Archive for October, 2015

Germans: Before and After D-Day

I have recently been reading D-Day Through German Eyes, a brief electronic book of German soldiers’ accounts about the the invasion of France on June 6, 1944. Interviews were originally done by a German military journalist shortly before D-Day. After the war, he tracked down as many of his former interviewees as he could find and interviewed them again about the Atlantic Wall and their experiences that day. He died before he could put this material into a book. This book, was compiled by his grandson who, seeing the popularity of it, has followed it up with another one with the same name.

I have gotten from these stories a picture of D-Day that I have never had before; that is, how horrible it was for the German troops who were anywhere close to the the Atlantic beaches. In addition to landing on beaches, Allied air power simply slaughtered German troops inland. Fighter bombers came in low and dropped bombs that carried napalm, hundreds/thousands of steel balls as well as explosives encased in canisters that could pierce concrete and steel enclosures. Bombers seemed to hit every road junction killing French and Germans. Almost all of the men who told their stories had been firm believers in the German’s mission to unify Europe. With one exception, all were captured and they all changed their minds. The one who gave the most extreme statement of change had been captured by air borne troops who wasted no time on Germans who didn’t surrender immediately. He had this to say:

“I was wrong about everything. I know today, ten years later, that everything I believed during the war was a mistake. I understand today that we Germans were not in France to protect the people, we were only there to exploit and persecute them. We should never have been in France, or Russia, Italy, any of those places. The things that we did were appalling…everything was wrong. Why would those Americans hate us so much? Why would they cut our throats and break our necks like animals, in the road, without a word? Well, because they knew the truth of what we were doing, that is why.”

The Germans worked hard to convince Frenchmen that they were part of a united western Europe: that Europe was unified under national socialism against Russian communism. Germans believed they were defending a united Europe at the time of the invasion. There were Frenchmen who worked hand and glove with the Germans, some who did the same with the British and Americans and most, over this four year occupation, who tried to get on with their lives. This is something else I hadn’t thought about.

Since we Americans have been at war most of my life, these thoughts from German soldiers both before the invasion and ten years after the war have made a profound impression on me.

D-Day Through German Eyes, (electronic editions only) Holger Eckhertz

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Keeping Up With Change

One of the interesting things that can be observed through a long life is how the world changes. One of the major changes during my life time is the idea of war as something Americans engaged in only if driven to it has become something that is part of our foreign policy options. I have only gradually come to understand that most of us are only vaguely aware of major changes in the social and cultural life of society.

I have lived through a number of changes simply adjusting without giving much thought to what was happening. I was recently reminded of this when I picked up a biography of Joel Chandller Harris, the author of Brer Rabbit stories as told by Uncle Remus. Harris was born in Georgia in 1848 and, lacking a resident father, lived and worked on a plantation as he grew up. He worked with slaves and listened to them entertain themselves with stories about a rascally rabbit. The owner of the plantation provided him and his mother living quarters and paid Joel’s school tuition. In adulthood, he became a newspaper writer and supplemented his income by writing the Brer Rabbit stories.

From the late 1800”s to the early 1900’s Brer Rabbit was known, not only in the south, but across the country. By the time I was aware of them, we had been through World War I and were currently in a financial depression in which, for people like my parents, attention was focussed on today and, maybe tomorrow. Brer Rabbit did not appear much in my life. Beginning in the1960’s, Brer Rabbit was not something that the black population wanted to be identified with and he pretty much disappeared from publications.

Something similar happened with music, both popular and classical. There has been very little accepted new classical music since around 1900. Popular music has always changed and what I grew up and lived with through the 1970’s is gone. Fortunately, music discs permit me to continue listening to yesterday.

I can’t decide about elementary and secondary schooling. On the one hand we have changed the curriculum somewhat by adding courses, of necessity changing the curriculum of history and literature to make space for more recent material and making efforts to use computers in teaching. (I can testify that computers receive heavy use when book reports are required.) However, with both parents working in many homes, doing school work at home and collaborating with teacher and classmates by computer is not an option. Nor, is going to school an option in the vast majority of districts. So, the organization and control of education is still one teacher, a certain number of students in a specified number of classrooms in a building controlled by a principal and his/her staff.

So, now we come to government and what is happening in the Federal Congress. Are we experiencing the disintegration of a system in which there were raging disagreements, but provided a set of social connections that permitted programs to be worked out? Or, will the give and take of what I have considered government work its way through the current challenges in the House of Representatives.

I still have not figured out why the way we appreciate the way we live our lives changes. Obviously my willingness to wear the same style of clothes and listen to the same style of music, etc is not shared

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Truth

The 2016 presidential election is underway big time, so I should say a few words about truth while it is still (almost) possible to discuss it. Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate, is smashing about the 11 person Republican field. One of his major points is that we should force all undocumented Mexicans, pushed on us by the Mexican government, back to Mexico. If that government doesn’t want them back, then would he take the option of sending them across the border accompanied by U. S. marines? I am sure that through all of the shifting truth from Donald, we will arrive at election day with the “right version”.

As for the other 16 Republican candidates, it is obvious that their version of truth in the current political scene isn’t attracting attention from the faithful. As for the Democratic side, Mrs. Clinton’s attempt to establish her distance from harboring foreign policy secrets by asking if a computer disc could be scrubbed with a cloth was a stretch for the truth. And, if Bernie Sanders finds answers for all of the policy areas he is not familiar with, a Presidency for him would probably involve more study than action.

Science as a search for the truth has many versions being supported for many issues. It is possible for research to go back and forth over a single issue. For example, after many years of research, whole milk is now being cited as much better for you than its many altered versions (and now, after many years, I can give up ‘reduced fat’ milk for the really good stuff).

Religion has many true versions of the truth. The thing that is generally agreed upon is that there is more ‘out there’ than we can understand (which is pretty much where we started). Economics is another conceptual field that came out offering a rather precise explanation of the world of producing and trading. This truth, however, has become broader and, at the same time, more specialized.

The search for truth in conceptual fields such as those I have raised grows out of the human brain’s efforts to discover how the world in all of its aspects works. This leads to back and forth in findings and an ever expanding knowledge of ourselves in the world. Unfortunately, it also leads to manipulation for personal gain. For those of us trying to learn more about economics, for example, we often have little to help us sort through multiple ‘truths’.

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R E Lee, April 22, 1865)

Last week we had a selection from Harper’s Weekly about Robert E. Lee at the beginning of the Civil War after he had refused a commission as general in the Union Army. This week we have one from the same source shortly after he surrendered to General Grant.

“That the general satisfaction with the surrender of Lee should beget a kind feeling for the rebel General is not unnatural. But it is a great folly to invest him with any romance. Robert E. Lee may be an honest man, as doubtless many of the rebels were, but beyond that he has no claim of any kind whatever upon the American people.”

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“We have no emotion of vengeance against General Lee. We would not hang him–not because he has not deserved hanging, but from motives of state policy. Neither are we inaccessible to admiration for a foe. Major Andre we can pity, but General Arnold we despise. Robert E. Lee was an American citizen educated by his country, who, from a mistaken sense of duty, deserted his flag. Had his story ended there it would have been sorrowful. But he drew his sword against that not because of any oppression or outrage, but because by peaceful and lawful means it bade fair to become the symbol of justice and civil rights; and he drew it, thank God! in vain. There his story ends, and it is infamous.”
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Well, his story doesn’t end there. He lived another five years in which he testified in Congress on a variety of issues for black people’s civil rights, though he thought they would find life better in the west out of the state of Virginia (though who would do the work in Virginia he doesn’t say). He became president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee). He revised and extended the curriculum, brought in students from the north, and expelled white students who attacked black men in Lexington. He wrote articles and letters urging some of his former Confederate army colleagues to avoid angry responses to perceived insults and instead use reason and kindly feelings. He was invited to the White House by President Grant.

In short, he moved into the national life feeling that he had an obligation to help restore a sense of being one people again.

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