Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Burrowing into Books - "After the Party" by Cressida Connolly

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
“After the Party” by Cressida Connolly
July 16, 2019

England feels so reassuring and safe to me.
I couldn’t stand the thought of another war.”
                                                                                  Phyllis Forrester on her return to England after years abroad
                                                                                  After the Party, Cressida Connolly
                                                                                  Penguin Random House, UK, 2018

The story Ms. Connolly tells is one of how easy it is to be subsumed by innocuous-seeming decisions that have long term negative consequences. From the perspective of several decades, we know the evil done by Sir Oswald Mosely and his British Union of Fascists (BUF) – that he (and his followers) wittingly, or unwittingly, supported the monstrous programs of Adolph Hitler. But this story is best understood if the reader is able to divorce him or herself from the knowledge we have today and to place ones’ self into that time, twenty years after the Great War in which 700,000 British soldiers lost their lives.Ms. Connolly writes aboutmothers of children who attend the BUF camp run by Nina and Eric, sister and brother-in-law to the heroine Phyllis Forrester: “Their conviction and commitment to the cause of peace was very real. Many women would already have lost brothers, uncles, fathers – even, among the older generation, sweethearts – to the dreadful toll of the 1914-18 War. Another such conflict simply could not be countenanced.”

Ms. Connolly begins her novel with a rubric, a line from Iris Murdoch’sA Word Childabout how a wrong turn taken and persisted in – a single mistake – can wreck the rest of one’s life. This story, which bounces back and forth between 1938 and 1979, opens in 1979, with Phyllis reflecting on why her life turned out so miserably. She recalls her release from prison in the fall of 1943. She had been imprisoned in late spring 1940, along with her husband Hugh, for being a member of Mosely’s BUF Party. In March of 1940, two months before she was taken to Holloway Prison, Phyllis thinks: her justification and her naivetéare exposed, “…people outside the Party were apt to mistake the Peace Campaign for a lack of patriotism, little understanding that those within it felt a passionate loyalty to very notion of Great Britain.”

In 1938, Phyllis and her much-older husband, a former Commander in the British Navy during World War II and now retired from the rubber business, return to England after many years abroad. They go to Sussex in England’s southeast where Phyllis’ two married sisters, Patricia and Nina live. Nina and her husband manage a BUF camp about which Nina is discrete, describing it as educational, promoting peace and a place where the children will have fun and meet others. “Phyllis found it electrifying to be among such a number of fellow souls, all united in in their passion for the cause. It was a wonderful feeling to belong. When Sir Oswald took to the stage to address them, she joined others in giving him a standing ovation.” Most of these women were not political, nor were they aware of the evil Fascism and Nazism represented. It was the memory of the last war that was fresh in their minds and that dictated their actions.

By spring 1940, the war had been underway for eight months, in what was called the “Phoney War” – so-called because all was quiet along the western front. Nevertheless, English lives had been lost in naval encounters. Mrs. Manville, who takes care of the mother of Phyllis and her sisters (their father recently died), suffered the loss of her sister’s nephew when HMS Courageous was torpedoed off Ireland in September 1939. She knows Mosely for what he is and calls out Phyllis and her sister Nina for “your salutes and uniforms and speechifying…,” but Phyllis is not traitorous, though one could not say the same about others in the organization, including her sister Nina and brother-in-law Eric. She is, however, naïve. She tells Mrs. Manville: “If ourPeace Campaign had been put into operation, this calamity might have been averted.”  Mrs. Manville’s response: “That’s balderdash!”

Phyllis and her husband are imprisoned. Through Ms. Connolly’s telling, we learn how families turn on one another. We read of a single incident in December 1938 that happened to Phyllis, for which she was not to blame, but that will nag her for the rest of her life, as she believes it led to her best friend’s death. We learn of the emotional strings of women like Phyllis on which Mosely played so adeptly. We come to better understand why so many wanted to believe that a second war could and should be averted; thus, were willing to follow Mosely down his path toward sedition. On a lighter note, this being a book by a British author writing of events eighty years ago, we meet new words, at least new to me, like “trug,” “jibbed,” secateurs” and “fug.” We learn about Holloway Prison and the Isle of Man and of the fact that those imprisoned were without recourse to habeas corpus or even to lawyers. Phyllis and her husband are separated and there are rumors of executions. “Phyllis didn’t really believe that her husband had been executed; yet if she could be taken from her home, locked up without trial, without committing any crime, without explanation, perhaps anything was possible after all.” She questions British justice.

Life rarely turns out as expected when we are young and dream of the future. Luck plays a role, but actions we take, decisions we make, the people with whom we associate have long term consequences, thus a word of caution permeates the story. When well-researched, historical fiction has advantages, which straight history does not. It allows the reader to get inside the minds of people portrayed. The title is a “double entendre,” in that it could refer to Mosely’s BUF Party, or it could refer to the party in December 1938 that held such consequences for Phyllis. What makes this story so compelling, though, is it could happen to anyone. The reader who sanctimoniously concludes that it was either Phyllis’ stupidity or deliberate complicity that caused this tragedy misreads the author’s interpretation of how decisions are made, without benefit of hindsightRetrospectively, we are all wise. Prospectively, few of us are.

Monday, July 15, 2019


Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
July 15, 2019

The most important thing to keep in mind about reparations is that it is never going to happen.
No Congress is going to pass, and no President is going to sign, a bill that takes money from
the great majority of American voters to pay a debt they don’t feel they owe.”
                                                                                                Thomas Sowell (1930-)
                                                                                                “Risks of Slave Reparations Campaign”
                                                                                                The Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Washington
August 4, 2001

Periodically, the issue of reparations resurfaces, brought on not by those who might stand to gain, but by politicians who see political advantage in issues that never come to fruition, like immigration or climate, neither of which they would like to resolve, as long as they serve a higher purpose – their re-election.

Slavery was the blemish on our founding. Most of the Founding Fathers understood that. Nevertheless, the decision made was to proceed with unification of thirteen separate states under a Constitution and Bill of Rights to which all attendees agreed. Was it perfect? No, because it allowed the practice of slavery to continue. But liberty was the essence of our founding. It was understood by the Founders that at some point a Civil War would have to be fought, but they wanted to delay that inevitability until the Union had solidified into a unified and respected country. They knew it would have to be able to withstand the rending of its heart, which a civil war would cause. As the first half of the 19thCentury advanced, it became obvious that the cancer that was slavery did not fit a country whose values were based on individual freedom. The abolitionist movement grew stronger and advocates of slavery more isolated. It was felt that if the curse of slavery persisted it would mean dissolution of the union. But if it were abolished the union would be preserved, even though the cost would be high and the time for healing long.

In 1775, slavery was to be found in most of the northern states. As late as 1820, there were still an estimated 20,000 slaves in New York. But by 1860, slavery had been abolished in the north. Virginia had fewer slaves in that year than they did in 1820. It was not that they had been freed but were sold to cotton plantations in the deep south. And, while northerners railed against slavery, some were conflicted. For example, cotton brokers in New York became wealthy selling the slave-produced commodity to buyers in England.

The Civil War was fought and, while it was initially couched in terms of preserving the union, both sides understood the real cause – slavery. On January 1, 1863, with more than two years to run in the War, Lincoln issued the Proclamation Emancipation, declaring “…that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are and henceforward shall be free.” Over four years and 620,000 deaths, slavery in the United States ended. The Union held, and the slow process of reconstruction began – not just of broken families, farms, homes, mills, factories and towns, but of men’s souls. With the adoption of the 13thAmendment in December 1865, slavery in the U.S. and its territories was constitutionally abolished. With the passage of the 14thAmendment in 1868, all persons born in or naturalized in the United States were declared to be citizens. But the path forward was not easy: Lynchings were common, especially in rural parts of the south. The Ku Klux Klan peaked, in terms of membership, in the 1920s, sixty years after the Civil War. Segregation was a fact of live. It was more than eighty years after the Civil War before President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981in 1948, integrating the armed forces. Racially segregated public schools were common, under the misguided concept of “separate but equal,” until 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Miscegenation was a crime in some states until the Court in Loving v. Virginia ruled it unconstitutional in 1967. And it took a hundred and one years from the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Progress advances, but at rates too slow for us who must be content with life spans of eighty years. But, as Richelle Goodrich wrote in Slaying Dragons, “Progressing at a snail’s pace is still progress, and slow progress is better than no progress.”

So, while the history of slavery is ugly, we have moved forward. We should never stand still. We should advance in unison, and we should acknowledge progress when it is made. We should never be satisfied, but we should never be hateful. There are those who gain by fomenting dissension – race hustlers and ideologues. Apart from the power that comes with political success, there are others who gain, as Mr. Sowell wrote in the essay quoted above, “self-righteous satisfaction from denouncing other people.” We are a different people today than we were fifty and a hundred years ago. Almost eighty million have immigrated to the United States between 1865 and 2017. With their progeny, they account for about two thirds of the American population. Despite those who see us a “salad bowl” rather than a “melting pot,” our backgrounds are increasingly mixed. Most Americans do not solely descend from one nationality, but rather from multiples. The number of interracial marriages rose from 3% in 1967 to 17% in 2015. A 2017 Pew Research survey said that 39% of those surveyed felt that interracial marriages were good for society, up from 10% in 2010. So, while if one only listened to politicians, one might conclude we are more segregated than we were a few years ago, while the opposite is true. At a hearing on reparations in mid-June, Senator Cory Booker said: “As a nation, we have yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with the racism and white supremacy that tainted this nation’s founding and continues to cause persistent and deep racial disparities and inequalities.” This is an odd statement from a man who is a product of a mixed heritage, grew up in middle class environs, captained the Stanford football team, won a Rhodes Scholarship and graduated from Yale Law School. Kamala Harris’ call for reparations was even more conflicted: as her father, a professor of economics at Stanford, noted, she is a descendant of slave owners in Jamaica.

In the demand for reparations, a comparison can be drawn with the radicals of the French Revolution. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke took aim at the seizure of property belonging to the Catholic Church. The revolutionaries who seized the property were not, as Liam Warner wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal, “avenging the vices of the current clerical generation;” they were “seeking retribution for centuries of crimes.” Mr. Warner concluded his op-ed: “Our efforts would be better spent directing the future than auditing the past.”

One of my eight great-great grandfathers, George Augustine Washington, as proprietor of a tobacco farm in Tennessee, was a slave owner. Because he sired a son, Granville Washington, around 1830, I have African American cousins, one of whom, John Baker, Jr., authored a well-received history of his family, The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation[1]He wrote toward the book’s conclusion: “African American descendants from Wessyngton now live all over America. They became physicians, lawyers, poets, teachers, civil rights activists, ministers, painters, artists, authors, bankers, brokers, professional athletes, movie stars, airplane pilots, business owners, accountants, genealogists, writers, singers, entertainers, policemen, and government and public officials.” They are part of the fabric of America. This is the spirit of America we should celebrate – the strides made by descendants of those once enslaved – not the separation of people into compartments that serve the interests of a few politiciansThere is more to be done, but as Thomas Sowell wrote, a call for reparations is an empty promise.

[1]The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation, John Baker, Jr., Atria Books, 2009.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Review: "Conservatism," by Sir Roger Scruton

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
Review: “Conservatism,” by Sir Roger Scruton
July 10, 2019

Conservatives are not reactionaries. As Burke said, ‘we must reform in order
 to conserve,’ or, in more modern idiom: we must adapt. But we adapt to change
 in the name of continuity, in order to conserve what we are and what we have.”
                                                                                                Conservatism, 2017
                                                                                                Roger Scruton (1944-)
                                                                                                Philosopher and Writer

Labels are misleading. The terms “liberal” or “conservative” confuse substance with abstractions. To paraphrase Humpty Dumpty, labels mean whatever we want them to mean. If told I am conservative is it meant I am a tightwad in fiscal matters? Does it mean I favor martial law to a democratic process?Does it mean I am antediluvian in cultural ways? Does it mean I am anti-progress, preferring the past to the futureDoes it mean I am racist, xenophobic or misogynist?Does it mean all, or none of the aboveI know what I mean when I claim to be conservative, but do others?  For me, conservativism is about freedom – free to speak, write, assemble and pray. But it also includes respect for tradition and for the opinions of others; being responsible for one’s actions and accountable to other. It means a belief in the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and a commitment to values, like honor and duty. I believe strongly in family and in loyalty, and that the Constitution provided freedom for religion, not from religion. I believe government is an instrument of the people, not the other way around; that we must be ruled by laws, not men; it assumes a vigorous military, but one reflective of the nation’s citizens and under the control of a civilian president; it is the welcoming of legal immigrants and those legitimately seeking asylum; and it is an understanding that debt, while having useful purposes, when excessive has consequences, including political pressure to keep interest rates artificially low. 

The subtitle of Mr. Scruton’s short book is “An Introduction to the Great Tradition,” and that is what this book is – a primer on conservatism, a guide through the history of the discipline.  “…modern conservativism arose as a defence of the individual against potential oppressors, and an endorsement of popular sovereignty.” But it also recognizes the role communities and government must play in civil society. In institutions and traditions, there are kernels of wisdom without which, Mr. Scruton writes, “…the exercise of freedom is as likely to destroy human rights and entitlements as to enhance them.” 

We are taken on a sleigh ride from Aristotle to Niall Ferguson. He writes of Edmund Burke (1729-1797), “…the greatest of British conservative thinkers…” and Adam Smith (1723-1790), who “…provided the philosophical insight that gave intellectual conservatism its first start in life.” He cites Thomas Jefferson’s (1743-1826) contribution to conservativism, in his “insistence on continuity and custom as necessary conditions for constitution building and also for his warnings against the centralization of political power.” He writes of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) and their belief that “only in a free market do prices provide a guide to the economic needs of others.” He notes the role of cultural conservatives, like T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), George Orwell (1903-1950) and Allan Bloom (1930-1990). He quotes George H. Nash (1945-) on William Buckley (1925-2008), as “the pre-eminent voice of American conservatism, and its first great ecumenical figure, ecumenical because Buckley attempted to synthesize in his writings and his life the three principal aspects of the American conservative movement: cultural conservatism, economic liberalism and anti-communism.” 

Scruton differentiates conservatism from libertarianism, where the latter is interested only in the bare minimum of government necessary for the maintenance of individual freedom, while conservatives believe more is at stake: “Society depends for its health and continuity on customs and traditions that are at risk from individual freedom, even if they are also expressions of it.” He adds, “The philosophical burden of American conservatism has been to define those customs and traditions and to show how they might endure and flourish from their own inner dynamic, outside the control of the state.”

Conservatism has long been portrayed in pejorative terms, as privileged white males who, as Franklin Roosevelt once said, “stand on two legs but never go forward.” Conservatism has been under attack more recently by intolerant liberals purporting to fight for equality and fairness. It has been most common in universities, where administrators and professors blindly reject alternative opinions. We have seen “liberal” entertainers call for the assassination of President Trump. We have witnessed this hatred manifested in violent attacks by Antifa, most recently on journalist Andy Ngo in Portland, Oregon. Roger Scruton has not been immune from this scourge. George Eaton a deputy editor of the New Statesman interviewed him last November. By taking Scruton’s responses out of context and resorting to Twitter, Eaton was able to get Scruton fired from his unpaid position as chairman of the UK commission, Building Better, Building Beautiful. Indicative of his own character, Eaton then posted a photo of himself online clasping a bottle of champagne: “The feeling when you get right-winged racist and homophobic Roger Scruton sacked as a Tory government advisor.” He later deleted the photo.

Perhaps, though, there is a shift in the winds. There are a few on the Left who have begun to realize that they may have gone too far, that they are partaking in a “sort of progressive feeding frenzy,” as Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote. This tendency toward extremism is not new to the left. It periodically surfaces. We saw it in 1968, in the attack on police in Chicago at the Democrat National Convention, and in the militaristic occupying of college campuses in the late 1960s by groups like SDS. When attacked by George McGovern on his policies in 1968, Lyndon Johnson, who had pushed through Congress the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, told a reporter: “You know the difference between cannibals and liberals? Cannibals eat only their enemies.” But attitudes may be changing. In his 2019 book, A Thousand Small Sanities, the left-of-center Adam Gopnik wrote: “The contemporary left can sometimes seem to have an insufficient respect for the fragility of the very same liberal institutions that allow its views to be broadcast without impediments.” In These Truths, Harvard professor Jill Lepore bemoans that studying the United States as a nation fell out of favor. She has migrated from the progressive fascination with identity politics to the Declaration of Independence as her guiding star. While she does not whitewash America’s past, she wrote: “There is also, in the American past, an extraordinary amount of decency and hope…” There are defenders of conservatism, like Boston College professor Kenneth Kersch’s recent book Conservatives and the Constitution. As well, the “Intellectual Dark Web,” or IDW, has become prominent, a group that includes Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan, all who have articulated opposition to identity politics, political correctness, multiculturalism, intersectionality theory and perpetual grievance.

So where does President Trump fit into this discussion. I like what he has done overseas, in terms of accentuating the hypocrisy of global institutions, bringing attention to supercilious Europeans who have taken advantage of the U.S. in terms of their own defense; I like him for calling out the Chinese for having done the same in trade and in stealing our technology, for naming the Iranians for what they are  – seekers of the bomb and exporters of terror; and I admire him for defending Israel and being honest about the Paris Agreement, which was nothing more than a glorified mechanism to transfer wealth. I like what Mr. trump has done for the economy, in terms of taxes and regulation. But he is coarse, inarticulate and egotistical. However, like George M. Cohan (as played by James Cagney in the 1942 film “Yankee Doodle Dandy”), he knows what ordinary people want. But he is not a defender of classical conservatism. Just look at the increase in national debt. As well, conservatism incorporates contrition, manners and respect for others. One might argue those traits are no longer possible in today’s dog-eat-dog world. Perhaps? I hope they are simply taking a temporary leave of absence.

Sir Roger’s book is timely. Freedom is fragile and must be constantly tracked. The risk to our democracy is less the threat of terrorism, global warming or an attack by Iran or China, and more dissolution from within. When the central government assumes too much power, over-regulates and/or puts in place laws that constantly monitor and govern people’s behavior, freedom is the loser. To ward against that threat, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo established a Commission on Unalienable Rights at the State Department to be chaired by Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon. The purpose: to ensure that our human rights – those granted by government – are grounded in America’s founding principle of unalienable rights, which are universal and not granted by government. They include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In this post-Soviet Union period, those rights have been challenged by ad hoc (or human) rights, which include healthcare, old age pensions, education and basic income. Real freedom depends on the pursuit of unalienable rights. A focus on human rights, while desirable in a compassionate community, can detract from those that make us a free and independent people.  It is not that human rights should be abolished; though we must be wary of suffocation by kindness. It is that we cannot lose sight of those rights that are unalienable. Keep in mind, anything that government grants, they can take away, and that as dependency waxes independence wanes. 

In the 2006 revised edition of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, George H. Nash asked: “Whether conservatives could thrive indefinitely without victory in the context for our culture wars was, perhaps, the great unanswered question about American politics.” The question, in my opinion, remains unanswered, as intolerant professors and skittish administrators dominate our universities and colleges, as the incident regarding Oberlin College and the Gibson Bakery so vividly demonstrated, and as mainstream media serves as advocates for progressive causes, rather than as skeptical reporters indifferent to political philosophies. Scruton writes of the need to adapt – to change in the name of continuity, “in order to conserve what we are and what we have.” He emphasizes the importance of the first-person plural “we,” as it binds us together. Our identity is not one of gender, race, sexual preference or religion; it is one of being American – citizens of a sovereign state, governed by laws not men, where we are free to write, speak or act, subject only to rules of civility – that what we write, say or do does not infringe on the same rights of our neighbors. 

Roger Scruton has done a public service in producing this small book (155 pages). Not all will agree with his conclusions. He is controversial, scorned by the left and too often undefended by the right. But a reading should cause thinking people to question their assumptions and to decry the use of labels that do more to confuse than clarify.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Book - "Dear Mary: Letters to and from Italy - January 1945-July 1945."

Sydney M. Williams

 This book is to be published in July 2019 and is available on Amazon or your favorite bookstore.


“Dear Mary: Letters to and from Italy, January 1945 – July 1945”
                                                                                                                                      July 8, 2019

Please Mr. Postman, look and see.
Is there a letter, a letter for me?”
                                                                                    The Marvelettes
                                                                                    “Please Mr. Postman,” 1961

My father was drafted in March 1944. He was thirty-three years old, married with three children and a fourth on the way. After basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama he was transferred to the 10thMountain Division, which was then stationed at Camp Swift in Texas. In December they were sent to Fort Patrick Henry in Virginia, and on January 4ththey boarded the USS West Point (built in 1940 as the SS America) for the trip to Naples, Italy. He was a PFC, in the 87thRegiment, 1stBattalion, C Company, 2ndPlatoon, 2ndSquad. In six years of marriage, my parents had not been separated. This is their correspondence during a trying time for the country, but especially for those who were sent overseas and for loved ones who remained at home.

In his new biography, Churchill: Walking with Destiny, Andrew Roberts writes of the future Prime Minister writing to his wife when he went to France in November 1915: “His letters,” Mr. Roberts writes, “allow us to peer into his mind better than at any other period in his life.” All letters do that, but especially those between spouses. Unlike Churchill’s my parents’ letters were never written with the prospect of being published. That was something to consider when weighing the appropriateness of having the letters transcribed and made available for all to read. In the end, their value as a window onto a special time in our history seemed worth whatever embarrassment might accrue to those no longer alive.

One could argue that letters between one man and one woman reflect only their thoughts and, thus, have little universal value. But their significance, in my opinion, is more ubiquitous. Sixteen million Americans served in uniform during the three years and eight months the United States was at war. More than a million became casualties. For every soldier serving, there were two or three (or more) family members at home. In all, they represented almost half of the United States’ population of 132.1 million in 1940. This was truly a total war.

For those who did remain at home, life was not easy, even excluding fears of the unknown. Lives were disrupted in many ways. There was a breakdown in in social values: Divorce rates increased, as did truancy, juvenile delinquency and venereal disease. Alcoholism was a problem. With women needed in the workforce, there was a growth in unsupervised, “latchkey” children. While unemployment declined due to conscription and expansion of war industries, so did safety nets, as spending on defense needs preempted funds for support programs, so poverty increased, and income gaps widened. Gasoline rationing meant restricted travel and food rationing meant substitutions, like powdered eggs and milk, and liquid paraffin for cooking oil. At one point during the war, 50% of the nation’s vegetables came from “Victory Gardens.”

As these letters show, my parents were more fortunate than many. My mother moved back to her parents in Madison, Connecticut, where we lived in idyllic conditions—a large house on Long Island Sound, a barn with animals and a mother and grandparents who were attentive and who loved us. We were too young to understand what was happening, and we were never deprived of food or a comfortable place to sleep. We were protected from the worries that consumed my mother and grandparents. My family was fortunate in other ways. All immediate family members survived. My mother’s three brothers served as Naval officers; all experienced combat and all returned uninjured. Of my father’s two brothers, one was a medical doctor who remained state-side, the other an Army Lieutenant who was wounded on Okinawa but made it home with no visible scars. Both my father’s brothers-in-law served as Naval officers; neither was wounded.

This generation was the last of the letter writers. My generation wrote letters when in school, college and the army, but we lived into an age of cell phones, e-mail, Instagram, Twitter and social media; so, the letters we write now are mostly ones of condolence or expressing thanks for a gift. But for those born earlier, the writing of letters was the most important means of communication.

Because of the personal nature of these letters, especially their reference to people and places, footnotes have been added where appropriate. The book also includes commentary about the War that allows the reader to follow the course of the 87thRegiment while in combat. Fortunately, there is a surfeit of literature about the 10thMountain Division, especially Hal Burton’s The Ski Troopsand Charles Hauptman’s Combat History of the 10thMountain Division. Particularly informative was History of the 87thRegimentby Captain George F. Earle, written in 1945, which includes a day-by-day history of their time in combat. It also includes a listing of all the men who served in the 87th. And, of course, the book of photographs, which have been used, with permission, to illustrate this book.

Besides letters to and from my parents, included are a few letters from my father’s parents, his two sisters and one of his two brothers.

Minor changes have been made to the letters. Paragraphs have been created where none existed. As well, commas and other punctuation marks have been added, to clarify what was written. While not all letters survived, a surprising number did—especially given that those from home were carried by my father in his backpack, across fields of battle. They traveled over the Apennines and through the Po Valley. They crossed the Po River, to the shores of Lake Garda (where they were when the War in Europe ended). The 10thremained in Italy, guarding the Yugoslav border against threatened incursions by Marshall Tito. They were there until the end of July, before sailing home from Naples. Since the expectation was that the Division would be sent to Japan for the planned invasion of Japan (Operation Downfall), included are letters written during those two and a half months after the war in Europe was over. All of these letters carry the voices of those who wrote them seventy-four years ago.


My father, a skier since the late 1920s, died in 1968 at the age of 58. He had grown up in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Peterborough, New Hampshire. He graduated from the Belmont Hill School in 1928 and left Harvard College, at the depths of the Depression in 1932, at the end of his senior year but without a degree. His love was art—he had drawn cartoons for the Harvard Lampoon—but jobs for cartoonists were scarce. He got a job as a receptionist in a brokerage firm, where he spent time carving pipes. Finally, he volunteered in the Entomology Department at Harvard, modeling backgrounds for display cases at the Fogg Museum. He did well enough that he was invited to join the Faculty Club, despite never having received a degree. In 1936, he resigned to study sculpture with George Demetrious at his studio in Gloucester, Mass., where he met his future wife, Mary Hotchkiss.

My mother, who died twenty-two years after my father, grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, in a large house at the top of Hillhouse Avenue, a house that belonged to her paternal grandfather. She graduated from the Foxcroft school in 1929 and spent a year in Italy at Madame Boni’s finishing school in Rome. Her life changed in 1933. Her grandfather had died in 1930. Her father, a director and vice president of U.S. Rubber Company in charge of their world-wide rubber plantations, had invested [sic] most of his money with Ivar Krueger, the Swedish “Match King,” a Ponzi-scheme operator whose empire toppled in 1933. The house on Hillhouse Avenue was sold. Their summer place in Madison became their year-round home. For two years my mother taught art at Foxcroft and, in the early summer of 1936, she went north to study sculpture with Mr. Demetrious, where she met my father. They were married two years later. At the time of their engagement, in October 1937, my mother wrote a revealing letter to her brother Henry about her fiancé: “His tastes are similar to mine, though perhaps he is more of the earth while I am off the earth, but his realm is comprehensive of both. He is an animal of instinct – does not bite, however – and stands for simplicity and nature.” They were married May 28, 1938 in New Haven.


My mother spent most of that year and a half that he was in the Army with her parents in Madison, Connecticut. She brought with her three children and a fourth who would be born in August 1944. (I was the second oldest.) My earliest memories are of that period. I remember the house, the barn and the animals (which play a large part in these letters). I remember leaving my father at Union Station in New Haven in late August 1944, as he went off to Camp Swift in Texas, prior to being shipped overseas with the 87thRegiment of the 10thMountain Division, in early January 1945. He would be there until late July, before being shipped back to the U.S., ostensibly for a home leave before heading to the Pacific for the planned invasion of Japan. For me, those months were filled with the joy and wonder of childhood, a place where the guns and bombs that devastated Europe, the Middle East and Asia were not heard and had no meaning.


My mother did not often display emotion, but there were tears in her eyes when I left for Fort Dix on August 11, 1962. The United States was not at war. I was fulfilling my military obligation, in serving six months of active duty. There was little chance I would be endangered. But for her, my leaving was a reminder of a time less than two decades in the past. It took me time to realize the emotions she must have felt. Time is long when one is young, but short, as one ages. It had been only seventeen years since my father had returned from Europe on VJ Day. Memories of those years must have haunted her, as it did millions of others. During the War, people like her lived in a cocoon, absent of information—until the next letter arrived, a letter censored to remove any information as to exactly where the writer might be, or what casualties his unit may have suffered. Battles would be reported by the press, but families did not know where their loved ones were or how they had fared—if they had been wounded or killed; there were no cell phones, e-mail or instant-messaging. What no wife, mother or child wanted was a telegram or, worse, a visit from the military.


The lives of those left at home was surreal, like an Ingmar Berman movie, with past memories appearing in mist-like conditions and with vague glimpses of a what the future might hold. A few years after my mother died, I had a chance to read through the letters my parents had written one another. My mother’s letters provided a sense of the sacrifice she made, the gaiety she showed us children, the normalcy she expressed to my father and the torment that rendered her heart, which she was unable to disguise. It was not politics or the War as a whole that consumed her; it was the personal. In an appendix to War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy wrote of the contrast between the way historians view war and artists: “…for the artist there cannot and should not be any heroes, but there should be people.” These letters show people. Footnotes have been added to provide context, to explain, for example where his regiment was and had been, and to provide color regarding people mentioned. Unlike many returning soldiers, my father did speak of some of his experiences, but he always omitted the horror and fear he had to have experienced and felt.

None of these letters say anything about the geo-politics of the time, but they do show people, as individuals – not made-up and not idealized. This book is an attempt to derive a better understanding of that time and what life was like, for those in combat and for those left at home.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Month That Was - June 2019

Sydney M. Williams

The Month That Was – June 2019
July 1, 2019

How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness, how the time has flewn.
How did it get son late so soon?”
                                                                                    Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991)
                                                                                    The Cat in the Hat, 1957

The world is complicated. It has always been so. Resources are limited, but man’s mind is limitless. We live on a planet with just over two acres of inhabitable land per inhabitant. But that fact, and the limits implied, speaks to man’s remarkable ability to survive and thrive. But neither surviving nor thriving is easy, nor can we assume we always will. Man is a social animal. He has survived through intuition, and he has thrived through what Adam Smith called the division of labor that increases social and economic dependency. To advance his interests, man created communities, governments, rule of law and markets. Two hundred years ago, no one could have conceived of the social, cultural and technological advances that allow us to live today as we do. No one today can now predict what the world two hundred years hence will be like. Will man blow himself up? Will natural forces cause our extinction? Will warring factions and competing economic systems persist and worsen? Or, will technology and cultural changes continue to improve living standards? Will we live in harmony? No one knows.

What we do know is that classically liberal governments and free markets have allowed unprecedented improvement in living standards and extensions of life. Now, free market capitalism, which goes hand-in-hand with democracy, is under attack by progressives who are ignorant of history and who do not understand basic economics. The question, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin from 1776, is can we keep our republican government and the capitalist system we have created, which has served us and the world so well? Or will we make a radical turn toward socialism? We cannot take past successes for granted.


Internationally, the month began with the 75thAnniversary of the Normandy Invasion and it ended with the G-20 meeting in Osaka. In Normandy, the President spoke eloquently. He praised the British, the French, the “fighting” Poles, the Canadians, and the Americans: “They came from farms of a vast heartland, the streets of glowing cities and the forges of mighty industrial towns. Before the war, many had never ventured beyond their community. Now they had come to offer their lives, half a world from home.” He evoked those traits that have always made Americans a generous and special people. Earlier, he had met with the Queen and with Prime Minister Theresa May, who had just resigned as head of her Party. She will remain PM until elections on July 22. Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-Semitic leader of the opposition Labor Party, boycotted the state dinner but appeared at demonstrations protesting Mr. Trump’s presence. Keep in mind, Mr. Corbyn has laid wreaths on the graves of Arab terrorists and compared Israel to Nazis, but meeting Mr. Trump was a step too far. In Osaka, Mr. Trump met with Vladimir Putin on Friday and Xi Jinping on Saturday. Russia is a country in decline, economically and in population. Nevertheless, it has about forty-five percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. No matter what Democrats like Senator Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) say, it behooves any U.S. President to maintain a dialog with the Russian president. The meeting with Xi Jinping resulted in a truce – at least, temporarily – on trade and in an agreement to ease restrictions on U.S. technology companies’ selling products to Huawei, as long as national security is not compromised. Following Osaka, President Trump met with Kim Jong-un in the DMZ, in an attempt to re-start stalled nuclear talks. He was the first sitting U.S. President to enter North Korea. The Country has the natural resources to become wealthy, if it adopts free-market capitalism.

Tensions with Iran increased, as sanctions are having an effect. The Mullahs want to make worse relationships between the U.S. and the European Union. They want sanctions lifted, so they can resume the sale of oil to the EU. They are unhappy with Mr. Trump’s abandonment of the Iran Nuclear Deal, an agreement that provided funds, opened markets for their oil, but allowed them to continue work on missiles and would have led them to the bomb in fifteen years. Now, striking out, they have vowed to bust the limits on uranium stocks, attacked two tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and shot down a $110 million RQ-4A Global Hawk U.S. drone, flying at 22,000 feet. For a day or so, it looked like the U.S. might react militarily, but, instead, responded by further tightening sanctions. Protests in Hong Kong, against demands from Beijing regarding extradition rights, reached a record two million people, a quarter of the city’s population. The episode has weakened Beijing’s grip on the City. A re-do of the mayoral election in Istanbul, which the opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party, had initially won by 13,000, saw his mandate increase to 700,000 votes – a set-back for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had demanded the re-count. Mr. Trump’s threat to Mexico, to impose tariffs if the country did not do more to implement “strong measures” to stem the flow of migrants through their country, seems to have worked. Mexico accepted the demands. The number of illegal crossings has declined about twenty-five percent. Asylum seekers can be returned to Mexico and they promised to strengthen their southern border. 


The circus that is the race for the Democrat Presidential nomination got into high gear, with the first debates. Disillusionment with the state of the nation, as expressed by most of the participants, reminded one of Stephen Sondheim’s song, “Send in the Clowns.” But on reflection, the better comparison was to 1919. The Great War had ravaged the civilized world. On both sides, those embodiments of progress and civil behavior – free-market capitalism, global trade, liberal democracy, traditional religion and their cultural history – were “taken,”, as Joseph Loconte wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, “to the woodshed.” In the aftermath of the War, Communism, Nazism and Fascism offered an alternative to what was then portrayed as a failed capitalist system. This past week, Democrat candidates decried free-market capitalism and expressed concern that nationalists and populists were destroying multicultural liberalism. They see nationalists and free markets as the villain and government as the savior. No mention was made of the fact that U.S. economic growth has been bolstered by the 2017 tax cut and relaxation of burdensome regulations; or that employment is at record highs, unemployment at record lows and that wages have increased at their fastest rate in a decade, with minority groups having done especially well. A CNN poll found that 71% of Americans see the economy as “very or somewhat good,” with wages for the lowest quartile of workers rising at the highest rate of any group. Instead, their angry focus was on dissension, division and promoting internecine jealousy. They harped on the alleged hatred of conservatives for women, gays, minorities and the foreign born. In 1919 there was some rationale for the behavior of combatants who took to extremes. By war’s end, in November 1918, forty million were dead, about ten percent of Europe’s population. Cities were destroyed and economies ruined. The consequence: World War II, the extermination of Jews and other “undesirables,” and the virtual imprisonment of those who suffered under Communist dictatorships for seventy years. Today, there is no such excuse. We have not been devastated by war or depression. We live blessed lives. Yet, those candidates on stage, last Wednesday and Thursday, would lead us toward cataclysm. Their extremism is concerning, especially as mainstream media has foregone their role as independent arbiters. Nevertheless, the best comment on the debaters – Peggy Noonan on Bill de Blasio: “He has that air of burly, happy aggression that is the special province of idiots.”  Dumbest comment by one of the debaters: Julian Castro, the anatomy-challenged former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who said a trans female has the right to a federally-funded abortion.

The candidates appealed to egos. Their proffered policies were little more than attempts to purchase votes – free college, free healthcare and a guaranteed minimum wage, all to be paid for by higher taxes on the “rich,” which common sense tells us would impede economic growth, as the cost of their programs would require tax increases on everyone, regardless of income or wealth. Open borders and free healthcare to illegals were the only solution offered to an immigration crisis that has worsened this year. In a discussion on women’s rights, the rights of the unborn were never mentioned. There was no mention of a shared history, civic responsibility, accountability or the positive role in our lives of religion, tradition, or the long-term negative impact of declining birth rates. The candidates were unified in their unadulterated hatred for President Trump. They used their few minutes to further divide us, so that those on the stage might ascend to power. With the exception of Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Daisy-picking, “here-again there-again” Vice President Joe Biden, the twenty-three Democrats running for their Party’s nomination have all succumbed to the temptation of Socialism, or at least to some version of it, and to the Green New Deal, which would cost tens of thousands of jobs in the energy sector and raise the cost of electricity for all. 

Socialism and hatred for the President are unifying themes among Democrats. Victor Davis Hanson, in an essay this past month, commented: “Trump so unhinged the Left that it finally tore off its occasional veneer of moderation, and showed us what progressives had in store for America.”  One does not have to admire the character of Mr. Trump to appreciate what he has done for the economy and working people. For any individual who knows our history, understands the concepts embedded in our Constitution of natural rights, liberty and rule of law and is a believer in the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments, the policy prescriptions of Democrats running for President are enough to scare – as New Hampshirites would say – the ‘Bejesus’ out of one. Eleven years ago, on October 30, 2008, Barack Obama said, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” He won the election. While taxes were increased, regulations tightened and “new normal” was used to describe the anemic economic recovery coming out of the “Great Recession,” cooler heads prevailed; we changed, but not as fundamentally as Mr. Obama envisioned. Those running today make Mr. Obama seem moderate. 


Equity markets came roaring back, after a disappointing May. The DJIA was up 7.2%, which offset May’s decline of 6.7 percent. The rise, interestingly, was, like the decline in May, gradual. On only one day did the market move up more than 1.5 percent. In May, there were only two days when the market moved down more than 1.5 percent. Volatility moderated. The VIX began the month at 18.71 and closed at 15.08. Bonds rallied. The inverted yield spread between the 10-Year Treasury Bond and the Three-Month Bill narrowed to twelve basis points from twenty-one basis points at the end of May. Gold rose 8%, while oil was up 9%. The price of a Bitcoin rose 45%, to $12,316.95, the highest price since December 2017. The final numbers on first quarter US GDP came in at 3.1 percent. Second quarter GDP is expected to be around 1.5 percent, but the expansion is now the longest on record. United Technologies and Raytheon announced a merger, which will result in a hundred high-paying jobs moving from Connecticut to Massachusetts. Remembering the tobacco companies’ settlements, activists are targeting oil and gas producers. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) was blunt: “If you…pop out the word tobacco and put in the words fossil fuels; pop out the word health and put in environmental harms, the complaint writes itself.” This is like feeding slop to hogs. Trial lawyers salivate at the mention of such suits. They are strong supporters of Democrat candidates and became rich with tobacco settlements in the 1980s and ‘90s. They are hoping for a repeat. 


In other news, domestically, a pick-up truck carrying a trailer slammed into a group of motorcyclists in New Hampshire, killing seven. In what has become an all-too-common line of Congressional questioning for those who want to compartmentalize society, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) attacked Neomi Rao, who has been nominated by President Trump for a seat on the D.C. U.S. Court of Appeals. He asked her about LGBTQ law clerks. Her response should have provided a teaching moment for the New Jersey Senator: “…to be honest, I don’t know the sexual orientation of my staff. I take people as they come, irrespective of their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.” Given his performance during the debates the former Rhodes Scholar seemed to have learned little from the exchange with Ms. Rao. A refinery in Philadelphia that produces 30% of the gasoline in the northeast blew up. Fortunately, the effect on gas prices was minimal. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan stepped down – for personal reasons – before his formal nomination went to the Senate.  He was replaced with Mark Esper, currently Secretary of the Army.  Harvard College rescinded an acceptance granted to Kyle Kushov. Mr. Kushov became well-known as a spokesman and advocate for school security after the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, where he had been a student. The reason for the rescission was due to comments Mr. Kushov had made on-line, late one night, when he and a friend were seeing you could be the most outrageous. His anti-Black and anti-Semitic (Mr. Kushov is Jewish) comments were repulsive, but he was young, it was late, and he apologized. But he is a conservative who supports the Second Amendment, which I suspect was the real reason his admission to Harvard was revoked. As David Brooks asked: “…wouldn’t Harvard want a kid who is intellectually rigorous and morally humble?”

Facebook introduced a new, virtual currency, the Libra, which has been compared to Bitcoin, but unlike Bitcoin is not based on a pure blockchain technology. Economist Arthur Laffer, the father of supply-side economics, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A hearing by a House Judiciary subcommittee on reparations was held. (More on this in a forthcoming Thought of the Day.) The U.S. Office of Special Counsel accused Kellyanne Conway, political consultant and counselor to the President, of making political comments while working at the White House, a violation of the Hatch Act. But what White House advisor does not engage in political activity? Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the most reviled and ill-treated Press Secretary ever, resigned. She was replaced by Stephanie Grisham, aide to First Lady Melanie Trump. David Ortiz, retired player for the Red Sox, was shot while on vacation in his home country of the Dominican Republic. A team of evolutionary scientists and anatomists reported on the ability of some dogs – but not wolves – to raise their eyebrows. Scientists know that animals communicate by looking at one another, but now they want to know how and why. For example, it has been noted that rescue dogs who can communicate in this fashion are more likely to be adopted. Selah Schneiter, at age ten, became the youngest climber to scale California’s Nose of El Capitan, a 3000-foot climb in Yosemite Park. It is considered the most difficult climb in the U.S. It was proposed by someone that former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley replace Mike Pence on the 2020 ticket with Donald Trump. A good idea, in my opinion.  

Nineteen billionaires (out of 607 in the U.S.), representing eleven families, posted an open letter calling for a “moderate” wealth tax. This is a non-starter, as they well know. Such a letter makes them feel morally superior – a public display of sanctimonious generosity they will never have to honor. If they wanted to help the government, they could have sent a check, without publicity, to “Gifts to the United States,” P.O. Box 1328, Parkersburg, West Virginia. In sports, the St. Louis Blues beat the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup; the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title. Rafael Nadel won the French Open and Sir Winston captured the Belmont Stakes. For the first time in history, the Yankees and the Red Sox played two games in London. The Yankees won both games.


A Russian destroyer and an American guided-missile cruiser nearly collided in international waters off the Philippines. A US Navy spokesman said the U.S. cruiser was forced to execute “…all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid a collision.” Implied was that the Russians deliberately provoked the incident. Angela Merkel spoke at Harvard’s commencement. She invoked President Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech, when she told graduates to “…tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.” Her speech was also taken as a rebuke of President Trump’s wall along the Mexican border. However, it was her admitting millions of undocumented migrants in 2015 that created conditions existent today in Europe, including the hastening of her departure from public life. Life is always more complicated than politicians would have us believe. A June 10 article in the Financial Timesspoke to the population collapse in eastern Germany, where forty-one of seventy-seven districts are projected to lose thirty percent of their population by 2035. Manfred Grosser, a parish priest in Doberlug-Kirchhain, said that for every baptism he performs, he presides over five funerals. It is alleged by some in Berlin that billions of Euros are spent on refugees, while disadvantaged regions in the rural east are neglected. Berlin, you have a problem, and it is not Donald Trump. Identity politics entered Ottawa schools. A first-grade teacher told her students that girls are not real, and neither are boys, obviously creating confusion among six-year-old Canadians.

Moldova is being torn between the West and Russia. Yet Russia, the EU and the U.S. seem happy with the recent political outcome. Maia Sandu, leader of the pro-EU ACUM bloc, was finally named Prime Minister on June 9. She allied with the pro-Russian Socialist Party, rather than with the allegedly corrupt and nominally pro-EU Democratic Party of Moldova, which is led by Vladimir Plahotniuc, an oligarch. Ms. Sandu, western educated and formerly with the World Bank, is trying to strike a balance between Russia and the West. Greece’s far-left Syriza Party, led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, suffered a defeat in the European Parliament elections. The center-right New Democracy Party topped the polls, 9.5% ahead of Syriza. Mr. Tsipras resigned, and a snap election has been called. The French “yellow-vest” protest movement has begun to shrink, with only 7,000 demonstrators out on June 15 versus 250,000 last November. President Macron has promised to lower taxes on the middle class and loosen labor market rules. Russia was welcomed back into the Council of Europe, after being banned for the invasion of Ukraine and the absorption of Crimea. The Ukrainian delegation walked out. Keep in mind, the mission of the Council of Europe is to defend human rights, the rule of law and democracy. Its mission is not, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “…to appease dictators.”  


Death appeared. Tony Rodham, younger brother of Hillary Clinton, died at 65. Mohamed Morsi, former Egyptian president, died at 67 in the courthouse where he was on trial. Martin Feldstein, economist and adviser to Republican presidents, died at 79. John Neff, one of America’s most astute investors, died at 87. Everett Raymond Kinstler, portrait painter of presidents, died at 92. Gloria Vanderbilt died at 95. Robert Friend, a decorated fighter pilot who flew 142 missions with the fabled Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, died at 99. And I lost two friends from my days at Salomon: Harvey Katz who died at 74 and Michael Frinquelli at 78. I also lost a recent friend, Tony Sileo, who had served with my father in the 10thMountain Division during World War II. Like my father, Tony had been a runner. He died at 95.


I found the rubric that heads this essay to be appropriate. Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, as one might expect, is a favorite and a nice way to end this series. As we age, time rushes by at ever-increasing rates. July 2013 was the first of these pieces. At that – seemingly long-ago – time, the news was dominated by items like: President Obama’s trip to Africa, George Zimmerman’s acquittal, Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified information, the fatal landing of Asiana Flight 214, the Abu Ghraib prison break, and the escapades of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Representative Anthony Weiner. Still simmering were scandals like Benghazi and the intimidation by the Justice Department of Fox News reporter James Rosen. Will those news items be remembered by historians? Much has changed. The economy and working-class Americans are doing better, but political polarization has worsened. The stock market has risen 70%, but total debt has risen more from about 360% of GDP to 400 percent. Indicative of this trend, U.S. federal debt has increased five trillion dollars, while GDP has grown just over three trillion dollarsWish us luck!