Archive for October, 2016

Ernie Pyle: All American Columnist

When I was young, my parents were teachers for eight months of the year. My father had to find work for the remaining four months. We usually went to my mother’s home in southwest Virginia where there was always something my father found to do. My grandfather took me in hand when I was about eight and for the next several years I read Ernie Pyle’s daily (I think) column in the Knoxville paper. From time to time, Grandfather sat me down to make sure I had gotten the point of the latest column. What follows is part of a column from 1939 that has stuck with me for the rest of my life.

This is a Roosevelt New Deal story, so if you don’t like the New Deal you won’t see any sense in it.

When the New Deal took a hand here in 1935, six out of ten schoolchildren in the county had hookworm. Every other baby died at birth. One mother in every ten died in childbirth. The average mentality was third grade. One out of ten adults couldn’t read or write. Three fourths of the farmers were tenant farmers. Most of them had never been out of debt in their lives. They averaged only one mule to three families.
And this is in Coffee County, which stands third among all the counties in Alabama in the value of agricultural products.

Pyle wrote wherever he went, and he covered the United States pretty thoroughly. When the United States entered the war in 1941, Pyle went on to cover the African and Sicilian campaigns. He went into Europe on D Day and finally went to the Pacific where he was killed on a small island close to Okinawa.

It was his 1930s’ columns that I most appreciated and, thanks to my Grandfather, learned so much from. I only wish I had been able to read more of them. They gave me a sense of this country and it’s people that millions of others also shared. I think they helped develop a sense of commonality in a population of many different backgrounds and identities that was very useful in the coming war. As the war itself did by putting people together in a common purpose that we had never had before.

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Election Relief

I have just finished writing a brief note about C. S. Lewis for the our church newsletter. It made me feel better, so I decided to expand it for here. Lewis, a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge from 1925 to 1963, came into public notice during WWII when he broadcast religious programs related to the war, particularly the bombing of London, for the BBC.

While he had done some writing earlier, following the war he wrote several Christian novels, among them being three, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. These three dealt with “nihilistic science threatening traditional human values”. He is best known in my family for his books for youngsters, the most popular of which was the seven fantasy novels with the general title of The Chronicles of Narnia. This collection was read by millions of children including ours.

For me, his most “brilliant” work was The Screwtape Letters, short conversations between a senior devil, Screwtape, and his nephew Wormword. It was recorded with the British actor John Cleese as Screwtape, the only speaking character. Wormwood is not bright and each episode involves Screwtape trying to show his dummy nephew how he has screwed up again.

Rereading it, I laugh my way through, which in this election season is a welcome diversion.

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This Election

This election is not like any one I have ever been through starting with the 1932 election of Franklin Roosevelt (though I was not quite old enough to appreciate the presidential programs). In this election the Republicans began with 17 Republican candidates and basically one for the Democrats. One more appeared, won a substantial number of delegates but not enough to win the nomination. He persuaded the winning candidate to accept a couple of his issues and joined her effort.

To the dismay of a lot of Republicans, their field was narrowed down to one candidate who had never before had any association with government beyond squeezing them for contracts. By the time of the Convention, he who had been regarded as an amusing fellow whose gaffes enabled journalists to write droll articles, now had a lock on the nomination. The shift in the journalistic view of Donald Trump began instantaneously. Slowly, it became obvious that Ole Donald had a bond with white, working class Americans that was unshakable. They wanted the Federal support for ‘minorities’ to be drastically reduced and immigrants (mostly Latin American) to be reduced and immigration from that area stopped. He was graphic about what his policy would be. Regardless of revelations about Ole Donald’s behavior, there is now an unbreakable bond between this substantial group and Ole Donald.

The Democrats ran an innovative convention, nominated Hillary Clinton who went forth to do political battle. Journalists, having amused themselves with Ole Donald were now forced to deal with him as, not only a legitimate candidate, but running neck and neck with Hillary. Gradually, more and more became known about Ole Donald and was published. To the astonishment of journalists and political analysts, this new information had almost no effect on the standings in the “race”.

We are where we are in this election because of what I assume to be the initial boredom of the political journalists. Donald Trump has not suddenly become unsuited for the presidency, he is what he always had been. Our problem is that his unsuitability was pretty much ignored in the news media. Three journalists, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, and David Wills, all relatively conservative, zeroed in on his completely self interested view of the world early on.

Now, of course, most main stream media are trampling him into the ground and he is responding in similar terms. It is unthinkable that he should win the election, but If he loses, he will not go away. We are going to be saddled with Donald Trump longer than any of us, other than his supporters, want to be.

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An American Indian: Wooden Leg

One of the things which has interested/bothered me over my life has been the fate of American Indians. When I was in third grade, one of these citizens came to our small eleven grade school and spent the day in each class. I’m not sure what was said, but I remember his clothes, large, long feather head dress and pleasant manner.

I recently came across, bought and read an Indian memoir, Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer. This man belonged to the Sioux, a tribe which lived on the plains. The author was born in the late 1870’s when a variety of tribes lived on the northern plains and lived with and on buffalo. The description of daily lives of these people was not only complete, but very interesting. His story about how he grew up and became an adult left out very little as far as I could tell.

The culminating event of his story was his participation in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. His tribe, like most others in the northwest, was trying to avoid being settled in US Army controlled reservations. On June 24, 1876 his tribe, with several others, was camped in a valley along the Little Bighorn river in south central Montana when they discovered Col. George Custer and his cavalry coming through the hills to the south. The next morning the Indians attacked and wiped out Custer’s detachment. Wooden Leg was in the midst of the fighting and later described it for the interviewer for this book. Like most descriptions of personal experience in military battles, Wooden Leg told what he did, his position in the landscape, soldiers killed, scalp taken, and his exhaustion.

After the battle the Indians went on their way, but, ultimately, lack of food (read buffalo) led his tribe and all others into settling in land set aside for them. They were, of course, moved (walked) from Montana to New Mexico and then back again. He joined the Indian police and eventually became an officer in the tribal government. During this time, he built a house on an allotment and raised crops.

In closing I include a parody from years ago:

Large Savings Achieved by Field Commander in West
July 1, 1876

Defense officials have lauded General George Armstrong Custer, commander of the 7th Cavalry, for his decision to save money by not taking the new Gatling guns into the field during his annual campaign in the Dakota Territories against the Blackfeet and Sioux.

Custer’s decision is expected to save $1760.00 in feed for horses to pull the wheeled Gatlings as well as $48.50 additional maintenance if the new and delicate weapons were exposed to dust and field conditions.

For those whose history was not formed by western movies, Gatling guns were early machine guns and the Sioux and Blackfeet wiped out Custer and his command.

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Government As Association

Government is both a process and an institution. In western history, government as institutions has been mostly centered around small, powerful groups of people who managed to pass the institution along with changes as few as will promote continued control to their group. As centuries went by, innovation in technology required more financing and expanded government regulation of life and work in European countries. War was one aspect of gathering smaller political establishments into larger ones. By World War I, the Austro Hungarian Empire was the last major European state still undergoing that process. Prussia had had just gone through the gradual process of transforming the collection of separated German states into a single state under its direction (control).

The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo led the Austrians to declare war on Serbia, leading Russia to come to Serbia’s aid. This led Germany to join Austria, and Britain and France (and eventually Italy) to side with Russia and Serbia. The four year war ended with the communist revolutionaries taking over Russia and surrendering to Germany, and then Germany (and the Austrian Empire) surrendering to Britain, France, Italy and the United States.

Europe rebuilt itself around pretty traditional borders, with the exception of what was the Austrian Empire becoming divided into separate states. The Germans, not having been invaded, signed on for another go with Adolf Hitler. This time, the devastation of Germany was complete. Most of the rest of Europe that they had overrun was in similar shape.

All of this is lead in to where is democratic government going? Europe is trying to form an overall association of independent states, which is a step beyond the earlier association under the Holy Roman Empire. But, the British Brits are moving to shut down immigrants, and the Balkan states are doing the same thing with the latest wave from Africa. America is one of the few (if not the only) country to continue to accept immigrants throughout its history (though we now have an election in which stopping certain kinds of immigrants is a major theme).  In five weeks we will know through our election process whether we are going to focus on increasing restrictions on our Federal institution of government.

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