I’ve said it before; I knew isomething terrible happened the moment I turned in NPR, and heard public radio personalities trying to ad-lib. Even before I heard the words “airplane”, “terrorist” or “World Trade Center”, I knew something awful was going on; Public Radio people don’t go to the bathroom without a script.
Hard to believe – nobody under the age of 18, officially, was born on 9/11. Some of the soldiers and Marines who’ll be fighting the war that started 18 years ago will have born after the war began. For an entire generation, the war is all of reality.
In case you’ve forgotten:
And say what you will, but Dubya never had a better moment:
After eighteen years, the takeaways are all pretty bad.
One thing I guess I didn’t believe 17 years ago is that America would elect such a feckless President in 2008, and stand idly by while he flushed our global position, and security, down a left-wing toilet. But we did, and we’ll be paying the price for a long time. That said, for the first time I feel like our diplomacy is on a good track, and that — thanks also to fracking — the problems that led to 9/11 are being addressed.
God bless America. We need it.
We were given a moment – against our will – when we, a nation, had to react to what is, in the great, historical scheme of things the norm; barbarity, terror, the imposing of ones will onto others via violence. And for a brief moment, we did react. Positively, effectively, and up to the best of this nation’s traditions. But now, 18 years later, we’re even more tribal than we were after the 2000 elections. Perhaps terminally. I’ll add “both sides are responsible”, but you know that’s largely punching a ticket.
And the great lesson of 9/11 was that, when government lets us down – and it did, and always does – the individual stepped up and dealt with what they needed to. The people below the points of impact in the World Trade Center, far from being the mindless cattle that law enforcement expected people to act like, largely organized their own evacuations from the doomed buildings; there were relatively few dead from among those below the floors with the impacts. And passengers on Flight 93 did what would have been unthinkable years before – utterly contrary to the “conventional wisdom” of the day. And yet 9/11’s greatest institutional legacies are a government that treats people even more like cattle (seen those TSA lines lately?), is more intrusive and hamfisted (wiretap laws and militarized police with greater purview to use force for routine interactions), and just plain bigger and dumber.
It was seventy years ago this morning that Germany invaded Poland, launching World War II in Europe – beginning what was, in a sense,the end of a war that’d begun 25 years earlier, taken a 21 year break, and then re-ignited, killing tens of millions of people directly on the battlefield and, in ways never before seen in human history, off of it. In another sense, it began the final act of the Old World – the world of European dominance, of its kingdoms and alignments and customs defining “civilization” for the rest of the world – and was the beginning of the world we have today, a world who’s denouement is at this moment very much in play.
But that’s a story we’ll recap in seventy more years, God willing.
In reading the story of the German Blitzkrieg into Poland most of my cognitive life, I became fascinated with the history of Poland – or, really, of all of the smaller European states that Hitler swallowed up. A lot of legends sprang up around each of these nations and their record during the awful year that followed the invasion of Poland.
I would like to address some of them.
Poland started the war with a couple of strikes against it.
For starters, its terrain is just not defendable.
All of its major cities sit on a broad, flat plain, cut by few rivers (whose banks are, largely, not major obstacles to much of anything). The road from the German or Russian border to the capitol in Warsaw, or its industrial heartland around Katowice/Sosnowiec, or its intellectual and cultural heart in Krakow has no more physical speed bumps than a drive from Fargo to Grand Forks.
And while Poland knew very well that it was surrounded by a couple of rapacious dictatorships who, as they had through all of history, meant it nothing but ill, and they did their best to prepare for eventualities, they did something that’s all too familiar to modern IT executives; at a time in history when military technology was evolving at a pace that the world had never before seen (and in many respects hasn’t seen since), the Poles, like the French, laid their cards on the table early, standardizing and mass-producing equipment that turned out to be obsolete a mere 5-10 years after it rolled off the assembly line. The Polish Air Force was mass-producing the Pzl fighter plane and the Karas fighter-bomber at a time when the Germans had just started developing the planes with which they’d launch the war, the Bf109 fighter, the Ju87 Stuka dive bomber, the He111/Do17/Ju88 bombers.
(The French military, like the British navy, likewise bet long on mid-thirties technology that served it less effectively than later designs). Likewise, they built thousands of tiny, two-man machine-gun armed “tankettes”, state of the art in 1933 but useless as anything but mobile machine guns in 1939 against the German tanks that were just going up on the drawing boards.
By 1939, Poland was just starting to produce the excellent “7TP” tanks – as good as any German Panzer…
In the days before radar, they were supported by a large, comprehensive ground observer network that did a surprisingly good job of detecting German air raids and vectoring Polish fighters onto the target. The Polish Navy, in contrast (and as an ironic result of its relatively lower standing at budget time) standardized rather later, and went to war with some of the finest equipment in all of Europe; the Blyskawica-class destroyers and Orzel-class submarines (both built in Holland) were among the best anywhere, certainly outclassing anything in the German or British navies. And, since they were standardized late and in dire economic times, there were exactly two of each in service.
The Poles had one other thing; centuries of vassaldom to the Germans and Russians. Other than the brief Republic of Krakow in the mid-1700’s, and the 21 years of independence (marked by a war for survival against the Soviets), Poland had been under one boot or another since the end of the Jagiellonian era. The Poles wanted their freedom. And even though the government in 1939 was at least partly a dictatorship – a response to a paralyzing indecision in the face of both the Great Depression and the gathering threat from east and west – Poland was an outpost of small-“l” liberal sentiment. It also built an intellgience service that, like that of many counteries surrounded by enemies (see Israel), disproportionally excellent; indeed, Polish Intelligence helped with one of the great coups of the war; it was the Poles that made the first inroads into breaking Germany’s “Enigma” encryption system. The Polish mathematicians fled to the UK, and joined with the British thinkers at Bletchley Park to complete the job. The fact that the Allies could read Germany’s “secret” transmissions in near-real-time (by cryptology standards) was one of the key factors in winning the war; without that, the U-Boat offensive in 1941-43 would have likely succeeded in starving Britain to the negotiating table with Hitler.
Unlike France – misconceptions about whom we’ll address on their own 70th anniversary, in about eight months – this gave Poland a deep will to fight.
It wasn’t enough, of course – but it came a lot closer to evening things up than contemporary propaganda credits them. ———-
Two myths grew up around the German invasion of Poland; that the Polish Air Force was destroyed on the ground in the opening minutes of the campaign, and that the Polish Army’s cavalry was such a medieval throwback, it resorted to charging at tanks with lances.
Both are propaganda myths spread by the Germans and parrotted, in a story all too familiar to modern consumers of news, by an incurious, uninformed Western news media.
The Polish Air Force was not caught on the ground. Far from it; they dispersed away from their major airfields, according to pre-war plans that recognized not only the Luftwaffe’s superiority in numbers and equipment – by this point, German bombers could outrun Polish fighter planes – but Poland’s few aces in the hole.
And when the German bomber streams started appearing over Poland, the observers saw and heard them, and phoned in the information to HQ, who vectored Poland’s old fighters into position to do the only thing they realistically could against planes that were faster than their own; wait in ambush over the targets, take the most direct approach they could to their targets, and fight like hell.
And they did. The Polish Air Force shot down over 230 German planes during September of 1939, about 250 more were damaged, many of them beyond repair. The Lotnictwo Wojskowe lost about 100 shot down or otherwise destroyed by enemy action, with about as many being lost as the pace of the German advance, and later the Russian invasion, made repairs impossible and swallowed up the warning network and, finally, teh airfields themselves.
Following the goverment’s instructions, as the fight in central Poland became impossible, they retreated to the mountains in the south, and after the surrender made their way, by air or car or foot, first to Romania, then through Africa or Iran or the Mediterranean, then to France (where many fought with the French air force) and finally Britain or the USSR.
The other legend – the horse-cavalry charges with bugles blowing and lances waving – is more pernicious. It’s a propaganda legend, of course, one started as a German reponse to a Polish tactical victory.
In the opening days of the war, Poland had plenty of horse cavalry; they were in the process of trying to retired horses in favor of tanks and armored cars, but the Depression had slowed the process (as it did, by the way, in the US, whose cavalry was still largely horse-mounted in 1939 as well). They didn’t fight in the classic sense of the term; think of them as infantry on horses, using the greater mobility of being mounted to help cover more ground, but dismounting to fight on foot when the action started. And while they had lances, they were for ceremonial occasions only; they weren’t carried in the field. There was never an intention to fight the way cavalry had always fought – the saber charges, the bugles, the mounted dashes.
In the opening days of the war, a squadron of Pomeranian cavalry under Colonel Julian Filipowicz, patrolling in the corridor below Gdansk (Danzig, at the time), encountered a German infantry battalion which, tired from advancing and from a brisk fight with a Polish infantry unit across some nearby railroad tracks, was resting in an open field.
Col. Filipowicz’ unit – about 300 cavalrymen – while scouting the area, found the Germans. As is so often the deciding factor in modern war, they saw the Germans first, and were able to act accordingly. They deployed some modern weapons – Browning M2 machine guns, first built in 1918 and still found on every US Army tank today – to back up a charge led by some very old weapons, the cavalry saber. Filipowicz, seeing an unprepared foe, ordered a charge.
And it cut the German battalion to pieces, killing dozens, wounding hundreds, and leaving the battalion combat-ineffective for quite some time.
As the Poles completed several passes, a unit of German armored cars happened on the scene, and turned their cannon and machine guns on the Poles, causing heavy losses and sending them back into the woods, to fight another day.
German photographers, travelling with a group of tanks that responded to the debacle, photographed a number of the dead Polish troopers alongside the Panzers. The German propagandists spread the report – the Poles were stuck in the medieval era! – as a morale booster. And the tall tale, rather than the story of the boundless courage of Filipowicz’ men, stuck.
It wasn’t the last bloody nose the Poles gave the Germans. When the Germans pushed the Poles back to Warsaw, they tried to storm the city using the same tanks that had led them across the North Polish Plain. The Sixth Panzer Division was ordered to attack the city.
The tanks moved into the warren of streets that made up Warsaw’s western suburbs…
…and got swallowed in a morass of antitank guns, molotov cocktails (which wouldn’t earn their name until the following winter, from the Finns, about whom more in a couple of months) and booby traps.
The Sixth Panzers lost sixty tanks – about a third of its armored strength – in the first day of its assault, a catastrophic hit.
Warsaw would have to fall the old-fashioned way – through infantrymen advancing from house to house.
Or through treachery.
Stalin, as part of his temporary alliance with Hitler, invaded Poland about this time, destroying whatever hope for resistance that the Poles might have had. It was all she wrote.
Oh, they fought on anyway; tens of thousands of Poles went to the UK or the USSR to carry on the war; hundreds of thousands more fought with the various guerrilla groups, the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) which hampered German movements throughout the war and in 1944, as the Soviets approached, seized control of much of Warsaw (and were beaten down as the Soviets stopped in the city’s eastern suburbs and refused to cross the Vistula River). The Poles, realizing their excellent but tiny navy had no chance, ordered their most modern ships – their destroyers and submarines to feel to the UK in the opening hours of the war; Orzel, brand new out of the shipyard, ran to Sweden, and was interned (placed under arrest, essentially). The crew escaped, and stole the sub from the docks; the Swedes had seized all the boat’s charts and navigational gear, so it sailed across the Baltic, and through the treacherous Skagerrak, and across the North Sea by guess and by gosh.
The Poles had scant hope holding against Hitler from the west; against both of their hereditary enemies, they had none. The clock ran out fast on the Poles. The nation’s story was one of the great tragedies of the past 100 years; winning their freedom, having it seized, held hostage by one dictator and then another for two generations.
It’s also one of the great inspirations; after all that, they took their freedom back…
….and with it catalyzed a shot at freedom for the rest of the Second World.
My parents were 9 and 5 on VJ day – nowhere near child-bearing age – so I’m not a baby boomer. Culturally, I share none of their references; my only memory of the Beatles was hearing they’d broken up. I didn’t hear a thing about Woodstock until I was probably in fifth or sixth grade (heck, I was in sixth grade before I had a radio that could bring in any kind of even mainstream rock).
So I’m no baby boomer. Of course, I doubt I’m an X-er. Call me part of the “Generation that nobody cared enough to give a name to”, for all I care.
Anyway – in my earlier years, I suppose I bagged on the Boom generation as readily as any Xer or Millennial does today – especially as I , as I became a conservative, started associating the boomers with the Hippie generation. It was a mythology pushed by everyone from Jerry Rubin to the TV show Family Ties.
[R]adical leftism did not define “a generation” — at least not the generation of Woodstock. In the first presidential election after the festival, about half the members of that generation voted for Richard Nixon. As the Woodstock generation came into its own, it elected Ronald Reagan twice by landslides, and Reagan’s successor by a comfortable margin. This was followed by two terms of a center-left president and two terms of a center-right one. Not until 2008, 39 years after Woodstock when that generation was on the wane, did America elect a president as far left as the one who had departed the year of the festival. If I recall correctly, there was at least one reference to Reagan on the Woodstock stage. He was referred to as Ronald Ray-gun (maybe during Joan Baez’s segment). The Gipper also appears in the PBS retrospective. He is seen denouncing radicals during his time as governor. So it’s ironic, I guess, that Ronald Reagan, not Woodstock, is the political legacy of the Woodstock generation.
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:
If you spend a few minutes learning some actual history, you will find out that concentration camps are different from death camps and have a history that both predates and extends far past the Nazis. https://t.co/Bccy3SaXW0
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.
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:
Today would have been Anne Frank's 90th birthday.
And as I do every year on this day, I bristle at people sharing her out-of-context quote about people being good at heart. pic.twitter.com/WWS9IYKfM3
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 fromSobibor 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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been a little crazy lately, and in the rush I neglected two birthdays.
The first, of course, is today.
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.
… 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 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:
People calling themselves “#Resistance” today Because Trump are pathetic hamsters.
You will have my gun when those behind you step over your body to pry it from my cold, dead hand.
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?
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 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.