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Burying the Sixties: Leon, Melvin Laird, Mom Brady, and Fidel

It so happens that your intrepid researcher has decided to be lazy today and only talk about one subject: the death of three ’60s icons. There are many reasons for this departure, but the main one is that these three people stood for an era now long gone, when protests were informed and entertainment meant not to send messages but pleasure, and when superpower brinkmanship meant that my dad built a bomb shelter in the basement.

Russel’s musicography reads like a who’s who of 60’s American pop music.

It would seem unlikely that a kid from urban Oklahoma would be a pop music sensation, but Claude Russell Bridges (Leon’s birth name) began playing the piano at age four.  As a member of the Wrecking Crew (often called Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound Orchestra) of first-call studio musicians in Los Angeles, Russel’s musicography reads like a who’s who of 60’s American pop music.  In an age when the Baby Boomers were increasingly turning to their radios and turntables for entertainment, Russell and his sound ranged from Sinatra to Ike and Tina to the Beatles and Jan and Dean,  But, somehow, he maintained his own style of music, epitomized by “A Song for You,” “Tightrope,” and “Delta Lady,” all of which were pop-rhythm paeans to his prairie roots, in their own way.  His death in Mount Juliet, Tennessee on 13 November, 2016 was observed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (where he was inducted in 2011), and around the world.

It was Laird who devised “Vietnamization,” the turning over of the main fighting in southeast Asia to the Saigon government whether the Saigon government wanted it or not.

Few remember Melvin Laird, Defense Secretary under Richard Nixon.  His demise on 16 November, 2016 in Ft. Meyers, FL at the age of 94 was noted politely by the print media, hardly at all by any others.  A steady conservative in the Wisconsin state legislature and Congress from 1952 until 1969, when he took over at the Department of Defense.  It was Laird who devised “Vietnamization,” the turning over of the main fighting in southeast Asia to the Saigon government whether the Saigon government wanted it or not. Maybe it was Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the war, and maybe it wasn’t.  But Laird said he’d serve for no more than four years, and he left just after Nixon’s second inaugural in 1973, before the scandals splattered everyone.

For a hundred-odd episodes “The Brady Bunch “acted as something of a brake for the runaway social change that was tearing much of the country apart in the late ’60s and early ’70s, even as the shots of Kent State were still echoing across the political landscape.

There was something other-worldly about “The Brady Bunch” when it premiered in 1969. The streets were wild with protesters waving signs about civil rights, women’s liberation, and the war in Vietnam.  Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been killed the year before, and the explosions of popular protest that followed the Tet offensive in January 1968 were still resonating.  But here, six kids and three adults were reprising “Father Knows Best” and “Donna Reed” tropes at the same time, with a “My Three Sons” housekeeper thrown in on balance.  At the center of this comedy-light drama circus was Florence Agnes Henderson, a bit player on television who before 1969 was better known on the stage and as a minor singer than anywhere else.  Henderson’s Carol Brady was co-anchor with Robert Reed to the blended-family story theme. For a hundred-odd episodes “The Brady Bunch “acted as something of a brake for the runaway social change that was tearing much of the country apart in the late ’60s and early ’70s, even as the shots of Kent State were still echoing across the political landscape.  Only a few segments deviated from the sitcom formula of problem/complication/solution/moral that has been a staple in American entertainment since radio days, and few had anything to do with the growing TV tide of themes for “social justice,” whatever that may mean.  Carol Brady/Florence Henderson always seemed to be at the center of the solution, and the moral, and not the problem. Her deft handling of six hormonal teenagers was an inspiration for many.  Though I didn’t follow the program except when compelled by circumstances, it was diverting enough to not be off-puttingly smarmy.  Mom Brady’s death on 24 November, 2016 in Los Angeles was noted by many, including her on-air kids.

Over the course of five decades, from 1959 to 2011, Fidel held the offices of President, Premier, Prime Minister, and Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.  

Finally, Fidel Castro Ruiz.  In the late 1950s, the name “Fidel” became as well-known in revolutionary circles as Mao, as the Cuban Revolution reached its climax in January 1959.  Castro considered himself the heir of Jose Marti. Taking over the Cuban government on 1 January 1959, Castro installed himself and his fellow revolutionaries in a new totalitarian government that was swift to nationalize the American businesses in Cuba, close the casinos and brothels, and dealt summarily–and fatally–with those who got in their way.  Screaming defiance and bleating socialist slogans for hours on end, Fidel reorganized much of Cuban society, invited a Soviet military presence that came close to starting WWIII, rescheduled Christmas because it interfered with the sugar harvest, and was singularly responsible for one of the few countries in the world that self-reported 100% literacy.  All in four years.  Over the course of five decades, from 1959 to 2011, Fidel held the offices of President, Premier, Prime Minister, and Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.  He was also the driving force behind the Non-Aligned Movement.  His death on 25 November 2016, was observed by many, celebrated by some, and memorialized by others.

 Now, we have to bury some more of our icons of the Sixties, along with our lava lamps and our double-knit bell bottoms. Please.

While we listened to Leon and Fidel, watched Mom Brady for the simple moral and tried to understand Mel Laird’s concept of “drawing down,” the Sixties were driving themselves, whether we could do anything to change “everything” with our protests and speeches or not.  In October 1962, while JFK and Khrushchev were playing chicken in the Caribbean, my father built what we called a “fallout shelter” in the basement of our house in suburban Detroit. Fourteen miles northwest of the Detroit River and five miles due south of the GM truck plant in Pontiac, our chances of surviving the first Soviet missiles were somewhere between slim and non-existent. But Dad built it “just in case,” even though both he and Mom recognized that “surviving” that holocaust may not have been worthwhile if everything else was a cinder.  Still, it made some part of us feel better.  So did Mom Brady.  Now, we have to bury some more of our icons of the Sixties, along with our lava lamps and our double-knit bell bottoms. Please.

 

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Endings: The High Seas Fleet, the Sino-Indian War, Urgent Fury, and the Gaslighting of America

There’s a great deal to recommend ending conflicts, and over the centuries a great number have, indeed, ended.  But, too, 21 November is also (in)famous for beginnings: The Mayflower Compact in 1620; North Carolina ratified the Constitution and became the twelfth United State (an awkward construction)in 1789; and Napoleon Bonaparte was promoted to General and Commander-in-Chief of the French Army in 1791. But, on with the show.

…from a British perspective, a bigger problem was the German Imperial Navy’s High Seas Fleet, which was arguably one of the many causes of the war.

At the end of the Great War on 11 November, 1918, there was a great deal of unfinished business that had to be taken care of.  The biggest issue was the huge armies: they had to be paid off and sent home.  But, from a British perspective, a bigger problem was the German Imperial Navy’s High Seas Fleet, which was arguably one of the many causes of the war. As a part of the surrender, the fleet was to be turned over to the allied powers in stages.  First, the U-boats were surrendered at Harwich, on the eastern coast of Britain, on 20 November.  A huge multi-national fleet of 370 warships met the 70 German warships at the Firth of Forth in Scotland on 21 November, 1918.  From there they were escorted to the British Home Fleet’s wartime base at Scapa Flow.  There they would remain, with skeleton crews and disarmed guns, until 21 June, 1919, when the ships were scuttled by their crews.

The dispute was the control of some of the least hospitable land on Earth, high in the Himalayas.  The lines that early 19th Century British surveyors were, inexplicably, unacceptable to the sovereign states of China and India.

Among the many conflicts that likely should not have happened and, ultimately, puzzle observers and nonparticipants was the Sino-Indian War if 1962, also known as the Sino-Indian Border Conflict of 1962.  The dispute was the control of some of the least hospitable land on Earth, high in the Himalayas.  The lines that early 19th Century British surveyors were, inexplicably, unacceptable to the sovereign states of China and India.  Added to this was the further complication of Tibet that insisted that it, too was sovereign, and could make its borders as it wished.  China and India had been dickering about that border, and Tibet’s sovereignty since 1959, when India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet during the “uprising” that looked an awful lot like the beginning of a war of independence.  On 20 October 1962, Chinese forces overwhelmed Indians along the disputed McMahon Line, and rather quickly came to a halt.  Fighting after that was sporadic and often desultory.  On 20 November China, having proved its point while fielding an army eight times larger than India’s in the region, unilaterally declared a ceasefire and withdrew 0n 21 November, 1962.  Few people had heard of this conflict fought at the roof of the world in part because the world was fairly well occupied with the Cuban Missile Crisis on the other side of the planet. The Sino-Indian War of 1962 is remarkable in that the fighting was contained to the border region, neither naval nor air forces engaged in any fighting, and all of it took place at altitudes exceeding 14,000 feet.

One of the most extraordinary military operations on the 1980s took place on the island of Grenada.

One of the most extraordinary military operations on the 1980s took place on the island of Grenada.  After a coup saw the island nation’s Prime Minister Maurice Bishop murdered, the stability of the island, particularly the safety of Americans on the island in October 1983, Ronald Reagan sent the controversial Rapid Deployment Force to stabilize the government. On 25 October 1983, US Army airborne troops, Marines, Navy SEALS and a small contingent of Jamaican security forces landed on the island, quickly overwhelmed the Cubans (variously described as engineers, special forces, diplomatic personnel, or civilian aid workers, depending on taste) and Grenadan rebels, and secured the island with a minimum of casualties.  Urgent Fury, as the operation was called, ended on 21 November 1983.  This has often been seen as the resurrection of the American military that had been reorganized after Vietnam.  While it was wildly popular in the US, it was rather roundly condemned by other world leaders and the UN.

 Donald Trump may have put on his TV persona just so he could get elected, and may turn out to be a steady, stable and otherwise dull centrist Republican that could actually do some good.  This was the Gaslighting of the Mass Media.

Finally, an observation: It appears as if the Trump Organization has fooled everyone.  Not once has Donald Trump, since his election, indulged in any of his previously signature outrageous behavior.  Since the transition began Trump has not made any more outrageous claims, no more egregious threats, and no more denigrating epithets.  Instead, by all accounts, he’s acting like the businessman/dealmaker that’s made him wealthy.  And, because he’s completely uninteresting that way, unelectable.  Yes, I’m afraid so.  Donald Trump may have put on his TV persona just so he could get elected, and may turn out to be a steady, stable and otherwise dull centrist Republican that could actually do some good.  This was the Gaslighting of the Mass Media.  Oops!

 

 

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Eugene Ely, Coventry, Possum Hansell and the Consequences of Elections

Today, we celebrate, or at least acknowledge, obscurity, horror, firsts, and aviation…in our own way, of course.  As a natural consequence of today’s missive, your intrepid researcher/correspondent will endeavor as is his wont to bring you, his regular readers, entertainment, history, facts, (limited) opinions, and at least some sober analysis of events that took place on 14 November.  Among many other things, Robert Fulton was born on this day in 1765, James B. McPherson of Civil War fame was born in 1827, King Gillette patented his safety razor in 1904, and the Somme offensive ended in 1916.  But today, we talk about flying…and not.

Since Bishop Wright’s boys flew in the Kill Devil Hills in December 1903, the US Navy had been interested in aviation for scouting around the fleet.  

Aviation was an amateur endeavor in the heady days before WWI turned it into a deadly enterprise.  It was dangerous before airplanes started carrying weapons, but usually only to the intrepid adventurers flying the fragile kites.  Since Bishop Wright’s boys flew in the Kill Devil Hills in December 1903, the US Navy had been interested in aviation for scouting around the fleet.  Naval gunnery was not yet capable of firing over the horizon, but it wasn’t that far off. In 1910, Eugene Ely, a former auto salesman who taught himself to fly well enough to get a job with Glenn Curtis met Washington Chambers, who had been appointed by the US Navy to investigate the possibilities of heavier-than-air flying machines for scouting.  Since radios of the time weighted as much as the airplanes did, the machines would have to launch and land on or near a ship to have any use to battle fleets at sea. On 14 November, 1910, Ely took off from an 83-foot wooden platform built on the deck of light cruiser USS Birmingham anchored in Chesapeake Bay while in a Curtis pusher, the first time a heavier-than-air machine had launched (if barely) from a ship. Ely died in a crash less than a year later.

By the time the all clear sounded at 6:15 on 15 November, about 4,300 homes were destroyed, and two-thirds of the buildings in the city were damaged.

Early in WWII Hitler placed prohibitions on attacking populated areas.  Gradually those prohibitions fell away until they were a dim, if quaint, memory. In the industrialization of the West Midlands of Great Britain ancient cities like the ancient cathedral city of Coventry, with its dense population and proximity to coal, became prime targets for German bombers.  Along with the 14th century cathedral was the Coventry Ordnance Works which made gun mountings for the Royal Navy, and other plants that together supplied a quarter of the RAF’s aircraft. On the night of 14 November 1940, some five hundred German bombers from Luftflotte 3 and the pathfinders of  Kampfgruppe 100 bombed Coventry in an operation called Mondscheinsonate (Moonlight Sonata). By the time the all clear sounded at 6:15 on 15 November, about 4,300 homes were destroyed, and two-thirds of the buildings in the city were damaged. Over a thousand people were killed and injured during the attack, and only one German bomber was shot down. It was the first use of pathfinder aircraft equipped with beam-riding navigation equipment and bombing patterns intended to mark targets, and one of the first to use a mix of high explosive and incendiary bombs to intentionally start large fires.

Those first six months was crucial for the future of strategic bombing, and for the notions of an independent air force.

Studying Coventry and the other large air strikes in Europe and Asia before America’s entry in WWII was Heywood S. “Possum” Hansell, an American Army Air Corps officer, a man with a long pedigree of service. Hansell was a member of the “Bomber Mafia,” a small group of vocal advocates of daylight precision air bombardment that included Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, Ira Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle. Hansell was the chief of the Foreign Intelligence Section in the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps, and responsible for writing two papers known as AWP-1 and AWP-42, outlining the Army Air Force’s plans for strategic air warfare against both Germany and Japan. As a reward for his work, Hansell was given the command of the 1st Bomb Wing, the B-17 component of the Eighth Air Force in England. Those first six months was crucial for the future of strategic bombing, and for the notions of an independent air force.  Hansell was also the architect of the Combined Bomber Offensive with the RAF.  Soon, hansell found himself shifted out of Europe and the Flying Fortresses to Asia and the Superfortresses, the B-29s. But Possum was a better staff man than he was a commander, and the multitude of serious command-level problems on Saipan, with the B-29, and with the completely new command arrangements (Twentieth Air Force was commanded from Washington).  As a result, Hansell was replaced by fellow Mafia member Curtis LeMay.  After the war Hansell held a number of minor, if important posts in training and administration, retiring from the Air Force for the last time in 1955.  Possum Hansell, the architect of the bombing campaigns in Europe and Asia, died in Hilton Head, South Carolina on 14 November, 1988.

History was going to be made either way, but the outcome was, it was thought, in the bag for one side.

And so.  As Barack Obama told the assembled Republicans on 10 October 2010, “elections have consequences.” Last week, your intrepid researcher briefly discussed the then-upcoming election, where the United States was choosing between the first woman presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, from a major party and the first non-politician, non-military candidate, Donald Trump, from another.  History was going to be made either way, but the outcome was, it was thought, in the bag for one side.  Except…it didn’t roll that way.  Much to nearly everyone’s surprise,  the political neophyte Donald Trump won the Electoral College, and rather resoundingly.  One of the (many) consequences of  this election is the almost-certain end of the Clinton family’s quarter-century of influence on national politics. Another will be that Trump, having very few political debt to pay, will be free to choose people who will do their jobs, not kowtow to others just to curry favor.  Once again, we shall see.

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Marie Curie, Lise Meitner, and Jeanette Rankin

In recognition of the hysterical—-um, historic–election in the US tomorrow, I thought I’d talk about a few ladies who made history with connections to 7 November: two were born and a third set a precedent in the US Congress.  Oh, sure, there was Tsingtao and Yarmouth in 1914, and there was Tippecanoe in 1811, and Belmont in 1861, but today is Ladies’ Day here.  For what it’s worth…

Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born in Warsaw in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, which was a part of Russia, on 7 November 1867.  She got some of her initial schooling at the clandestine Flying (or Floating) University in Warsaw before she moved to Paris in 1891 where she met and married Pierre Curie. Between teaching and writing the Curies put together enough of a living to scrape by until 1903, when the Curies and Henri Becquerel were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Marie Curie (as she was known in France) was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.  In 1906 Pierre was killed in a road accident, but in 1911 she was awarded a second Nobel Prize in Physics for her isolation of radium and polonium.  She was the first person to win two Nobels, and the only woman to win two.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Liese (originally Elise) Meitner was born in Vienna, in what was then Austria-Hungary, on 7 November 1878.  Unlike Marie Curie, Meitner was unable to obtain much of a formal early education, but instead got her early training externally, through tutors and testing…what today would be deemed “homeschooling.” She was the second woman to earn a PhD from the University of Vienna, gaining that distinction in 1905.  Listening to lectures by Max Planck at the Friedrichs-Wilhelms-Universitat in Berlin, she was drawn to the work of Otto Hahn as one of Planck’s assistants.  Together they discovered radioactive recoil, a key concept in nuclear fission. By 1938, Meitner had lost her position at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute because she was a Jew, and had fled to Sweden. She was there in 1939 when fission was announced by Hahn and Fritz Strassman: her considerable contribution to fission work before 1936 was not mentioned in Hahn’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944.  Subsequent historical research has concluded that Meitner was, indeed, wrongly deprived of the honor she was due.

By 1938, Meitner had lost her position at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute because she was a Jew, and had fled to Sweden.

With World War One raging in Europe, the American elections of 1916 were still fairly closely contested.  As Woodrow Wilson was reelected in part based on the slogan “he kept us out of the war,” the President-re-elect knew that it was only a matter of time before America would have to choose a side.  But on the same day, Jeannette Pickering Rankin, a suffragette/social worker and influential lecturer, was elected to represent Montana’s 1st Congressional district, the first woman to ever hold federal elective office in the United States.  Rankin took her seat on 4 March 1917.  The day before, the German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmerman acknowledged the authenticity of the telegram he sent to the Carranza government of Mexico that January, offering the return of Texas and Arizona if Mexico would go to war with the US.  The Zimmerman Telegram was a media sensation when it was released to the media on 18 February, 1917.  Combined with Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare on 1 February, Wilson believed he had no choice but to ask Congress for a declaration of war on 2 April. After intense debate, Rankin was one of fifty members of the House to vote “no” on 4 April.  She later stated: “I felt the first time the first woman had a chance to say no to war, she should say it.” After losing her bid for reelection in 1920, Rankin finally re-entered Congress in 1940, and in December 1941 cast the only dissenting vote after FDR’s request to declare war on Japan.  “As a woman I can’t go to war,” she said to her detractors, “and I refuse to send anyone else.” She didn’t run for reelection in 1942, and was a peace activist until her death in 1973.

She later stated: “I felt the first time the first woman had a chance to say no to war, she should say it.”

As ironic as 7 November seems to be–two nuclear physicists born, one dyed-in-the-wool pacifist elected–as I write this the results of tomorrow’s election are unknown to me, but by the time you read this maybe we’ll know…or not, depending on how close it really is.  We shall see…