Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Jordon and Ali

Muhammed Ali - Photo: Pixabay
Throughout black history, great black athletes have served as role models to America’s youth, in a way that may not have been possible for others leaders.  And to be sure, some of these great heroes of athletics have become virtually godlike to all sports fans, not just those in the black community.  Michael Jordon’s ability on the basketball field during his career at times seems to be virtually superhuman.  And the career of Mohammed Ali sent such a powerful message of black pride to black and white America that he virtually transformed the social perception of the black man through sheer talent and attitude.

Before Mohammed Ali came along, the idea of a black boxer, even a very good black boxer becoming such a central figure for black pride seemed unlikely.  But Ali demonstrated something to the youth of the African American community that was so inspirational that it helped to transform their worldview like no other public figure could have done.  

With his swagger and braggadocio, Ali stood out as a proud black man in such a way that had never been seen before.  His use of rhyme with such phrases as “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” to his self-promotion maintaining “I’m pretty”, that sent a message to black and white admirer alike.  And that message was loud and clear.  Ali was black and he was proud and other black men and women in America have just as much reason to be proud as he was.

This was an important message because coming out of years of oppression, it was sometimes difficult for black youth to gain a sense of pride and the self-assurance needed to get out there and be a success.  It took the work of great black role models such as Mohammed Ali to let them know that it is allowable for you to be proud and to be great as well.  For Ali didn’t back up his claims with just boasts.  He was truly a great black athlete as well.  So when Ali bragged that he was “pretty”, he showed that the way he fought truly was a thing of beauty.

Michael Jordon -  Photo: Wikipedia
That same excellence and how it has been used to inspire the black community can be found in the phenomenal career of Michael Jordon.  In the same way that Ali’s talent seemed to eclipse even the genre of boxing, Jordon was so phenomenal at basketball that he became an icon of excellence and skill and a role model for black youth across the country.  Both of these men recognized that God had given them this tremendous talent and the opportunities to reach their potential.  And they worked hard to be a role model to their community so others would be inspired to be their best as well.  

Moreover, great black sports heroes also provided healing by setting a high standard of excellence for sports fans of all races to admire.  It wasn’t just black sports fans who adored the work of Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordon.  They became true heroes to anyone to whom sports was an important part of life.

Sport is an arena where men and woman can come to socialize and find common ground.  Like entertainment, there is a world of sports that make comrades of all who enjoy the exploits of sports heroes whether on the baseball diamond, the football field, the boxing arena or the basketball stadium.  And sports fans have a standard that they value their heroes that is based on talent, achievement, and ability to do that one thing everybody in sports admires – to be a winner.  And Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordon were certainly the embodiment of great black men who were also in every way winners.  And we all admire that regardless of race, color or creed.




Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Cold War

Photo: Wikimedia
When we look back over the span of centuries that represents American history, it is easy to call out major military engagements which represent the major wars of this country.  From World War II to the Civil War to Korea to World War I, America has been involved in many military engagements and emerged victorious in all but a few of them.  But one of the strangest, longest lasting wars that America has entered into was the one that was called “The Cold War”.

For many Americas living today, The Cold War was a fact of life for decades.  The reason it was a cold war was that there was no battlefield, no armies on deployment, nobody counts and no major engagements to report.  Instead, it was a long period of silent animosity between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from the end of World War II up to the early 1990s.  

The strange thing was that the cold war grew out of our relationship with the Soviet Union during World War II which was a relationship of friendship.  But the seeds of the “conflict” were in place at the end of that horrible war.  With the presence of nuclear technology, the concept of a “superpower” was born.  This was not itself a source of tension until the Soviet Union themselves developed the bomb as well and a long cold standoff ensued in which both nations trained thousands of these weapons on each other to warn the other that they must never consider firing those weapons.  

It was a staring contest that lasted almost fifty years and created a tremendous drain on both economies.  Both countries had to maintain “parity” of their nuclear weapons so neither country got more than the other thus throwing off the balance of power and giving one combatant an unfair advantage.  This was a strange logic in that both countries possessed enough weaponry to destroy the earth dozens of times over but still they insisted on “having parity” throughout the cold war.

It was clear that no battle between the Soviet Union and America could ever be tolerated.  The potential outcome of engaging those weapons had the power to destroy life on planet earth.  But neither country was prepared to lay down their arms and begin the process of making peace with the other.  So the weapons continued to point at each other, day after day, year after year, for fifty years.



So instead of conducting battles directly, the two countries fought each other through small wars around the world.  The Soviet Unions, working with China happily contributed to the humiliating loss in Vietnam that the United States endured.  But the United States then turned around and armed the Afghan Mujahideen which lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union in their occupation of that country.  From proxy wars, the space race, and occasional face-offs such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War continued for decades testing the will and resolve of both countries never to look away and give the other the advantage.

Finally, the pressure on the economies of the two countries took its toll in the early 1990s, particularly in the Soviet Union as the stress of sustaining such an expensive and unproductive war forced the Soviet economy into collapse and the empire broke up.  The United States had won the cold war by sheer will to endure and stubborn refusal to give in.  This is a seldom spoken of an element of the American spirit but it is one that the Soviets learned to their own disaster not to test.  Hopefully, no other “superpower” will ever think they are equipped to test it again.

And what is the situation today (2018) ???






Wednesday, June 27, 2018

America's Spiritual History: The Impulse That Gave Birth To A Nation

Photo: Wikimedia
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for a people to assert its right to freely exist as an independent society, unhampered by restrictions by a governmental authority that is far away and that does not have its best interests at heart, then it behooves that society and that people to express, in words that are clear and cogent, the reasons for its removal from the authority which it has labored under.  

This removal, rather than being an act of defiance and provocation, is an act of self-affirmation and of positive movement toward a future in which the governed shall govern their own communities and society, and in which the voice of the people shall be heard.  

There can be no just government without this kind of representation and without this kind of flow between government and governed, and to this end the Republic of the United States of America must seek to separate itself from the ruling authority of Britain, whose history, culture, purpose, and expectations are very different from our own, and who, in the opinion of many, hold and seek to perpetuate policies that are deleterious to the wellbeing of the newly-founded communities of this young Republic.

We ask the people of the world who observe this time with us, to rest assured that we are not making a declaration against monarchy or against any other kind of leadership or rulership that works effectively and justly to serve the needs of the people.  We are stating an underlying principle firmly, clearly, and with specific intention, namely, that government must proceed with the consent of the governed in order to be just, and that the process of representation of those who are governed by those whom they choose to represent them is an essential and critical part of any just and stable society.

We ask the people of the world to recognize our newly burgeoning efforts at self-government and self-representation, so that we may join with other peoples in common purpose, and so that we may create communication with our neighbors and friends that may be mutually beneficial.  The fact that we are newly founded and are an offshoot of a nation with a great and proud history, does not mean that we must be identified solely with these historical roots.  Rather, we seek to be identified on our own terms in relation to what we can offer to others at this point in time, and what others can offer to us.  

We extend our hands in friendship to the peoples of the world who seek justice and freedom for their societies and peoples, and declare that we will not rest, we will not lower our advancing interest in liberty and justice, until every citizen of this newly founded Republic of America shall feel that they are adequately represented in a government of their choosing and that their voice can and will be heard.  It is only by bringing the ultimate authority of choice back to the people who are governed that a truly democratic society can exist, and it is with this aim in mind that we set forth these principles today, that shall henceforth be known as the Declaration of Independence.







Thursday, May 31, 2018

The American Cowboy

Cowboy - Photo: Wikimedia
Americans have a unique vision of themselves and their role in the world.  Unlike perhaps any other peoples in history, Americans see themselves as people of destiny and a people who were put here to do something phenomenal and something significant for history and for all peoples of the earth.  This unique self-concept, sometimes perceived as arrogance, is deeply grounded in a set of archetypes that Americans use to form their vision of themselves in the world.  And no other archetype is as powerful in the American psyche than that of the cowboy.

The actual American cowboy was indeed a unique individual.  While probably not as noble and ruggedly handsome as the images created of him in the movies, they were unique types of men who carved out a civilization from the rugged wilderness that was the American West in the years before the turn of the last century.

Some of the reasons that the image of the cowboy sometimes includes elements of the outlaw and the loner is that much of the legend of the cowboy came from stories of refugees from the broken southern army who took to the life of the cowboy rather than attempt to integrate into a society that included making peace with “the Yankee”.  And that type of individual certainly did account for many of the outlaws who went on to become the stuff of legend and stories even to this day.

The renegade and loner image combined with the rough life of an actual cowboy whose job it was to guide those huge herds of cattle along trails such as the historic Cumberland trail where they could be sold to become the steaks, leather and other goods that were sold in rustic American stores of the time.  This was a difficult life and the stories of the trail make up many history books for sure.  But far more of the stories of the trail are glorifications of that lifestyle that must have been difficult indeed.

But the image of the cowboy was also something that grew larger than what the actual lifestyle of those simple but rugged men must have lived in the American West.  It was an image that pulled together heroes as far-flung as the Australian Gaucho cowboy, the Japanese Samurai and a knight in King Arthur’s court.  It was an image of a man who demonstrated the rugged individualism that all Americans consider to be one of the central unifying traits that make America great. 

The cowboy image is one that even has its influence as high in the social strata of America that it influences the presidency.  It is said that there is a tradition for any president when he first is elected and comes to Washington to begin learning this big new job.  Tradition holds that each president has as part of their early duties to sit down and watch the movie High Noon.  They say that President Clinton watched it dozens of times in his early years.  If this is true, it accounts for how often a new president seems to grow and change in the office and becomes his own version of the great American hero that is depicted in that movie.  The American cowboy defends the virtue of the weak and helpless.  He is a staunch defender of families and those in society who are trying to carve out a home in a difficult world.  As such, the American cowboy fits with the “superhero” image that also appeals to the American system of justice and morality and values.



Even the star wars epic films were fundamentally grounded in the legend of the cowboy.  The cowboy concept grew up from a history of our country that included the settling of a big land and the settling of a wilderness that pit the god given will and intellect of man against God’s creation.  And it was the will of man that prevailed.  That is why American’s admire the cowboy because he represents their own struggles for greatness, for success and to be a heroic figure at least for their families, hometowns and churches.  And that desire so deeply rooted in the culture of American history will always be what makes America and Americans great.




Thursday, May 10, 2018

Remember the Alamo

Fall of Alamo - Photo: Wikipedia
America remembers many great battles that represent a turning point in a conflict that helped shaped our history.  We think of D-Day in World War II that turned the tide of victory toward the allies despite horrific losses.  But it is a unique battle that is remembered with pride and patriotism but is also a battle that was lost and almost everybody on our side brutally killed.  But that was the case in the battle for the Alamo in 1863.

The battle for the Alamo was not a conventional battle in the sense of two equally matched armies fighting back and forth to retain the property.  It was, to put it bluntly, a slaughter.  But the brave stand of those few hundred Texans against thousands of Mexican soldiers continues to inspire us today because it was a stand against impossible odds but it was a stand that reflected the American ethic of never giving up or surrendering when there is a principle to be defended.

The siege at the Alamo actually lasted thirteen days.  It began on February 23, 1863, and it was over by March 6th.  It is hard to imagine today, with Mexico to our south a trusted ally of the United States but this was a battle to stop that attempts by Mexico to invade the newly forming country of the United States which was an act of war to be sure.  The brave men who stood against that vast army have become American icons of bravery and the American spirit and the names listed among those killed in that fort included Davy Crocket, Jim Bowie, the commander of the unit Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis.  It was Travis that inspired his men to fight against insurmountable odds and his courage is what we celebrate whenever we say that famous rallying cry that comes out of this battle which was “Remember the Alamo.”  Travis wrote in a letter how he defied the Mexican attackers on the eve of the final siege.

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna.  I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man.  The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison is to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken.  I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls.  I shall never surrender or retreat.  I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country.  Victory or Death.



It was this brave stand that actually turned the war against this invading army to the advantage of the Americans.  The outrage from the slaughter of these men inspired that famous rallying cry that we remember even now centuries later when we hear those words “Remember the Alamo”.  Their stand against Santa Anna gave Sam Houston the time to organize a much more potent army which went on to deliver to Santa Anna a stunning defeat at San Jacinto which was the turning point for Texas which went on from there to victory in this war.

The spirit of Texas was never the same and to this day, Texas prides itself as a people of particular courage, boldness, and a unique independence that even sets them apart from the already fiercely independent American spirit.  Moreover, the entire nation looks to this battle as an example of how a few good men helped deliver a victory, even if it was at the cost of their own lives.  That indeed is the true spirit of patriotism.




Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bombers of the Second World War

Lancaster Bomber - Photo: Pixabay
The Lancaster is probably the most famous of all the bombers of the second world war. According to Capt. Donald Macintosh (ex-second world war bomber pilot, and author) it was a lot smoother to fly than the Wellington; the experience of which was close to that of a fighter plane (with no payload, of course). 

Survival rates on bombers. 
The life of a second world war bomber pilot was probably the most dangerous of all the armed forces of the second world war. Less than 50% survived their tour; each tour consisted of roughly 25 operations or raids with the chances of survival for each raid being 96%. That is what the commanders always told the crew before a raid to keep up morale. But if you compound 96% over 25 times, the survival rate was closer to 50%. When Donald looked at his Florida academy group photograph after the war, he counted around half of those still alive. 

WHAT KILLED BOMBER CREWS? 
Training 
Enemy fighter planes
Lack of rear radar (called Monica: only introduced later in the war)
An incompetent navigator
An incompetent rear gunner
Flak
Poor attitude
Bad luck

TRAINING - Rushed training caused a few deaths. President Roosevelt wanted to train pilots within 2 years which would be woefully short in peacetime, but due to the high chop rate, they had no choice. Donald sometimes saw burnt-out bombers on the runway from fatal mistakes made by cadets. A fairly experienced New Zealand pilot and his crew died in a ball of flames in the air during training. They speculated it was because one of the crew members had smoked during the flight. 

Also, the bombers used in training were not maintained properly, if at all. All the good maintenance staff were looking after the bombers flying real operations. This could cause engines to fail, which killed a few crew members. 

In fact, Donald had several very near misses himself in just such scenarios. The excerpt: "The Landing" from his book is just one example of inexperience nearly killing him. "Russian Mechanics" is another; the Russians didn't have the competence or equipment to maintain planes as Donald found out. 

ENEMY FIGHTER PLANES - Fighter planes out-gunned and could out-manoeuvre bombers. The typical fighter tactic was to dive under the bomber and swing around and up, shooting up at the undercarriage. This wasn't without total risk to the fighter, as the explosion of the payload could also destroy the fighter if he was too close. Donald experienced a Focke Wulf 190 first-hand using just this tactic. 

The best defence was the cork-screw dive. This meant diving 45 degrees to the left, then 45 degrees to the right and then fly back upwards 45 degrees left. The odds though were still against you. At night time, if an enemy fighter was detected soon enough, the cork-screw dive was very effective at shaking them off. 

LACK OF REAR RADAR - Rear radar, or Monica as it was called, saved countless bomber crew's lives. This enabled the crew to detect an enemy fighter sneaking up behind very early. The cork-screw dive manoeuvre was then quite effective. Using Monica, during night-time raids especially, allowed the bombers to easily shake off enemy fighter planes. Monica saved Donald's life when it was introduced. It was a pity that his Squadron Leader also didn't have it when he battled a German ace. See "Squadron Leader" for this story. 

AN INCOMPETENT NAVIGATOR - According to Donald, the navigator was absolutely crucial to survival. If you got lost over enemy territory, you had had it. Not only could you accidentally fly over enemy fighter bases or flak installations, but your fuel would run out. Donald's bomber crew experienced their fuel running out twice, once in training and once over Russia. 

AN INCOMPETENT REAR GUNNER - Although the rear gunner was not as important as the navigator, he needed to be very alert for detecting enemy fighter planes coming in from behind. He would call out the ranges and shout out the exact time when the pilot should cork-screw. The actual gunfire was usually inadequate to bring down the fighters; it distracted them more than anything else. 

FLAK - At the end of the war flak was largely ineffective. This was because the German flak crews were the old men or inexperienced young boys who weren't trained well enough to operate them properly. Of course, you could be exceedingly unlucky. If a professional flak crew was shooting at you, then you would be in trouble. When Donald was carrying out a raid over Holland, he flew over German Naval Gunners who shot down the plane three behind him, killing all but three of her crew. 

POOR ATTITUDE - Those pilots and crew who didn't put everything into it, who didn't really want to be there, were often the ones who got what they wished for. Donald tells of an Australian pilot Tyrell, who had an apathetic attitude always asking when his leave was etc. He died on his first mission over Stuttgart. 

Another important factor was teamwork amongst the crew members. Some crews couldn't get along with each other. They constantly argued, even disobeying orders. Unsurprisingly, this raised the probability of not making it over a raid. 



Nervous disorders were a common problem with crew members who were nearing the end of their active duty. In fact, according to Donald, at this stage of their careers just about everybody had some sort of nervous disorder, whether it was a nervous tic or the handshaking when lifting up a glass or teacup. It was far worse with bomb-aimers. They saw everything below: flak exploding just beneath them etc. Bomb aimers were usually relieved earlier of their duties than most since after a while they would crack up. "The Mad Gunner" is a short story of a bomb-aimer who had done around 70 raids and had completely lost it. He was allowed to continue because he loved doing it and also the fact that he was very good at his job.

BAD LUCK - A lucky flak shot or something critical overlooked in maintenance was what usually happened. When Donald had to choose his bomb-aimer, he had a choice between Pete or his friend, George. They flipped a coin and Pete became his bomb-aimer and lived; George, however, never made it to the end of the war. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Capt. Donald Macintosh flew over 40 raids from D day until May 1945, including: 
3 attacks on battleship “Tirpitz” (sunk) including the flight to Russia;
1 destroyer, Gdynia harbour, night; prob sunk;
2 heavy gun emplacements;
3 dams;
2 oil refineries;
4 viaducts;
3 bridges;
3 submarine pens;
1 ammo dump;
2 flying bomb sites;
2 cities;
Finally, Hitler’s home at Berchtesgaden, April 25th.

After the war, he flew for another 30 years in civil flying some of which was almost as lethal as wartime. Based in the Bahamas, he flew Yorks and Lancastrians for British South American Airways and then went on to fly the world’s first passenger jet, Comet 1, to Africa and the Far East.