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Saturday, November 11, 2017

LAST MAN KILLED

I want to tell you a heck of a story. As the autumn sun ineffectually rose above the eastern horizon, Private First Class Arthur Goodmurphy peered suspiciously across the Canal du Centre (above), which split the tiny village of Ville-sur-Haine, Belgium in two.
At the tender age of twenty-one, Arthur was already a veteran. He’d been part of the slaughter on the Somme in 1916, and a witness to the horror of Passchendaele (above)  in 1917. And now, as the winter of 1918 waited just over the horizon, Arthur could sense that the war was almost over. The Germans were almost done for.
In the last three months the Canadian Corps had driven the German army out of the trenches, those symbols of slaughter and misery, and left them far behind; along with their protective dugouts and tunnels.
The last month of the war, fought above ground, in the open, had seen the worst butchery so far in a war renowned for butchery. What kept Arthur Goodmurphy and his fellow Canadians fighting despite the lengthening causality lists was that they were finally winning. God only knew what kept the Germans fighting.
Just at dawn the Canadian troops had fought their way into the Belgium town of Mons, where the British army had begun the war four long bloody years before. Arthur had been ordered to take four men and advance and see of the Huns were going to make stand to defend the canal. 
With his first sight of the canal, Arthur worried if the footbridge across the canal mined. Was German artillery zeroed in to cut his battalion down as they crossed the bridge? Or had the Germans just kept running this time? 
Arthur felt a long way from the open prairies of his native Saskatchewan. But he knew the way home lay across that canal. A few minutes after 10:30am, Arthur stood up, and said in his round Canadian accent to the young man beside him, “Come on, George.  Let’s have a look.” As one, three men stood up with Arthur, and all four began running toward the waterway.
As they took their first steps in the open the patrol spotted a German machine gun crew setting up in the attic of a house on the far shore. Experienced soldiers, the Canadians knew they had to cross the open ground before the deadly weapon could begin shooting. They dashed the hundred yards across the bridge, their hobnail boots pounding on the boards.
On the other side they ran up the narrow street, up to the door of the first brick house. Without pausing, young Private George Price kicked the door in, and the others followed him. Inside they found Monsieur Stievenart and his son, six year old Omer. Monsieur Stievenart explained that the Germans had just left by the back door. Immediately the four privates moved on to the next house, where they crashed in on an elderly couple, the Lenoirs.  Again they were told the Germans had just run out the back door. But now they could also hear a German machine gun firing somewhere in the village, and bullets chipping off the outside walls of the building they were in.
Arthur realized this meant the patrol had accomplished its goal. With no artillery fire falling, it had to mean the Germans were not going to put up more than a modest defence of the Central Canal.  Now the patrol had to get that information back to headquarters. Time to go back. George Price led the way out the door, and Arthur followed. As they stepped into the street the machine gun fire suddenly stopped. And in that second of silence George turned as if to say something to Arthur. And a single sniper's shot rang out. 
George fell forward, into Arthur’s arms. A growing crimson  red stain quickly spread across George’s chest. The squad struggled to pull their comrade back inside the house. From somewhere a Belgium nurse appeared and began to tend to George. But it was to no effect. 
Private George Lawrence Price -  born on 15 December 1892 in the village of Falmouth, Nova Scotia,  inducted 15 October, 1917 in Moose Jaw,  Saskatchewan, and served in Company "A", 
Saskatchewan North West Regiment, 28th Battalion, 6th Infantry Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force -  died a few moments later at 25 years of age, on the floor of small house on the east bank of the Central Canal in the village of Ville-sur-Haine, central Belgium.  The elderly Lenoirs provided a blanket, which the three remaining Canadians used to carry their fallen comrade back across the canal. Strangely they had to dodge no fire on their ran back across the footbridge.
As they reached the western shore, Private Arthur Goodmurphy  was surprised to be met by Captain Ross, who informed the four men that the firing had stopped because the war had just ended; on the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, of 1918. That made George Price the last man killed in World War One.
It is a great story, and partly true. With his open and innocent face, George Lawrence Price, serial number 256265, was a perfect example of the absent of logic in the 67,000 Canadian sacrifices consumed by this war.  He was officially listed as being killed by a sniper’s bullet at 10:57 A.M., just three minutes before the cease fire was to take effect.
The last of the 1,737,000 Frenchman to die in this war was forty year old  Private First Class Augustin-Joseph Vitorin Trebuchon, who was carrying word of the armistice to the front lines when he was gunned down just across the Meuse River in the Ardennes forest, at about  10:45 A.M.  Private George Edwin Ellison, born in Leeds, England, 40 years before he was killed outside of Mons Belgium,  at 9:30 that morning of 11 November, 1918. And since the village of Mons was also where the British Expeditionary Force first met the German invaders, within sight of Private Ellison's grave is that of John Henry Parr, killed on 21 August, 1941 - the first of 107,000 British dead. 
The last of the 117,000 Americans killed in World War One was 23 year old Private Henry Nicolas John Gunther of Company A, "Baltimore's Own" 313th Regiment, 157th Brigade, 79th Infantry Division.  He had been a Sergeant, but the death and bloody senselessness of war had embittered him, and Henry was demoted back to private after a letter home advising friends to avoid the draft, was intercepted by army censors. At 10:59am Private Henry Gunter, a German American, had charged a German machine gun in the outskirts of the town of Ville-Devant-Chaumont in the Meuse Argonne region of France.  And if accurate, that timing would have made him the last man to officially die in World War One.
Of course none of the grieving families were told at the time their loved one had been the last to die. That would have held them up as an example of the futility and waste of the war. Instead most were told the deaths had occurred the day before, on 10 November.
However, there is also the story of German Lieutenant H.G. Toma, who, after the cease fire, had disarmed his men and was leading them across the lines to surrender, when they were gunned down by American machine gunners who had not yet gotten the order to cease fire, or who just wanted to murder some more Germans.  Lt. Toma was so despondent and incensed at the  slaughter of his men that he shot himself. His suicide would seem to have been a poignant comment on the entire war.   Toma’s death was also said to be the inspiration for the final scene for the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”.
From the cynics view the very idea of a “Last Man” killed in a war that killed 10 million soldiers (and another 10 million civilians) may seem an exercise in romantic futility. In fact, the last day of this war, which lasted just 11 hours, saw almost 11,000 dead - more dead than in the 24 hours of D-Day, in World War Two. 
Worse, as an historian has noted, “The men storming the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944, were risking their lives to win a war. The men who fell on 11 November, 1918, lost their lives in a war that the Allies had already won. Had Marshal Foch (the Allied Supreme Commander) heeded the appeal…to stop hostilities while the talks went on, some sixty-six hundred lives would likely have been saved… So,...the men who died for nothing when they might have known long life, ‘would all be forgotten.”
Well, not entirely. We all die eventually, and we are all eventually forgotten, as our bones and reputations turn to dust. But the death of twenty million should mean something greater than the sum of their individual lives. And in that regard those millions who died in the “…war to end all wars”, require our respect, and an image to keep their memory alive. 
And in that regard the face of George Lawrence Price (above) , staring out from the now distant past, does better many. His is the face of confident innocence: a confident time, familiar and yet distant, innocent, and yet no more innocent than your life today; George Lawrence Price who was, officially, the last Canadian killed in The Great War of 1914-1918. May God rest his soul.


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Friday, November 10, 2017

THE SOUL OF A POLITICIAN

I don't say you have to be crazy to be a politician, but displaying a little screwball logic - “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”  or  "Mexicans...they're rapists" - can solidify your base. On the other hand you don't want voters suspecting you might be completely loony - like Queen of the loonies, Michele Bachmann.  Now, navigating a path between those two alternatives can be tricky at times.
For example, in the 1980's a 5'1” tall combative fire cracker named Ruthann Aron (above) used her obsessive-compulsive drive and her pugnacious combative nature to make a fortune in real estate development.   She didn't make a lot of friends, of course. 
Her urologist husband Barry (above) admitted, “She gets in people’s faces in a very straightforward way and doesn’t tap dance too much.”  
Still the little lady had big dreams, even of becoming a United States Senator.  Ruthann's first attempt resulted in defeat, but that was not unusual. She could have recovered. But then she became the first candidate on record to actually sue her opponent for slander. Equating political mud slinging with slander - that was when Ruthann went from being odd to being out to lunch, And then she went for a full seven course banquet, even moving from erratic to homicidal. Perhaps we should review the details of her story, so any would-be politicians out there can take notes.
Our lesson begins in the “D.C.” adjacent enclave of Montgomery county, Maryland, one of the richest and best educated counties in America. Everybody here, it seems came from some place else – the county was even named for a Revolutionary War hero who never set foot in the state. This is one of those big ponds where little fish either get eaten or grow big  And it has not voted for a Republican Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan retired. And, as Barry Rascovar noted for the Washington Post in mid-August of 1994, “...the last time there was a truly contested GOP Senate primary was in the early 1960s.” It was here that our diminutive mother of two faced her first test when, after just two years on the County Planning Board, Ruthann Aron decided to run for the United States Senate as a Republican.
It was a clever move. The dysfunctional Maryland G.O.P had little hope of beating the popular Democrat, Paul Sarbanes who had held the seat since 1976 and seemed a shoe-in for re-election. But even if she lost the primary, Ruthann could still lay a foundation for a future in politics.
The only drawback was that there were seven candidates vying for the Republican nomination, so Ruthann decided to stand out, to concentrate in attacking her best known opponent, multimillionaire candy heir and ex-Senator from Tennessee, the handsome Bill Brock III.
Ruthann spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars of her own money buying radio ads, in which two “hillbillies” laughed about the way Maryland voters were being fooled by the “tax-raising, carpetbagging, career politician”, Senator Brock.   The ex-Senator chose to not even mention Ruthann in his few radio ads. No since giving the little lady free publicity. Then, a poll released Labor Day weekend found Brock leading, as expected, with just 23% of the vote. And in second place and well within the margin of error for a tie was Ruthann, at 20%.
With just two weeks to go before the primary, Brock decided he could no longer ignore the tiny upstart, and called an afternoon press conference for Thursday, 8 September, 1994, on the Rockville courthouse square. As the Baltimore Sun noted, “The minutes preceding yesterday's news conference had the feel of a mock thriller....About 2 p.m. the (Ruthann) Aron camp entered...About 10 minutes later, Mr. Brock arrived with his contingent of sign-wavers.” The Washington Post observed, “As reporters and photographers soaked up the awkward silence, the two camps stared mutely, and the whirring of (film) cameras was all that was heard.”
According to the Post, the biggest bomb shell at the press conference was dropped by a Brock supporter, former U.S. representative Marjorie Holt, who mentioned “...the aura of fraud and breach of contract that constantly surrounds the other candidate.” Guess who that was. After that,  the press conference devolved into two competing impromptu verbal slug fests,  during which Brock built on Holt's charge. According to the Post, Brock said, “She has been convicted by a jury of fraud, more than once," The Reporters were having a ball,  bouncing "between the two candidates like pin balls.” Brock backed up the theatrical press conference with $220,000 in new radio ads, claiming that Ruthann had been convicted of fraud “more than once”, and had to pay “hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines”. Said his narrator in the ad, "Before Ruthann Aron starts attacking anybody, maybe she ought to look in the mirror.”
On Tuesday, 13 September, Ruthann lost the primary by 50,000 votes. Even worse, a poll released just before the election showed that rather than laying a foundation for her future, her campaign style had left her in a hole by raising her negatives to 16%.  Her reputation was not even helped when Block was easily beaten by the Democrat Sarbanes in the November general election. So, finding herself in a hole, Ruthann decided to keep digging.  She sued Brock for defamation of character. No politician had ever done that before.  I wonder why?
It took over a year for what the Sun called Ruthann's “frivolous lawsuit” to work its way to trial, which it did in early 1996. “Jurors have been schooled”, wrote the Sun, “in subliminal suggestion...the role of Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky in an effective campaign commercial....harked to the tonal difference between a major chord and a slamming jail door, listened again and again to the definition of "Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment" (Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican) and been told that staff members look at members of Congress the way undertakers look at corpses.”
Chief witness for Brock was Arthur G. Kahn, lawyer in a 1984 suit against Ruthann's real estate company, Research Incorporated. Kahn testified his clients had invested in a shopping mall Ruthann was promoting. The mall had never been built, but Ruthann sold the rights to the project to a third party for $200,000. And kept that money. The jury awarded her partners $175,000, which Ruthann paid only after Arthur Kahn agreed to request the judge wipe the verdict from the record. It had been a civil suit, and she had lost, but there was no conviction, and the verdict had been vacated, so technically there was no record, so technically what Brock had said at the press conference had been untrue ...but the jury decided that was splitting hairs, and, besides, my bet is they just did not like Ruthann very much. Who did? They found for Brock. Ruthann had lost again. And now she was really, double-dog-done in politics
And that should have been the end of Ruthann's public activities, unless she had thrown herself into charity work or earned a Nobel Peace Prize or something noble, like saving a sinking bag of kittens.
Instead, on Saturday, 7 June, 1997, Ruthann Aron was arrested for hiring a hit man to murder her old nemesis,  Arthur Kahn. And, as an afterthought, her own husband Doctor Barry Aron (above, right), as well. They had her on tape with an undercover cop spelling out the intended victim's names. They had video of her dropping the down payment off at a hotel. It was an open and shut case. Mostly shut.
Ruthann insisted at both of her trials (the first jury hung, 11-1 for conviction) that she was crazy. And it's hard to disagree with that. The why and whereof is irrelevant for purposes of this discussion. Let's just say she was nuts and let it go by saying the jury found her guilty anyway. At her sentencing Ruthann's lawyer pointed out what her career in politics had cost the little lady. "She's lost her credibility, her reputation, her family as she knew it, her dignity, her lifestyle, her husband, almost everything she had”, he said.  She still got three years in jail with a suspended sentence of ten more years hanging over her head.
Barry the urologist not only filed for divorce, he sued Ruthann for $7.5 million. And she counter-sued him for $24 million. Some people never learn. But it could have been worse. Just before her arrest, Ruthann had been considering a switch to the Democratic party.
After she got out of jail in 2001, Ruth Ann eventually moved to Florida, and changed her last name to Green.  And then she wrote her autobiography, proclaiming her innocence.  The jury didn't buy it, why should anybody else?   And that is the end of the sad story of Ruthann  Aron-Green, The lesson from our little tale of this little lady is that if you sleep with a politician, you may or may not find love, but you will defiantly get screwed. Those people are nuts.
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Thursday, November 09, 2017

PROTECTIVE RETROBUTION.

I don't believe William Walter Grayson (above)  loved war. He used the Spanish American War to escape Nebraska, as any 23 year old might. But because of what he called the “damn bullheadedness” of his commander, sometime after eight on the evening of Saturday, 4 February, 1899, Private Grayson found himself on a three man patrol in the Manilla barrio of Santa Mesa. It was dark, it was hot, it was humid, and it was dangerous. Grayson and his fellow volunteers from Company D suspected they were being used as cannon fodder for the dreams of politicians and generals 10,000 miles away. And they were right.
When most Americans think of the Spanish American War they think of Teddy Roosevelt charging up Cuba's San Juan Hill, and perhaps Commodore George Dewey telling the captain of his flagship, the USS Olympia, “You may fire when ready, Gridley”,  just before sinking the Spanish Asiatic fleet.  But most remain blissfully ignorant of the 14 year long “Philippine Insurgency”, a war in all but name. It was the test case for an unnecessary war sold to Congress as a crises, a protracted war sold and resold to voters as being on the verge of victory, a war conducted “to Christianize and civilize” the one million Filipinos the Americans killed, a war whose American blood was spilled almost in secret by a small professional army, a war in which the use of torture was endorsed by American commanders and politicians, and a war that is rarely remembered in America, despite the lessons it offers about the dangers of arrogance and ignorance.
In the dark, Private Grayson heard voices speaking Spanish and Tagalog. Being born in England and raised in Nebraska, William had no idea what was being said in either language. And the version of subsequent events handed out to the press under his name has no more validity than the stories invented in the name of Private Jessica Lynch during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.. The only part of Grayson's story that seems plausible is that, hearing voices, his patrol “went to ground”,  Grayson (above, posing on the scene, days after the event) called out “Halt!”. The response was a voice calling, “Alto!” Grayson repeated his command, as did his Filipino doppelganger. It seems evident that neither speaker understood the other, so Private Grayson fired into the dark, setting off a general exchange of gunfire that only proved the existence of several thousand frightened, half trained young men on both sides. American casualties were two men from a South Dakota company, probably killed by friendly fire. Filipino dead were uncounted.
Washington's favorite joke about President William McKinley (above, right) was that his mind was like his bed – every morning someone had to make it up for him, before he could use it. But once his mind had been made up by the “Manifest Destiny” wing of his cabinet, he endorsed it, with his “Benevolent Assimilation” policy, intended, he said, “to win the confidence, respect, and affection of...the Philippines....” 
However the "young, handsome, patriotic, and brave."Filipino leader Emilo Aguinaldo, having helped the Americans throw out the Spanish, did not like the idea of “assimilation” by anybody. In June of 1898 elections were held for the First Philippine Republic and Aguinaldo was named its first President. In response the Americans told the democratically elected Filipino President his soldiers would be fired upon if they tried to enter the capital of their new country. And that was what all the shooting was about on 4 February.
The American General Elwell Otis rejected negotiations with President Aguinaldo, saying  “fighting, having begun, must go on to the grim end.” This Second Battle of Manila, as it was called, resulted in the Filipino line being smashed, at a cost of 55 American dead. Officially, there were 238 Filipino dead, but a British witness disagreed:. “This is not war; it is simply massacre and murderous butchery." Only one Filipino soldier in three had a gun. The Americans soldiers, who referred to their opponents as “niggers” and “savages”, piled the Filipino dead into breastworks, and called the battle a “quail shoot”. One wrote home that “It was more fun than shooting turkeys.”
The open fighting pushed the vote, two days later in the American Senate, to ratify the Paris Treaty selling the Philippians to America for $20 million,  by one slim vote over the 2/3 majority the Constitution required. Teddy Roosevelt wrote, “I am more grateful than I can say....partly to the Filipinos. They just pulled the treaty through for us.” America was now committed to a war of conquest in east Asia, conducted so far by men like Private Grayson.
On 31 March, 1899, Private William Grayson was hospitalized, suffering from malaria and exhaustion, stomach upset (ulcers) and over exertion – in, short combat fatigue. When he was released two months later he was reassigned as a cook, out of combat. And then in July Grayson and all the volunteers were shipped home for discharge. Grayson left the service in San Francisco, where, on 10 October of 1899, he married Clara Francis Peters. He found work as a house painter and then an undertaker, and never sought to take advantage of his reputation as the man who started a war.
Throughout the summer of 1899, Otis's second in command, General Arthur MacArthur,  led 21,000 professional soldiers in a brutal drive north across Luzon. The American Red Cross noted “the determination of our soldiers to kill every native in sight”. Americans took no prisoners, and everyone, men, women and children, not actively working for the Americans was treated as an enemy combatant. 
Entire villages were murdered. In November, at Otis' hint, the American government declared the “insurection” was over. Victory parades were held. But many of the professionals had doubts. To McArthur's subordinate, General Shafter,  it was a matter not of morality, but practicality. He wrote, “It may be necessary to kill half the Filipinos in order that the remaining half ...may be advanced to a higher plane of life than their present semi-barbarous state affords."  In other words, we were killing them for their own good.
By the start of 1900, General Otis was forced to ask Washington for more men. That summer, with American troop levels secretly reaching 75,000,  Otis was relieved by General McArthur, who decided to change strategies. Just as the Americans in 2005 judged the capture of Saddam Hussein would end the rebellion, the Americans now concentrated on capturing President Aguinaldo. Both assumptions, made a century apart, were wrong.
The American press were so controlled that during the summer and fall of 1900, it was the soldier's letters home that broke the story of American atrocities against the Filipino people. "On Thursday, March 29th ... eighteen of my company killed seventy-five nigger bolomen and ten of the nigger gunners .... When we find one who is not dead, we have bayonets …" 
Lieutenant Grover Flint wrote home to describe the standard method of obtaining information. “A man is thrown down on his back...and then water is poured onto his face down his throat and nose from a jar; and that is kept up until the man gives some sign or becomes unconscious...His sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown.”
In April, 1901 President Aguinaldo was finally captured. But even after the prisoner signed a loyalty oath to the Americans, the ambushes and acts of sabotage continued, as did the brutal American responses . General McArthur took the hint and resigned, returning to a hero's welcome, and to assure the voters that operations in the Philippians were : "the most legitimate and humane war ever conducted on the face of the earth.”   
It was possible to claim American moral superiority  because American atrocities not mentioned in official American reports, did not officially happen.  However some leaked through. It was under General Adna Chaffee,  that the American civilian governor of Abra Province described the new “depopulation campaign”:  Residents in entire regions were ordered into “concentration camps”. Those who did not submit were assumed to be rebels. “Whole villages had been burned, storehouses and crops had been destroyed and the entire province was...devoid of food.”  Said an anonymous American congressman after a visit, “You never hear of any disturbances in Northern Luzon, because there isn't anybody there to rebel.” . The process was given the military title, “protective retribution.”'
The war would continue, year after year, atrocity after atrocity, declaration of victory after empty declaration.  In April of 1902 the Washington Post was driven to suggest, “ The fourth and final termination of hostilities two years ago....serves only to confirm our estimation...A bad thing cannot be killed too often.” Desperate to end the war,  General “Howlin' Jake Smith ordered his men to kill “Everything over the age of ten...Kill and burn, kill and burn...(this is) no time to take prisoners.” 
Read one report to headquarters, “The 18th regulars...under orders to burn every town... left a strip of land 60 miles wide from one end of the island to the other, over which the traditional crow could not have flown without provision.” A letter from a participant, published in the New York World, detailed what that meant, ending with the story of “...a mother with a babe at her breast and two young children at her side...feared to leave her home which had just been fired...She faced the flames with her children, and not a hand was raised to save her or the little ones. They perished miserably...She feared the American soldiers, however, worse than the devouring flames.”
President Roosevelt declared victory, again, on 4 July, 1902. And again, parades were held to celebrate the victory (above)  But, again,  in March of 1903, attacks against Americans and their native allies had so flared up that 300,000 Filipinos were forced at gun point back into concentration camps. In August of 1904 the American governor of Samar was asking for more soldiers. By 1907 those additional troops were still required. The last rebel leader, whose capture was supposed to end the war, was executed in 1912.  But the war went on, if at a reduced level, until the Japanese invasion in 1942. 
Meanwhile, the forgotten William Grayson (above) had come upon hard times. By 1914, the malaria and ulcers he suffered from had progressed to vomiting blood, and he was forced to apply for a pension. It was denied.  Said the bureaucrats at the Veterans Bureau , “no pecuniary awards are made by the government for extraordinary bravery in action.” . But Grayson could no longer work and was forced on public relief. Finally, after eight years of shabby treatment by the nation he fought for, whose empire he sacrificed his youth for,  in 1922 William Grayson was finally granted a small pension. The man who fired the first shot used to justify America's grab at an empire, died worn out and worn down, at the age of 64, on 20 March, 1941, in the Veterans Hospital in San Francisco.
Somethings never change.

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