Monday, November 20, 2017

Colonel Retread The Best And Worst Memoir I Have Ever Read

The Recollections of Colonel Retread
Carlton Ketchum
Hart Books

I don't know what it tells you about an author when you pick up a personally inscribed first edition of his work for short money in a used book store. This was one of my random acquisitions at the Book Bear in West Brookfield.  I thought it would tie into one of my literary interests and it does.

The book is Carlton Ketchum's World War II memoir and it is really terrible in two ways.  It is just kind of slapped together much of it excerpts from letters.  And Ketchum himself has to be about the most bigoted person I have encountered.  And I really did feel that I had encountered him after reading the book, so maybe there was a method in his organizational madness.

About Ketchum

Carlton Ketchum was a pioneer in fundraising and public relations.  The firm that he founded with his brother is now known as Ketchum Inc, a subsidiary of Omnicom Group

When the memoir was published in 1976 Ketchum was 84 years old.  The term "politically incorrect" was just coming into common use and Ketchum's book could have been used as a manual for how to stay consistently politically incorrect.

I'm thinking the people at the firm must have been having conniptions.  But what could they do.  The old man wanted his memoirs published.  What could they do?  I'm glad it got out.

Being born in 1892, Ketchum was not part of the Greatest Generation.  That would be his son David born in 1920. He was the previous generation that actually led the Greatest Generation in the struggle against fascism. Ketchum was two years younger than Dwight Eisenhower.

Great Content

We'll save the bigotry for later and tell you why this is one of the best memoirs that I have ever read.  It has extremely interesting content.  And it does tie in with my literary interest - James Gould Cozzens - Ketchum ran the program that was responsible for commissioning Cozzens in the Army Air Force, which gave us probably the best World War II novel, the Pulitzer Prize winning Guard of Honor.  It was also a factor in the fictionsl career of the narrator of Cozzens's last novel - Morning Noon and Night.

The fictional Henry Worthington relates how things were in February 1942:
Through a friend of his in the Air Judge Advocates's department Jon found out that right then Air Force recruiters in several cities were busy with an intensive, carefully unpublicized project meant to snap up before the draft could get them experienced professional men of the very various kinds judged likely to be needed to fill a vast number of non-flying, really non-military, administrative positions in the organization now explosively expanding out of the old Air Corps.
Military aviation though no longer in its infancy was hardly an adult in 1942.  There were officers still serving who had learned to fly from the Wright brothers, so there was not much of a pool of retired officers to draw on to fill many non-flying positions.

That was where Calrton Ketchum's program came in.  Ketchum had served in World War I and also was a major player in the business world. One of his friends was Trubee Davison, a brigadier general in 1942. Ketchum got a call from him on January 2, 1942.
General Arnold wants to see you. The Air Forces is going practically everywhere in the World.  We have no reserve officers, being so new a branch, and we are going to need thousands of men who have specific skills - in transportation, communications, various kinds of engineering, intelligence, and all sorts of things.  We can't wait for these twenty-year old candidates to be trained, and they won't know how to do the things that I am talking about when they are trained. We have to find a huge number of men over draft age who are experts in these fields, get them to volunteer, bring them into the Air Force as commissioned officers and put them to work fast.
I'm wondering if this type of thing could have been pulled off now.  America of that day was still largely ruled by a WASPocracy where if everybody didn't know everybody they knew somebody who did.  Never mind six degrees of separation, it was probably more like two.

How To Find Thousands Of Officers - Stat

Ketchum went down to Washington and met with Arnold and Davison and stayed up late typing up a plan.

Then he got a surprise Arnold asked him how soon he could take charge.  Ketchum told Arnold that although he could coach the plan would have to be implemented by an officer with a staff.  Arnold responded that he wanted to know how soon Ketchum could take the physical for his commission.

It was an interesting project.
We had thirty-five categories of service to be filled of which the hardest one to find adequate numbers for was that of weathermen.
And it was successful on a pretty grand scale.
Between the end of January and the end of September 1942, we considered approximately 490,000 applications of which nearly one fifth were approved/  ........ Out of these approximately 18,000 men were commissioned in the Air Force, while the Navy and the Ground Troops commissioned 8,000 or 9,000 on our papers

Ketchum handled some of the special recruiting himself. General Harmon had command of the Gulf Coast Flight Training Command with 20,000 to 30,000 men getting flight training.  He had plenty of money to feed them, but they were practically starving from a lack of competent mess officers and cooks.

He spoke to brothers Vernon and Gordon Stouffer, who would not get into frozen food until 1946, and at that point had a restaurant chain.  Ketchum told them that the Air Force needed one of them right away.  They selected the younger Gordon and he headed straight out to get his physical and then down to Washington.  Six weeks later, Ketchum was greeted as a hero when he visited Texas.

He was also on the lookout for Flying Tigers as they returned for China. He had to fight to bring them in at rank commensurate with experience.

The big push was done by September 1942 and Ketchum was sent overseas.  He went to North Africa, Sicily and then England in a bewildering variety of intelligence assignments.  The only one that he describes in detail in coherent detail is being in charge of a committee that prioritized reconnaissance missions during the summer of 1944.  One particularly tough story was about sending pilots to try to locate the paratroopers around Arnhem knowing that the pilots were unlikely to make it back.

In that job he was nominally under the command of FDR's son Eliot.  He did not like Eliot and it is implied that it was not surprising since he did not think highly of FDR.

Regardless, the book is really worth picking up for the wealth of anecdotes.

About The Bigotry 

Some of the passages struck me the first time through the book.  As I went through to write this,  I realized they were not quite as pervasive.  Here is a pretty complete accounting of them.  Ketchum has lots of people he praises and thinks highly of, but the ones he does not like, he does not like.  I think many of his attitudes would not have been so shocking in 1944, but in 1976 he might have been advised to keep them to himself, but being 84 and all, he didn't give a shit.  So here they are by category.

Regular Army Officers Except The Top Stars

In this way and other transactions of the time, I developed the feeling that the top level of officers in the regular service was so high as to make them utterly invaluable and that most of them were men of the highest character.  On the other hand, the routines of the regular service in peacetime had made a lot of officers almost totally incapable of thinking or doing anything not laid out in detail in "The Book".  That type was really no good under war conditions, and I'm afraid most of that element had lost any real usefulness for later life in whatever capacity.

He was a time-serving, lazy officer, a Lieutenant Colonel like myself at the time, one of the group who continued to draw flying pay because he got into somebody else's airplane and flew or was flown for two hours a month


Washington cannot believe we need privates and second lieutenants and always sends us majors for whom we have no use at all


.....the right number of people to do an eleven-man job is ten, so that each of them will be busy working hard and consequently satisfied with life and operating at his best.

....lesser of two evils -keep all the work in the hands of the ten men doing it, let the other seven sit around...


In handling personnel problems, our professional soldiers are entitled to very scant respect.  What gains in procedure have come about seem always to be initiated by the "amateurs".

Their were too many of the Regulars, however, who of their own motion found it impossible to do anything but "go by the book" -- stodgy, stubborn, petty men who contributed little indeed to their country's cause in return for the excellent preparation that had been given them.

The Sixties

Since then in the Sixties and earliest Seventies, we have seen a disheartening worsening of loyalty, respect for our country's laws and neighborliness.  It is good to note that we are now well into a period in which the voices of treason, and of condoning of criminality and inhuman action on the part of others are fewer and lower in tone.


African Americans

Tomorrow I am going to church; there are four Protestant services and three Masses scheduled, besides a service for the three hundred Negroes aboard

Joshing a British lady

and that as for Colonel Mears' state, California, experiments were being conducted to determine whether white people could live there, in which case we were willing to annex it

Charley Adams told me about the two negro overseas soldiers who were reading their hometown paper.  It told of Wilkie's candidacy - of Dewey's availability - of the Bricker boom, etc.  Said Mose, "What's all dis business about a new president? We's already got us a president" "Shom sho we has" said Sam, "but de white folks wants one too!"



A small minority of ladies on a long voyage with a large number of men look just so-so the first few days out.  They apparently improve in appearance as the voyage continues



....if ever we meet any Italians who really put up a stiff fight, it will be a source of astonishmet


The people of Rome are about the best looking I have seen since I left the USA.  I should think a good many of our GIs would go for the Roman gals.  There are more blondes there than one expects, thought I think some of them have given Nature an assist.

On the standpoint of character, our people think all the Itis rank low.

Their morals are all but non-existent, which seems to me should make an intelligent Catholic wonder, for the Church has completely dominated them for so many centuries .... and yet the soldiers say 'A really moral Iti is a guy that isn't pimping for his own sister.

The French

The attitude toward the French is almost universally that of disgust


An easy worst was the French group.

If those goldbrickers ever accounted for death or injury to anyone, it was by driving mad the officers who had to try to deal with their constant objections and try to get them to do anything but object.  We had been better off if they had joined up with the Germans.

What The Frogs Look Like

A striking characteristic of the people in both Normandy and Brittany is their homeliness.  Scanning a great many faces of all ages, I did not see a handsome man nor a beautiful woman


Next to the people of Brittany and Normandy, to whom I yield the palm, the Aberodnians are the homeliest white people I ever saw.



The Egyptians are, like the Indians, predominately dirty and lazy


He said I ran the greatest chance of being murdered there, that the Arabs were no good at any time


Olive growing is just right for a Berber (the Arabs of North Africa) because it gives him most of his time to catch up with his loafing.


Before I drop the subject of Tunis, it is notable for high prices, everyone doing his best to rook the Anglo-Saxons as hard as possible.  Yet business hours are either from 8 to 12, or from 9 to 12 and 4 to 6.  Those joes do not favor work.

In approximately ten months, during which we saw many thousands of these people, none of us ever witnessed an act of kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity or affection on the part of one them.  The men acted brutally toward the women; the adults toward the children; all of them toward the animals.  Apparently compassion was unknown among them.

If there were any who did not seize every opportunity to steal, we were not blessed with the knowledge of that forbearance; and they were the filthiest people any of us had ever seen.

All in all, the Americans and British who spent part of their participation in the war in Northern Africa unite in the view that these people must surely be the lowest form of animal life.  If I have overlooked mentioning their laziness and incompetence to do anything worthwhile, I will insert it here.


Irish Americans

He is an Irishman, and I'll bet he was brought up in the ward politics school of thought which leads to an unending demand for favors and the feeling that he is entitled to them


Jack Benny

Sat next to Jack Benny at dinner last night, helping to entertain him and his associates all evening. A completely self-centered, crude manipulative boor.


Benny arrived that night half drunk and during cocktails before dinner finished the job.  He came in to the table loud and lewd, telling dirty stories at the top of his lungs and downing drink after drink.

Eliot Rosewater

Colonel Roosevelt was the kind of man who gives President's sons a bad name.

Also like his father, he told the truth or kept his word when it was convenient for him to do so.


Before You Read Ketchum

If you haven't read Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens.  Well, I mean, what is the matter with you? Cozzens was a well established writer when he went in to the Air Force in 1942 and ended up with positions where he got a great picture of the service in all its vastness including things that were kept under wraps to avoid embarrassment.  Cozzens came from the same sort of WASPy privilege that Ketchum did, but his novelists eye could discern the same foibles in his crowd that Ketchum reserved for "the other".

Another great source is A Time of War -James Gould Cozzens diary and Pentagon memos 1943-1945.

Another Fictional Ketchum Recruit

Harvey Slocum the narrator figure in 12 O'Clock High would also have been one of Ketchum's recruits.


Peter J Reilly blogs on taxes for and on whatever he feels like here.

Another View Of Jack Benny

I offer this as a supplement.  It is an anecdote that Jack Benny shared about his time entertaining troops.

"At Abadan I had an unsettling run-in with racial prejudice. I had gone into a canteen to get a sandwich and a ginger ale. There was no air-conditioning in the place. A ceiling fan was lethargically stirring up the hot air. I got my food and sat down. A sergeant sat down beside me and said, 'Hi, Mistuh Benny. Ah'm comin' to see your show t'night. You all got Rochester with you?'
'No,'I said.
'Well, I sho am disappointed. You cain't have much of a show without Rochester. He's just about the funniest damn coon in the world.'
I didn't think it was my place to get into a discussion with him about his racist language, so I merely said, 'Well, I hope we'llput on a nice show even without Rochester.' I was there to bring our men a little time out for laughter--they sure needed any relief.
But this fool wasn't satisfied. 'Seems to me, Mistuh Benny, without Rochester, you ain't got no show.'
'You really love Rochester, don't you?' I said.
'Love him? Why, sir, ah tell you ah'd walk ten miles to see that Rochester.'
'You love him so much, huh? Well, let me ask you something. Would you walk into this canteen and sit down with him at the same table?'
His expression got nasty. 'Well, sir, ah come from a part of the country where we don't sit down with nigras.'
'I thought so, young man, and that's why I didn't bring Rochester on this trip. I didn't want him to be embarrassed and humiliated by ignorant folks like you. You say you love Rochester. You'll walk ten miles to see him perform. But you won't sit down at the same table and drink a coke with him. You make me sick.'
I walked out of the canteen.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Subtle Genius of Jimmy Breslin

When Jimmy Breslin died a few months ago, it hit me pretty hard.  I gave him my standard treatment - seeking for his appearance in tax litigation.  Other than a fleeting mention , there was nothing in the body of federal material, but there was an interesting story about a Manhattan restaurant named Jimmy's in his honor, but that was not enough.

One of the things that was mentioned in his obituaries was his gravedigger column.  The assassination of John F Kennedy was one of those unifying moments for my generation when everybody was paying attention to the same event.  Breslin focused on a small detail of the funeral that would have just about everybody glued to their TV.  The digging of the grave.

The resulting column became an iconic piece of journalism.  Much has been written about it, but there was a subtle piece of genius in it that, as far as I can tell has gone unremarked.

I am certain that I read that column when it first ran in the Herald Tribune.  My old man would always bring home the Herald Tribune and we would talk about Jimmy Breslin and Art Buchwald columns.  I remember the thing that struck me
One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.
$3.01 an hour sounded like pretty good money.

As I read more about the column there was a detail that surprised me.  It is mentioned in an interview with Clifton Pollard, the gravedigger, in 1988.
 Pollard said softly.
'I thought about the job I had to do and who I was doing it for. I liked Kennedy. He was a nice man who did things he said he would do. He helped open schools (to blacks). He was against discrimination.'
Pollard, who is black, began working at the cemetery in 1946 after a stint in the Army during World War II.
 I didn't remember anything about the gravedigger being black.  I think I would have remembered that.

I went over Breslin's column a couple of times and it is not mentioned.  Only it is.

Thomas Ferraro, the UPI reporter who interviewed Pollard in 1988, noted his status as a veteran "a stint in the Army during World War II"

Breslin was more specific.
Pollard is 42. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. 
If you look in your copy of Shelby Stanton's World War II Order of Battle, you will find on page 551 - 352nd Engineer Service Regiment (Colored).

To an eleven year old white boy in Fairview NJ Pollard being black was immaterial and perhaps in that context distracting.  But it would probably be of interest to Breslin's readers in Harlem and he figured out a way to tell them.  There were probably enough veterans who would have recognized the reference without help from Captain Stanton' book, which would not come out for a couple of decades.

It was a great thing that my father did when he introduced me to Jimmy Breslin and Art Buchwald along with the rest of what was the successor to Margaret Fuller's newspaper. I'm sure he would have been pleased to learn that I heard Breslin speak at Holy Cross in the early seventies and that Art Buchwald was the commencement speaker at the graduation of the Class of 1974.  Maybe even that my Margaret Fuller obsession had me reading Tribune columns from the eighteen forties.

Sadly both he and the Herald Tribune died before I started high school. And now Breslin is gone too.

Peter J Reilly CPA writes about taxes on and whatever he feels like on this blog.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Flag Of Our Love - A Response To The View of a Sesquicentennial Tourist

Recently I spiffed up a guest post from two years ago.  It was by Georg Snatzke, one of the friends I made during the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Georg is an amazing guy, one of the scary smart people whose interest in the Late Unpleasantness was piqued by complex strategy games like A Gleam of Bayonets.  We met walking together from the parking lot to the Cornfield at Antietam in the early morning of September 17, 2012, the 150th anniversary of the deadliest day in American history.  We lost contact, but reconnected at Appomattox.

What is really interesting about Georg is that, he came to his interest in the War with no preconceived cultural baggage or pop culture exposure.  He grew up in Bavaria in the eighties.  So that he ended up being very sympathetic to the Confederacy was something I found rather fascinating.  He explains it in some depth in From Secession 1861 to Appomattox 2015: The View of a Sesquicentennial Tourist.

I met Michael Schaffner at my very last Sesquicentennial event, the Grand Review in Harrisburg PA on November 14, 2015.  Black troops had been excluded from the original Grand Review in Washington in 1865, although not from its Sesquicentennial, which was a project of the African American Civil War Museum.

Michael was portraying one of the white officers of the 54th Mass.  He is passionate about the contribution of African Americans to Union victory, the preservation of the Republic and the elimination of slavery.  I thought he might like to respond to Georg's piece and did he ever.  With footnotes and everything.  That's enough introduction.

Software gremlins have played havoc with the pictures.  They are available here while I struggle with malevolent forces.

                                                                       “The Flag Of Our Love” 
                                                                               M. A. Schaffner

Reading Dr. Snatzke's recent guest post explaining his affection for the Confederacy, I felt a deep, nostalgic kinship balanced by dismay. Like him, many Americans view “the South” as a uniquely authentic region of the United States, and its civil war armies as the most courageous troops we have ever raised, led by our most skilled generals.

They too see the “South's” cause as one of country against city, local against central rule, popular culture against elitism, and nearly every other manifestation of individual against collective values they wish to project upon it. The battle flag itself never passed from popular affection (among whites, anyway) and American troops have carried it into every war fought since 1865, including World War II, Vietnam, and even Korea, as we see in this picture of my own father, serving there as a navy corpsman with the Marines in 1953.

And yet each of these projections of uniquely “southern” virtues and strengths carries with it fatal misunderstandings of our national history and culture, particularly in regard to race.

The Seductive Nature of the “Southern” Cause

But how could it have been otherwise for me? As a boy raised in Virginia during the centennial years I watched TV shows extolling Mosby's Rangers, saw re-runs of “Gone With the Wind,” visited Mount Vernon, and drove past the Confederate memorial in Alexandria – a dismounted cavalryman with his back turned calmly and defiantly to the north. There were Johnny Reb cannon, Thomas Industries HO scale lead soldiers, Avalon Hill war games of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, and plastic army men holding detachable muskets and supported by spring-loaded cannon.

More significantly, my school books bulged with paeans to “southern” glory and feats of arms. My very county takes its name from Arlington House, the Custis-Lee Mansion, from which one can easily view the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Mall over the graves of the national cemetery. I remember our history text – “Cavalier Commonwealth” – which, as I recall, finished its account of the Civil War with Pickett's men breaking through at Gettysburg, then abruptly skipped to its final chapter detailing all of Virginia's history since that “high tide” of glory.

I think I was in the fourth grade before I realized that the Confederacy actually lost that war, which is perhaps not so silly when you think that we still have schools here named after J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee.

About this time I became satiated with the civil war and turned to feast on other realms of military history. The Thomas Industry figures went into a box and the Marx toys to Goodwill, with their ranks to be filled by Zinnfiguren of the Seven Years War from Aloys Ochel in Kiel. Frederick the Great became my hero, followed by many others from the endless annals of European wars.

It was not until I was much, much older that I returned to the civil war, this time as a reenactor, and with my understanding less informed by Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote than by a degree in world history, reinforced by the works of Hans Delbruck, Charles Oman, and Ardant du Picq.

Most reenactors come to the hobby with the same boyish love of military history, firearms, and play. For most it only reinforces their initial romanticized view of war and the justice of one side over the other. For others hobby-related questions – the authenticity of particular weapons, uniforms, tactics, rations, camping arrangements, etc. –will sooner or later lead to more extensive readings of period politics, culture, and economics.

  Once I started down that road, and became immersed in the original sources, the reading led me away from the reinforcement Dr. Snatzke has drawn from his, all beginning with the questioning of certain basic assumptions.

What Was “The South”?

The reader noticed that I have placed “southern” in quotes and may question why I so qualify a war commonly seen at the time and ever since as one of “North” against “South.”

 One reason lies in an interest in accuracy. Geographically we even today refer to the MasonDixon Line as the border between north and south, yet during the war that line lay well within “the North.” Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware all stayed loyal, unlike “the South.”

And even in “the South” deep fissures appeared as soon as the war started. Every state in the Confederacy provided troops to the United States Army. This went beyond individual soldiers like the Virginian generals Scott and Thomas, who stayed true to their oaths to the republic. It included entire units. All but South Carolina provided white formations; every state in the Confederacy would contribute soldiers to the United States Colored Troops.

My own Virginia raised “Loyal” regiments for the US army beginning in the first year of the war. Loudoun County – the stomping grounds of the famous Mosby – would raise a cavalry battalion, “The Loudoun Rangers” from around the little Quaker town of Waterford, and Chincoteague where my wife and I have vacationed for more than thirty years, provided the “First Eastern Shore (Loyal).

Closer to home, both Accotink and Falls Church fielded their own Union Home Guard – civilians armed by the Provost Marshall of the Defenses South of the Potomac to defend their towns. Both units were virtually unique in containing both African Americans and whites in their ranks.1

These units reflected the stance of their communities. The truck farmers in the country part of Alexandria County, now my own beloved Arlington, voted more than two to one to remain in the United States. Among the watermen of Chincoteague the vote went 148 to two (some sources say one

Altogether, some 400,000 “southern” men served in the US army: about 75,000 from rebellious states, 220,000 from loyal “border” slave states,and more than 100,000 African Americans from the states in rebellion.3 Additional African American recruits served in USCT regiments credited to loyal non-slave states, adding perhaps 20,000 more to the total.

This number is significant. About two million soldiers served in the United States Army during the war and about one million in the rebel army. A shift of 400,000 from the first column to the second would have changed the military balance from a massive superiority to a rough parity. It would have made the reunification of the country a hopeless endeavor.

If geography did not prove decisive, did the rebellion rest on cultural affinities – say, a mysterious sympathy between the diverse barbecue cultures of North Carolina, Memphis, and Texas, as distinguished from the pit beef of Maryland?

 Or was there a more direct connection? You can guess where this leads.

The Centrality of Slavery

A young academic I know introduced me to the following dictum: If you know nothing about the civil war it's all about slavery. If you know a little, it's more complicated and involved things like states rights and tariffs. But once you learn a lot, you realize it's slavery, slavery, slavery...

Let's just briefly revisit the statements by the decision makers behind secession. Dr. Snatzke mentions the South Carolina declaration of the reasons for secession, but in fact five states – every state that bothered to give a reason – mentioned the same causus belli, which was the Republican Party's commitment to keeping slavery out of the territories.4

 For an extra helping of reasons, you may also want to check out Alexander Stephens' “Cornerstone Speech” here, which contains the immortal passage “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition.”5

 Despite this clarity at the time, the popular history of the Civil War so centers on the lives of white men and the daring deeds of Confederate arms and generals that it remains fairly easy to minimize how essential slavery was to the society and economy of rebel states, and their white population. Dr. Snatzke spends little time on this, so I hope the reader will bear with me as I explain.

We often hear that the average rebel soldier was a poor farmer who had no slaves and so couldn't possibly be fighting for so base a cause, or was manipulated by wealthy planters. This was in fact Karl Marx's interpretation in October 1861 when he wrote of the “unrestricted oligarchy of the 300,000 slaveholders.”6

But Marx overlooked the slaveholders' families; after all, today we speak of families that own their own homes – we don't deduce home ownership from the number of names on deeds and conclude that all other individuals rent or live on the street. From that perspective the numbers are stunning. In the first two states to secede, South Carolina and Mississippi, nearly half of all white people lived in households that owned black people. In every state that rebelled the percentage reached 20% or more and overall it averaged more than 30%.7

The historian Joseph Glatthaar, in analyzing ownership statistics in Lee's army found that those coming from slaveholder households made up more than 40% of its ranks. Whether this affects one's assumption of the involvement of the “average” soldier, it still comprises a substantial minority and would no doubt include the majority of officers.8

Marx used another statistic to draw a connection between slavery and rebellion – the percentage of enslaved African Americans in the states that seceded. This is also instructive. In those first two states to secede more than half the population consisted of enslaved African Americans, and they over all comprised more than a third of the Confederacy's population. No seceding state had an enslaved population less than 20%.

With one exception the twenty-percent threshold formed the key determinant of rebellion. That exception was Kentucky, a state with an enslaved population of 20% and of slaveholding families of 23%.9 In other loyal states percentages fell well below the 20/20 threshold – in Delaware it was 3/2, in Maryland 12/13, in Missouri it was 13/10.

 But think of what that 20/20 threshold means! Think how lightly we say “South Carolina left the Union” as if the state were a Scarlett O'Hara that picked up its collective crinolines and walked off in a huff at an imagined insult. A different phrasing might, and should, come to mind if we simply reflect that more than half of all “South Carolinians” were enslaved African Americans.

Think also of what it means to live in a society where the upper 20% own human beings and the lower 20% are enslaved from birth. Even if you own no one in such a society the more affluent 20% would benefit from a capital wealth that ensured them a disproportionate share of any positions of power, be they bankers, justices of the peace, sheriffs, aldermen, congressmen, state militia officers, cotton brokers, etc. etc. etc.

In this sense, though, Marx's use of the term “oligarchy” has some value, for the true difference between comfort and real wealth was commonly seen to fall at the level of the “planter” who held twenty or more African Americans enslaved. This class constituted just over 10% of slaveholders but their influence did play an enormous role. Jefferson Davis enslaved more than a hundred African Americans, every member of the Confederate cabinet either owned or had owned slaves,10 and Robert E. Lee as executor of his father-in-law's will enslaved more than two hundred until the end of 1862, just past the legal deadline for emancipating them under the terms of the will.

On the other end of the scale the lowest 20% of the population would present a floor below which you could never sink, simply from the privilege of being born white. No matter how ignorant, dissolute, incapable, or immoral you might be, you would still retain the rights of a citizen under the Constitution and free man under Common Law even as that lowest band must settle for the approximate legal rights of lawn furniture.

 Further arguments existed for nonslaveholders' support of slavery, including the availability of cheap rental labor, the prospect of eventual ownership oneself, and more, as detailed in such works as J. D. B. DeBow's “The Interest in Slavery of the Non-Slaveholding Southerner.”11

 But slavery went beyond the simple but brutal reality of how many white families owned how many black people. The economic implications were enormous for the people and the states involved. The average African American in 1860 could bring $800 on the auction block – $150,000 using an “unskilled wage comparison” or a total of half a trillion for the 3.5 million enslaved in the rebel states. But as a portion of GDP, this would come to more than $13 trillion today (speaking of compensated emancipation, try coming to Congress today and asking for that much to solve Global Warming).12

Some 20% (there's that number again) of all the capital in the United States resided in the bodies of enslaved black people, and throughout the rebellious states they often held greater value than the land itself.13

Moreover the income the enslaved brought for their owners reached great heights just before the Civil War. The value of overseas cotton exports in 1859 exceeded $160 million – more than twice the entire federal budget and nearly as much as the US would spend on ordnance during the entire war to come.14

With slave agriculture comprising more than half of all US exports DeBow and others would complain that “the South” must also be paying a majority of all import taxes, the main revenue source for the national government. However, quite apart from overlooking GDP, this failed to note that twothirds of the customs duties were paid in New York. Observers such as Frederick Law Olmstead noted a paucity of imports in planters' estates. Besides, the greatest “protective tariff” in US history was the constitutional ban on importing slaves – this ensured the high market value for the domestic “product” even as slaves could be got from the west coast of Africa for as little as $30-40.15

But GDP is critical. While slave-based agriculture produced hundreds of millions of dollars, it is doubtful that it reached a tenth of that annual total of $4.4 billion. Any number of people other than slaveholders profited from it, including “northern” shippers, bankers, brokers, and insurers, but they didn't rely on it. Push come to shove they could shift among diversified interests, as New England insurers did: when they could no longer write policies on slaves hired out in the “south” they could turn to the Chinese immigrant gangs hired to work on the transcontinental railroad.

And all that slave wealth rested on a brittle base. Cotton production ruined the land and guano or other attempts to restore it cost money. Old slave states sold their excess at great profit to newer ones farther west and these in turn looked to fresh soil in the territories. The slave economy did not just exploit human beings; it depended on a supply of new lands as well.

It also depended on the control of an unwilling population and the cooperation or coercion of every state. The old argument that “the South” fought for “States Rights” against federal power is belied by the Fugitive Slave law, which required even non-slave states to betray runaways and the national government to return them. It's also rebutted by the Confederate constitution itself, which required that “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”16

Thus, when the Republican Party won the Senate and Presidency (they already held the House) in 1860 on a platform calling for the preservation of slavery in situ but a ban on further expansion into the territories, the leaders of the states most deeply involved in the culture and economy of African American slavery had a choice. They could adjust to its eventual extinction or they could fight.

The response came almost immediately, taking the form of seizures of federal forts and arsenals, sub-treasuries and customs houses, the closing of the Mississippi, the forced capitulation of the army in Texas, the siege of forts Moultrie, Pickens, and Sumter, and actual firing on federal ships. In March the Confederate Congress called for 100,000 one-year volunteers by which they raised by the time of Lincoln's inauguration some 35,000 men, or twice as many as then served in the regular army of the United States.

And then, after four months of increasing aggression, they fired on Sumter.

Cavaliers and Mudsills

If you ever have a day or two to kill, gather a dozen Civil War “buffs” around a table and ask them which side had the best troops, or what regiments they admire most, or who their favorite general is and you can depend on taking notes till exhaustion sets in.. Because the Civil War wraps so many of our favorite legends and half our apocrypha in one great national epic, you can rely on endless discussion without conclusion.

The funny thing about this is that, from an objective, analytical perspective, the kind we might get from a Hans Delbruck, the conversation is entirely fruitless. For the Civil War presents the rare historical spectacle of what is essentially the same army fighting itself.

The vast majority of troops are raised through the same process – state volunteers under the Militia Act mustered into their respective federal services. The majority also share a strikingly similar demographic – young white farmers and laborers, all of similar height, weight, and age. They come from similar communities, they elect local notables to lead them, their best generals all went to the same school and in many cases have fought on the same side against Mexicans or Indians, and they all drill to slight variations of the same tactical manuals plagiarized from the French. Some regiments do better, some worse, but they all occupy the same continuum of wretched to elite based on the same factors of length of training, quality of officers, logistical support, and luck.

There were differences, but not those generally thought. The image of Southern knighthood bravely standing up to hordes of mercenaries and plodding immigrants can only go so far. If the rebels had more than their share of aristocrats, it was balanced by an illiteracy rate more than twice that of the US army. For armies hugely reliant on paperwork, that made a difference. While Jefferson Davis cherry-picked the old army to assemble the management team that ran circles around US arms at Second Bull Run, the latter retained the bureaucracy that kept them in the field long past the point of Confederate desperation.

If the US had a larger proportion of immigrants, those included large numbers of experienced officers, skilled artillerists, and true believers in the cause, of which I'll just pick one example, the young August Horstmann, who wrote home to Oldenburg after the battle of Cross Keys that,
… even if I should die in the fight for freedom & the preservation of the Union of this, my adopted homeland, then you should not be too concerned, for many brave sons of the German fatherland have already died on the field of honor, & many more besides me will fall! – Much the same as it is in Germany, the free and industrious people of the North are fighting against the lazy and haughty Junker spirit of the South. But down with the aristocracy who are lacking only in titles, and may industrious and free men revive the glorious soil of the South…

That these men and their generals fought as well as their more often lauded opponents is clear to any objective student of the war. If Lee had his string of victories from the Seven Days to Chancellorsville (with that little interruption at Antietam), Meade and Grant had theirs for the last two years of the war. To Grant's later string must be added his earlier victories in the west, including the capture of an entire rebel army at Vicksburg and the rout of another at Chattanooga. And to this we can add Sherman's triumphal parade through Georgia and the Carolinas in the last year of the war, as well as Sheridan's conquest of the Shenandoah and Wilson's destruction of Forrest. Taken in total the accomplishments of the United States Army inspired the British analysts Wood and Edmonds to remark that, “The conquest of such a vast expanse of territory, held by a nation in arms, has no parallel in history.”17

 There was one great exception to the rule of similarity though, and it's another that underscores the way standard Civil War narratives, buffs, and reenactors overlook the principal characters in the war. The United States Colored Troops, first raised sporadically in late 1862 and then in ever increasing numbers after the Emancipation Proclamation, constituted the largest group of soldiers raised directly by the national government in the history of the United States from its foundation to the First World War. By the end of their service there had been some 209,000 – one out of ten men in the US army and the largest force of men of African descent under one flag, from the dawn of history to the reign of the Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia.

 I'll elaborate more on their services in the final section, but it's more than worth noting that they entered in the second half of the war when most others just wanted to go home, stood the worst duty, fought in some of the most grinding battles, and won respect from the most skeptical observers. General Victor de Chanal, observing on behalf of the French general staff remarked:

 We have seen regiments, after but two months service, drill in a very remarkable manner. After one repetition, the white officers left the ranks and the drill continued under command of the colored non-commissioned officers and appeared to be quite as good as before. In all the battles in which these troops fought, they gave such proofs of bravery that even the most prejudiced were compelled to do them justice. 

And no wonder – with many of their families still in chains, their race despised or ignored by whites both north and south, and the Confederate Congress having put a noose around the necks of both officers and men under the “Retaliatory Act”18 they had far more than most to fight for.

Lincoln and the Union

If the war was all about slavery, one might ask, why did Lincoln repeatedly state that he fought entirely to “save the Union”? Why did he overrule every US general from Fremont, to Phelps, to Hunter, who tried to emancipate slaves by proclamation in the field? Why do passages in his debates with Douglass fairly drip with racism as he committed time and again to protect slavery where it existed?

 The quick answer, simple to the point of glibness, is that if slaveholders wished to destroy the Union in order to perpetuate slavery indefinitely into the future, then a war “just” to preserve the Union was in fact a war to end slavery. Whatever else Lincoln said, he never compromised on the party plank that called for keeping the peculiar institution out of the territories and he had already gone on record in the “House Divided” speech with his intention in that regard:

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South.19 

That is, he knew as well as the slaveholders what restricting slavery would mean, and he never deviated from that goal. Any confusion on that score results from assuming that because he did not call for freeing all African Americans already enslaved he didn't plan to end slavery itself. Before the rebellion he had no authority to do the first, but he had long planned to do the second.

 At the same time, the idea of “perpetual Union” was never simply a legalism. At the very beginning of the Revolution it was clear that any alliance of what were then colonies had to be permanent and inviolable or it was useless. The new nation shared land borders with two major world powers – Britain and Spain – as well as with major Native confederacies capable of destroying any army sent against it unless it was well led and strongly supported (see St. Clair).

Further, the idea that any part of this Union could remove itself at will at any time was anathema to the Founders, if for no other reason than the havoc it would visit on the national credit. This was one of the core arguments in the Federalist Papers for the “more perfect union” of the Constitution, and part of the argument Lincoln threw back in the faces of the nascent Confederacy in his “Special Session” address of July 4, 1861.20

As for the claim of Lincoln's “racism,” it's evinced in speech that would not be generally acceptable to politicians today (perhaps excepting the current president), but in its essentials it's eloquently supportive of the basic rights of humankind. The two blend together in this passage from the debates with Douglas :

 I agree with Judge Douglas that he is not my equal in many respects, certainly not in color- perhaps not in intellectual and moral endowments; but in the right to eat the bread without the leave of any body else which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every other man 21 

While the first part might offend us, the second reminds me of nothing so much as the lyric of Nina Simone: “You don't have to live next to me; just give me my equality.”22

The Civil War in Black and White

To me, the saddest aspect of Dr. Snatzke's piece is the ease with which he seems to overlook the vital presence of African Americans. He condemns slavery, but then immediately admits his heart still beats for “Dixie.” He then provides his own interesting version of the popular neo-Confederate motif of blaming the war on a tyrannical Abraham Lincoln.

Leaving aside the point that “Dixie” is more of a sentimental abstraction than a realistic description of the “South,” and even avoiding the reasons for the rebellion, this one-sided condemnation overlooks the fact that the dying was inflicted from both sides.23 One side did it to save the existing republic, the other to establish a new one based on human bondage.

Nor can anyone claim the Confederacy was merely defensive. If the whole point of the rebellion was to maintain the right to expand the domain of slavery, then its essential goal was aggressive – either to seize the territories of the United States, or to expand further south into lands already unsuccessfully invaded by “filibusteros” from Walker to Lopez. Hence Lincoln's rejection of the “Crittenden Compromise,” stating that its acceptance “would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego.”

While the war that followed killed as many as 850,000 Americans it freed four million others, liberated loyal whites within the boundaries of rebellious states, and spared the rest of the hemisphere the future predations of the slave power. As bloody as it was, rarely has a war balanced the sacrifice of the many with the emancipation and freedom of so many more.

 And we need to understand that African Americans were not passive recipients of emancipation as a gift. They numbered four and a half million in 1860, three and a half million enslaved in states that rebelled, a half million in loyal states. They comprised one out of seven Americans, and the quarter of a million living free in loyal states had lobbied incessantly for their rights as human beings since the 18th century. They built schools and churches, lobbied legislatures, published newspapers, and spoke truth to power in every forum available.24

When war came, African Americans throughout the country responded immediately. The first refugees from slavery appeared before Fort Monroe in May, 1861. The first volunteer unit to arrive in Washington from Pennsylvania included Nicholas Biddle, an unauthorized black soldier who, attacked by a mob as they marched through Baltimore, became the first “combat” casualty of the Civil War.

 The refugees continued to arrive in increasing numbers until their very presence made them impossible for the government to ignore. By the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the New England Freedman's Aid Society estimated that 300,000 African Americans had already escaped the rebels, 50,000 of whom were in the army. Six months later the American Freedman's Inquiry Commission noted that 300,000 African American men in the army – 200,000 as soldiers and 100,000 as noncombatant support, would represent a million and a half total including families, most coming from the states in rebellion.25

 Family is key. While the families of the enslaved had no legal existence in the rebellious states, they nonetheless existed in their own hearts. Countless illustrations in Harper's, Frank Leslie's, and other publications during the war repeated the motif of “slaves coming into the lines” and invariably these illustrations never show just one or two men. African Americans came as families and no one was too young or too old to bring out with the able-bodied.

Nor was black agency and resistance confined to those who fled or resided in lands liberated by the United States Army. As the rebel General Patrick Cleburne complained:

All along the lines slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information. It is an omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources, and yet acting so safely and secretly that there is no means to guard against it. Even in the heart of our country, where our hold upon this secret espionage is firmest it waits but the opening fire of the enemy's battle line to wake it, like a torpid serpent, into venomous activity.26 

The number of enlisted personnel in the USCT did ultimately reach 200,000, with noncombatants ranging from 100-200,000 more.27 Many of these came from the loyal slave states and non-slave states, but well over half came from the rebellious states themselves. This translates to something like three-quarters of a million people abandoning the side of the rebellion for the side of the republic.

More than one hundred and twenty thousand men went from growing cotton for the master to shooting at him, and several multiples of that number supported the war effort in other ways. This simple transfer of strength would have won the war for the United States even had the USCT never fired a shot. But the USCT fired lots of shots.

 By the end of the Civil War, African American soldiers in the United States Army provided one out of eight men in the trenches before Petersburg and Richmond, raided the enemy coast from the Northern Neck of Virginia to the Florida panhandle, garrisoned the Mississippi, besieged Charleston, and served everywhere the US Army went. They were among the first troops into Richmond and Mobile, and the first into Charleston. Well before the war ended Lincoln himself would write:

We can not spare the hundred and forty or fifty thousand now serving as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force.... Keep it and you can save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it. Nor is it possible for any Administration to retain the service of these people with the express or implied understanding that upon the first convenient occasion, they are to be re-enslaved. It can not be; and it ought not to be.28 

In this light I find it difficult not to weep when Dr. Snatzke writes: “For me the Confederate flag stands as a symbol of defiance to the notion that an abstract principle or the pursuit of a political utopia count more than the fundamental rights of the individual: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

That flag stood for no such principle. It was the flag incorporated into the Second National flag of the Confederacy as “the White Man's flag” and it was the flag under which military commissions were to condemn to death United States officers for “inciting servile insurrection” through the honorable act of leading their black soldiers into battle.

The principle itself only stood for the “fundamental rights” of one race. The African Americans whose ancestors came here before the Mayflower, who grew the tobacco that enriched Virginia and the cotton that fed the Industrial Revolution, whose hands built the Capitol, the White House, Mount Vernon, and Monticello, had no such rights. They had to free themselves from bondage and gain those rights at the point of a bayonet.

But I cannot put it any better than Sergeant Major Daniel Atwood of the 100th United States Colored Infantry, who said this about the battle of Nashville:

It was the first time in the memorable history of the Army of the Cumberland that the blood of black and white men flowed freely together for one common cause... Each was cheered on to victory by the cooperation of the other, and now, as a result, wherever the flag of our love goes, our hopes may advance, and we may, as a people, with propriety claim political equality with our white fellow-soldier and citizen; and every man that makes his home in our country may, whatever be his complexion or progeny, with propriety, exclaim to the world, 'I am an American citizen!' I ask, is there not something in this over which to rejoice and be proud?29 

If Dr. Snatzke wants a flag that celebrates the rights of the individual – every individual – over tyranny and enslavement, then he can do no better than that which flew over Sergeant Major Atwood and the USCT in all their battles.


1 Both men died the night of October 18, 1864 – Brooks shot defending the town against Mosby's Raiders, Read captured and taken 15 miles away to Hunter Mill where he was assassinated with a pistol shot to the back of the head.

Official Records, Series I, vol. 43 (Part II), pp. 414-41 i

 i Official Records, Series III, vol. 4, p. 1269 African American enlistments credited to loyal slave and non-slave states are included in those states' totals. The overall number of African American enlistments was reported by the Bureau of Colored Troops in October 1865 to total 179,000 but research in the Archives conducted by the Mormon Church for the African American Civil War Memorial found more than 230,000, which when duplicate names were consolidated produced 209,000, still a likely under count. 3

4 States that did not publish formal declarations of reasons nonetheless left enough of a paper trail to point to the same cause of secession. Even North Carolina, which held out till Lincoln's call for volunteers, had struggled with the issue since the election, with a secessionist movement driven by slaveholders.


6 See p. 31 All these articles are interesting as a sort of real time analysis of the war from Marx's peculiar perspective; his opinion on Lincoln, for example, changes materially from the removal of Fremont to the Emancipation Proclamation.
7 The Census itself can be found here:

8 The original article can be found in the September 2016 Journal of the Civil War Era published by the University of North Carolina

9 The difference between Kentucky and other states with similar proportions of enslaved and enslavers was that the average “holding” of slaves was less (a half dozen per family rather than ten), the cash crop was tobacco instead of cotton, and while Appalachians effectively cut it off from the rebellious states, the Ohio river provided an avenue of invasion over too broad a front to defend. Still, it stayed on the fence as long as it could.

10 Peterson, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries,

11 J. D. B. DeBow, “The Interest in Slavery of the Southern Non-Slaveholder,” Charleston, 1860:  DeBow, a former Superintendant of the Census published a popular, pro-slavery journal before the war and was a well-regarded journalist. His wage comparisons here, though, are cherry-picked; better ones can be found in Edward W. Martin's "The Standard of Living in 1860"

 12 “Measuring Slavery in 2011 Dollars” Williamson & Caine The 1861 price comes from Susan B. Carter, Scott Sigmund Gartner, Michael R. Haines, Alan L. Olmstead, Richard Sutch and Gavin Wright, editors, Historical Statistics of the United States: earliest times to the present (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), series Bb212

13 Piketty, “Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century” pp. 158-163

14 For cotton prices and budget, see The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1861; pp. 175-176 give US govt. receipts and expenditure for the FY ending June 30, 1860 as about $77 million, little changed from the previous year; p. 185 gives cotton exports worth $161 million in 1859:For ordnance costs see Fred Shannon, Organization and Administration of the Union Army, Vol. II, pp. 80-81

 15 The British consul at Johanna in 1857 reported slaves going for as little as $30-40 each; see p. 170 “Accounts and Papersof the House of Commons” Vol. LXI:

16 Emphasis added. See It's noteworthy that the only other major changes from the original text of the Constitution were the provisions for a single, six-year term for the President and a line item veto. This raises the interesting question of what the war was about if not slavery – did hundreds of thousands die for the line item veto?

 17 W. B. Wood & J. S. Edmonds, Military History of the Civil War, (New York, 1937)

18 Officers generally did not suffer once the US government reminded the rebels that they too held prisoners, but the shortest book in the annals of Civil War history is that describing the fate of USCT enlisted men captured in battle. The refusal by the rebels to treat these as prisoners of war subject to exchange was the major factor leading to the suspension of those exchanges and its continuation nearly to the end of the war.
19 [Emphasis added]

20 In that same speech Lincoln effectively demolishes every other argument advanced in support of the rebellion, including the specious claim of state “sovereignty” for entities that never existed until they became territories and then states in the union, as well as the secessionists' inability to argue the legality of their actions. For anyone who claims an interest in the subject, it's more than worth a read in its entirety: [Emphasis in original.]

22 “Mississippi Goddam

23 Given that both Dr. Snatzke and I both started as boys fascinated with some form of military glory, I should emphasize that the death was inflicted on themselves as well as the enemy – with twice as many dying from disease as battle, any residual view of glory must note that until the last century every army that ever walked the earth killed more of their own men through ignorance and neglect than the enemy did with steel and shot.

24 See Leon F. Litwack's North of Slavery (1961) for its catalog of racial injustice in the northern states before the Civil War, but also the efforts of both black and white abolitionists as well as the African American community generally.

25 “Second Annual Report of the New England Freedmen's Aid Society” (Boston, 1864) and “Preliminary Report of theAmerican Freedmen's Inquiry Commission” (New York, June 1863)

26 From a circular sent on January 2, 1864 from Cleburne and fellow officers up the chain of command as part of an unsuccessful argument for freeing and arming slaves by the Confederacy itself. See: The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 - Volume 52 (Part II) p. 588

27 Herbert Aptheker in “Negro Casualties in the Civil War” estimated “something like 200,000 or 250,000 men and women” (p. 49)

28 William Dobak, Freedom by the Sword (Center for Military History, 2011) 29 Noah Andre Trudeau:


Michael refers to Georg as Dr. Snatzke.  It is not the custom in America for PhD's in industry to be referred to as Doctor, but I have no doubt that he was being respectful.  Georg is an easy going guy and does not introduce himself as Dr Snatzke.

Peter J Reilly CPA is trying to be the Tom Sawyer of blogging.  If you want to help, contact him about putting up a guest post.  You can keep your dead frog and marbles.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Boys Playing War In The Jungle In The Time Of Tin Soldiers And Nixon

War Boys
M.A. Schaffner
Welcome Rain Publishers LLC


Many novels, particularly thrillers, make it with their plot.  Jack Higgins comes to mind.  Others do it with characters.  Lots of those, but none better than James Gould Cozzens, except, perhaps, for George Eliot.

The merit in War Boys by M.A. Schaffner though is in its setting.  Not only the place in a geographical sense, but also the time and social circumstances.  The pictures drawn there more than make up for weaknesses in plot and character, which to be frank, may be more my failure as a close reader rather than those of the author.  I had to drop being English major because I thought of Moby Dick as a story about a bunch of guys who worked in the whaling industry.

What A Father

One well drawn character is the protagonist and viewpoint character Charles Barker, who is about 14 or so when the story begins.  His family has just moved and as he wakes up imagining his father getting ready to go to work, we meet another memorable character and learn much about the circumstances Charles finds himself in:
He didn't have to see his father leave to know that the old man had put on his service khakis, pressed sharp, with the new commander's oak leaves on the collar and the bright gold scrambled eggs on the shiny visor of his cover.  He'd have worn brown shoes you could see up girls' dresses with and a breastplate of fifteen or twenty silk ribbons from all his campaigns and achievements since 1944, including the one he had the most pride in, the maroon Good Conduct Medal that only enlisted men could earn, and that told everyone he met he'd worked his way up, step by step, form E-1 to O-5.  They'd see it and know that behind the open smile and easy, down-home manners of this slightly chunky, balding former Texas farm boy stood a man who knew more about the navy, than any officer who'd gotten his stripes straight from Annapolis or NROTC, including all the tricks and wiles of his sailors.

I tell you.  In my mind that passage alone is worth the price of admission.  And it gives us a picture of a boy with a very clear idea of what a man should be.  I'm reminded of some of the Cozzens characters who never could quite be the man that they thought their father was.

Navy Brats

The passage also tells us how Charles (and his friends we will later learn) is immersed in military culture purely from being a Navy brat.  As one of his friends puts it when trying to conceive of doing anything other than becoming a Naval officer.
I mean so what do I do now? I never really thought of anything else, man.  I hate to admit if, but I don't know dick about anything but this.  I mean, just what do civilians do, Charles? Just what the fuck is an accountant or an insurance executive?
.....I'll tell you what I do know, dude.  I know the name of every rank from E-one to O-six.  I can tell a squid's job from the color of his jersey stripes and those fucking cartoons on their sleeves.  I know carriers are named for battles, battleships for states, cruisers for cities .... fuck.  I know the price of a blow job in every port in the Western Pacific and how much you can save by paying in the local currency. -
I suppose I should mention the language is pretty rough.  It strikes me as quite realistic though.  I was a teenager during the same period and when you throw in that Charles and his friends spent time with marines and sailors a few years older then they were, I mean, what do you fucking expect?

Charles goes into military culture in a different way than his friends.  He is fascinated with military history and collects highly authentic tin soldiers, that he paints himself, and fights battles with using detailed rules.  He would probably have preferred sticking with that rather than the more dangerous play soldiering that Explorer Post 360 exposed him to.

In The Jungle

The plot centers on Explorer Post 360. And here is where the setting comes  becomes critical.  Commander Barker, has just been transferred to Subic Bay in the Philippines where he will supervise the construction of a new wing of the naval hospital.
There aircraft carriers docked looking like ghost gray cities rising from viridian sea into cobalt sky, while their white warplanes waited on the the adjacent airfield like a well-organized flock of nesting seabirds.
Explorers are kind of a post-Boy Scout experience that can be kind of specialized.  I remember briefly being part of an Explorer post that consisted of going to the headquarters of an insurance company in New York and listening to talks on business.  Explorer Post 360 was nothing like that.
It was definitely outdoors focused and had an ideal setting.
The hills occupied most of the base, and bore fifteen thousand acres of mostly uncut and unvisited rain forest, the last of its kind on the island of Luzon, protected from local citizens and all other enemies foreign and domestic by the U.S. Navy.
Charles also goes out for the wrestling team, which leads to something of an epic journey as middle class American high school kids in order to go to a wrestling match against other middle class American high school must journey by bus through the third world.

...they couldn't seem to travel more than a few miles without encountering a jam caused by anything from a broken-down jeepney to a carabao laboriously crossing the road to an encouraging chorus of car horns and shouting drivers.
When they finally reach the town they are headed for Charles notes lights on the wall.

Those aren't lights, dude,  That's the sun setting on the broken glass
It's to keep the Joe's out.
The dark part of the story centers on a mock Viet Cong Village which Marines had used for training.  The boys camp there and play war using flash lights.
Whoever gets caught in a beam is blown away.
Back To The Father

Charles is hesitant about his Explorer adventures and subtly tries to get his mother to forbid his participation, but his father ends up encouraging him.  When Explorer Post 360 participates in a recreation, under somewhat more benign conditions, of the Bataan Death March, his father encourages him going so far as to loan him his combat boots.
"But you wore those in Korea."
"Yeah, and there were a few nights when I'd have given anything to know that someday I'd be loaning them to my son." 
(This is one place where I would like to learn more about Commander Barker.  Given his job as an officer in medical administration, it seems that as an enlisted man he might have been one of the corpsmen who provided first aid to Marines in combat.  I have reasons to know that there is a heavy dose of the autobiographical in this novel and I can only hope that someday Michael Schaffner might write something like James Bradley's Flags of Our Fathers.)

The Core Story

Although I would not have wanted to lose any of the details that Shaffner dwells on, the movie version of his book will likely focus on the central part of the story as Explorer Post 360 gets for its "adult leadership" a young petty officer who is borderline psychotic and decides to carry the adventure and toughening aspects of the Explorer experience beyond anything the parents would have approved.
What the hell you little jerk-offs whining about? A little rain? Shit, man, hundreds of dudes die every week in 'Nam - thousands if you want to get technical and count slopes - and you're complaining? Shit.
Petty Officer Prahler tells the boys wild stories about his experience in Vietnam with the Navy SEALs and riverine naval operations, which seem altogether inconsistent with his current duties supervising a riding stable.

The most senior boy in the Post struggles to inject some sanity into their activities
..he heard him whisper to Prahler like a loyal XO whose captain had just steered a little closer to the iceberg.
To no avail:
..most of the boys had begun to show up primarily from morbid curiosity, wondering if their next outing would involve something like a quick march on short rations around the wrong end of a firing range in the middle of the next typhoon
The dramatic tension builds and one of the expeditions goes very, very badly.

The problem with War Boys as something of a dark boys adventure story is that Petty Officer Prahler enters on page 169 and the dramatic climax is on page 260.  The book is 325 pages making for rather a longish epilog if you think of it as being mostly about the misadventure in the jungle.

And The Times

Although it is clear from early on that the action takes place during the Vietnam War, it is only towards the end that there are references to events that anchor the chronology more firmly in time.  And here I must admit that this is not just a book review but in a way part of the high school memoir series that I have been working on for a year.

The Explorer Post 360 boys are much closer to the Vietnam War in a sense of pure geography and their interaction with men or sometimes boys not much older than them going to and coming back from Vietnam, but their peculiar circumstances insulate them from the way Americans back home are experiencing Vietnam.

The events leading up to and the adventures with Petty Officer Prahler absorb Charles's freshman year in high school.  The first easily datable event happens after that.

The collision of the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans with the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne off Vietnam had the destroyer cut in half.  The bow went down within five minutes resulting in the death of 74 men,  That was on 3 June 1969.  It made a profound impression on people at Subic Bay where the remaining part of the ship would be towed.

I entirely missed that and have no contemporaneous memory of that.  That is also true of the Stonewall riot that occurred a few blocks from my high school that same month.

We follow Charles into his Sophomore year, where he notes a story in the back of Stars and Stripes about 100,000 people attending a war protest in Washington in November 1969.  He thought at first it was a misprint.  Not long after the story of the My Lai massacre broke.  The boys Charles knew all had a lot of sympathy for that company of Army grunts who probably had good reason for killing all the adults in the village and it's not like you could leave the babies to fend for themselves.

In my high school, the war and peace movements were cheek by jowl. Xavier High School in Manhattan was a Jesuit High School, but it was also organized as a Junior ROTC regiment.  We wore uniforms and marched and received classroom instruction in military science.  A classmate who had a career as an Army officer told me that the classroom instruction was of high quality.  I was a senior in 1969-1970 and one of the blocks of instruction was Counter-Insurgency taught by an officer who had recently been in Vietnam.

Ah but the peace movement.  One of the most prominent peace activists at the time was Father Daniel Berrigan, a New York Province Jesuit on the run from the FBI.  Ironically, more than a few Xavier graduates chose the FBI as their career.  The young Jesuit scholastics and priests became embarrassed by teenagers in pseudo Army uniforms saluting them in the street.

Other Issues

Charles has his first romance and the girl raises doubts about the war.  Asking him if he would go, he says he didn't think he would know how not to.

Charles also reflects a lot on history.  I wonder if some mature reflections of the author were kind of backdated into the young lad.  When his family visits the site of MacArthur's last headquarters in 1942, he reflects on the situation then.
Pampered, underequipped, and wholly unready to fight, that garrison scarcely gave the Japanese a good workout before dying piteously on a forced march to prison camps.  Still, Charles thought, they'd done what they could.  In that way, it seemed to him, they set a more realistic standard of bravery than any hero he could imagine, including the general who had a abandoned them with a fatuous phrase.  Charles wanted to see a real memorial here - a bronze statue of a cavalryman eating his horse, or a cook trying to set the sights on a Springfield rifle.  It didn't seem right to boil it all down to MacArthur and "I shall return". It then occurred to Charles that most soldiers never did return from the wars, he enjoyed reading about and re-creating with games and toy soldiers.
The Shadow Of Vietnam

One of my classmates recently staged a play about our high school during that period.  He called it The Institute - Coming of age during the Vietnam War.

Cautioning him to not let the strange setting he finds himself in warp him, one of his teachers makes a fateful prediction

You're not a sailor or a marine, Charles,  The war will end before it gets to you.
That was true for Charles and also for my bunch of cadets who kept marching and learned about platoon tactics and counter-insurgency and the psychology of leadership (the mission and the men - officers eat last).  We almost all went to college and miraculously the war ended before we graduated.  Only it wasn't true because the war still got to us - in attitudes toward government and institutions and other changes in the culture.  That might have to be another post, though.


I met Michael Schaffner at the Grand Review in Harrisburg, PA, my last Civil War Sesquicentennial event.  Black troops were excluded from the historic Grand Review in Washington.  So the City of Harrisburg compensated for that.  Michael Schaffner portrays one of the white officers in Company B of the 54th Mass based in Washington DC.  There will be a guest post from him on this site soon.
Michael Schaffner (second from left) as Harrisburg Grand Review 2015

Peter J Reilly CPA blogs on taxes for which is not nearly as lucrative as doing tax work, but a lot more lucrative than this blog.  This piece meets the minimum content requirement to be part of my Xavier High School series.


Michael Schaffner told me that his father was in fact a combat corpsman in Korea,  It is worth noting that War Boys is dedicated to Captain L.J. Schaffner, MSC, USN

Monday, June 26, 2017

Scholar Goes To Rest With Margaret Fuller

Some stuff you just can't make up and the final chapter, perhaps the epilogue, in the life of Marie Olesen Urbanski Whittaker is like that.  This being my blog and all, I'm going to tell it from my point of view, which may seem a bit improbable.

Let's Make A Movie

Some years ago, I became obsessed with the notion that the life of Margaret Fuller needs to be a major motion picture.  My vision of it is as the most romantic tragedy in American history - brilliant young woman associating with iconic intellectuals, smarter than all of them, leading women in discussion of empowerment, authors fundamental feminist text, uses a platform as a literary columnist to examine issues of class race and gender, covers a revolution, marries a man ten years her junior who probably couldn't read her books but worshiped her, participates in a revolution, dies in a tragic shipwreck with her husband and son.

When I first heard about Margaret Fuller in 1972, it was as a marginal literary figure.  Editor of a journal that had a short life and a short print run inspiration for Zenobia in Blithedale Romance.  That was pretty much it.

It took a virtual lifetime of random unsystematic reading focused on the ante-bellum social reform movements for me to rediscover her. Unlike most Margaret Fuller scholars I am much more interested in the Civil War, abolition and the womens rights movement than I am in literature. To many Margaret Fuller is kind of a marginal Transcendentalist.  To me the Transcendentalists, the whole lot of them, are mainly important as a launching platform for Margaret Fuller.

Regardless, my nonliterary background may be why I think the film treatment is so important.  As luck would have it I know  Jonathan Schwartz of Interlock Media.  He convinced me that we needed to do a documentary first.  That and the best bonus I had in my career launched the project which has been going on for quite a while.

The Talent Scout

I mention all this to explain the improbable assignment I had last year.  I was a talent scout for Interlock Media.  Me.  A CPA.  A writer of sorts, but one who writes mostly about taxes.  I count myself among the most literary of the tax bloggers.  I mean check out my coverage of JD Salinger's estate planning problems.  But really not much of a literary person.

At any rate my tax blogging has honed my otherwise pretty good research skills making me not so bad at finding experts in this or that to add color to my stories. We had interviews with two major Fuller biographers already shot and my mission was to find some other scholars.

An Elusive Scholar

One of the more elusive was Marie Mitchell Olesen Urbanski author of Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century: A Literary Study of Form and Content, of Sources and Influence  which was published in 1980.

The work was Professor Urbanski's Ph.D thesis. She had gone after the degree when she was already in her late forties, but still managed to land a position at the University of Maine.  And it was there that she did the thing that really won my heart.  In a site called Walking Tour About UMaine Women, I found:
The university’s “Gender Equity Plan for Athletics” exists to guide UMaine in its continuing efforts to maintain gender equity in its intercollegiate athletics program. We have come a long way since the 1970s when an English professor by the name of Marie Urbanski led a group to demand that women be allowed to use the weight room.

I still couldn't find her though.

I knew Marie had a daughter Wanda Urbanska (the feminine of Urbanski).  Wanda is herself pretty famous.  Among other things she had a series of simple living that ran on PBS

I was having trouble finding her too, but I finally struck gold with a story in the New York Times - Three Generations, Two Comfy Homes a Few Steps Apart

For Ms. Urbanska, a media consultant and author, the economics of shared living have eased some of the financial pressures she faces as a single mother. Together, she and her mother, Marie Whittaker, bought the three-bedroom home for $370,000 last year. They each contributed $60,000 to the down payment, which consumed a considerable portion of their liquid savings, or money that was not tied up elsewhere.
Well - what can you say? Despite being the very model of a second wave feminist, Marie had apparently changed her name again when she remarried.

Hurry Up

From there it was not too hard to get Wanda on the phone.  Wanda was pretty impressed with the depth of my knowledge.  She told me her mother was still quite sharp, although she had some trouble hearing, but if we wanted to film her we shouldn't put it off, because she was pretty old.  Here is the note from our prospect file:
It turns out that Marie is still alive alert and very feisty and outspoken as reported by Wanda who is delighted that we called and impressed by the depth of our research. She was very much involved in her mother's work.
Marie is going strong. Wanda said that she is holding on so that she can vote for the first woman president.
Wanda is also familiar with production and could help with logistics on a North Carolina shoot.
Too Late

Sadly we could not get it together.  Not long after we talked I got a sad email from Wanda
It was so good to speak to you earlier this month about the scholarship of my mother, Marie Olesen Urbanski Whittaker, on Margaret Fuller. I had indicated that you should move quickly if you were planning to film her, but I didn't realize how quickly she would go. She died on Oct. 24.
Wanda included links to obituaries in the Raleigh News & Observer  and The Mount Airy News.  Best though was the story Wanda wrote for Glamour - The Last Thing My Mother Did Before She Died Was Vote For Hillary Clinton.  They have early voting in North Carolina, which Marie took advantage of. As Wanda relates it:
This Monday afternoon, when I returned from the post office, receipt in hand, I stepped into the bedroom where Mama was barely hanging on.
"Did Hillary make it?" she asked once more, her words trailing, her voice almost inaudible. Looking at the fading light in her eyes, as her boney hand stretched out from her hospice bed, I considered how to respond. Do I tell her the truth? Hillary's poll numbers are looking positive, but the election is not in the bag.
"Yes, Mama," I told her. "Hillary made it."
It was what Marie Urbanski Whittaker had been waiting for her entire life. Within minutes, she was gone.
The post went viral and is pretty well known, although it is little noted that the story was about a pioneer Margaret Fuller scholar.  I found that out a few months later.

Independent Scholar And Margaret Fuller Fan Boy

By May Interlock had a fifteen minute version of the documentary ready.  I had moved from talent scouting to finding images and quotations.  A delightful part of that process was rereading Margaret Fuller Ossoli by Thomas Wentworth Higginson. You literary types will think of Higginson as a bad guy in the Emily Dickinson story whose reputation was helped by the recent White Heat.

Somebody like me though is a lot more interested in his role as one of John Brown's Secret Six and commander of the First South Carolina Volunteers (33rd United States Colored Troops).  It was Higginson's biography that drove home the Margaret Fuller story to me.
And as for Margaret Ossoli, her life seems to me, on the whole, a triumphant rather than a sad one, in spite of the prolonged struggle with illness, with poverty, with the shortcomings of others and with her own. In later years she had the fulfillment of her dreams; she had what Elizabeth Barrett, writing at the time of her marriage to Robert Browning, named as the three great desiderata of existence, “life and love and Italy.” She shared in great deeds, she was the counselor of great men, she had a husband who was a lover, and she had a child. They loved each other in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. Was not that enough?
At any rate the fifteen minute version of the documentary was shown at the American Literature Association conference.  Lacking any academic affiliation my ID badge denominated me an "Independent Scholar", which struck me as a little grandiose.

At Margaret Fuller's Home

There was a meeting of the Margaret Fuller Society  scheduled to coincide with the conference with a bus to take us from the conference in Copley Square to the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House.  Margaret's childhood home in what was then called Cambridgeport has been a community center since early in the twentieth century (Thomas Wentworth Higginson, kind of the last of the Transcendentalists, was there at its original dedication).

As I talked to various Fuller scholars at the conference I found that although most of them were familiar with Marie's work, none of them seem to know her.  This is not entirely shocking.  She retired around the time that the Margaret Fuller Society was founded twenty five years ago.  And few were aware of her connection to the Glamor story.

So I ended up having the honor of making a little presentation on her at the meeting.  I of course included the story about the weight room.  If I didn't say "let them be weight lifters, if you will", I should have, so let's just say I did.  I concluded with something to the effect that she had gone to a better place where we have a different president.

One of the members dubbed me a Margaret Fuller fan boy and I think I might use that if I ever go to ALA again, but it gets better.

Resting With Margaret Fuller

I let Wanda know about the event and she was really pleased and then she asked if we could meet up.  She was going to be hanging out at Logan Airport to meet up with her sister to go to a wedding on Martha's Vineyard.

We worked it out and she met with me, Jonathan and one of his interns.  We were able to show her the fifteen minutes on one of our computers and had a great dinner.  Most interesting was that she had Marie with her.  Her ashes that is.  Jonathan figured she was going to divide them with her sister.  But that was not the plan.

Wanda and her sister, Jane Robbins, had a road trip planned.  After the Vineyard wedding, they were off to Fire Island where they would scatter Marie's ashes.  You and I both know that is where the Elizabeth went down with Margaret Fuller and her husband and son, but you have to consider the other readers.

I asked Wanda how it went and she wrote me:
We scattered the vast majority of Mama's ashes off of Fire Island, as was her lifelong wish. We saved a smattering of ashes to scatter in Seneca Falls, NY, at the base of the monument to those who organized the Women's Rights Convention.

Peter J Reilly CPA, Independent Scholar, Margaret Fuller Fan Boy is looking forward to the full length documentary and the feature length biopic that is sure to follow.  Tom Hanks will narrate as Thomas Wentworth Higginson, but we still don't know who should play Margaret Fuller..