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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, September 17, 2010

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

I miss the old smoke filled rooms – sometimes. In the old days there were no passionate amateurs willing to bring on a political doomsday, just to muck things up. The process was dispassionate, calculated and handled by people who saw politics as a job, aided, of course, by political writers who supplied the passion in print. From such combinations, legends were born, such as this one I shall now relate.
On April Fools Day, 1920, bland faced Ohio political manager Harry Daugherty (above) was hastily packing his bags in his room at the old Waldorf Astoria hotel on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Into the room sauntered two reporters seeking a quote. They taunted Daugherty on his boastful support for the turgid and mediocre Ohio Senator, Warren G. Harding for President. Nobody else thought Harding stood a chance. Just who were these senators that Daugherty claimed would support Harding at the Republican Convention, come June? When Daugherty refused to take the bait, the reporters suggested he must be expecting Harding to win the nomination in some hotel back room with a small group of political managers, “reduced to pulp by the inevitable vigil and travail” of a deadlocked convention. Daugherty said nothing, so the reporter suggested further that Daugherty must be expecting the managers to collapse about 2:00 A.M. in a smoke filled room. Weary of the dialog, Daugherty responded off handedly, “Make it 2:11,” grabbed his bags and headed out to catch the train back to Ohio.
The reporter turned that conversation into this quote, which he stuck into Daugherty’s mouth; “I don't expect Senator Harding to be nominated on the first, second or third ballot, but I think we can well afford to take chances that about eleven minutes after 2 o'clock on Friday morning at the convention, when fifteen or twenty men, somewhat weary, are sitting around a table, some one of them will say, "Who will we nominate?" At that decisive time the friends of Senator Harding can suggest him, and can afford to abide by the result.”
And amazingly, that is almost exactly how it really happened. Except that the back room was a suite of meeting rooms in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Balboa, numbers 408 through 410, with Room 404 set aside as the reception room.
The suite had been rented by Will Hays, the big-eared big-talking “mighty little ear of corn” from Indiana. He was the Republican National Chairman, and had hopes of being President himself in 1920. And maybe the greatest compliment you can pay the professional politicians of that era is that they did not let Will Hays become President.
The Republican Convention that June was officialy taking place 9 blocks south of the Blackstone hotel, in the old Chicago Coliseum on South Wabash Avenue. This cavern had been home to every Republican Convention since 1904. It is worth noting that the building had originally been constructed to house a prison, Richmond’s Libby prison, bought lock, stock, and barrel by a Chicago candy millionaire and shipped north to form the centerpice of a Civil War Museum. The museum went bust in 1899, and the owner “re-imagined” the space as a public meeting center.
It was into this den of iniquity that some 2,000 delegates and their alternates marched on Tuesday June, 8th, 1920, sixty years after Republicans had first met in Chicago to nominate Stephen Douglas for President, but instead chose Abraham Lincoln. It was an ominous bit of history to consider if you were General Leonard Wood or Illinois Governor Frank Lowden, as they were considered the front runners for the 1920 Republican nomination.
The dour faced Lowden wanted to be president so badly that when both houses of the Illinois state legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, he had vetoed the bill, proving again that politicians are even willing to kill to win a few votes.
In contrast, Leonard Wood had few political skills. He was a  Medal of Honor winner who had graduated medical school and then risen to Army Chief of Staff, and had even won the New Hampshire primary. And while little Will Hays had not entered any of the twenty primaries held that year, he still had hopes that Wood and Lowden would deadlock, and the convention would turn to the little Hoosier to beak the tie.
The convention finally got down to the balloting on Friday evening, June 11th, and immediately things started looking up for Hays. On the first ballot Wood led with 285 votes, Lowden showed 211, Senator Hiram Johnson, of California, a Teddy Roosevelt progressive, was third with 133 votes. Far behind was Governor William Spool of Pennsylvania with 84 votes, followed by New York’s Nicholas Butler with 69 votes and Ohio’s favorite son, Senator Warren G. Harding, who had lost in the Indiana primary and could muster just 65 votes. Six other candidates held the remaining 132 delegates.
On the second ballot Wood gained just ten votes, while Governor Lowden’s total grew by 40. But still nobody was close to the 439 votes needed to nominate. General Wood reached his peak on the fourth ballot with 314 votes, then his support started to slip, and Governor Lowden beat him with 311 votes on the fifth ballot. Still, no one seemed to be gathering enough support to win it all. And the longer this went on, the less confidence actual voters would have in the eventual choice. So the professionals stepped in and the convention adjourned for the night. The negotiations shifted to the infamous fourth floor rooms at the Blackstone hotel.
Actually political junkies were meeting all over Chicago that night, but Hays’ rooms at the Blackstone got all the publicity because that was where Associated Press reporter Kirke Simpson was working. He was there to cover Harry Daugherty, because, as you have seen, Harry was always good for a quote, even if you had to spoon feed it to him.
Also present was George Harvey, who ran Harper publishing, and Republican Senators Wadsworth, Calder, Watson, McCormick and Lodge, Governor Smoot, political fixer Joe Grundy, and Lawyer Charles Hillers, counsel to the R.N.C., as well as his client, R.N.C. Chief, Will Hays. Their problem was that none of them could agree upon who the party should rally around, either.
It was, by general agreement, the original “Smoke filled room”, and the 130 pound Hays was the host. Even though he neither smoked nor drank himself, Hays kept the cigars lit and the booze flowing “Neighbor”, he and once said to Herbert Hoover, “I want to be helpful.”  It was his natural instinct.
Harry Daugherty’s (left) natural instinct, on the other hand, was his drive for his man. He said of Harding (right), “I found him sunning himself, like a turtle on a log, and I pushed him into the water. “
Since the top three vote getters were not willing to compromise with each other, the Senators were now looking for “The best of the second raters.”, and Daugherty suggested that Harding was their man. There is no indication that anybody even mention Will Hays - not even Will Hays.
They dispatched a small delegation to Hardings’ room up stairs, and asked the stunned man in his pajamas if there were any embarrassing episodes in his past. Harding swallowed and said, “No”. He was lying, but that would not come out until Harding was long dead.
It wasn't as if the party managers issued orders and the party regulars fell in line. It would take five more ballots before the crowd at the Collisseum would give up and hand the nomination to Harding. But as of 2:15 A.M., the decision has been made, just as Daugherty had predicted; if nobody seems to be winning, we will rally around Harding and make do.  What a way to pick a president! And it worked.
At 5 A.M. on Saturday June 12, 1920, Kirke Simpston filed a story that included the following phrase, “Harding of Ohio was chosen by a group of men in a smoke-filled room early today.” And that is how the phrase "smoke filled room" entered the vernacular. The connotation became negative because after Warren G. Harding won in a landslide, he and his “Ohio Gang” - his buddies, including Harry Daugherty - moved to Washington D.C.  There, many of them ended up in jail, or disgraced, or at least spending a lot of the graft they had collected on lawyers.
Harding appointed Harry Daugherty as his Attorney General. And after three heady years, Harry was forced to resign when his chief aide, Jess Smith, was caught taking kickbacks from bootleggers. Harry was taking kickbacks too, but the professional politicians decided not to prosecute him, the important thing was that he was gone.
Will Hays served as Hardings’ Postmaster General. But after only one year he smelled the impending scandals and got out. In 1922 Hays took another job, running the Hays Production Code office, which set standards for on- screen morality in the Hollywood film industry. It was the Hays Commission which gave us forty years of married couples sleeping in twin beds, no acknowledgement of drug use, no adultry in marraige without retribution, and endless stories with sacerin sweet "Hollywood" endings. It was the Hays' Commission that turned Rhett Butler’s exit line as he walked out on Scarlet O’Hara into a major social crises, even though the line appeared in one of the most widely read books in America, "Gone With the Wind". It seemed that Mr. Hays had built his entire career selling smoke and mirrors, and he was not going to get out of that business just because he had gotten out of politics.
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BIRTH OF THE SAMURAI

I would like to remind you of what happened when the Emperor Kammu decided that the government of Japan had become too expensive. He replaced the educated bureaucrats trained for the job since youth with private contractors who did the work in exchange for a cut in their taxes. The contractors then hired a new bunch of underpaid bureaucrats to actually do the work, and they were called samurai. As was to be expected, eventually the samurai evolved into the masters, and the two most powerful samurai families divided Japan between them; the Taira and the Minamoto. The Minamoto were the puppet masters, marrying their daughters to the powerless Emperors, and pulling the strings. The Taira clan frowned upon such pointless subtly. But between them they had turned the Emperors into expensive house pets. And then in 1180 the competition between the two families broke out into open warfare.
“So, Barzini will move against you first. He'll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety. And at that meeting, you'll be assassinated.” (Don Corleone, The Godfather”)
The final break came on March 21, 1180 when Kiyomori Taira had his 2 year old grandson, Antoku, declared Emperor. The godfather of his clan, Kiyomori was described as “arrogant, evil, ruthless" and consumed by his hatred for the Minamoto. But actually many of the lesser samuria families did not trust Kiyomori, either. Sensing an oportunity, Yorimasa Minamoto encouraged Prince Mochihito, who had just been disenfranchised, to call for an uprising to make himself emperor, which he did on May 5th. The Prince also made an appeal to that most Japanese of institutions, the warrior Buddhist monks. But only those from the temple of Miidera answered his call. And the other samurai families also hesitated. Infuriated, Kiyomori issued a warrant for the Prince’s arrest and sent an army to take him into custody.
“You're taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal.” (Sonny Corleone “The Godfather”)
While the Minamoto clan was gathering, Yorimasa and the Prince fell back on their stronghold around the old Imperial city of Kyoto. They took a stand at the Buddhist temple of Byodoin, on the banks of the river Ujii. To protect their retreat the Miridera monks began tearing apart the bridge over the Ujii as the Taira army advanced, firing flights of arrows to disrupt the work.
This was when a samuri named Tamjima Gochiin stepped forward to defend the bridge, using only his naginata. This was a long thin wooden pole, with a curved blade (usually sharpened bamboo) along one end. As the Taira army fired flights of arrows at Tamjima, he used his naginata to bat the arrows away. He went down in Japanese legend as “Tajima the arrow-cutter”. But still the monks held back.
 “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” (Peter Clemenza. “The Godfather”)
Suddenly one of the monks ran forward and pushed up next to Tajima. He was Jomyo Meishu. According to the legend, “With his naginata he mows down five of the enemy, but with the sixth the naginata snaps asunder…flinging it away, he draws his (sword)…cutting down eight men; but as he brought down the ninth...the blade snapped at the hilt and fell with a splash into the water beneath. Then, seizing his (dagger), which was the only weapon he had left, he plied it as one in a death fury.”
“Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.” (Michael Corleone “The Godfather”)
But the defense of the bridge was being outflanked by mounted Tiara warriors who drove their horses into the river and let them swim to the opposite shore. The Minamoto had few men watching the banks and it took only a handful of Tiara horsemen to undercut the bridge defense. The Minamoto were driven back into the temple. And that was when Yorimasa Minamoto, who had organized the entire rebellion, did something that would change Japanese life for the next 700 years.
“Look how they massacred my boy.” (Don Corleone “The Godfather”).
Faced with the defeat of his army, as the triumphant Tiara were slaughtering monks in the temple’s Phoenix Hall, Yorimasa knelt on a pillow and committed seppuku, literally opening his own belly with a left to right sweep of his sword. His servant then finished the job by immediately removing Yorimasa’s head, thus ending his agony. The servant then tied the head to a rock and threw it into the Ujii River. The Prince was quickly captured and put to death. And that should have put an end to the rebellion. But two things altered the balance.
The first was that Yoritomo Minamoto took over leadership of his family, and secondly Kiyomori Taira took ill and died in the spring of 1181. The new leaders of the Taira family were far weaker than Yoritomo. And the other samurai families eventually sided with the Minamoto. The war would continue for five long and bloody years and end with the complete destruction of the Taira family line. With Minamoto dominance the government of Japan fell under the absolute control of the samurai. And their ultimate hero became Yorimasa, and his final act of defiance, held up as an example of noble behavior for generations of Japanese.
“Blood is a big expense.” (Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo. (The Godfather”)
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

HOW TO END A WAR; PART FIVE OF SIX

I believe the long argument about just what would have been the human cost for an invasion of Japan in 1945 can be settled by knowing that the United States has not had to order a single new Purple Heart decoration to be manufactured for a wounded United States soldier, sailor or airman since 1945; the tolls from Korea, Vietnam and Iraq have not emptied the stockpiles intended for presentation to causalities suffered during an invasion of Japan in 1945-46.
General Douglas MacArthur, eager for glory after having been chosen to lead the invasion of Japan, tried to convince President Truman that it would cost "only" 500,000 causalities. But Truman had his own estimate, produced by former President Herbert Hoover. Hoover, using his old skills as an economist, and backed up by an independent study group, estimated the real cost would be closer to a million American dead and wounded. The U.S. Navy, doing thier own independent estimate came up with the same numbers. And with the example of the death toll from Okinawa and Iwo Jima as supporting evidence, Truman became a believer in Hoover’s numbers. (In my opinion, that deceptive reduction in causality estimates justified Dugout Dug’s immediate recall. Only his political clout with Republicans in Washington saved his command until another day.)
So the horrific casuality estimates for an invasion of Japan, plus the threat posed by the Soviet Union, which was gobbling up Asian real estate, were both factors encouraging Truman’s decison to get out of this war as quickly as possible. This was what was driving America's half hidden compromise to Japan over the emperor. And they were the same factors driving the Japanese decision to accept the compromise. It had taken four years of horrible bloodshed (and the removal of some monumental egos, i.e. Tojo and MacArthur)  for Japanese and American politicians to come to the realization that they had some rather basic things in common.
The U.S. then issued the prompt instruction to the Japanese Government to “…Send emissaries at once…fully empowered to make any arrangements directed by the Supreme Commander….” And, as a sop for MacArthur’s deflated ego over the glorious armageddon he would not get to oversee on the beaches of Kyushu, “…General of the Army Douglas MacArthur has been designated as the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers…” The universe had finally recognized Doug as a supreme being, and that was all that he really wanted – public genuflection. His mother must have been very pleased.
Contact was quickly made with the Japanese government via radio. First, General MacArthur ordered the immediate cessation of hostilities against the allies. He then asked the Japanese what would be a convienent time for the ceasefire to begin. MacArthur's staff designated the radio frequencies to be used in all future communications by the Japanese (13705 and 15965 kilocycles). And when they got to the emissaries journey they were very specific: They should leave Sata Misaki, on the southern tip of Kyushu, “between the hours of 0800 and 1100 Tokyo time” on the morning of August 17th in two Douglas DC-3 type transport planes, painted white with large green crosses on the wings and fuselage. In communications regarding this flight, the code designation "Bataan" will be employed.” It was anticipated the Japanese would get the irony. They did not. But American voters certainly would, and Doug was always thinking about his image before the American voters. The Japanese replied that the Emperor had ordered the ceasefire for all Japanese forces to begin at 1600 hours on August 16, so the Americans did the same.
There were, of course, sparks of flame that refused to die. Sixteen suicide bombers attacked U.S. warships off Japan hours after the ceasefire had been ordered. All were shot down. I wonder if their commander even told the pilots of the ceasefire order? In fact, Tokyo shamefacedly informed MacArthur that members of the royal family were being dispatched to deliver the cease fire order in person to military units. That admission told the Americans volumes about the volatility of the situation in Japan, and probably accounted for the leeway granted to the Japanese in dealing with those who thought the killing should continue.
In fact, this post cease fire incident also highlights how important it was that the two sides were now talking, even by radio, and could thus explain events that previously could only have been interpreted in the most antagonistic way. If they had simply started talking earlier, even while the fighting continued, thousands of lives might have been saved.
Finally, on August 19th, the Japanese were able to notify the Americans that, “The planes carrying the party of representatives have left Kisarazu Airdrome (in Tokyo) on 0718”. Again, there was fear on the Japanese side that a diehard might attempt to disrupt this mission for peace. So the planes took off secretly, with sealed orders. Only after becoming airborne was the flight plan revealed. Following the American instructions as closely as possible, the two aircraft, one a Mitsubishi G4M1-L2 (Betty) transport aircraft, and the other a Mitsubishi G4M1 (Betty) bomber (complete with a few bullet holes) which had been hastily modified for seating the 8 emissaries that flew in each plane. Each aircraft had been painted white with large green crosses on the wings and fuselage. They were known hereafter in Japanese history as the Green Cross Flights.
They reached Sata Misaki on the southern tip of Kyushu at about 11 A.M. They then flew a course of 180 degrees to a point 36 miles North of le Shima Island, off the western coast of Okinawa, and began to circle at about 6,000 feet.
Almost immediately the two aircraft were intercepted by twelve Lockheed P-38 twin tailed fighters, from the 49th fighter group, led by Majors Jack McClure and Wendal Decker. The two Bettys called out to the Americans in English on the prearranged frequency of 6970 kilohertz, repeating the password “Bataan”. Jack McClure responded, “We are Bataan’s watchdog. Follow us.” As the 14 aircraft continued on toward le Shima, the P-38’s began doing acrobatics to thumb their noses at the defeated enemy.
 On the way they were joined by two 2 B-25’s from the 345th bombardment group. The Americans were not going to let any die hard kamikazes or hot headed Americans, interfere with this operation. Jack McClure landed first at Birch Airstrip on la Shima, followed by the two Betty’s.
The first Betty landed safely, but the second made a rough landing on the crushed corral strip and ran off the end of the runway by several feet, damaging the plane's landing gear. Still the strange white machines with large green crosses were down safe, and immediately surrounded by armed guards.
On this tiny island, not much bigger than the airstrip that occupied it, men from both sides of the Pacific, who had spent three long years bathed in violence and fear, who by training and experience despised their enemy, murdered him on sight and viewed him as less than human, would for the first time since Pearl Harbor physically touch each other in peace. One witness remembered the first man out of the Betty wore shorts.
Formalities were quickly performed and 20 minutes later the 8 commissioners were guided up a ladder into the four engine C-54 transport, a luxurious accommodation compared to the war worn Japanese Betty’s.
 The C-54 climbed off the coral and headed for Manila while the Betty’s crewmembers were guided to a holding area.
On the flight to Manila the Japanese delegation was served box lunches with pineapple juice and coffee with sugar. It was a lunch America front line soldiers never saw, but it was common travel meal for senior American officers, and it had the intended effect upon the emissaries. They were impressed with the American determination to transfer their lifestyles even to a war zone. And like the Japanese visitors to my fourth grade class some fifteen years later, the emissaries offered to tip the American crew. They were politely refused.
After arriving in Manila, the delegation was driven through the streets of a still devastated city, to the Rosario Manor hotel, where General McAuthur waited. The Japanese were provided with a Turkey dinner; again an unexpected treat. Meat had been unavailable in Japan for over a year. And, wonder of wonders, the Japanese were each given a can of hard candies.What followed was a further surprise.
Taken next to the Manila city hall, the Japanese found that all the Americans were interested in was solving problems; where were minefields in Tokyo Bay, could they be quickly cleared, could the American Navy help? Where were the American POW camps in Japan, could we drop supplies to them, and where and when could the occupation troops arrive? There were problems, but most were rectified. Nineteen hours later the emissaries left Manila, each with another can of hard candies. It had all be easier than they had worried. The Americans were firm but not gloating. And the emissaries returned with the message that, by and large, a defeated Japan was going to be treated fairly by the Americans. And the war was going to end as quickly as possible, because of it.
But it was after they returned to le Shima, that their mission of peace was almost derailed, right at the very edge of success.
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