We All Face Terrorism

Miami Herald and CNN commentator Frida Ghitis tweeted on Saturday:

Screen capture of Twitter.
Screen capture of Twitter.

Tweeting her in response, I politely noted – just pointed to one example – her view being decidedly, well, not quite right:

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U.S. Servicemen Help Prevent Murder Spree

Their bravery cannot be commended enough. They should be invited to the White House. Yesterday these men – 2 U.S. servicemen (one not pictured), a long-time friend, and a British man – sensed trouble on a high-speed Thalys train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. In Belgium, and unarmed themselves, they reacted decisively:

Screen capture of Twitter.
Screen capture of Twitter.

Reports state one of two servicemen involved (the one not pictured, presumably because he had been sliced with a boxcutter during the melee and was under medical attention) in subduing the assailant is based at a U.S. air force base in Portugal’s Azores.

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Mentioning This For A Friend

I woke up this morning realizing I had dreamt about someone who is dead, and for a few conscious moments I had forgotten she was.

Don’t you hate that?

Free Stock Photo: Orange emotional sunrise.
Free Stock Photo: Orange emotional sunrise.

So I haven’t exactly gotten off on the best foot today. But as I think back to yesterday, still polishing off Distances, with Adele shouting about fire and rain into my ears through my iPad headphones, I finished off one of those writing experiences a novelist lives for.

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14 July 1995: [Sigh] I Can’t Be This Old

Passports is FREE on Kindle until July 15. Today being July 14 is the major reason. It’s to commemorate a personal anniversary. (Not the two decades that have passed!) Twenty years ago today, I was here:

A famous sight, in the distance (although not photographed on exactly July 14). [Photo by me, July 1995.]
A famous sight, in the distance (although not photographed on exactly July 14). Photo by me, July 1995.]

Before digital, iPhones, iPads…. and selfies (in those days *OTHER PEOPLE* took your picture!), with my 35mm camera (that used FILM you needed to have developed in a shop! Yes, really! Ancient history!), I snapped these pictures.

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Our Reality Is Fragility

Somehow I found myself in an argument over the phone on Wednesday evening with a member of the family in the States with whom I’ve argued vehemently quite a few times before. I had thought we’d by now put that sort of behavior behind us. Apparently, though, I’d “triggered” something in that individual and all hell broke loose from that side of the Atlantic.

The phone was slammed down on me. I can’t go into why and I really shouldn’t anyway. Suffice it to say we have all probably had something like that happen in our lives at some point or another.

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The Duke

No, not *that* “Duke”. Sorry. I mean this one:

"Wellington," by Richard Holmes. [Photo by me, 2015.]
“Wellington,” by Richard Holmes. [Photo by me, 2015.]

I’ve had it since Christmas. I thought I’d finally give it a read. Uh, it’s not War and Remembrance, of course. (Thank God!)

To French followers, please do not be offended. I have already read lots about Napoleon. ;-)

Hope you’re having a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. :-)

No Plans To Evacuate (At This Time)

In 2006, the U.S. State Department helped organize a mass evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon during the Hezbollah-Israel war. However, currently, there seems no similar urgency on the part of the U.S. to evacuate a far smaller number of U.S. citizens from Yemen. Lawsuits have even been filed challenging the government’s not doing so.

As of April 11, this is what the Department of State has to say:

Yemen Crisis Update, April 11, 2015
Yemen Crisis Update, April 11, 2015

The page continues in sharing how Americans can perhaps leave courtesy of “third party” assistance, such as India’s:

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World War II: “What does it say about us?”

If you visit my modest site here regularly, you know I write novels revolving around young Americans abroad in the 1990s – in France in particular. Unsurprisingly, I have many French characters, one of whom is a Second World War veteran. Before heading down that literary path, as an academic I’d studied the war and its impacts on post-war Europe.

So please pardon an extremely serious – even depressing – post. For whenever American WWII involvement is cited non-chalantly in present political debates, I take notice. In this case, a former comedian (who now has a chatter show on HBO) tweeted breezily the other day that the U.S. had won WWII without resorting to torture:

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We’ll leave aside his Cold War reference. We don’t know much that happened “quietly” in “black spots” and out of sight during the Cold War. But his raising it in that manner merely demonstrates he probably has only cursory knowledge about how the West and the Soviet bloc intelligence services went at each other viciously during those years, including resorting to umbrella poisonings, and in involving themselves (and sometimes succeeding) in overthrowing unfriendly governments, and then supporting torturers within the new governments.

Let’s focus instead on asking about “us” during the Second World War, which is a conflict that in U.S. lore today is now the last “good war.” Yes, millions of Americans served honorably. Yes, they helped liberate Nazi-occupied Europe. Yes, they helped end Japanese militarism. Freedom and democracy in Europe and much of the Pacific today owes a great deal to their sacrifices and accomplishments.

However, all of that did not come about without misery and death on what is now an incomprehensible scale. Two thousand years ago the Roman Tacitus famously wrote of his countrymen, “They make a desert, and they call it peace.” It could well be said that, between 1941-1945, America helped do much the same…. to “win” that former comedian’s version of the Second World War. Just a few examples:

  • U.S. soldiers raping Frenchwomen was not nearly as rare as we all might like to think it was.
  • After entering Dachau concentration camp near war’s end, U.S. soldiers herded captured guards together and shot them:
29 April 1945. Dachau, Bavaria, Germany: This picture shows an execution of SS troops in a coalyard in the area of Dachau concentration camp during the liberation of the camp. (Public domain.)
29 April 1945. Dachau, Bavaria, Germany: This picture shows an execution of SS troops in a coalyard in the area of Dachau concentration camp during the liberation of the camp. (Public domain.)
  • There were other occasions U.S. soldiers murdered captured PoWs, as in Sicily in 1943.
  • Following the D-Day battle, U.S. Rangers at Pointe du Hoc reportedly shot dead in cold blood French civilians they believed had fought alongside, or had artillery spotted for, the Germans.
  • In the several months’ long pre-D-Day air campaign that sought to hamper German movement by bombing roads and railways in German-occupied France, it is believed “we” may have also killed some 14,000 French civilians.
  • President Roosevelt oversaw years of carpet-bombings of Germany and Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians – including children.
  • President Truman ordered two atomic bombs dropped on cities full of Japanese non-combatants – including children.

Some of us either want us to think, or actually vaguely believe that, the U.S. fought WWII without engaging in “dirty” behavior – as if it were, say, a John Wayne movie. But the problem is even a “John Wayne” movie isn’t even always a “John Wayne” movie. In The Longest Day, the 1962 blockbuster about D-Day starring Wayne among a “cast of thousands,” note that in a brief scene a soldier behind Omaha Beach guns down a group of surrendering Germans…. at least one of whom clearly has his hands up.

November 11, 1918

At 11 AM, Britain falls silent for two minutes to remember Armistice Day. That tradition began after World War I, which ended on November 11, 1918. In the U.S., November 11 is now observed as Veterans Day.

Screen capture of the American Battle Monuments Commission's WWI page.
Screen capture of the American Battle Monuments Commission’s WWI page.

As Americans, we tend to remember World War II more than our role in World War I. The reasons why are varied, of course. On each 11th of November, though, while we honor all veterans, let us offer perhaps an extra nod to the end of the horrific First World War.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world….

Normandy, 70 Years Ago

Seventy years ago today, the Allied liberation of Western Europe began. The first paratroops had jumped in shortly after midnight, and soldiers rushed ashore on the various Normandy beaches starting around 6:30 AM. On a stretch near a small town called Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, on what was codenamed “Omaha Beach,” Captain Richard Merrill, 2nd Ranger Battalion, remembered:

I was the first one out. The seventh man was the next one to get across the beach without being hit. All the ones in-between were hit. Two were killed; three were injured. That’s how lucky you had to be.

The exact invasion date had naturally been kept secret. Thus America awoke to the news. Hours after the landings, the President of the United States spoke to an anxious country:

Indeed, some of those soldiers of whom President Roosevelt spoke – such as those killed alongside Captain Merrill – of course did not return:

The grave of U.S. Lieutenant General Lesley McNair, in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. McNair was killed in Normandy, July 25, 1944. He was the highest ranking U.S. soldier to die in combat in the Second World War. [Photo by me, 1995.]
The grave of U.S. Lieutenant General Lesley McNair, in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. McNair was killed in Normandy, July 25, 1944. He was the highest ranking U.S. soldier to die in combat in the Second World War. [Photo by me, 1995.]

Colleville-sur-Mer is merely perhaps the best-known resting place for those who fell. The American Battle Monuments Commission has been responsible for new U.S. military cemeteries since 1923. Its web site lists all of them around the world, and also includes the names of those interred. It is well-worth a thoughtful browse.

And if as an American you ever get a chance to visit in person, you should consider doing so.