Category Archives: American History

Holocaust Remembrance

Today is a very important day and requires special attention in today’s fraught interpersonal climate. In order to do justice to the memory of those victims of the Holocaust I want to share another personal anecdote shared with me by a veteran of WW2.

My older friend, whose name I will withhold for the sake of his family’s privacy, was a scout for the 6th Armored Division of Patton’s 3rd Army. Being a scout meant he was often far from the front lines and was thereby the first to see many things which we know about now. One such thing was the concentration camp of Buchenwald. Now for those who may not know Buchenwald was one of the few places where the prisoners, hearing about the end of the war nearing and seeing the increased cruelty and efforts at extermination, managed to seize control. It was this scene of violence, deprivation, and horror that my friend was the first American soldier to witness.

Discussing his time in the army with him over the course of several unofficial interviews only once was he able to bring himself to talk about what he found or the impact it had on him. One thing that sticks out so sharply to me is the total lack of preparation he and his crew had for this discovery. While upper echelons of the military had at the very least heard rumors of work and death camps, especially as the Soviets had already liberated Auschwitz by this point, the rank and file servicemen were left in the dark. It was this that lead to the total shock experienced upon the discovery and the inability of many first responders to render appropriate aid.

Now while meeting a man who was one of the first American soldiers to see these horrors first hand is amazing enough his story does not end there. Those of you who may have read Night by Elie Weisel (if you haven’t I highly recommend it as a brilliant and unblinking account of the jewish experience in camps during the holocaust) know that the book finishes with the arrival of American tanks at the fences of Buchenwald the same day the prisoners overthrew the SS. It is, in fact, my friend and his crew who are mentioned.

Many years later my friend went to a reading by Elie Weisel, by then a celebrity and also a target for those who would continue to blame the Jewish people for WW2. After the reading he attempted to go and speak with Mr. Weisel and was stopped by security; however, Weisel recognized him, even after the span of roughly 30 years, and told his security that this man was welcome anywhere he was because of the lives he saved, his own among them.

I find myself immensely privileged to have known such a man who had such a lasting impact on the world. Whether he was just doing his duty as he frequently asserted or if he had a higher calling to humanity I will always call him a hero and a true witness to events which must never be forgotten. So, on this day, I want to call attention to the millions of victims, both alive and dead, of one of the greatest tragedies to befall humankind and to those who fought, and still fight tirelessly, against those who would seek to recreate history.

Thank you for reading and remembering.

 

-Mike

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Filed under American History, Holocaust Remembrance, Uncategorized, World War 2

This Week in History

While we normally focus on WW2 or older US History in conjunction with American Culture I thought it would be nice to briefly discuss some of the more recent coalition actions performed by the US and the UK in alliance. In this week, 1991, Operation Desert Shield which protected Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression shifted to the offensive. This offensive, known as Operation Desert Storm, began January 17th with the counter-invasion of Kuwait by allied coalition forces with the goal being to liberate the country. This swift and united action, the first of its kind since the fall of the USSR and ending of the Cold War for the US, resulted in a freed Kuwait and the Iraqi army being forced back within their own borders.

The opening moves of this offensive would have been readily recognizable by any member of our own esteemed 2nd Air Division. A widespread bombing campaign of militarily important targets, a tactic largely unchanged since WW2, was used to cripple the Iraqi ability to continue hostilities. Also, similarily to WW2, ground offensives were held until the men in the skies had done their job; sometimes as many as 2,500 missions a day making it a very busy job indeed. This intensive and focused air campaign allowed the ground forces to declare victory within just 100 hours of their involvement, a feat which would likely would not have been possible without the skills and techniques developed by the Air Force in WW2 and honed since.

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December 7th

It was a quiet Sunday morning in what should have been a dream posting on a tropical paradise. A new flight of planes was expected and radar technicians watched as the blips approached expecting contact for landing vectors any moment. Suddenly, explosions, the roar of Mitsubishi engines and the thunk and splash of bullets impacting dirt, water, and anything else in their way. The attack on Pearl Harbor had begun.

This is the way that Pearl Harbor was always taught in school, a sudden ambush on a fleet at port in a country (mostly) at peace. However, my grandfather who was there might paint a different picture, one that isn’t so detached and clinical as seen from the distance of 50 years (at the time he was telling me) through the lens of text books. Yes, it was an ambush and yes it was the impetus to spring into war but it was not as unexpected as some might believe.

The morning of December 7th my grandfather, a supply sergeant at the time, was stationed at Pearl Harbor as a member of the United States Army. His immediate task was the construction and improvement of a railway system on the island of Oahu to make transportation of men and material more practical. He remembers hearing plains and shooting at dawn while he was getting his work group together several miles away. They of course hurried to base to take up arms and resist, whether expecting an invasion or simply further bombardment was unclear. What he did remember and explain clearly was how the spot where the Arizona had been berthed was suddenly empty, the only signs or her being the top of her conning tower, burning oil, and paradoxically smoke bubbling up from underneath the water; a site he says he has never seen again.

It was stories like these that made me fascinated to learn more about Pearl Harbor and WW2 in general. Stories I likewise heard from my other grandfather who served in the Philippines throughout the war. America was truly a sleeping giant, maybe not soundly asleep but the alarm call of action had finally been heard too stridently to be ignored and with the activity of one fateful morning America finally united in a way the previous years of strife in England had been unable to do and entered the war.

While there are numerous conspiracy theories about Pearl Harbor, my grandfather subscribing to many and cursing Roosevelt until his dying day, there are hard facts as well. This was a seminal point in American, and world history. And, it is a day which truly shall live in infamy. So, this December 7th, give a moment of silence to those who sacrificed on that dark day, those men who were thrown into a conflict unknowingly and yet who came to form a large section of what is known as the ‘Greatest Generation’. Men like my grandfathers, or the fathers and grandfathers of friends and family, men like many you may know who came together after a tragedy and said to the world ‘this far and no farther’.

But most of all, just remember.

-Mike

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Filed under American History, Uncategorized, World War 2

FORGOTTEN HOLLYWOOD: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

BDBR

Warner Bros. Entertainment

This is the first part in a series of blog posts on classic Hollywood films related to World War II. For the inaugural entry, I’ve chosen to write about Bad Day at Black Rock, a 1955 film directed by John Sturges.

Hollywood – and America in general – has had a hard time grappling with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It’s rarely mentioned, taught, or depicted. I first learned about it not through a school curriculum but through the American Adventure children’s book series. But still, in 1942, over 100,000 Americans were forcibly removed from their homes, often losing their personal belongings and property in the process.

Bad Day at Black Rock in one of the few times Hollywood has confronted this chapter of American history. After the end of the war, John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) goes to the small town of Black Rock looking for Komoko, the father of a man who saved his life in Italy. But something is wrong, and he can’t find him or his property. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen it, but the anti-Japanese sentiment surrounding and leading up to the war naturally plays a huge role in the unfolding mystery.

There are no Japanese American or Asian American actors or characters in this film. Instead, there is a sort of constructed absence. They should be there, and the fact that they’re not is disturbing. As such, despite Macreedy being the central character with his own emotional arc, the missing Komoko can’t help but dominate the film.

Hollywood would make only a few more movies related to the internment and its aftermath, most notably Come See the Paradise (1990) and Snow Falling on Cedars (1999). While both feature Japanese American characters, the films still centred their narrative around a white male protagonist and how the mass interment affected him and his love life. Bad Day at Black Rock, despite being an older film, seems to have a better understanding of the issue than its successors. The mass internment of Japanese Americans wasn’t the result of an illogical prejudice or the inescapable tide of history. Anti-Japanese racism wasn’t a kneejerk reaction to Pearl Harbor or to losing loved ones in the Pacific theatre. Those were just the excuses. Ultimately, it was a land grab. Plain and simple.

Komoko should be here, but he’s not. His land should be his, but it isn’t. There’s something wrong about that.

If you want to learn more about the internment of Japanese American during World War II, be sure to check out the following books from the 2AD Memorial Library:

  • Japanese American Internment During World War II: A History and Reference Guide (Wendy Ng, 2002)
  • Democraticizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment (Brian Masaru Hayashi, 2004)
  • The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-46 (Delphine Hirasuna, 2005)
  • The Internment of Japanese Americans During World War II: Detention of American Citizens (John C. Davenport, 2010)
  • Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II (Richard Reeves, 2015)

-Francis

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Filed under American History, Uncategorized, World War 2