Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What's in your hand?


What's in your hand?  If you're a teen (or an adult) in 2013 it's probably a cell phone!  But, let's get serious about what this phrase really means...

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Watch the "What's in your hand?" Speech

Today in class we studied Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, and listened to his speech entitled, "What's in your hand?"

It is interesting how students reacted and interpreted his speech...here are some teacher and student reactions/questions/ comments.

*Does he mean that we should use the talent we have to make change in our world?

*We should not sit idly by while those around us get bullied...discriminated against...abused...etc.

*Does it mean that it is not good enough to know something...we must act on our knowledge.
*I will not tolerate certain behaviour (racism, sexism, bullying, etc.) in my own life, workplace, school, or any-other place that I am involved in. 
*Have we gotten lazy in our actions...are there still Jellyfish to kill?
* Have we realized Dr. King's Dream...What's in your hand?



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cateura: "Recycled" Music

You must watch this amazing video...
Cateura, Paraguay is a "city" built on top of a landfill that receives 1,500 solid tons of garbage each day. Many residents work as recyclers and dig through the rubbish in search of sellable goods.  Yet, in this city which is one of the poorest in the world...there is hope.  Paraguay's National Orchestra director, Luis Szarán and music teacher, Favio Chávez have taken recycled instruments and created The Recycled Orchestra, an entire orchestra made from trash.

"I came here once and saw a woman holding a newborn child with one hand and picking up rubbish with the other, and told myself this could not go on, this is how everything started," recalls Szaran.
 Szarán and Chávez formed the Sonidos de la Tierra (Sounds of the Land) six years ago to bring classical and folk music (and hope) to some of the poorest children in Latin America (who live on much less than $2/ day).

"Music has changed my life, I feel completely different."
                                                           -Israel (age 11)
"Before I used to feel depressed all the time, now I have hope."    
                                                                    -Maria del Carmen (age 19)

Fogs says..."We in the United States are so fortunate and blessed...
yet I feel I have much to learn from the children of Cateura."

The Hollow Nickel Case

Gary Powers
Today in class, we discussed Gary Powers and the May 1,1960 U-2 spy plane incident that occurred during the height of The Cold War with the USSR.  Gary Powers (a CIA spy/ pilot) was shot down over Soviet airspace near Degtyarsk, Russia.  The United States government denied the plane's purpose (claiming it was a weather plane that accidentally flew off course) and mission, but later admitted the plane was a spy plane when the Soviet government produced photographs and pieces of the wreckage, film from the plane cameras, and the surviving pilot. 

The Hollow Nickel and Microfilm
Gary Powers was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in a Siberian work prison.  But, he served less than 2 years because of a strange twist of fate commonly referred to as "The Hollow Nickel Case."  On June 22, 1953, a NYC newspaper boy was paid with a nickel that felt too light to him. When he threw it on the ground, it surprisingly popped open.  Inside the nickel was a small piece of microfilm.  He told his friend (whose father was a NYC policeman) about the microfilm and then took it to the FBI 2 days later.  The FBI spent nearly four years trying to find the origin of the nickel and the meaning of the microfilm.  Then in 1957, a Soviet KGB agent (spy) wanted to defect from the USSR.  He gave the FBI the information it needed to crack the code and uncover the identity of the Soviet spies in NYC who were responsible for the hollow nickel and microfilm.  These spies were in the United States trying to gather information on the U.S. atomic program and U.S. Navy submarines.

Microdot Technology

When one of the spies, Vilyam Fisher (aka Rudolph Abel had been "living" in America since 1949 to steal atomic bomb secrets) was arrested, the room he lived in contained cameras and film for producing microdots, cipher pads, hollow "trick" containers, and shortwave radios.  In October of 1957, he was found guilty as a KGB spy and sentenced to 45 years.

Rudolph Abel

On February 10, 1962, thanks to the break in the Hollow Nickel Case, Gary Powers was exchanged for Vilyam Fisher (aka Rudolph Abel) in Berlin, Germany.

Watch clip on U-2 Incident- 50th Anniversary

Monday, April 22, 2013

Richie Havens: Rest in Peace

Richie Havens
Today, one of my all time favorite poet-musicians passed away from a sudden heart attack.  Richie Havens was an American poet, folk singer, guitarist, and social activist.  He is best known for his intense, rhythmic style infused with blues, soul, negro spirituals, and Civil Rights/ anti-war/ social activist themes.  Most knew him from his famous opening performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.  He made 25 albums...but, in my opinion nothing can top his song entitled "Freedom" based on the Negro Spiritual "Motherless Child".

“I really sing songs that move me, I’m not in show business;
I’m in the communications business. That’s what it’s about for me.”
Listen to my favorite Richie Havens riff..."Freedom"

Sunday, April 21, 2013

First Responders

Memory and why we remember things a certain way is sometimes a very difficult thing to intellectually comprehend or emotionally understand.  The terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon on Monday and the tragedy in the West, Texas explosion triggered tremendous horror, grief, anger, disbelief, sadness, and pride in my heart and mind.  Upon hearing the news of the Boston attack, I instantly thought of 9-11-01. . . I watched and listened to the stories of how Boston's First Responders rushed in to save peoples lives, comfort the injured, and show the true heart of America.  I also remembered the 441 NYC First Responders (who gave their lives) rushing toward the Twin Towers on that beautiful autumn day... and was reminded how important it is to say the words "I Love You" to those I love every chance I get.
Joe and John Vigiano

John Vigiano Sr. is a retired New York City firefighter whose two sons followed him into service — John Jr. was a firefighter and Joe was a policeman. On September 11, 2001, the Vigiano brothers responded to the call from the World Trade Center, and both were killed while saving others.
Hear John talk about the importance of saying "I Love You." 

"Every day, first responders put their own lives on the line to ensure our safety.
The least we can do is make sure they have the tools to protect and serve their communities."
                                         -Joe Lieberman

Friday, April 19, 2013

Cold War Orphans

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

Today in class we discussed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the couple convicted of espionage for giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union and subsequently executed in 1953.  At the time, they had 2 sons, Robert and Michael, who were 6 and 10.

Robert (now 66 years old) shares...

"After my parents’ arrests, my relatives were so frightened of being associated with "communist spies" that they refused to take me into their homes. First I lived in a shelter. Later I lived with friends of my parents in New Jersey, but I was thrown out of school after the Board of Education found out who I was. After my parents' execution, the police even seized me from the home of my future adoptive parents, and I was placed in an orphanage."

Then, at a Christmas party hosted by W.E.B. Du Bois, the boys were introduced to Abel and Anne Meeropol.  Eventually, they became their adoptive parents and the boys took the Meeropol surname as their own.

Abel and Anne Meeropol
But, there is even more to this story!  Abel Meeropol, a high school English teacher for 17 years was also a poet, musician, and communist activist.  Disturbed by the extreme racism in America and after witnessing a photograph of a lynching (which haunted him for days), he wrote a poem entitled "Strange Fruit".  He later set his poem (a strong anti-lynching metaphor) to music which was popularized when it was performed and released by Billie Holiday in 1939. 
The complicated...the tragic...yet beautiful fruit of history.
What is America to me?
A name, a map, or a flag I see?
A certain word, democracy.

What is America to me?
The house I live in?
A plot of earth, a street?
The grocer and the butcher or the people that I meet?
The children in the playground, the faces that I see.
All races and religions.
That’s America to me.
                                                    - Abel Meeropol



Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Cold War: Etymology

President Roosevelt and Bernard Baruch
Bernard Baruch, a multimillionaire businessman, stock investor, philanthropist, and economic/ foreign policy consultant (Woodrow Wilsin, FDR, Harry Truman) coined the term "Cold War" in a speech given at the South Carolina House of Representatives to describe post-WWII relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

His April 16, 1947 speech highlighted the importance of "unity" (some viewed it as an anti-union message) between labor and management. He called for longer workweeks, no-strike pledges from unions, and no-layoff pledges from management.  He than declared that the United States must be a major force in which...

 "The world can renew itself physically and spiritually....Let us not be deceived-we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success. The peace of the world is the hope and the goal of our political system; it is the despair and defeat of those who stand against us. We can depend only on ourselves."

Following the speech, the term "Cold War" was instantly used and accepted by American news media and politicians as a fitting description for tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Did anyone tell this guy The Cold War is over?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Atomic Bomb: Interpretations

Genbaku Dome-Hiroshima August 1945
For over 60 years...
most Americans (and Japanese) have accepted "the fact" that the dropping of 2 atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to Japan’s immediate surrender.  For the Japanese, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are powerful symbols of their nation as a victim (and rightfully so), helping to "hide and erase" their aggressive imperialism and war atrocities.  For the Americans, the atomic bombs have always been an "ends that justify the means" of ending WWII and saving millions of lives. 
A "comfortable truth" for both nations.

Over the years there have been 2 opposing (and I believe wrong) interpretations of the atomic bombs...

1. Classic Interpretation- The Japanese surrender was due to the dropping of the atomic bombs.  Therefore, justifying the killing of thousands to end the war and save American (and Japanese) lives that would have resulted from an invasion.

2. 1960's Revised Interpretation- Japan was close to surrendering before Hiroshima and the atomic bomb was not justified or necessary.  Harry Truman wanted to intimidate the Soviets with our "newly tested gadget".
First, let's look at some facts based on primary sources before we reject these 2 views... 
1. The Japanese Air Force and Navy was decimated after the Battle of Okinawa...the new strategy was to extend the war and hope for the Americans to negotiate.
2. Japanese industry and industrial supplies were destroyed by relentless American air attacks...60+ cities were "a conflagration".
3. Japan stated it would never surrender (knowing they couldn't win the war...they tried to get the Soviets to mediate a strategic peace treaty with the Americans) and prepared millions of Japanese soldiers, kamikazes, and civilians to fight to protect their homeland...unconditional surrender was out of the question in their minds.
4. The Peace Treaty would hopefully maintain Japanese political (imperial/military) power, avoid war crime trials/ punishment, and annex some of the territory gained in the war.
5.  Japanese leaders were not driven to surrender by the massive fire bombings or the atomic bomb....if they didn't surrender after Tokyo why surrender after Hiroshima.

Atomic Bomb- August 1945 Timeline
August 6- At 8:15 a.m., the Enola Gay delivered "Little Boy" on Hiroshima.
August 7- Japan "pressures" the Soviets to mediate peace with the Americans.
August 8- The Soviet Union declares war on Japan and attacks Japanese forces in northeast China.
August 9- "Fat Man" is dropped on Nagasaki while the Supreme Council is meeting in Tokyo.
August 9 & 10- Japan's Supreme Council meets to discuss a possible surrender...Emperor Hirohito breaks a deadlock and decides to surrender.
August 12 through 14- The Allies and Japan debate/ "negotiate" on the terms of surrender.
August 12 through 14- President Truman orders massive bombing to continue until an "official surrender" was given.
August 14- The largest bombardment (over 1,000 sorties) of the Pacific Theatre... "to impress Japanese officials that we mean business and are serious in getting them to accept our peace proposals without delay."
August 15- Emperor Hirohito officially surrenders.
An alternative interpretation...

1. Guns, bombs, drones, etc. don't induce people to capitulate or acquiesce...they didn't work on London, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Hanoi, Baghdad...and they would never work on America.
2. The Soviet Union declaration of war was the primary cause for Japanese surrender...better to surrender to the Americans (democracy/ religious freedom) than a war with the Soviet Union (communism) and a possible forced occupation.
3. The atomic bomb was not the decisive (but one of many contributing factors) event that ended World War II.
4. Nuclear weapons, drones, laser technology, etc. are no "magic bullet"...they are "a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal." 
"If we are to teach real peace in this world,
and if we are to carry on real war against war,
we shall have to begin with the children."
                                                            - Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Walter Ehlers

June 6, 1944

Recently in class, we studied D-Day and the Siege at Bastogne...we explored several primary sources trying to get a non-textbook/ non-powerpoint understanding of the extraordinary sacrifices of ordinary men.  I am always deeply moved when we listen to Staff Sgt. Walter Ehlers (a Medal of Honor recipient) say,
"the biggest thing I ever did in my life
 was get those 12 men off the beach."
Roland and Walter Ehlers

Walter and his brother Roland, from Manhattan, Kansas joined the Army in 1940 and served together in North Africa and Sicily...veterans of 2 amphibious landings.  As they prepared for D-Day Walter was separated from his brother, "I went to L Company and he stayed in K.” The reason for the separation was due to the fact that five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa – the Sullivans – died when the light cruiser Juneau was sunk by a Japanese torpedo off of Guadalcanal. But as fate would have it...June 6, 1944 Walter and Roland ended up landing together on Omaha Beach.

“We were about 100 yards out. I was up to my neck in water.  For some, it was over their heads...they were firing all around us.  We’d drown if we stayed in the water.  We’d be dead if we stayed on the beach.  All we did was follow the beach master, telling us to follow the path...trying to move the Germans out of the way."

Walter didn't hear from his brother after the landing, but hoped he was only injured and somewhere in a hospital.  In July, he met the commander from Roland's company who brought the sad news that Roland had died at Omaha Beach.  Walter saluted the officer and said, "Okay". Completely devastated at the loss of his older brother he went off alone to cry. 

"He was my hero...I would have rather come back with no arms or legs
 than to come back without my brother."

Walter shares memories about WWII

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Jackie Robinson: WWII

"Come Out Fighting..."
The release of "42" a biographical movie about Jackie Robinson is on Friday, April 12th.  It will be interesting to see how the producer/ director work to keep the film historically accurate.  You may be very familiar with the story of how Jackie broke the color line in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.  But did you know...that in 1942, he was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit and applied for admission (supported by the protests of Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis) to an Officer Candidate School (OCS) located at Fort Riley, Kansas?  After finishing OCS, Robinson was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and joined the segregated 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas.
The Black Panthers
 The government used many excuses (eugenics, inexperience, etc.) to delay the deployment of The 761st…but the troops still subjected themselves to hours of excruciating training.  On July 6, 1944, a racial incident nearly ended Robinson's military career.  While riding on a Ft. Hood Army bus with a friend's wife, the bus driver (who thought the woman was white) ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus.  Robinson refused. The driver called the military police, who arrested Robinson and took him into custody.  After a “thorough” investigation Robinson was recommended to be court-martialed.  During the court-martial hearing in August 1944, the charges against Robinson were reduced to two counts of insubordination.  He was then transferred to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, where he coached for the Army until he was honorably discharged in November 1944.  Although his former unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, became the first black tank unit to see combat in World War II (Battle of the Bulge, Sigfried Line) under General George Patton, Robinson's court-martial proceedings prohibited him from being deployed overseas and he never saw combat action.

I have often wondered...
How would history have changed if Jackie died in Europe?
Did Jackie feel angry watching his friends go off to fight/ die?
How much did his WWII experience and the sacrifices of The 761st
 help/ motivate him to stand up for his rights in Major League Baseball?

Watch clip: Jackie & "42" Movie (7:25)

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
                                                   -Jackie Robinson

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Impunity and Crossing the Moral Divide


Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines impunity as "exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss"...in other words you can do anything you want and not have to worry about the consequences.

Impunity = Unlimited Power
The Greek philosopher, Plato was very interested in the relationship between unlimited power (impunity) and morality. He tells us the story of "The Ring of Gyges", when Gyges finds a ring of magical power (impunity) that causes its wearer to become invisible. Gyges ultimately uses the ring to do many immoral acts. Plato than poses the question, "If an immoral life leads to wealth, power, and fame while a virtuous life leads to poverty, powerlessness, and abuse, then why be moral?"
Plato answers his question by justifying the value of a moral life. The life of "immoral impunity" leads to self-centeredness, unhappiness, and emptiness.  The moral person has integrity, personal fulfillment, and is at peace with the type of person they are.  Plato summarizes, unlimited power is "the supreme hazard for a man" and one that must be guided "with his eyes fixed on the nature of his soul" (Republic X, 618b–e).

There is nothing inherently wrong with impunity...the problem is how we choose to use our power. Will we use our power for good to uphold our values of freedom, justice, integrity, equality, etc. or will we impose our will on others because we can? Recently in class, we contemplated the question of "crossing the moral divide" in relation to WWII and watched the following video clip about the fire bombing of Japan...as we found out...there are no easy answers.

At times, in my opinion...The United States of America (a few examples listed below) has used our unlimited power with impunity to "cross the moral divide"...

Native American genocide
Jim Crow Racism
Marginalization of Immigrants
Marginalization of Women
Japanese Internment
Dresden/ Tokyo Fire Bombings
Tuskegee Syphilis "Experiment"
My Lai Massacre
Tomahawk Missile Attacks
Drone "Warfare"

Questions to ponder:
  • Does impunity require moral or ethical limits? 
  •  When should I (United States) "cross the moral divide"?
  •  Is there a morally right or wrong way in regard to impunity? 
  •  Does a person (nation) with impunity have to concern themselves with morality and other people?
  •  Should our values apply to our domestic and foreign policy? 
  • Why be moral and choose to reject unlimited power, wealth, fame, etc.?
  • What kind of person (nation) will I (we) be?

2013 Impunity?

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."
                                                                         - Dwight David Eisenhower

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Iwo Jima: Charles Lindberg


On February 23, 1945, Corporal Charles Lindberg fired his flame-thrower into enemy tunnels on the desert island of Iwo Jima and with 5 other Marines fought their way to the top of Mt. Suribachi with instructions to raise a flag "if you get to the top"...3 of the men in this first flag-raising were among the 6,800+ U.S. soldiers killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

"Two of our men found this big, long pipe there," recalled Lindberg.  "We tied the flag to it, took it to the highest spot we could find and we raised it.  Down below, the troops started to cheer, the ship's whistles went off, it was just something that you would never forget...it didn't last too long, because the enemy started coming out of the caves."

The first flag-raising was captured by Sgt. Lou Lowery, a Marine Corp photographer.  The flag was replaced with a much bigger flag about 4 hours later because the commanders worried someone would steal it as a souvenir.  Both flags are currently on display (on a rotating basis) at The National Museum of the Marine Corps. 

Joe Rosenthal's photo of the second flag-raising became one of the most memorable images of WWII and the inspiration for the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial aka "The Iwo Jima Memorial" in Arlington, Virginia.

After the war, Lindberg returned to his hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota and later moved to Richfield, Minnesota in 1951 and became an electrician.  "No one believed me," when he said he raised the first flag at Iwo Jima. "I was called a liar, it was terrible...it's important that people know what actually happened.  It was the truth. I mean, everyone says, Iwo Jima flag raising, they look at the other one, that's not right. It wasn't. That's what I say. But ain't good enough, I guess -- maybe that's what they think. Kinda hurts you. But I've talked a lot about this, I've argued a lot about it. I can always prove it, that's the thing."

Honoring All Veterans Memorial
Veterans Park - Richfield, Minnesota