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Showing posts from December, 2012

Defcon 2

According to Stone, there was never a more precipitous time during the Cold War than during the Kennedy administration.  Not that he holds Kennedy personally responsible for it.  He thrusts most of the blame on the  Joint Chiefs of Staff, notably Gen. Curtis LeMay, for creating this highly volatile time.  The JCS ordered the military to Defcon 3 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, with over 25,000 troops deployed in Southern Florida and fighter jobs hovering low over Havana.  ICBM sites were at Defcon 4, but the country wasn't made aware of this, and remained on Defcon 2.  Indeed, we did seem on the eve of destruction.

Interestingly enough, Stone gives most of the credit to Khrushchev, not Kennedy, for defusing the situation, and notes a stray Soviet nuclear sub that had ventured through the Cuban "quarantine" and was rocked by depth charges.  He credits Vasili Arkhipov for having cautioned the commanding officer of the B-59 sub from unleashing the warheads on board, and s…

The Hidden War

In Episode Five, Stone explores the Eisenhower administration, although he uses a number of flashbacks and flashforwards to explain where his decisions came from and what they resulted in, such as the "blowback" from the CIA sponsored coup of the Mosaddegh government in Iran in 1953.  This seemed more an extension of the Truman Doctrine as carried forward by George Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State, who Stone snidely notes was a protegee of James Forrestal.  It seems that Eisenhower not only gave his chief cabinet members wide latitude, but his top military leaders as well.  All this, Stone says, allowed Eisenhower to essentially conduct hidden wars.

On the surface, Eisenhower appeared as the great statesman, even forging ties with the new Indian government in the wake of their independence from Great Britain.  However Nehru, like many of the emerging world leaders, was suspect of Eisenhower's true intentions, and according to Stone had good reason to b…

Burn, Burn, Burn

Some books are better left alone, and that certainly was the case with On the Road.  After so many years in waiting, I expected something strong from Francis Ford Coppola and Walter Salles, but instead the movie is little more than a chronicle with way too many melodramatic scenes that capture neither the body nor the spirit of Kerouac's classic novel.

The long scroll version came out a few years ago, thanks to Jim Irsay, who bought the scroll and sent it on the road, starting with Boott Cotton Mills in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I suppose he had to cover the hefty price tag that came with his purchase, but for most it was a rare glimpse of this magical scroll.

I was working on Boott Mills in the 80s, during my first stint with the National Park Service, and tried to save a late 19th century reinforced concrete storage building, which was part of the sprawling complex.  Kerouac apparently liked to hang out in it as a kid.  He mentions Boott Mills in The Town and the City.  Unfortun…

The Red Peril

In Stone's Fourth Episode on the origins of the Cold War, he states that Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri was a "quantum leap in belligerence toward the Soviet Union," although what Stone clips from that speech Churchill was spot on.  The Soviet Union did indeed "desire the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines."  Yet, Stone sees the Cold War having been started by the US and Great Britain in an effort to maintain English-speaking control of the world.

Once again we hear from Henry Wallace, as he spoke out in New York for a "middle way," which according to Stone "deeply embarrassed" the Truman administration.  Byrnes supposedly told Truman that either he or Wallace had to go.  After some deliberation, Truman "fired" Wallace.  Interesting, because in the previous episode Stone stated that Wallace resigned from the administration.  Whichever the case, Wallace was d…

One more round

Good ol' Boxing Day, as the Brits' call it.  A day in which the servants were rewarded with a day off, after having tended to their masters' family the whole day.  Today, most of us find ourselves recovering from indigestion, a sugar hangover, too much drinking or all of the above.  Originally, this was the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, which dates back to the fourth and fifth century, with many still leaving offerings at their churches for the less fortunate.  But, for most Americans it is a mad rush to the mall to exchange Christmas gifts like that too small sweater or that tie or scarf you have no use for.

For me, it is a day to relax and enjoy the morning quiet in the house.  I have no urge to go anywhere.  How is everyone else getting along on this fine day?

Ollie and Uncle Joe

I guess what galls me the most about this series is the way Stone has elevated Stalin's role in WWII.  Stalingrad was a battle of attrition during a very bleak winter, much like Napoleon's Battle of Borodino.  Hitler, like Napoleon, had not only misjudged the Russian will to defend itself, but had seriously misjudged the exceedingly cruel winters.  It was hardly a great tactical victory.

A great book to read is Vassily Aksyonov's Generations of Winter, as he deals with this specific period in history.  It is a modern novel along the lines of War and Peace.

Fortunately for Uncle Joe, his forces prevailed and were able to drive the Germans back, seizing on the opportunity to snatch back much of Eastern Europe and a quarter of Germany in the process.  The Baltics were completely absorbed into the Soviet Union, as was the Ukraine, Belarus and a number of other former independent countries.  Stone doesn't mention this at all.

Stone seems to view Stalin as a coldly pragmat…

The Bomb

I fell asleep about halfway through Episode Three thanks to Oliver Stone's droning voice, but I stirred myself awake and picked up the episode where I dozed off.  The footage is pretty much what we have all seen before: the firebombings of Germany, the terror bombings of Japan with the villain being "Demon" LeMay.   Even though bombing campaigns began under Roosevelt, Stone feels that Truman ratcheted up the wholesale destruction with his focus on Japan, the aim being to demoralize the national population and bring Hirohito to his knees.

Truman would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender, and as Stone notes, Hirohito sought better terms of surrender through the Soviet Union.  Stone feels there was much dissension within American ranks, noting the petition among atomic scientists at Los Alamos to stop the bomb, which Oppenheimer reported to Leslie Groves.  This led to Szilard and others being detained.  Something many scientists never forgave Oppenheimer for. …

Hyde Park on the Hudson

On a lighter note, Mother Jones hails Bill Murray as "far and away the best Franklin D. Roosevelt in movie history."  Here's the trailer.

Seems FDR has drawn cinematic attention as of late, including this oddball movie with Barry Bostwick as the "American Badass!"  Jon Voight played the President in Pearl Harbor.  John Lithgow played him in 1994 movie, When Lions Roared.  Ralph Bellamy assumed his character in the television mini-series War and Remembrance and in the 1960 movie, Sunrise at Campobello.  Edward Hermann also played FDR twice in television movies from the late 70s.  He was even portrayed by Nikolai Cherkasov in a 1949 Soviet film, The Victors and the Vanquished (11:40 min. mark). The earliest known portrayal is by Al Richardson in a 1937 Three Stooges' movie, Cash and Carry.

The Magic Bullet Theory

We haven't heard much about Jim Garrison since Oliver Stone made a hero out of him in  JFK in 1991.  Garrison died one year later, but here we are 20 years later and his "classic account" has been reprinted.  It was first published in 1988 and had a profound impact on Stone.  In it, Garrison put forward the theory that the CIA was behind Kennedy's death, and implicated quite a number of people, including Lyndon Johnson.  Alex von Tunzelmann debunks Garrison's theory in her review of the film, although she gives the film kudos for  entertainment value.  Here is Costner as Garrison expounding on "the magic bullet theory."

Remembering Sandy Hook

The nation took pause yesterday in memory of perhaps the worst civilian gun-related tragedy in American history.  There have been 31 school shootings since Columbine in 1999.  Yet, local and state governments find it ever more difficult to pass gun laws in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that shot down a DC gun ban in 2009.  We hear over and over again that "guns don't kill people, people kill people."  Well, having easy access to assault weapons sure makes killing people a lot easier, especially six and seven year olds.  One can only hope that a horrible incident like this will call attention to the runaway "gun culture" that has developed in America, and has affected middle-class kids like Adam Lanza.

The Truman Committee

One of Oliver Stone's contentions in his "Untold History" is that Truman was an 11th hour choice for Vice-President after it was clear there was no popular support for Jimmy Byrnes to replace Henry A. Wallace on the ticket.  Stone shows archival footage of the strong support on the convention floor for Wallace, and that Truman was the furthest person from anyone's mind, especially Roosevelt who had already made his sympathies clear in regard to Wallace.

Well, there are other accounts like this one, Choosing Truman, in which Robert Ferrell noted that a Truman Committee had been formed as early as Spring of 1944, well before the convention and that not only Dixiecrats but northern conservative Democrats like Bronx leader Edward Flynn saw Truman as the perfect compromise solution.  As Alonzo Hamby noted in this American Experience clip, the "Missouri Compromise."

Ferrell referenced a dinner with the President on July 11, 1944, eight days before the convention…

American Dreamer

Oliver Stone spends a lot of time of Henry Wallace in the first half of the second episode of The Untold History of the United States, capping off Wallace's lost 1944 nomination for Vice President with Jimmy Stewart's famous "Lost Causes" speech from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  There is some resemblance.  One can only speculate what it might have been like if Wallace had won the nomination over Truman in 1944, and as Stone noted became president upon FDR's death.   I'm not sure what his source information was, but here is a book from 2000 entitled American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace.  Unfortunately, the book is no longer in print and is quite pricey.

We demand this fraud be stopped!

Michigan has become the latest state to adopt a Right-to-work law, in what appears to be a rather blatant effort to further bust unions.  Similar efforts are also being made in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  On the surface, the Right-to-work law sounds reasonable.  Why should workers be required to be part of unions in order to retain their jobs in closed shops?   I suppose this is why so many Americans support these measures.  But, when you look at the forces at work, notably the Koch Bros, this is nothing more than an attempt to further undermine unions in America, which have suffered greatly ever since the Taft-Hartley Act was passed over Truman's veto in 1947.  Today, 24 states have right-to-work laws, and of couse if Republicans had their way there would be a national right-to-work law undermining those states which still respect unions.  Republican presidents have invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to break strikes, most recently Bush in 2002 to end a longshoremen's strike on …

The Mayan Factor

I'm glad someone is setting the record straight as to the Mayan Apocalypse.  I remember traveling through Arizona in 1987 and taking part in the Harmonic Convergence at Chaco Canyon.  That's the great kiva pictured above.  It was fun, but I don't think very many persons took McKenna's doomsday prophecy seriously at the time.  He was largely interested in ecological awareness and had created a cult of sorts around the idea that if we didn't clean up our act in 25 years this Mayan prophecy from the 12th century would hold true.  He inspired Jose Arguelles to pen a book called The Mayan Factor.  The "convergence" referred to more than one ancient calendar that supposedly lined up on the seemingly far-off date of December 21, 2012.

It is amazing how something like this can gather steam and become such a big part of the collective consciousness that NASA and the White House are spending time counseling parents on how to relieve the stress many children are ha…

The Best Health Care System in the World

Every once in a while I light on Fareed Zakaria, GPS.  As is often the case, I don't find him the best tracking system.  Last night, he delved into health care, claiming that the US still holds the edge in medical technology innovation, and that Scandanavian countries "ride on the back" of America.  I'm not exactly sure what he meant by this, other than Scandanavian countries wouldn't be providing their fantastic health care without American innovation.

It struck me as a rather lame argument, especially when reading this assessment of the FDA, which often lags behind in approving innovative drugs that have profound consequences on health care.  We also know that countries like Japan, which don't have hang ups with stem cell research, have clearly seized the advantage in this regard, thanks to the ban the Bush administration placed on stem cell research for the better part of a decade.

It is certainly true that the US spends more on health care per capita tha…

Everyone an historian

Apparently, Oliver Stone has assumed the mantel of Howard Zinn in creating a series for Showtime in which he presents his version of historical events.  The Examiner offers an amusing review, which is about what you would expect from Stone.  After all, he has given us his version of JFK's assination, Nixon, Salvador and the Vietnam war, safely in the realm of re-creations, so we could choose to accept or not accept his view.  But, now he presents his views as documentary.  There is a companion volume to this series, weighing in at nearly 800 pages and I well imagine chock full of images.  In an age when just about everyone considers himself an historian, I guess Ollie is just as entitled to present his view of events as Baba O'Reilly or Moonbase Newt.

The first three episodes were available as screenings to critics before the series premiered on Showtime in early November.  There was much initial feedback to the screenings.  The contentious speculation that Truman knew in adv…

One small step ...

Someone shared this clip on facebook, part of the PBS series on Makers: Women Who Made America, which will air early next year.  The most amazing part of the footage is that this is 1967, long after such famous women athletes as Babe Didrikson, who probably could have run the Boston Marathon as fast as most guys.  A long distance runner myself, it is great to see so many women competing in the Vilnius Marathon each year.  It is certainly not a men only event.  Here's to Kathrine Switzer!

Remembering Pearl Harbor

As the White House tries to calm families, especially young ones, of the impending doomsday scenarios surrounding December 21, this day marks a real tragedy, the attack on Pearl Harbor.   There have been no end to conspiracy theories over the years including the US sanctioning the attack so that FDR could finally plunge the US into WWII.  They have all been debunked, but persist nonetheless.  Sadly, Americans seem to have a fetish for conspiracy theories and doomsday scenarios, rather than accept the realities of situations.

So Long Dave

Another American original has left us.  Dave Brubeck was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1954 and never had to look back.  His career spanned 7 decades and reshaped the world of jazz with his unusual and engaging rhythms, like Unsquare Dance, and reached a high point with his classic 1959 album, Time Out, which gave us perhaps the most recognized jazz song in history, Take Five.  Like Dizzie Gillespie and other jazz greats, Brubeck was a world traveler and engaged audiences all around the globe wth his infectuous music.

Illicit Literature

Seeing the anniversary of the banning of Ulysses, it brought to mind all the books that have been banned in America over the years for one reason or another.  The most common complaint is the impact books like The Catcher and the Rye would have on young impressionable minds.  Even the Harry Potter series won't be found on some high school library shelves, because of its so-called "demonic" content. 

Then there is the presumed sensitivity to racial issues.  As a result, Disney has refused to reprint its classic film, The Song of the South, although numerous pirate copies are available through the Internet.  An interesting case of a self-imposed ban.

Why all the fuss?  In 1983, the Alabama State Textbook Committee rejected The Diary of Anne Frank because it was a "real downer."  The logging industry took exception to The Lorax, and sponsored a book called The Truax.  Discussing puberity is a taboo too, judging by the reaction to What's Happening to My Body?

Happy Holiday

With Advent now upon us I thought I would share this little bit of Americana.
Happy Holiday!