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Tarawa Begins, National Absurdity Day, and Thanksgiving in America

And this is 20 November, four days before our Thanksgiving break.  Many of you will be out deer hunting, or stocking up for the in-laws and outlaws who will descend upon you in just three days.  But some of us will be recalling that Edward I “Longshanks,” fabled of song and story as the Hammer of the Scots, was proclaimed king on this day in 1272.  Also, in 1820, whaler Essex was sunk by a whale off Peru on this day; the forerunning theological seminary to Howard University was founded in Washington DC on 20 November 1866; Tom Horn, the guide that stalked Geronimo, was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming on 20 November 1903; in 1920, Woodrow Wilson became the second president to win a Nobel Peace Prize; and in 1947, Princess Elizabeth Windsor (later Queen Elizabeth II) married Prince Philip Mountbatten (later Prince Consort and Duke of Windsor).  But today, we’re going to talk about undaunted courage, and absurdity.

After the fall of Guadalcanal in 1943, American planners had to consider which of many targets they were interested in securing. There were two strategic imperatives at that point:

  1. Returning to the Philippines because Douglas MacArthur said so;
  2. Establishing bases in the Marianas so that a blockade of the Japanese Home Islands could be implemented,

The two were geographically exclusive.  A third, tactical imperative to both, the isolation of Truk in the Carolines, could address both, and that meant the Gilbert islands.  Planners chose the small island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll as a target.

Using their mastery of camouflage and ingenuity at field fortification, the Japanese built a maze of bunkers with interlocking fields of fire using concrete, steel plate, green coconut logs and coral fill that were impervious to all but direct hits from naval gunfire.

Beito is literally a high spot in the ocean, two miles long, eight hundred yards wide, and less than fifteen feet above flood tide. Its principle redeeming feature in military terms is that it is the largest island in the Tarawa Atoll that forms a lagoon of a little less than 200 square miles–large enough for a small fleet to shelter.  The Japanese had been in the area since the spring of 1942, and had moved a Special Naval Landing Force unit (about a battalion in size) there, in addition to engineers and two thousand or so Japanese, Korean and Chinese laborers. A Special Base Defense Force unit of about 1,100 men rounded off the Japanese garrison.  There were also fourteen Japanese tanks and about fifty artillery pieces defending the island under Shibazaki Kenji, a Navy amphibious expert who boasted that “it would take a million men a hundred years” to conquer Tarawa.  While the total numbers of Japanese on Beito was modest (less than 10,000 total), their defences were not. Using their mastery of camouflage and ingenuity at field fortification, the Japanese built a maze of bunkers with interlocking fields of fire using concrete, steel plate, green coconut logs and coral fill that were impervious to all but direct hits from naval gunfire.  Short on fuel, the Japanese used their tanks as bunkers, burying several at the water’s edge.

V Amphibious Corps was slated for Operation GALVANIC, commencing landings on Betio on 20 November 1943, five days before Thanksgiving.

The 2nd Marine Division had been formed in February 1941, and two of its regiments had fought on Guadalcanal with the 1st Marine Division.  Elements of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division was assigned, with the 2nd Marine Division (commanded by Julian C. Smith) to form V Amphibious Corps under Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith.  V Amphibious Corps was slated for Operation GALVANIC, commencing landings on Betio on 20 November 1943, five days before Thanksgiving. Raymond Spruance commanded the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet at the time of the landings;  and Harry Hill commanded the amphibious task group.

One by one, Marines cobbled together ad hoc task groups to perform this mission or that one, clearing this much of one end of the island, knocking down a bunker complex, or just fighting for enough space to land supplies or evacuate wounded.

The Marine invasion was the first contested beach that both the Marine attackers and the Japanese defenders had faced, and as the Higgins boats grounded on the coral reef five hundred yards off the beach, the killing began.  Though the initial bombardment had destroyed some of the heavier guns, those that remained were enough to slaughter much of the first and second waves. One by one, Marines cobbled together ad hoc task groups to perform this mission or that one, clearing this much of one end of the island, knocking down a bunker complex, or just fighting for enough space to land supplies or evacuate wounded. Though the Japanese didn’t mount a major counterattack the first night, they managed to keep the Marines awake and bleeding strength.

23 November was a day of consolidation as the Marines developed a technique they would use time and again on Japanese bunker complexes called “corkscrew and blowtorch.”

More Marines managed to get ashore on 21 November, and yard by bloody yard they secured the western end of the island by nightfall.  23 November was a day of consolidation as the Marines developed a technique they would use time and again on Japanese bunker complexes called “corkscrew and blowtorch.”

  • An automatic weapons team, light howitzer or a tank would occupy the defenders, keeping their heads out of their vision slits.
  • A flamethrower team would get as close as they could to one bunker, dousing the defenders suddenly and completely.
  • Finally, engineers would rush the structure and plant explosives to blow in either an entrance or a vision slit, followed up by the flamethrower and more explosives.
  • If all of that didn’t work, bulldozers would bury the structure, defenders and all.

The Japanese managed to put together a final charge on the Marines on the night of the 23rd with perhaps 300 men; all are thought to have been killed. Fortunately for future American attackers, the Japanese had a tendency to die to the last man on their isolated island outposts, leaving no legacy of intelligence information for future samurai defenders.  By the time Beito was declared secure on 24 November, the day before Thanksgiving, there were fewer than 150 Japanese survivors, and more than a thousand Marines were dead.  The legacies of Tarawa are many: numerous legendary acts of courage and willing sacrifice; the discovery of a ‘minimum neap tide’ that oceanographers had never seen before that kept the tide over the reef low (that a New Zealander familiar with the area had warned the Marines of but was ignored); the realization that the Japanese were going to fight it out regardless of the odds–and so were the Marines.

OK, guys, let’s start our chat on National Absurdity Day with a definition or two:

Absurd, adjective 1. utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense; laughably foolish or false: an absurd explanation.

Absurd, noun 2. the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.

Now, for most of us, these definitions are fairly simple, reasonable, and concise.  Regrettably, here lately, “absurd” has come to mean “that which I disagree with,” as in “Hillary Clinton belongs in jail,” or “Donald Trump openly colluded with the Russians to steal the 2016 election,” or “we should spend an outrageous volume of our wealth to keep global temperature means from rising 0.6 degrees by 2100,” or “either play the entertaining filler between beer commercials that you are paid an obscene amount of money to play, or protest with the rest of the whiners outside: just leave the fans and their advertisers out of it.” National Absurdity Day, November 20th every year, will no doubt share many of these and like sentiments around the Thanksgiving TV on Thursday.  And let’s not forget the ultimate absurdity as represented in today’s featured image: A fairly typical 26-year old American infantryman in 1943 (probably somewhere in Italy by his outfit), and a supposedly typical 26-year old American student in 2013, talking about health care (an infantilized child-man with cocoa and onesies promoting…what, again?).

Absurd?
I’ve got another word for it…

Yup, that’s absurd all right.

But it’s Thanksgiving on Thursday, a day set aside to celebrate the bounty that the hard work and sacrifice of so many has provided for us. Let’s all take a moment and think about what an extra day or two off means to those of us who get that much, and what working that day in whatever capacity also means.  Working or not, be thankful you live in a society that allows professional athletes to protest, or not, and also hope that our first-responders not get called to some emergency, somewhere, for one day, at least.

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Naval Battle of Guadalcanal begins and World Kindness Day

13 November…fall…winter right around the corner…Thanksgiving…Christmas…egad, where did the year go?  Well, mid-November is right around the corner, and every year on 13 November we recall the death of Malcolm III at Alinwick in 1093 (said to have been the model for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who nonetheless was thought to have been real); the trial for treason of teenage Lady Jane Grey on 13 November 1553 (she had been queen of England for nine days that July); Benjamin Franklin writing “nothing…certain but death and taxes” in a letter penned on this day in 1789 (he was writing about the Constitution); Louis Brandeis was born on this day in 1856 in Louisville, Kentucky (the first adherent to the Jewish faith to be appointed to the Supreme Court); the first modern elastic brassier was patented on this day in 1913 (hardly the first, but said to be the biggest influence on the modern garment); the Holland Tunnel was opened on this day in 1927 (the first underwater double-tube road traffic tunnel in the world); and in 1982 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington DC (colloquially known as “the gash in the ground”).  But today, we’re going to talk about the beginning of a four-day running gunfight in the southwest Pacific, and kindness.

Daniel Callaghan had never fought a night battle before, whereas the next senior officer in the area, Norman Scott, had. But Callaghan was senior by three days, so command fell to him.

The “naval battle of Guadalcanal” has always had trouble with definition.  It started, by some lights, on 12 November 1942 and ran through 15 November.  Some American scholars have called it the third and fourth battle of Savo Island, while the Japanese have called it the third and fourth battle of the Solomon Sea. Regardless of what it was called, at about 01:25 on 13 November, a Japanese task force of two battleships, a light cruiser and eleven destroyers entered the sound south of Savo Island, intending to sweep away any American warships, destroy the newly-arrived transports off the beach and shell the American positions around Henderson Field. Thy were detected about 01:24 by American radar, but Daniel Callaghan, the task force commander in first contact, wasn’t informed because of communications difficulties.  Callaghan’s force of two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and eight destroyers had no battle plan, and the ships with batter radar were not deployed in such a way that would take advantage of them.  Callaghan had never fought a night battle before, whereas the next senior officer in the area, Norman Scott, had. But Callaghan was senior by three days, so command fell to him.

Action 13 November
From Warfare Magazine

The two forces sighted each other a few moments apart sometime around 01:40, but Scott and his force were unprepared and uncoordinated for what followed. Japanese battleship Hiei and destroyer Akatsuki switched on searchlights, the shooting started, and the chaos ensued: one officer characterized it as “a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out.”  At least six of the American vessels opened fire on on Akatsuki, which blew up and sank in a few minutes. Hiei also received close-range fire from destroyers too close for her to shoot back at.  The Japanese task force commander, Abe Hiroaki, was wounded and unable to command act decisively. Four Japanese ships, including both battleships, opened fire at Callaghan’s flagship, cruiser San Francisco, killing Callaghan and crippling American command and control for the rest of the night. San Francisco got free, but Hiei was also crippled by return fire.

Unable to improvise despite superior training and experience (not to mention Type 93 torpedoes), the samurai pulled out once again to find out how the plan failed.

In the confusion that followed, three more American destroyers, Laffey, Barton and Cushing, were sunk by gunfire and torpedoes.  Cruiser Atlanta was crippled by destroyers Nagara, Inazuma, Ikazuchi and Akatsuki, a torpedo hit setting Atlanta adriftSoon San Francisco fired on Atlanta, killing Scott and making the first naval battle for Guadalcanal the deadliest battle for US Navy flag officers, with one flagship killing another. Destroyer Amatsukaze was trying to finish off Atlanta and got clobbered by cruiser Helena.  Destroyers Aaron Ward and Sterett caught destroyer Yuudachi unawares and caused fatal damage.  Minutes later destroyer Sterett was caught by destroyer Teruzuki and damaged badly enough to have to pull out of the fight.  While this was going on, Aaron Ward got into a one-on-one tete-a-tete with battleship Kirishima which the American destroyer lost, but survived. Cruiser Portland, after helping sink Akatsuki, was hit by a torpedo from either Inazuma or Ikazuchi, knocking her out of the fighting, but not before she fired into Hiei.  Yuudachi and Amatsukaze hit cruiser Juneau with a torpedo while Juneau was exchanging fire with Yudachi.  Juneau stopped dead in the water and was out of the fight.  Destroyer Monssen was noticed by destroyers Asagumo, Murasame, and Samidare, which smothered Monssen with gunfire and causing fatal damage. Amatsukaze tried to finish off San Francisco and did not notice cruiser Helena, which fired into Amatsukaze, knocking her out of the action. Amatsukaze escaped while Helena was distracted by an attack by Asagumo, Murasame, and Samidare. This brutal fighting took about forty minutes, after which the Japanese could have proceeded on their way.  But the confusion and injuries took the fight out of Abe, who could not have known that the Americans had only one light cruiser and one destroyer left against one battleship, a light cruiser and eight functional destroyers.   Once again, not knowing how well they did and the enemy failing to act as they were supposed to, Abe and his fleet withdrew.  Unable to improvise despite superior training and experience (not to mention Type 93 torpedoes), the samurai pulled out once again to find out how the plan failed.  The American lodgement on Guadalcanal was reprieved.

…this phase of the fighting for the eastern Solomons was a strategic victory for the Americans, but a strategic catastrophe for the Japanese.

This spate of fighting went on for another three days and nights.  After daybreak on 13 November, Hiei was taken under tow by Kirishima, but Hiei sank north of Savo Island that night.  Yuudachi was dispatched by the crippled Portland.  The rest of the damaged survivors managed to get away. Over the next three days and nights the Japanese managed to bombard the beaches with a large cruiser force and fight their way into the transport area again, but ultimately the Japanese lost two battleships, a heavy cruiser, three destroyers and eleven transports to two American light cruisers and seven destroyers in five days. In real terms, this phase of the fighting for the eastern Solomons was a strategic victory for the Americans, but a strategic catastrophe for the Japanese. The Americans could repair their ships and replace their losses in a matter of months: the Japanese could never replace theirs, and repairs took resources that Japan simply didn’t have to spare.  While superior Japanese tactics, training and torpedoes won many battles, attrition, American numbers and innovation would eventually make the Japanese advantages of 1942 less important.

The World Kindness Movement called 13 November World Kindness Day in 1998. It’s officially observed in Canada, Japan, Australia , Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Italy, India and the UK. Schools all across the Western Hemisphere mark the day with readings and random acts of kindness.  Many writers, humanists and others have written and spoken much about kindness in general, but Kurt Vonnegut, in his otherwise dismissable God Bless You, Mr Rosewater, quoted the title character as saying:

“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”  

This, for my money, is the definitive declaration by someone in a position to know something about cruelty: be kind, now.  Vonnegut’s first literary success was Slaughterhouse Five, a semi-autobiographical science fiction novel about WWII, time travel, and the nature of a reality that I believe Vonnegut wanted desperately to both alter forever and leave. He lived through the destruction of Dresden in WWII, and in one interview complained that he could still smell the burned bodies. As Vonnegut was digging bodies out of the wreckage of Dresden, an anonymous US Navy corpsman was preparing himself for the fighting on Okinawa, where he would be caught by Life Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith rescuing a newborn from an abattoir, the lead photo for this essay. Kindness amid the horror.

Hopefully, by now, most of you will have at least visited JDBCOM.COM, and by now most of you have signed up for alerts for the updates, bought all the books advertises thereon, and have studiously studied every word I’ve written.  If not…what are you waiting for?

 

 

 

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Shenandoah Surrenders and National Saxophone Day

Remember, remember the Sixth of November…no, that rhyme is the fifth of November…Guy Fawkes Day was yesterday…sorry.

But the first week in November is when US elections are held every two years (four years for the chief executive).  Lincoln was elected the first time on 6 November in 1860; Jefferson Davis was also elected, ironically, a year later in 1861. The Japanese Emperor Tsuchimikado died in exile in Japan in 1231, the second emperor to abdicate in a row (it was a troubled time in Japan). Gustavus Adolphus was killed at Lutzen on this day in 1632, even as his Swedes won their last battle in the first phase of the Thirty Years’ War.  William McKinley won reelection as president in 1900; the Bolshevik phase of the Russian Revolution started in Petrograd in 1917; in 1950, the Chinese First Phase Offensive stopped at the Chongchon River in Korea; and in a final irony, on 6 November 1992, Boris Yeltsin outlawed the Communist Party in Russia.  But today, we’re going to talk about the last combat unit to surrender in the American Civil War, and about saxophones.

She should have had 109 officers and men, but left the Azores with barely half that.

Sea King was a British 1,018 ton iron-framed, teak-planked, full-rigged merchant sailing ship with auxiliary steam power launched in August 1863. After a year plying the Glasgow to Auckland route, she was sold to the Confederate States Navy in October 1864, renamed Shenandoah en route to Madeira, and was commissioned a 1,160 ton cruiser of eight guns on 19 October 1864 under the command of James Waddell, who had never had an independent command before.  She should have had 109 officers and men, but left the Azores with barely half that.

…at least three of the whalers that Waddell would destroy had been out since before Gettysburg, and were not going to be ready to return until after Appomattox: their economic value in war terms was zero.

Shenandoah’s mission was to attack Union shipping in waters that had yet to have been exploited, which to Waddell meant the Pacific.  On the way to the other side of the world, she took six ships in the Atlantic, burning six and bonding the last into Bahia with captives.  Well aware of the Confederacy’s diminishing fortunes, Waddell’s mission reflected Confederate strategy in 1864: to make the Union believe that continuing the war would not be worth the cost. But even if he were following that policy, he also had to be aware that it was not working, making his wanton destruction of the New England whaling fleet militarily pointless.  More than that, since the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, it was also economically useless: the whalers wouldn’t have made much more for New England after their current voyage.  At least three of the whalers that Waddell would destroy had been out since before Gettysburg, and were not going to be ready to return until after Appomattox: their economic value in war terms was zero.  Finally, after Lincoln’s reelection in November 1864, Confederate leaders began to wonder if the war could be won on their terms: they had put much store in the potential of negotiating a European (territory-neutral) peace with McClellan.

Shenandoah took sixteen whalers before June, when Waddell learned that Lee had surrendered in April.

In January 1865 Shenandoah reached Melbourne in Australia in January 1865, where she had her bottom scraped, her larder filled with provisions, and signed on forty more men, while nineteen deserted. Proceeding north, Shenandoah took sixteen whalers before June, when Waddell learned that Lee had surrendered in April.  Undeterred, Shenandoah kept burning whalers until August, when a British ship showed Waddell newspapers announcing that both Joe Johnston and Edmund Smith had surrendered, and that Davis and his whole cabinet had been captured.

From the western coast of Mexico ten thousand miles to the river Mersey, Waddell and Shenandoah flew no flags, all the while being pursued by Union warships.

Waddell had something of a problem, in that much of his crew wasn’t even American-born.  After the death of Lincoln, he felt that any court in the United States would hang him and his men as pirates; his calculations about the minimal military value of his cruise was also probably on his mind.  Consequently, he decided to transform his vessel into an innocuous merchantman, store his guns belowdecks, and surrender to a third party. From the western coast of Mexico ten thousand miles to the river Mersey, Waddell and Shenandoah flew no flags, all the while being pursued by Union warships.  On 6 November 1865, Waddell surrendered his command to a British warship. Somewhat to Waddell’s surprise, he, his officers and crew were unconditionally paroled.  Shenandoah was eventually sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar, and she was wrecked in a storm in April 1872.

A decade later Sax patented what he is now best known for: the saxophone.

Today, 6 November, we also celebrate the birth of Adolphe Sax in Belgium in 1814 to a family of musical instrument makers. The younger Sax began experimenting with wind instrument designs at an early age, parenting a style of bass clarinet known as the saxhorn in 1836.  A decade later Sax patented what he is now best known for: the saxophone. While this signature instrument was a tremendous success it was also, like most instruments, a derivative of others. Sax spent the rest of his life defending his patents, and was eventually driven into penury, dying penniless in Paris in 1894.  On 6 November we honor Sax and his signature instruments, perhaps with a little Steely Dan:

Learn to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues–Walter Becker, Donald Fagen  

 

 

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Martians Invade Earth and National Publicist Day

Sorry, LinkedIn readers. Another posting hiccup.

Yes, friends, it’s another 30 October, and yet another reminder that the year is winding to a close…ever so quickly…yet at the same rate as it always does.  Tomorrow’s Halloween already…where did the year go?

But, enough of that.  30 October marked the beginning of at least two king’s reign, for better or worse.  Henry VII of England was crowned on 30 October 1485; Gustav II Adolf (better known as Gustavus Adolphus) was named king of Sweden in 1611.  Also, John Adams was born in Massachusetts in 1735, and in 1775 the US Navy marked its beginning as a separate service–sort of: it was a congressional committee. PT Barnum’s circus began in New York City in 1873; the first practical ballpoint pen was patented in 1888; Clarence Birdseye sold his first frozen peas in 1952; and the Soviets launched Laika into orbit in 1957.  But today I’m talking about that first Martian invasion back in ’38, and about press flacks.

Next to newspapers, radio was the primary source of news and entertainment for millions around the world.

Back in the early days of mass commercial media, before news became entertainment, commercial radio was one of the favored media around, indeed, one of the most heavily used.  Next to newspapers (which often had more than one edition every day before the early 1960s), radio was the primary source of news and entertainment for millions around the world.  Orson Welles was a talented actor and producer of radio plays and dramas for the Mercury Theater on the Air, a CBS property that used Welles’ own Mercury Theater performers to create dramatizations of well-known literary works.  The 30 October 1938 broadcast was an adaptation of HG Wells’s 1898 War of the Worlds. In keeping with his earlier programs, Welles’ latter-day version localized the scene, moving it from Victorian England to an unassuming unincorporated village in New Jersey called Grover’s Mill.  The entire hour-long program was played out as if it were late-breaking news, in the same way as The March of Time and several other programs had been doing for years.

A few listeners far removed from New York and New Jersey got the idea that the tripods really were emerging from a crater in Mercer County, New Jersey.

Mercury Theater was not the most popular program in the radio; in that time slot the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy program was more popular in the US.  But some people did listen to it–or at least parts of it.  A few listeners far removed from New York and New Jersey got the idea that the tripods really were emerging from a crater in Mercer County, New Jersey. A 19-year old waitress and her customers in Jacksonville, Illinois heard a large enough piece of the program to panic, if only briefly. Others around the US and Canada also heard just enough to miss the numerous cues that it was a radio play.

…some heard the program as far away as Scotland, and thought perhaps it was Germany attacking America.  Others in the US briefly felt the same thing: Germany or Japan was attacking with new and exotic weapons.

No other radio station was carrying this “news,” and that was the biggest brake on any widespread panic in the US.  But some heard the program as far away as Scotland, and thought perhaps it was Germany attacking America.  Others in the US briefly thought the same thing: Germany or Japan was attacking with new and exotic weapons. It may be useful to recall that the late 1930s was a time of increased international tensions: Germany had just annexed not only Austria but Czechoslovakia, and Japan was in a brutal war with China. Many people simply expected another world war to break out at any moment, and in less than a year Europe would be at war once again.  But the number of people who believed that this broadcast had any touch with reality in 1938 was very small: the CBS share of the audience for that time and date was likely less than  two million people, and the number who might have casually stopped on a CBS station at exactly the right moments to hear only the action and not one of the four disclaimers interspersed in the program was probably negligible.

WOTW-NYT-headline
New York Times Front Page, 31 October 1938.

After the program there was a general outcry about this early instance of “fake news” that enraged and (briefly) frightened some people in authority enough to start investigations of the “thousands” of casualties caused by accidents, suicides, murders, and other reported events, including a supposed panic in Jersey City that trampled the mayor.  Even though the New York Times reported “RADIO LISTENERS IN PANIC,” real evidence for these calamities is thin approaching non-existent.  Ultimately, the biggest casualty of the non-hoax–it was an entertainment after all–was the New York Police officers who mobbed the CBS studio that night, responding to alleged “reports” of calamity all over.  The main beneficiary of all the hubbub was 21-year old Orson Welles who, it could be said, came to believe that no publicity is bad publicity.

The PR racket has very little instant gratification, and at times no gratification at all.

National Publicist Day–30 October–is a day for publicists to come out from behind the scenes where they are always working (even behind their eyelids) and be appreciated for all they do to improve business communications with the public. The PR racket has very little instant gratification, and at times no gratification at all.  Public relations has a love/hate relationship with users, practitioners and the occasional communications professional compelled by circumstances to collaborate in creating their products. Having had small parts in PR product production in the past, I can sympathize…a little.  But the real abusers of the PR flack’s role are such adept obfuscators that it is difficult to sympathize with them when they grouse about the little gratitude they get.

When asked how this tragic news was to be handled, Ivy Lee simply told them that they should tell the truth, and in so doing they could control the narrative–“spin” in the modern vernacular–before anyone else could muddy the waters.

As we know it today, public relations had an abrupt and gory beginning. On 28 October 1906, fifty-three people were killed when a West Jersey and Seashore Railroad train fell off a swing bridge in Atlantic City, New Jersey and plunged into Thoroughfare Creek separating Atlantic City and the rest of New Jersey.  The West Jersey and Seashore Railroad was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which employed the third public relations firm in the US, Parker and Lee.  When asked how this tragic news was to be handled, Ivy Lee simply told them that they should tell the truth, and in so doing they could control the narrative–“spin” in the modern vernacular–before anyone else could muddy the waters.  Lee wrote the very first press release that afternoon.  He also convinced the Penn to provide a special train to take reporters to the scene.  On 30 October 1906, the New York Times was so impressed with this innovative approach to corporate communications that it printed Lee’s press release verbatim, as a “Statement from the Road.” Lee has been called the Father of Modern PR ever since.  PR firm Apartment Seven suggested National Publicist Day in 2015.

For some reason, that early PR guy’s name has been lost to history.

You know, of course, that Moses had a PR man.  Yes, indeed.  When Moses came to the Red Sea he summoned his press flack, asking what he should do.  The scribe didn’t falter. “Well, boss,” he said with a grin, “tell ya what. Raise your staff like this, then spread your arms out like this.  And the sea should part and we’ll just go over there.  And if it works, I’ll get you at least three pages in the Old Testament.” For some reason, that early PR guy’s name has been lost to history.

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Leyte Gulf and National Mole Day

OK, here we go with another 23 October.  Famous in song and story…well, sort of.  You see, it was on 23 October in the year 4004 BC that the universe as we know it was created, according to the 17th century Ussher Chronology.  But after that momentous event, the battle of Philippi on the Ionian Peninsula, killing off the old Roman republic, making Octavian the first Roman Emperor and driving the suicide of Brutus. 23 October 425 AD saw the Byzantine Emperor Valentinian III seated: he was six years old.  In 1642, the first battle of the (last) English Civil War was fought at Edgehill. In 1749 the War of Jenkin’s Ear began (a real thing: England declared war on Spain because some diplomat’s ear got lopped off in a sea battle).  The first plastic surgery was performed in England on this day in 1814: a nose reconstruction. On 23 October 1942 the British El Alamein offensive began in Egypt just as the Germans were capturing the Red October Tractor Works in Stalingrad, and just as the first US Navy convoy for the Torch invasion of North Africa was departing Norfolk, Virginia. Also, in 1983 a truck bomb destroyed the US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 307 people (241 Americans) and wounding another 75. And in 2003, Madame Chiang Kai-shek died on 23 October at the age of 103.   Today is also Ipod Day (first hit the shelves on 23 October in 2001), National Boston Cream Pie Day (no idea), and National TV Talk Show Day (really?) which was designated because it’s also Johnny Carson’s birthday in 1922.  But today, we talk about the naval war in the Pacific in WWII, and Avogadro’s number, whatever that is.

This was Sho-Go-1, another over-complicated Japanese plan to win all in a single swoop.  It would result in the Battles of Leyte Gulf, the largest single naval action the world has ever seen, and likely will ever see.  

By late 1944, there had been momentous changes in the fortunes of the Navy of the Greater Japanese Empire (Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun) since the heady days of 1941 and early 1942.  Most Japanese aircraft carriers had been sunk, their precious aircrews and irreplaceable maintainers drowning with them; the surface fleet was outnumbered, outclassed and outranged, their Type 93 torpedoes unable to compensate for American radar and numbers; the land-based, long-range air fleets had been decimated and worn out.  As the Americans stormed ashore on Leyte on 20 October, the Japanese were preparing what they felt was the supreme trap: luring the American covering forces away from the beaches, enabling the surface forces to destroy the American transports and driving them away.  This was Sho-Go-1, another over-complicated Japanese plan to win all in a single swoop.  It would result in the Battles of Leyte Gulf, the largest single naval action the world has ever seen, and likely will ever see.  I say Battles because there were really six: Palawan Passage (off the left lower corner of area 1 on the map below), Sibuyan Sea (area 1), San Bernardino Strait (to the left of area 1 and below the lower left corner of area 3), Surigao Strait (area 2), Samar (area 4), and Cape Engano (area 3).

Battles of Leyte Gulf
By Map_of_Battle_of_Leyte_Gulf.jpg: United States Army derivative work: Gdr at en.wikipedia – Map_of_Battle_of_Leyte_Gulf.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62371

And it all started on the night of 23 October 1944, when two American submarines spotted five Japanese battleships (including both Yamato and Musashi), ten heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and fifteen destroyers sailing through the Palawan Passage (off the map, but to the left of area 1) from their fuel sources in the Dutch East Indies.  The two engaged the Japanese at daybreak, sinking two heavy cruisers and heavily damaging a third.  Though the fleet continued on, Musashi was sunk by carrier aircraft the next day, there was very little punch (or fuel) left in by the time they fought the Taffy escort group destroyers, escorts and jeep carriers off Samar on 25 October before turning back the way they came.

It was literally the death ride of the Japanese Navy.

As confused as it looks, (and it really is) many scholars have made excellent descriptions of this huge gunfight at sea that I won’t try to paraphrase.  By the end of it on 26 October the Japanese had lost over 12, 000 more men, four aircraft carriers with about 300 aircraft, pilots and maintainers, and 24 surface combat vessels.  It was literally the death ride of the Japanese Navy.  Though William Halsey, commanding the Third Fleet, has been criticized for being baited away from the support of Thomas Kincaid’s Seventh Fleet, one primary objective of the naval forces in the area was to destroy Japanese air capabilities, which he did.  Kurita Takeo, commanding the big battleship force called the Center Force, had also been roundly and soundly critiqued and criticized.  However, Kurita was not yet of the mindset that Japan was finished, and felt it necessary to preserve as much of his strength as he could.


One of the best things about doing a blog like this is I occasionally get to talk about subjects that I know absolutely nothing of, yet I get to find out as I do my research.  National Mole Day is celebrated by chemists, physicists and others of their ilk between 6:02 AM and 6:02 PM annually on 23 October, and it has nothing to do with the little insectivores that my dog wants to dig up all the time.  No, this is probably one of the most contrived “holidays” that anyone could have ever dreamed up.  You see:

  • 6.02 x 10 to the 23rd power (no, I couldn’t figure out how to create a superscript in here) is Avogadro’s number;
  • Amedeo Avogadro was an Italian scientist who came up with a law of science that says that equal volumes of gases under the same conditions will contain the same number of molecules, and the value therein derived is named after him;
  • Avogadro’s number roughly defines the number of particles in one mole (a derivative of molecule but molecules and atoms comprise moles) of substance;
  • The mole is one of the seven basic building blocks for the SI (“metric”) system of metrology.

National Mole Day was first proposed by a now-retired Wisconsin chemistry teacher in 1991.  It is a part of National Chemistry Week, which spans the Sunday through Saturday in which 23 October falls, meaning it’s happening right now this year (2017); hopefully you were prepared.  The American Chemical Society supports this effort in schools to encourage students interested in STEM subjects.  Fascinating, huh?


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As many of you know, and many don’t, the new JDBCOM.COM website is up and running, for everyone to be able, of course, read my fascinating bits of trivia and wisdom, and hopefully buy my books, which are being listed there as fast as I can make it possible.  I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a greedy capitalist who wants as much money as I can legally and ethically lay my hands on.  Tell all your friends; come back and buy gifts for everyone you know.  But, above all, stay tuned for more blogs to come.

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Executions and Department Store Day

Eh? What’s one to do with the other? Ever gone shopping in a department store with a significant other?  Nuff said.

Nah, you know what they have to do with each other…or at least you will.  16 October saw James II of Scotland born in 1430; Noah Webster (of the dictionary) born in 1758; Hirobumi Ito (Japan’s first prime minister under the Meiji Constitution) born in 1841; and David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) born in 1886.  And on this day in 1773 the Philadelphia Resolutions were published; the battle of Leipzig in 1813; US Grant assuming command of the Union’s western armies in 1863; the Russian Baltic fleet departing St. Petersburg for their meeting with destiny in 1904; and the election of John Paul II as the first non-Italian pontiff in four centuries in 1976.  It’s also National Clean Off Your Virtual Desktop Day (First Monday after Labor Day), Boss’s Day and National Liqueur Day.  But today we talk about executions, real and imagined.

The famous “let them eat cake” quotation actually came from one of her maids

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, Archduchess of Austria, was born in Vienna on 2 November 1755, the fifteenth of sixteen children of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and Francis I of the Holy Roman Empire.  As Marie Antoinette, she was the last Queen Consort of France before the Bourbon Restoration. Marie used her considerable influence at court to try to reform not only the courts but the financial system of France, best described as pre-medieval.  The famous “let them eat cake” quotation actually came from one of her maids, but had nothing to do with the starving French. While the French Revolution devolved into chaos, and nobles were being sent to the guillotine in large numbers, Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793.  Locked in a tower, Marie was eventually condemned for treason against the Revolution (she did try to throttle it at birth) and executed 16 October 1793.

The trials were not a slam-dunk, as five of the indicted were either acquitted or never charged, and seven were given prison sentences.

While as often criticized as victor’s justice, the Nuremberg trials that began in November 1945 were held largely at the behest of the UK, US and USSR to punish the main perpetrators of WWII.  The trials were not, as some have put it, a slam-dunk, as five of the indicted were either acquitted or never charged, and seven were given prison sentences. The biggest targets of the intended trials, Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, had all beat the hangman, killing themselves either before or shortly after capture. Martin Bormann was tried and condemned to death in absentia, but unknown to the court he was already dead (his remains were found in 1972, and dated to May 1945). But the other eleven were condemned to die, and despite protests about “victor’s justice,” they went to the gallows on 16 October, 1947.

  • Joachim von Ribbentrop, foreign minister;
  • Wilhelm Keitel, head of the German Armed Forces (OKW);
  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the RSHA;
  • Alfred Rosenberg, Minister of the Eastern Territories and leading Nazi race theorist;
  • Hans Frank, gauleiter of Poland;
  • Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior who co-authored the Niremberg Laws;
  • Fritz Sauckel, plenipotentiary of the Nazi slave labor program;
  • Alfred Jodl, Chief of OKW operations–signed the order for the summary execution of Soviet commissars and Allied commandos;
  • Julius Streicher, publisher of Der Sturmer, anti-semitic tabloid published throughout the war calling for the liquidation of Jews as early as 1933;
  • Arthur Seyss-Inquart, instrumental in the Anschluss of Austria and Governor-General of the Netherlands.

The “star” of the tribunal, Hermann Goering, beat the hangman by killing himself with poison the day before. All eleven were cremated in Munich and their ashes spread over the Isar River, leaving no shrines for latter-day Nazis to worship. Of all of them, only Jodl was subsequently been “rehabilitated,” only to be reversed later.  Apparently no one  objected to seeing the rest swing, “victor’s justice” or not.

By the 1920s every major city in America had one or more successful department stores

The department store as most of us knew it in its heyday originated in the late 18th century in Britain.  As social mobility and leisure time for urban women increased during the Industrial Revolution, and the spending power of wages multiplied exponentially during the first Retail Revolution of the early 19th century (when cash registers kept track of sales and made returns possible), so too did the appeal of having stores sell multiple lines of dry goods, and where husbands, boyfriends and sons were compelled by circumstances to hold purses for wives, girlfriends and mothers for hours on end.  By the 1920s every major city in America had one or more successful department stores; some had more than one store.  Soon the discount stores like FW Woolworth and SS Kresge crowded the retail space, and by mid-20th century there was nothing that couldn’t be had in some department store somewhere.

Older, established businesses like Hudson’s of Detroit featured above, have been killed by various factors, including foreign competition and the Discount Brothers Mart (Wal, K, and Targ), but more by pilferage.  At this writing a second Retail Revolution is threatening to replace them all with online shopping, with no purses involved.  Anyone with any information whatsoever is asked to come up with some explanation as to why today is Department Store Day is asked to let someone else know.

A few of you know that this blog now appears on a budding web site, JDBCOM.COM, or if you didn’t you know now. Unlike the rest of the platforms I’ve tried to build web sites on over the years, this one at WordPress is well within my skill set, patience and price range. If the appearance of the site changes significantly between now and the end of the year, sorry, price of progress.  For the rest of you, check in once in awhile to see what’s going on.  There will soon be new books, old books and other items for sale there.

 

 

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Benjamin Banneker and a Cascade of Coincidences

Well, even I have to take a day off…sort of.  So, 9 October, a whole lot of things happened.  Charlemagne and his brother Carloman were crowned Kings of the Franks in 768; Louis VII of France married the only daughter of Henry VII of England, Mary, in 1514; Gabriel Fallopius (the guy who named the fallopian tubes) died in 1562;  the siege of Yorktown, Virginia ended in 1781; the first calliope was patented in 1855; Montgomery Ward mailed his first catalog in 1872; the Hoover Dam started sending power to Los Angeles in 1936; WXYZ TV began broadcasting in Detroit in 1948 (famous for giving Soupy Sales (above) his national start); Che Guevara was executed in Columbia in 1967; and Andrei Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.  Today is also National Chess Day (for reasons beyond my understanding), National Kick Butt Day (I kid you not…somebody actually named it that); and National Mouldy Cheese Day (I’m…speechless).  But today I’m going to talk about surveying, and a whole slew of coincidences.

At age 22 Banneker finished building a clock that struck the hour, scaled up from a pocket watch.

Benjamin Banneker, like many men of his time, was largely self-taught. In his time and place, however, that says a great deal, because Banneker was born of a free black woman and a former slave on 9 November 1731 in Baltimore County, Maryland. We know very little for certain of his early life.  He may have been schooled by Quaker Abolitionist Paul Heinrichs, but it’s hard to say for sure. At age 22 Banneker finished building a clock that struck the hour, scaled up from a pocket watch. This is remarkable for someone without formal horology training, but most early chronometers were made substantially of wood so that kind of construction was common.

Banneker was an inveterate tinkerer, astronomer and mathematician, for he studied a grist mill as it was being built near his home, and made some calculations for a solar eclipse in 1789

Banneker was an inveterate tinkerer, and a diligent astronomer and mathematician, for he studied a grist mill as it was being built near his home, and made some calculations for a solar eclipse in 1789. He tried to publish an ephemeris (a set of celestial tabulations) in 1780 but failed to find a printer. Until the 20th century, if you really wanted accurate time you got yourself an almanac, calculated your latitude and longitude (a sextant helped, but was not necessary), and observed stars and planets as they rolled across the heavens, and the sunrise and sunset for a few clear days and nights.  If you’re so inclined you can still do so if you’re far enough away from city lights to see the horizon.

Banneker left the team in April of the same year due to illness and the difficulties of such work at age 59

In February 1791, Andrew Endicott hired Banneker to make astronomical observations for his survey team that laid out the boundaries of what would become Washington, District of Columbia.  Banneker left the team in April of the same year due to illness and the difficulties of such work at age 59. He published a highly-regarded ephemeris and tide tables for Chesapeake Bay in 1791, having finally gained enough recognition for his talents.

Many myths have grown up over the years, most having to do with the District of Columbia survey

In later life he corresponded with Thomas Jefferson and published several anti-slavery tracts. Banneker died in his cabin on 9 October 1807, a month before his 75th birthday.  Most of his papers and personal belongings burned on the day of his funeral. Many myths have grown up over the years, most having to do with the District of Columbia survey.  Banneker’s contribution was, in itself, remarkable in that it provided a baseline for the survey, but it was also very brief. As a self-taught astronomer/mathematician, this son of a former slave already has much to be remembered for. As a mathematical moron, I’m fascinated by anyone who managed to move beyond the rudimentary arithmetic that I can barely manage myself.

The non-breathtaking thing about coincidences is that they happen whether you want them to or not, and, depending on how you define zero (counting number in the middle of a range or the beginning and end of everything), are either signs of a cosmic creator or the inevitable happenings of the universe.  On 9 October:

  • In 1000, Leif Ericsson is thought to have landed on Newfoundland. In 2017, 9 October is also the second Tuesday in October, making it Landing Day/Columbus Day (since 1970) in the US, that is also Native American/Indigenous People’s Day.  9 October is also National Leif Ericsson Day.
  • In 1876, the first two-way (duplex) telephone conversation was held; in 1947 the first telephone conversation between a moving car and an airplane took place.
  • In 1906, Joseph Glidden died.  His best known invention was the first commercially successful, ready-made barbed wire. In 1941, President Roosevelt approved a project to develop an atomic weapon, the final divorce from the marriage made in hell–barbed wire and the machine gun.  Also, in 2006 North Korea is thought to have tested their first nuclear weapon.
  • In 1980, the first home computer banking transaction took place in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Because of this, not coincidentally, 9 October is also National Online Bank Day.  Thank Ally Bank for this one, registering it in 2015 in commemoration of their millionth customer.  No, not a coincidence, but my wife the banker wouldn’t let me forget it.

As most of you know, this blog is added to a web site (hopefully) by now: this entry is written in early September.  If you’re so inclined you can check out the site, JDBCOM.COM, and look at some of the other content as it’s being built.

Or not.


On a personal note, I just got word that one of my oldest friends, Bill Crum (aka flooglestreet) passed away this morning. Everyone who’s a veteran knows what losing a buddy of more than…well a lot of years anyway…means.  Taps for SFC William Crum, USA Ret, RVN 1969-71 (1st ID), USAR 1972-95 (84th DIV ((TNG)); hoist one for me and smoke ’em if you’ve got’ em.

RIP buddy, see you on the other side.

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Ferdinand Foch, National Child Health Day, and The Mess in Korea

Well, it comes around every year at exactly the same time: 2 October.  No malice, no threat implied or intended, but around it comes.  And, providing North Korea doesn’t do something stupid, it will come around again.  But, on this day in 1187 Saladin captured Jerusalem; John Andre was hanged in Tappan, New York in 1780; the Texas War for Independence started at Gonzales in 1835; Mohandas Gandhi was born in India in 1869; Operation Typhoon (Fall Taifun for you purists out there), the last German offensive towards Moscow, began in 1941; the comic strip “Peanuts” was first published in the US in 1950; and Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court in 1967.  Also today, for whatever reason, is National Fried Scallops Day in the US.  But, today, I’m talking about one of the boldest commanders that many of you have never heard of, and the health of children.

Foch instilled a renewed interest in French military history while commanding the French War College, and a pragmatic approach to the Napoleonic campaigns and the disasters of 1870-71.

Ferdinand Foch was born at Tarbes, in the Hautes-Pyrénées region of southwestern France in 1851, a year of great turmoil in France.  Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew to the first emperor, dissolved the National Assembly and proclaimed himself Emperor of the French weeks after Foch was born, not that one had anything to do with the other.  Foch’s father was a French civil servant, and in the early years of his life Ferdinand might have followed his father, but the Franco-Prussian War intervened.  Young Ferdinand, nearly nineteen when the war began, joined an infantry regiment in 1870 but saw no action.  Still, the military bug must have bit him hard, as he managed to enter the elite École Polytechnique in 1871, selecting the artillery branch. Because there was a shortage of junior officers, Foch was commissioned in 1873.  Later, Foch attended the cavalry school at Samur.  Apparently keeping clear of the Dreyfus affair, Foch instilled a renewed interest in French military history while commanding the French War College, and a pragmatic approach to the Napoleonic campaigns and the disasters of 1870-71 against the Germans. He may have had some influence on Plan XVII in 1913, the same year he took command of XX Corps at Nancy.

…my center is yielding, my right is retreating; situation excellent, I am attacking.

Exactly a year after his appointment to corps command, Foch led his troops into battle against the Germans.  Soon he was commanding an army, and before long his famous “my center is yielding, my right is retreating; situation excellent, I am attacking” message flashed across newspapers all over France.  Soon, Foch was second in command of half the French Army.  While the northern front held in no small part because of Foch’s tenacity, his superior’s heavy-handed lack of imagination was in part responsible for the failed Artois offensive in 1915, but Foch was soon packed off to Italy because of it.

Of the Versailles treaty,  Foch prophetically referred to it as a twenty-year armistice.

Despite his boss’s dislike of Foch, the British and Belgians thought highly of him, as did most of the rest of the French Army because he consistently won against the odds.  After the disastrous Nivelle offensive of 1917 and the work stoppage/mutiny that followed, Foch was called back to Paris as Chief of Staff of the French Army.  In 1918, as the crisis of the German 1918 offensives eased, the Allies agreed to serve under a single military chieftain–Foch. It was Foch who approved the American Meuse-Argonne Offensive, who exhorted the Allies to keep the pressure on the collapsing Germans in the last summer of the war, and it was Foch who accepted the German surrender at Compiegne. Of the Versailles treaty,  Foch prophetically referred to it as a twenty-year armistice.  Ferdinand Foch died in Paris 20 March 1929, and was buried with Napoleon at Les Invalides.

…a gentle reminder from the Health Resources and Services Administration that there are more than 74 million children living in the US.

National Child Health Day was proclaimed by the US Congress in 1928, and originally was on 1 May.  In 1960 it was changed to the first Monday in October, likely because of the May Day association with the USSR’s annual celebrations of their military might.  While no one can say with a straight face that they don’t want to observe such a thing, a gentle reminder from the Health Resources and Services Administration that there are more than 74 million children living in the US. The HRSA is the primary federal agency to improve access to health care in the United States. Begun under the Reagan Administration in 1982, the agency also oversees the blood, organ and bone marrow programs in the US.  One of the goals of the HRSA is to “improve health equity.”  Now, “equity” is defined simply as “ownership.”  Who would be responsible for health if not the individual, in which case…huh?  I can see it in children, but for grownups?  If we are not the masters of our own fate…who is?

Though I don’t believe that any national leader would want to immolate his country–seriously–it would appear as if Kim Dong Il no longer cares.  

This is being written the day after Labor Day, 2017, and as of this morning there still was a North Korea.  Though I don’t believe that any national leader would want to immolate his country–seriously–it would appear as if Kim Dong Il no longer cares.  Yes, he wants more resources for his stumbling economy, and he wants to be treated as a player in East Asia.  But if he keeps on his current course, he doesn’t have the resources or the time to do anything but make a mess, if a large one, and assure that his will be the last Kim regime in Korea.

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Meuse-Argonne Begins and National One-Hit Wonder Day

And now, finally, on to 25 September, that famous date in history where so much happened.  What, you ask?  Well, there’s the battle at Stamford Bridge in 1066, where Harold the Unlucky beat back the last Dane/Norse invasion of England (before he lost it to the Normans a few weeks later; then there’s the birth of Robert Clive in England (you remember–explorer, first viceroy of India) in 1725; and Benedict Arnold went over to the British in 1780; and Henry Ford announced that his plants were to adopt a 40-hour, 5 day a week workweek in 1926; Smolensk was liberated in 1943, for the last time, as it happened; and finally, Sandra Day O’COnnor was sworn in as the first woman Supreme Court Justice of the United States.  Too, who can forget that today is Math Storytelling Day (for the real geeks), and National Lobster Day (for…whatever).  But today we talk about America in World War One, and one-hit wonders.

The United States only reluctantly entered the Great War in Europe (which took place from the mouth of the Yalu to the English Channel, and from the North Sea to the Horn of Africa), and then not as an ally but as an “associated power,” whatever that meant.  Indeed, it took most of the summer of 1917 just to decide to send a sizable force.  John J. Pershing was the best general the US had to offer, and he had enough political pull to be assigned as head of the BEF in June 1917.  Because they had been pummeling each other for three years with little to show for it, both the British and the French wanted the Americans to become reinforcements for their battered units, but that was not what President Woodrow Wilson wanted.  Wilson told Pershing, essentially, that he wanted a seat at the conference table when the war was over.  To do that, Pershing was told, an independent American force had to make a significant enough contribution to end the conflict as it could possibly make.

At first the Americans arrived in driblets in 1917, drawing their first blood in a trench raid in November 1917.  Gradually the pace increased, and by the summer of 1918 it was a flood.  By September 1918, 1.4 million Americans were under arms in France. By that time Pershing had enough men to launch an offensive to the north of the old Verdun battlefield, a sector dominated by the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest. The Germans had been there since 1914, more or less undisturbed since 1916, and had built a line of pillboxes, wire entanglements, and prepositioned artillery strongpoints that made it a five-mile deep fortress.  But behind it was Pershing’s objective–the railway hub at Sedan, through which most of the German supplies to the entire Hindenburg Line flowed.

But the Americans had had very little experience in the kind of warfare that had developed in France and Flanders.  They had taken their first objective of the war, the small town of Cantigny, with the support of British planes and French artillery and three days of savage fighting that reduced the attacking companies to squads.  They had performed well enough in a relatively small offensive at St Mihiel, and were considered to be stable, but not “savage” enough to do what the Canadians and Australians were doing in the Hundred Day’s offensives that had started in August.  But this wasn’t a limited push: this was seventeen divisions in what would become two field armies totaling nearly three fourths of a million men. It was to be the biggest battle in American military history between Appomattox in 1865 and the invasion of Sicily in 1943.

The opening moves were small parties of doughboy engineers that crawled forward on the night of 25 September to the first band of German barbed wire, cutting as much as they could and marking what they could not.  At 2:35 AM on 26 September, over 1,400 American, French and British artillery pieces from 75mm to 15 inch railway guns opened up on a five-mile wide by three-mile deep band, expending more ordnance in that first three hours than both armies had used up in the whole four years of the American Civil War.  Then, at 5:30, the ground troops started moving ahead.  Then the bloodletting began.

In proportion to the French and British and even the Germans and Belgians, the American casualties from WWI were small. But, what the wags who argue that body count is the measure of sacrifice don’t say is that the Americans lost half (26k) of their total combat deaths (53k) in WWI during the last ten weeks of the war, at the Meuse-Argonne.

But the Americans barely knew what they were doing, and in their untutored zeal they died by the scores in open ground, where Pershing said they would be victorious because in the trenches lay fear and exhaustion.  He was right, but just getting to that open-country warfare took hundreds of thousands of gallons of American blood.  By the first week in November, American artillery was ranging across the Luxembourg frontier, and American troops had penetrated the Hindenburg Line.  By then the German government had fallen, the politicians were taking over the scene, and by the time the first Americans were out of France and within a day’s march of Germany, the armistice came.

Scholars (myself included) have argued ever since as to whether the Meuse-Argonne was in any way decisive in itself.  Part of the title for my essay for A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign (Wiley-Blackwell 2014) is “We Can Kill Them But We Cannot Stop Them,” taken from a letter by a German lieutenant in the Meuse-Argonne sector to his wife.  He was referring to the Americans, who in their ignorance kept getting killed while they continued to take ground. After the war, Paul von Hindenburg, the victor of Tannenberg and the architect of Russia’s defeat in WWI, said that it was the Americans, after all, who were most to be feared, not because of their fighting abilities (which he admitted improved with time), but because of their raw numbers and energy.

And, from his perspective and from that of all of Europe, he was right.  There were plans to have two million American soldiers, sailors and Marines in France by the end of 1918, and by the spring of 1919, as many as three million (influenza notwithstanding).  By the end of 1919 as many as four million Americans could have been under arms and either in Europe or on the way; more than Germany and France could field combined.  If Germany had continued to fight after that disastrous fall of 1918, and the Allies had not accepted the armistice offered (and some senior officers did not want to), most of Europe might have been bystanders in an American victory parade through Berlin, Vienna and Budapest.  Thus followed the Peace of Versailles, where Wilson was the first American president to not only leave the country while in office, but was the first to negotiate foreign treaties in Europe.  That American victory parade through western Europe was delayed by a generation, even if the Soviets had captured Berlin, Vienna and Budapest.

Also, 25 September is National One-Hit Wonder Day:

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark 
All the sweet, green icing flowing down…

Say what, we said. What in the name of…and who is that, anyway?

We all (most of us, anyway) first heard the self-taught Irish actor Richard Harris belt out those immortal Jimmy Webb lines in April 1968.  And, for most of us, those nonsensical lines and the rest of the lyrics stick in our heads as many One-Hit Wonders and ad jingles do. MacArthur’s Park was covered by Glenn Campbell, Donna Summer and Waylon Jennings amog others, but Dave Barry called it the worst song ever recorded in 1992, and Weird Al Yankovic parodied it a year later.  Often forgotten by the industry, these tunes caught on for some reason, but the original artist was never able to duplicate that success with another song. Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime;  One Tin Soldier by The Original Caste; One Toke Over the Line by Brewer and Shipley; and of course Brandy by Looking Glass are only a few. One-Hit Wonders have often been covered by other, better-known artists.  Sad, but, like the Meuse-Argonne, necessary for everything to move on.

 

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Happy Birthday Chiropractic, DoD and USAF

For some reason, this blog wasn’t finished before it posted. Sorry.

And today we have—18 September…let’s see…Chris Columbus on his fourth voyage to the New World (still not convinced it was a new world) landing on Costa Rica; the death of the Chancellor of Japan Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1598, ending the Momoyama period of Japan and setting of a bitter struggle for supremacy that ended with the founding of the Tokugawa shogunate; the construction of the first spinet piano in Boston in 1769; the beginning of the battle of Chickamauga in Georgia in 1863; the publication of Huck Finn in 1885; the Great Fresno Drop, mailing out the first BankAmericards in 1958; the capture of Patty Hearst in San Francisco in 1975; and the first of the “anthrax letters” were mailed from Trenton, New Jersey in 2001.  Too, for some unaccountable reason, 18 September is National Cheeseburger Day, and National Aging/AIDS Awareness Day.  But today, we’re going to talk about bending bones, and national defense, and the airedales.

Chiropractic medicine (hey, it’s the only thing to call it) has been around, some say, since the Egyptians built the pyramids. And ever since the development of the practice of science-based medicine in the 19th century, folks have been calling chiropractic pseudo-scientific quackery.  The modern more-or-less science began roughly on 18 September 1895, when the Palmer School of Chiropractic opened in Davenport, Iowa.  At the time, those using chiropractic were inclined to treat it as a religion, which may have saved themselves a lot of trouble later on, but as future history would show, would have diminished its benefits to millions.

The reader must be aware that there are several “schools’ of chiropractic that are practiced worldwide, and in the US there are several that don’t call it “medicine” at all. It starts with the idea of subluxation, which is the practice of manipulating the spine and other joints into a “natural” position that, some say, makes for better overall health.  A few practitioners also hold that chiropractic can treat and cure any and all human ailments, and that vaccinations would be unnecessary if infants were treated at or near birth, and are consistently manipulated in their formative years.

Understand something: not all chiropractors are alike.  I’ve been using chiropractic for my aching joints for…well, a long time, anyway.  I’ve had several practitioners bend and twist my bones, in large part because I’ve used some for a time and as soon as they recommending chiropractic for allergy treatment, cancer, and even cavities in the teeth, I spend no more time with them.  My current practitioner and his wife have orthopedists on speed-dial, spend no time at all treating any patients without informed consent, and proudly show their vaccination scars.

There are several institutions teaching chiropractic, but every one has a different theory…generally. The Palmer method is the most common, the most widespread, and in my case the most effective.  As I understand it, Palmer-related treatments are those that have been most heavily studied, mostly approved by insurance companies (including Medicare and Medicaid), and is what the uniformed services allow their chiropractors to use since 2001.  While many skeptics still cry “pseudoscience” at the top of their lungs, I have never had a clinician declare it to be without at least some merit for some aches and pains.  I’ve had several MDs who also went to a Palmer School to learn what they had to teach about spinal positioning.

Today is also the birthday of the US Department of Defense, and the official and complete and total divorce of the US Army Air Forces from its parent, creating the US Air Force on this day in 1947.  The Air Force had been functionally separate since the late 1930s, and had representation at the executive level since the formation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The Department of Defense, furthermore, created separate service secretariats for each branch, thus adding hundreds if not thousands of patronage jobs.  Thus, if you ever feel the need to start draining the swamp in DC, start there by merging the services.  The Air Force has its own infantry (Base Emergency Engineering Forces, BEEFs); the Navy its own air force and infantry (and the Marines even have their own air force); the Army its own navy and air forces.  Why?

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Britain and the American Revolution now Available in Paperback

JDB Communications LLC is proud to announce the publication of Britain and the American Revolution, another collection of essays by John D. Beatty, author of The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War.

Most scholars—especially Americans—when writing about the American Revolution (also called the American War) emphasize the Western Hemisphere when considering the effects.  However, in this scribe’s opinion this view is short-sighted.  Great Britain, after all, is still around, and its Empire indeed flourished a century after it lost its then-largest and most prosperous colonies.  The Empire may have steadily degraded after Victoria’s diamond jubilee gala in 1897, but by the much-ballyhooed “Brexit” from the European Community in 2016, Britain herself was still a force to be reckoned with.

Recent writers, especially Steven Sears in The British Empire, have suggested that the British Empire was really nothing more than a jobs program for the English middle and upper classes.  In some ways, this is arguably true.  However trivial this may seem in the great scheme of things, it was also the largest single influence on human civilization between the fall of Rome and the triumph of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945.  As these essays argue, this influence was in part because of the sheer genius of hard-pressed Britons to survive on their harsh, rocky islands.

“Changing the Great Game” is an exploration of how the concept of “rights” was grudgingly preserved by dynasty after dynasty ruling the British Isles.  Even if the Scots, Irish and other ethnic groups didn’t recognize it, the rights enjoyed by Englishmen that were unique to their legal system did rub off on them as well, if only in small doses from time to time.  The ancient legends of Arthur, Alfred and the rest of the traditional lawgivers may have been perfected in the 19th century, but their origins are clearly much older.  The legal tradition that no sovereign is above his own laws far predate the Normans.

“Kings, Kin and Killers” is something of an experiment.  Steven Pincus in 1688: The First Modern Revolution talks extensively about the motives of the supporters of the Stuarts and those who…well, did not support the monarch.  They hadn’t yet expressed a desire to throw out the monarchy as they would later, but the non-supporters of the Stuart kings were far more interested in the power of capital than that of land.  Their arguments were eerily similar to those that would take place in America before the shooting started in 1861.  It is almost certain that many of the philosophical animosities in English society between country and town, between farm and workshop, were locked into American society after the Revolution, and hung on in animus for another three generations.

“The Limits of Empire” is explicitly that: an essay into the administrative and technical limitations of imperial administration in the late 18th century.  Law, trade, finance, and community administration all depended on communications, and there was simply no good or reliable way to improve trans-Atlantic communications in the 1770s such that the Revolution, or one like it, could be put down.  Even if India were to become the most prosperous of all of Britain’s imperial properties, it wasn’t yet.  If the Gandhi revolution had come two centuries earlier, by that remove it may have succeeded much faster.

“Copper-Bottomed Wizardry” began as a challenge—a sort of a bet.  This writer was wagered that he could not find enough technological innovation between 1775 and 1805 to explain how Britain defeated France at Trafalgar.  Knowing that coppering became standard by 1783, the research started there and produced this essay.  The carronade, the short-barreled “smasher” that was the terror of small-vessel warfare before the shell gun, was intentionally left out because of other innovations that made British ships not only reliable and easier to handle, but overall better vessels.  Any sailor can tell you that, pound for pound, any well-handled warship in peacetime is worth three that are better gunned.  In wartime, it’s how well the guns are laid and how long they can stay on station, not just how well they can blast a target.

Four essays are hardly a working thesis, but they may point to one: Britain was strengthened by the conflict that resulted in the loss of her thirteen colonies that would eventually become the United States.  Both she and the United States, ultimately, resolved the last of a conflict in Anglo-Saxon society that had raged since the Tudors: Do governments have a right to rule, or a duty?  Is society the master of an economic structure, or a servant or product of it?

Let these essays inform the reader’s viewpoint. Available in paperbound and PDF at The Book Patch. Personally autographed copies will be available at JDBCOM.COM soon.

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Miss America on TV and Patriot Day

Well, here it is, another September 11th.  Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing on that particular day in 2001, so I won’t belabor it–yet.  But, there were other events on 11 September in other years, like the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1287 made famous by Mel Gibson’s Braveheart; the beginning of the battle of Brandywine in 1777; the end of the Plattsburgh battle in 1779; the appointment of Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury in 1789; the patenting of the mail chute in 1883; and the beginning of the building of the Pentagon in 1941.  But today, we talk about beautiful women on television and tragedies on beautiful days.

Though it is the best known of many, Miss America wasn’t the first of its kind: the first beauty pageant was held in Scotland in 1839; showman PT Barnum staged another contest in 1859 that was shut down after protests over their degradation of public morals–a common theme against Barnum at the time. There were many in the 19th century, especially in America, but none were recurring.

The Miss America pageant started out as a publicity stunt on 25 September 1920, intended to bring business to the Atlantic City Boardwalk. There was no real competition, just a bunch of beautiful girls pushed around in chairs on wheels.  The next year, after the enthusiastic reception and increased traffic, the pageant became an annual event in Atlantic City.  Other milestones include:

  • 1933,  the youngest Miss America, 15-year-old Marion Bergeron, won the contest.
  • 1944, the compensation switched from furs and movie contracts to a college scholarship.
  • 11 September 1954, Evelyn Ayr (above) was crowned for the first time on live TV.
  • 1971, Cheryl Browne was the first African-American to compete.
  • 1984, Vanessa Williams was the first African-American woman to win.  Williams was also the first asked to resign for posing in Penthouse.
  • 2014, Nina Davuluri was the first Indian-American woman to win the crown.

Some of the winners have gone on to fame and fortune in Hollywood and other entertainment industries, but most finish their rounds of publicity, take their scholarships and sink back into obscurity.  The pageant/scholarship program has been under fire for most of its history for being “out of step” with… something.  It is also criticized for exalting body types that are unachievable without great sacrifice and potential damage to a woman’s health.  While the last may be true, I don’t believe the pageant has ever held itself out as anything other than a way for women to win scholarships, and for businesses to make money on advertising.   Women compete of their own free will, and people watch of their own free will.

There’s a great deal that could be said about 9/11, but what I recall most vividly was not the planes crashing into buildings, but what headlines quickly disappeared.

  • Some overrated interchangeable blonde starlet published an autobiography that stated that she was at one time possessed by space aliens.
  • Some congressman was suspected of killing a female intern with whom he may or may not have had an affair, a crime that was later was pinned on some other poor schmuck.
  • Someone started another petition to recount ballots in Florida from the 2000 election after the last recount indicated that GW Bush’s margin of victory there was larger than initially thought.

Watching the carnage in New York and Arlington on a spectacularly gorgeous Tuesday in southeastern Wisconsin was like watching a bad movie…another one that blew up buildings for no apparent reason.  But Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that was different.  According to everything we know, United Airlines Flight 93 out of Newark destined for San Francisco was hijacked by four men and diverted to…this is where it gets fuzzy. Popular wisdom says the hijacker’s target was the White House, but it is just as likely that the target was the Capital, which would have been in the same area, or another, double hit on the Pentagon, which would make military sense.

In 2013 my wife and I were headed to Washington to pick up my MA in history, and happened to stop for the night in Pennsylvania.  On the way to the motel I saw a sign that said “Flight 93 Memorial 16 Miles.” OK, we decide, we’ve got a few hours to spare tomorrow.  We’ll have a look.  So we follow the signs (there are none on the turnpike, and most of the pointers are very small) down very rural hardball roads to the memorial, which is at an old open-pit mine that was closed when Flight 93 crashed.

Shanksville, Pennsylvania is little more than a wide spot in a two-lane road, literally, and its two miles from the crash site.   It may have been more prosperous before the mine closed, but by the time we saw it, but in the spring of 2013 there just wasn’t much there.  As we went through the Flight 93 Memorial, I couldn’t help but think that the army of investigators that descended on Stonycreek Township would have overwhelmed the public facilities there very quickly. And so I walked the concrete walkways of the Classroom Without Walls (as NPS bills it), looked at the pictures of the victims/heroes, looked into the actual crash site (the memorial is next to it; the crash site itself is still treated as a crime scene), then thought about one of the pictures.  Then I looked again.

Maybe, I thought.  Maybe.  One of the passengers on Flight 93 looked more than vaguely familiar.  And the name.  I looked it up later…no, not him.  Resembled a guy I served with in the Army in Florida in the ’70s.  Name was similar, too.  But, no. Still, might have been sad and at the same time good to have known that one of my old comrades did his duty…we’re not relieved of our oaths at discharge, ya know.

Patriot Day was first observed in 2002. Now, to add to the confusion of 9/11, there’s a Patriot’s Day observed in the Boston area on the third Monday in April. But that one’s been around for decades. 9/11 isn’t a federal holiday; no offices are closed except the Flight 93 Memorial from 9 to noon.  But if you ever get the chance, you should go.  There’s something noble about citizens taking their implicit duty to protect and defend seriously enough to sacrifice themselves like that.  That deserves a look, and some contemplation.