AUGUST   2020


Friday, April 20, 2012


I don't know of any better way to describe Ronald Finney, than to say he was a man susceptible to temptation. He had the advantage of being raised in the “Prairie Hay Capital of the World,” the flat-lands of Woodson county, Kansas, where temptations were few and far between. If you sought more drama than the wheat fields offered, or a little “cultural stimulation”, you had to travel the 100 miles due south to Tulsa, or 50 miles due north to Topeka, or the 60 miles due west to Wichita. Certainly Neosho Falls, the counties' largest town, must have had a seedy side, but with less than 20,000 citizens in 1900, most of whom worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, the local cast available for seductions was limited indeed. Yes, Ronald was lucky to be born into a region that prided itself on its lack of temptation. But Ronald had the disadvantage to be the son of Warren W. Finney, who was perfectly capable of generating all the temptation his son would ever need.
W.W. Finney was a man of vision and ambition. Just after dropping out of college, in 1895, he had organized the Neosho Falls Telephone Company. By the turn of the century W.W. had gotten married (to Mabel Tucker), produced a son and heir (Ronald) and a daughter (Mary Jane), had been elected mayor of Neosho Falls (above) and to one term in the state legislature, and had risen to a position of leadership in the local Congregational Church. Then in 1905, W.W. sold his Neosho phone company and bought another in Emporia, Kansas, Lyon county. Moving to that town, by 1920, he had pieced together a conglomeration of small community telephone companies, and had achieved such success that he could afford to make the mistake of starting to buy banks.
First there was the Farmers State Bank at Neosho Falls, then the Neosho Falls State Bank, and then the Fidelity State and Savings Bank at Emporia and finally the Bank of Eureka, Kansas. The banks gave W.W. access to foreclosures, which allowed him to become a gentleman farmer, stocking his expanding acreage with prize cattle and breeding horses. He even acquired a few oil wells in the nearby Flint Hills, which led to an endless string of fast cars. His parties in the family's 25 room mansion outside of Emporia or at the Emporia Country Club became legendary - at least in rural Kansas. Attendees included a veritable who's-who of Kansas politicians and power brokers. And W.W.'s life became even more perfect in 1921, when, at the age of 21, Ronald graduated from Cornell University, and went to work in his father's banks.
Ronald Finney worked at various posts for his father for most of the decade. And if there were rumors that he was not the brightest penny in the bunch, he was a hard worker, and like his father he was known about Lyon county as a “swell”. It was after all the “roaring twenties”, and although Kansas had inspired national prohibition, the whole country had merely traded alcohol intoxication for getting drunk on paper profits; Kansas too. And so it was to be expected that in 1928 young Ronald (he was now 30) would approach his father with a request. Could he see what he could make with the banks' bond business? After all, Ronald was not selling high flying risky corporate bonds, but dull practical municipal bonds, for schools and city water systems and hospitals and city offices. Daddy said yes. How could he have said no?
In 1928 Ronald opened an office in a suit at the Jayhawk Hotel in the state capital of Topeka, to tend to his contacts with the state's political structure. And his hard work backing, buying and selling bonds paid off very well. Back in Emporia he built his own mansion, complete with a lighted tennis court. He collected fast cars, just like W.W., but then Ronald went his father one better by buying an airplane. On one of his farms he raised Arabian thoroughbreds. He did so well, he hardly noticed the depression that was gripping the country.
In one of his schemes, Ronald invested in bonds for Hinsdale county, Colorado. Why Ronald chose to invest in this isolated, inaccessible unpopulated mining region deep in the Rocky Mountains was never clear, but he urged his friends and business partners to follow his example. He built luxury cabins in the midst of an abandoned mining camp, and talked about the place as an exclusive resort. But in 1933 Colorado authorities charged Ronald and several members of the county government with fraud. It seemed Ronald had bought up the counties' bonds at a discount, paying as little as thirty cents on the dollar, expecting to sell them back to the county at full face value. A trial date was set for April 11, 1934. But that was in Colorado, where morality was well known to be compromised by greed. It was so unlike the good solid bedrock business practices of dependably boring Kansas.
In early August, as the part of Roosevelt's New Deal regulation of the nation's banking system, a Federal bank examiner descended upon the National Bank of Topeka, Kansas. There he found something odd in the numbers for the Kansas State School Fund Commission. They did not add up. The examiner notified the U.S. District Attorney, who called up the State Treasurer Tom Boyd, and asked if he could please physically examine the School bonds held in the State's vaults. To his surprise, Mr. Boyd said no. Doing the politically correct thing, the D.A. notified the Kansas Governor, and Tom Boyd's boss, Republican Alf Landon. Governor Landon immediately issued an executive order opening the vaults for the Federal examiners.
It took them less than forty minutes to find the bonds in question – twice. The first set were in the files, where they were supposed to be. The second set, clear forgeries and copies of the first, were stacked near the door; $329,000 worth of bonds, twice. Eventually the total of forged copies and real bonds used as collateral for  bank loans, would be figured at $840,000. Jumping to the logical conclusion, Governor Landon ordered the Kansas National Guard to take possession of the vault. Then he ordered the immediate arrest of Treasurer Tom Boyd, and the man who had sold both sets of bonds for the state, originals and forgeries -  Ronald Finney.
Ronald turned himself over to police in the state capital the next day. He was driven to Topeka by W.W., who insisted his son was honest. The patriarch told reporters “His transactions from the first of the year showed a profit in excess of $200,000, according to information given me by his auditors.” The old businessman told Governor Landon, “I am not going to let (my) bank be closed. I have run it for 20 years.” The Governor sent the old man back home to Emporia, with several state bank examiners in tow.
This time it took a little longer, but by morning examiners at the Fidelity State and Savings Bank had discovered another $600,000 in fake state and municipal bonds. One set had been handed over to the state to hold as collateral for loans to the bank, while the second, forged set, signed by one sad sack employee, Leland Caldwell, were handed over to a Chicago brokerage house as collateral for even more loans. As long as the bonds were never sold, the were never reported, and nobody had noticed there were two of each of them, until now. In fact, just weeks earlier, Ronald had told Tom Boyd the truth, or part of it anyway. But instead of turning him in, Boyd had handed Roland a state check for $150,000, to cover his accounts and avoid a collapse. The total fraud reached $1.5 million in 1934 - equal to $250 million today. It was impressive scam for a couple of hay seeds, not versed in the moral laxity required to be a big city politician. Said W.W., “I am heart broken.”
Three banks were closed because of the scandal. A Chicago brokerage house went bankrupt. And in  Kansas' moral vision of the universe, someone had to pay. Both Attorney General Boyd and State Auditor Will French, were impeached. The state Senate failed to convict either of them. But AG Boyd was not so lucky before a Federal jury. He was sentenced for 4 to 10 years in Federal prison. And on November 9, 1934 W.W. was sentenced to from 36 to 600 years in prison. On the day he was supposed to begin his sentence, the old man drove out to a fishing cabin on the Neosho River and put a bullet in his brain.
Ronald cut a deal with the prosecutors for fifteen years on 31 counts. But rumor has it that the night before sentencing the judge got a phone call from Governor Alf Landon, who was up for re-election that year and was considering a run against Roosevelt in 1936. “Hammer him”, ordered Landon. The next morning Judge Paul Heinz announced he was not going along with the plea deal. “Would it make any difference as to your guilt or innocence?” he asked. Ronald responded, “My rights have been disregarded in having me plead guilty under an agreement that was not kept.” The Judge ignored his argument and sentenced Roland to from 31 to 635 years in prison.
In jail Ronald took courses in creative writing (like he needed that), and after serving just 12 years of his 635 year sentence, he was released in February of 1945. He made a comfortable living writing for trade journals and spent the last years of his life between summers in Oregon and winters in St. Petersburg, Florida. He died in the humid Gulf air of acute bronchitis and emphysema in 1961. He was 63 years old.
The last half of his life had been free from any major legal or moral transgression. And half a good life is a reasonable achievement for a human being so susceptible to temptation.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I remind you that landscape is history, and as proof I offer the green “ponder lands” 30 miles south of the North Sea coast, and 10 miles north of Lilli, France. Politically this is Belgium, but morally it is a lonely landscape, described by a 21st century writer as “...bleakness...dismal (where) winds howl across flat fields and whip through villages, wrapping around church steeples and belfries” To the English of a certain generation this will always be “Wipers”, a poor pronunciation of the French “Ypres” (Ipres). Here over four horrible years in the second decade of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of mostly young men from Germany and the British Empire endured the unendurable, day after miserable day engaged in static trench warfare. So many are buried here in marked and unmarked graves that their bones make up no small portion of the soil. And many were even buried alive.
A trench in the Great War meant survival, from artillery shells and machine gun fire. But here in the “le plat plays”, the 'flat country' in the local Flemish dialect, any digging or shelling uncovered a clinging, grasping yellowish brown clay, perpetually dripping with water. It coated everything it touched. It added pounds to boots, and subtracted warmth from soaked wool uniforms.
At the slightest shower, trenches and “dugouts” flooded. Those who existed here fought rats grown fat on the corpses that littered no-man's-land between the trenches, suffered from fungus inspired trench foot, trench mouth, and dysentery, cholera and typhus. The Germans had it marginally better, because they were ensconced on the 'high ground' of the Messines-Ypress Ridge, all of thirty feet above the worst of it. Unable to dig too deep, the Germans built concrete pill boxes above the ground. The British soldiers, without benefit of such amenities, endured not only the constant damp and the clay, but having German snipers and artillery observers overlooking their every move.
So it was the British who were were forced to explore the terrain below ground. Test drills discovered the yellow clay was waterlogged because about 70 feet further down was an impervious layer of hard brown clay, which trapped the ground water above it. But 30 dry feet below that was a soft blue clay, perfect for tunneling. Early in 1915 recruiters went out to the mining districts of Britain, Canada and Australia, looking for volunteers.
One company of 600 miners signed up on a Thursday morning in Yorkshire, and was doing preliminary digging the following Wednesday afternoon in Flanders. In all, 33 companies were formed from three continents, but the procedures were the same at all 21 tunnels begun west and south of the Messines ridge. First, about a quarter- mile behind the front, a large steel conduit (above) was driven straight down for fifty feet. Using this as a shield against the oozing yellow muck, the miners then dug straight down to the blue clay. A gallery was then cleared at the bottom of the shaft and a winch lift installed to the surface. Then, divided into four to eight man teams, each company of royal engineers would begin to tunnel toward the German trenches.
The “Kicker” would lay on his back, supported at an angle by a heavy board. Using his feet and legs, he would thrust a spade into the clay, slicing away about 9 inches with each push. A “Bagger” would shove the clumps into burlap sacks and pile them atop a rubber wheeled trolley, which a pair of “Tammers” would push down rails toward the entrance Seventy bags were required for every foot of tunnel dug. At the gallery the bags would be winched to the surface, where every night regular army work teams removed the clay for careful disposal. German aircraft kept watch for dry clay on the surface, as this was proof of tunneling.
The trolley returned with pre-cut wooden bracing in 9 inch sections. To avoid the sounds hammering, the bracing was designed to be held in place by the tendency of the blue clay to swell on exposure to the air. Each crew worked a 6 to 12 hour shift at the face, with 8 hours off. The crews then rotated to operating and repairing the air and water pumps and the winches. Bunk rooms were carved off the tunnel shafts. Underground the miners were reasonably safe from all but the heaviest German shells, but the tension and claustrophobia insured that every four days the entire company had to be rotated behind the lines, one hour of Rest and Recovery for every sixteen hours spent in the tunnels.
The tunnels were dark, cold and often flooded with ice cold water. Over one six week period one mining company had 12 men killed by methane and carbon dioxide gas, with 28 sent to hospital and another 60 treated in the unit. Besides the constant threat of cave-ins, the exhausted men suffered all of the usual infections of trench warfare plus those caused by breathing stale air. A surface soldier, artilleryman Charles Brett, with the 47th London Division, observed that “When the tunnellers emerged above ground they could easily be distinguished by their poor pallid faces. We who lived, or died,...daily subject to bombing, shelling or sniping, pitied them from the bottom of our hearts”
One tunnel was abandoned after it collapsed under a German counter-mine, and it was decided three others would not be used because of various problems. But after two years of digging, by May of 1917, over a million pounds of high explosives were packed into 17 tunnels – – about 40,000 pounds in each – directly under the German trenches atop the Messenes Ridge. .
The pre-assault bombardment began on Tuesday, May 8th and continued for two weeks. On Wednesday, May 23, it became heavier, the artillery increased to 2,300 guns So heavy was the bombardment - 3.5 million shells a week - that German front line troops were rotated back for relief every other day. Almost 90% of the German artillery behind the Messnes Ridge was destroyed under this bombardment. The night before the grand assault, commanding British General Plummer told his staff, “Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography.”
At 2:50 in the morning, Thursday June 7th the British artillery barrage suddenly ceased. The silence that crashed over the trenches was deafening. German infantry raced to their weapons in the trenches. They were in luck, as at this precise moment, the positions were being relieved, and the trenches were filled with twice as many defenders as usual. At 3:00 A.M. a white star shell exploded above the German positions, illuminating the stark landscape. And then at 3:10 A.M., in the words of one tunneler, “All hell broke loose”.
The blasts were clearly heard a hundred miles away in London. The tunneler continued, “In the pale light it appeared as if the whole enemy line had begun to dance, then, one after another, huge tongues of flame shot hundreds of feet into the air, followed by dense columns of smoke, which flattened out at the top like gigantic mushrooms...The whole scene was majestic in its awfulness.” And it all happened over a period of just 30 seconds.
The largest mine, labeled as “Spanbroekmolen” and planted 88 feet below ground level, left a crater 40 feet deep and 280 feet in diameter. Before the eyes of Second Lieutenant J.W. Naylor, “The earth seemed to tear apart...The whole ground went up and came down again. It was like a huge mushroom.” And Private John Rea Laister wrote after the war, “Arms, legs, trees, bricks coming down all over the place....I thought, 'I wonder how many poor buggers, have gone up with that lot'.”
The artillery began an immediate walking barrage, with the advancing infantry right behind. By 10:00 that morning all the first day's objectives had been achieved. And for the first (and only) time in World War One, the defense suffered more causalities than the attackers. British casualties were 24,564, killed, wounded and missing.
They captured 7,354 German soldiers, with perhaps another 4-5,000 Germans missing and presumed dead in the blasts, and 23,000 wounded. The British front line advanced three miles and dug into their new positions, in front of yet another line of German trenches, a line which would not be breached until late in 1918. On the Western front in World War One, this “Bite and Hold” at Messenes Ridge was considered a major success.
For all the effort and sacrifice, there were no more large scale “Mining Campaigns” in World War One. No where else did the combination of soil and static positions combine to make it a viable option. And with time, the effort and sacrifice was largely forgotten – at least until Friday, June 17, 1955, when a bolt of lightening struck a telephone pole placed directly above one of the three unused and abandoned mines, setting it off. Luckily, the only causality was a single cow.
That blast revived interest in the mining operations, and the last unexploded mine was finally located midway though the first decade of the 21st century, beneath a placid farm with the name of La Basee Cour.  Sixty year old farmer Roger Mahieu, insists he is not worried about the 22 tons of explosives buried 80 feet under his house. “It's been there all that time, why should it decide to blow up now?”
Except,  the same thing was said about the outbreak of World War One.
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Sunday, April 15, 2012


I believe the long argument about just what would have been the human cost for an invasion of Japan 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, Iraq and Afghanistan 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 American 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 an 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. Both issues should have been predictable, but they had been ignored until they became a reality. And it was this double reality that was now driving America's half hidden compromise with 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 for Japanese and American politicians to come to the realization that they had some rather basic goals in common- ending the loss of the loss of life, and limiting Soviet incursion into Asia.
The U.S. then issued prompt instructions 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 convenient 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 die hard 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.
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 crew members 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 MacArthur 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 been 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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