Friday, December 29, 2017

"Burrowing into Books - The Second World Wars"

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
Reviews of Selective Readings

                                                                                                                                December 29, 2017

“The Second World Wars”
Victor Davis Hanson

Unlike World War I, there has never been any doubt
as to who caused, won and lost World War II.”
                                                                                                Victor Davis Hanson
                                                                                                The Second World Wars

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow in classics and military history at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His background is ideal for an analysis of the Second World War. “Wars” are plural in the title because, as Hanson notes, it was fought in many different places, from Singapore to Finland, and in many different ways, on air, sea and land, with weapons ranging from side arms to atomic bombs. It was the first war which saw more civilians die than soldiers.

The book is divided topically, with chapters titled “Ideas,” “Air,” “Water,” “Earth,” “Fire,” and “People.” A complaint may be that the book is repetitive, but different aspects are looked at from different angles. The War was fought on the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, with combatants from every continent except Antarctica. It was fought on the land, the sea and in the air, and Hanson reviews all facets. The facts he assembles are sobering: From a world population of about two billion, five hundred million people were displaced, perhaps a hundred million mobilized, and sixty million died, two thirds of whom were civilians. Seven million Jews were killed. “No other deliberate mass killings in history, before or since, whether systematic, loosely organized or spontaneous, have approached the magnitude of the Holocaust – not the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian ‘killing fields,’ or the Rwandan tribal bloodletting.”

His details are encyclopedic. In 1939, the U.S. spent one percent of GDP on defense. By 1944, forty percent of GDP was going to defense. During the war years, the U.S. produced forty billion rounds of small-arms ammunition and one billion rounds of artillery shells. In 1939, 9.5 million square feet of industrial plant space was devoted to aircraft production. By 1944, that had grown to 165 million square feet. Britain, despite being bombed, having been defeated in most every major battle during the first two years of the War and having mobilized 3.5 million men, added more ships to its fleet during the war than the entire naval production of the three major Axis powers. The Allies were more efficient manufacturers; The thousandth B-29 to roll off the production line required half the man hours as the four hundredth. With his eye for detail, we learn that in 1942, the Eastern Front was costing the Third Reich a hundred thousand dead each month. “In that year alone, the Germans lost 5,500 tanks, eight thousand guns, and a quarter million vehicles.” About three hundred thousand planes were destroyed or badly damaged during the War.

As a classicist, Victor Davis Hanson puts the War into historical perspective: The Normandy invasion, for example, was the largest amphibious assault since Xerxes’ Persians landed in Greece in 480BC. He writes about the epic tank battle at Kursk (just northeast of Ukraine) in July 1943. While the Soviets suffered three times the number of casualties and seven to ten times the number of tank losses, Germany’s victory cost them 200,000 casualties and the loss of 500 tanks. He suggests a comparison to Pyrrhus’s lament at Asculum in 279BC, when his invasion forces took heavy losses in defeating Roman defenders, writing that Generals Walter Model and Erich von Manstein “might have sighed, ‘if we prove victorious in one more such battle with the Russians, we shall be utterly ruined.’”

Hanson tells of the lengths democracies had to go in dealing with their totalitarian partner, the Soviet Union: “Roosevelt, for example, unlike Churchill, was determined to suppress the truth of the spring 1940 massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest.” It took the Russians seventy years – until 2010 – to admit to their culpability in that slaughter.

The lesson of the book is that Mr. Hanson believes the War was preventable. It should have been self-evident, he notes, that the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain were bigger, richer and stronger, and with soldiers and sailors better fed and equipped than the Fascist powers of Germany, Japan and Italy – that Germany and Japan embarked on an impossible-to-win quest, in invading Eastern Europe and in attacking the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. There should have been “no need for such a bloody laboratory, if not for prior British appeasement, American isolationism and Russian collaboration.”

This is a book to savor, to read slowly, to keep as a reference – as reminder that the strength of democracies is paramount to keeping the peace in a world where bad men seek power and dominance. FDR once, allegedly, said to his wife, when it was suggested in the early ‘30s he become a benevolent dictator, “There is no such thing as a benevolent dictator.”

The lesson for us today is that, like it or not, responsibility for global accord falls on the United States. There is no other country or entity – not Europe, Russia, China or the UN – that can ensure world peace.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

"A Weekend of Music"

Sydney M. Williams

Essay from Essex
“A Weekend of Music”
December 19, 2017

Where words fail, music speaks.”
                                                                                                Hans Christian Anderson

A regret is that I cannot sing. My grandfathers could sing, but neither of my parents could carry a tune. And I was never taught to read music. But I do enjoy it and envy those that are musical. I marvel at composers who conceive in their minds notes and voices emanating from multiple instruments and vocal chords, using different melodies, yet harmonizing in a beautiful symphony of sound.

The Hill-Stead Museum – now a National Landmark – is situated on 152 acres in Farmington, Connecticut, just west of Hartford. The house is a 33,000 square-foot colonial revival – “a great new house on a hill top,” is the way the American author Henry James described it, shortly after it was built in 1901. The house was built for Alfred Atmore Pope, an Ohioan industrialist, and his wife Ada. It was designed by his daughter Theodate who had attended Miss Porter’s school in the same town, in the 1880s. Today, the house and its furnishings are just as they were when Ms. Pope (or Mrs. John Riddle as she was then) died in 1946.

Inside the house are nineteen rooms, on whose walls hung dozens of impressionist paintings, including works by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet and James McNeil Whistler. There is a John Singer Sargent portrait of Mrs. Pope. Setting the stage for the evening, there were scattered throughout the house mannequins dressed in costumes from Broadway musicals performed over the years at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.

In the drawing room, where we were to sit, was a rare, six-legged Steinway grand piano. On the walls were two Degas’, one Manet and three Monet’s, including two of his “haystacks.” Set in two semi-circles were about twenty-five folding chairs for us lucky few. Within those elegant surroundings, one felt like a guest at Downtown Abbey, certain that Maggie Smith would appear, eyeing us the way she does when something isn’t right – the wrong shoes or, trousers in need of a pressing – but with that hint of an approving smile for what we were about to hear.

Caroline and I had been invited by friends whose daughter is the museum’s director. The Friday night program in early November was titled “From Page to Stage – Selections from Broadway’s Early Musicals.” It was arranged by Tim Stella who has directed or co-directed such Broadway shows as “Phantom of the Opera,” Jesus Christ Superstar,” A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and “Guys and Dolls.” Mr. Stella now lives with his wife in Farmington. He played the Steinway. His wife, Florence Lacey, was one of the company. Ms. Lacey began her Broadway career as Irene Malloy in “Hello Dolly.” Her biggest role was as Eva Peron in “Evita.” Mr. Stella brought with him two other husband-wife teams: John Cudia, a tenor (Curly in “Oklahoma,” and Cassio in Verdi’s “Otello”) and Kathy Voytko (Francesca in “The Bridges of Madison County” and Christine in “Phantom of the Opera”), and Ray Hardman, a baritone (a singer of opera, oratorio and musical theater) and his wife Kathleen Hardman, who has sung with the Connecticut Lyric Opera, the Juilliard Opera Theater, Marlboro Music Festival and the Santa Fe Opera.

The program began with John Cudia singing “Oh! What a Beautiful Morning,” the opening song in Oklahoma. In the movie version, we hear Curly off-stage and then watch and listen to him as he comes into view, riding his horse, singing the song. In this version, there was no horse, but Cudia began the song off-stage, and entered the drawing room full-voiced, walking among us.

Fourteen songs were sung, including “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Send in the Clowns,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” and “Bring Him Home.” The final song of the evening was, “All I Ask of You,” from “Phantom of the Opera” and which depicts Raoul and Christine pledging their love, ignorant they are overheard. It was sung by the husband-wife team of Cudia and Voytko. In the Broadway musical, it is the song, followed by the menacing reprise sung by the Phantom, that concludes Act One.

The next evening, a (mostly) amateur group called The Six of Clubs, presented “King Cole: The Words and Music of Cole Porter.” They did so at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, with a reception at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. The group was formed in 2010 in New York City by old friends with musical talents, “to perform songs for our friends from The Great American Songbook – the finest American songs of Broadway musical theater and Hollywood musicals.”

The venue was the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme, with its “perfect acoustics.” The current building was rebuilt as a Meetinghouse in 1910 – the fifth on the same site since 1665 – and dedicated by Woodrow Wilson whose wife was studying at the Old Lyme Art Colony. Because of its acoustics, the church is home on five weekends a year to one of Old Lyme’s treasures, Musical Masterworks, which brings chamber music from the New York Philharmonic, to the village of Old Lyme.

Vocalists included Nicholas Firth, baritone, who doubled as narrator; soprano Beatrice (Bebe) Broadwater; baritone Win Rutherfurd; tenor Rich Miller; soprano Angela Cason, and Armenian-American tenor Brett Noorigian Colby, who has performed in numerous operas in New York and New Jersey. John Hargraves was on the piano.

Twenty Cole Porter songs were performed, covering twenty-eight years. The earliest was “Let’s Misbehave” from the 1928 Broadway musical “Paris,” Porter’s first hit, written when he was 36. Three songs were performed from the 1956 film musical “High Society,” apart from “Les Girls,” his last show. “True Love,” sung by Bebe and Rich, was his last hit. From the same musical, “Well, Did You Ever,” was sung by Nick and Win, with an ad-libbed insertion of Harvey Weinstein at the “Astor Bar.”

The program began with the ensemble singing “From this Moment On,” from the Broadway show “Out of this World,” which opened in 1950, when Cole Porter was on top of the world. The evening ended with the ensemble singing “It’s Delovely” written by Porter for the 1936 Broadway show, “Red, Hot and Blue.” In the original cast, Bob Hope and Ethyl Merman sang the song as a duet. Included in the repertoire was “Love for Sale,” from the 1930 show “The New Yorkers.” We were told the song had the double distinction of being Cole Porter’s favorite and of having been banned from the radio. Cole Porter died in 1964 at age 73. A widower, he suffered for six years from ulcers that caused his right leg to be amputated. A sad end for a great artist. But his music lives on.

Thinking back on those two evenings – so different yet so alike, one with professional musicians, the other showing what non-professionals can do – brought joy, but also a recognition that putting words to my feelings would be impossible – where words fail, music speaks…, as Hans Christian Anderson wrote. Plato is supposed to have said that music “gives soul to the universe, wings to the wind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. If he didn’t, I will. For I went to bed that Sunday night, unable to hum the tunes, but filled with the gaiety music brings, letting the wings of my imagination take flight into my soul-filled dreams.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

"RAT - Resist Anything Trump"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“RAT – Resist Anything Trump”
December 18, 2017

You see, the point is that the strongest man in the world is he who stands alone.”
                                                                                                            Henrik Ibsen

Resistance is ancient. A few brave men and women have always stood against tyranny. The movie “Spartacus” depicted a slave rebellion in ancient Rome. The Protestant Reformation was resistance against Catholicism. Henry David Thoreau gave us civil disobedience. We associate resistance with the French and Polish undergrounds during the Second World War. More recently, George Lucas used resistance as the center of his epic film “Star Wars.” Leia Organa founds a small military force, “The Resistance,” to combat the First Order, which had risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire.

Resistance is a call for freedom and a means to defend liberty. It was resistance against King John that established the Magna Carta in 1215, which limited the powers of the king. American patriots resisted the imposition of taxes, by tossing tea into Boston harbor in 1773. Woodrow Wilson noted that “the history of liberty is the history of resistance.”

But today’s resistance against Donald Trump has none of that legitimacy or idealism. It’s driven by hatred. It grew out of last year’s election, when Mr. Trump, anti-establishment and an outsider to Washington’s Beltway politics, was elected President. It claims spontaneity, but is led by a group called Indivisible (, and comprised of organizations like Black Lives Matter, Women’s March Global and the Center for Community Change. It has been funded by Democracy Alliance, which has steered more than $600 million toward selected liberal groups since its inception in 2005, and by, the PAC set up by billionaire George Soros. It is supported by those in the media who decry Mr. Trump’s “toxic and menacing presidency,” as L.A. Kaufman, in The Guardian, put it. The “resistance” has the endorsement of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Organizing for Action, the PAC set up by Mr. Obama in 2008, has been relaunched with its purpose to derail Mr. Trump’s Presidency. Ms. Clinton incorporated Organizing for Action, a PAC to help fund resistance groups, transferring $800,000 from her campaign funds.

Most disconcerting, “resistance” is embedded in federal bureaucracies, like the IRS, the State Department and the Department of Justice. It descends from resistance to conservatives – recall the stone-walling of Lois Lerner at the IRS in 2015? Today, the State Department is boycotting the President’s Jerusalem policy, as can be seen with 15-year-old American, Menachem Zivotofsky who was born in Jerusalem and is trying to get his passport to say he was born in Israel. We saw it in James Comey’s testimony, and in the anti-Trump e-mails between Peter Strzok and his paramour, Lisa Page. It was seen in Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama Administration, refusing to enforce a legal order on immigration, and in the refusal of Leandra English to hand over control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after the President had appointed Mick Mulvaney to be interim head. It can be seen in the Senate’s “slow-walking” of hundreds of administrative appointments, and in the endless investigations into alleged Russian-Trump collusion.

The “resistance” has been abetted by a press more interested in advocacy than news. In his recent history, The Second World Wars, Victor Davis Hanson writes about one of Mussolini’s characteristics: “…appreciating the power of propaganda, especially ideological driven journalism.” The “resistance” has the same skill; they are fortunate in an accommodating media. The repeated use of fake stories – even those later retracted – serves their purpose. As Lee Smith of the Weekly Standard and Hudson Institute recently wrote: “When you repeatedly publish ‘news’ that isn’t true, you’re no longer in the news business.”

Granted, Mr. Trump makes an easy target. With his dyed hair, Tweets, solecisms, vulgarisms, complex financial history and three wives, he is a caricature of a modern-day Mr. Potter, as portrayed by Lionel Barrymore in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In looks and behavior, he is the antithesis of the bureaucrat who, mired in establishment muck, speaks impeccably. Lacking suavity, Mr. Trump treats people the same, regardless of race, sex, age or religion. He doesn’t differentiate, as his recent Tweet to Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) showed. (He used the same words “will do anything” about Mitt Romney.) He does not subscribe to identity politics. He does not compartmentalize voters. He is a threat to a progressive culture that has dominated Washington for the last eighty years.

Mr. Trump’s character prevents me from being a whole-hearted endorser of the man. However, I agree with most of his policies, especially those that relate to the economy, taxes, regulation and his handling of Islamic extremists. Mr. Trump is that rare individual who says what he means and means what he says. Diplomacy and the English language are not his strong suits. I admire him for calling out the sanctimony and hypocrisy that have become the norm in Washington. We see the latter in the pomposity and duplicity of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who, with each Presidential Tweet, dash toward cameras and microphones, to condemn him with feigned astonishment and undisguised scorn.

What has happened in the past twelve months is unprecedented in American politics, with the exception of the Civil War. Political parties have disagreed, but none since John Breckinridge in 1861 have tried to destroy a Presidency so blatantly. Smooth transitions in democracies are integral. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were political enemies, but when Jefferson won the election of 1800, Adams did not try to sabotage Jefferson’s administration. Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey did not try to invalidate Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford gave way graciously to Jimmy Carter. Carter, while disappointed with his loss in 1980, did not impair Ronald Reagan. George H.W. Bush did not undercut Bill Clinton. The Clintons may have trashed the White House, but they didn’t interfere with President Bush. And George Bush did not criticize Barack Obama. A Presidential transition is the point when democracies are most at risk. In the past, outgoing Party’s stood by and let the new take over – not enthusiastically, but not as resistors.

Think about it: After leaving office, Jimmy Carter built houses with Habitat for Humanity; Ronald Reagan disappeared into the mists of Alzheimer’s; George H.W. Bush enjoyed his large family; Bill Clinton went to New York and made a couple of hundred million dollars; George W. Bush went to Texas and painted portraits of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Barack Obama, however, is staying in Washington to set up a PAC to help discredit his successor.

Democracies are fragile, so vigilance is wanted. They are susceptible to the whims of powerful, but evil, seductive and persuasive men and women – autocrats who can come from either the right or the left. In my opinion, the risks are greater from the left, as those manning the ramparts – the Fourth Estate – have eyes right, watching for Fascists and nationalists. They ignore the slow-growth, but insidious, left-leaning administrative state, which is quietly gathering strength and size. The federal government employs two million people – overseen by 535 elected representatives. The bureaucrats who day-to-day manage those employees are, for the most part, progressives who, because of where and how they live, are largely immune from the effects of their policies – programs said to be beneficent, but designed to give them more power.

Keep in mind, it is mice that do not stir, when “the stockings [are] hung by the chimney with care.As for RATs, they’re still scurrying around, and will be on Christmas Eve. Nonetheless, enjoy the Holidays!

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