Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Grand Review Of 2015 And Why Black History Is History

Overall I really liked the 150th anniversary of the Grand Review in Washington on Sunday May 17.  It was about a week off from being "real time" but I can live with that.  The original Grand Review took two days.  The Army of the Potomac on May 23 led by General Meade and the Army of Georgia led by General Sherman on May 24.  One explanation for the original Grand Review was to give the country a morale boost as it was still reeling from the Lincoln assassination.

We did have General Sherman looking appropriately psychotic.

General Meade was on Pennsylvania Avenue watching the parade

One of the elements missing in the original Grand Review was a substantial complement of black troops.  Many of them were on their way to the Rio Grande as the white troops,most of whom would soon be mustered out, marched through the streets of Washington. The commemorative event on Sunday May 17, 2015 tried to balance that scale just a bit with reenactors representing regiments of the Untied States Colored Troops near the front.

Getting There

My plan for this campaign was one of the wackiest I have come up with.  I took Greyhound to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan arriving around 1:00 AM with a 3:45 leaving for Washington.  My son William, who attends Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, met up with me.  There was a little drama as cell phone coverage was spotty and William could not get downstairs without a ticket at that hour, but we worked it out.

There was one strange incident while I was hanging out.  The PA does not provide enough seating for the waiting long haul bus passengers.  I ended up on the floor with my back to the wall.  I was drinking some of the water I had brought along when I heard this rather condescending voice which I realized was directed at me asking if I was drinking in the Port Authority terminal and to show him my bottle.  A beefy blondish PA cop was the source.  I suspect that if things had gotten difficult it would have been his silent vertically challenged partner who would have played the bad cop, but I am not sure.

Once I showed him the water everything was fine and they moved on to fight crime elsewhere, but I was consumed by curiosity.  Did I really look that much like a homeless wino? It is true that I am past due for a haircut, but still.  So I went over to ask them about it, but then I felt this bizarre compulsion to establish myself as a member in good standing of the upper middle class and shouldn't they feel a little silly.  It actually was a pleasant conversation and I was probably a bit sycophantic as I do really admire the job they do.  Still there is something about the incident that disturbs me and it is mainly about me that I am disturbed. Given where I was heading, I couldn't help but wonder if a 63 year old black CPA might have had a bit more trouble than I did.   I guess I'll have to leave it at that.

One aspect of the trip down that I thought was symbolically important was that I left from Union Station in Worcester Mass and with William arrived at Union Station in Washington.

My generation grew up in the shadow of Lost Cause historiography with the neo-abolitionists being viewed as revisionist.  All those Union stations and monuments scattered over Washington and many towns and cities in the North speak to a triumphalism on the part of those who had won the war, that fell out of favor on what Paul H. Buck in his 1937 Pulitzer Prize winning book called the Road To Reunion.
The memories of the past were woven in a web of national sentiment which selected from by- gone feuds those deeds of mutual valor which permitted pride in present achievement and future promise. The remarkable changes that had taken place within the short span of a single generation had created a national solidarity hitherto unknown in American life. The reunited nation was a fact.
The many black men whose service to the Union transformed the war into a fight for liberation did not fit well with that narrative and they were largely erased from the history, except perhaps, as W. Fitzhugh Brundage relates in The Southern Past - A Clash of Race and Memory in the segregated schools of the South.  A fellow my age who had experience both in segregated and integrated schools told me that there were more resources in the integrated schools, but much more dedicated teachers in the segregated schools.

In the sixties, people were talking about Black History.  A better term for it might have been history, with much of the Lost Cause narrative being called romance.

As far as I have been able to tell Civil War reenacting got started in the fifties in the run up to Centennial, but it was a pretty white activity with a lot of Lost Cause sentiment.  African American interest seem to have been kicked into gear by the movie Glory in 1989.

The USCT reenactors I spoke with at Appomattox seemed to be divided between those who had been inspired by the movie Glory and those who had been in the movie Glory.

USCT troops were little covered in movies about the Civil War after the one film that really implanted the Lost Cause narrative into popular culturen.

Lots of USCT in that movie,  I understand the actors were mostly white guys in blackface.They were not the good guys in Birth of a Nation.

The Campaign In Washington

I thought I had come up with a masterful plan. I had read that the marchers had to register at RFK stadium wherever the hell that is and be bused over to the start point which was on third street near Pennsylvania Avenue. At the train station we got directions to third street and found a nice spot to have some breakfast while sitting outside.  I saw some cruisers blocking traffic, so I figured we must be near the right spot.

Silly me.  The people at the next table who like just about everybody else in the city had no clue about the Grand Review told me the cruisers were there because of a 10k road race and that I was at the wrong third street and that I would not get to the right third street by walking along that one,  You know how in New York if you walk East on West 42nd street you will get to East 42nd Street and how in Orlando if you go north on South Orange Avenue you will get to North Orange Avenue.  Doesn't work that way in Washington.

Anyway 3rd Street NE which is where we were is not that far from 3rd Street NW.  Once we got there we then had to figure out which way to go.  I had a map of the Parade route and finally my Boy Scout training kicked in and I remembered how to orient a map from visible landmarks.

When I saw the horses I knew we were probably in the right place.

By the way if you are bringing animals other than dogs and cats into the City of Washington the Animal Control Inspector will come out to check on you.

William asked him if they had to worry about the horses being spooked by dogs and the like.  The inspector told us that horses like these are pretty well desensitized from participating in reenactments with, you know, cannons to the left of them, cannons to the right of them.

I started asking the guys what about their units and if they were representing anybody in particular. I was lousy taking notes though, perhaps an indication that my saving money on hotels had a cost.  The fellow in the officers uniform told me he was a descendant of Lt. Col William Reed of the 35th USCT. I thought that Martin Delaney who finished as a major had been the highest ranking black Union soldier, but I guess I was wrong.  Here is the story on William Reed.

About The Officers

Delaney and Reed were big exceptions.  Almost all the officers in the United States Colored Troops weren't, you know, colored. There is an interesting story about how they were selected.  In the 19th Century the Regular Army was very small and West Point only turned out about 50 officers a year.  Most of the regiments in the Union Army were raised by the states and who the officers were was sometimes a matter of local politics and prestige.  The USCT regiments were different.

Commissions were given based on passing examinations and there was a school established to train people for the tests.  In some ways it is viewed as the origin of OCS.  Quite a few of the USCT officers were idealistic abolitionists, although for others it was a matter of ambition.  Although it was never carried through Jefferson Davis had ordered that the USCT officers were to be tried for inciting slave revolts rather than treated as prisoners of war (the enlisted men would be enslaved).

Anyway if a USCT reenactment group wants to be authentic, they need some white guys to pretend to be officers.  It seems like a really cool thing to me, but it also does not seem like something you'd want to volunteer for.  It would be a really great honor to be asked.

Leonard Musta gave me a pretty strong speech about the war turning into one of liberation rather than "states rights". He told me he is associated with  and is working on a project to help people of African descent get DNA testing to trace their heritage.

Sesquicentennial Encounters

A Sesquicentennial real timer like myself is bound to run into somebody that he met at a prior event.  Steward Henderson is the President/Corporal of the 23rd United States Colored Troops

We had run into one another at Chancellorsville, where I had been hunting for my great grandfather.

There were also quite a few white units represented.

Including some Zouaves

And of course there were the ladies

including a girl who had not left behind by the 2nd United States Cavalry

She is an Iraq veteran in real life.

Now my horrible note-taking comes into play. Ram Thomas of the Executive Committee of the Philadelphia Branch of the NAACP is portraying an activist who was murdered while trying to help register blacks during Reconstruction

The Military Presence

The contemporary military has not been that well represented at Sesquicentennial events.  At Appomattox and Antietam members of the Old Guard were on the scene and there were speeches by very modern major generals.  There were also active duty military musicians at Gettysburg both on the eve of the battle and at the cemetery dedication.

This parade was led by a joint service military color guard

There was also a ceremonial unit from the Coast Guard

I had some nice chats with the captain, who actually was there for extra representation and not part of the ceremonial group.

I'm sure that you are consumed with the same curiosity that I was. Here is the answer to your question.  The ceremonial rifles are 1903 Springfields, which were replaced by M-1's in the early part of WWII, when it came to actually, you know, shooting people.  Although the Springfield did stay on as a sniper weapon.

The Music

The Federal City Brass Brand was there.

There was also BSA Venture Crew 1861

The great thing about all that music as you are walking around is that when they are not playing the Battle Hymn of The Republic, they are playing something Irish - like the Minstrel Boy.

The Parade Route

The parade went a short distance on third street and then took a left onto Pennsylvania Avenue and went about 10 blocks.  I asked a high ranking police officer what the expected crowd was and he told me that the first his guys had heard about it was when they got a call from the Park Service in the morning.

William and I followed the march route to the review stand at the end.

You will note that the spectator to marcher ratio is very low.

Michael Falco was providing period style media coverage

A couple of local people asked me what the parade was about.

Dammit Black History Is History

I had been under a mistaken impression.  I thought that this event was the work of some larger general Sesquicentennial group and that the African American Civil War Museum had gotten behind it with enthusiasm.  When I talked to the volunteers though I learned that it was actually the museum that had been the entire force behind the event.

If you look into there is a great continuity from the anti-slavery movement that was one of the major factors in triggering the war and the modern civil rights movement.  The "black history" that started coming out with an appearance of revisionism in the sixties had never been forgotten in the black community.

A Unitarian minister who grew up in the South in the fifties once told a story that illustrates that.  The kids in his neighborhood did not play cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians.  They played Yanks and Rebs with the preference on the Reb side.  Racing through the house with his Confederate flag, he was confronted by the family's black maid.  She sais "What are you doing with that redneck rag?  People shouldn't own other people.  That's just wrong."

Even though I really enjoyed being able to experience the parade by walking along side it, the general lack of knowledge of the event and the underwhelming public response was pretty discouraging.

Well, I talked to a few of the kids who were playing with the 1861 Venturers and told them to make sure that they were there for the bicentennial, I told William that I was leaving him my keppe and expected him to show up at the Bicentennial with at least one other Patrick Lyons descendant

I used to have a dividing line in my mind between history and current events, but as I have grown older it is more and more seamless. Sometimes it seems like a great weight, but there are some high points and this day was one of them.

My Favorite Reenactor

One of the things that the AACWM emphasizes is the large number of African Americans who served in the US Navy during the Civl War.  Most of the reenactors I spoke to had been doing it for a long time, but one of them was a first timer and he had thought outside the powder burning box

A Great Day

It's been a long time since I've been able to spend a whole day with my son and I have to say I am pleased with how the kid is coming along.  He spent most of the time drawing, so I'm hoping for something good which maybe will get posted as a supplement.

The ride back was uneventful although when we were stuck in traffic I thought about how great it was to not be driving.  I barely made my connection to Worcester sparing me another long wait in the Port Authority.

Peter J Reilly CPA  flunked out of graduate school at the famous University of Chicago, where he was studying history.  Doesn't look like he will ever get over it.


CNN covered the review

Malcolm Beech, President of USCT Living History Association was the one portraying  William Reed.

James Hubbard was the lone sailor.

If you want more pictures here is my album for the day.

Full Fathom Five - A Daughter Finds The Story Of The Father She Never Knew - Perfect For Memorial Day

I think the best book ever for Memorial Day might be Full Fathom Five - A Daughter's Search by Mary Lee Coe Fowler. It was one of my typical museum impulse purchases.  I bought it at the USS Albacore Museum in Portsmouth NH.

The funny thing is that when I looked at the reviews on Amazon, I found a two-star review that in explaining why the reviewer hated the book so much gives a great picture of why it is so good:

extremely disappointing especially after reading the 5-star raves (which compelled me to purchase the book). miscatagorized as WW2 submarine history this work rather leans toward metaphysical spirituality (reconciling her Quaker pacificism w/father's military career), genealogy (brother sister uncle aunt cousin 3rd cousin, ad infinitum), personal baby boomer memoir (the 1950's under stepfather's regime), with splashes of self-indulgent romance fiction (far too lengthy imagined recreation on how Father met Mother in pre-war honolulu). the WW2 historical background panorama (filler) placing her father in his wartime context, read like something lifted from a high school history textbook....and made for further pedantic mundane reading. what little redeeming feature (for the serious WW2 US submarine warfare aficinado)seen between the pages, namely the WW2 sub veterans' recollections of Red Coe, life on the S-39, USS SKIPJACK, USS CISCO (and myriads of possiblities as to its demise)....simply weren't enough. other aspects including Skipper Coe's toilet-paper requisition (gag) order (and its ramfications) were beaten to death to the point of tiresome redundancy. the audience appeal of this work would be to her fellow AWON (American WW2 Orphans' Network) membership. for the WW2 US submarine warfare student...a single distilled and compressed chapter is all that would have been sufficient.
I don't know if I qualify as a "serious WW2 US submarine aficionado", but the subject does interest me quite a bit and I have read a lot.  US Navy WW2 submarine officers may well have been the most literary military men to have ever walked the earth.  There are a lot of memoirs and related works.  The overall story of the Pacific Fleet Submarine force is fascinating.  They had something like 2% of the manpower of the US Navy and accounted for something like 50% of the Japanese ships sunk.

There are all sorts of interesting aspects to the story.  Early in the war skippers who came from a "safety culture" were weeded out in favor of those who were more daring developing radical departures from pre-war docttine such as the night surface attack,  There was the bureaucratic nightmare that made it so difficult to confront the torpedo problems.  It turns out that the magnetic field of the Earth is not uniform so that magnetic exploders that worked great near Groton, Ct were not so great in the Pacific.  I mean - Who knew?

The typical memoir ( My favorite by the way is Silent Running by James Calvert) will actually recount every single torpedo fired on war patrol by that officer. A skipper was limited to five war patrols and they only had 24 torpedos on board, which they fired in spreads of three, so it doesn't take that long.  There will be some interesting shore leave stories and some other exciting incidents on patrol along with an overview of the big picture.  Besides the detailed logs and after action reports, there will be research in Japan to clarify exactly what ship was being attacked or doing the depth charging.  I love those books.  Can't get enough of them.

And Ms. Fowler actually manages to write that book for her father, Commander James Coe could not write it for himself.  On 19 September 1943, USS Cisco (SS-290) left Port Darwin, Australia with Commander Coe as skipper. USS Cisco is, as they say, still on patrol.On 8 February 1944 she was reported overdue and presumed lost.

That part of the book would be the single distilled chapter that would have pleased the aficionado, but Ms. Fowler's book is much more ambitious and succeeds beautifully.  She was born slightly after her father's boat sailed on its eternal patrol and grew up knowing very little about him.  By the time she was a toddler her mother had married a man who would be a difficult step-father and there was little said of her father.

It was only after her mother died and she found things of her father's, like his bridge coat, preserved that she went on the journey to learn about him.  She did the research that is standard for a submarine memoir and then some.  She interviewed wives of other officers including Roberta McCain, Senator John McCain's mother. She is able to tell the story of her mother and father's romance and the somewhat idylic life of a pre-war Navy wife, whose parents helped support her.  And then there is Ms. Fowler's own story as a war orphan, who must be quiet about it and her journey in later life to uncover her father's story.

Whatever its flaws might be to the aficionado, this is one of the most holistic World War II memoirs you will ever encounter.  It is fitting for Memorial Day, as it reminds us that between those crosses row on row there are more than poppies.  Their are countless loved ones left behind, few who will have the opportunity to engage with the story of the lost one in the way that Ms. Fowler has.

If you are going to read only one submarine book.  Well that's just silly.  Nonetheless, if you are going to read only one.  This is the one.

Peter J Reilly CPA hopes to be the first tax blogger to give up his day job and fancies himself an amateur historian.  He is embarrassed to disclose that his fascination with WWII submarines originates from reading War And Remembrance and watching the miniseries.

He also blames his big brother, who chased Russian submarines in the early sixties and recommended the Wahoo by Richard H. Okane.

Memorial Day Reading - Donald Cook - Xavier Graduate With Greatest Military Distinction

So I've got two books I want to recommend for Memorial Day. I know it is probably too late for you to read them for this Memorial Day, but you can order them.  One of the books is one that I hunted down and the other is one that I picked up, kind of at random at a museum. We'll start with the one I hunted down

The First Marine Captured In Vietnam - A Biography of Donald G. Cook by Donald Price was hunted down by me because of a question that somebody asked me.  I had written about the three Medal of Honor recipients associated with the College of The Holy Cross (which is a pretty respectable number for a small college) and someone asked me but what about our high school.  Almost ten percent of my high school graduating class, Xavier High School in New York City had gone to Holy Cross, which was pretty much par for the course back in the day, when a straight sixteen years of Catholic education was not that uncommon.

Xavier High School was founded in 1847 and again back in the day had mandatory participation in Junior ROTC (It is optional now).  Commuting to high school in Manhattan in our uniforms, we were dubbed the "subway commandos".  At any rate, my answer was that there probably weren't any, since we would have known about them.  But what with the internet and all, I could look it up and it turned out that I was wrong.

Here is the citation for Donald Cook
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while interned as a Prisoner of War by the Viet Cong in the Republic of Vietnam during the period 31 December 1964 to 8 December 1967. Despite the fact that by so doing he would bring about harsher treatment for himself, Colonel (then Captain) Cook established himself as the senior prisoner, even though in actuality he was not. Repeatedly assuming more than his share of responsibility for their health, Colonel Cook willingly and unselfishly put the interests of his comrades before that of his own well-being and, eventually, his life. Giving more needy men his medicine and drug allowance while constantly nursing them, he risked infection from contagious diseases while in a rapidly deteriorating state of health. This unselfish and exemplary conduct, coupled with his refusal to stray even the slightest from the Code of Conduct, earned him the deepest respect from not only his fellow prisoners, but his captors as well. Rather than negotiate for his own release or better treatment, he steadfastly frustrated attempts by the Viet Cong to break his indomitable spirit and passed this same resolve on to the men whose well-being he so closely associated himself. Knowing his refusals would prevent his release prior to the end of the war, and also knowing his chances for prolonged survival would be small in the event of continued refusal, he chose nevertheless to adhere to a Code of Conduct far above that which could be expected. His personal valor and exceptional spirit of loyalty in the face of almost certain death reflected the highest credit upon Colonel Cook, the Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Service.

The medal was presented to his surviving spouse in 1980.  The school now has a display in his honor which I saw when I was back for my 45th reunion a few weeks ago.  It was not there in 1995 which was the last reunion I had made.

There was something eerie about realizing that while we were freshmen in 1966 learning to march and salute and shine our brass, have a straight gig line and shine those shoes (All things I sucked at by the way), Donald Cook was being held prisoner by the Viet Cong.  The military science faculty consisted  mostly of retired sergeants, but there was an active duty officer and an active duty sergeant both just back from Vietnam.

Price's biography is pretty complete, taking Cook from his early background and following the story through how things worked out of his family and the various places that he is memorialized.  There is also a lot of background on how things were for prisoners of the Viet Cong, a story probably less told than that of those, mostly pilots, held in North Vietnam.

The central part of the story is extremely grim and difficult to get through while also being inspiring as Cook encourages other prisoners and leads by example.  Price's main focus is on Cook as a Marine Corps officers under intensely trying circumstances.

The behaviour of the captors is neither demonized nor whitewashed,  Douglas Ramsey, a State Department employee, held captive by the VC for seven years got to know Cook pretty well and his reports were significant in the award of Cook's MOH.  Speaking about their captors after release, he said:
They ranged from sanity to something out of Marquis de Sade, I ran into some real jewels - some people I would invite today to my home for a drink; others I would invite behind a woodshed, and only one of us would return.
There was a good bit about Don Cook's experience at Xavier, but not quite as much as I had hoped.  The one faculty member that is mentioned as most inspiring is the moderately famous football coach Leo Paquin, who was still there in the late sixties when I was at Xavier. Colonel Price did think the Jesuit education played an important role in forming his character.
In retrospect, Don Cook’s citation echoes Xavier High School alma mater’s Jesuit creed: “Men and women for others
The stories illustrating Cook's character began to get to a point that just a bit of skepticism was creeping into me.  If this was a novel, you would think that the fact that Cook was 33 when he died was just going over the top.  (You have to have a certain education to get that reference, but to give you a hint, the novel would change his first name to Jesse or something like that).

There was one detail that only a Xavier graduate can fully appreciate,  Parallel to the academic division of the students into four classes divided into homerooms, the school was organized as a regiment meaning you were a member of a company in a battalion or a special unit and had a rank and position. Keeping your nose clean and getting decent grades would make you a staff sergeant and a squad leader when you were a Junior.

At the beginning  of Senior year all the higher positions were filled.  About a third of the class would become officers including the Colonel, which was a very a big deal.and a third would have the senior NCO positions like company first sergeants.

The other third, well, those were the kids who counted jug (the Jesuit term for detention) as an extra-curricular activity or struggled mightily with their grades.  In my class I heard there was a privates club.  Graduating from Xavier as a private was quite an achievement.  You had to walk a fine line to not get thrown out and not qualify for promotion even once.

Sorry for the TMI there, but here is the detail I found really intriguing.  As Colonel Price explains Cook had a really stellar career in the Marine Corps up to his capture.  And of course nothing tops the Medal of Honor, so Colonel Cook has the most distinguished real military record of any Xavier graduate. In a novel, he would have been the Colonel of the Class of 1952 or if you wanted to point to his future as a hard case prisoner, the novelist would make him part of the privates club.  The reality is that he graduated as Sergeant First Class which is about as mediocre as it is possible to be.

I could not resist asking the author about that odd detail.  He responded:
Yes SFC was not much at that time. Cook had a brash irreverent ability to be dismissive of authority. This helped him as a POW but not as a cadet at Xavier. He only respected the Ultimate Authority. I did not put this in his bio because this personality trait implied that he was a religious fanatic. He was not. He did not fall all over the altar.
Too many projects, too little time, so I have to hope that someone else will someday write a more expansive version of the adventures of Don Cook in his high school days,  The other intriguing detail in the bio that could use more expansion is this one.
He enjoyed life and had a girlfriend in Brooklyn but their relationship was not serious, possibly because her father was Tough Tony Anastasia, brother of Cosa Nostra chief Albert Anastasia
A novelist would really go to town with that.  I can't help but think that a Brooklyn kid in a tough prison would remember something that he heard from Tough Tony about how a prisoner is supposed to keep his mouth shut.

At any rate, this is a really great biography of a really great man.  Just the thing for Memorial Day, but if you are tied up at the barbecue you can read it later along with the book I will tell you about in my next post.

Peter J Reilly CPA  hopes to be the first tax blogger to give up his day job.  His failure to absorb the lessons of neatness and bearing imparted to him at Xavier High School would haunt him in his public accounting career where he was rated poorly by his partners in the category of executive presence. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Heading For The Grand Review

Tonight I am starting off on my final Civil War Sesquicentennial adventure.  It is not a "real time" affair.  The Grand Review of the Armies took place on May 23 and May 24 1865.  The commemoration will be tomorrow May 17th.

I was going to take Amtrak, but we know what happened there, so in a burst of personal reminiscence, I've decided to go Greyhound.  I'm planning to catch sleep on the bus down and the bus back in an excess of frugality.  Best of all I will be meeting up with my incipient hipster son in the Port Authority bus terminal in New York around 3:00 AM for the second bus leg of the journey.

I'm taking off from Worcester shades of my Holy Cross days. although the bus station has been relocated a few blocks.  Perhaps quite appropriate for the day it is Union Station.

I'm thinking that I will maintain the ebullience and optimism that President Johnson was trying to invoke when he called for the review to buck up a country that was reeling from the Lincoln assassination.  The 145,000 soldiers who participated were mostly going home.

Reenactors of the United States Colored Troops will be better represented at the commemoration than at the actual review.  Many USCT soldiers were down by the Rio Grande when the Review took place.

My Sesquicentennial adventures gave me a better sense of my connection to the past.  Not just the war but the whole 150 years following.  Going to the Grand Review with my son will allow me to have the fantasy/hope that in 50 years another descendant, yet unborn, of Private Patrick Lyons, Fifer, Company K 22nd New Jersey will feel the connection.

Close as we could get to 22nd NJ position 150 years later.

Peter J Reilly CPA flunked out of a graduate program in American history at the famous Universtiy of Chicago.  Public accounting has been good to him,  Better to be lucky than good.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Review Of "Ways And Means For Managing Up" By F William Smullen

I am not much of a fan of "self-help" books but when I saw that Bill Smullen had written Ways and Means for Managing Up: 50 Strategies For Helping You And Your Boss Succeed, I felt compelled to buy it and, even more amazing, read it right away.  I'll explain that later.

What is great about Ways and Means is that it is more of a "help others" book than a self help book and it focuses on the reality that even in a subordinate position you are responsible for using whatever power and influence you have for good.  And of course the reality for most of us is that even if we are quite successful we will spend most of our careers being subordinate to somebody.

In Bill Smullen's case, late in his career that somebody was Colin Powell.  He was Powell's chief of staff both while Powell was America's top general and while he was Secretary of State.  In between those two assignments Powell was focusing in part on writing and promoting his autobiography My American Journey also with Smullen's help. Smullen refers to that phase as "two old soldiers trying to sell a book".

The perspective of the book is laid out in the introduction
Whether you are starting out in professional life or have been part of it for some time, you have a boss and a responsibility to manage him or her like the other resources for which you're responsible.
Taking care of business by making the boss look good was something I strived for each and every day in each and every way. 
Some Examples

We then get 50 pieces of good advice, each illustrated by an interesting story.

 One of my favorites were "Be a Gatekeeper, Not a Gate Blocker", in which we learn how complicated it could be to help a guy who owned a Boston fish market send a lobster to General Schwarzkopf, who was his hero.

"Expect the Unexpected" is about a pivotal moment in 1995.  He and Powell had just retired from the Army and he had set up an office to work on the completion and promotion of My American Journey when Powell started being besieged with encouragement to run for President.  That one is too much of spoiler.

"Don't Speak for the Boss Unless He Asks or Knows" is a heck of a story.  In 1990, Smullen then chief of staff to America's top general (i.e. Colin Powell) had to deal with the fallout from an Air Force general more or less spilling the beans on US military strategy for the First Gulf War. The lesson is about knowing where you fit in the chain of command.

"Prepare Now For Crisis" is about Murphy's law.  Smullen relates that when he became the media relations officer for West Point, he did not expect too many problems and then was hit with something of a one-two punch as President Ford decided that the instituion had to admit women and there was a major cheating scandal.  An interesting observation he makes is that FEMA in August 2001 predicted that the two most likely emergency events we would be facing were a terrorist attack on New York City and a high-intensity hurricane hitting New Orleans.  He notes that people of responsibility did nothing to prevent or prepare for their happening.

Strong Points And Weak Points

The strongest point of the book is the wealth of anecdotes that give insight into key events of the second half of the twentieth century.  I used to have this dividing line in my mind between history and current events (I explain that a bit here in a story about somebody I knew who to me came striding from the pages of history).  Now though I perceive it as more continuous and Bill Smullen was on the scene at some pretty significant historical moment.  His role in the Colin Powell presidency that never was could make for a really good Harry Turtledove novel like the Guns of The South.

The strong point of the book in terms of interest is probably the weak point in terms of its value as a self-help book.  Although Smullen was not himself that famous (I think the nature of his positions required him to be somewhat self-effacing) he was at the center of things and affecting immensely powerful institutions.  The lessons are broadly applicable, but you have to think a bit to make a connection.  I think it would be a better self-help book if his anecdotes were supplemented with stories that make a similar point on a more mundane level.

Why I Had To Read The Book

I have to restrain myself into breaking into a full blown memoir here, so there will be of necessity much detail omitted. I attended my 45th high school reunion last week which among other things had me thinking about the most inspiring teachers I had had in high school.

Xavier High School just a bit north of Greenwich Village in Manhattan is kind of a peculiar high school arguably sui generis. We provided just a little bit of the color of the crazy diversity of New York City as we commuted to school in uniforms loosely based on the US Infantry uniform of 1847, the year the school was founded and were dubbed the "subway commandoes".

In grammar school we had been taught what good patriotic Americans, Catholics were -contributing disproportionately to the soldiers killed in action in America's wars - the men of Meagher's Irish Brigade being but a down payment

And of course we had just had a war hero President who was martyred.

So in 1966, when I started in the school there appeared to be no tension between the Society of Jesus and the United States Army.  Ignatius Loyola had been a soldier after all. So those two venerable institutions were ideal partners in forming the character of young Catholic gentlemen, whose certificate of completion in the JROTC would give them a head start on becoming officers

You won't see in "Bill" Smullen's biography that he ever taught high school, but he did and he was the only teacher to give me a failing grade, which was the result of a fairly silly act of adolescent rebellion on my part.

  Just back from a tour in Vietnam, Major Smullen was the Senior Army Instructor at Xavier high school.  The rest of the Military Science faculty were senior sergeants, a couple on active duty, the others mostly retired employees of the school whose pay was subsidized by the Department of the Army.  They were probably among the most colorful members of the faculty.  For example, during the marksmanship block of instruction in the school's basement rifle range, we learned that "cunt hair" was a unit of measure.

The gap between SJ and USA was at its widest when we were seniors and protest against the Vietnam War was at its height.  A Jesuit from the New York Province had to be listed as resident in New England, because Father Daniel Berrigan SJ was in the federal correctional institution in Danbury for burning draft records.  So my which side are you on moment was deliberately failing Major Smullen's block of instruction on Counter-insurgency.

Nonetheless, even then and more so in retrospect, I greatly admired Major Smullen.  His block of instruction on the Psychology of Leadership, where we learned the officer's code - The Mission and the Men - was the best management training I ever received.  His handling of the divisive situation strikes me in retrospect as masterful.  Many Xavier graduates of that era would be anti-war, which is not really such a bad thing, but I doubt many would be anti-Army and certainly not anti-soldier.

The Book Is Good

I have explained why I felt compelled to read the book, because it is a story I find interesting and who knows maybe somebody else might, but if the book had sucked or something I would have found another venue for the story.  It was a really good read and was breezy. If like me you have a big reading backlog, you can stick this one without much disruption

About Forms Of Address

"Bill Smullen" is how the author characterizes himself on his website, so that is what I used, except when I went into the time warp. He actually retired from the Army as a full colonel.  He remains Major Smullen in my memory, though.  Major Smullen made a cameo appearance in one of my pieces, I'm hoping I might get Bill Smulen to weigh in there some time, but we will see.


I have to thank my classmate Scott O'Connell for helping me track down Bill Smullen.  Scott wanted to comment but was frustrated by a glitch of some sorts.  Here is his comment:
 Great review Peter! Bill was a great PMS. And he is still passing on his leadership lessons at Syracuse University's Maxwell School where he runs the National Security Studies program.
(PMS stands for Professor of Military Science, not, well you know.)

Scott was career Army officer serving both in tanks and counter-intelligence.  Driving tanks and catching spies.   How cool is that?  Like Samuel Johnson said "Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier or been to sea", but Scott is really rubbing it in with that career.

Scott is also an author spy novels about the American revolution.  They have not quite made my reading list yet, but I will get there.  So many books so little time.

Xavier High School Class of 1970 has at least two other authors.  Bradley Ferguson has written several Star Trek novels including A Flag Full of Stars which is set in part at a high school not far from the Avenue of the Federation, which New Yorkers continue to insist on referring to as Sixth Avenue.  Where did Brad ever get such a notion?

The other is John Sundman whose trilogy shows a lot of Jesuit influence.  He tells me the three books can be read in any order, but I would recommend you start with Acts of The Apostles which while covering several genres (thriller, science fiction, horror) is farily conventional.  Cheap Complex Devices  and The Pains are much more complex in their structure.  Reading them is like wandering around in mine picking up gems, but having no hope of being able to tell people where I had been afterwards.