Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves

CAT | Eleagic mode

May/16

31

No, he didn’t apologize

First of all, Obama’s speech at Hiroshima wasn’t terrible.

I have to say that because Facebook and right-wing websites are full of indignant protests that Obama “apologized for dropping the bomb.”

No he didn’t. I have the text of the speech in front of me now and nowhere does he apologize. He said it was an awful thing, and who in their right mind would disagree? He said that war was an awful thing. Ditto.

The speech was a diplomatic homily. It says basically that war is terrible, and that atomic weapons have made it even more terrible. It avoided blame and dwelt on how our achievements in science and technology can be applied to horrific destruction.

This is scarcely an original observation but it was well said.

He said we should pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons, a goal both Ronald Reagan and Admiral Hyman Rickover “the father of the nuclear navy” endorsed.

He rather surprised me when he said, “We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe,” because Obama always struck me as a “Let’s make us a utopia and we’ll get it done yesterday” kind of guy.

Obama did mention the atrocities of the Axis powers in an oblique sort of way.

“The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints. In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children, no different than us.”

He didn’t come out and say, “This is why you had it coming” but did anyone really expect him to?

The fact is an awful lot of people who don’t like Obama, and I’m not a fan myself, assumed he apologized and blamed America for dropping the bombs because that’s what they expected from him.

Whoever wrote the speech did a pretty good job of walking the fine line between commemorating the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and reminding his hosts that the government of Imperial Japan did bring it on themselves.

I have heard arguments for and against Truman’s decision to drop the bombs, and some of the arguments against come from rock-ribbed conservatives.

I myself think the arguments for carry more weight The bombing of Hiroshima came only two months after the 82-day battle of Okinawa had ended. A battle that cost 14,900 allied deaths and 80,000 deaths overall, as Japanese soldiers and civilians fought with fanatic courage to the bitter end.

Many of us have seen the film of a woman throwing her baby off a cliff, because they’d been told the Americans would torture and kill them.

I cannot imagine what she felt like when instead, the Americans fed them.

Obama gently reminded the Japanese that the Allied victory brought them a better way of life, a better philosophy than the fanatic militarism of their past.

“My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.”

Realizing this ideal between our two countries came at a terrible cost. A cost that will without doubt be paid again and again, because there are evil men in power in the world still.

I don’t say this often, but good job Mr. President.

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Apr/14

29

Yom ha’shoah

Yom ha’shoah began on Sunday at sundown, according to the Jewish custom of measuring a day from sunset to sunset. So it ended sundown Monday.

The Hebrew word Shoah refers to the Holocaust and literally means something like “catastrophe.” The name itself does not date to those terrible years during WWII. It’s first known use dates back only to 1967.

“Holocaust” is oddly enough a Latin word, probably the Romanization of a Celtic word meaning a mass sacrifice of living beings by burning.

I studied the Holocaust in school and read about it more than most I suppose, but it means something personal to me. I’ve been to Oswieciem – better known by its German name of Auschwitz.

The reason this town in southwest Poland has a German name is before the war it was ethnic German. There was a Polish army base there with three story brick barracks all surrounded by barbed wire, so when the Nazis took over they really didn’t have to build much. Only the murder machinery.

Polish freedom fighter Jan Karski, who tried to warn the West about the Holocaust, wrote in “The Story of a Secret State” that when Poland was invaded by Germany and Russia in 1939, his reserve army commission was activated and he was ordered to report to the base at Oswieciem. When the army retreated from the the base the locals were taking pot shots at them with hunting rifles.

It’s all still there, a sleepy town in the boonies, with an economy based on a furniture factory at one end of the main street, and the camp at the other. I wonder what it’s like to live there, grow up there.

Everyone has their one memory of visiting Auschwitz. For me it was two faces from a wall of mug shots.

One is a young girl, maybe 14-16, wearing a Polish peasant outfit, kerchief covering blond hair. She’s looking at the camera, afraid but not really comprehending what’s going on.

The other is a girl about the same age, but dressed in prison strips, hair in a buzz cut. She’s looking at the camera, terrified, like she knows exactly what’s going on.

I can still see those faces in front of me. I will see them when I die.

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July 4th is upon us again. This year it falls on a Thursday, and as usual we’ll celebrate with fireworks.

I have a guest from Poland staying with me who I will take to the celebrations at our town’s biggest park to see the display.

Poland is a country connected to ours through much history from the very beginnings of our country.

A Pole Kasimirz Pulaski helped found the U.S. Cavalry and died leading a charge at the Siege of Savannah in our Revolution. The U.S. Army cavalry ensign is, coincidentally or not, the red and white banner of Poland.

Pulaski came to America as an exile from Poland under sentence of death for leading an uprising against Russian domination of his country.

When word of his death reached Poland, his enemy King Stanislaw August remarked, “Pulaski died as he lived, a hero – but an enemy of kings.”

Another Pole Taddeusz Kosciusko brought his skills as a combat engineer to the cause of American independence, and designed the fortifications at West Point.

Kosciusko later led an uprising in 1794 against Russia and Prussia in a vain attempt to prevent the dismemberment of his country by Russia, Prussia and Austria. He failed, and Poland was wiped off the map of Europe for more than 130 years. Sentenced to death, he was saved from execution by personal appeals from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Other foreigners served in the army of George Washington, bringing much-needed military skills to an army of amateurs led by a commander whose only military experience had been 18 years earlier and who had never commanded more than 1,000 men.

Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben, a phony baron but a real soldier, taught military drill to the raw American recruits.

Von Steuben once remarked in exasperation, “It’s not enough to give an American an order, you have to tell him why!”

Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb, first came to America in 1768 on a covert mission for France, to determine the level of discontent among colonists. He was impressed by the “spirit of independence” among the Americans he met, and in 1777 he returned with his friend the Marquis de Layette to fight for that independence.

De Kalb was mortally wounded at the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780.

While de Kalb’s wounds were being tended by a British surgeon he said, “I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.”

Lafayette returned to France after the Revolution, He became a tireless supporter of the cause of the liberation of Poland, and was very nearly sent to the guillotine when the French Revolution went seriously wrong.

What brought these men here, to face and sometimes meet death in what must have seemed an uncertain cause at best.

Perhaps it was this:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

We forget today how these words terrified the ancient autocracies of the Old World. How they denied the right of any government not based on the protection of human right to exist, and asserted the right of the people “to alter or abolish it.”

And we forget how men of many nations saw our cause as their own.

One Englishman transplanted to America, Tom Paine, wrote in 1776, “Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for all mankind.”

Happy Fourth of July.

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May/13

28

My Memorial Day weekend

“The true soldier fights, not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” – G.K. Chesterton

This Memorial Day weekend I stayed home alone and got some productive work done, in between even longer bouts of productive loafing. And of course I watched a lot of old war movies.

I got to see “Destination Tokyo” again, with Cary Grant as a submarine skipper on a mission to insert a weather observation crew ashore in Japan to guide Doolittle’s Raiders on their mission to bomb Tokyo.

This movie is one for the ages. Since war from the viewpoint of a submariner is not as visually exciting as that of an infantryman, or fighter pilot, there’s a lot of time spent on character development.

I was impressed all over again how thoughtful it was. It was war propaganda for sure, but that’s what made it so moving. It was war propaganda in the mold of Capra’s “Why We Fight” series, an explication for reasonably intelligent people of the difference between them and us, and why we could not share a world in peace.

It’s entertainment and “propaganda” made for free people.

In a eulogy for a dead shipmate, killed by a Japanese pilot he was trying to pull out of the sea, a Greek-American sailor tells his reasons for fighting.

His uncle was a philosopher, “and you gotta be good to teach philosophy where they invented it.” But the Nazis stood him up against a wall and shot him. His dad was no good, an alky who died screaming of the DTs. But in America even a bum has a right to die in his own bed.

Capt. Cassidy (Grant) said their friend Mike had just bought a pair of roller skates for his five-year-old son. The Japanese pilot got a present from his father when he was five too – a knife. Maybe the one he used to kill Mike.

“There’s lots of Mikes dying right now,” Cassidy said. “And a lot more Mikes will die. Until we wipe out a system that puts daggers in the hands of five-year-old children.”

There is a reserve office on board who is key to the mission because he was born and raised in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese.

“There was a democratic movement in Japan after the last war. What happened?” Cassidy asks him.

“The leaders were assassinated,” Reserve Officer Raymond replies.

This was 1943! In the middle of that terrible war, they could find some compassion for a ruthless enemy whose people were subjects of a tyrannical regime.

It’s hard to imagine, “Destination Tokyo” was released 70 years ago!

I don’t think any conflict before or since has been so well-explained to the people who assumed the terrible burdens of war, in movies like “Destination Tokyo” and Capra’s documentaries.

They told our people this is why we were fighting, this is why a lot of people we love were never coming back. Our enemies were fighting to enslave the world, we were fighting to free it.

Call it propaganda, the term is quite correct in the strict meaning of the word. Which doesn’t make it any less true.

And how do I know this?

Because contemporary Japanese have told me so.

Since the end of World War II the United States has been involved in three major conflicts and a number of smaller military actions. None have had the same level of support from our citizens. In none have the reasons for going to war been as well-articulated, the justification so well-expressed. In none has the necessity for victory been so compellingly presented.

Will the justification for any future conflict ever be presented to our people this well? I wonder.

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During the American bicentennial year, MAD Magazine of beloved memory printed a special July issue, “Madde.”

Back then MAD magazine was actually funny, sometimes a little risque but never vulgar, and never partisan – they cheerfully satirized everybody.

Since “the usual gang of idiots” died or retired and it was possessed by The Devil, a.k.a. AOL/Time-Warner (and who knows who owns its rotting corpse now?) it’s become partisan, vulgar, accepts advertising , and I believe has gone from a monthly to a quarterly. Meaning it is on life support and nobody has had the decency and respect for a once-great American institution to pull the plug.

The 1776 Issue of Madde was a characteristic loving roast of our country and the ideals of its founding.

“What’s Tom Paine doing out there sitting under a tree in a thunderstorm getting soaking wet?” -“He’s writing ‘Common Sense.'”

(Jefferson reading.) “When in the course of human events,”

-“Great lead!”

“it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them,”

-“Clear and incisive!”

“and a certain king is a doody-head!”

-“Somehow Tom that just doesn’t quite…”

(Orator on the podium.) “And I wish to nominate George Washington for his humanity, his justice, his love of mankind, and… say where is George?”

-“He’s back at Mt. Vernon, one of his slaves ran away.”

“Taxation without representation is tyranny!”

-“Wait till you see taxation WITH representation!”

This to me sums up a lot of what makes this country truly exceptional. And if you think that’s my provincial Americanism talking, take it from me, I lived abroad for 14 continuous years. Whatever their opinion of us, the peoples of the world are very aware that America is a unique country.

We know we’re not perfect – just ask us! The criticism of America you hear from other parts of the world is often tame compared to the criticism we subject ourselves to.

And that’s one of the most important, maybe the most important thing about America. We can take it. We can stand to hear what’s wrong with us and do something about it.

When Thomas Jefferson penned those words of the Declaration of Independence (after that doody-head remark was struck) he knew America had flaws, the most obvious being slavery. And he knew there could be a terrible price to pay in store.

But the words are true, and will endure through the ages.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and just hours before john Adams, his old friend, old enemy, and at the last, friend again.

Jefferson’s last words were, “Is it the Fourth yet?”

Adams’ last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

I think he was right. Time will tell.

“All eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born ,with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them. … ” Jefferson’s last letter, written 10 days before his death.

Cross-posted on my blog at The Marshall Independent.

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May/12

29

My Memorial Day op-ed 2012

The run-up to this Memorial Day has been interesting to say the least.

As readers of The Marshall Independent can see, I interviewed a Korean War veteran who has been living with the injuries of that war with the support of his wife and family, since he came home in 1955. A remarkable man who persists in the face of adversity and remains cheerful.

I also went grave-hunting for the resting place of two veterans of the war of 1812 who are buried in Lyon County. I had no idea! And it’s a little embarrassing to admit it had totally escaped my notice that this is the bicentennial year of the war that gave us our national anthem.

I also found the grave of a veteran who over a military career spanning 22 years fought in the Florida War (or Second Seminole War,) the Mexican War, the Sioux Uprising, and the “War of Rebellion.” I have no idea is his service in the army was continuous or whether he just “marched to the sound of the drums” when he heard the call.

Looking into the background of the holiday, I found that it started out after the Civil War and was first called Decoration Day. And very touchingly, the first known celebration of its kind was May 1, 1865 when newly-freed slaves gathered to honor the Union dead in Charleston, North Carolina.

I learned that memorial days were observed locally to honor the Confederate or Union dead, but as early as April 25, 1866, women in Columbus, Mississippi laid flowers at the graves of the war dead regardless of which side they’d fought for.

I also got into a heated discussion online, that degenerated into childish insults when I said the yes indeed, the Civil War was all about slavery (And how do I know? Because they said so themselves!) And caused great consternation when I suggested that nothing we do or don’t do is likely to end the scourge of war.

Saying that is taken by too many people as arguing for war, and it’s fashionable these days to be “against war.”

Smug self-righteous nonsense. Only a lunatic is “for” war.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity,” said Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe World War II.

The sixth century Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius, considered by some military historians to be the greatest field commander in history, said, “All men with even a small store of reason know that peace is chiefest of blessings.”

Does anyone think their moral authority to condemn war is greater than these men? It takes two parties negotiating in good faith to preserve peace. War can be started by just one.

I heard personal stories of meeting disabled veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, with the implied accusation that if I could have that experience I’d be a pacifist – as if I hadn’t known anyone wounded, crippled, killed in war.

“A country like ours, possessed of immense territory and wealth, whose defense has been neglected, cannot avoid war by dilating on its horrors, or even by a pacific display of pacific qualities, or by ignoring the fate of victims of aggression elsewhere,” said Winston Churchill.

We, the civilians of this generation, while paradoxically farther removed from our contemporary wars than our grandparent’s generation, are more exposed to the horrors of war than they.

Modern media brings the war to us in real time, and has grown beyond the ability of the government to censor and sanitize what we see of it.

Modern military medicine saves more wounded than ever before. In the horrors of a Civil War surgery, the most severely maimed did not survive. Today more than ever before are coming home, with the evidence of their maiming for us to see.

“If you would have peace, prepare for war,” said Flavius Vegetius, author of the oldest surviving military manual.

But how can we ask our young people to prepare for war, how can we ask them to fight wars, after they’ve seen what happens to some who do?

The same way we always have. Set aside a day to honor those who prepared for war, those who fought the wars, and those who fell in them.

Have a good Memorial Day.

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Apr/12

9

Bye Mike

Note: Cross-posted from my newspaper blog.

Veteran broadcast journalist Mike Wallace died yesterday at the age of 93.

Wallace was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 9, 1918, to Russian Jewish immigrant parents originally named Wallik, and his life only got more interesting from there on.

Wallace was one of the few remaining survivors of the beginnings of broadcast journalism, back when it was common to have a wider variety of experience than is even possible today. He was at various times a commercial pitchman, a game show host, radio narrator for shows such as the original Sky King and The Green Hornet, sportscaster, and stand-up comic (didn’t know that one did you?)

He also served as a communications officer on a U.S. Navy sub tender during World War II.

I feel safe in saying no journalist starting out these days could ever amass a resume like that.

My first memories of Mike Wallace were from the half-hour documentary Biography, which featured informative and interesting, but mostly softball pocket bios of prominent people, living and dead.

In 1959 Wallace and Louis Lomax produced The Hate That Hate Produced, a five-part documentary on The Nation of Islam, featuring one Louis X, later known as Louis Farrakhan.

Wallace began, “While city officials, state agencies, white liberals, and sober-minded Negroes stand idly by, a group of Negro dissenters is taking to street-corner step ladders, church pulpits, sports arenas, and ballroom platforms across the United States, to preach a gospel of hate that would set off a federal investigation if it were preached by Southern whites.”

With Farrakhan responding, “I charge the white man with being the greatest liar on earth! I charge the white man with being the greatest drunkard on earth…. I charge the white man with being the greatest gambler on earth. I charge the white man, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, with being the greatest murderer on earth. I charge the white man with being the greatest peace-breaker on earth…. I charge the white man with being the greatest robber on earth. I charge the white man with being the greatest deceiver on earth. I charge the white man with being the greatest trouble-maker on earth. So therefore, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you, bring back a verdict of guilty as charged!”

It would not be the last time Wallace and Farrakhan clashed on air.

Contemporary critics have called the documentary a “caricature,” “one-sided,” and even “yellow journalism,” but The Nation of Islam and Farrakhan have no reason to complain. Farrkhan and Malcolm X were catapulted to fame and became frequent interview subjects, college speakers, and talk show guests (before Malcolm X’s assassination,) and the Nation of Islam’s membership doubled to 60,000 in the weeks after the broadcast.

Whether one regards that as a desirable outcome or not, it illustrates something about Wallace as an interviewer. He let his subjects have their say.

Well yes, but isn’t that what journalists are supposed to do?

Ideally yes, but in this day and age there are an awful lot of so-called journalists who constantly interrupt their subjects, cut them off, argue with them, and shamefully edit their responses.

Wallace did a great service to a lot of people when he revealed he had been treated for severe clinical depression, including a suicide attempt. He said it took him a while to acknowledge because he thought of it as a shameful weakness.

He was one of the founders of 60 Minutes, which created the genre of TV news magazine.

Wallace could be startlingly naive at times. In one interview he spoke of his long professional relationship with Yasser Arafat, and how he’d come to admire him. This from an intelligent, mostly well-informed Jewish journalist would be a little like hearing Walter Lippman profess his admiration for Adolf Hitler. It should serve as a cautionary tale, that journalists get out and about a lot, but our experience on any given subject tends towards the superficial.

Wallace’s surviving son Chris is a journalist at FOX News. Mighty big shoes to fill, I must say.

Good by Mike. Somehow it doesn’t feel like TV News without you.

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Feb/12

17

An Gorta Mor

Note: Cross-posted from my newspaper blog.

That’s what went through my mind when I opened my email this morning. (Feb. 10)

“An gorta mor,” is Irish Gaelic and means, “The Great Hunger.” It refers of course to the Irish potato famine of 1845-46, when the potato crop was infested with a blight that turned the staple food of the Irish peasantry into an inedible fetid mush.

The famine was compounded by political stupidity and the incredibly callous attitude of the English government. The famine caused the starvation of an estimated quarter of the Irish population, and another quarter to permanently immigrate. It’s how a lot of us became Americans.

The reason I thought of this was that I am on the mailing list of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Today I got a notice of an international conference next Wednesday, Feb. 15, commemorating the great famine of 1959-61 in China.

That famine was also the result of political stupidity and an incredibly callous attitude on the part of Mao Tse Tung’s communist government. The famine came about because of their attempt to reorganize Chinese agriculture during the so-called “Great Leap Forward.” The price of their ill-advised experimentation was at least 40 million dead, and cannibalism in the countryside.

I got on the foundation’s mailing list by chance when I was living in Washington for a few months. My first week there I came across the Victims of Communism Memorial, located at at the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues and G Street, NW, within view of the U.S. Capitol. The memorial is a replica of the statue the demonstrators at Tien An Min Square made, itself a copy of the Statue of Liberty with a Chinese face. The face was modeled on a woman who died under torture in a secret police dungeon for the crime of asking embarrassing questions of the regime.

When I stumbled across it, there were a bunch of Bulgarians conducting a memorial service around it. They were commemorating the panahida, a word which means a funeral service in Greek and many Slavic languages, but to Bulgarians means specifically a remembrance for the victims of the communist regime.

I introduced myself and told the organizers that I’d actually lived in Bulgaria and I wanted to write a story about the ceremony. I did, and there are Bulgarians who believe God personally directed my footsteps that day.

It was in Bulgaria that I experienced real hunger for the first time, living in a country that had not yet re-privatized agriculture, getting paid in local currency that depreciated at the rate of 10 percent per day. I lost an alarming amount of weight, with effects that linger to this day.

This morning I threw away half a ready-made lasagna that’s been around too long. Tonight or tomorrow I’ll probably throw away the rest of a bean and rice dish we won’t finish soon enough.

I can’t say this is going to change my behavior any. But for a while when I do throw food away, I’ll be a little more conscious of what I’m doing.

An Gorta Mor.

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Note: My personal blog is on indefinite hiatus, however I am cross-posting from my newspaper blog at The Marshall Independent and the print-only TV Guide.

Jeszcze Polska nie zginela,
Kiedy my zyjemy.
Co nam obca przemoc wziela,
Szabla odberizemy/

Poland is not lost,
While yet we live.
What foreign force has taken,
We will reclaim with the sword.
– Dobrowksi’s Mazurka, National Anthem of Poland

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, and Independence Day in Poland, two events linked by much history.

It is also Armistice Day, or Rememberance Day in Europe and the British Commonwealth, and Independence Day in Poland.

For me the meaning of November 11, is defined by the 13 years I lived in Poland, and by my children whose grandfathers were officers in the U.S. Navy and the Polish Army.

The holidays are all linked to the date of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. On that day in 1918, hostilities formally ceased in Europe. With the defeat of Germany and Austro-Hungary, and the fall of the Russian monarchy, the nation of Poland was reborn 122 years after being partitioned and absorbed by the three powers.

In the “Fourteen Points” speech given by President Woodrow Wilson to a joint session of congress on January 18, 1918, outlining his hopes for a just peace, point 13 was, “An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.”

That is why all over Poland there are streets and public squares named after Wilson.

The celebration of Independence Day in Poland was officially forbidden by the communist government and re-instituted by the Polish Third Republic in 1989. I remember parties where we’d celebrate with fireworks, just like in America. However, November is usually very cold in Poland, so we’d have the party inside, set off the fireworks outside, and run back inside to watch them through the window.

I used to tell my students about how much fun we have on American Independence Day, and I’d joke, “The next time your country is overrun, have your revolution in the summer.”

Of the many Polish veterans who have served in America’s wars, the first were Polish exiles who fought in the American Revolution. The best-known of these were Kazimierz Pulaski, who has been called “the father of American cavalry,” and Tadeusz Kosciusko, who designed and built the fortifications at West Point.

Pulaski saved the life of George Washington on one occasion, and died in the battle of Savanah. He is one of only seven people to be awarded honorary United States citizenship.

Kosciusko returned to Poland afire with the ideals of the Revolution. He supported the Constitution of May 3, 1791, the second constitution written in the world after the American, which extended more rights to the peasants and limited the power and privilege of the nobility. It was seen as a threat by the surrounding powers and in 1792 a faction of the nobility formed the Targowica Confederation and invited Catherine the Great of Russia to invade the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to secure their power.

To this day “Targowicaniec” (“person from Targowica”) means “traitor” in Polish, in the same way we’d say “a Benedict Arnold.”

In 1794 Kosciusko led an uprising against Imperial Russia and the Kingdom of Prussia.

He lost.

Kosciusko spent the rest of his life in exile working in vain for the freedom of his country. When he died he left his fortune to buy the freedom of as many American slaves as possible, with the land, tools, and education necessary for them to support themselves.

During the years I lived in Poland, I saw the medal of the Order of the Cincinnati given by George Washington to Kosciusko in the Polish Military Museum in Warsaw, and a signed military communique written by Pulaski in the Pulaski Museum in Warka, Poland. And once while touring the crypt beneath Wawel Castle in Krakow, I came across the tomb of Kosciusko with a plaque in both English and Polish commemorating this fighter, “Za nasza i wasza wolnosc,” “For our freedom and yours.”

I wish I could describe for you how I felt when I stood in the presence of these relics.

For most of the 13 years between 1991 and my return to the U.S. in 2004, I taught English, wrote for American publications about the changes I saw in Poland, and in a small way helped in the rebuilding of that country so linked to ours by history.

Though I never made much money there, the wealth I took away with me was first and foremost my children, the friendship and respect of the people I met, and the heightened sense of closeness to my own country I found while living abroad.

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Nov/09

10

Americans All!

I just had a look at the names and pictures of the 13 victims of Major Hasan’s attack of Sudden Jihad Syndrome, which brought back a memory from my childhood.

In Newport, Rhode Island, tucked away on a side street just off the old town square is the Newport Artillery Company museum/HQ.

By an odd bureaucratic fluke, the company was never officially deactivated after the Revolution and so can technically claim to be the oldest unit of the U.S. Army. A charming fiction of course, but it’s a really fine museum. The members still have colonial-style uniforms and I believe a canon.

Among the exhibits was a propaganda poster from WWII, and I mean good propaganda. The graphic, if memory serves, was a soldier standing (I think, it’s been a very long time) in a graveyard. Along one side of the poster is a roster of obviously ethnic names: Polish, Irish, German, Italian, whatever.

Blazoned across the top were the words, “Americans All!”

The role of the dead at Ft. Hood:

Maj. Juanita Cole, 55 (Was her maiden name Hispanic or did her folks just like “Juanita?” That happens in this country.)

Maj. Libardo Caraveo, 52

Capt Russell Seager, 51

Capt. John P. Gaffaney, 54

Staff Sgt. Justin DeCrow, 32

Sgt. Amy Krueger, 29 (During WWI anyone named “Krueger” would have come in for a lot of suspicion and harassment. She joined the Army after 9/11 and vowed to get Osama bin Ladin. Sometimes, in degenerate ages it takes a woman to do a man’s job.)

Spc. Frederick Greene, 29

Pfc. Michael Pearson, 22

Pfc. Aaron Nemelka, 19 (Jewish? Slavic? I wonder how much “harassment” he got as a kid for his name?)

Pfc. Kham Xiong, 23 (Is that Cambodian? Did his parents flee the Killing Fields? Is it Chinese, perhaps from one of the ethnic minorities of China? We owe it to him to get it right.)

(UPDATE: He was Hmong, a tribal group in Vietnam with a strong warrior tradition who sided with the U.S. during the war.)

Pvt. Francheska Velez, 21 (Hasan got a twofer with her – she was pregnant.)

Spc. Jason Hunt, 22 (A fellow-Okie. He must have gotten some ribbing down at Ft. Hood during the annual OU-Texas football games.)

Michael G. Cahill, 62 (John Q. Civilian – except the enemy has made plain enough there ain’t no civilians in this war.)

Americans all. Gunned down by a man whose family was taken in by this country. Who was given a costly education in return for service in the military – in the higher ranks with honors and dignity. Not as an enlisted man, officer’s houseboy or hash slinger in the mess.

This is three straight posts on one subject, and I’m sorry I’ll quit now. Right after this.

I want him dead. I want him executed, hanged with a hemp rope. I want his mouth stuffed with pig’s flesh, his body wrapped in the skin, and I want him buried in a pig yard.

And if anyone objects, I want us to rise up as a nation and say, “GOT A PROBLEM WITH THIS? COME AND GET YOU SOME.”

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