Archive for November, 2014

World War I (again)

This year is the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I. It has sparked a raft of books on that event, mostly by British authors. They are long, and as I am learning very detailed.

The last time I wrote about World War I it was to discuss the first book I had ever read on this topic. Having recently reread it, I was impressed with the way the author had described the German invasion of Belgium and France. She told the story in language so vivid I felt I was there. I was left with the feeling I wanted no more descriptions of callousness and atrocities as perpetrated by the Germans marching through Belgium.

I also mentioned reviews of a couple of books on this subject that were quite long. One of them was about the German and Austrian home front which was so long (that I assured myself I would never read it). However, when Ring of Steel arrived from Amazon, I found that of the 777 pages only 566 told the story. I felt that didn’t constitute breaking my vow not to read a super long book.

What makes this book so interesting is that it deals with the home fronts in Austria and Germany which, I think, makes it a unique study of this war. It takes 100 pages to get from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife to the declarations of war. Told from German and Austrian sources neither set of citizens was in favor of war. Actually, only small groups turned out to demonstrate for war. Both Emperors started out in favor of forcing Serbia to agree to a stiff set of demands which neither government expected to happen. Both changed their minds. The German Chancellor was opposed to war as was the chief of the German army staff, though most of his staff was in favor.

On the Allied side, the French and British governments worked hard to convince the Austrians to tone down their demands and to separate the Germans from the original Austrian demands. As an ally of Serbia, the Russian Emperor agreed to an initial mobilization of troops, but then backed off into an attempt to promote peace. Unfortunately, a little mobilization here and a little there and the misconception arose that the issue was leading directly to war. For this, the German and Austrian army staffs were ready. The general populations of these two countries were fed an over the top story of Serbian perfidy, and in any case had no say in what eventually happened. Germans got caught up in coping with the mobilization of men and the dislocation it brought to working life. The Austrio-Hungarian Empire was made up many different nationalities, most of whom had no desire for war.

Watson’s description of how Europe blundered into war was eye opening to me. Only a few people understood that more was going to be involved than a brief, late summer and fall campaign. How that developed on the Belgian and French front was earlier reported by me as told by Barbara Tuchman. This war was part of the long struggle among peoples in Europe and which continues today in the same area in which World War I began.

Peace is not the natural state of affairs. It has to be worked for.

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Thanksgiving is once again upon us with widespread sales and travel angst hyped by the communications media. It is appropriate that we point out that the first Thanksgiving in our colonial history was at Berkley Hundred on the James River in Virginia, December 4, 1619 . Since there is disagreement about the place and time, I quote the proclamation by the first governor of the plantation, Captain Woodleefe,

“Impr wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetualy keept holy as a day of Thanks- giving to Almighty God.”

A few of us will go to church, but most of us will gather for as big a meal as we can get on the table(s) that seats as many of our family and friends as we can assemble. There is, of course, what we are thankful for (not being at war, having a job, healthy children, etc) and then how do we include those who do not have these things. Most of us part with money to organizations that deal with this latter group.

Actually, we are thankful for the benefits bestowed upon us during our lives and for continued good health. We all three look forward to continuing the direction that was given by Captain Woodleefe in 1619. Happy Thanksgiving!

John Boswell

Marvin Mostow

James Murphy


Well, the election is over! Or is it?

The votes have been counted, winners and losers have been declared. The pundits and news media now turn to about two months of prognostication about who will run the next congress, what the parties will do as foretold by innumerable interviews with winners and losers. The Republicans will be drug back and forth as ultra conservatives are compared. For the Democrats in Congress interest in them is pretty dead. Interest and coverage will shift to who will be their next candidate for President.

Some questions remain. What did the billionaires buy with the billions they dropped into the campaign? Into whose pockets did those billions fall? Winston Churchill said democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. A man who brought his two voting age children with him to vote in my community was reported as saying that he voted for all of the bond issues on the ballot even though he had no idea what they were about, and his son’s comment was that he voted for one of the local candidates because he liked her name better than her opponent’s. Is it obvious where this meets Churchill’s thesis or am I missing something. And, how many other people would be honest enough to make the same report. Perhaps most important is what did I get out of being assailed for almost two years of being told what was good for me?

History shows that all previous forms of human government slowly transform themselves into something that promotes the benefit of the wealthy and powerful. Does this election give you the idea that we just witnessed our own part in that process?

On the other hand – on the day after the election, fuller reporting about results in state and local elections shows a different picture. Voters in five states including Arkansas and Nebraska voted to approve raising the hourly wage above the federal level. Two states voted to legalize the use of marijuana in some situations, and in one state universal background checks for gun purchases were approved. Locally, in my own community, voters met a county board decision to install streetcars down one major artery by electing an opponent to the board.

Trying to make sense out of elections is a cottage industry for some time after the elections are over. One analyst/opinionator takes it this way, another that way and in the end we are left confused about what will happen. People seem to make different decisions on the local, state and national level. So, maybe what happens at the national level really is not the decisive indicator of what is happening to the democratic process despite Winston’s misgivings.