A date which will live in infamy

Seventy-five years ago – Dec. 7, 1941 – was in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt “a date which will live in infamy,” so named because of the sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.  Most Americans may know the day from the history books as the historical event that prompted the President to declare war and place U.S. soldiers, sailors and marines into direct conflict against the Axis nations of Germany, Italy and Japan.

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Draft of President Roosevelt’s address to Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, declaring war. Click here to view.

You’ve got to be at least eighty years old now to have vivid memories of that day and the bloody battles and home front sacrifices that followed.

I was twelve years old and at about two o’clock on that dreary December Sunday was with my brother, who was just a year younger, pestering our dad to hurry up and get the train table set up in our basement.  It was a pre-Christmas tradition that dad would put our Lionel trains together on a ping pong sized table he had built.

Mom interrupted that father-and-sons annual event when she yelled down the stairs that the Japanese had attacked Hawaii.  My dad stopped what he was doing and yelled something back to mom and we could sense something was wrong.

“Boys,” my dad said.  “I think we’re at war.”

My brother Jerry and I reacted shamefully.  We hooted and hollered in glee, since war would be exciting and glorious.  We only saw soldiers using guns and shooting at the enemy, just like we did almost daily with our neighborhood friends, dodging in and out of bushes and from behind garages in our make-believe skirmishes  of “cops and robbers” and “cowboy and Indians.”

My dad was furious, firmly telling us how serious war can be and that people would be killed.  Dad had just missed being drafted into the Army in World War I, having been scheduled for induction on Nov. 11, 1918, the day of Armistice for that horrific war.  But he knew that tragic events lie ahead.

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Jerry and I, along with our youngest brother, Tom, felt the impact of Dec. 7th almost immediately when our bachelor uncle (who had lived with us and helped raise us) learned he was facing re-entry to the Army within weeks.  He had been drafted in 1940, but the Pentagon had decided to release draftees over the age of 28 in late November.  He had been home only about a week when the bombs fell.  He was back in uniform before Christmas and would spend four years in the states and the Philippines before we saw him again.

By April, 1942, the horrors of the war came home to roost; we had seen reports of the Bataan death march when courageous GIs sought to hold out to overwhelming superior Japanese forces only to be captured and put into a long march and starvation.  Reports came in of enemy submarines off the coasts of California and New Jersey.  In our inland city of Milwaukee, we had regular air raid drills.  Dad was made a block warden and was charged with walking around the neighborhood in his hard hat to look for families who may have left a sliver of light break into the darkness.  The nation was girding against bombing raids like those on London by German bombs in the Battle of Britain.  It was a bleak time.

As the war continued, I continued my junior and senior high school years just as kids had done years before.  But things were different with us wartime teenagers.  We studied about the war; we saw seniors being drafted before their graduation; we huffed and puffed through gym classes as instructors sought to prepare us for eventual service to our country.  The war finally ended in August 1945, just before my junior year.  We continued our usual teenage worries about whether the cute blonde girl I admired would agree to be my date for the prom or about how our football team would do against Shorewood. Always the war lurked in the background with such daily realities as limiting our use of the family car because of gas rationing.

More importantly, we couldn’t ignore the news reports, since we knew that unless the fighting didn’t end soon we’d soon be drafted into the thick of it.  Some of us also were saddened at the seemingly unnecessary horrors that developed against innocent non-combatants.  For me the most horrifying event came with the announcement on Aug. 6, 1945 that the United States – the country that we heralded every morning when we said the Pledge of Allegiance – had dropped the atom bomb with an equivalence of 100 blockbuster bombs on the citizens of Hiroshima.  See earlier comment.

With the simple reasoning that rules the teenage mind, we argued that there had to be a way to end to national disputes that usually turned to war.  With my two best buddies, we discovered something called United World Federalism.  It was the logical answer to ending wars forever.  Just as the United States was created into a federal government that controlled the armed forces, why couldn’t the whole world work in the same way, thus taking away from nationalistic governments the tools of war?

The idea briefly had wide appeal in the war’s aftermath with key supporters among a handful of politicians of both parties.  As we all know, the dream faded, leaving us with a largely powerless United Nations and giving way to power blocs such as NATO and SEATO.

*****

Today the world is in chaos.  Nations are hunkering down into their bunkers and growing more suspicious of each other while terrorists using religious fervor as a recruiting tool threaten all of us.

The answer to some, particularly in the incoming administration, is to arm ourselves to the teeth and to use the weapons as a simplistic way to defeated a supposed enemy.  In a way, those people remind me of that afternoon seventy-five years ago when my brother and I strutted around our basement yelling “hooray” because we could turn our playtime soldiering into the real thing.

Even today, I am shamed by our behavior in 1941.  The next four years taught me about the senseless horrors of war.  Surely, I reasoned, there had to be a better way. – Ken Germanson, Dec. 6, 2016.

 

 

Can Progressivism Survive in Wisconsin?

For the first time since Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in Wisconsin in the 1984 Presidential election, the state went red.

How could that happen?  It’s simple arithmetic: lack of voter turnout.

Hillary Clinton could have easily won the Badger State if those voters who could be expected to favor her had turned out.  She lost by only 27,000 votes out of the 2.94 million cast, less than a percentage point.

Now here is the shocking story:  Voter participation in Wisconsin was down by almost 124,000 in the state, compared with 2012.  Turnout was 66.2%, the lowest since 1996.

election-photoHillary Clinton suffered severely from the low turnout.  She received 239,000 fewer votes than President Obama did in 2012, while Trump garnered only 1,500 more than Mitt Romney did.  (There were 150,000 votes for third party candidates; likely most of those voters went for President Obama four years ago.)  Read more.

*****

Why did potential Hillary voters not show up at the polls?  Here are some theories:

Restrictive voter laws.  The Republican-passed voter ID laws were specifically designed to discourage low-income voters, mainly minorities.  The voter suppression strategy may have worked; there were 62,000 fewer voters in minority-rich Milwaukee County, with Hillary’s totals about 40,000 short of Obama’s in 2012.

Over-confidence toward a Hillary win.  Polls leading up to the election showed her winning Wisconsin by four to six percentage points; thus voters who faced inconvenient work schedules, child care issues or other conflicts may not have taken time to vote.  The cutback of early voting hours – by GOP-supported state laws – may have added to the problem.

Lack of enthusiasm for Secretary Clinton.  No doubt the thirty years of constant attacks on Clinton’s trustfulness, whether warranted or not, helped to build voter doubts.  Trump repeatedly called her “liar” and encouraged his crowds to yell “lock her up;” that helped to reinforce in many voters’ minds a most repulsive (though grossly  wrong) image of her.

The Bernie effect.  Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary Clinton in the April Wisconsin primary.  Most of his supporters, we’re sure, heeded Sanders’ call to support Hillary in the general election, but enough found their bright illusions so dimmed that when Bernie failed to get the nomination they either stayed away from voting, cast a third party ballot or failed to get involved.

Secretary Clinton failed to campaign in Wisconsin.  Though several Clinton surrogates showed up, especially Chelsea and VP Candidate Tim Kaine, they could never garner the attention that the candidate herself could have.  A reprise of the Clinton campaign strategy tells us that Bill Clinton strongly urged greater concentration on the white working class voter, but was overruled by Hillary’s campaign bosses.

A weakened Democratic Party effort.  There’s no question that Wisconsin Democrats have become impoverished since 2010.  With the redistricting forced upon the state by the Republican-controlled legislature, most legislative districts have become gerrymandered so severely that Democratic candidates stand no chance; thus the party withers in those sixty or so largely rural counties and never seek to get Democrats on the ballot.  Lack of down-ballot candidates, even in GOP-trending areas, will cut into Democratic votes at the top of the ticket.

A smaller labor movement.  The impact of the 2011 passage of Act 10 ending collective bargaining rights for public employee unions and the 2015 enactment of so-called right-to-work laws was truly felt in this election.  The labor movement (traditional Democratic party allies) has lost so much membership that the state’s level of unionization has fallen below that of Alabama’s.  The result: there were fewer members to encourage to vote for progressive candidates and fewer numbers available to make phone calls, talk it up at the workplace and do door-to-door canvassing.

The impact of these seven factors, plus others not listed here, combined to make a perfect storm to bring about Secretary Clinton’s defeat.  Some of them also affected Russ Feingold’s effort to unseat Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

*****

No one is quite certain just what President-elect Trump will do, or how much he will be able to accomplish.  To progressives everywhere, the prospects are scary.

In Wisconsin, however, it is certain what will happen; it can only be worse for working people, the poor and minorities.  There will be attempts to weaken labor even more, there will be no increase in the minimum wage, there will be cutbacks in life-supporting assistance such as food share and Title 19, and weakening of the health care system.  All that was promised on the day after the election by Republican leaders of the state.  Read more

The 2016 election is behind us and the question is: what do we do now?

First, what we don’t do is to sit on the sidelines in despair, fretting as we watch the Packers blunder through another season, perhaps awaiting a Aaron Rodgers “Hail Mary” to miraculously bring joy to us cheeseheads.

Secondly, what we must do is to stay alert to every action being planned by the legislature, continuing to question issues with whatever strategy that seems to work, whether it is to storm the Capitol with masses of protesters, to write letters to the editor (or to tweet) or to plan for next election.

Thirdly, we must figure out how to rebuild a progressive movement in Wisconsin.  The possibilities include revitalizing the Democratic Party, working through such groups as Citizen Action, Move On, and Wisconsin Now or by building a whole new movement.

To regain Wisconsin, progressives have to figure out how to win in the rural counties; it means reaching out to a heavily white population, while not losing touch with the minorities that are part of the heart and soul of the progressive movement.  Trump won 59 of the 71 counties, and that ratio needs to be reduced somehow.  The state built its now-fading progressive nature on the old La Follette coalition of organized labor, big-city Socialists and rural Progressive Republicans.

This won’t be easy, but it’s necessary to save the state from being destroyed by a single party dictatorship that threatens to make its citizens among the poorest in the nation.  Ken Germanson, Nov. 10, 2016

The Big Picture! Where is it in this 2016 election year?

This election campaign focused tightly on one candidate’s apparent sexual adventures and the other candidate’s emails.  How important are both of these issues to the future welfare of our nation, and for that matter, the world?

Think about it.  Donald Trump’s apparently boorish, sexist behavior certainly makes him a distasteful person, but would it make him a bad president?  Other presidents have displayed such deplorable antics in the past.  Hillary Clinton’s opponents describe her as manipulative and devious; whether that’s accurate is hardly the point.  Read the history of earlier presidents and many of the truly great ones had those traits and yet accomplished tremendous good for the nation.

This is one of the most critical periods in history and to make the right decision we need to consider which the candidates offers the best hope for developing positive outcomes on the truly important issues of our year — issues that have not been fully discussed.

Consider the growing gap in incomes between the privileged few and the rest of us.  Donald Trump claims he’s the truest friend of struggling American workers, but his only answer to accomplish that seems totally wrong-headed.  He would cut taxes across the board in such a way that the wealthiest would get the biggest benefit; his tax cuts further would seriously increase the national debt.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, offers a steady approach to improve the economy and narrow the wage gap; her policies generally follow those of the Democratic Party over recent decades.  That includes increasing the minimum wage, developing a stimulus package aimed at strengthening our infrastructure and giving constant attention to wage equality in the workplace.  Yes, it would be an expensive effort, and it would be paid for by increasing rates for those at the top of the income bracket from 36% to 39%, certainly not so high as to scare these billionaires out of the country.  Her plan, according to independent economists, would raise the national debt far less than Mr. Trump’s.

Never even mentioned in the current campaign is the state of the nation’s labor unions which history has shown have often fueled the greatest impact on increasing worker wages.  Trump would certainly support the traditional Republican goals to weaken unions.  Clinton would veto antiunion legislation that might be passed by a Republican Congress and appoint pro labor members to the National Labor Relations Board.

What about our national security? Certainly bringing peace to the Middle East is critical to our nations’ security. President Obama and most students of the conflict have come to the conclusion that it is to be a long-standing fight, requiring difficult decisions to resolve a complicated situation.  Meanwhile, the president will have to be aware of challenges, such as the role of China, chaos in many African nations, and continuing conflicts between India and Pakistan and between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Donald Trump promises that he will take care of the Islamic State as his first order of business should he become president; yet it is unclear as to how that would be accomplished. In Nov.2015, he told CNN he would “bomb the s— out of ’em,” and then employ troops to protect the oil fields that would be liberated. The fact is we do not know what he would do and more than one person fears that his actions might include pushing the nuclear button in a moment of personal frustration.  How he would handle the troubles elsewhere in the world is unknown.

Hillary Clinton’s approach seems to continue policies similar to those of President Obama to work with our coalition partners with a continued emphasis on diplomacy.  Some of us are not totally comfortable with Secretary Clinton’s apparent solution to expand the no-fly zone and her generally more hawkish positions. Yet it appears that she would be more cautious and that any overt action she takes will be well-considered based on listening to military and diplomatic experts.

Climate change has been largely forgotten.  It was never mentioned in the three presidential debates. Donald Trump, of course, seems to be echoing the climate denial position of many of the most reactionary Republicans. Secretary Clinton is expected at the least to follow the lead of President Obama to complete the emissions controls regulations promulgated from the Obama Administration and to support alternative forms of energy.

There are many other remaining issues not the least of which is reducing the levels of gun violence in this nation, support of LGBT rights, reducing college debt, fixing the Affordable Care Act, providing for choice in the woman’s right to control her body and many other critical issues.

Hillary Clinton was not our first choice. Our vote went to Bernie Sanders in the Wisconsin primary as the more consistent progressive.

Bernie didn’t make it.  Nonetheless we’re fine with Hillary Clinton.  In these critical times, we need an experienced and pragmatic person to guide our nation.  To me the choice is easy.  When we look at the Big Picture, that person can only be Hillary Clinton.   Ken Germanson, Oct. 29, 2016.

Is too much patriotism bad for America?

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem at a  San Francisco 49ers game has caused a broad national debate.

Kaepernick performed his act before thousands of fans and millions on television to bring attention to a particular cause — the ongoing killings of black citizens by police officers throughout the nation.  It did that, of course, but it also has prompted a broader question:  Just exactly what constitutes patriotism and can there be too much patriotism?

Recently and particularly since Sept. 11, 2001, the nation has been subjected to an excess of phony patriotism; American flags are festooned all over the place.  If you’re a candidate running for office, you are constantly flanked by a phalanx of red, white and blue, regardless of your party.  Sporting events of all types are awash in patriotic symbols.

All this flag-waving is much more than an innocent show of patriotism; it reinforces the nationalistic trend that blinds us from the truth and that more often than not colors our thinking about the role of the United States in the world.

Extreme nationalism is dangerous; it leads to dictatorial rule.  Witness how Adolf Hitler stirred up support for the Third Reich and its unconscionable strategies.  He did it with constant showing of the Nazi flag, with rousing patriotic marches and with other reminders of how great that nation was, even when it was slaughtering millions of people.

In more modern times, witness how Kim Jong Un has kept his North Korean people in line with the same kind of imagery.  Just recently the New York Times reported that the Chinese government has required all school children to view a 90-minute documentary on the “Long March” of 1934-36, turning it into a victory for the then-fledgling Communist Party, when it was actually a retreat.  The Chinese government is engaged in a constant propaganda campaign to indoctrinate its citizens.  It’s a reality of all totalitarian governments.

To be sure, the United States is a truly great nation; it’s still among the most powerful in the world, both militarily and economically.  Its success comes from its democratic underpinnings and it is indeed the world’s longest surviving democracy.  But we are wrong to think that the world circulates around us, that we can continue to wall ourselves and act independently, and that our nation always acts in the wisest and most humane way.

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North Korea’s extreme nationalism fuels blind allegiance to their leader.  It is an extreme form of patriotism.

After the end of World War II, a significant number of Americans believed it was important for the U.S. to shed some of its sovereignty and participate in the community of nations.  Some even proposed forming a world federal government, a United States of the World so to speak.  Obviously that never happened, but the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization did.  Although the nations retain their sovereignty in both the UN and NATO, the nations often act in a collective spirit.

Today, we live in a world that festers new and different types of terrors; we can’t afford to think the oceans protect us from direct harm in a war, as they did in all our wars up to the 21st Century.  Now the threats can end up in the streets of any community of the nation.  The only way to protect our future is to face the issues honestly and openly.  We need to more fully understand what turns people to terrorism, both at home and abroad.  And we can’t do that without looking at the problems openly and critically.  We can’t afford to be blindfolded by a patriotism that declares:  My country right or wrong!

Yes, we must honor our flag.  It is my hope, however, that as we honor the flag we recognize that we’re honoring a proud nation that has the world’s most diverse population, that it has the strongest and most continuous democracy and that it has achieved unexpected economic successes for its people.  We must also recognize that sometimes our people and our elected leaders have not always done the right thing, that they may have engaged in foreign adventures unwisely and committed cruel and inhumane acts, that we have subjugated whole peoples by removing them from their lands or by supporting slavery and then institutional racism and discrimination.

Colin Kaepernick was being patriotic when he knelt down; he’s telling all of us that we have some ills in our nation and that they must be resolved to save this great nation.

Yes, let’s honor the flag, but let’s do it without being deafened by singing too loudly or blinded by seeing too much, red, white and blue.  Kenneth Germanson, Sept. 26, 2016

Bernie’s supporters need to learn from 1968

Some supporters of Bernie Sanders walked out of the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia when the Vermont senator announced his endorsement of Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Many of those said they’d sit out the November election and not even vote, cast their ballots for Donald Trump or vote for a third party candidate.  Their actions could possibly be copied by thousands of Sanders’ supporters throughout the nation.

Such actions could bear them bitter fruit and destroy what most of them were seeking in progressive public policy.

History, particularly the Presidential election of 1968, proves the point.

The Democratic Convention that year convened in Chicago with the nation facing perhaps the most bitter divisiveness of any in history.  The Vietnam War by then had been raging for four years; eventually a total of 58,220 U.S. troops would die and possibly as many as one million Vietnamese, Cambodians and others.  It had soured many Americans, many of whom blamed Democratic President Lyndon Johnson for its continuance.  Largely, because

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Bitterness of 1968 Democratic convention becomes street fight, bringing heavy police action.

of the dissatisfaction about the war, Johnson had declined seeking a second term, making Vice President Hubert Humphrey the obvious choice of the party leadership.

Anti-war activists, however, came to Chicago supporting the candidacy of Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who like Sanders came out of nowhere in the primaries to mount a significant challenge.  The bitterness from the primary campaign continued, bringing chaos and disruption on the convention floor.  The battling spread onto the streets of Chicago where Mayor Richard Daley deployed 12,000 police officers and brought in another 15,000 state and federal officers to contain the protests.  The situation rapidly got out of control, with officers severely beating the protesters.  It was a horrific sight, much of it seen on network television.

In the end, Hubert Humphrey won the nomination.  For many of the protesters, the Vice President’s victory was an abomination and many sat out the general election.  Their disgust may have been justified; yet, in a way, by not supporting Humphrey they merely were biting off their noses to spite their faces.   Former Vice President Richard Nixon won in November, but by only .7 percent of the overall vote.  Had they voted, the outcome might have been different.

Nixon supported none of the goals of most protesters; once in office he stepped up the war in Vietnam.  He supported none of the civil rights policies that most of the protesters felt the country needed.  His anti-union and strongly pro-business attitudes were legendary.  Nixon also instituted the Southern Strategy, using racist policies to lure white Southerners from the Democratic Party that had controlled the southern states for a century.

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Then Mayor Hubert Humphrey delivering his famous civil rights speech in 1948 at Democratic National Convention.

The circumstances surrounding Humphrey in 1968 and of Secretary Clinton in 2016 are strikingly similar.  Humphrey had shown leadership in civil rights, peace, labor and justice throughout his career; his credentials were solid.  One only had to listen to his speech from the floor of the 1948 Convention in Philadelphia that marked a turning point to putting the party at the forefront of the fight for civil and racial justice.  It was a courageous speech at the time for the young mayor of Minneapolis.

Yet, that was ignored, as was his long liberal legislative record, by the McCarthy backers.

It’s much like 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s proven record of being a lifelong champion of children, supporter of the historic children’s healthcare act of 1996, proven backer of the rights of minorities, the disabled and other progressive causes is being forgotten by those Sanders’ supporters who will not vote for her in fall.

While Senator Sanders now has fully supported Secretary Clinton, he has not given up a fight to lead a peaceful revolution to assure that real democracy rules the Democratic Party of the future and the United States as a whole.  The tumult of 1968 resulted in meaningful reforms to the Democratic Party by 1972, making that year’s Convention far more open and democratic.  Already, Senator Sanders’ strong showing has prompted the Party to change to become even more open.

There’s a lot of work to be done to assure that all of our citizens will live in a safe, secure, healthful, just and rewarding society.  It won’t be done in one election, or even in one four-year Presidential term of office; yet, work needs to continue to bring positive change.  If the year 1968 is any lesson, progressives need to vote for Hillary Clinton to assure the struggle goes on.  (Ken Germanson, July 27, 2016)

Disclaimer:  The author voted for Sen. Sanders in the Wisconsin primary.  He has been an active participant and observer of Presidential campaigns since 1948.

Memorial Day – 2016

Memorial Day – 2016

Clam Lake WI – We awoke this morning with blue, nearly cloudless skies, a warm sun working to take off the chill of the night in the forest.  Peering through the trees from our cabin, the water below is as blue as the sky it reflects.  Earlier, the lake had been calm, its reflections from the trees from the other side so precisely mirroring the view; now a slight DSCN1439ripple on the water distorts the reflection.

Later this morning, the small band of area veterans will gather in our small Northwoods hamlet to march to the acre-sized local cemetery where there will be a brief speech or two, a nondenominational reflection by the priest who serves our mission chapel and a 21-gun salute, followed by taps – two trumpet players with one located at the outer side of the park to echo the notes of the nearest player.

The small gathering, old, fragile men holding canes (some wearing baseball caps, noting their Navy ship or Army and Marine units), well-fed middle-aged men and woman and impatient toddlers, will stand in silence for a few moments to honor the dead of past wars.

We will think of Rich, our dear friend of nearly 50 years, who died several years ago at age 93 and is buried here.  As skilled and finicky a carpenter that ever was, Rich lived his entire life in this backwoods area, except for the time in the Army during World War II.  Only in the later years of his life did he relate to me the horrors of participating in four landings on South Pacific islands during World War II.  Of his own fear and his killing of Japanese soldiers while the chief of the machine gun crew he led.  While others would brag of their own service the bar of the resort he and his wife once owned, he would walk away, never disclosing his own true heroism.  (It was only after his death that we learned he received a top medal for bravery.)

The scene at the Clam Lake cemetery, of course, will be replicated in every town, city and hamlet throughout the land.

This day should provide us with meaning, not mere pomp and circumstance.  It’s not enough to puff up our chests and proclaim how great our nation is.  Let’s not be sunshine patriots.

Mostly, this day should remind us of how widely devastating war is.  The impact of our 20th and 21st century wars is shown by the fact that nearly every community has a War Memorial listing the young men and women who were killed in those conflicts.  And, we in the United States have never had to face death in any numbers as terrible as those suffered by the peoples in Europe in World War II, by the Vietnamese, Laotians and others in the Vietnam Conflict and more recently by the Iraqis and Afghans in the current continuing fighting in the Mideast.

This is not a plea for “peace at any cost;” sometimes conflict may be needed, but the lesson must be that war comes “as a last resort.”  Conflicts that begin small have a tendency to escalate into terrible long-lasting and devastating events that go on and on.  (Witness that World War I began over the assassination of a minor monarch in Sarajevo in 1914.)

Today we have a major Presidential candidate promising to “make America great again” by means not quite outlined.  He wins great huzzahs when he intones how he’d take care of our world-wide crises.  We must not blindly succumb to such bombast.  If such boastful declarations mean dropping bombs or unleashing our military might, the consequences could be too terrible to imagine.

We will celebrate Memorial Day in this peaceful forest hopeful that the memory of our dead soldiers, sailors, marines and others will provide us with the knowledge to look for peaceful means to resolve our conflicts.  Ken Germanson – May 30, 2016

Hiroshima: A memory persists for 70 years

Perhaps no date stands out more in my long life than August 6, 1945.  It was two days before my 16th birthday and it had been a warm summer day.  I had biked home, carrying my ragtag golf clubs on my back after playing 27 holes of golf.  It was six o’clock and my parents sat in the living room listening to a news report on radio. They had shocked expressions.

I heard the radio announcer state in somber words, describing “a bomb equivalent in size to 100 blockbusters.” What was that all about? I asked my parents.

My dad said that we (meaning the U.S.) had dropped something called an atomic bomb on a Japanese city called Hiroshima.  “It may mean the end of the war,” he added.

The relief I might have felt by the possible ending of World War II was blunted by my realization that our country had caused terrible devastation, even though at that time I th-2believed, along with just about everyone else that “the Japs deserved it.”  Hadn’t we sung — and hadn’t I plunked out the song on the piano — “We’re Gonna Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap?”   (I feel shamed today to write “Jap,” but feel it’s needed here to show the tenor of the times.)

The concept of 100 blockbusters blew my mind. That would mean 100 blocks were destroyed by one bomb; the United States had instituted the use of blockbuster bombs on German cities late in the war and it was not until many years later that I learned of the terrible devastation Allied bombers had done to cities like Dresden.

President Obama has announced that he will be visiting Hiroshima at the end of May, the first US president to make such a visit since the tragic bombing more than seventy years ago. A debate has arisen over whether the President should apologize for the devastation.  Whether such an apology is necessary or not, it’s not mine to answer.

There are lessons we should learn from Hiroshima. I remember seeing early news photos from the bombing and noting there was but one relatively tall, slender building still standing among the devastation.

One year later, one of our next-door neighbor’s sons showed snapshots he had taken while in Hiroshima as a member of an army occupational force.  Even though his black-th-3and-white photos were of the tiny-size typical of the era, the impact couldn’t have been more striking.  There, standing like a lone sentinel was the same singular building amid the rubble, a tragic symbol of the bombing that cost some 200,000 lives.

More than anything else the killing of those Japanese citizens, including many women and children, dramatized the terrible losses that are foisted upon all of us by war.  A scene from Erich Maria Remarque’s famous book, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” has further pointed toward the terrible foolishness of war.  That book, written from a German soldier’s point of view during the First World War, has the hero seeking shelter in a bomb crater and finding a dying French soldier in the same shelter.  After a few tense moments, the French soldier dies.  Guiltily, the German soldier searches the dead man’s pockets, finding a wallet, containing a small picture of a smiling woman and a young child.  It was obviously the man’s family, a family not much unlike his own.  The German solder cries.

Some of us hoped immediately after World War II that we could take steps to end the terrible nationalism that brought about the wars of that Century; why not form a federal world government — modeled after the U.S. Constitution that in 1787 developed a process to bring together our disparate states into a central government that could ensure peace between the states?  The dream failed, though a hamstrung United Nations emerged.

Wars haven’t ended; in fact today’s world is spawning an epidemic of violence.  Now, however, added to the fear of one nation fighting another, we have tribes and terror groups that know no borders engaged in hateful killing sprees.

Those of us who preach peace and urge restraint on “revenge” and “retribution” are castigated as being “weak” and “dreamers.”  Let’s reject that: we recognize the need to sometimes bear arms to enforce peace, but we must resist the inclinations — so often stirred by ambition politicians — to act first in starting a fight, to use a pledge of “making America great again” as an excuse to start bombing again — and killing many innocents along the way.  Ken Germanson, May 15, 2016.