jewish law, her father married Judith’s aunt, who then morphed into her stepmother.

At some point in time, this family too moved to Germany. They must have had some money at the time, because they opened a cigarette factory. The factory was successful, and they eventually became quite wealthy. Judith grew to be a beautiful young woman (I’ve seen the sole photograph my father was able to salvage from his youth), but I gather that life in her stepmother’s home was not easy. A couple of half sisters came along (who were also half-cousins), and Judith was pushed into the background.

Unsurprisingly, when Judith met Max, who was quite a dashing young man with a handlebar mustache, she quickly decided to marry him and left the family home. Judith’s family did not cut off contact with her (Max was, after all, Jewish), but they certainly were not warm.

Judith and Max soon had a son (Judah), followed six years later by a daughter (Beatrice) and, after another six years, they had their last child — my father. Life was not good to them. Max was a mediocre breadwinner and, apparently, what little he earned got gambled away. Things became even more difficult in the years between Beatrice’s birth and my dad’s birth, because Germany became embroiled in WWI. A year after the war ended, Judith was pregnant with my father. Faced with a disastrous post-war economy, and with another child on the way, Max went off to America to make his fortune.

Max apparently did fairly well in America. He began to send money to Judith, begging her to buy passage so that she and the children could move to America. The marriage can’t have been a happy one, though, because Judith refused to join Max in America. Instead, in a series of spectacularly stupid moves, Judith routinely took the dollars he sent and converted them, immediately upon receipt, to Deutschmarks. As you may or may not know, post-WWI Weimar Germany suffered from spectacular inflation. One of my father’s earliest memories was seeing women with wheel barrows full of paper money heading to the stores to buy bread. This inflation meant that Judith, instead of sitting on valuable American dollars, immediately converted them into money that, by week’s end, or even by the next day, was worthless.

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself “what about the stepmother with the cigarette factory?” She was no help. She poured her energy, and her money, into her own two daughters, one of whom apparently was one of Germany’s most famous concert pianists. (This is why I think Judith’s father was a cantor, not a rabbi.) Not only that, this pianist was married to one of the best known German-Jewish writers of the 1910s through early 1930s. I’d love to boast about their names, but I don’t know them — that information died with my father.

Since Judith’s family didn’t cut her off entirely, my Dad still had memories of visiting the family mansion and listening to his aunt (who had beautiful hair, he said) play the piano in the parlor for him. When he wasn’t visiting his grandmother and aunt, though, my father lived in a Dickensian slum. His mother had eventually landed in a small apartment over a brothel, which meant that my father learned the facts of life early, and in the ugliest way. His sister and brother, who were so much older than he, fell in with the Communists, who were considered a very reasonable alternative for poor Jews in Weimar Germany.

Eventually Judith couldn’t cope at all, and she applied to her family for aid. Rather than using their wealth to help her directly, they put pressure on a Jewish charity to step forward and help her family. Over the years, this help meant that Judah went to the Jewish school for academically gifted children (where he was lauded as the smartest student in the school’s 200 year history); Beatrice went to a convent school, of all places; and my Dad ended up in a Jewish orphanage.

Although the orphanage’s head was, apparently, a woman with somewhat sadistic tendencies, there is no doubt that the orphanage was a good place for my Dad. It provided stability, good food, and a coherent family comprised of teachers and fellow orphans. Through the orphanage — and again with pressure on the Jewish agencies from his wealthy step-family — my father followed his brother to the academic Jewish school, where he acquitted himself well, although not with his brother’s genius.

And then came 1933, and the pressure on the family was on. Judah and Beatrice became more and more intertwined with the Communist party. This put them at two disadvantages with the ascendant Nazis, because they were both Communists and Jews. They did recognize, however, the threat the Nazis were to them. The wealthy step-family continued to exist in denial, believing “it can’t happen here.”

Although not a Communist, my father, by 1935, also began to understand that it could indeed “happen here.” The anti-Jewish pressure from the Nazis was increasing daily. The turning point for my Dad was a soccer game. It was a Jewish school vs. Hitler youth game. My Dad’s Jewish team beat the Hitler youth handily on the field. Unfortunately, the Hitler youth — and their parents — beat the Jewish team brutally off the field. Dad’s eyes were both blackened and opened.

In 1935, one of Dad’s teachers, Izzy, approached him with an offer: Izzy had been hired by a group of wealthy Jewish parents who had successfully obtained visas allowing their children to make aliyah. For reasons lost through time, Izzy and his wife, who were childless, were allowed to bring another child, and they chose my Dad. My Dad, alienated from the mother who had abandoned him, the wealthy family that wanted nothing to do with him, and the siblings that saw the Communist party as their real family, said yes.

So it was that, in 1935, my father left Germany and landed on a proto kibbutz in Northern Israel. I say proto, because the land was nothing but a mosquito infested swamp with a couple of shacks. Over the next four years, my father and his fellow kibbutzniks labored day and night to reclaim the land and create a community. They succeeded. My father, however, was not a social man, and the combination of years of communal living, whether in the orphanage or the kibbutz was too much for him. He left for Tel Aviv. Sadly, he had no usable skills for surviving in the “big” city and, by August 1939, was literally starving to death in the streets. War was a blessing. He enlisted the day Britain entered the war, and served with distinction and bravery through 1944, when he was discharged on medical grounds.

But what about the rest of the family? Judah and Beatrice were spirited out through Communist lines. Judah, the genius, ended up as a low-level embittered civil servant in Denmark, living in a slum of his own making. Beatrice eventually ended up in Palestine. At war’s end, however, she announced that East Germany was purified by Communism, and returned to Berlin — East Berlin — where she lived to the day she died. Despite Communism’s manifest failings, she never lost her faith in that “religion.” Judith escaped from Germany and ended up in a Belgian convent, where she hid throughout the war. Family mythology has it that the nuns forced her to convert as a condition for keeping her, which may nor may not be true.

And how about those rich ones, the ones who refused to help the family, and who saw to it that my father ended up in the orphanage? They all died in the Holocaust. And that is one of the great ironies, isn’t it? Had they been kinder to my father, more generous and humane, he might have died too. As it was, their insensitivity and selfishness placed him in the orphanage, where he met Izzy, who took him to Palestine, where he survived the War and contributed both to Nazi Germany’s defeat and Israel’s creation.

And one more footnote about Max, the man who went to America. As I said, Max did fairly well in America. In another irony, though, just as the German branch of the family ran out of luck in 1933 with Nazism, so too did Max’s luck run out: he died that year when a streetcar hit him.

That ought to be the end of the story, but it’s not. About five years ago, a client asked me to research an obscure area of probate law. I couldn’t find any local authority, so I expanded my search to cover all cases on the subject, anywhere in America. I generated two hundred hits on the computer database. I was flipping through these hits in a desultory fashion, focused entirely on the legal principles, when my eye got caught on a case name. I gave the name a second look because it was a variant spelling of my maiden name. For the heck of it, I called the whole case up on my computer and began to read.

The case told an interesting story. In 1933, a man named Max died in New York City. His widow, who lived in Germany, asked the German government to act as her agent in the New York probate court. The local representative for Max’s estate, however, protested this move. He pointed out that, by 1938, when the court issued the case I read, Germany had imposed a multi-million dollar fine against all Jews, meaning that it was unlikely to turn over the money to the widow and her children. More to the point, the local representative pointed out — and the German government agency appearing in the New York court conceded — the family had dispersed. The mother was in Belgium, the older son was in Denmark, and the daughter and the “infant” son were in Palestine. On these facts, the court rightly concluded that it would be a travesty to give the money into German keeping and denied the German petition for the money.

I got a very peculiar feeling reading the case, and carefully examined the names of the widow and her three children. I didn’t recognize the widow’s name — Judith — but it couldn’t be a coincidence that the three children shared my aunt’s, my uncle’s, and my father’s names. A phone call to my mother confirmed that Judith was indeed my maternal grandmother and it become very clear that, by sheer dumb luck, out of the huge body of American law, I stumbled across a little piece of my family history and of American-German legal history in the 1930s.

Ken Burns’ “The War”

Ken Burns’ new series about World War II is off to a good start although his stately pace can often be somewhat sleep inducing.  It’s one of those slightly bizarre situations where it’s worth your while to force yourself to stay awake.

Part of the first episode includes a run-down of what Americans were watching in the lead-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor:  they were watching three Axis powers, each of which considered its race superior to all others and each of which believed that its racial superiority justified its conquering lands and killing people.  It occurred to me that those who love the Bushitler analogy, and who constantly liken America’s current war to some imperialist Nazi act of aggression are missing something very fundamental.  Americans do have a superiority complex, but it’s not racial.  Instead, we believe that our values are superior.  But values, unlike race, are exportable.  We don’t need to murder to prove our superiority.  Our culture is what it is, and people who seek freedom inevitably drift in our direction.

In this regard, it’s worth comparing us to the Jihadists, who have taken a religion and elevated it to the same status as a race. They believe that they are so far superior to other people that it is totally okay to squash other people like flies, to murder them and their children, and to occupy their countries as if the native people were not there.  There is no moral equivalence between them and us.  In their outlook, they are precisely the same as the Nazis, and the World War II Japanese and Italians.  And we, in the 20th and 21st Centuries, have never changed:  our affirmative actions, when we’re not called upon to defend ourselves against attacks such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11, consist of exporting our freedom and our culture, and that is all.

Obsessing on the horrors of the past

As I’ve noted before, my mother spent the war years interned in a Japanese concentration camp in Java.  These camps were not Nazi death camps, but they were no picnic either, with a horrible attrition rate from disease, starvation, overwork and abuse.  (See here for more information about one of the camps my Mom was in, Tjideng.)  My Mom (obviously) survived the camp but, for decades, it also seemed as if she had survived the devastating depression that so quickly enveloped some camp survivors, especially survivors of the death camps.  People have always commented on her energy, and she brought that energy to bear on child rearing, running a home and art.  She talked about her experience in the camps, but didn’t obsess about those experiences.  Indeed, she was very forgiving towards the Japanese, even though they never paid reparations, on the ground that there is a difference between a “traditional” concentration camp aimed at segregating civilians, no matter how brutal it is, and a Nazi death camp, aimed at genocide.

It’s been surprising and sad, therefore, that in the past few years, my mother has been obsessing more and more about her concentration camp years.  I had naively thought that, as those years recede in the past, and as she finds herself in a secure, comfortable environment, the terror of those years would diminish.  Instead, she can’t stop talking about the horrors visited upon her in her youth.  I have been sympathetic but, as I said, confused by what struck me as counterintuitive mental behavior.  It turns out, though, that Mom’s memories, and her inability to block some of the worst ones, are completely consistent with her age.  Psychiatrists and psychologists who work at Jewish Homes for the Aged, which have large numbers of Holocaust survivors, have discovered that age weakens our ability to screen unpleasant memories:

In recent years, a body of research has sprung from the lives of Holocaust survivors like Kane as caregivers and mental health professionals work to understand and alleviate the pain of old age and remembered trauma. But when she first began to relive her past, the territory was largely uncharted.

“There has never been a group of genocide survivors live to this age in history,” said Paula David, editor of the manual “Caring for Aging Holocaust Survivors.” Their experiences offer a rare window into the confluence of trauma and aging.

One clear lesson from this shrinking group, whose median age is more than 70, is that “resilience ages, too,” David said, “and diminishes along with hearing and vision.”

The Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging has the largest population of Holocaust survivors in the West, according to nursing home officials. There were 63 such patients at latest count, although that number could rise to nearly 90 when a new building opens later this summer.

Although every Holocaust survivor is different, Kane’s end-of-life experiences are a good illustration of the kinds of things they can go through, said Chaya Berci, the Jewish Home’s executive director of nursing.

As people age and their grasp on the present weakens, events from the distant past can seem as real as anything unfolding today. For those who lived through severe early trauma, the memories that come rushing back are often of their most harrowing experiences.

Certainly I see the truth of this as I watch my mother.  It’s so sad.  These people have finally found safety and security, and they are incapable of enjoying it because they are assaulted by the ghosts of their pasts.

Another, more personal side to Holocaust Remembrance

[I haven't had the chance to think this busy weekend, let alone blog.  For some reason, though, I can't get out of my head the WWII stories of a few people I met, long after the war, when they were old and gray.  I'm therefore resurrecting this post because I think it tells a story that shouldn't be forgotten.]

While the Holocaust is an uneraseable blot on human history, it certainly revealed the character, not only of the bad guys, but also of the good. Longtime readers of my blog will recognize this post, which I first did a little over a year ago. It’s a story, I think, that can’t be told too often, so forgive me for publishing it again.

Harry was one of the best people I ever knew. He wasn’t witty or educated or wise — indeed, many considered him a bit of a buffoon — but he was an unusually kind, ethical man.  Not only that, through one of those quirks of fate, his honorable life intersected with that of Miriam, a woman of rare bravery and resourcefulness. (I’ve changed all names but for Harry’s, to protect the privacy of those still alive, but the story is true, word for word.)  Although their lives didn’t touch until long after the war, I’ve used Harry as my starting point for both their stories.
Harry and his sister Esther were born to a Jewish shopkeeping family in Berlin sometime during or immediately after World War I. They lived an ordinary middle class life until 1933, when their world ended. The family tried to keep going for a while, but in 1935 they could no longer pretend to normalcy. It was in that year that Harry was attacked by some Brown Shirts and beaten around the head so badly he suffered permanent neurological damage. When I met him forty plus years later, the left side of his face drooped, and he had some speech difficulties. Additionally, he had an endearing goofiness that drew people to him, coupled with a complete lack of cynicism.   Luckily, his parents were able (God knows how) to send Harry to England and Esther to what-was-then Palestine (now Israel).

Unfortunately, Harry and Esther’s parents couldn’t get themselves out of German. They remained there and were eventually rounded up by the Nazis and taken to Dachau. I think they must have been very good and nice people, because their German shop girl, Gretel, followed them to Dachau. That is, she didn’t immure herself in the camp with them, but she moved into the town and bent all her energies to keeping them alive — something she did at great risk to herself. Sadly, she failed, and Harry and Esther’s parents were two more people destroyed by the Holocaust.

After the war, Harry, who had served with distinction in the British military despite the handicaps caused by the beating he received, came back to Germany looking for his parents. He learned that they had died in a concentration camp, but he also learned about Gretel’s efforts to keep them alive. He then went looking for Gretel, and discovered her living in great destitution. Although he barely remembered her from his childhood — and she was much older than he was — Harry offered to marry her and care for her for the rest of her life. She accepted.

Either naturally, or as a result of her war experiences, Gretel was a sickly woman, and Harry knew that marriage to Gretel would not be easy — and it wasn’t. Nevertheless, as I can attest, Harry was a devoted and loving husband until the day Gretel died, more than thirty years later.

Meanwhile, in Palestine, Harry’s sister, Esther, met and married Alex, one of my parents’ friends. Alex and his brother, Max, had spent the war years in the British military. After the war, Max met Miriam, a Holocaust survivor. Miriam’s story is a book in itself.

Miriam was from a middle-class Jewish family in a suburb of Prague, in Czechoslovakia. When the Germans came, she and her family were rounded up. Indeed, Miriam’s entire school was rounded up. She once showed me a picture of her first or second grade class at school, 35 sweet, round-faced children, and told me she was the only survivor.

The Nazis immediately killed her father, but Miriam, her mother and her sister were sent to Therezienstadt. From there, the three of them were shipped to Auschwitz.

On their arrival at Auschwitz, Miriam and her family were put in line to pass Mengele’s review. Miriam, all of 14 years old, immediately noted that the old, the very young, and the sick, were sent off to Mengele’s left, while the healthy went to his right. When she reached Mengele, he told her sister and mother to go right. He then looked at Miriam, who is very sallow, pronounced the word “jaundice,” and directed her to the left. Miriam spoke up: “Dr. Mengele, I’m healthy. Look at the whites of my eye — they’re not yellow. I can work.” Mengele looked her over again, saw that she was indeed capable of working, and redirected her to the right.

By the time Miriam got out of the line for the gas chamber, however, she’d lost her mother and her sister. As you may or may not know, Auschwitz was enormous — it was a huge complex of death and labor. For the next two years, Miriam, a young teen, survived alone in Auschwitz, without ever finding her family. As the war was wrapping up, though, Miriam was transferred to Bergen-Belsen.

Bergen-Belsen, while it did not have gas chambers, was in many ways worse than Auschwitz. Auschwitz was hell, but at least it had organizing principles that gave people something to hang onto. Bergen-Belsen was pure chaos — a stinkhole of mud, death and disease (it was here that Anne Frank actually died).

Surprisingly, in the midst of this Dante-esque Hell, Miriam was reunited with her mother and sister. Miriam eventually ended up in Israel, where she met Max (whose brother Alex married Esther, who is the sister of Harry, the man about who started this post).

Fast forward to the 1980s. Harry and Gretel lived in Germany; Miriam and Max lived in Israel; Alex and Esther lived in America. None had children. At the beginning of the 1980s, Alex (Miriam’s brother) died, and Esther (Harry’s sister) died less than two weeks later.

Alex and Esther had written reciprocal wills, each leaving his (or her) half of the marital estate to the other, with the survivor of the two leaving his (or her) combined estate to his (or her) sibling. This meant that when Alex died, everything went to Esther. And when Esther died less than two weeks later, everything went to Harry. Harry, however, thought this wasn’t fair. He knew that, had Esther lived long enough to change her will, she would have left half of her estate to Alex’s brother and his wife (Max and Miriam). So Harry did something unheard of: he announced that he was, as he said, “done with beating through the bushes” and he was going to give half the estate to Max and Miriam. The estate lawyers were agog. They had never heard of something like this before, and did not even believe it could be done as a matter of law.

With pressure from Harry, and the cooperation of the Probate Court, however, it was done, and Max and Miriam duly inherited half the estate. My family lost contact with Harry years ago, and I’m sure he’s died. However, whenever I think of a righteous man, Harry — who married an older woman he didn’t know or love, because he owed a debt to her, and who gave up half of a valuable estate because it was the right thing to do — springs to mind. And when I think of someone who survived the inferno of the Holocaust, my mind always goes to his sister-in-law Miriam, the the young girl who faced down Dr. Mengele. (She, by the way, is still alive, although she is by now completely infirm because of injuries she suffered in the camps.)

Talking to Technorati: , , , , ,

Getting the job done

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a persnickity lady who likes my comforts — a fact that only serves to increase my admiration for those American troops dealing with the dangers and discomforts in Iraq. I know from my father, who fought in North Africa during WWII, how particularly nasty desert fighting is. He had amusing stories of washing clothes in gasoline in order to preserve water, only to have the clothes dissolve; and scary stories of finding shelter in abandoned shacks, only to wake up to find the floor crawling with scorpions. He never talked about combat itself, although my Mom tells me of bayonet to bayonet fighting with the Nazis, especially at el Alamein.

It’s not my Dad’s war, but Teflon Don, at Acute Politics, has a good way with words, and a good sense of imagery, so he really takes you with him on a nighttime journey through Fallujah territory. Check it out.

As an aside, it’s a mixed blessing that it’s not my Dad’s war. It’s good, because Dad’s war was unimaginably bloody while the current war, for all the fuss from the anti-War activists is, mercifully, one of the most bloodless wars America has ever fought. It’s bad, though, because WWII had the virtue of a united front, where virtually the entire country enthusiastically and generously supported the war effort.

del.icio.us | digg it

What’s Dunkirk got to do with it?

The story of Dunkirk is an amazing one. In May 1940, about 250,000 British troops (as well as about 120,000 French troops) found themselves stranded there, victims of the spectacularly successful German Blitzkrieg. They had virtually no weapons, no organization and nowhere to go: the seemingly unstoppable Nazis were to the East, the impassable British Channel to the West. Their choices seemed to be death or imprisonment. Churchill had ordered the Navy to rescue these men, but that order carried with it its own problems. The soldiers weren’t waiting at nice, neat docks with well-organized boarding passes. Instead, they were waiting on flat beaches to which Naval carriers had no access. The prospects for their survival seemed grim.

Britain dealt with this problem by putting the call out to her amateur boaters (she was, after all, an island). And so the miracle occurred: from all over England, private boat owners, some in boats that were little more than rowboats, set sail for Dunkirk to help with the evacuation. For nine days and nights, these citizens, working with the Navy, successfully evacuated 330,000 men, enabling Britain to have a core military troop that would allow her to fight another day. That’s the story, and it’s a wonderful one, with high notes of patriotism, and faith, and individual risks, and brave sacrifices.

Interestingly, though, it may not be the actual story. I’m reading a lovely little book by Robert Lacey called Great Tales from English History (Volume III). In it, I learned for the first time that this inspiring story wasn’t quite true. As Lacey says (pp. 247-248):

In certain respects, the story of the little boats was exaggerated: many had sailed for money, a good number were commanded by active naval officers, and it was the ‘big ships’ of the Royal Navy that transported the vast majority of the soldiers home.

Nevertheless, Lacey believes that the myth itself — namely, that it was a citizen navy that saved the British army — was a significant factor in Britain’s ability to withstand the Nazi juggernaut (p. 248):

But if it was a myth, it was a necessary and inspiring myth, symbolising how ordinary people could make a difference. In the weeks that followed, over a million men enrolled in the Local Defence Volunteers; roadblocks and concrete pillboxes sprang up all over the countryside; signposts were removed or craftily rearranged to fool invaders; and the coast was wreathed with barbed wire. ‘We shall fight on the beaches,’ proclaimed Churchill, ‘we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.’

Britain had drifted rather vaguely through the opening months of what had been known as the ‘phoney war.’ Now she started to believe in herself — and helped others to believe in her too. Previously detached, America removed the restrictions on getting involved in the European conflict: half a million rifles were dispatched to Britain in the first weeks of June 1940, for, as the New York Times explained to its readers, the issues at stake had been made clear at Dunkirk:

In that harbour, such a hell on earth as never blazed before, at the end of a lost battle, the rags and blemishes that had hidden the soul of democracy fell away. There, beaten but unconquered, she faced the enemy, this shining thing in the souls of free men, which Hitler cannot command. It is in the great tradition of democracy. It is a future. It is victory.

In modern American wartime culture, as played out in the mainstream media (which is the loudest and furthest reaching voice in the world) our myths and our resolve are somewhat different. Our soldiers aren’t plucky warriors, they’re mercenaries, sucking wealth and luxury out of our society:

Sure, it is the junior enlisted men who go to jail. But even at anti-war protests, the focus is firmly on the White House and the policy. We don’t see very many “baby killer” epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

I can imagine some post-9/11 moment, when the American people say enough already with the wars against terrorism and those in the national security establishment feel these same frustrations. In my little parable, those in leadership positions shake their heads that the people don’t get it, that they don’t understand that the threat from terrorism, while difficult to defeat, demands commitment and sacrifice and is very real because it is so shadowy, that the very survival of the United States is at stake. Those Hoovers and Nixons will use these kids in uniform as their soldiers. If it weren’t about the United States, I’d say the story would end with a military coup where those in the know, and those with fire in their bellies, would save the nation from the people.

But it is the United States, and the recent NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary – oops sorry, volunteer – force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.

The September 11 assault on American soil that, in two hours, left almost 3,000 dead and that aimed to wipe out our government (something that would have succeeded but for the brave passengers on Flight 93), was a mere nothing, and we’re overreacting, quite badly:

But it is no disrespect to the victims of 9/11, or to the men and women of our armed forces, to say that, by the standards of past wars, the war against terrorism has so far inflicted a very small human cost on the United States. As an instance of mass murder, the attacks were unspeakable, but they still pale in comparison with any number of military assaults on civilian targets of the recent past, from Hiroshima on down.

Even if one counts our dead in Iraq and Afghanistan as casualties of the war against terrorism, which brings us to about 6,500, we should remember that roughly the same number of Americans die every two months in automobile accidents.

Of course, the 9/11 attacks also conjured up the possibility of far deadlier attacks to come. But then, we were hardly ignorant of these threats before, as a glance at just about any thriller from the 1990s will testify. And despite the even more nightmarish fantasies of the post-9/11 era (e.g. the TV show “24′s” nuclear attack on Los Angeles), Islamist terrorists have not come close to deploying weapons other than knives, guns and conventional explosives. A war it may be, but does it really deserve comparison to World War II and its 50 million dead? Not every adversary is an apocalyptic threat.

(It’s worth pointing out here that, if America grossly overreacted when a mere 3,000 civilians were killed in two hours on American soil, then liberals/progressives are really, really overreacting when they get their knickers in a twist over the fact that just 3,097 troops have died during almost four years of aggressive warfare in Iraq.)

This overreaction means that our cause isn’t really the cause of freedom and democracy, but is, instead, a manufactured war relying on fear to abuse third world victims so as to benefit American imperialism:

Like the great imperialists of bygone days, America