December 15, 1791 A Republic, if you can Keep it

Today we stand on the brink of a runoff election, threatening to tip the balance of the United States Senate away from the Republic of the founders, and toward the proverbial “democracy” of three wolves and a lamb, voting on what to have for dinner.

There is no reason to believe the Bill of Rights will survive such a transition.


The Founding Fathers ratified the United States Constitution on June 21, 1788.  In so doing, our forebears bestowed on generations yet unborn, a governing system unique in all history.  A system of diffuse authority, checks and balances, and authority delegated but Never relinquished, by a sovereign electorate.

Today the American system is often described as “democracy”. That description is in error. 

Ambrose Bierce once described Democracy as four wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch.  The founders gave us a Constitutional Republic.

The genius of such a Republic is demonstrated in a system which protects the rights of All citizens, including that individual.  The proverbial lamb. The specifics are enumerated in our bill of rights, twelve amendments adopted by the first Congress on September 25, 1789 and sent to the states, for ratification.

bill-of-rightsEven at the Constitutional Convention, delegates expressed concerns about the larger, more populous states holding sway at the expense of the smaller states. The “Connecticut Compromise” solved that problem, creating a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states themselves in the upper house (Senate).

The 62nd Congress proposed a Constitutional amendment in 1912, negating the intent of the founders and proposing that Senators be chosen by popular election.  The measure was adopted the following year, the 17th amendment having been ratified by ¾ of the states.  Since that time, it’s difficult to understand what the United States Senate even is, an institution neither democratic nor republican, but I digress.

Five states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut, ratified the document in quick succession. Some states objected to the new Constitution, especially Massachusetts, which wanted more protection for basic political rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and of the press. These wanted the document to specify, that those powers left un-delegated to the Federal government, were reserved to the states.

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A compromise was reached in February, 1788 whereby Massachusetts and other states would ratify the document with the assurance that such amendments would immediately be put up for consideration.

With these assurances, Massachusetts ratified the Constitution by a two-vote margin followed by Maryland, and South Carolina. New Hampshire became the ninth state on June 21. The new Constitutional Government would take effect on March 4 of the following year.

Amendments 2-12 were adopted on December 15, 1791 to become a document we now know, as the “Bill of Rights”.

A story is often told of Benjamin Franklin, exiting the Constitutional Convention. Approached by citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created, Dr. Franklin replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Today we stand on the brink of a runoff election, threatening to tip the balance of the United States Senate away from the Republic of the founders, and toward the proverbial “democracy” of four wolves and a lamb.

What reason we have to believe the Bill of Rights will survive such a transition remains a question, in search of an answer.

The Bill of Rights – Full Text. Hat tip, billofrightsinstitute.org

Amendment I Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Amendment II A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Amendment III No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Amendment IV The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment V No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment VI In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Amendment VII In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Amendment VIII Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment IX The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment X The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Fun Fact: It’s interesting to note the priorities of that first Congress, as expressed in their original 1st and 2nd amendments.  As proposed to the 1st Congress, the original 1st amendment dictated apportionment of representation. It was ratified by only 11 states, and technically remained pending. Had the states ratified that original first amendment, we would now have a Congress of at least 6,345 members, instead of the 535 we currently have.

The original 2nd amendment was an article related to Congressional compensation, that no future Congress could change their own salaries.   The measure would in fact, pass, becoming the 27th amendment in 1992.  Following a ratification period of 202 years, 7 months, and 10 days.

December 4, 1875 A Blizzard of Bacon

A hundred years ago, Ambrose Bierce described politics as “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage“.


Before the first Europeans arrived in the “new world”, descendants of the Nanticoke inhabited a region from Delaware north through New Jersey and southern New York, and eastern Pennsylvania. The Europeans called them “Delaware”.  These indigenous Americans called themselves “Lenni-Lenape” literally translating as “Men of Men”, but is translated to mean “Original People.” (Hat tip, http://www.nanticoke-lenape.info).

In the early 1680s, Chief Tammamend (“The Affable”) of the Lenni-Lenape nation took part in a meeting with English colonists. He is supposed to have said that his people and the newcomers would “live in peace as long as the waters run in the rivers and creeks and as long as the stars and moon endure.”

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Treaty of Penn with Indians, by Benjamin West

“Tammany” to the settlers, Chief Tammamend became a living symbol of peace and friendship, between the two peoples. He died in 1701, but his legend lived on. Tammany societies would spring up over the next hundred years, from Georgia to Rhode Island.

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Tammany Societies adopted native terms with leaders calling themselves Grand Sachems and meeting in halls called “Wigwams”. The most famous of these, was New York.

By the turn of the 19th century, what had begun as social a club had morphed into a political machine. Tammany helped Aaron Burr counter Alexander Hamilton’s Society of the Cincinnati when Burr went on to win New York’s two electoral votes in 1800.

Without help from “Tammany Hall”, historians believe John Adams would have been re-elected.

After Andrew Jackson’s victory in 1828, the Tammany machine all but owned government in New York: city and state, alike.

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The 19th century was a time of massive immigration, providing an ever-expanding base of political and financial support for urban politicians. Political machines helped new arrivals with jobs, housing and citizenship, a veritable model “constituent service”. Under the surface dwelled a dark underbelly of graft and corruption.

In those days, volunteer fire companies were closely associated with street gangs, with strong ethnic ties. Rivalries were so potent that buildings were known to burn, as opposing fire companies brawled on the streets below.

William Magear Tweed dropped out of school at 11 to learn his father’s chair-making trade and later apprenticed, to a saddler. A brief stint as member of volunteer fire co. Engine 12, brought the man to the attention of democrat party leaders. Apparently there was something appealing about a man, willing to wade into his adversaries with an axe.

While still in his early twenties, Tweed joined forces with the “forty thieves”, a group of aldermen known as some of the most corrupt politicians, in the city’s history.

Harper’s Weekly editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast was a vehement opponent of the Tammany Hall machine, here in an 1871 cartoon entitled, :Let us prey”.

By the 1860s, now “Boss” Tweed had established a new standard in public corruption. Biographer Kenneth Ackerman wrote: “The Tweed ring at its height was an engineering marvel, strong and solid, strategically deployed to control key power points: the courts, the legislature, the treasury and the ballot box. Its frauds had a grandeur of scale and an elegance of structure: money-laundering, profit sharing and organization“.

Contractors were instructed to multiply invoices. Checks were cashed through a go-between, settling with the contractor and dividing the rest between Boss Tweed and his cronies. The system inflated the cost of the New York County Courthouse to nearly $13 million at a time the Alaska purchase, went for $7.2 million. That’s about $125 million, today.

One carpenter billed $360,751 for a month’s work. One month. A plasterer got $133,187 for two days. Tweed orchestrated $65,000 in bribes to aldermen alone, to secure the bond issue for the Brooklyn Bridge.

New York Corruption - New York Under Tweed's Thumb

Some among the self-styled “Uppertens”, the top 10,000 amid New York’s socioeconomic strata, fell in with the self-dealing and corruption of the Tammany Hall machine. Others counted on an endless supply of cheap immigrant labor.

The system worked while Tweed’s Machine kept “his people” in line until the “Orange Riots” of 1870-71 broke out between Irish Catholics and Protestants, killing 70.

Tweed’s downfall began in 1871 when city auditor James Watson was killed in a sleigh accident. Ring members frantically attempted to destroy Watson’s records but it was too little, too late. The New York Times, back when it was a newspaper, had a feast. Boss Tweed was arrested on October 27, 1871, and tried on charges of public corruption.

There were mistrials and retrials and, in the end, Boss Tweed was sentenced to 12 years. He escaped on December 4, 1875 and fled to Spain where he worked for a time, as a common seaman. Unfortunately for him he was recognized from one of Nast’s cartoons and returned home on the USS Franklin, to finish his sentence.

Now a broken man, Tweed agreed to testify before a board of aldermen. Having done so, Democrat governor Samuel J. Tilden reneged on the deal and sent the man back to prison. Former State Senator, former Member of the United States Congress, one of the largest property owners in New York city, William Magear Tweed contracted pneumonia and died in prison on April 12, 1878. Mayor Smith Ely refused to permit the flag, to be lowered to half-staff.

An 1877 aldermen’s committee estimated that Boss Tweed’s graft cost New York taxpayers between $25 and $45 million. New York Times estimated $200 million, equivalent to an astonishing $2.8 Billion, today.

Boss Tweed was gone. The reeking sewer of corruption of which he was part, moved on. By the end of the 19th century, ward Boss Richard Croker ran a system of graft and corruption the likes of which Boss Tweed could have only dreamed.

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Cartoonist Thomas Nast denounced the Tammany machine as a ferocious tiger, devouring democracy.

In the end, three things killed the Tammany Hall system. Early Irish arrivals had been primary beneficiaries and major supporters of Tammany’s patronage system, but there are only so many favors to go around. Continued immigration diluted Tammany’s base, and later arriving Irish, Italian and eastern European immigrants found themselves frozen out.

Next is the spoils system, itself. To this day, too many think it’s government’s job to “Bring home the Bacon”, not seeming to realize that they themselves, are the hogs. The Roosevelt administrations’ efforts to fix the Great Depression resulted in a blizzard of bacon from an increasingly Nationalized federal government, separating the local machines from local bases of support.

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Last came “reformers” such as New York governor and future President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who occasionally built enough steam to hurt the Tammany machine.

Manhattan District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey, he of the famous “Dewey Wins!” photograph, managed to put several Tammany Hall leaders in jail, along with such unsavory supporters as “Lucky Luciano”.

Republican Fiorello La Guardia served three terms as New York mayor between 1934-’45, the first anti-Tammany mayor, ever re-elected. A brief resurgence of Tammany power in the 1950s met with Democratic party resistance led by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, and party politician Herbert Lehrman. By the mid-1960s, the Tammany Hall system was dead.

Tammany Hall was a local manifestation of a disease afflicting the entire country. Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, Philadelphia, St. Louis and others:  all suffered their own local outbreak.

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Tammany Hall, Union_Square

The Ward Boss lives on in places like Chicago but, like the Jeffersons, the corruption has “moved on up”. Today, rent seekers and foreign powers pay tens of millions in “speaking fees” and other “pay-for-play” schemes. Sound familiar?

Like a certain vice President bragging on camera, about withholding a Billion dollars in foreign aid. Unless an ally fires the prosecutor looking into the “business dealings” of a 47-year mediocrity, and his son. I bet that sounds familiar, too.

A hundred years ago, Editor-in-Chief of the New York Evening Post E.L. Godkin wrote, “A villain of more brains would have had a modest dwelling, and guzzled in private. His successors here will not imitate him in this. But that he will have successors, there is no doubt”. Ambrose Bierce (my favorite curmudgeon) described politics as “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage“.  Boss Tweed could tell you.   It’s as true today as it was in his time.

Featured image, top of page: Nast cartoon, “Who stole the people’s money?…twas him”.

November 26, 1941, Franksgiving

Popular comedians of the day got a laugh out of the Franksgiving ruckus including Burns & Allen, and Jack Benny. One 1940 Warner Brothers cartoon shows two Thanksgivings, one “for Democrats” and one a week later “for Republicans.”

The first Autumn feast of Thanksgiving dates well before the European settlement of North America.

OldCrowafriendly

Historian Michael Gannon writes that the “real first Thanksgiving” in America took place in 1565, when Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed in modern-day Florida, and “had the Indians fed and then dined himself.”

Likely, it was salt-pork stew with garbanzo beans. Yum.

According to the Library of Congress, the English colony of Popham in present-day Maine held a “harvest feast and prayer meeting” with the Abenaki people in 1607, twenty-four years before that “first Thanksgiving” at Plymouth.

George Washington proclaimed the first Presidential National day of Thanksgiving on November 26, 1783, “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness“.

So much for the “separation of Church and state”.

President Abraham Lincoln followed suit in 1863, declaring a general day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday of November.  The date seemed to work out OK and the tradition stuck, until 1939.

Roughly two in every seven Novembers, contain an extra Thursday.  November 1939, was one of them.

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In those days, it was considered poor form for retailers to put up Christmas displays or run Christmas sales, before Thanksgiving.  Lew Hahn, General Manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association, was afraid that extra week was going to cut into Christmas sales.

Ten years into the Great Depression with no end in sight, the Federal government was afraid of the same thing. By late August, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to deviate from the customary last Thursday and declared the fourth Thursday, November 23, to be a national day of prayer and thanksgiving.

Opposition to the plan was quick to form.  Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s Republican challenger in the earlier election, complained of Roosevelt’s impulsiveness and resulting confusion.  “More time should have been taken working it out” Landon said, “instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.”

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In Plymouth Massachusetts, self-described home of the “first Thanksgiving”, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen James Frasier, “heartily disapproved”.

The short-notice change in schedule disrupted vacation plans for millions of Americans. Traditional Thanksgiving day football rivalries between school teams across the nation, were turned upside down.

Unsurprisingly, support for Roosevelt’s plan broke along ideological lines.  A late 1939 Gallup poll reported Democrats favoring the move by a 52% to 48% majority, with Republicans opposing the move, 79% to 21%.

Such proclamations represent little more than the “’moral authority” of the Presidency. States are free to do as they please.  Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia observed Thanksgiving day on the non-traditional date, and twenty-two kept Thanksgiving on the 30th.  Colorado, Mississippi and Texas, did both.

The next two years, thirty-two states and the District of Columbia celebrated what came to be called “Franksgiving” on the third Thursday of the month, while the remainder observed a more traditional “Republican Thanksgiving” on the last.

Franksgiving calendar

In 1941, a Commerce Department survey demonstrated little difference in Christmas sales between those states observing Franksgiving, and those observing the more traditional date. A joint resolution of Congress declared the fourth Thursday beginning the following year to be a national day of Thanksgiving. President Roosevelt signed the measure into law on November 26.

Interestingly, the phrase “Thanksgiving Day” appeared only once in the 20th century prior to the 1941 resolution, that in President Calvin Coolidge’s first of six such proclamations.

Most state legislatures followed suit with the Federal fourth-Thursday approach, but not all.  In 1945, the next year with five November Thursdays, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia reverted to the last Thursday.  Texas held out the longest, celebrating its fifth-Thursday Thanksgiving for the last time in 1956.

To this day, the years 1939, ’40 and ’41 remain the only outliers, outside the fourth-Thursday tradition.

Popular comedians of the day got a laugh out of the Franksgiving ruckus including Burns & Allen, and Jack Benny.  One 1940 Warner Brothers cartoon shows two Thanksgivings, one “for Democrats” and one a week later “for Republicans.”

The Three Stooges short film of the same year has Moe questioning Curly, why he put the fourth of July in October.  “You never can tell”, he replies.  “Look what they did to Thanksgiving!”

Joe Toye, the “Easy Company” character in the 2001 HBO miniseries “A Band of Brothers”, may have had the last word on Franksgiving.  Explaining his plan to get the war over quickly, the paratrooper quips “Hitler gets one of these [knives] right across the windpipe, Roosevelt changes Thanksgiving to Joe Toye Day, [and] pays me ten grand a year for the rest of my f*****g life.

Sounds like a plan.

November 23, 1932 Holodomor

Warm and well fed with Russian mistress comfortably ensconced in Moscow, French wife hidden away on the Riviera, the British born New York Times Times reporter-turned international playboy opined, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

In 1928, Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin introduced a program of agricultural collectivization in Ukraine, the “Bread Basket” of the Soviet Union, forcing family farmers off their land and into state-owned collective farms.

Ukrainian “kulaks”, peasant farmers successful enough to hire labor or own farm machinery, refused to join the collectives, regarding such as a return to the serfdom of earlier centuries. Stalin claimed that these factory collectives would not only feed industrial workers in the cities, but would also provide a surplus to be sold abroad, raising money to further his industrialization plans.

Holodomor_Novo-Krasne_Odessa_11_1932.pngArmed “dekulakization brigades” confiscated land, livestock and other property by force, evicting entire families. Nearly half a million individuals were dragged from their homes in 1930-’31 alone, packed into freight trains and shipped off to remote areas like Siberia and often left without food or shelter.  Many of them, especially children, died in transit or soon after arrival.

Resistance continued, which the Soviet government could not abide. Ukraine’s production quotas were sharply increased in 1932-’33, making it impossible for farmers to meet assignments and feed themselves, at the same time. Starvation became widespread, as the Soviet government decreed that any person, even a child, would be arrested for taking as little as a few stalks of wheat from the fields in which they worked.

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Military blockades were erected around villages preventing the transportation of food, while brigades of young activists from other regions were brought in to sweep through villages and confiscate hidden grain.

Eventually all food was confiscated from farmers’ homes, as Stalin determined to “teach a lesson through famine” to the Ukrainian rural population.

no-nb_blds_01867-beskåret-1200x1278.jpgAt the height of the famine, Ukrainians starved to death at a rate of 22,000 per day, almost a third of those, children 10 and under. How many died in total, is anyone’s guess. Estimates range from two million Ukrainian citizens murdered by their own government, to well over ten million.

Millions of tons of grain were exported during this time, more than enough to save every man, woman and child.

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2,500 people were arrested and convicted during this time, for eating the flesh of their neighbors. The problem was so widespread that the Soviet government put up signs reminding survivors: “To eat your own children is a barbarian act.”

Stalin denied to the world there was any famine in Ukraine, a position supported by the likes of Louis Fischer reporting for “The Nation”, and Walter Duranty of the New York Times. Duranty went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his “coverage”, with comments like “any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda”. Such stories were “mostly bunk,” according to the New York Times.

Warm and well fed with Russian mistress comfortably ensconced in Moscow, French wife hidden away on the Riviera, the British born New York Times Times reporter-turned international playboy opined, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

1um1ow.jpgTo this day, the New York Times has failed to repudiate Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer.

Like many on the international Left, Canadian journalist Rhea Clyman had great expectations of the “worker’s paradise” built by the Communist state, where no one was unemployed, everyone was “equal”, and Everyman had what he needed.

Unlike most, Clyman went to the Soviet Union to see for herself.

Holodomor-Great-Famine-Ukraine-emaciated-horse-1932-1933-Alexander-Wienerberger-photographer.jpgTo do so at all was an act of courage.  single Jewish woman who’d lost part of a leg in a childhood streetcar accident, traveling to a place where the Russian empire and its successor state had a long and wretched history.  Particularly when it came to the treatment of its own Jews.

Virtually all of the international press preferred the comfortable confines of Moscow, cosseted in a world of Soviet propaganda and ignorant of the world as it was.

Duranty’s idea of “bon voyage” was the cynical offer, to write her obituary.

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Rhea Clyman

In four years, Clyman not only learned the language, but set out on a 5,000-mile odyssey to discover the Soviet countryside, as it really was.

It is through this “Special Correspondent in Russia of The Toronto Evening Telegram, London Daily Express, and Other Newspapers“, that we know much about the government’s extermination of its own citizens in Ukraine.

To read what Clyman wrote about abandoned villages, is haunting.  The moment of discovery:  “They wanted something of me, but I could not make out what it was. At last someone went off for a little crippled lad of fourteen, and when he came hobbling up, the mystery was explained. This was the Village of Isoomka, the lad told me. I was from Moscow, yes; we were a delegation studying conditions in the Ukraine, yes. Well, they wanted me to take a petition back to the Kremlin, from this village and the one I had just been in. “Tell the Kremlin we are starving; we have no bread!”

A tall, bearded peasant was spokesman. His two sons and the rest of the men and women nodded approval at every word. The little crippled boy stood with his right hand on his crutch, translating everything he said into Russian for me, word by word.  “We are good, hard-working peasants, loyal Soviet citizens, but the village Soviet has taken our land from us. We are in the collective farm, but we do not get any grain. Everything, land, cows and horses, have been taken from us, and we have nothing to eat. Our children were eating grass in the spring….” 

I must have looked unbelieving at this, for a tall, gaunt woman started to take the children’s clothes off. She undressed them one by one, prodded their sagging bellies, pointed to their spindly legs, ran her hand up and down their tortured, mis-shapen, twisted little bodies to make me understand that this was real famine. I shut my eyes, I could not bear to look at all this horror. “Yes,” the woman insisted, and the boy repeated, “they were down on all fours like animals, eating grass. There was nothing else for them.”  What have you to eat now?” I asked them, still keeping my eyes averted from those tortured bodies. “Are all the villages round here the same? Who gets the grain?”” – Rhea Clyman, Toronto Telegram, 16 May 1933

22,000 of these poor people starved to death, every day. Pitifully, many yet believed the government in Moscow was going to help. If only comrade Stalin knew…

holodomor-1.jpgThe Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933 was opened in Washington, D.C. on November 7, 2015

Today, the province of Alberta is home to about 300,000 Canadians of Ukrainian Heritage. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley once explained “Holodomor is a combination of two Ukrainian words: Holod, meaning hunger, and moryty, meaning a slow, cruel death. That is exactly what Ukrainians suffered during this deliberate starvation of an entire people“.

Ukrainians around the world recognize November 23 as Holodomor Memorial Day, commemorated by a simple statue in Kiev. A barefoot little girl, gaunt and hollow eyed, clutches a few stalks of wheat.

Holodomor memorial. The Holodomor/????????? was a man-made famine in the Ukrainian SSR between 1932 and 1933. During the famine, 2.4 – 7.5 millions of Ukrainians died of starvation.

Here in the United States, you could line up 100 randomly selected adults. I don’t believe that five could tell you what Holodomor even means. We are a self-governing Republic. All 100 should be well acquainted with the term.

November 18, 1863 The Gettysburg Address

Oddly, we don’t know the precise form in which the President delivered his address. Lincoln wrote his own speeches, lining out words and writing into margins as he developed his thought process. That working copy is lost.

Have you ever crossed that field at Gettysburg? The site of the final assault on the third day? You can feel the sense of history, stepping off Seminary Ridge. Only a mile to go. You are awe struck at the mental image of thousands of blue clad soldiers, awaiting your advance. Halfway across and just coming into small arms range, you enter a low spot on what seemed like a flat plain. It’s almost imperceptible but the “copse of trees”, drops out of sight. You can’t help a sense of relief as you cross the draw. If you can’t see them they can’t shoot you. Right?

Then you look to your right and realize. Cannon would have been firing down the length of your lines that day, from Little Round Top. From your left, the guns of Cemetery Hill tear into your lines. Rising out of the draw you are now in full sight of Union infantry. You quicken your pace as your lines are torn apart from the front and sides. Fences hold in some spots along the Emmitsburg Road. Hundreds of your comrades are shot down in the attempt to climb over.

Finally you are over and now it’s a dead run. There’s a savage struggle to possess an angle in a stone wall, but it is not enough. The Bloody Angle. You have reached the “high water mark of the Confederacy”. The shattered remains of that splendid Multitude you joined only moments before, retreat. It is over.

The hill from which the Union center repulsed Longstreet’s assault of the third day was selected for a national cemetery, within the four months following the battle of Gettysburg. Work began to re-inter the dead from the carnage of July, on October 27.

Three weeks later, Abraham Lincoln boarded a train in Washington.  He’d been asked to make “a few dedicatory remarks” on the following day, consecrating the new National Cemetery at Gettysburg where, even now on this day in 1863, workmen yet labored.

Lincoln was the President of a country torn by Civil War, a war so terrible that, before it was over, would kill more Americans than all the wars from the Declaration of Independence to the Global War on Terror, combined.

November 18, 1863. President Lincoln takes a break at the Hanover junction Station (PA), waiting to be joined by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. Curtin’s train was late and the President moved on, without him. The Governor would have to find find another route to join the President, the following day.

Lincoln had been feeling poorly the day of the train ride, telling his secretary John Hay, he was feeling weak.  He would feel worse before that day was over. Hay noted that Lincoln’s face was ‘a ghastly color’, the day of the address.  No one knew it at the time. The President had entered the first stages, of smallpox.

His was not the keynote address.  That would be a 13,607 word, two-hour oration delivered by Boston politician Edward Everett.

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“A rare photo of the ceremonies. A group of boys stand at the fringe of a crowd. In the distance, several men wearing sashes can be seen standing on the speakers’ platform. Analysis of an enlargement of this photo reveals the image of Lincoln sitting to the left of these men”. Tip of the hat to http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com, for this image

After Everett’s speech, photographers began the careful preparation and setting, of glass plates. Each an thought he had all the time in the world. He did not.

There is no photograph of President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg address.

The 16th President of the United States stepped to the rostrum and delivered 271 words, in ten sentences.  In just over two minutes, Lincoln captured an entire vision of where the country was at that moment in time, where it had been, and where it was going.

Lincoln himself thought his speech a flop, but Everett later wrote to him, saying “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

Then as now there were haters, a peanut gallery firing spitballs, from secure positions on the sidelines.  The Chicago Times described Lincoln’s remarks as “silly, flat and dish-watery utterances”. It all came out in the end.  Lincoln’s address is remembered as one of the finest English language orations since Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, at Agincourt.  The names of those croaking tree frogs at the Chicago Times, are all but forgotten.

Oddly, we don’t know the precise form in which the President delivered his address.  Lincoln wrote his own speeches, lining out words and writing into margins as he developed his thought process.  That working copy is lost.

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“The only known image of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg was uncovered in 1952 at the National Archives. It was taken by photographer Mathew Brady. (Library of Congress)” H/T Smithsonian.com, for this image

There are five known copies of the Gettysburg address, written in Lincoln’s own hand. Each varies slightly in wording and punctuation.  He wrote two after the address, giving them to his two personal secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay.  He sent one to Edward Everett early in 1864 and another to George Bancroft, the former Secretary of the Navy turned historian.  Lincoln wrote a fifth copy in February known as the Bliss copy, for Colonel Alexander Bliss, upon learning the Bancroft version was unsuitable for publication. Preproduction technologies were unsuitable at that time, for documents written on both sides of the same page.

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Lincoln signed, dated and titled the Bliss copy.  This is the version inscribed on the South wall of the Lincoln Memorial.

One of my stranger childhood notions, was the idea that sounds never disappeared. They only diminished as they spread outward, like ripples on a pond.  If that was true (thought my nine-year-old self), could we not somehow capture and listen to the Gettysburg address, as it was actually delivered?

It’s a funny thing how some ideas, even the goofy ones, never completely die away.

November 13, 1982 A Wall of Faces

Ten years ago, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, www.vvmf.org began work on a virtual “Wall of Faces”, where each name is remembered with a picture, and a story to go with it.  In 2017, the organization was still looking for 6,000+ photographs. As I write this, only 230 remain to be found.

Check it out. Pass it around. You might be able to help.


Begun on November 1, 1955, the American war in Southeast Asia lasted 19 years, 5 months and a day. On March 29, 1973, two months after signing the Paris Peace accords, the last US combat troops left South Vietnam as Hanoi freed the remaining POWs held in North Vietnam.

It was the longest war in American history, until Afghanistan.

Jan Scruggs served in that war. Two tours, returning home with a Purple Heart and three army commendation medals as well as a medal for valor. Theirs was an unpopular war and like many, Scruggs found readjustment to civilian life, difficult.

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In 1979, he and Becky, his wife of five years, went to see a movie. The Deer Hunter. The film seemed to bring it all back. The RPG that had left him so grievously wounded. The accidental explosion of those mortar rounds that had killed his buddies. Twelve of them.

That night passed without sleep, a waking nightmare of flashbacks and alcohol. By dawn he’d envisioned a memorial. With names on it. Maybe an obelisk. On the Mall, in Washington DC. Becky feared he might be losing his mind.

Scruggs was working for the department of labor at that time when he took a week off, to pursue the project.

The idea received little support. The project was impractical it was said, and besides, the project would distract veterans organizations from more important work. Undaunted, Scruggs soon left his job to pursue the project, full time.

It was tough going. Becky was now the sole breadwinner. In two months the project raised a scant $144.50.

Always a sign of the contemptible times in which we live, the CBS Evening News ridiculed the project. Late night “comedians” joined in the mockery and yet, that CBS report attracted the attention of powerful allies. Thousands of dollars came in, mostly in $5 and $10 denominations.

Chuck Hagel, then deputy administrator for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, took interest. Likewise John Wheeler, the fellow Vietnam vet – turned attorney who’d spearheaded the effort to erect the Southeast Asia Memorial on the military academy, at West Point.

$8 million came in over the next two years and then came the competition. The actual design. There were 1,422 submissions, so many that selections were performed in an aircraft hangar.

Much to her surprise, the winner was 1st-generation American of Chinese ancestry Maya Lin, then an undergraduate studying architecture, at Yale University.

“The Wall” was dedicated on this day. November 13, 1982.

Lin’s design is a black granite wall, 493½-feet long and 10-feet, 3-inches high at its peak, laid out in a great wedge of stone which seems to rise from the earth and return to it. The name of every person lost in the war in Vietnam is sandblasted onto the stone, appearing in the order in which they were lost.

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Go to the highest point on the memorial, panel 1E, the very first name is that of Air Force Tech Sgt. Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr. of Stoneham, Massachusetts, killed on June 8, 1956. Some distance to his right you will find the name of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, killed on Sept. 7, 1965. The Fitzgibbons are one of three Father/Son pairs, so memorialized.

The names begin at the center and move outward, the east wing ending on May 25, 1968. The same day continues at the far end of the west wing, moving back toward the center at panel 1W. The last name on the wall, the last person killed in the war, meets the first.  The circle is closed.

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There, you will find the name of Kelton Rena Turner of Los Angeles, an 18-year old Marine, killed in action on May 15, 1975 during the “Mayaguez incident”, two weeks after the evacuation of Saigon.

Most sources list Gary L. Hall, Joseph N. Hargrove and Danny G. Marshall as the last to die in Vietnam, though their fate remains, unknown. These three were United States Marines, an M-60 machine gun squad, mistakenly left behind while covering the evacuation of their comrades, from the beaches of Koh Tang Island. Their names appear along with Turner’s, on panel 1W, lines 130-131.

There were 57,939 names inscribed on the Memorial when it opened in 1982. 39,996 died at age 22 or younger.  8,283 were 19 years old. The 18-year-olds are the largest age group, with 33,103. Twelve of them were 17. Five were 16. There is one name on panel 23W, line 096, that of PFC Dan Bullock, United States Marine Corps.  He was 15 years old on June 7, 1969.  The day he died.

Left to right:  PFC Gary Hall, KIA age 19, LCPL Joseph Hargrove, KIA on his 24th birthday, Pvt Danny Marshall, KIA age 19, PFC Dan Bullock, KIA age 15

Eight names belong to women, killed while nursing the wounded. 997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam.   1,448 died on their last. There are 31 pairs of brothers on the Wall. 62 parents who had to endure the loss of two sons.

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As of Memorial Day 2015, there are 58,307, as the names of military personnel who succumbed to wounds sustained during the war, were added to the wall.

Over the years, the Wall has inspired a number of tributes, including a traveling 3/5ths scale model of the original and countless smaller ones, bringing the grandeur of Lin’s design to untold numbers without the means or the opportunity, to travel to the nation’s capital.

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In South Lyons Michigan, the black marble Michigan War Dog Memorial pays tribute to the names and tattoo numbers of 4,234 “War Dogs” who served in Southeast Asia, the vast majority of whom were left behind as “surplus equipment”.

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There is even a Vietnam Veterans Dog Tag Memorial, at the Harold Washington Library, in Chicago.

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Ten years ago, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, www.vvmf.org began work on a virtual “Wall of Faces”, where each name is remembered with a face, and a story to go with it.  In 2017, the organization was still looking for 6,000+ photographs. As I write this, there remains only 230 yet to be discovered.

Check it out. Pass it around. You might be able to help.

I was nine years old in May 1968, the single deadliest month of that war, with 2,415 killed. Fifty years later, I still remember the way so many disgraced themselves, by the way they treated those returning home from that place.

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I can only hope that today, veterans of the war in Vietnam have some sense of the appreciation that is their due, the recognition too often denied them, those many years ago.  And I trust my countrymen to remember. If they ever have an issue with United States war policy, they need to take it up with a politician. Not the Armed Services member who is doing what his country asked him to do.

July 10, 1040 Death and Taxes

Tax revolts are nothing new.  Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.

In the age of Edward the Confessor somewhere in the English midlands, there lay the Kingdom of Mercia. It was 1040 or thereabouts and Leofric, Earl of Mercia, had a problem. Leofric was the kind of ruler who never saw a tax he didn’t like, his latest the “Heregeld”, a tax to pay for the King’s bodyguard.  The Earl’s wife  Godgyfu had other ideas, her name in the Olde English, signifying “Gift of God”.  Today, we call her “Godiva”.

Take pity on the people of Coventry, Godiva said, they are suffering under all this oppressive taxation.

Lady Godiva

A guy can only take so much, even if he IS an Earl. Tired of his wife’s entreaties, Leofric agreed to repeal the tax on one condition; that Godiva ride a horse through the streets of town, dressed only in her birthday suit.  Lady Godiva took him at his word.  She issued a proclamation requiring all townspeople to stay indoors and shut their windows, so it was she took her famous ride through Coventry.

The story probably isn’t true, any more than the one about Tom, the guy who drilled a hole in his door so he could watch and lost his sight at what he saw.  But a thousand years later, we still use the term “Peeping Tom”.

Tax revolts are nothing new.  Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.

isOn December 31, 1695, King William III decreed a 2 shilling tax on each house in the land. Never one to miss an opportunity to “stick-it-to-the-rich”, there was an extra tax on every window over ten, a tax which would last for another 156 years.

It must have been a money maker, because the governments of France, Spain and Scotland followed suit. To this day, you can see homes where owners have bricked up windows, preferring darkness to the payment of yet another tax.

singelIn Holland, they used to tax the frontage of a home, the wider your house the more you paid. If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, narrow houses rise several stories, with hooks over windows almost as wide as the building itself. These are used to haul furniture up from the outside, since the stairways are too narrow. The narrowest home in Amsterdam can be found at Singel #7, the house itself barely wider than its own front door.

You can find the same thing in the poorer quarters of New Orleans, where the “shotgun single”, a home so narrow you can fire a shotgun in the front door and pellets will go out the back, and the “Camelback” (second story out back) are the architectural remnants of long-dead taxation policy.

Charles_Marville,_Urinoir_en_ardoise_à_3_stalles,_Chaussée_du_Maine,_ca._1865The Roman Emperor Vespasian who ruled from 69 to 79AD, levied a tax on public toilets. When Vespasian’s son, the future Emperor Titus wrinkled his nose, the old man held a coin under the boy’s nose. “Pecunia non olet”, he said.  “Money does not stink”.  2,000 years later, the name remains inseparable from public urinals. In France, the er…pissoir… is called vespasiennes, in Italy vespasiani.  If you need to piss in Romania you could go to the vespasiene.  History fails to record the inevitable push-back on Vespasian’s toilet tax, but I’m sure that ancient Romans had to look where they walked.

benfranklinEnvironmentalist types in Venice, Italy have been pushing a tax on tourism, claiming the city’s facing “an irreversible environmental catastrophe as the subsequent increase in water transport has caused the level of the lagoon bed to drop over time”. Deputy mayor Sandro Simionato said that “This tax is a new and important opportunity for the city,” explaining that it will “help finance tourism”, among other things. So, the problem borne of too much tourism is going to be fixed by a tax to help finance tourism.  I think. Or maybe it’s all just another money grab.

cig-tax-revenueAs of December 2015, state and territory tax rates on cigarettes ranged from 17¢ per pack in Missouri to $4.35 in New York, on top of federal, local, county, municipal and local Boy Scout council taxes (kidding).  Philip Morris reports that taxes run 56.6% on average, per pack. Not surprisingly, tax rates make a vast difference in where and how people buy cigarettes.  There is a tiny Indian reservation on Long Island, measuring a few miles square and home to a few hundred people. Tax rates are close to zero there, on a pack of butts.  Until recent changes in tax law, the tiny reservation was selling 100 million cartons per year.

If all those taxes are supposed to encourage people to quit smoking, I wonder what income taxes are supposed to do?

131228122048-exp-why-icebreakers-get-stuck-00001601-story-topBack in 2013, EU politicians were discussing a way of taxing livestock flatulence, as a means of curbing “Global Warming”.  At that time there was an Australian ice breaker, making its way to Antarctica to free the Chinese ice breaker that got stuck in the ice trying to free the Russian ship full of environmentalist types.  They were all there to view the effects of “Global Warming”, until they got stuck in the ice.

Honest.  I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that.

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April 6, 1933 New Beer’s Eve

For every wound, a balm.
For every sorrow, cheer. 
For every storm, a calm.
For every thirst, a beer. – Irish toast, author unknown

Given the right combination of sugars, almost any cereal will undergo simple fermentation, due to the presence of wild yeasts in the air.  It seems likely that our cave-dwelling ancestors experienced their first beer, as the result of this process.

Starch dusted stones were found with the remains of doum-palm and chamomile in the 18,000-year old Wadi Kubbaniya in upper Egypt.  While it’s difficult to confirm, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern suspects, “it’s very likely they were making beer there”.

Chemical analysis of pottery shards date the earliest barley beer to 3400BC, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.beer-ingredients (1)Tacitus scorned the bitter brew of Germanic barbarians.  Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate.  Nevertheless, letters from Roman cavalry commanders of the Roman Britain period, c. 97-103 AD, include requests for more “cerevisia“, for the legionaries.

In North and South America, native peoples brewed fermented beverages from local ingredients including agave sap, the first spring tips of the spruce tree, and maize.

Pilgrims left the Netherlands city of Leiden in 1620, hoping not for the frozen, rocky soil of New England, but for rich farmland and a congenial climate in the New World.   Lookouts spotted the wind-swept shores of Cape Cod on November 9, 1620 and may have kept going, had there been enough beer.  One Mayflower passenger wrote in his diary: “We could not now take time for further search… our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…download-67Prior to the drum roaster’s invention in 1817, malt was typically dried over wood, charcoal or straw fires, leaving a smoky quality which would seem foreign to the modern beer drinker.  William Harrison wrote in his “Description of England” in 1577, “For the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke“.

Smoky flavor didn’t trouble the true beer aficionado of the age.  When the Meux Brewery casks let go in 1814 spilling nearly 400,000 gallons onto the street, hundreds of Britons hurried to scoop the stuff up in pots and pans.  Some lapped it right up off of the street, doggy-style.2926-london-beer-flood1 (1)1,389 were trampled to death and another 1,300 injured in a stampede for the suds, when someone thought the beer had run out at the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, in 1896.download-66The 18th amendment, better known as “prohibition”, went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

Portable stills went on sale within a week and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of rhine” or “blocks of port”. The mayor of New York City sent instructions on wine making, to his constituents.

Smuggling operations became widespread as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This would lead in time to competitive car racing, beginning first on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks.  It’s why we have NASCAR, today.williams-vs-byron-replacements100-2020-recap-upscaled-image-x4-1584470318Organized crime became vastly more powerful due to the influx of enormous sums of cash.  The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

Gaining convictions for breaking a law that everyone hated became increasingly difficult. There were over 7,000 prohibition related arrests in New York alone between 1921 and 1923.  Only 27 resulted in convictions.download-65Finally, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce his support for repeal.

It’s difficult to compare rates of alcohol consumption before and during prohibition.  If death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption never decreased by more than 10 to 20 per cent.

FDR signed the Cullen–Harrison Act into law on March 22, 1933, commenting “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”  The law went effect on April 7, allowing Americans to buy, sell and drink beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol.

A team of draft horses hauled a wagon up Pennsylvania Avenue, delivering a case of beer to the White House – the first public appearance of the Budweiser Clydesdales.fd3cb0f1f05a3b17a69799cd32a01bcb (1)“Dry” leaders tried to prohibit consumption of alcohol on military bases in 1941, but military authorities claimed it was good for morale. Brewers were required to allocate 15% of total annual production to be used by the armed forces. So essential were beer manufacturers to the war effort, that teamsters were ordered to end a labor strike against Minneapolis breweries.  Near the end of WWII, the army made plans to operate recaptured French breweries, to ensure adequate supplies for the troops.

18 states continued prohibition at the state level after the national repeal, the last state finally dropping it in 1966. Almost 2/3rds of all states adopted some form of local option, enabling residents of political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition.  Some counties remain dry to this day.  Ironically, Lynchburg County, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniel distillery, is one such dry county.

Beer toastThe night before Roosevelt’s law went into effect, April 6, 1933, beer lovers lined up at the doors of their favorite watering holes, waiting for their first legal beer in thirteen years.

A million and a half barrels of the stuff were consumed the following day, a date remembered to this day, as “National Beer Day”.

So it is that, from that day to this, we celebrate April 6 as “New Beer’s Eve”.  Sláinte.

For every wound, a balm.
For every sorrow, cheer. 
For every storm, a calm.
For every thirst, a beer. – Irish toast, author unknown

March 29, 1973 National Vietnam War Veterans Day

Begun on November 1, 1955, the conflict lasted 19 years, 5 months and a day. On March 29, 1973, two months after signing the Paris Peace accords, the last US combat troops left South Vietnam as Hanoi freed the remaining POWs held in North Vietnam.

Since the late 19th century, the area now known as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam was governed as a French Colonial territory.  “French Indo-China” came to be occupied by the Imperial Japanese after the fall of France, at the onset of WWII.  There arose a nationalist-communist army during this period, dedicated to throwing out the Japanese occupier.  It called itself the “League for the Independence of Vietnam”, or “Viet Minh”.

images (40)France re-occupied the region following the Japanese defeat which ended World War 2, but soon faced the same opposition from the  army of Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap.

What began as a low level rural insurgency, later became a full-scale modern war when Communist China entered the fray in 1949.

The disastrous defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1953 led to French withdrawal from Vietnam, the Geneva Convention partitioning the country into the communist “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” in the north, and the State of Vietnam in the south led by Emperor Bao Dai and Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.

Communist forces of the north continued to terrorize Vietnamese patriots in north and south alike, with aid and support from communist China and the Soviet Union.

The student of history understands that nothing happens in a vacuum.  US foreign policy is no exception. International Communism had attempted to assert itself since the Paris Commune rebellion of 1871, and found its first major success with the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917.

download (39)US policy makers feared a “domino” effect, and with good cause. The 15 core nations of the Soviet bloc were soon followed by Eastern Europe, as Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia fell each in their turn, into the Soviet sphere of influence. Germany was partitioned into Communist and free-enterprise spheres after WWII, followed by China, North Korea and on across Southeast Asia.

Communism is no benign ideology, morally equivalent to the free market west.  Current estimates of citizens murdered by Communist party ideology in the Soviet Union alone, range from 8 to 61 million during the Stalinist period.

Agree or disagree with policy makers of the time that’s your business, but theirs was a logical thought process. US aid and support for South Vietnam increased as a way to “stem the tide” of international communism, at the same time that French support was pulling back. By the late 1950s, the US was sending technical and financial aid in expectation of social and land reform. By 1960, the “National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam” (“NLF”, or “Viet Cong”) had taken to murdering Diem supported village leaders.  JFK responded by sending 1,364 American advisers into South Vietnam, in 1961.download (38)The war in Vietnam pitted as many as 1.8 million allied forces from South Vietnam, the United States, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, Spain, South Korea and New Zealand, against about a half million from North Vietnam, China, the Soviet Union and North Korea. Begun on November 1, 1955, the conflict lasted 19 years, 5 months and a day. On March 29, 1973, two months after signing the Paris Peace accords, the last US combat troops left South Vietnam as Hanoi freed the remaining POWs held in North Vietnam.

images (38)Even then it wasn’t over. Communist forces violated cease-fire agreements before they were even signed. Some 7,000 US civilian Department of Defense employees stayed behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting an ongoing and ultimately futile war against communist North Vietnam.

The last, humiliating scenes of the war played themselves out on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon on April 29 – 30, 1975, as those able to escape boarded helicopters, while communist forces closed around the South Vietnamese capital.

The “Killing Fields” of Cambodia followed between 1975 – ‘79, when the “Khmer Rouge”, self-described as “The one authentic people capable of building true communism”, murdered or caused the deaths of an estimated 1.4 to 2.2 million of their own people, out of a population of 7 million. All to build the perfect, agrarian, “Worker’s Paradise”.

images (39)Imagine feeling so desperate, so fearful of the alien ideology invading your country, that you convert all your worldly possessions and those of your family into a single diamond, and bite down on that stone so hard it embeds in your shattered teeth.  Forced to flee for your life and those of your young ones, you take to the open ocean in a small boat.  All in the faint and desperate hope, of getting out of that place.

That is but one story among more than three million “boat people”.  Three million from a combined population of 56 million, fleeing the Communist onslaught in hopes of temporary asylum in other countries in Southeast Asia or China.

They were the Sino-Vietnamese Hoa, and Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge.  Ethnic Laotians, Iu Mien, Hmong and other highland peoples of Laos.  The 30 or so Degar (Montagnard) tribes of the Central Highlands, so many of whom had been our steadfast allies in the late war.  Over 2.5 million of them were resettled, more than half to the United States.  The other half went mostly to Canada, Europe and South Pacific nations.

A half-million were repatriated, voluntarily or involuntarily.  Hundreds of thousands vanished in the attempt to flee, never to be seen again.The humanitarian disaster that was the Indochina refugee crisis was particularly acute between 1979 – ’80, but reverberations continued into the 21st century.

Graduating UMass Lowell in 1972 with a degree in nuclear engineering, John Ogonowski joined the United States Air Force. During the war in Vietnam.  The pilot would ferry equipment from Charleston, SC to Southeast Asia, sometimes returning with the bodies of the fallen aboard his C-141 transport aircraft.

Today, we remember him as Senior Captain on American Airlines flight 11, one of thousands murdered by Islamist terrorists, on September 11, 2001.  When he wasn’t flying jumbo jets, John Ogonowski was a farmer.  Until he was killed in his cockpit, John mentored Cambodian refugees turned farmers on his Dracut, Massachusetts “White Gate Farm“, helping them grow familiar crops, in an unfamiliar climate.  Just as those old Yankee farmers had once mentored his Polish immigrant ancestors, generations before.

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Military Working Dogs (MWDs) served with every service branch in Vietnam, mostly German Shepherds and Dobermans but many breeds were accepted into service.

It is estimated that 4,900 dogs served between 1964 and 1975. Detailed records were kept only after 1968, documenting 3,747.

A scant 204 dogs ever left during the ten-year period. Some remained in the Pacific while others returned to the United States. Not one ever returned to civil life. An estimated 350 dogs were killed in action as were 263 handlers.  Many more were wounded. As to the rest, many were euthanized, or left with ARVN units, or simply abandoned, as “surplus equipment”.

There would be no war dog adoption law until 2000 when WWII Marine War Dog Platoon Leader and Veterinarian Dr. William Putney made it happen, with assistance from Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland.

The day it opened in 1982 there were 57,939 names inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall,  Over the years, the names of military personnel who succumbed to wounds sustained in the war, were added to the wall. As of Memorial Day 2015, there are 58,307.

 

Vietnam MemorialIn the end, US public opinion would not sustain what too many saw as an endless war in Vietnam.  We feel the political repercussions, to this day.  I was ten at the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968.  Even then I remember the searing sense of disgrace and humiliation, at the behavior of some of my fellow Americans.

Those EyesIn 2012, President Barack Obama declared a one-time occasion proclaiming March 29 National Vietnam War Veterans Day and calling on “all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

In 2017, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) co-sponsored a measure to declare March 29 Vietnam Veterans Day from that day forward, to honor US service members who served in the war in southeast Asia. The measure passed the United States Senate on February 3 and the House of Representatives on March 21. President Donald Trump signed the measure into law on March 28 designating the following day and every March 29 henceforward, Vietnam Veteran’s Day.

The recognition and gratitude due those who served in an unpopular war, was long overdue

Vietnam Veterans Day Tweet

March 8, 1917 A Political Plague

British historian Edward Crankshaw writes, the German government saw “in this obscure fanatic one more bacillus to let loose in tottering and exhausted Russia to spread infection”.

The “War to End all Wars” dragged into its third dismal year in 1917, seeming as though it would go on forever.   Like two exhausted prize fighters, neither side could muster the strength to deliver the killing blow.  Many single days of the great battles of 1916 alone  produced more casualties than every European war of the preceding 100 years, combined.  At home, the social fabric of the combatant nations was unraveling.

WW1-Timeline-1917By 1916 it was generally understood in Germany that the war effort was “shackled to a corpse”, referring the Austro-Hungarian Empire where the war had started, in the first place.  Italy, the third member of the “Triple Alliance”, was little better.  On the “Triple Entente” side, the French countryside was literally torn to pieces, the English economy close to collapse. The Russian Empire, the largest nation on the planet, was teetering on the edge of the precipice.

The first of two Revolutions that year began on February 23 according the “Old Style” calendar, March 8, “New Style”. Long-standing resentments over food rationing turned to mass protests in and around the Russian capital of Petrograd (modern-day Saint Petersburg). Eight days of violent demonstrations pitted Revolutionaries against police and “gendarmes”, that medieval remnant combining military units with the power of law enforcement.

By March 12 (new style), mutinous units of the Russian military had switched sides and joined with the revolutionaries. Three days later, Car Nicholas abdicated the Imperial throne.

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German propaganda postcard depicting Russian peasants begging for food. With the size of the Russian empire and the difficulty in transportation, the propaganda wasn’t far from the truth.

Amidst all this chaos, Kaiser Wilhelm calculated that all he had to do was “kick the door in” and his largest adversary would collapse. He was right.

Following the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty, the more moderate Menshevik “Whites” vowed to continue the war effort. The split which had begun with the failed revolution of 1905 was more pronounced by this time with the radical Bolsheviks (“Reds”) taking the more extreme road. While Reds and Whites both wanted to bring socialism to the Russian people, Mensheviks argued for predominantly legal methods and trade union activism, while Bolsheviks favored armed violence.

In 1901, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov adopted the pseudonym “Lenin” after the River Lena, the easternmost of the three great Siberian rivers flowing into the arctic ocean. The middle-class son of a professor of mathematics and physics and the daughter of a well-to-do physician, Ulyanov became radicalized after the 1887 execution of his brother, for plotting to murder the Czar.

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Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

The man was soon convinced that capitalist society was bound to give way to socialist society with a natural transition to communism, not far behind.

Lenin was in exile when the war broke out, arrested and briefly imprisoned for his Russian citizenship. The radical revolutionary was released due to his anti-czarist sentiments when he and his wife, settled in Switzerland.

British historian Edward Crankshaw writes, the German government saw “in this obscure fanatic one more bacillus to let loose in tottering and exhausted Russia to spread infection”.

Lurching toward food riots of his own and loathe to unleash such a bacterium against his own homeland, a “Sealed Train” carrying Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and 31 dissidents departed from exile in Switzerland on April 9, complements of the Kaiser. Leaving Zurich Station amid the jeers and the insults of 100 or so assembled Russians shouting “Spies!” “Traitors!” “Pigs!” “Provocateurs!” Lenin turned to a friend and said. “Either we’ll be swinging from the gallows in three months, or we shall be in power.”

North through Germany and across the Baltic Sea, this political plague bacillus traveled the length of Sweden arriving in Petrograd on the evening of April 16, 1917.  Like the handful of termites that brought down the mighty oak, this small faction inserted into the body politic that April, would help to radicalize the population and consolidate Bolshevik power.Sealed TrainBy October, Russia would experience its second revolution of the year. The German Empire could breathe easier. The “Russian Steamroller” was out of the war.  And none too soon, too.  With the Americans entering the war that April, Chief of the General Staff Paul von Hindenburg and his deputy Erich Ludendorff could now move their divisions westward, in time to face the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force.

On July 17, 1918, an assassination squad from the Ural Soviet of Workers’ Deputies murdered Czar Nicholas along with his wife and children, family physician, servants and dogs.   It was the end of the Romanov Dynasty, the end of Czarist Russia.  The citizens murdered by the totalitarian system of government which would rise in its place, has been estimated as high as sixty million.

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Czar Nicholas II & family, colorized by the Russian artist Olga Shirnina, also known as ‘klimbim’