Tet ’68 and Stella’s Game

On Tuesday, 30 January 1968, many of us awoke to a world different from the one we had slept in.

Marines outside Hue, February 1968
Getty images

There was supposed to be lines, rear areas, clean divisions between combatant and non-combatant…everybody knew that’s what war was supposed to be like. Combat was like, well, Combat and The Gallant Men. Besides, General Westmorland and Vice President Humphrey both said that the US was winning the war in Vietnam. Then…

Nứt trời; Làm rung chuyển trái đất!

Vietnamese for Crack the Sky; Shake the Earth!

But the Tet offensive, like the message above, in ’68 changed all those perceptions. The phrase was the signal sent to North Vietnamese units that the offensive to take over South Vietnam, planned for months, was on. Khe Sanh was suddenly put under siege; the US embassy in Saigon was partially captured; many provincial capitals were attacked, and the old capital of Vietnam’s empire, Hue, was captured by Viet Cong forces, which began a bloody campaign of massacre.

War didn’t have executions like the one in the New York Times for 2 February 1968–the one on top of this blog. Photographer Eddie Adams captured BG Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of South Vietnam’s national police, executing CPT Nguyen Van Lem of the Viet Cong, whose unit had just slaughtered Lem’s friend’s family. Before that photo appeared, Vietnam was just World War II in color with different weapons and uniforms, and the US Department of Defense had treated it just like that..until that day.

And Vietnam became a very different kind of war…

Wounded men, Tet ’68
Washington Post

And there were images of men hurt in the fighting delivered into your very home; in the newspapers, the magazines, on television. I was twelve, living a comfortable white-bread suburb of Detroit…and we saw this war unfold before us in living color. This kind of horror came after the riot of ’67, when the whiffs of smoke and tear gas rising on that wet and angry breeze from downtown, and the imagery of troops marching in formation down Woodward Avenue with bayonets fixed, and the news that our housekeeper was burned out of her home, reached us in the supposedly insulated suburbs that long and hot summer. Sure, I was too young to be drafted, but my older sisters had boyfriends…and one who was drafted in March of ’68; and one was going to West Point in the fall.

That war affected the affluent, too.

Public perceptions of the war changed decidedly after that. Though the battles for the capitals and the countryside ended with the US and South Vietnamese controlling most of the country and the Viet Cong were mostly destroyed, the war for public opinion was lost that winter. By spring, the demands to end the war were becoming overwhelming. Yet, Richard Nixon’s campaign theme was “Law and Order,” while Hubert Humphrey’s was “End the War.” And Nixon won in ’68 mostly, it is thought, because he promised new leadership…and he did get the US out two years before the Saigon government collapsed.

Your Author, 1967

And that damn war affected the characters in Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships. Imagine how a 12-year old–like the guy to the right here–might be affected by the knowledge that a family friend was a Marine stuck in Khe Sanh…and how his friends might be affected by that knowledge. Remember that this is Nixon country for the most part; supporters of the conflict in Vietnam.

But you don’t have to imagine it if you can read about it in Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships on Amazon or at your favorite booksellers.

National Dress Day and My New Gig

Oh, there’s a lot I could talk about this week, like the discovery of Guam in 1561, the Missouri Compromise in 1820, the Alamo in 1836, and Malenkov succeeding Stalin in 1953, among other things. But today there’s dresses. And my career.

National Dress Day began with Ashley Lauren Kerr of ASHLEYLauren declaring 6 March that in 2016 (why 6 March is still a mystery–probably a birthday). Lauren is known for classic dress designs that recall a simpler age and a simpler social dynamic.  Though many 21st century designers have reached back in time for inspiration, ASHLEYLauren seems to have resurrected the 20’s “flapper” shapelessness and melded it with vivid ’60’s colors and lines, resulting in bold and personal high-end women’s attire (and no, I didn’t copy that from anywhere else).  But these things are expensive, and some of the lovely creations, like the prom dress above, will set the buyer back a month’s rent or more. And for prom?  We all know what kind of disasters we can see when a bunch of hormonal teenagers get together (and no, I never went to any of mine). Personally I don’t get it, but I’m told that I’m poisoned by my Y chromosome. So, those of you of whatever gender definition you choose who are so inclined, wear a dress and post pictures of your faves on social media today.

My writing career sometimes takes me away from my home office, and for the next three to six months that’s what will happen. The commute it about 45 minutes one-way, and that won’t allow a lot of time for a weekly blog (sorry, but I have other commitments on the weekends).  So this blog may become irregular for a while, or be restricted to my holding forth on whatever national day I elect to talk about.  All that means, my loyal readers (both of you) is that I’m out making money writing for someone else so I can continue writing my own material for a bit longer.

6 November: Printing Takes Mass Media By Storm

On this day in 1771, 1935, and 1947 the world of mass communications changed, for better or for ill, and all because oil and water don’t play well together.

On 6 November 1771, Alois Senefelder was born in Prague, in what was the the Holy Roman Empire.  He was trained in law but moved to his father’s profession–the theater–to support his family.  Though initially successful he needed to find a cheap method of printing his plays, and hit on what we now call lithography “stone writing” in 1796.  The basic principle was simple enough: treat an engraved surface with water and roll oil-based ink onto it.  The water and oil separate, making it possible for a piece of paper to pick up enough ink to make an image.  While somewhat more sophisticated than that, the principle is the same.  The advantage to lithography is that it can also make a picture, as well as words.

This lithographic process was patented, and a book he wrote on the subject was in print as late as 1977.  Still in limited used today for small and shorter-run jobs in traditional settings (albeit using paper or metallic plates), the principles of lithography was an important element in the explosion of publishing and learning at the end of the “enlightenment” period (when scholars burned their witches only at night).

And where would the Monopoly game be without colored lithography?  On this day in 1935, Parker Brothers bought the main patents for its best-selling property trading and acquisition game, after having rejected it the year before.  What started out as a teaching tool in 1903 by the end of the century was one of the most successful family board games of all time, translated into over thirty languages and sold in more than a hundred countries.  Until the 1970s, every Monopoly version and printed game part was produced by a lithographic process.  Parker Brothers has printed more “dollars” than the US Treasury every year since 1960.

On 6 November 1947, the new medium of television was struggling to reach markets.  On that day, Meet The Press first aired, after having begun on radio in 1945.  The first guest, James Farley, was grilled for half an hour by Martha Rountree, the show’s creator.  Since ti became a weekly program in 1948, Meet The Press has produced over 17,000 programs and is the longest-running television program in history.  This news and current events program is still the only one of its kind that has interviewed a sitting president live; Gerald Ford in 1975.

OK, the last one was something of a stretch, but that’s show biz.