Category Archives: History

The United States: Is she still a beacon to the world? edited by Kenneth Weene

 

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Exceptional or Problem Country

My View – Dellani Oakes

I was raised in a very liberal environment, but a patriotic one. My parents believed in the government, supported the military, but a lot of that faded when we got involved in Vietnam. Much more of that faith was shaken after the Watergate scandal. Still patriotic, still supportive, there was a feeling of discontent, even embarrassment.

I am proud to be American, though I see the flaws in our country. Our system needs an overhaul, where the needs of the people are met, rather than political agendas. It saddens me that we are viewed so negatively by so many in the world. We’re still a destination for those who want a better life, mostly because people have learned to work the system. They ring what they can from it, leaving We the People to pick up the pieces.

Discouraged as I am with our government, I still love my country. I still believe that it’s one of the greatest places to live. We have freedom that many don’t share. We can move from place to place across state lines without having to show papers and a passport. We are free to gripe about our government and its leaders, voice our opinions and gather in protest. We can vote and sign petitions. I’m not saying that our wishes are always met, but at least we can say what we think without fear of death.

Do I agree with everything our country has done? Not at all. But I can’t deny that I am proud to be an American and I believe it is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

 

Dellani Oakes is an author of romantic suspense novels, who lives in Florida where the sun shines, rain rains, the sky is blue and you can have all three at one time.

www.dellanioakes.wordpress.com

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Stars & Striped Coloured Glasses

by Stuart Carruthers

Back when I was a youngster living in England, we looked across the pond and our hearts sank. America had everything; it was the place from which cool radiated to our young eyes. Cowboys and Indians, trucks and cars with bonnets that stretched to the horizon; police shows were Cagney and Lacey, Starsky and Hutch and The Rockford Files and even the Churches had a band with electric bass guitars and drum kits. We, by contrast had police with pointed hats and sticks, brown short nosed Austin Allegro cars, Juliet Bravo, and churches with pipe organs and hard wooden pews. Evel Knievel jumped gorges and trucks; Eddie Kidd hopped over rivers.  Where we ate cereal and toast for breakfast, I was told by my mum that Americans ate donuts and apple pie! What more could a young boy want!

Skip forward 30 plus years and something has changed. Now everyone has hundreds of TV channels; all countries involve their soldiers in unjust wars and cars have become the same bland Japanese shapes. My son still wants to go to America, but that’s because it’s a long way away not because it has anything more than we do here in Taiwan. Globalization has given us everything from anywhere in the world wherever we are. Being American is no longer an aspiration it’s a way of life. We are fed a non-stop diet of American TV, fast food and god help us Coffee (since when was America synonymous with good coffee!?)

Thanks to social media we’re now fed the worst of Americana: cops that kill indiscriminately, highways perpetual state of inaction and never ending images of the worst of Walmart’s customers.

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s too much information, maybe, as with the rest of the world, the post-war baby boom has expired and the hope and optimism that came with it has faded and grayed with age like the children of the 50’s and 60’s.

I still haven’t found my way across the pond, but this is largely because other places looked more interesting. Not better or worse, just not the same as the UK. Today, America seems too familiar and it’s that familiarity which leads to a perceived lack of excitement for a traveler. But one day I will go and I hope that I’m wrong and that it’s as different as it could be.

 

Stuart Carruthers is a writer and a British ex-patriot who lives in Taiwan. Find him at https://www.facebook.com/Writeimagination

 

 

A Note on Returning Home

by James L. Secor

After years of travel, wandering in foreign lands, I returned to

My home–or so it was called, this place I grew in, and left for adventure,

But, in fact, was not my home, not a real home, this place I recognized

Showing little change for the years passed but now an effaced place of people living

In cells, cocoons isolated and without touch from other cocoons

Without touch–had touch been reduced to a sin, a perversion, human

Made to be inhuman?

True, a face was on it, all pasted on as

Hollywood, political smiles are, the stuff of cartoons, eyes dead in

Faces of plastic doll heads blurting sound bites of recognized syllables, but

All empty words divorced of any emotion, devoid of sentiment.

So misleading, hearing I behaved, as social, civilized man might and

Became an inappropriate one, my conduct that of a foreigner, lost in

My own land that truly was not my land, or my country, not my home,

Home being a place of welcome and warmth and support, with

Family and friends, but now no more than Odysseus’ isle of coldness and

Treachery calculated and so, fit only for a battle, a battle

I am too old to fight, too old to withstand the volcanic hatred

And killing, for surely some must cease breathing for life to once more break ground.

 

So I knew why, with more conviction than when I began my return,

I felt that I did not wish to come back to this, my country–a lost place

With no connection to me or anyone else. I knew there was nothing,

No life, no soul, no waiting arms open and welcoming, like the place

I had grown to love, with family and friends and support for a life

Far from the abuse and oppression of the people who called me their own

Only to find nothing had changed but everything had worsened and I

Was wanted less than I was before.

So, now I live nowhere at all.

 

Jim Secor wandering scholar, student and teacher, returned to the States in 2010. A social activist/critic playwright, Jim’s 44 years overseas sharpened his sense of a home gone awry. He can often be found at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com .

 

 

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While Nero Fiddled . . .

by Micki Peluso

The Roman Empire between 100 and 200 AD encompassed Northern Scotland and reached out as far as Asia. It was one of four classified Empires; including Han China, Mauryan, India and Parthian Persia. The Roman Empire stands out due to its ability to unify and cause major changes in language and the development of lands conquered. It is said that the United States of America is second in this endeavor. So why did the Roman Empire Fall? The glory that was Rome fell by 284 AD due in part by what is taking down our country today — greed, corruption and apathy.

As we watch our own great nation, once the shining star of the free world grow ever weaker, inundated with internal and external problems, one wonders if we are following the footsteps of the once mighty Empire whose arrogance and refusal to see or care blinded them to their own demise. Our country became the United States of America in 1776 with the words of our Constitution written in the blood of those who fought and died for it. That would be about 240 years ago.

We face many of the Roman Empire’s problems and more, which includes loss of respect from other nations, mockery from our enemies, little or no aid from countries that we spend billions upon, as well as major financial, medical, and environmental problems on our front. Scandals in government have scorched the integrity of our political philosophies. We have backed down from stamping out terrorism when it first raised its ugly tentacles in the 1970s; beatable than, not so easily now. Our economy, dependent upon two-income families, has affected the lives of this present generation of children, along with the ever progressive computer technology which is both advantage and bane. We have been forewarned and educated in problems needing immediate solutions. As a Super Power we still ‘talk the talk’ but fail to ‘walk the walk.’ Chicken Little is scurrying about, crying out, ‘The Sky is Falling.’ We don’t bother to glance up.

Can we be so foolish as not to see what’s happening to our once great nation? The greed, corruption, and apathy are snowballing into a massive avalanche that may well bury the country we once knew. Cartoonist Walt Kelly paraphrased Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous quotation, ‘We have met the enemy and they are ours.’ On the second Earth Day on April 22, 1970, Walt Kelly’s first ‘Pogo’ cartoon graced the cover of a magazine. His words were relating to environmental issues but aptly fit all the problems of our times. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

 

Magazine writer, humorist, and memoirist Micki Peluso  can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Micki-Peluso/e/B002BLZ7JK/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1435341140&sr=1-2

 

 

American Alchemy

by Kenneth Weene

Having grown up in New England, my childhood was imbued with the “Shining City on the Hill” mythology of America. We were, after all, the landfall of Pilgrims and Puritans, the home of Anne Hutchinson and Rodger Williams, the bedrock of Unitarianism, town meetings, and transcendentalism. We believed in the transformation of man. If the ancient alchemists goal was to change lead to gold, New England offered the promise that mere men could be transformed into pure-hearted signers of a perfect social contract. Hadn’t that been shown on November 11, 1620 aboard the Mayflower? Hadn’t that human steel been proven in the Revolution and again in the fire of the Civil War?

Even today, despite much revisionist history, despite learning of the abuse of Indians by those “founding fathers” and of the slave connections of many of those revolutionary heroes, despite knowing that many New Englanders grew rich during the War Between the States: it is easy to look back on my childhood—so close to Concord, Lexington, Walden Pond, and Bunker Hill—and believe America did offer the world an example of what could be.

Our downstairs neighbor, who appears from time to time in my writing, was a veteran of World War I. Despite the shrapnel in his legs and the laboring of his gassed lungs, he believed America had fought to make the world safe for democracy and to end the age of war. He believed we were a place that offered the possibility of—if not perfection, surely—improvement. We all believed America was the place a man could rise to new heights.

Born just before World War II, I can remember the pride of standing with my grandfather and watching General Eisenhower’s motorcade come down our main street. One of my first published poems was about that day.

Now much older, I look back and wonder when the possibility that was America was lost. Intellectually, I know there were always problems of justice and equality, but what went wrong to our national goal of perfectibility or ongoing improvement. We are no longer interested in the transformation of ourselves or our world into something purer; we have become, as the ancient alchemists, preoccupied with the accumulation of gold.

We no longer believe in a compact between government and citizens. Rather we glorify individualism at the price of mutual responsibility. While other governments offer ever increasing support, protection, and encouragement to all, many Americans see government as the threat and believe that we are in a free-for-all in which the best should and do succeed while the devil takes the rest.

Perhaps it was always so. We are, after all, the nation of slavery, Manifest Destiny, and robber barons. Perhaps we never truly ascribed to the pursuit of something higher. Perhaps my childhood hagiography was a lie. It is enough to make an American weep, shout, and work for change.

 

Novelist, poet, and essayist, Kenneth Weene is one of the founding editors of The Write Room. Find him at http://www.kennethweene.com

Reflections on a certain crime by R.J. Ellory

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Some while ago I was asked by the Wall Street Journal to write a piece concerning ‘unknown’ or forgotten literary classics.  Having recently spent a considerable amount of time in France, I decided to share my thoughts about several French writers, now widely available in English, who seemed yet to be unheard of by my English contemporaries, associates and friends.

Amongst the list of those I chose was Jean-Patrick Manchette, author of La Position de Tireur Couché (literally translates as ‘the position of the gunman lying down’, published in English as ‘The Prone Gunman’).  This book has now been adapted for film and is on general release as ‘The Gunman’ with Sean Penn and Javier Bardem.

Manchette said a very interesting thing about his genre, to the effect that the crime novel was the best way to hold up a mirror to the society within which we live.  That was the central theme of the piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal, and seems to hold true as far as my own writing is concerned.  Dealing with the wider canvas of ethics, morals, justice, crime and punishment, the motivations and rationales of those who violate the laws of the land and all related subjects leads us – not only as writers, but also as interested individuals – into the subject of psychology, the mind, the very woof and warp of life itself.

And then the other night my wife and I watched a film called ‘The Imitation Game’ with Benedict Cumberbatch, itself a depiction of the life and work of Alan Turing, the man responsible for creating a machine that cracked the Enigma code.  The somewhat romanticized portrayal of life at Bletchley Park, the ‘emotional personalisation’ of the story that was facilitated by placing a brother of one of the research team on a ship that had to be ‘sacrificed’ so as to prevent any possibility of the Germans discovering that the code had been broken, did nothing to obscure the factual tragedy inherent in the tale.  Turing was a homosexual.  At the time, homosexuality was against the law.  Anyone engaging in homosexual activity could be charged with ‘gross indecency’.  Fifty years after the war the truth of Bletchley Park, Turing and the cracking of Enigma became public knowledge, at least those parts of it that the government permitted us to know, and Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a royal pardon.  It was the then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who stood up in parliament and announced that Turing had been ‘forgiven’.  Charles Dance, commenting in the film extras, said that the greatest irony of Turing’s pardon was that it was Turing who should have been forgiving us for the way in which he was treated, not the other way around.

After the film was over, my wife and discussed the moral and ethical ramifications of that specific situation.  Turing was a genius.  Turing built a machine with wires and valves and cogs that gave us the foundation for all things computer-related that we take for granted today.  It has been estimated that Turing’s machine and the cracking of Enigma shortened the war by two years and saved a further fourteen million lives.  Why couldn’t Churchill have stepped in when Turing was charged with ‘gross indecency’?  Why, after all that Turing had done, couldn’t someone ‘high up’ have bailed him out, saved the day, rescued him for the truly dreadful fate that awaited him?  But no.  No-one stepped in.  Turing was charged, tried, convicted, and not one person came forward to tell the world what this great man had done, how his ingenuity, resolve, courage and magnificent intellect had turned the tide of the war.  They couldn’t.  Such a thought was inconceivable.  Everything that Turing had ever accomplished was bound over and held confidential under the Official Secrets Act.  Had you looked up Turing’s war record, you would have found no record at all.  In effect, certainly for the duration of the war itself, Turing was a man who did not exist.

The judge at Turing’s trial gave Turing a choice: two years in jail or be subjected to horrific chemical castration to ‘curb his proclivities’.  Turing, wishing not to be divorced from his ever-ongoing work and research, chose the latter.  He reported in for a year, taking mandatory injections of Stilboestrol (synthetic oestrogen).  The treatment rendered Turing impotent.  On June 8, 1954, Turing was found dead.  His body had lain undiscovered for twenty-four hours.  Whether he committed suicide by eating a cyanide-soaked apple, or whether his death was caused by inadvertent inhalation of cyanide fumes from a machine he’d set up in his tiny room is still a matter of conjecture.  He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at Woking Crematorium.  His life and work went unknown for decades, but now – notwithstanding the fact that we will never have a chance to ask for his forgiveness – at least what he achieved has been acknowledged and appropriately commended.

However, having spoken to many who have seen the film, there still lies the question: Why did no-one step in to save Turing?  Answer: Because he broke the law.  It was that simple.  The simple fact is that many tens of thousands of individuals gave everything of themselves in the Second World War.  Turing was a genius, no doubt about it, but he did what he was able to do to assist in the war effort.  Others, perhaps blessed with less intellect, nevertheless gave no less of themselves.  Ordinary men and women learned to fly aircraft and parachute into occupied territory; they underwent rigorous training and volunteered for missions deep in the heart of Nazi Germany; they ferried supplies across a U-Boat-riddled Atlantic to bring ammunition and supplies to Allied forces abroad; they boarded landing craft for the invasion in June of 1944, certain that they would never again see home.  And millions of them didn’t see home again, as we know all too well.  Just because someone did something truly extraordinary and heroic did it them give them license to break the law, to perpetrate a crime, to be unreservedly forgiven?  No, it did not.  Did Montgomery’s success in defeating Rommel then give him permission to rob banks and kill innocent civilians?  No, it did not.  The law was the law.  Turing broke the law, and he had to face the penalty.

The real truth is that the law was insane.  A law that punishes a man or woman for their sexual preferences or predilections, save where those preferences and predilections actually render physical, mental or emotional harm to another, is the true criminal here.  It was a ‘sign of the times’, much the same as children born out of wedlock caused not only the mothers, but also the infants to be shunned and despised. My wife, as a girl of eight or nine, told a schoolfriend’s mother that her own mother lived with a man to whom she was not married.  That schoolfriend’s mother barred her own daughter from ever speaking to my wife again.  That was in the early 1970s.

We have grown up in many ways.  As a society, we appear to be more tolerant, liberal, perhaps even forgiving, but as individuals it is a different story.  We all harbour our own personal discriminations, our preconceptions, our unfounded and judgmental attitudes, and they influence the way we speak to people, deal with people, handle people.  I was once asked what I believed to be the fundamental difference between a child and an adult.  It was an interesting question.  My answer, regardless of whether it was right or wrong, was simply that a child appeared to trust other people until they were a given a reason not to trust, whereas an adult appeared to instinctively mistrust until they were given a reason to trust.

The newspapers and television news would have us believe that society is dangerous, crazy, unpredictable, potentially hazardous in every imaginable way.  That is a lie.  The newspapers engender, foster and encourage our cynicism and mistrust.  It seems to be their primary purpose.  How many times have you yourself been involved in or witness to an act of murder, rape, kidnapping, even physical or mental abuse?  If at all, then you are in the tiny minority.  Such things happen of course, but they are far less frequent and prolific than the media would have us believe.

The true criminals here are racism, religious intolerance, misogyny, greed, corruption, vested interest, and all the other ills that plague this society.  Beneath all of these is ignorance, perhaps the greatest crime of all, and a society that permits a decline in educational standards, a society that regards ‘celebrity for celebrity’s sake’ as something of value, a society that promotes the ‘let’s all get something for nothing’ viewpoint that appears pandemic, certainly in the West, is a society not only in dire need of change, but also very possibly on the way out.

We are all human.  We are all ridiculous in our own special way.  That old saw, never successfully attributed to a specific author, regarding holding onto anger being much the same as taking poison and hoping the other person will die, has a relevant place here.  Let others be who they are and they may very well let you be who you are.  If everyone was themselves, truly, and we accepted that others were also different and had just as much right to exist as we did, then wouldn’t the world seem different?

I guess it would.

Try it.  You never know, you might just like the world a whole lot better, and find that world likes you just as much in return.

 

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On numerous occasions people have tried to identify Roger’s work with a particular genre – crime, thriller, historical fiction – but this categorisation has been a relatively fruitless endeavour. Roger’s ethos is merely to work towards producing a good story, something that encapsulates elements of humanity and life without necessarily slotting into a predetermined pigeonhole. He attempts to produce an average of forty thousand words a month, and aims to get a first draft completed within three to four months. His wife thinks he is a workaholic, his son considers him slightly left-of-centre, but they put up with him regardless. His son has long since been aware of the fact that ‘dad’ buys stuff, and thus his idiosyncrasies should be tolerated.

http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO

 

How a Serial Killer’s Family Helped Saved the Nation By T. R. Heinan

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How a Serial Killer’s Family Helped Saved the Nation

By T. R. Heinan

This year marks the bicentennial of one of the most decisive battles in American military history, the Battle of New Orleans. The War of 1812 is sometimes called “the forgotten war” and it is not uncommon to hear that the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war was actually over. In fact, while the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814 and the final British assault did not occur until January 8, 1815, the treaty specifically provided that fighting would continue until the treaty had been ratified and exchanged, something that did not occur until February.

The British hope was for the war to end with the British in possession of the City of New Orleans. This would allow them to control traffic on the Mississippi. The fledgling American nation had been humiliated by one military defeat after another throughout the war. Except for some ports in New England, the entire coastline was now successfully blockaded, and the Americans were defeated on the Great Lakes. The British plan to turn the States into a helpless island surrounded by His Majesty’s naval might only lacked control of the Mississippi River.

The White House had been burned, American ports of entry were targeted for destruction, and there was confidence in London that the commercial sector in the former colonies would soon demand an end to their experiment with independence. To accomplish this end, the Crown sent Sir Edmund Pakenham with an armada of fifty ships and a force of 11,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines to capture New Orleans.

President James Madison ordered General Andrew Jackson to the Crescent City.   Jackson did not arrived until December 1, 1814. He required an interpreter to help him communicate with the largely French speaking population as he hastily assembled a small opposition force consisting of French and Spanish Creoles, free men of color, slaves, German famers, frontiersmen, militia, regular soldiers and a significant company of pirates.

Witness to these events was thirty-nine year old Delphine Macarty Blanque, pregnant with her fourth child and married to her second husband, Jean Pierre Blanque. The Blanques lived near Conti on Royal Street, two doors down from where Brennan’s Restaurant now stands. Their townhouse was next to the Bank of Louisiana, of which Jean Blanque was a director. Their summers where spent at the Blanque Plantation located on the Mississippi near the Macarty Plantation owned by Delphine’s family. Jean did quite well as a merchant, banker and member of the Louisiana Legislature, but his best source of income was as a silent partner of the most notorious pirates of the Caribbean, Jean and Pierre Lafitte.

Since January 1, 1808 it had been illegal to import new slaves into the United States. The new law played right into the hands of Jean Blanque and the Lafitte brothers.   There was big money to be made in the smuggling of ‘black ivory.” By 1814, the United States government was after Jean Lafitte; his brother Pierre was already in jail, and Jean Blanque had been found guilty and fined for smuggling coffee. Louisiana Governor William Claiborne offered a $500 award for the capture of Jean Lafitte. The pirate responded by offering $1,500 for the capture of the governor.

The British, knowing that Lafitte had ships, canons and hundreds of trained men, approached the pirate, offering funds and the rank of captain if he would join them in their attack on the Americans. Lafitte asked for some time to think it over. After weighing his options, Lafitte dispatched letters to Jean Blanque, including one addressed to Governor Claiborne, revealing the British plans and offering to join the American forces. The letters were rushed to Delphine Macarty Blanque’s husband, arriving in less than 24 hours after a trip through the swamps that would normally take three days. Blanque, while insisting that he barely knew Lafitte, beseeched the Louisiana authorities to take advantage of the offer.

Claiborne assumed it was a trick, an attempt to free Jean’s brother Pierre from prison. He ordered an attack on the pirate’s headquarters. Jackson didn’t think he could accept the aid off an outlaw, but was furious that Claiborne had attacked the pirates, fearing that this would push them to accept the British offer. Blanque continued to plead with the legislature and New Orleans safety officials. In a matter of days Jackson realized how unprepared New Orleans still remained.   He had only two actual fighting ships on the river, both seriously undermanned. The pirates could help there. More importantly they had cannons, big powerful cannons, and men experienced at using them. After a meeting with Lafitte on Royal Street, Andrew Jackson decided to accept Lafitte’s offer.

During his reconnaissance, Jackson found the place he would make his stand. His headquarters, and the final battleground was to be the childhood home of Jean Blanque’s wife, Delphine Macarty Blanque. The Macarty Plantation, just a short distance downriver from New Orleans, still remained in the family and was still being operated by her cousin. Jackson dug in there and had Lafitte’s heavy ship guns brought onshore. When the British attack came it was fast and furious. Jackson’s headquarters at the Macarty plantation house was struck by cannon fire nearly 100 times in just ten minutes. Most of the British fire was aimed too high however, and the superiority of the American gunners, assisted by Lafitte’s pirates, surprised both sides.

The British suffered 2,459 casualties. American losses were remarkably few. Sir Edmund Pakenham was dead and his forces were forced to retreat.

The sudden and complete defeat of the invaders not only prevented British control of the Mississippi, it became a defining and unifying moment in American history, proving that the new nation had both the will and the ability to bring its people together in defense of their constitutional government and independence. The history, legends, and fame of Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte have become part of the American story.

The wife of Jean Blanque whose family plantation became Jackson’s battleground and whose husband brought Lafitte’s offer of assistance to the Americans is also remembered today, but not because of the events that took place while she was married to Blanque. She is remembered for what she did with her third husband, Dr. Louis Lalaurie.

Each year thousands of tourists go to visit her final home in New Orleans at 1140 Royal Street. A new generation has learned her name from Kathy Bates’ excellent, though historically inaccurate, portrayal of her on American Horror Story. She is remembered today for the torture and brutal murder of her slaves in the attic of New Orleans most “haunted house”. She is Madame Delphine Macarty Blanque Lalaurie.

 

T.R. Heinan is the author of L’immortalité: Madam Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen, a reflection on justice and compassion set in the historical context of a popular 19th century New Orleans legend. http://www.amazon.com/LImmortalite-Madame-Lalaurie-Voodoo-Queen/dp/0615634710

Musings And Checkers by Kenneth Weene

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What eight-year-old boy doesn’t want to do things with his dad? When my father told me to hop in our black four-door Ford, I was happy to oblige. That we were going to the general store made it all the better. I loved roaming that store—cram packed with scythes, guns, food, ice cream, clothes, notions, even the local post office. The entire place redolent of Maine. Voices filled with flat “R”s and twang. Local folks stopped in as much to socialize as to shop.

The wood-burning stove would be cold—summer was not a time for roaring fires; but there was sure to be a checkers game in progress, the board sitting atop an upturned pickle barrel similar to the one from which I would, if Dad was in the right mood, fish a crispy dill for a special treat. Checkers was a religion almost as important as the Boston Red Sox. Its devotees were the old men who gathered at Maynard’ store; its practice was simple, red and black.

My father never asked to play, nor was he ever asked; but I loved to watch those geezers huffing and puffing their way through each game as if it were mortal combat.

While Dad and Maynard, the proprietor, worked on our order—much of which would have to come from Portland or even Boston and would arrive in perhaps a week, I wandered through that wonderland, trying as children do to soak-up everything that was being done and said.

Elvira, Maynard’s wife was talking fabrics with Hortense Clark. Usually, I would have skipped the women’s talk, but Hortense mentioned my family name. “How come Maynard lets that kike Weene order things; I wouldn’t do business with a Jew.” She spat the last word out so it hung in the air.

“Hortense,” Elvira answered, “Joe’s a White Jew.”

“What the hell did that mean?” Instinctively, I knew it was not a question to ask aloud. That was well over sixty years ago, and I am finally ready to answer my unspoken question. My answer is not, as some might expect, about anti-Semitism, although anti-Jewish prejudice certainly underlay Hortense Clarks’s comment. Rather, it is about race or at least the American concept of race and how that concept affects our social and political discourse. It is about what has been termed by some the American dilemma, but that dilemma is not about the role of Blacks, African-Americans, Negroes, or whatever term you have learned to use when referring to people who can trace their roots back to Africa. Rather it is about how early Americans came to see themselves, how those first British-Americans came to define their world.

Perhaps a bit of history would be helpful. Well before slavery had become the mainstay of what is now the Southeast United States, it took root in the Caribbean. England had discovered sugar and the insatiable European sweet tooth demanded plantation after plantation of cane. Sugar was a backbreaking crop and labor intensive; what better way to produce it than employing the cheapest possible labor, slaves. But the Africans brought to Jamaica, the Barbados, and other islands were not agreeable to the plan or to their treatment. There were rebellions. Vulnerability to French and Spanish intrusions and to the depredations of pirates and privateers added to the sense of unease in those island colonies. Better to move lock, stock, and slave holdings to the mainland where there was comparative safety. So the Carolinas were settled. If sugarcane did not do as well in the new plantations as they had in the islands, tobacco and rice coupled with fur trade with the Indians made up the difference.

However, the plantation owners still didn’t feel that safe. The slaves were no happier with their conditions in the new setting; they still wanted freedom; and the Spanish in Florida encouraged slave rebellions. The enslaved Black population outnumbered the plantation owners and their hired hands. Then, too, displaced Native Americans brooded in the forests. There was a boding sense of danger. The solution of British troops being garrisoned in the communities was too expensive and was certainly unacceptable to the plantation owners who wanted to be their own royalty. Better to find other, poorer Europeans to share the risk, to settle the lesser lands and provide the services in the towns and villages.

The attraction of the New World to impoverished working class recruits was land. If they had none in Europe, at least in America they would now have some. So they came. Of course there was a selection process that went on. French and Spaniards were not welcome. After all, England was in almost perpetual war with those two Catholic monarchies. While Scots, Welsh, and Scots-Irish were the most welcome, there were too few of these; so other Europeans were welcome: Greeks, Albanians, Germans, and so forth. They came to find themselves an economic underclass, many indentured, often burdened with debt, and seldom able to obtain land worth the farming.

The question was how to keep these poor Europeans from forming a natural affinity with the slaves who often worked beside them all for the landed gentry. How to keep them from seeing themselves as oppressed. It was in that context that the notion of a “White Race” was born.

“Why do they call themselves the human race? Do they think somebody is going to win?” The line from a television sitcom haunts this topic. Just what do we mean by race and how do the word’s two meanings intersect?

Race in the sense of rushing or competing comes from the Norse or perhaps Old English.

Race in the sense of “people of common descent” comes from the Middle French, possibly before that from the Italian. It was originally used to describe people and other things that naturally grouped together, including wines of particular flavor, a generation, a group of people with a common occupation, or people who had a common background as a tribe.

There is no evidence that race referred to people being divided on the basis of physical differences before the late eighteenth century. In other words, those colonists—rich or poor—did not come to the Americas thinking of a “White Race.” They may have thought of Africans as different from themselves, but only in the way they may have thought the same of Russians or Slavs as not being like them or perhaps of Welsh and English being different.

It was essential to the landed gentry of the colonies to alienate the poor Europeans from the Black slaves. The easiest way to do that was to play up the sense of difference and the clearest difference was the color of skin. Hence whiteness became a political tool.

That night in Maine I lay on the grass and looked up at the stars. I could see so many of them—no light pollution to interfere. I did not know even then if I believed in God or Heaven, but I do know I believed in possibilities and the future. I looked up and like many young Americans of that day I saw a world that could be better. It did not occur to me that there were many who could only see the ground beneath them, who lived in desperate fear of things getting worse.

“Keep your eye on the prize.” What a great evocation. But for those who cannot know if their children will have enough to eat, there is no prize. They cannot look to the stars; they are far too busy watching for the pratfalls along the path. For those who are living in quiet desperation there is no possibility. For them it is the simple maxim, “Look back, the Devil may be gaining on you.”

Fear becomes anger, and anger becomes rage. The Devil is coming and has to be defeated. And if that Devil is represented by the descendents of the slaves whom their ancestors were supposed to look down on, by the Black-skinned Americans whom their culture came to call a different race, why it is clear where the rage must be directed.

For a person who sees himself as a member of the White race who lives in a terror of downward social mobility, a terror known only too well by those who are just holding on to their rung of the ladder, the mythical other, the Black, becomes a threat beyond the tolerable.

From the first gleaming of the American character this terror of the not-White was mixed in— added intentionally by those plantation owners looking for allies just in case of a slave rebellion. Once it existed towards the African slaves, it was easily displaced onto other groups, groups that at some psychological level were identified as not-White. As descendents of early French settlers migrated from Eastern Canada down into Maine and New England, they became the non-Whites. The Irish who were carried to the New World by the waves of the potato blight were often labeled “Black Irish.” Obviously, to Hortense my father was not “White,” but Elvira set her straight, albeit about just that one person, not all Jews.

Today, for most Americans, the French, Irish, and Jews have been assimilated into the class of Whiteness. African Americans are still not white. Neither are those of Hispanic background. Consider those wonderful questionnaires one is so often asked to fill out, for instance satisfaction surveys after Internet purchases and services. The classifications offered for self-identification make it clear that Hispanics are not White.

A short time ago I saw a picture of four children on the social media; they were labeled Black, Yellow, Brown, and Normal. Normal, that is the label given to the white child. Perhaps there was no intent; after all the purported message of the picture was “Everybody deserves to be treated equally!” Equally to the normal, to the White.

Another recent event sends the same message. An exit poll of voters in South Carolina asked, “Are Blacks getting too demanding in their push for equal rights?” Too demanding, how can one be too demanding in the expectation of equality?

It is many years since I heard my father referred to as a White Jew. At the time, I suppose a part of me was happy with that distinction; it meant that my dad was accepted, that at least to some small degree we were part of the community. But he was not asked to play a game of checkers.

Years later I am not so happy. I wish I had known then what I know today. I would have spoken up. Voice cracking with youth and emotion I would have said, “My father is a person. He is honest and trustworthy. Beyond that, there should be no labels. We are Americans, and we should know better. We are the children of revolution, of the natural human drive for freedom, a goal that can never be realized while we are willing to classify ourselves as if we were talking about the flavors of wine.” I would have taken a bite of that pickle clutched in my right hand and added, “Besides he’s a great checkers player.” Yes, I would have added that.

At least now I know that it is my responsibility to say such things, to make those comments in the social media, to stand up for that idea in my life; that is the responsibility of a free person. For if we are not equally free, then freedom will no longer have meaning.

If there is a Devil who will gain on us, he will not be in the guise of those with a different shade of skin but in the guise of those who tell us that we must fear others in order to protect ourselves. We can defeat that evil spirit. The place to start? Might I suggest a game of checkers? Might I suggest that we set up that overturned pickle barrel and start to play—making sure that everyone gets a turn.

 

Besides his work organizing The Write Room Blog aand co-hosting It Matters Radio, Ken Weene writes and writes. His latest book Broody New Engander is now available in print and Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002M3EMWU

Way Back When by Sharla Lee Shults

 

Stepping back in time is so interesting . . . in fact, it is often just plain, simple fun! Whether you are a teenager wanting to learn about the eras in which your parents grew up or the adult who wants to relive the memories, the nostalgia is an alluring invitation for a trip down memory lane.

More than likely at one time or another you have said, or heard someone else say the phrase way back when. Its context could be in reference to good times or bad times but in either case reflects upon events of the distant past—a different year, decade or even a different era. Some folks refer to it as back in the day. But, whose day? Before indoor plumbing? Before electricity? Before the phonograph? Before the automobile? Before radio? Before television? Before the cellphone, iPhone, iPad?

Regardless of how you say it, distinctive spans of time become identifiers for each individual. There are countless, precious moments held dear to the heart before time erases all memory. Each footnote has its own unique melody playing out the music of life. Looking back provides reflections into who we are, how we have evolved and in some instances, where we are going [again]. Making comparisons of how things were ‘back in the day’ to present day is often hilarious. The changes in fashion, cars, appliances, entertainment and sayings about the future (which is now the present) can have one doubling over with laughter or simply smiling in amazement.

Conversations can quickly turn to making comparisons of the amenities that are commonplace today but totally void in the past. Such things as living in houses with dirt floors, having to complete private business in outhouses, boiling clothes to get them clean, bathing once a month with or without soap, etc. are considered primitive by today’s standards. Of course, we don’t have to step that far back in time. Simply disregard the cellphone, TV and Internet. Without those three, some people would not know how to survive.

Many comparisons to way back when or back in the day are derived from the changes in the state of the economy. For instance, think about the cost of gasoline. Today excitement abounds if to fill the car, truck, lawn mower or farm equipment with gas costs under $4.00 a gallon. Also, if a trip to the doctor’s office or a prescription is under $100, shouts of jubilation can be heard! It has not always been that way. Can you date either of these scenarios? Do you remember when…

Who would have thought gas would ever cost 25 cents a gallon? I hear it will soon go up to 26 cents. Up a penny now, another penny later. The rate it is going gasoline will reach a dollar a gallon before we know it. What’s the world coming to?

At $15.00 a day in the hospital, no one can afford to be sick anymore. All those doctors want to do is make their lives easier at our expense! Maw, what’s that home remedy for sore throat?

These are only a random sampling of conversations today that ultimately begin with I remember when or back in the day. These examples would place one’s when in the 50s.

Another inevitable change through the decades is the use of catch phrases. These are expressions used repeatedly until at some point in time they are replaced or simply have worn themselves out. See if you can date any of the following:

Look at that cat’s ‘zoot’ suit. It’s crazy, man.

You are ‘lighting up the tilt sign!’

‘Are we having fun yet?’

Can you dig it?

Say what?

Whatever!

Wassup!

If you recognize the ‘zoot’ suit, your memories have dated back to men’s fashion of the 40s, which consisted of a long jacket with wide shoulders and pants that were wide at the top but narrow at the bottom. ‘Lighting up the tilt sign’ was slang of the 50s when someone was not telling the truth. ‘Are we having fun yet?’ is the most famous quote by bizarre, non-sequitur-spouting comic strip character Zippy the Pinhead. This caught on quite rapidly with the general public in the 60s. The phrase ‘Can you dig it?’ was first used in the awesome cult classic “The Warriors.” It became synonymous with ‘groovy’ in the 70s. The wild and funky decade, the 80s, spawned ‘Say What’ and ‘Mikey Likes It,’ both of which ran the gamut. ‘Whatever!’ was made popular in the 90s and is the one that has been dubbed the most irritating in the English language. Then, there is ‘Wassup!’ stemming from a Budweiser commercial that definitely bludgeoned itself to death in the beginning of the new millennium. It thankfully died!

Movies are a great source of entertainment with certain movie lines sticking in our heads, much like the catch phrases, to be repeated just at the right place and time in real life. Here are but a few. See if you remember using them upon occasion, perhaps even recently.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Gone with the Wind (1939)

“Well, nobody’s perfect.” Some Like it Hot (1959)

“Bond. James Bond.” Dr. No (1962)

“May the force be with you.” Star Wars (1977)

“I’ll be back.” The Terminator (1984)

“Houston, we have a problem.” Apollo 13 (1995)

The memory triggers during a visit to the past vary greatly. Hopefully those shared here are ones that have brought on smiles, adding a bit of humor to the day. To end our trip down memory lane, do you recall who said…

“Love is being stupid together.”

“Ever notice how “what the hell” is always the right answer?”

Both are still very apropos in the 21st century. The first is credited to Paul Valéry but made popular by Lucille Ball in the I Love Lucy show. The second is said to be attributed to none other than Marilyn Monroe but not credited to her as an original.

And life goes on beating to the rhythm of the changing times…


Way Back When

 

Way back when could be days gone by

When leisure reigned and time didn’t fly

Back in the day brought a blissful vision

Summer nights with no television

 

We’d play hide-n-seek way passed dark

When shadows played tricks as we embarked

Wearing socks emitted soundless steps

Muffled strides which slowly crept

 

Good ol’ days forged many a fable

When conversation ruled the dinner table

Freshly cooked chow incited a snicker

“Peas, please, and the pot liquor”

 

Way back when could be days gone by

When things remembered made you cry

Reminiscing brought an unwelcomed vision

Summer nights with no television

 

We’d play inside after Jack Frost

When darkness reigned and time was lost

Sounds of the night repeated all week

Rocking chairs that steadily creaked

 

Now the days pass much too fast

Memories still linger holding on to the past

Remembrances prompt the slyest grin

“A way of life, way back when!”

 

©2009 Remembering Sharla Lee Shults

 
“Let each day begin with happy thoughts that return to remember when.” ~SLS

 

Poem excepted from Remembering (http://goo.gl/C5PZcP) by Sharla Lee Shults. Sharla’s passion for writing is poetry: Historical and inspirational. Become acquainted with her writing by visiting http://sharlashults.com/ where links are accessible to her books, blogs and social networks. Sharla previously shared here at The Write Room:  A Woodsy Morning http://www.thewriteroomblog.com/?p=1060, A Day That Will Live in Infamy: December 7, 1941 http://www.thewriteroomblog.com/?p=1538, Why do you celebrate Memorial Day? http://www.thewriteroomblog.com/?p=2082 and joined Linda Hales in Turning Winter into Summer http://www.thewriteroomblog.com/?p=1695.

From destroyer to builder by Jon Magee

™™Lancaster-Bomber

As I approached the funeral of Jim I was conscious that there was more to this elderly gentleman than most would have given him credit for. So often the professionals will see the elderly with the limitations that are currently visible, when they will often have so much filed away in their lives that reveal a wealth of experience. In Jim, they would have seen a man limited with many of the health issues that come with age. His speech had become limited, his thinking appeared to have slowed so much. His walking had also slowed down quite considerably. Yet despite that he was still being underestimated. I was fortunate because I had the opportunity to get to know him through the years, and there were so many positive memories I had discovered within his life.

I recall the time whilst in hospital he was in a ward where some of the patients were prone to wander. For their security a pin number was required to be able to use the exit doors, yet somehow Jim managed to escape. The staff hunted throughout the hospital, concerned for his safety and welfare. Eventually he was found enjoying a cup of coffee, relaxing in the hospital cafe. He was oblivious to the concerns the staff had for him. When asked how he managed to leave the ward he slowly said “I watched the guards as they used their codes”. He was a Prisoner of War during the 2nd World War, and was clearly recounting that this was nothing new in his experiences. The German guards were unable to keep him, and neither was the simple security system of a hospital.

Jim was well past retirement age when I came to know him, yet he was still able to communicate and make a valuable contribution to a conversation. He would come to the Church each Sunday Morning armed with a pocketful of sweets, passing them around the congregation before the service began. He would note what were the interests of the young people, and give them a gift of musical Cd’s or aircraft model kits. His generosity was beyond compare.

On a Friday morning, Jim would make his way to the “Coffee Mates”. It was a weekly drop in facility for men run by the church, and open to any men in the community. He enjoyed this opportunity to meet with other men, socialising over a cup of coffee. Often he would recall his youth in Fraserburgh, in the North of Scotland near Aberdeen. He would speak of the fishermen he knew, and the poems he remembered being spoken in the Doric, (The Doric is the popular name given to the dialect in the North East of Scotland.)

However, even more he remembered the experiences of the war, which had had a profound effect on his life. He was air crew, flying Lancaster Bombers over Italy and Germany and could still recount tremendous details. During World War II the Lancaster was the most successful bomber used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The Lancaster had speed, ceiling, and lifting power that no other aircraft of the day could match. Weighing 36,900 pounds empty, the Lancaster was capable of taking off with an additional 33,100 pounds of fuel and bombs; in other words it could almost carry its own weight again. Lancasters were built to accomplish their specific purpose and crew comfort and security was clearly a secondary consideration. Generally flying under the cover of darkness, the Lancaster had virtually no defensive armour. The front, mid-upper, and rear gun turrets were hydraulically powered and carried a total of eight .303 calibre machine guns for defence against enemy aircraft.

Lancaster_over_Hamburg

He also spoke of the personal anguish he felt as he thought of the devastation he was responsible for from each bombing raid, and the feeling of guilt knowing he would need to return and repeat the bombing another time. It was one dark night that those bombing raids for him were to come to an end. They had received a direct hit and each member of the crew knew this was the end of their war. They knew the risks were always great, of the total of 7,377 Lancaster’s built, 3,932 were lost in action. There was little time to waste as they abandoned the aircraft and parachuted to the ground. Of the 7 man crew only 5 were to survive, yet it was invariably the 2 who died that would come to his mind, they were his friends and friendship ran deep when living in such cramped and dangerous conditions.

As he was captured and taken to the POW camp he made a vow he was determined to keep. There had been too much destruction, too much death, whether it be his friends or the people on the ground. Following the war he was determined things would be different. Every thing he did in the future needed to be a work of building, not destroying, he was determined life has to be better and all his resources needed to be aimed in that direction. Will he achieve his vow?

Following the war, Jim devoted himself to studying and training to ensure he gave his goal its best shot, and nothing would sway him from his intention. His last post prior to retirement was as the borough surveyor in the neighbouring town. To this day people still speak with admiration as they speak of the quality and ability of his work. He is a man that is upheld as one of the best who has held such a position, achieving what others would have said was impossible.

From destroyer to builder? Yes, that was indeed the man I came to know with affection, Jim.

 

Jon Magee was born in 1951 at RAF Cosford , in Shropshire, England into a nomadic family. His father served in the British Royal Air Force as a Medical Secretary, and so did he for 10 years as an Electronic Technician working on Aircraft communications. Consequently, by the time he reached the age of 30 he had never lived anywhere more than 3 years maximum, and was in 14 schools by the time he had completed his Secondary education.

The result is that he has lived through many of the milestones of : in the 1950’s he was in Singapore during the Chinese riots, 1960/62 was in Germany at the height of the cold war, 1966/67 was in Aden (Yemen)as a teenager in the midst of the conflict and terrorism of the time and the British evacuation. As an adult, Jon Magee arrived in Malta as the Maltese Prime Minister decided he did not like the British, and then he went to Cyprus with his new wife, Joan, 1973 – 1975, in time for the Military coup and Turkish invasions of 1974.

He is married to Joan and they have 3 daughters, 2 sons, and 7 grandchildren, which he affectionately refers to as “The Magnificent 7”. He now serves as Baptist minister in Scotland, as well as serving as a Chaplain in various schools and industrial establishments. He is also a Community Councillor in Lochgelly. Recently Jon Magee has been appointed as Chairman of the management committee of the Churches of Lochgelly Cowdenbeath and Kelty (CLoCK) Street Pastors.

As an author, his writings reflect that nomadic early life, and brings out the realism of what it is like to live at the heart of the conflicts in the world in a way that is only possible having experience of the situations. In addition to writing for magazines and local newspapers, Jon is the author of “From Barren Rocks … to Living Stones” and “Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey”.

Jon Magee is open to invitations to speak on his area of expertise in both secular and Church situations, and maybe contacted at Lochgellybaptist@aol.com

 

TWO THEORIES OF HISTORY by BryanMurphy

conspiracy

 Have you read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine? If you are in the USA, you may have seen the Public Service TV series called Commanding Heights, which was based on it. It’s a marvellous book, I’ve just finished it, one that shows you things that were in front of your eyes but you had not noticed, or had noticed but not paid due attention to. It is about the rise of market fundamentalism and the disasters which that has unleashed upon the world since 1973, the date of the violent overthrow of democracy in Chile, which, by coincidence, is also the year in which my novel-in-progress opens.

When I lived in Africa in the 1980s, the crimes of the international financial institutions on that continent were no secret: basically forcing countries in debt to sacrifice their children by denying them health and education so that bankers could sleep easily at night secure in the knowledge that the bad loans they had made would be repaid at any cost. That, it seemed to me, was in the nature of bankers; what seemed more scandalous was how little anyone outside Africa was bothered. People in Europe would care very deeply when famine hit Africa, and fork out enormous sums to alleviate the suffering it caused, but were oblivious to the suffering meted out by human institutions. Well, as you know, what went round came round, and since 2008, when many of the less rich countries in Western Europe got into trouble over their finances, international financial institutions have been forcing market fundamentalism on them in return for debt relief. And guess what? The people in those countries do not like it.

Now, I live in one of the affected countries, and boy, do people moan. About the loss of their jobs, their children’s future, decaying public services, you name it. Quite right, too. But they do not actually do very much, here in Italy. Klein’s book was published in 2007, before “disaster capitalism” turned its attention to Western Europe, but she would accurately have predicted people’s initial reaction here: they were shocked into inactivity. Klein details how, in Latin America, it took over 20 years before governments started to stop taking the medicine that was killing them. People in Europe, with more hindsight available to them, may swallow less before they say “We’re not going to take it!” I hope I live to see that day.

balls-up

One useful way of seeing history is that it offers us two main theories for why things go awry (Murphy’s Law, no relation): the balls-up theory and the conspiracy theory. The latter says that things go wrong because tightly-knit groups of politically or economically motivated men cause them to do so for their own ends. The former says that people would like things to work to everyone’s benefit, but we are just too incompetent to make that happen. Klein is clearly in the conspiracy camp; I’ve always been in the balls-up camp, which is a hard place to be in Italy, where mafias and politicians traditionally feed off each other out of public sight. I had thought that Italy was exceptional, in this as in so many other ways. Maybe it is not.

It is irresistible for a science fiction writer to imagine where market fundamentalism will lead us, if it manages to continue its current dominance unchecked. Unfortunately, I think we have already seen the answer, in the cult classic film Zardoz, in which the rich live a genteel life inside a high-tech bubble which physically excludes the poor, whom the rich continually urge to renounce sex and kill each other. It is the ultimate gated community, although in the real thing the bubble will have to be opaque, because transparency helps people to see not just into fundamentalism, but through it.

 

Bryan Murphy is a British writer who lives in Turin, Italy. He is currently working on the second draft of a novel set in Portugal in the 1970s. You can find his e-books here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts. His individual blog is at: http://bit.ly/1cq1yus . Bryan also welcomes visitors at http://www.bryanmurphy.eu .