Category Archives: History

Where were you when? Historical events energize our flabby memories

President Kennedy and Jackie in Dallas

“Where were you when?…” It’s a fascinating memory game. Where were you when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated? When World War II began?  When those planes hit the Twin Towers on 9/11?

Adolf Hitler

It illustrates the fact that most of our days are not significant enough to recall. Memories have to be jogged by some event, a war, disaster, or a murder. But just recalling the event isn’t enough.  Our event has to be so stunning, horrifying, or thrilling that  you can remember where you were at the time and often what you said or thought.

I can’t answer for anyone else, but the moment President  Kennedy was shot I was in my basement, sitting on the floor.  I had stepped through the basement door into the dark interior, and my foot landed on the tines of a carelessly placed rake whose handle rose swiftly and smacked me smartly between the eyes. I collapsed and assumed the sitting lotus position for what seemed like ages, counting the comets and stars shooting before my eyes. Continue reading

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Tomcats alleged to be kitten-killers? Herodotus nails an old canard for us

Bast cat goddess

My favorite historian has always been Herodotus, that 5th century BC teller of old wives tales, collector of legends (urban and otherwise), belittler of the patently bogus, organizer of amazing twaddle, and story-relater beyond compare. This enterprising Greek traveled the known world of his time collecting stories and tales, sifting them and ruling on their veracity or lack thereof.

He solved a cat mystery for me just this past week – more like a cat slander, because it related to the alleged domestic deficiency of tomcats. I have countless times been told with great assurance that female cats will not let male cats near their litters because toms will kill their kittens. They do this, my informants say, to bring the female back into heat, so the males can commit more whoopee.

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Those seeking God, gold and glory embellish America’s great story

"For God, Gold and Glory" depicts Columbus and crew

Strangest thing, America gets much better press from its immigrants than from all its over-educated bookworms, its news and entertainment media, or its alleged academics. Often these tired-and-poor newcomers sing our praises louder than even our most privileged native fauna – the billionaires.

Just follow a crowd of Mexican illegals around any Wal-Mart super center. They radiate an aura of Sir Galahad finding the Holy Grail, Orphan Annie regaining Daddy Warbucks, or a thirsty camel falling into the Nile River. Continue reading

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The Irish did save civilization; then civilization ground them down

Potato Famine Memorial in Dublin, Ireland

For the great Gaels of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad.

For all their wars are merry,

And all their songs are sad.

—G.K. Chesterton

Leave it to Chesterton to trumpet the English party line, stereotyping those capricious Irish drunkards as half barbarian, half poet and completely mad. Like most Englishmen he omits to mention it was primarily his nation which turned Ireland into a melodramatic funny farm.

Now Irish author Thomas Cahill fires back at the British in his riveting book, How the Irish Saved Civilization. Chesterton wrote flippantly when describing the Irish, Cahill observes, but he was downright kind when compared with other opinions.

Victorian English Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli put it more energetically and in a way with which the average Briton of that time would agree:

“This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain, and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character. Their idea of human felicity is an alteration of clannish broils and coarse idolatry (Catholicism). Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood.” Continue reading

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Youth looks at age, reflects: Maybe it wasn’t so terrible back in the day

How each younger generation views its elders is always an amusing mystery. So I could barely choke back a laugh the other day when my granddaughter, Gwen, age 9, pulled a long face and said she was so sorry that I had been born into a “poor home” and had lived a sad childhood rife with deprivation.

“Wherever did you get that idea?” I asked.

“From dad,” she replied. (That would be my son, Justin.)

Then it hit me: from granddaughter’s futuristic perch my childhood in Wynne, Arkansas had truly been as needy as that of the lowest Russian serf.  I and my little friends had inhabited a dreary 1930s world without TV, computers, jet travel, space walks, cell phones, electric can openers, Barbie dolls, and the million other perks kids today clamor for. It mattered not that my family belonged to the top social class in town, the merchants. It didn’t count a fig that I had all the clothes, shoes and food I could handle, that any toy, game or book was mine for the asking, that I was privately tutored in social graces from piano to tap dancing to saxophone, or that travel to other states was on my summer vacation agenda. No, to them I was just fortune’s luckless urchin trapped in a cruel time warp, bereft of penicillin, pocket calculators and tummy tucks. Continue reading

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Go Tell It on the Mountain; a temple is razed and innocent blood spilled again

16th street churchI was here in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sept. 15, 1963, when that infamous bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It failed to wake me because I was sound asleep at home on a Sunday morning, eight miles away from downtown.

It had been a furiously busy month for my employer, The Birmingham News. School integration had come,  and Gov. George Wallace had defied a court order to admit blacks to white schools. This set off a series of demonstrations by blacks, which Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Conner immortalized by hammering them with police dogs and fire hoses. Wallace himself was zipping about the nation shooting off his mouth. A torchbearer in a powder plant, he confided to the New York Times that what Alabama needed was a “few first-class funerals.”

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Land of the Rising Sun and the culture-shocked occidental

Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2Everyone should go to Asia before he dies — if for no other reason than to experience true culture shock.

In 1951, during the Korean War,  the Army landed us at Yokohama Harbor. As we trooped down the gangplank and prepared to enter a convoy of olive drab buses, our sergeant yelled: “Anybody need to heed the call of nature?!” Several hands went up. He then formed us into a circle in the middle of the street and said: “Okay, go to it.”

“Right in the street?” inquired a timid voice.

“It’s okay,” answered the sergeant. “Local custom. Nobody will mind.”

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