Thanksgiving 2021

Galen here, once again borrowing Marlene’s blog to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving!

This time around, let me tell you about one of the things I’m thankful for: the historian Bret Devereaux’s blog A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry. Devereaux, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializes in ancient Mediterranean history with a focus on how ordinary people were both affected by and influenced the economy and warfare.

His blog marries popular culture and ancient military history and tactics but is grounded in current, rigorous historical thinking that doesn’t lose sight of the common people — but is always entertaining to read. He seems incapable of writing briefly, but the result are pieces that you can really dig into. He generally posts on Fridays, and it’s always a pleasure to see one of them show up in my feed reader. If you read historical fiction, particularly books set in ancient Rome or Greece, or epic fantasy, I highly recommend checking his blog out. Likewise if you’re interested in ancient military history; Devereaux‘s pieces on warfare are quite interesting, but he never forgets that war is a terrible thing.

Some of his hits include:

There’s much more, including pieces on the intersection of video games and history, historiography, and advice if you’re considering becoming a historian yourself.

Looking for something to read while the turkey roasts? Dig in!

Or just look at the upside-down Hecate:

Hecate the tortoiseshell cat lying on the floor, looking at the camera, upside-down

Labor Day 2021

Elizabeth McWilliams of Summerville, N.J. She sailed from New York in October as a Red Cross nurse’s aid and died of pneumonia just as the ship reached the British port. She is buried not far from Red Cross Headquarters in London. There was an outbreak of influenza on the ship in which Miss McWilliams sailed. She worked hard all the first day scrubbing out the influenza-infected baggage room to provide a temporary hospital. That night she worked as an emergency cook for three hours and then until midnight wrote letters for the influenza patients. Next morning she was herself stricken. Her last words were “I am happy because I’ve tried to be a real American.” Image via the Library of Congress

Let’s go back 103 years:

MY FELLOW CITIZENS: Labor Day, 1918, is not like any Labor Day that we have known. Labor Day was always deeply significant with us. Now it is supremely significant. Keenly as we were aware a year ago of the enterprise of life and death upon which the Nation had embarked, we did not perceive its meaning as clearly as we do now. We knew that we were all partners and must stand and strive together, but we did not realize as we do now that we are all enlisted men, members of a single army, of many parts and many tasks but commanded by a single obligation, our faces set toward a single object. We now know that every tool in every essential industry is a weapon, and a weapon wielded for the same purpose that an Army rifle is wielded-a weapon which if we were to lay down no rifle would be of any use.

Let us make this, therefore, a day of fresh comprehension not only of what we are about, and of renewed and clear-eyed resolution, but a day of consecration also, in which we devote ourselves without pause or limit to the great task of setting our own country and the whole world free to render justice to all and of making it impossible for small groups of political rulers anywhere to disturb our peace or the peace of the world or in any way to make tools and puppets of those upon whose consent and upon whose power their own authority and their own very existence depend.

We may count upon each other. The Nation is of a single mind. It is taking counsel with no special class. It is serving no private or single interest. Its own mind has been cleared and fortified by these days which burn the dross away. The light of a new conviction has penetrated to every class amongst us. We realize as we never realized before that we are comrades, dependent on one another, irresistible when united, powerless when divided. And so we join hands to lead the world to a new and better day.

By the time that Woodrow Wilson gave this speech on Labor Day in 1918, the second wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic was under way at Camp Devens just outside of Boston, although it wasn’t diagnosed as such until 12 September. As a literary side note, draftee e.e. cummings was there in lockdown along with his fellow soldiers, noting to a friend that “The Spanish Flu has claimed so many that there is some talk of one’s being introduced to the hook-worm and Dixie. Je m’en fous, comme toujours [“As always, I don’t give a crap”] – feeling well enough to die anytime”.

By the end of the month, 14,000 cases were reported at Camp Devans, resulting in 757 deaths.

Where do we stand today? At the close of yet another war, in the middle of yet another pandemic, in a nation that is not of a single mind, and where we are not sure we can count upon one another.

A day of fresh comprehension? Good idea. Will it happen?

Until then, give a thought to those who must work today, particularly the doctors and nurses.

Thanksgiving 2020

Galen here, once again sneaking onto Marlene’s blog to do a Thanksgiving reading list post.

George staring at me. Awaiting turkey?

As was the case in 2018, we are thankful for yet another kitty in our lives. George is one of the offspring of a neighborhood cat. He’s turned into quite the social glue of our clowder, demanding and getting affection from Freddie, Lucifer, and Hecate in various ways.

Again, as with 2018, I am hopeful that the results of the election will get our country back towards the path of justice. Of course, this is a difficult time: the pandemic is on fire everywhere in this country, and I fear that all of the travel and gatherings for Thanksgiving will cause so many needless deaths.

Marlene and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving together with the cats, and no one else is invited. Maybe next year will be different, but for as many of us to get to next year as possible, patience is required today. On the one hand, that’s easy enough for me and Marlene to say; we’re introverts. I won’t pretend that staying home hasn’t been hard for us, but I know it is a lot more difficult many others, including folks who have no choice but to go out into the world in order to keep body and soul together. But please: if you can, stay home for the holidays, share your Thanksgiving meal only with your pod (or at least stay outdoors as much as possible), wear your masks, and wash your hands.

Some reading:

Veterans Day 2020

It was not a given that U.S. soldiers in the field would be able to vote or would be supported in exercising the franchise. Many obstacles were whittled away over the years, including a fear of standing armies being allowed to vote in the first place, logistical difficulties delivering the ballots, poll taxes, a multitude of state regulations, and so forth. Even now in the era of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, much work remains to be done to assure that every U.S. citizen-soldier abroad who wants to can vote.

Many of the obstacles that prevented soldiers from voting were the same obstacles that prevented others from voting. It was never just a matter of getting the ballots out to the field and back.

Voting is and was a right that many soldiers took seriously — including POWs, who in some cases held straw votes even in the face of no expectation that their vote could be counted.

In honor of Veterans Day and the ongoing struggle to truly support U.S. military personnel, here is some reading.

General Grant to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, 27 September 1864:

The exercise of the right of suffrage by the officers and soldiers of armies in the field is a novel thing. It has, I believe, generally been considered dangerous to constitutional liberty and subversive of military discipline. But our circumstances are novel and exceptional. A very large proportion of legal voters of the United States are now either under arms in the field, or in hospitals, or otherwise engaged in the military service of the United States. Most of these men are not regular soldiers in the strict sense of that term; still less are they mercenaries who give their services to the Government simply for its pay, having little understanding of political questions or feeling little or no interest in them. On the contrary, they are American citizens, having still their homes and social and political ties binding them to the States and districts from which they come, and to which they expect to return. They have left their homes temporarily to sustain the cause of their country in the hour of its trial. In performing this sacred duty they should not be deprived of a most precious privilege. They have as much right to demand that their votes shall be counted in the choice of their rulers as those citizens who remain at home. Nay, more, for they have sacrificed more for their country. I state these reasons in full, for the unusual thing of allowing armies in the field to vote, that I may urge on the other hand that nothing more than the fullest exercise of this right should be allowed, for anything not absolutely necessary to this exercise cannot but be dangerous to the liberties of the country. The officers and soldiers have every means of understanding the questions before the country. The newspapers are freely circulated, and so, I believe, are the documents prepared by both parties to set forth the merits and claims of their candidates…

Lt. Harold Norris, stationed in Britain, in a letter to Yank Magazine appearing in its 17 March 1944 issue:

Dear Yank:

Yours is a young, lusty publication that doesn’t pull its punches, and I think the soldier vote is an issue that needs some of your punching. The denial by Congress of the right to vote is an outright contradiction of the Four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter, our Constitution or any name our war aims go by. Look, Yank, why don’t you say something on this? Secretary Stimson has said that 48 state laws make soldier voting impossible. So if we don’t have the Federal Government or the Army to administrate the voting, we’ll have vote prohibition this war.

You’re pretty sharp, Yank — can’t you see that this representatives of the poll tax and state’s rights are using that prop wash to deny the soldiers the right to vote in the same way they have denied the vote to others? A lot of us look upon this issue as one test of the sincerity of democratic intentions in the war and in the peace. And we would much rather have our right to vote than the mustering-out pay of $300, which we all may pay for through the nose through inflation anyhow. The soldier-voting issue is a morale one. Our morale is high, but there is no limit. Punch a little bit for us on this issue and our moral will hit an even higher ceiling.

Image of the Federal War Ballot used in 1944
Federal War Ballot used by soldiers to vote in 1944.

Further reading and viewing:

Those who seek to restrict the vote are the enemies of democracy.

By the way, are you a servicemember or U.S. citizen abroad who is eligible to vote in Senate runoff in Georgia on 5 January 2020? Check out the FVAP page for Georgia on how to register and request an absentee ballot.

Memorial Day 2020

Very likely it has never been considered a particularly glamorous job for an enlisted solider, sailor, or airman, but the public health and preventive medical corps have had their part to play from the very beginning. In fact, one of George Washington’s first actions after his appointment as command-in-chief of the revolutionary army was to write Congress asking them to establish a “Hospital” for the army (by which he meant a military medical service). In particular, communicable disease was very much on his mind:

I have been particularly attentive to the least Symptoms of the small Pox and hitherto we have been so fortunate, as to have every Person removed so soon, as not only to prevent any Communication, but any Alarm or Apprehension it might give in the Camp. We shall continue the utmost Vigilance against this most dangerous Enemy.

Washington was writing this about 20 years before Jenner came up with his smallpox vaccine, but well before Jenner an inoculation technique called variolation had been used. The idea was to take a scab from a recent smallpox victim, rub into into scratches on the person to be inoculated, and hope that the resulting case would be mild. Often it was, but there was also a big risk when applying variolation to an army: triggering an epidemic. Nonetheless, in 1777 Washington took a gamble and inoculated all of his troops while camped in Morristown. It worked.

We have better tools nowadays, of course, but the specter of disease killing more soldiers than bullets remains with us always.

Some of the techniques for avoiding disease are simple yet effective. A medical degree may get you an instant commission as an officer, but we should never forget the enlisted medical staff working in public health and sanitation. A sawbones can put you back together, but the humble hospital corpsman ensuring cleanliness may well save more lives.

COVID-19 is not a war, but we nonetheless should listen to what the medical corpsmen and corpswomen are no doubt saying every day: Wash your hands. Wear your mask.

A reading list for today:

Thanksgiving Day 2018: A Reading List

Galen here, once again borrowing Marlene’s blog for a holiday post.

Hecate the kitten looking forward to turkey – or well, anything she can bite, really.

Sometimes it is the tiniest of things for which I am thankful. For example, this year I am thankful for the little ball of energy and bitey-ness pictured here, who came into our lives (and care) last month and has been growing ever since.

I have been spending a lot of time with her — rather unavoidably, considering she had to be syringe-fed when we got her — but of course I found it no great burden to take care of such a wee kitten. She has been a distraction as well, but only in part.

Unlike Thanksgiving two years ago, I am finding a bit more hope that this country may yet move past the governance by the unfit. Too political a statement for this post? Too political for the virtual Thanksgiving table? Perhaps, but these are not times that permit much beating around the bush nor falling sway to distractions. We can be thankful that there is yet time and space to act to preserve our republic and to work towards a more perfect realization of our country’s best ideals — to say nothing of acting to keep our planet habitable — but so much work lies ahead of us all.

Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for falling prey to hopelessness achieves nothing, but let us also consider what must happen for us to be even more thankful in future years.

Readings for the Pipeline Protest

DAPL route map by Carl Sack, CC-BY
DAPL route map by Carl Sack, CC-BY

Guest post by Galen Charlton

This week of all weeks, we must acknowledge who was here first. Here are some thoughts from those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

How to Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective by Kelley Hayes:

In discussing #NoDAPL, too few people have started from a place of naming that we, as Indigenous people, have a right to defend our water and our lives, simply because we have a natural right to defend ourselves and our communities. When “climate justice,” in a very broad sense, becomes the center of conversation, our fronts of struggle are often reduced to a staging ground for the messaging of NGOs.

Yes, everyone should be talking about climate change, but you should also be talking about the fact that Native communities deserve to survive, because our lives are worth defending in their own right — not simply because “this affects us all.”

We’ve always “Occupied the Prarie” and We’re Not Going Anywhere by the Elders and Leaders of the Sacred Stones Camp, Canonball River.

Sacred Stones Camp was begun by women, as a prayer. It is our prayer that the waters of the homelands of the Standing Rock Tribe and all the peoples of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, or “Greater Sioux Nation,” remain pure. That includes the Missouri River and it’s tributaries, flowing into the Mississippi in the greatest river system within the continental boundaries of the United States.

Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard:

We must remember we are part of a larger story. We are still here. We are still fighting for our lives, 153 years after my great-great-grandmother Mary watched as our people were senselessly murdered. We should not have to fight so hard to survive on our own lands.

My father is buried at the top of the hill, overlooking our camp on the riverbank below. My son is buried there, too. Two years ago, when Dakota Access first came, I looked at the pipeline map and knew that my entire world was in danger. If we allow this pipeline, we will lose everything.

We are the river, and the river is us. We have no choice but to stand up.

Today, we honor all those who died or lost loved ones in the massacre on Whitestone Hill. Today, we honor all those who have survived centuries of struggle. Today, we stand together in prayer to demand a future for our people.

And for more:

Resources for #NoDAPL in American Indians in Children’s Literature by Debbie Reese.

Standing Rock Syllabus by NYC Stands with Standing Rock

This syllabus can be a tool to access research usually kept behind paywalls, or a resource package for those unfamiliar with Indigenous histories and politics.

Guest Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Guest Review: The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian by Andy Weir
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, mass market paperback
Pages: 435
Published by Broadway Books on August 18th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


Galen’s Review:

As an introvert, I sometimes crave time alone to do my own thing. Having a whole planet to myself would be a bit much though.

What would you do in astronaut Mark Watney’s boots? The only human being on Mars; your crewmates speeding away, thinking you had been killed in a storm; the rest of humanity 12 light-minutes away; any prospect of a rescue years away?

You would have a choice: die, sooner or later, with what degree of dignity you can muster — or fight to survive, knowing that the most likely outcome is still your death.

Escape Rating: A- The Martian breaks no new ground in the genre of near-future hard science fiction: there are no high concepts, no trippy rambles through strange histories, no examinations of alien societies, and no black monoliths. Instead, Weir offers a competent tale of tackling a problem in the face of long odds and indifferent nature… and winning.

A little over half of the book is in the form of Mark Watney’s log entries, and fortunately, his voice is engaging: snarky, determined, and smart, without being the voice of a secular plaster saint. The rest of the book serves as a love letter to NASA and human spaceflight programs in general. I can only hope that when push comes to shove, the nations of the world will demonstrate the same degree of cooperation in solving problems on Earth and beyond that was shown in The Martian.

For the folks who have seen the movie, the book offers pretty much the same experience: the main difference is the addition of a couple more hurdles for Watney to overcome.

The book is not perfect: while the cast of characters working to get Watney home is diverse and women are invariably portrayed as competent, ultimately the tale is that of somebody enjoying the epitome of male privilege: having thousands of people help rescue him and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to so. That’s a bit of a tendentious reading, of course — but suffice it to say that some readers may be left behind: insofar as they may reasonably wonder if somebody who looks like them would have been left behind, or have never gotten to Mars in the first place.

And yet… while we have problems enough on Earth, still ad astra per aspera resonates for me. If it does for you, you may well enjoy The Martian

Zaytouneh and the question of what to do

gataktdToday I am borrowing Marlene’s blog to write about a picture. Back in September, a boat carrying Syrian refugees landed in Lesbos, Greece — an occurrence that nowadays is surely not exceptional. Here is a picture of one of the refugees, along with his kitten.

The cat’s name is Zaytouneh, or Olive. If Google Translate is to be trusted, the guy might write his cat’s name like this: زيتون.

It should surprise nobody that a man who is running for his life will nonetheless pause a moment and reach for his cat. I am glad Zaytouneh made it, but he or she has a burden that may be a bit too much for one cat to bear. Consider this (translated) excerpt from a news article by the Greek source Protothema:

The picture has become viral on all social media, as it gives a different, more human dimension to this humanitarian tragedy.

Wait, what? The human being himself does not provide enough of a human dimension, and the cat therefore must carry the load? We live in strange times.

Also: what is his name? I don’t know.

To be fair, he is not obligated to provide it; he deserves his privacy. I hope he is doing OK, and I hope that if the cat is required to be a symbol of the “human dimension” of the refugees fleeing war and rack, that at least some people will see it and remember that it is not a pack of aliens who are fleeing Syria… but humans, like us, some of whom have favorite kittens.

What to do? I think we who live in the U.S. have at least one fundamental obligation: to not give in to fear; to not let fear cloud our sight; to then see that the refugees, as fellow humans, deserve our protection and aid. Not to beat the drums of war, but to consider that since we do have a military whose logistical abilities are the best in the world, we have a unique opportunity: our navy can ensure that refugees boats and rafts do not founder in the Mediterranean.

We can do that for them; we can try to carry instead of break.

We can do it for him. Or if need be, do it for Zaytouneh.

Readings for Veterans Day, 2015

Some readings for this day when we reckon — and face — the cost of our wars.

I.

How African Americans responded to the postwar resurgence of white supremacy reflected the depths to which the aspirations of the war and expectations for democracy shaped their racial and political consciousness. The war radicalized many African Americans and deepened a commitment to combat white racial violence. At the same time, the contributions of the soldiers, as well as peoples of African descent more broadly, to the war effort swelled racial pride. Marcus Garvey tapped into this social, political, and cultural milieu. A native of Jamaica, Garvey brought his new organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to New York and soon attracted thousands of followers. The UNIA, predicated upon the principles of Black Nationalism and African diasporic unity, quickly became the most dominant mass movement of the postwar era. A host of other radical organizations and newspapers complemented the UNIA and signaled the arrival of the “New Negro.”

From African Americans and World War I, an essay by Dr. Chad Williams.

II.

Charles Vernon Bush was the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

He fought in Vietnam, and was awarded a Bronze Star.

A couple years before his death, Bush wrote a chapter for Attitudes Aren’t Free: Thinking Deeply About Diversity in the U.S. Armed Forces by Air University Press, February 2010:

Diversity efforts within the US government, particularly the Department of
Defense (DOD) and the intelligence community (IC), have proven to be
inadequate. Their failure is largely due to organizations approaching diversity
more as a personnel program than a critical mission element imperative to
national security. Leaders often discuss and study the importance of diversity,
but little evidence has emerged over recent years to indicate they fully embrace
it. Hence, military organizations (broadly defined to include the larger intelligence
communities outside of the armed services) fall woefully short in establishing
diversity within their senior executive and officer ranks. Moreover,
DOD and IC leaders continue to establish and communicate incongruent department
diversity mission statements, objectives, and goals that lack prescribed,
mandatory performance standards. Because there are no prescribed
performance standards, there exists no leadership accountability and thus no
leadership responsibility for monitoring diversity. Therefore, organizations deliver
poor and unacceptable outcomes on diversity objectives, which leaders
regrettably accept.

He had a Twitter account, @cvbgrf. It is not everybody who can just link to their Wikipedia biography from their Twitter profile.

III.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

— Wilfred Owen, killed on 4 November 1918, one week prior to the signing of the armistice.

IV

Female veterans battling PTSD from sexual trauma fight for redress

Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant

V

Soldat Du Droit. Picture by Gordon T. Lawson on Flickr, CC-BY
Soldat Du Droit. Picture by Gordon T. Lawson on Flickr, CC-BY