The Very Difficult Simultaneous Right And Utterly Wrong Trick

Alexandria “Tide Pod Evita” Ocasio Cortez claimed yesterday that ICE runs “concentration camps” for illegal immigrants, and that makes our treatment of illegals the equivalent of the Holocaust.

MSNBC drone Chris Hedges leapt to her defense:

And he is right on three levels.

Historically and Semantically, the term “Concentration Camp” dates to the Boer War, when the Brits, waging a scorched earth campaign against Boers in South Africa, began rounding up the families of Boer soldiers away at war against them and concentrating them in camps. They were frightfully unpleasant, and a human rights violation at a time when the concept really didn’t exist – but they were expressly intended to kill people (although many died).

Likewise, America’s internment camps were “concentration camps” in that same sense – concentrating those who it was believed needed eyes kept on them at wartime; the camps where German and other Central Power nationals, Turks and Bulgars and Austro-Hungarians, were kept during World War I, and German, Italian and Japanese nationals (and, infamously, US citizens of Japanese birth and ancestry) during World War II.

For that matter, German “concentration camps” – Konzentrazionlslager, or “KZ” camps, were a widely mixed bag, run by a variety of members of the Nazi bureaucracy for a variety of reasons. Most were labor camps, not designed specifically to kill inmates (although they did die in droves, especially at the end of the war when disease, starvation, exposure on forced marches, and last-minute massacre killed people in droves. And some “KZ”s were holding camps for people before they were sent off to the death camps.

Which were another entire wing of the Nazi bureaucracy. Run by the SS-Totenkopfverband, or “Death’s Head Department” – the SS department that ran the Final Solution – they were designed and built for the sole purpose of murdering people in industrial lots, as befitting their name, “Vernichtungslager“, or “Extermination Camp”, abbreviated “VZ”.

The vast majority of people who were sent to “Extermination camps” died. The majority who arrived at a concentration camp left alive (although huge numbers of them were sent to their deaths in VZs).

And the term lost all linguistic nuance in the west – justifiably so – when footage from camps like Buchenwald, Dauchau and Bergen-Belsen showing bodies stacked like logs and emaciated wretches covered in lice, barely recognizable as human, showed in their newsreels – unaware that the Soviets had liberated places far, far worse.

So Hayes is right.

But in modern-day terms, nobody on the southern border is being put to work for 16 hours a day with 400 calories of bread and soup; nobody is shot if they flee; nobody is driving illegal immigrants into gas chambers and choking them to death with diesel fumes.

And hinting as much proves not so much that Ocasio-Cortez and Hayes are stupid and evil, as it indicates they don’t expect their audiences to have the historical, intellectual or moral firepower to check them on such a depraved claim.

And they’re not wrong.

People Are Basically Trash

Today would have been Anne Frank’s 90th birthday.  

Erin Blakemore has an excellent article on how the Attic may, or may not, have been discovered by the Nazis and their collaborators.  

And I urge you to read Blakemore’s twitter thread (starting below) about the anger she feels seeing the remarks in Frank’s diary about believing in her heart in the goodness of people are so often ripped out of context today:

If you keep reading, you’ll note that Frank – who wrote that three weeks before the Attic was raided – went on to say she had a harder and harder time believing that. Justifiably so.

The Diary of Anne Frank wasn’t the first book I ever read about the Holocaust – The Black Book, Treblinka and Escape from Sobibor all came first – but it was one of many things that convinced me that the hopey-changey of the left were at best a trifle and at worst bait. It started me down the road toward being a Reagan Conservative, a 2nd Amendment activist, and someone who eschews horror movies. Who needs to watch The Walking Dead – cable TV’s excellent show about the complete collapse of civilization – when it’s all right there in history?

Ripple Effect

If you learned history the conventional way, you saw D-Day pretty much in terms of surface meaning – the opening of a Western Front, the beginning of the West’s drive to Berlin…well, the Elbe, anyway.

But the importance may have gone well beyond the operational. Had it not worked, or not been attempted when it was, the Eastern Front that ate up 2/3 of the German war effort might have gone away, allowing Germany to focus on its western and southern flanks:

There is ample evidence that Soviet and German representatives had met in Stockholm for serious talks. Hitler saw Stalin’s opening as a sign of weakness. Understanding the tension between the Soviets and the Americans and British, he didn’t believe in 1943 that they could mount an invasion. Since Stalin himself had doubts, Hitler drove a hard bargain, demanding that Germany retain the land it had already won, particularly Ukraine. The talks broke down, though contacts seem to have continued.

Had the Allies not invaded Normandy in 1944, it is reasonable to assume that Stalin, whose troops were still fighting far inside their own country, would have accepted the deal with Hitler, since he likely could not continue fighting without a western front or at the very least could not regain the territory on his own. Churchill, it should be noted, was never enthusiastic about the invasion, either because he feared the resulting losses would be the end of the British army or because he wouldn’t have minded if the German-Soviet war continued so the Allies could intervene at the last minute, while nibbling at Greece. Either way, Roosevelt rejected Churchill’s view, sensing that the Soviets would make peace without an Allied invasion.


Without D-Day, Europe would likely still be controlled by the Nazis.

Given Germany’s new-found focus on being Germany again, I don’t think most Americans – particularly our idiot “#Resistance”, know how important that is.

Unsafe Space

Reagan, speaking 32 years ago at Pointe Du Hoc, above Omaha Beach:

“The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades.

And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing.

Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe.

Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.”

– Ronald Reagan, 1984

NOTE I first ran this D-Day piece three years ago.

The Gipper Meets The Boss

Thirty-five years ago yesterday, “Born in the USA” was released.

And Kyle Smith makes the case that it did more than most things to ensure the *other* great event of that year, Ronald Reagan’s re-election.

Read the whole thing – but I’ll give you the conclusion:

“Morning in America,” the title of a corny TV commercial, was often described as Reagan’s all-but-official reelection theme. Really it was “Born in the U.S.A.” There is only one upbeat line in it, but it’s the last one Springsteen sang: “I’m a cool rockin’ daddy in the U.S.A.” Despite everything he’s endured, the narrator is still rockin’, still cool. Even those who paid close attention to the lyrics of the accidental anthem could take from it this: Dark as things got in a previous era, this is a new generation. The draft is no more. We have shaken off the pall of Vietnam. We are back. We are Americans, and it’s time to shout it out loud again. We were born in the U.S.A.”

Don’t be tired and bored with yourself. Just read it.

And as I noted a few years ago, completely without knowing it, Bruce is America’s best conservative songwriter – for reason that are purely conservative:

The Beef

I’ve spent most of my life – virtually my entire adult life – first raising and now working with millennials. And getting used to their various quirks – like, the way the seem to collect diagnoses and physical and mental illnesses (or at least their labels) the way they used to collect Pokemon cards. If I had a nickel for every group of millennials I’ve heard comparing being celiac and dysthemic to being “on the spectrum” and having anxiety, I could contribute enough money to get a republican elected in Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’ district.

Bemusement turns to irritation when they start yapping about “the world the previous generations left them”. The Great Recession, “climate change” and Trump, I guess, all combine to make millennials all goth-y about the world around them.

I’ve tried – without much success – to expose the idea that maybe, just maybe, the world they’re growing (Still. Interminably) is actually, if not better, at least no more malignant than the worlds their elders had:

  • Their grand, or sometimes great grand, parents of the “Greatest Generation”, of course, had the Great Depression and World War 2 – with some of them adding Korea and Vietnam. They had hard economic times after the war, as well as a sharp little recession in the late sixties – after which, in their thirties and forties, they got to start watching the social fabric fray throughout the sixties.
  • Their children, the “Baby Boom”, had Vietnam and the immense social dislocation that brought, the JFK and RFK and MLK assassinations, the turning of our major cities into dysfunctional hellscapes, the miserable miasma of the seventies with stagflation, an unprecedented political crisis in Watergate, and shag carpeting, and of course the ongoing Cold War.
  • My generation – I’m not a baby boomer – started out being told overpopulation was going to kill us all; India was going to starve itself down to 100 million people, and there would “inevitably” be food riots in the US by the 1980s. If pollution didn’t kill us first, of course. The seventies – which I remember from the news as a kid – gave way to a recession as brutal as the 2007 one (but shorter, and followed by the sort of robust growth that usually follows recessions, thanks to conservative policies, not that the Jon Stewarts of my generation were any smarter about economics than the Jon Stewarts of the millennial generation, whoever they are). Terrorism in the Middle East became a constant lifestyle. And just as we started getting into adulthood, this mysterious disease started killing people off; gay guys, drug users and Haitians, at first, but – we were assured – it was going to affect us all, and could even kill us all off! And above it all (to me, anyway), the Cold War, with its constant, ambient threat to incinerate us all (I grew up in missile country, and it wasn’t an abstract thing at all), with bombers on standby and Europe split down the middle with barbed wire and troops and mines in between, and Jakov Smirnov an A-list star. Plus we had the 1980-81 season of “SNL”, plus “I’ve Never Been To Me“, by Charlene.

It never really sinks in. But then it never really does, with the young.

David Harsanyi moves from memory to fact, to prove the point – millennials just don’t have it that bad, and to the extent they do, it’s largely because of lifestyle choices. From his conclusion:

Of course life has a new set of challenges for every generation, and no one expects millennials to sit around prefacing every complaint by noting, “Hey, life is better for me in so many ways.” But it’s simply untrue, despite a sense of unearned victimhood, that millennials have it harder than those who came before them. In most ways, the opposite is true.

I’d urge you not just to read athe whole thing, but to pass it on to a millennial close to you. Presuming they’re not triggered.

Anniversary

Those who think school massacres and “Assault weapons” are inextricably tied together haven’t read the story of the Bath, Michigan massacre, which happened 92 years ago this morning.

I wrote at some length about it a few years back.

While gun control laws are short-sighted and sclerotic (even if you presume “preventing crime” is their motive, and I do not), but evil is nimble and creative.

Notre Dame

It was a Sunday morning in the second week of June, 1983. I had just gotten out of my sophomore year of college, and was on the trip to Europe I had been saving for since I was 14.

For the first three weeks, I was in Europe – the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland and what we used to call West Germany (kids, ask your parents) – with the Jamestown College choir. I’ve written about the choir before – it was the little college choir that could; at one point, it had been rated as one of the three best small college choirs in the United States. And 11 years earlier, 1972, it had been the first American choir to be allowed to sing at Notre Dame.

It was 11 years later – a period that doesn’t seem so long anymore. We were getting ready to sing one of the big masses on Sunday morning.

And I had a horrible cold.

And for a beautiful, glorious hour and change, I didn’t care.

The cathedral was built centuries before amplification – and yet the spoken voice carried clearly through the sanctuary; it seems like you could hear every congregant praying, individually, as you sat in the choir.

And singing?

It was one of the most sublime musical experiences of my life.

After the mass, the cold reasserted itself. I needed sleep. I found a cabinet in the basement that looked like it’s been there for hundreds of years, and was covered in dust that looked like it remembered Napoleon. I didn’t care; I slept for two hours and got i shape for the afternoon concert – a full performance for the afternoon audience of worshippers and tourists.

And in that room that had been built halfway between Leif Erickson and Christopher Columbus, I stood and sang and marveled at the sheer acoustic glory of the whole experience.

Not my choir.

I was still sick – but I wasn’t going to waste a gorgeous summer Sunday in Paris. I went to rhe Louvre – because who goes to Paris without going there? – and then got intentionally lost in the Latin Quarter, spending a few hours wandering around quite happy not to know where I was or what I was doing.

I knew I could find my way to the Seine river – and of course, the spire at the Cathedral was almost always visible, wherever I was.

I thought about that the other day, as I watched the spire come crashing to the ground.

And that’s really the last I want to think about that image.

Counterfeit

How do you fight a piece of popular culture that completely mangles history?

You put out some popular culture of your own

Historians fighting back against the pop revisionism of Hamilton with a musical of their own.

Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda” is an uncompromising take-down of “Hamilton,” reminding viewers of the Founding Father’s complicity in slavery and his war on Native Americans.
“My goal is that this to be a counter-narrative to the text that has been distributed to thousands of students throughout the country,” said Reed, who teaches at the California College of the Arts and the University of California at Berkeley and whose latest novel is “Conjugating Hindi.”
Reed, whose play had a recent reading in New York and who is raising money for a four-week production in May, is part of a wave of “Hamilton” skeptics — often solitary voices of dissent amid a wall of fawning attention — who have written journal articles, newspaper op-eds and a 2018 collection of essays, “Historians on Hamilton.”
Miranda’s glowing portrayal of a Hamilton who celebrates open borders — “Immigrants, we get the job done!” — and who denounces slavery has incensed everyone from professors at Harvard to the University of Houston to Rutgers.
They argue that Miranda got Hamilton all wrong — the Founding Father wasn’t progressive at all, his actual role as a slave owner has been whitewashed and the pro-immigrant figure onstage hides the fact that he was, in fact, an anti-immigration elitist.
“It’s a fictional rewrite of Hamilton. You can’t pick the history facts that you want,” said Nancy Isenberg , a professor of American history at Louisiana State University who has written a biography of Aaron Burr and is the author of “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.”

It all fits into my plan to do a musical on the life and legacy of Calvin Coolidge.

A Couple Of Birthdays

It’s been a little crazy lately, and in the rush I neglected two birthdays.

The first, of course, is today.

Reagan

Note:  This is an “encore” of a post I wrote in 2013

Today would be the 108th birthday of the greatest president of my lifetime.

People say “there’s no Ronald Reagan in American politics today”.  And they’re right – but as his son Michael told me in an interview a few years ago, it’s not that there couldn’t be.

Because Reagan had three great talents:   he was a great, natural communicator (who, unlike a lot of “natural communicators”, honed his craft with relentless discipline);  he developed a vision and he stuck to it with determination and focus; and most importantly for today’s  conservatives, he knew how to build coalitions, rather than exclude people from them.

We have plenty of people who can communicate well, although the conservative movement has had its share of duds in that department too.  And we have not a few who can visioneer with the best of them  – in fact, with the rise of the Tea Party, our movement’s best years may be to come, provided they keep the faith.

But as to building coalitions?

Today, we’re better at building silos.

Reagan did something that conservatives are terrible at today; he got social conservatives (at the peak of their notoriety and political cachet), blue-collar Democrats who the economy had turned into instant fiscalcons, Jack Kemp-style economic hawks and paleocons together…

…by focusing remorselessly on what they agreed on;  fixing the economy, and ending Communism.

And once in office, that’s what he focused on.  Oh, he paid lip service to issues that were to him tangents – and lip service from the world’s greatest bully pulpit ain’t chicken feed. But he didn’t fritter his political capital away with excessive natterings about issues that were tangential to his vision, and the vision his coalition all agreed on in electing him.  He spoke eloquently on issues – many of them – and that speaking had its effect.

Some call that an abdication; it was in fact a matter of leaving that work to the members of his coalition (example:  he exerted very little executive effort on abortion and gun control – but the efforts to roll both back at the state and local level started to coalesce during his time in office anyway – in part because of his leadership from the bully pulpit.  But for all that, always, the focus was on “dancing with the one what brung him” to DC at the head of an impossibly-diverse coalition; his rock-solid, bone-simple two point agenda, fixing the economy and toppling the Commies.

As I moderated the “Where Do We Go From Here” event last week at the Blue Fox, and listened to some of the friction and cat-calling across the party’s various factions, I thought there was a lot of focus on what divided us.  And so my final question to the panel was “what do we all – all of us, from socialcons like Andy Parrish to libertarians like Marianne Stebbins, actually agree on?”  Because that is the only real way forward for any of the factions – since if any faction takes Parrish’s (tongue in cheek?) advice and forms a separate party, it’s the road to mutual palookaville, with multiple parties that are less than the sum of the parts they once were.

So for my annual Gipper Day celebration, it’ll be the usual; jelly beans at my desk, taking the kids out to dinner to talk about what Reagan’s legacy has meant in their lives (other than the uninformed, out-of-context crap the DFLers in their lives’ll say)…

…and asking my fellow conservatives “what do we agree on?”

The second? Well, that’ was yesterday.

Shot In The Dark

Yesterday was the 17th anniversary of my starting this blog.

Hardly seems possible, sometimes.

Disclosure: the pieces from the , which may as well be a click bait site these days.

On the other hand, there is nothing about what we know about political correctness, especially in the modern school and academic systems, that smells wrong in any way.

The principal at a New York performing arts high school ordered all Nazi symbol is removed from the stage

… of the play The Sound of Music. Which – if you’ve never seen it – was set in Nazi occupied Austria:

The principal at the elite “Fame” school, Lisa Mars, ordered Nazi flags and symbols removed from the stage set of the beloved tale of the Von Trapp family, who fled the Nazis from their native Austria as Adolf Hitler took power, students told the Daily News.

Now, there’s an old saying; “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is”. So this ext graf – In which a 15-year-old high school kid would seem to have gotten it right…:

“This is a very liberal school, we’re all against Nazis,” one sophomore performer told The News about the fuhrer furor. “But to take out the symbol is to try to erase history.

is perfectly likely to turn out to be false. But I do hope kids are smarter about history than the adults who run most of the educational/industrial complex today.

I hope Dash indeed, I pray – that it’s true.

For The Children

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is out behind his house, turning his city trash barrel right side up, when Avery LIBRELLE turns down the alley, riding a Lime Bike. BERG can’t escape.  

LIBRELLE:  Merg!   It’s time for comprehensive gun control!

BERG:   Of course it is.  Even though none of it can have any effect on gun violence – none at all – and it violates wholesale the rights of the law-abiding.

LIBRELLE:   Hah!   When I heard about Newtown, I stopped caring about your so-called “rights” (makes scare quotes as h…er, sh…er, as LIBRELLE says “Rights”)

BERG:  You did, huh?

LIBRELLE:  Yep!

BERG: For the children?

LIBRELLE:  Yes!

BERG: I hear and understand you completely, Avery.  I did the same thing.

LIBRELLE:  Er – wait.  What?

BERG:  When I saw pictures of the Holocaust…:

…and what happens to the children when people lose their freedom…

…even – no, especially their children, then I stopped caring about the emotions of people who put the word “rights” in scare quotes.

LIBRELLE:   (Absentmindedly looks down at the control panel on the bike) – Hey, Merg – I ran out of stored money on this bike.  Give me your credit card.

(And SCENE)

History Never Repeats, Usually

2018:  “Nobody wants to take your guns.  We just want commonsense gun safety laws”
— the ruling party

1994:  “Nobody wants to murder Tutsis.  We just need commonsense Tutsi control”.
— the ruling party

1931:  “Nobody wants to kill all the Jews.  We just want commensense Jew control”
— the ruling party

1915:  “Nobody really wants to kill Armenians.  We just need commonsense Armenian control”
— the ruling party

1867:   “Nobody wants to decimate the Indians and expropriate their land.   We just need commonsense Indian control and land management”
— the ruling party

Tyranny never comes to your door in a T-shirt saying “Hi! Ask Me About The Benefits Of Having Your Freedom And Humanity Crushed!”.

It’s Veteran’s Day

And lest one think our veterans only bought our freedom, there are a lot of people around the world free today to remind you otherwise.

Poland became independent 100 years ago today.  The events were not unrelated:

Freedom isn’t free, and recent history shows it’s not contagious, either. But it can certainly splatter.

Real #Resistance

I missed this over a very busy winter; Arkady Wajspapir, one of the prime movers in the Sobibor Uprising (which I covered on its 70th anniversary) passed away last February.

He was 96 – 75 more than he had any reason to expect on the day when a train dropped him off at the death camp in rural eastern Poland.

There, he linked up with other Soviet military inmates of Jewish descent, and made common cause with the Polish, Dutch and German Jews who had also been spared the gas chamber to work endless days under brutal conditions.

There – over the course of a few weeks after Soviet soldiers arrived – they plotted their desperate escape:

The uprising began in the late afternoon of Oct. 14. Mr. Wajspapir and another Jewish prisoner, Yehuda Lerner, armed with axes, hid behind a curtain in the shop until their target, Siegfried Graetschus, the German SS officer in charge of the Ukrainian guards, entered. While Graetschus tried on a coat that had been made for him, Mr. Wajspapir, by his account, emerged and attacked him with his ax, striking his head.

“Graetschus let out a scream, did not immediately fall to the ground but tumbled head first because the blow was obviously not forceful enough,” Mr. Wajspapir said in a 1975 article on the website Sobibor Interviews. He and Mr. Lerner then finished off Graetschus.

Here, he tells his own story:

Reading stories like this – as I’ve been doing since I was a teenager (I was familiar with Wajspapir, if only by name, from reading about the Sobibor Uprising as a kid) periodically remind me of a couple of eternal truths:

  1. People calling themselves “#Resistance” today Because Trump are pathetic hamsters.
  2. You will have my gun when those behind you step over your body to pry it from my cold, dead hand.

That is all.

And a belated RIP to Mr. Wajspapir.

An Inconvenient Truth

The welfare state – in the US, the state that was put in place by Lyndon B Johnson’s “Great Society” – isn’t so much about “solving poverty” as it is about “making poverty a permanently sustainable state that can be exploited for political gain”.

We can argue the specifics, and maybe even the conclusion.

But let’s say that was not the case; if the Democrats weren’t trying to build a permanent underclass beholden to them with the welfare state, how would you better design such a thing as one would with the Great Society?

Because that’s how it worked.   Poverty in the US was in free fall until the nation “declared war” on it.:

 

The Last Punch

The German and Austro-Hungarian troops stationed at Pskov near the modern Estonian border might have thought their orders were a mistake.  After months of inaction, as the Eastern Front fell quiet following the fall of the Russian Provisional Government the prior November, 53 divisions of the Central Powers were launching a massive offensive.  Despite hundreds of thousands of their soldiers having already departed for the Western Front, Berlin and Vienna were again on the march in the East.

The few Russian soldiers at the front were equally as shocked.  Many of them had already been demobilized and were waiting for transportation to take them home.  Leon Trotsky himself had announced just weeks earlier that the Soviets considered the war over, albeit without a formal peace treaty.

On February 18th, 1918, the last offensive of the Eastern Front, Operation Faustschlag (“Fist Punch”), would land like a prizefighter hitting air.  The offensive would seize hundreds of miles of new territory against almost no resistance, causing the Soviets to hurriedly began exploring the option they said they’d never consider – continuing to fight in the Great War.

German troops await orders to attack – Faustschlag would gain Germany a massive Eastern Empire within days


Beyond the myriad issues of internal political struggles and deprivations among the general populace, it was the issue of continuing the war that undermined the Russian Provisional Government.  Despite the promises of peace from the February Revolution that toppled the Tsar, the Provisional Government had stayed in the fight, even launching an offensive that July which failed almost as soon as it began.  While the Bolsheviks depicted the Provisional Government as fighting for the same imperial concerns as the Tsar, the government’s rationale was economical, not nationalistic.  St. Petersburg/Petrograd owed over 11 billion rubles to their Allied partners, and in order to secure additional funding, the Russians had shipped another 2 billion in gold to Britain and Canada as collateral.  Inheriting this financial mess from the Tsar and Duma, the Provisional Government attempted to create a new currency, which would quickly become mocked as “Kerenskys” after the embattled Prime Minister.  In short, the war was on it’s way to costing the Russians 50 billion rubles, all in an economy that was generating only 750 million rubles a month in tax revenue.  The Russian State was broke.   Continue reading

Points of Order

For three and a half years, President Woodrow Wilson had envisioned himself as Europe’s peacemaker.  From the earliest days of the conflict, through and even beyond his re-election campaign, Wilson had repeatedly held himself out as a potential mediator.  The President had taken a number of steps to try and intervene in Europe’s war, including trying to negotiate aid to starving Polish refugees on the Eastern Front and even drafting a peace memorandum which was delivered to the Entente in February of 1916.

The interest from Europe was not reciprocated.  The Germans and Russians had no interest in American aid to Polish citizens and the British and the French believed Wilson’s 1916 memorandum was little more than an election-year stunt.  To the rulers of Europe’s warring parties, the American President was either woefully naïve about the nature of the conflict or deeply politically cynical.  Wilson’s push for “peace without victory” had no support among the war’s leadership, but Wilson did raise a consequential point for the populaces of Europe – why was the war being fought in the first place?  And what did the combatants hope to get out of it?

On January 8th, 1918 before the U.S. Congress, Wilson would provide an American answer to the question of Europe’s conflict – fourteen points upon which peace, and a post-war world, could be built.

Part of the roots of the end of the conflict were laid with Wilson’s “Fourteen Points.”  Germany assumed the Allies final peace terms would mimic the less punitive terms of Wilson’s address


By the beginning of 1918, it had become apparent for Europe’s nations that support for the Great War – among civilian and soldier alike – had all but vanished.  Revolts, rebellions, mutinies and food riots had increasingly become standard as Europeans were demanding peace, or at least a worthy cause to explain the hardships they had endured.  The war’s leaders had no real response.   Continue reading

The Seventh Seal

In the modern era, there’s nothing to see in Santa Fe, Kansas.  The tiny town is now abandoned, with only a large feed lot marking what is otherwise considered a “ghost town” in the 21st Century.  There wouldn’t have been much more to notice in January of 1918, as Santa Fe was already crumbling, only two years away from disappearing completely.  But something within the town had caught the eye of Dr. Loring Milner – a flu-like virus unlike anything he had ever seen or read about.

In 1918, like today, influenza threatened the very young and the very old.  Those with compromised immune systems would typically be at risk for fighting off the worst strains of the flu.  What Milner was witnessing was the reversal of that script – a flu that attacked the healthiest adults and killed within days.  Those who were ill would develop a fever and become short of breath, with their faces turning blue from a lack of proper oxygen.  Lungs would fill with blood and caused catastrophic vomiting and nosebleeds, with victims literally drowning in their own fluids.  Milner and others suspected the virus might have come from the region’s livestock, but couldn’t be sure.  What Milner did know is that the virus was a killer and needed to be contained quickly, writing to and being published in Public Health Reports, the predominate medical journal of the day.  Few sources – in medicine or the media – paid attention.

The influenza Dr. Loring Milner discovered would soon blanket the globe with a death rate comparable to “The Black Death” of the bubonic plague.  What would become known as the “Spanish Flu” would spread over every continent, from major cities to tiny Pacific Islands and even the Arctic.  Amid a global war that would kill 20 million, an estimated additional 100 million people – 5% of the world’s population – would fall victim to the deadliest outbreak in human history.

Public gatherings all but shut down in the face of the deadly “Spanish Flu”


At every step, the narrative of the “Spanish Flu” meets misconception – from the origin, to the name, to even precisely what made this form of influenza so historically fatal.   Continue reading

Now This Is #Resistance

This could almost be a Hot Gear Friday.  But not quite.

During the Korean War, the capability of the Russian MiG-15 jet fighter astonished Western air forces, when they finally encountered it.

Like the Mitsubishi Zero nine years earlier, it came as a rude awakening; fast, maneuverable, powerfully armed, it ran rings around early western jets like the P80 Shooting Star and the British Gloster Meteor.

The P-80 – like a few American jets of the era, basically a reciprocating-engine design with a turbojet inserted.

It even gave the mighty F86 Saber – one of the iconic jet fighters of all time – a serious run for its money, outperforming the American jet at many points in the performance envelope:

The Saber

The air forces of the United Nations – which actually conducted a meaningful response to tyrannical aggression, once in its existence – prevailed, slowly and painfully, over the MiG, finding ways to fight battles under circumstances favoring the Saber, as they had in 1942 against the Zero, and in 1943 against the German Focke-Wulf 190, which had been a similar surprise.

But nothing beats actually getting a look at the enemy plane.  And just as captured Zeros and FW190s had given allied pilots and engineers invaluable insights into defeating those planes, a captured MiG would do the same.

65 years ago today, in fact.

On September 21, 1953, North Korean air force pilot No Kum Sok, took off in his MiG 15 from Sunan Air Base, near Pyongyang.   No, a 21 year old man who had once dreamed of flying for the Japanese in his childhood when Japan controlled Korea, had gradually become pro-American during his teen years – but, cannily, managed to conceal his budding anti-communism.

No, in Nork pilot gear.

Admitted to the Naval Academy, he won a transfer to flight school, graduating in the middle of the Korean War.   He reportedly flew about 100 combat sorties.

And then, 65 years ago this morning, he zigged rather than zagging.  On taking off from Sunan, Instead of going on his mission, he turned south and firewalled the throttle; between the surprise and the geometry, no other Nork fighters could catch him.  He flew through a gap in American radar coverage over the DMZ caused by a scheduled service outage (note:  that’s some operational intelligence for you), and, a little over 15 minutes later, lined up on approach heading toward the American airbase at Kimpo…

…flying downwind.  The wrong way.

Pilots normally land flying upwind – the extra wind over the wings lowers their stall speed – and the approaches downwind of Kimpo were heavily defended by alert American antiaircraft weapons.

But No landed downwind (forcing an F86 to swerve out of the way on his way toward the runway).  And then, cooly, he taxied over to a gap on the ramp between a couple of Sabers, climbed out, and emphatically surrendered to the confused Americans responding.

The rest was history:  No accepted a $100,000 reward (a million today), became an American citizen, got a degree in aeronautical engineering, worked for a who’s who of American aeropace companies, prospered, lived the American dream, and changed his name to Kenneth Rowe.

Rowe, several decades after his defection.

Parts of the story were less sanguine; while his father was already dead and his mother had fled to the south before the war, No’s uncle and all members of his family apparently disappeared.   And No’s commander and five other pilots were executed.

Rowe is still with us; at 86, he’s still tesifying to, and living testimony of, the power of the American dream.

That, snowflakes, is #Resistance.

 

 

The Big One

It was early in the morning in Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 6th, 1917 but the burgeoning city’s harbor was already hard at work.

Although far from the front lines of Europe’s global conflict, Halifax had found itself as the tip of the spear of Canada’s involvement in the Great War.  Part of the United Kingdom’s economically vital Caribbean-Canada-Britain shipping triangle, the port was the starting point for numerous Atlantic convoys, as the city represented the end of the Intercolonial Railway system of Canada.  Raw materials, and raw recruits, boarded transports bound for Western Europe, as the port’s Bedford Basin provided protection against German U-boats prowling off the city’s shores.  Despite the proximity to the war, the conflict had been a sizable boon for Halifax, swelling the city’s population and coffers to undreamed-of proportions.

The sound of dueling ship’s whistles that 7:30am was hardly out of the ordinary.  The Norwegian freighter the SS Imo and the French cargo ship the SS Mont-Blanc were both in the harbor’s narrows, each telling the other, via their whistles, that they believed they held the right-of-way.  A collision was imminent.  What only some in the harbor knew was that the Mont-Blanc was laded with TNT, picric acid, highly flammable benzole, and guncotton.

The largest man-made explosion in human history was about to occur – and claim or maim 11,000 civilians in the process.

The remains of Halifax – the largest man-made explosion in history until the nuclear bomb


The explosion would happen against a backdrop of one of the greatest challengers the Entente would face during the entire Great War – overcoming Germany’s unrestricted U-boat campaign.   Continue reading

“Jerusalem Before Christmas”

Since it’s founding in the 4th millennium BC, Jerusalem had known many masters.  In that time, Philistines, Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Jews, Romans, Greeks, Europeans and Turks had all held claim to the ancient city – all part of being besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, and completely destroyed twice.

On November 17th, 1917, the British soldiers of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) began to stake their claim to the holy city’s history, marching to evict the Ottoman and German troops fighting to hold Palestine.  It would be the dénouement to a campaign that the British General Staff had resisted executing and on which David Lloyd George had staked his political capital.

British soldiers on the march in Palestine


Of the multitude of fronts that constituted the Great War, perhaps no front was as fundamentally impacted by the change of government in London in the winter of 1916 as the Middle East.   Continue reading

Tongue Tied

I knew something was wrong before I heard any actual words about the subject.

It had already been a rough morning. My kids had missed their bus, so I had to drive them to school.

Then, I’d had to slog my way through traffic on I 94 to try to get from the north end of StPaul out to my job, near Ridgedale. But things were finally picking up; I was listening to PJ O’Rourke doing a book interview on the KQRS morning show. They got to a commercial break, and I flipped over to “Morning Edition”.

And I knew something had to be terribly, terribly wrong even before I heard a coherent sentence.

The NPR hosts were trying to ad lib.

Maybe you never think about this – the way people sound on the radio is pretty easy to take for granted. But even though in 2001 I hadn’t set foot in a radio station in nine years, that sound – NPR hosts trying to ad lib – grabbed me like a hand reaching for my throat out of the dashboard.

Remember in “Hunt for Red October“, when Fred Thompson says Russians “don’t take a dump without a plan?“ Public radio air staff don’t put a bagel in the toaster without a script. Everything you hear on the air on public radio is written out, and doesn’t get anywhere near a microphone until a chain of editors has picked it over. Those “spontaneous “ questions that the newscasters ask of the reporters when they’re talking about news stories? Scripted. Even the rare, occasional program that is made up of unscripted material – think “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me“ and Teri Gross and the like – is edited to a fine sheen before it gets anywhere near broadcast.

NPR people never ad lib – and when they have to, they are pretty much always terrible at it.

And so when events move too fast for the editorial process to keep up, and they have to ad lib, it stands out like Ozzy Osbourne at a Rotary meeting.

So when I flipped over to Morning Edition, and heard nothing but stammering and people trying to express the unthinkable in real time, I knew something had to be terribly wrong even before I actually heard anything.

And so while the news got worse and worse all day, I don’t know that anything really triggered my sense of alarm more than the gaping, stammering, confused not-quite-silence on NPR that morning. And of all the things that happened that day, that feeling – driving down 394, thinking “this has got to be real, real bad“ without knowing anything concrete about it at all – is still the memory that sticks with me when people asked “where were you that morning?“

Remember when your grandmother said “nothing good happens at 2 AM“? Nothing good happens when public radio people go off script.

Red October

By 10am on November 6th, 1917, the soldiers of the Russian Provisional Government in St. Petersburg/Petrograd were taking a break from an already busy morning.  Earlier that day, thousands of loyalist troops had fanned out across the capital, seizing a number of newspaper offices – almost all of them Bolshevik-allied – under the charge of inciting insurrection.  Printing presses were destroyed, thousands of copies of the morning paper were burned, and arrest warrants were issued for dozens of authors and publishers.  Among the arrest warrants were many of the leaders of the Petrograd Soviet, including the body’s newly elected president Leon Trotsky.

The morning’s events were playing out as an almost exact repeat of the Provisional Government’s crackdown against the Bolsheviks during the “July Days” crisis just months earlier.  In the course of nearly four months, Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky’s government had outlawed the Bolsheviks, released them when the capital was threatened with a military coup during the Kornilov Affair, and now had gone back to attempting to jail the movement that had dominated the Soviets and was now openly preaching a doctrine of overthrowing the government.

In July, the capital had cheered Kerensky’s strong hand against the agitating Bolsheviks.  Now, they seethed with rage that Kerensky appeared to be overthrowing the soldier and worker appointed Soviet.  In July, the Bolsheviks had panicked – Lenin had fled the country and many of the movement’s leaders either went underground or froze with inaction.  Now, armed with the very weapons Kerensky had given them just a month earlier for a potential defense of St. Petersburg/Petrograd, the Bolsheviks struck back.

Vladimir Lenin address a crowd in St. Petersburg/Petrograd.  Lenin was instrumental in pushing the Bolsheviks towards a policy of overthrowing the Provisional Government


If the February Revolution that toppled Tsar Nicholas II had created a political vacuum in the capital, the Kornilov Affair that September had exposed how little that vacuum had been filled by the Provisional Government.

Despite his immense oratory skill and political acumen, Alexander Kerensky had become a leader without followers.  Kerensky had risen from the chaos of the initial revolution by securing the support of the delegates of both the Soviet (where he had been elected vice chairman) and the Provisional Government (where he had once been in the Duma).  But Kerensky’s unwaivering support for continuing the Great War had slowly robbed him of allies.  The Social Revolutionaries (SRs) and Mensheviks who dominated the early Soviets had lost considerable ground for their support of the Provisional Government.  By the fall of 1917, the SRs and Mensheviks had lost most of their leadership positions within the Soviet as the Bolsheviks had largely taken over – a process sped up by the release of most of their leadership by Kerensky that September.  Even members of the Soviet who had resisted joining the Bolsheviks, like Trotsky, were now willing to ally themselves to the best organized political party in Russia.    Continue reading