Recently, I had the privilege of spending an evening with two World War II vets – ‘General R,’ age 89, and another gentleman, 91 spry years old, who shared their memories of the war with their companions. General R wanted to join the Army Air Corps before Pearl Harbor, but he was turned down due to a lack of the requisite two years of college education. He turned to the Canadian Royal Air Force, who were more than happy to have him. After training on a cloth-winged biplane, he found himself in the cockpit of an RAN Hawker Hurricane. In 1943, after obtaining a release from the RAF, Gen. R joined the Army Air Force, which was less concerned then with college than with combat experience. Back in Great Britain, he flew many more missions until being shot down in late 1944, which provided an opportunity for him to be a guest of the Germans until the end of the war and his release.
Returning several years afterward to service, this time with the Air National Guard, he serve ed until the mid-1970s, retiring just as F-15s were being added to the inventory. From biplanes to jet fighters….
The other gent, a natural storyteller and a ‘live wire’ despite his years, spent the war with the Naval Armed Guard (not the Merchant Marine, as he quickly corrected me). He left ‘the Triple C’ (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp where he was living and working to enlist as soon as the news of Pearl Harbor reached his camp. These sailors manned armed merchant ships, and my dinner companion spent his time in the North Atlantic, in a contest with U-boats to get supplies through to the front, and to the English people who sacrificed so much during the war. The contest didn’t always end successfully, as my companion spoke of spending the night on an iceberg after his ship was torpedoed and sunk. (They did calisthenics to stay warm until a rescue ship could come to their aid.) The U-boat threat was so real to them that they slept on deck, in life jackets, on their homeward voyage after V-E day, just in case a young U-boat captain wanted to get in one last, post-surrender kill before returning home.
He closed by relating some of his post-war adventures, and then added that he wished he were 21 years old so that he could do it all over again.
It was a nice way to spend an October evening, especially as I’d said good-bye for the winter to herb and Gladys, our snowbird neighbors, who’d just departed for Florida. (Herb served in the Pacific Theater and remained spry enough to do yard work this summer, though he stopped hand-mowing his lawn a couple of years ago.)
Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to hear more memories retold, as ‘Chief M,’ a retired warrant officer, related to us, at a unit alumni dinner, his experiences in Europe as an infantryman, and how he finished the war in the Philippines, as his unit was one of several shipped across the globe after V-E Day for Pacific service and potential use in an invasion of Japan’s home islands.
My own service never involved anything as dangerous or exciting as what these combat veterans experienced. Too young for Vietnam, I was nearing the end of my service by the time we entered the post 9/11 era and my turn never came to see overseas war service. However, while the ‘hot wars’ passed me by, I did serve in Germany during the ‘Cold War,’ and once visited its crucible, Berlin, for urban warfare training in 1982 while a member of the 3rd Infantry Division. Berlin was divided then, before the Berlin Wall came down, and the West was free, while the East was under Communist rule. However, the treaties signed by the World War II Allies included visitation rights for each of the four signatory powers (the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and France). Those treaty rights were our passport to a day-trip to East Berlin. That day, spent amidst the dreary ruins of a metropolis only partially rebuilt, dreary even on its signature street, Unter Den Linden, once the German capital’s showcase, and the 24 crosses we counted that were erected in on the western side of the barrier zone to mark where would-be escapees were gunned down by East German guards within sight of the freedom that they were willing toy risk their lives to obtain, made for a more powerful education than anything written in a book could’ve imparted.
What follows are the pictures I took during that visit in the spring of 1982.
This space, and my time, are not enough to recall all the other stories, of elder relatives who served in Korea and Vietnam, and in earlier wars going back to our country’s founding, or even my maternal Grandmother’s stories about growing up in the encampment of the 42nd Highlanders, (‘The Black Watch’), and on and on. If you have the opportunity to sit next to one of those who swerved, be sure to ask about their stories, because they will pass away with their bearers and will be lost to us someday if not retold and passed down to others. Their memories are truly ‘living history’ and their retelling our texts for understanding what it was like, in each of the places they went, when they experienced military service – and sometimes war – at the human, personal scale.
Like my dinner companion on that October evening, I wish I was 21 again, so that I could do it all over.
Budingen Castle was the redoubt of the Prince-Bishops who ruled the region during late Middle Ages, through the times of the Reformation and before the coming of German unification. ’Prince-Bishop’ refers to the dual offices combined in one person who exercise both temporal and ecclesiastical authority. Before unification in 1871, Germany was a land, and the Germans a people, but they were not a nation, in the political sense. The Reformation divided them, and figures like the Prince-Bishops played a major role in defending their territory from enemy inroads, as they had against external foes in olden times. (Bundingen, situated just north of Frankfurt, was by no means unique in this combination of secular and ecclesiastical authority, nor was the practice confined to Germany; Durham was a English ’County Palatine’ under the authority of a Prince-Bishop for much of the Middle Ages.) Bundingen also served as a jumping-off point for ‘Volga Germans‘ emigrating to Russia at the timer of Catherine the Great.
One weekend, on a four-day pass, I had an opportunity to leave Aschaffenburg, where I was stationed with the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, U.S. Army, Europe (USAEUR) and travel to Bundingen Castle. The pictures that follow I took while there on tour.The end of the cycle of wars begun after Martin luther nailed his ’95 Theses’ to the door of a Wittenburg church marked the beginning of the end of the Prince-Bishop’ power. Having outlived the hour of their greatest need, they gradually sunk into a respectable oblivion, finally surrendering all feudal rights and privileges with the rest of the German nobility in 1919 with the advent of the Weimar Republic. The castle has, however, remained in the same family for over 700 years and is a popular tourist attraction down to the present time.
Aschaffenburg, (West) Germany, was my home for two years as an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army’s 3rd ‘Marne’ Infantry Division from 1981-83. Like virtually every place in Europe, ‘A-Berg,’ as it was known to the G.I.’s stationed there, had seen a lot of history. Over a thousand years had passed since Aschaffenburg was settled by the German ancestors of today’s townsfolk. The city, northernmost in Bavaria, sits aside a bend in the Main River, and is also called ‘Aschaffenburg-am-Mein.’
The year of my arrival, 1981, was celebrated as the 1,000th in the history of the local cathedral, the Basilica of Saints Peter and Alexander. This basilica church added some Gothic elements over the centuries, and has served as the center of town for all of its existence. The visitor can see elements that have been added over the centuries, like layers of strata in a rock formation, each telling something of the times that authored them.
The Sandkirche is another Aschaffenburg church with some history to it. Built during the Counter-Reformation era, it features art and architecture that survived World War Two intact – alone among they city’s churches. The Rococo style is ornate and one of the finest examples of its’ genre.
A Renaissance-era castle, the Schloss Johannisburg, dominates
the skyline and is one of the leading attractions of the city. The building complex and parkways take at least a full day to enjoy and appreciate.
The cityscape, especially in the ‘Old Town,’ is medieval in character and preserves the feeling, even amidst modern intrusions like electric lighting, an air of traditionalism that is charming and genuine.
Aschaffenburg did not lack for more modern attractions, however: It boasted an underground mall, a train station and a Hard Rock Cafe, among other evening hangouts frequented by locals and G.I.s alike. Some of the historic attractions, like the Heylands brewery, in operation since 1792 (closed in 2001), where one could enjoy ‘Aschaffenburg’s Grossest Bier,’ had attractions beyond the historic, especially for young G.I.s.
History is all around us; it is certainly easier to find in the Old World. However, it can be found virtually wherever one lives, and while it may span a millennium, it’s still history – and it’s there to be enjoyed, appreciated and passed on to the next generation.
Hippocrates, ‘the Father of Medicine,’ taught his students while seated under a sycamore tree. That tree lived for centuries and was famed as the place where Western medicine was born. Although the original no longer lives, a cutting from it has been brought to life and now grows in northern Michigan. This is not the first cutting from the famous tree to be planted abroad; the original tree has itself given way to a cutting taken from itself, making the Calumet tree a grandchild of the famous tree. Other cuttings have taken root on medical school campuses, appropriately enough, and grow to become living symbols of the first medical school classroom.
Their sometimes millennial lifespans make trees living witnesses to history. Other famous trees that have survived the centuries to stand as markers of famous pasts include the ‘Major Oak‘ under which Robin Hood and his outlaw band used to gather and ‘Tree of One Hundred Horses,’ a Sicilian Chestnut which has lived for perhaps 4,000 years on the slope of Mt. Etna, only eight kilometers from the volcano’s mouth. Legend has it that a troop of 100 horsemen took shelter under its’ branches during a thunderstorm. It is a candidate for the largest tree, by girth, on Earth.
The Cedars of Lebanon were already famous when the Epic of Gilgamesh was composed near the end of third millennium, B.C. Some of the oldest denizens of Lebanon’s slopes may well have looked down on Gilgamesh as he passed by them in their youth. As the elders of the remaining stands of this once-vast wood matured, they saw their neighbors taken to build Solomon’s Temple, watched Alexander’s Macedonians pass by, and continued t as they aged o have a front-row seat to history being made in that region of the world that seems forever to make headline news.
Many other examples of famous trees come easily to mind. These examples are meant to show that history lives in them, as it was often made under their boughs, and we can stand beneath them today, on ground shaded by the same witness as when it first came to fame. With transplants like the one now taking root in Calumet, one need not even travel to the Greek islands to experience something of this; a scion of the original may be close to home. This writer looks forward to visiting the Hippocratic Sycamore on his next visit to Calumet, and while it will be the shores of Lake Superior before him, it will be easy enough for imagination to take flight, and for a moment he’ll be in ancient Kos, where this tree’s life and fame began.
The Michigan Shakespeare Festival begins another season of bringing the Bard’s plays to life at Jackson Community College. This year, their offerings include ‘Twelfth Night’ and ’King John,’ a rarity on the stage and of especial interest to the historically-minded, as the Prince whom Robin Hood foiled would go on to sign Magna Carta, whose 800th anniversary is less than two years from now.
Living in the shadow of his elder brother, Richard III ‘The Lionheart,’ and having been a youth when Thomas a’Becket was martyred by his father, King Edward II. The Crusades dominated the era, and the temporal power of the papacy reached its’ zenith. The latter development figures in the play, as King John, to preserve his throne, offers to become the Pope’s liege-man, making England his feudal territory, which the Holy see then returned to John as a fief.
The season’s just begin in Jackson, and ‘King John’ is a rarity upon the stage. Having seen both plays this weekend, this author can recommend them, in the latter case, especially so, as the opportunity to see it acted may be long in coming.
Of the original 10 amendments known as ‘the Bill of Rights,’ the one least-known, and the only one never the primary subject of a Supreme Court case is the Third Amendment, which the Founders added to the Constitution because of their memories of the abuses visited upon them by the British ‘Quartering Act.’ Until now, there has been virtually no legal action of any kind that cited it (with Griswold v. Connecticut a notable exception). Until now. A Nevada family claims to have been terrorized by local police who wanted to occupy their homes for ‘tactical advantage’ in dealing with an alleged crime in a neighboring home that had nothing to do with them. Their refusal of entry to the police led to their door being knocked down, a family pet being pepper-sprayed, abuse and threats hurled at them before an arrest leading to dropped charges after a short jail stay, and to the lawsuit in question. their suit claims, among other things, that the arrest and detention were merely tactics to facilitate entry and occupation of their property, and that said occupation violated the Third Amendment, which reads:
“No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
If one accepts the idea that human nature is a constant, and that human affairs often reprise, without actually repeating, the actions of past epochs, it may not be surprising that something as long-dormant as the occupation of private dwellings by government troops (whether called ‘police’ or ‘soldiers,’ SWAT teams and other tactical law-enforcement units train, equip and act like soldiers, rendering the distinction academic) should rise to the surface of our affairs once again. The facts of the case in question are for a jury to decide; that is as it should be. What matters more to us, as citizens and students of government, is that this lesson in the fragility of our rights and customs not go unlearned. Any right that can be taken away in the name of expediency ceases to be one, and becomes merely a custom, an indulgence, to be granted or withdrawn at pleasure. This is what we should remember – and work to forestall, if we would continue to live in a civil (as opposed to a militarized) society.
Phyllis Schafley comments on the President’s Father’s day message and his call for child support reform in her latest column We Should Reform Child Support. The unintended consequences of ‘get tough’ legislation aimed at the largely mythical ‘deadbead dad’ is that non-custodial parents who lose their jobs or their health and cannot work are as likely to end up in debtor’s prison as those who willfully shirk their parental responsibilities. Furthermore, no-fault divorce creates perverse incentives to destroy imperfect marriages unilaterally with most of the financial consequences falling on the injured party – the father, as most divorces are initiated by wives. This is an acid test of public policy: Do the consequences flowing from a legislative mandate actually occur, and are there other, unintended ones which do more harm than the good done by the legislation in question. If child support laws are intended to further child welfare, the answer would appear to be in the negative, as is also the case with the collateral damage caused by divorce law ‘liberalization.’
Perhaps the President’s call for reform will kick-start an overdue national debate on a family life in America and what the government can, and should or should not do to promote it.
There has been quite a furor in some circles over the proposed Federal ‘Common Core‘ standards. There may be good reason for this: The U.S. Constitution vests no authority in the Federal Government over education. As explicitly stated in the 10th Amendment, all powers not enumerated as being of a Federal nature are reserved to the states or to the people. (Cities and counties have no separate, independent sovereign existence, as ‘Dillon’s Rule‘ stated in codifying legal precedent in that regard.) The 9th Amendment also codifies the retention of rights not listed in the Constitution – those based in tradition, ‘common law’ and so forth. Among these would be the right to educate one’s own children as one sees fit.
Beyond that, the content is controversial, and as the mandate to implement the ‘Common Core‘ will also include testing that serves as the gateway to a high school diploma, GED and college admission, it comes with the power to compel compliance with a program that some regard as being overly politicized. As citizens, as parents, we do well to inform ourselves about topics like these that touch upon our lives and those of our families so intimately. Being informed means doing primary research and independent investigation as well as reading commentary, no matter the source, and arriving at one’s own decision. After doing so, an informed citizen is equipped to act to support the good and to oppose that which is objectionable.
OR Books — Hacking Politics. This ebook retells the story of the eclectic collection of some of the strangest bedfellows to be found in modern American politics: Occupy Wall Street teaming with Tea Parties, Ron Paul supporters connecting with liberal activists and many others from all across the political spectrum [and the 'left-right' concept of politics is badly in need of updating] to defeat Internet-controlling legislative proposals ‘SOPA’ and ‘PIPA.’ The spontaneous rallying of these disparate and often hostile elements in support of Internet freedom may be thought of as an online ‘American Spring.’ Their story is hot off the word processor and here for you to read; more importantly, this story can serve an an example and a road-map for future coalition-building online in support of core American principles like freedom of expression whenever they are endangered, regardless of the intent of those who endanger them.
Fans of the old Star Trek TV series may recall an episode titled ‘The Omega Glory’ whose plot revolves around a planet parallel to Earth in its’ development, but whose history diverged in that their ‘Cold War’ opponents fought a nuclear war. When The Enterprise arrives on the scene, the survivors, barbarian ‘Yangs’ and more peaceful ‘Kohm’ villagers, are locked in a fierce struggle which ends, despite outside intervention, with the former winning and reclaiming the last of their old territory in a ‘Reconquista‘ campaign that has been waged by generations of their forbears.
What has the above to do with social studies, one might well ask. Fair enough. The point of the trip down TV’s Memory Lane to the 1960s (and a mediocre episode in of a long-defunct series) is that the victorious Yangs had been at the reconquista business for so long that the ideas and ideals they sought to preserve and defend had become objects of veneration, but not of study,and they no longer understood what they professed to worship as the ‘holy of holies.’ It took a typically hammy performance by Cpt. Kirk to save the day,not only for his mission and crew, but also for the poor Yangs, who’d forgotten who they once were – Yankees. Their holy words were from the Constitution,and their garbled incantations inspired their courage but befuddled their understanding.
Can this happen to us, even without a nuclear holocaust driving the survivors into caves? If one reads the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution (which includes the Bill of Rights), as well as the Federalist Papers, Magna Charta and the other primary documents of Anglo-American political development, one might just think so. Even if the syllabus is contracted to just the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, documents that all Americans should have read in civics class back in high school, one might well wonder., as one also might, as I did last night at a sporting event, at everyone standing (as I did),men with hats off, during the playing of the National Anthem. Are we still ‘The Land of the Free/And the Home of the Brave‘?
The recent events in Boston and vicinity leading to the capture of the surviving terrorist suspect give pause to those who give more than lip service to our civic/secular ‘holy words.’ Are we ‘free’ indeed if the police can, automatic weapons at the ready, order us out of our houses and conduct searches of them? Would those Americans who came before us have tolerated it? Reading the Declaration of Independence, one would have to answer with a ‘no.’ Do we remain ‘free’ if we cede control over our lives to an all-powerful State that ‘protects’ us by eavesdropping on our phone calls, reads our e-mail traffic, monitors our financial activity and can stop, search or detain us – with Miranda rights even a subject of controversy, as if guilt can be determined before trial – it would appear, at will, all in the name of fighting a nebulous ‘terror’? If one is willing to tolerate some ‘temporary’ curtailment of liberty, for how long is it expected to last? Who decided when we can declare victory against ‘terror’ and how do we get our freedom back if it is not willingly offered to us? Is it ‘freedom’ if it can be given or taken by the State? If our rights are truly ‘inalienable,’ then the answer is something we ought to give to our public servants after due deliberation that takes counsel from the histories of those who have lived out the experiment in self-government in the past. We ought to ponder and act now, as the precedent set at Watertown may truly be our ‘E Plebnista’ moment – and a point of no return, as far as ‘the American Way of Life’ we have known it is concerned.