Monthly Archives: October 2012

Cuban Missile Crisis Analyzed Fifty Years Later

Graham Allison for Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 2012:

Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis, many people find it hard to believe that the confrontation could have pushed the US and Soviet Union to nuclear war. Robert F. Kennedy’s newly released papers remind us why this was the most dangerous moment in recorded history.

“My fellow Americans, with a heavy heart, and in necessary fulfillment of my oath of office, I have ordered – and the United States Air Force has now carried out – military operations with conventional weapons only, to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba.”

These are the words President Kennedy almost delivered in October 1962 announcing what could have been World War III. This draft speech is among several thousand drafts, letters, and handwritten notes from Robert F. Kennedy’s personal files that have just last week been opened at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Robert Kennedy’s writings make vivid how close we came to the brink of war. Had President Kennedy been forced to choose a response in the first 48 hours after an American spy plane discovered the Soviets sneaking nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba, RFK had no doubt that his brother would have chosen an air strike against the missile sites, followed by an invasion. As he wrote in his notes while discussing this option, “if we go in, we go in hard.”

Had the United States launched an airstrike and invaded Cuba, the Soviet commander on the scene would almost certainly have responded with about 100 tactical nuclear weapons under his control – tactical nuclear weapons JFK did not even know were on the island. The US would have felt compelled to respond in kind triggering an escalation to nuclear Armageddon. As RFK later recalled, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council advising JFK during the crisis was full of “bright, able dedicated people, all of whom had the greatest affection for the US, [but] if six of them had been President…the world might have been blown up”.

Instead of the air strike, JFK initially chose to impose a naval blockade on further arms shipments to Cuba. Yet as the Soviets rushed to complete construction of missiles already in Cuba so that they could be fired against American cities, US planning for the air strike was refined.
As Soviet ships approached the blockade line on Oct. 24, 1962, Robert Kennedy wrote that “the danger and concern that we all felt hung like a cloud over us all…I think these few minutes were the time of greatest worry by the President. His hands went up to his face and covered his mouth and he closed his fist…I felt on the edge of a precipice and it was as if there was no way off.”
While the Soviet ships turned around rather than challenge the blockade, the window for US action to prevent the missiles in Cuba from becoming fully operational was rapidly closing. At the State Department on Oct. 26, RFK scribbled down Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s insistence that after an airstrike against the missile sites, an “invasion must follow!!” The plan called for 500 bombing sorties against Cuba followed by an invasion force of 90,000 American soldiers.

As both sides moved military pieces on the chessboard toward the precipice of nuclear war, both President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev also intensified the search for an alternative. In a private letter from Khrushchev to JFK that arrived on Oct. 26, Khrushchev admonished Kennedy not to “pull on the end of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied.” RFK’s notes highlighted that phrase.

At the final hour, both leaders made hard choices. They included concessions that neither man would have been willing to countenance until coming face to face with the real prospect that they could be principal actors in a process that would lead to sudden death for hundreds of millions of people. The president chose his brother as the emissary to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to convey a last and final offer. Khrushchev accepted those terms and the crisis ended without war. In RFK’s notes preparing for his fateful meetings with Ambassador Dobrynin, he stressed that “the purpose to talking…was to emphasize danger.”

What resolved the crisis was an imaginative combination of public deal, private ultimatum, and secret sweetener. If Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles, the US would pledge not to invade Cuba. Privately, RFK warned that unless Khrushchev announced within 24 hours that the missiles would be withdrawn, the US would act unilaterally to eliminate them. Secretly, he said that while there could be no official deal promising such, if the Soviet missiles were withdrawn from Cuba, within six months US missiles in Turkey would be gone.

The further away from those 13 days we get, the harder it is for many people to believe that a confrontation over missiles in Cuba or Turkey could have pushed the United States and the Soviet Union to nuclear war. RFK’s papers allow us to peer over his shoulder in the rush of events to remind us why historians agree that this was indeed the most dangerous moment in recorded history.


Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

Letters Sent from Nazi Labor Camp Delivered Seventy Years Later

Article by Claudine Zap for The Lookout, October 12, 2012:

This love story involves a man sent to a Nazi labor camp in World War II, his family back in France, and an antique letter collector—and die-hard romantic—in the United States who reunited the lost notes with the family.

Here’s the story: Marcel Heuzé, a French tool worker, was deported to a German work camp in 1942 during the war. He built engines, armored vehicles and tanks at the Daimler-Benz factory, from where he sent letters back home to his wife and three daughters.

Many apparently never made it to their intended recipients, probably intercepted by German censors. By chance, an American, Carolyn Porter, spotted the French missives in an antiques store in Minnesota. What caught her eye were the French terms of endearment—so she bought the batch and had them translated.

According to the Telegraph, the amateur sleuth, with the help of a genealogist, tracked down Heuzé’s family, contacted them and turned over the letters to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Heuzé, who was released from the camp in 1944 and returned to his family, died 20 years ago.

Tiffanie Raux, 24, Heuzé’s great-granddaughter, said the family was grateful to Porter for her “altruistic” gesture. “It’s very American,” she said. “I’m not sure people in France would have gone to all that trouble.”

For her part, Porter told the publication she had hoped for a happy ending, which she herself delivered.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

WWI Soldier’s Bible Found and Returned

Nick Enoch for, October 10, 2012:

A fallen war hero’s Bible which he had in his breast pocket when he was killed in World War One has been reunited with his family – by a stranger who spent 35 years tracking them down.

Private George Ford, who served in the Sherwood Foresters, was shot dead during the Battle of the Somme in 1918 – aged just 20.

His bloodied uniform and all his belongings, including the Bible, were sent back to his distraught family in Nottingham and placed in an attic for safe keeping.
The black leather-bound book stayed in the box gathering dust for 59 years until it was discovered by builder Ken Greensitt who found it while renovating the home in 1977.

Mr Greensitt, 40, decided to give the Bible – which contains an inscription on the inside cover urging the brave solider to ‘put his faith in God’ – to his nine-year-old son Allan.

Allan kept the Bible safe and when he was an adult vowed to track down Pte Ford’s relatives and return it to them.

Over the next 35 years Allan, using birth, marriage and death certificates, painstakingly built up Pte Ford’s family tree and even contacted the Sherwood Foresters for help.

But his biggest breakthrough came after he scoured the 1911 census when it became available last year.

After Pte Ford (above), who served in the Sherwood Foresters, was shot dead, his bloodied uniform and all his belongings – including the Bible – were sent back to his distraught family in Nottingham and placed in an attic for safe keeping

The black leather-bound book stayed in the box gathering dust for 59 years until it was discovered by builder Ken Greensitt who found it while renovating the home in 1977

Incredibly, Allan managed to find an address for Pte Ford’s deceased sister’s sons George and Larry Hanes, now 83 and 76, who lived in Arnold, Nottinghamshire.
He wrote to the brothers who confirmed their uncle was the dead soldier.

On Monday, Allan travelled 127 miles from his home in Middlesbrough to meet Pte Ford’s family and give them their late uncle’s treasured Bible – 95 years since his death.

An emotional George, named after his beloved uncle whom he never met, said yesterday: ‘You can’t put into words how proud it makes you feel.

Pte Ford’s nephew, also called George (above) is seen reunited with the family heirloom

Ken Greensitt gave the Bible to his then nine-year-old son Allan who tracked down George’s family many years later.

‘I was named after my uncle George. My mum – George’s sister – never really got over his death so I think giving me his name was important for her to feel close to him.
‘Having his Bible in my hands is a really special moment for me and Larry.

‘Shivers went down my spine when it was handed to me. I’ve hardly let go of it since.

‘It is remarkable for the Bible to turn up, and when it was put into my hand I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless.

‘I can’t quite believe this was with him while he was in combat – while he was in the trenches, he had this with him and when he was tragically killed.

‘It must have had great sentimental value for him and it must have kept him going in the heat of battle.

‘I’m going to pass this family heirloom on to my kids and keep it in the family. It’s such a great piece of history.

Allan, a police dispatch worker, said: ‘I only discovered through internet searches in April this year that Mr Ford died at the Somme (file photo, above) in January 1918’

‘Also, it’s incredible how much research Allan has done and the effort he has put in to find us.’

Dedicated Allan says his achievement was tinged with a hint of sadness after only learning that Pte Ford had not made it home from the Great War in April this year.
He said he had one day envisaged handing over the bible to Pte Ford’s grandchildren – in the hope that he made it safely back from battle and started a family of his own.

Because of the extensive research Allan had undertaken, he was able to reveal the whereabouts of Pte Ford’s grave – something previously unbeknown to George and Larry.

The family now plan to visit his grave at Fins British Cemetery, in the district of Sorel Le Grand, in the Somme region of France.

Due to Allan’s research, he was able to reveal the whereabouts of Pte Ford’s grave – something previously unbeknown to his nephews George and Larry. Pictured, George’s memorial card

The family now plan to visit his grave at Fins British Cemetery, in the district of Sorel Le Grand, in the Somme region of France

Yesterday, married father-of-two Allan, a police dispatch worker, said: ‘I only discovered through internet searches in April this year that Mr Ford died at the Somme in January 1918.

‘He didn’t make it home. This really saddened me because his Bible did. I always hoped he came home and lived to an old age, had a wife and lots of children.
‘I could always see myself handing over the Bible to his grandchildren.

‘But when I found this out, it intensified my need to find family and relatives.’
He said he had been offered ‘significant sums’ of money for the book but refused to part with it, as he believed it belonged with the soldier’s family.

He added: ‘I was nine years old when I received the Bible, so it was one of my oldest possessions.

‘I’ve been offered thousands of pounds for it by historians but I’ve never wanted to sell it on.

‘I’ve always thought myself as the custodian of it – not the owner. But there was obviously a great sentimental value to it as it was given to me by my late father.

‘It was an emotional experience handing over the Bible.

‘But it’s back where it belongs now – and that is the most important thing.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

Civil War Exhibit at Antietam

Alicia Notarianni for, October 6, 2012:

During October 150 years ago, people lined the street outside a New York gallery to see something the likes of which they had never seen before.

Inside were images of corpses captured just moments after battle hundreds of miles away at a place called Antietam. Photographer Alexander Gardner had shot the merciless photos about a month earlier for gallery owner Matthew Brady.

Reproductions of those portraits are among the artifacts anchoring the exhibit “Bringing the Story of War to Our Doorsteps,” which opened Saturday at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum at Antietam National Battlefield.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Henry Allen spoke at the event. About 25 visitors packed a small room to hear him speak, and others streamed in steadily before and following the lecture.

Allen addressed the public’s callous fascination with such chilling, grisly pictures, both 150 years ago and now, by referencing the World War II novel “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller. He spoke of “Snowden’s secret,” explaining that Snowden was a character in the novel who suffered a hideous death. The book offers an existential view that “man is matter” doomed to be buried and rot.

“Are we all depressed enough yet? There will be psychiatric counseling after the talk,” Allen joked.

Allen said humans spend their lives trying to dodge death and believe in an afterlife.

“We look at these bloated, bloody bodies, but we don’t see. Lord knows we may not want to,” he said. “We build cemeteries like gardens and memorialize bravery, loyalty, sacrifice — all great virtues — because we must give meaning to life. A meaning that is utterly absent from these pictures.”

Exhibit director Robert Kozak of the Frederick County Civil War Roundtable said he has dreamed of establishing such a display since he first came across the images years ago as a college student and Civil War buff.

“When I first saw them, I just said, ‘Wow.’ They are just almost revolting,” he said.

Kozak figured the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam would be his “one shot” to get funding to see the exhibit through. He secured a grant from the Maryland Heritage Authority.

The exhibit title, “Bringing the Story of the War to Our Doorsteps,” is a play on a statement from an October 1862 New York Times piece. In it, the writer states that gallery owner Brady opened to viewers the depths of the horror of war. Copies of the editorial were available at the Pry House.

“If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it,” the piece says.

Reproduction photos provided by the Library of Congress line one room of the exhibit. A glass case contains original direct contact prints owned by Bob Zeller, president of The Center for Civil War Photography and a chief adviser for the exhibit.

Among the prints are stereoviews, or pictures taken by a two-lens camera, and a wooden, hand-held viewer that causes the images to appear in 3-D. Stereoviews had just become popular in home entertainment several years before the war, Zeller said.

People who had viewed landmarks such as Niagara Falls and the Adirondacks began collecting Gardner’s horrific mass-marketed images instead. Also on display is a large monitor, 3-D slideshow of Gardner’s images.

Zeller said a common myth persists that Gardner posed bodies of the dead to create more poignant images. While there is agreement among most historians that one body was moved in one photo shot at Gettysburg, and that props such as rifles and canteens were added in a few instances, Zeller is adamant that the depictions are untainted.

“There is no evidence that any of these bodies were touched,” he said.

“Bringing the Story of War to Our Doorsteps” will be at the Pry House at least until Dec. 1, Kozak said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

WWII Exhibition opens at NY Historical Society

Edward Rothstein for the NYTimes, October 4, 2012:

Ever wonder why was it was called the Manhattan Project? Because that is where the top-secret initiative began before it migrated to Los Alamos, N.M., and concluded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It could even have been called the Morningside Heights Project, since it was propelled by a pioneering cyclotron at Columbia University. We see a portion of that tubular antique in a show at the New-York Historical Society, just past a vintage Philco radio that once delivered broadcasts like the one we hear of Edward R. Murrow reporting on the Blitz.

This illuminating new exhibition, “WWII & NYC,” even makes it seem plausible that the waging of the entire war was a kind of Manhattan Project, at least in part. We make our way through some 300 objects, ranging from prewar protest pamphlets to postwar artworks, and see, again and again, just how central New York was to the war effort and how powerfully the conflict affected the city’s evolution. New York wasn’t generally on the front lines — though German U-boats sank tankers in local waters — but with its port, manufacturing, ship building and strategic military centers, it made the front lines possible.

This might seem unremarkable, but in this exhibition the society has again taken on a subject that we might overlook, examining it closely through a distinctive lens and transforming our perceptions. The show’s curator, Marci Reaven, the society’s vice president for history exhibitions, has, with few exceptions, cultivated complications and complexities, with an eye for telling details.

New York, from the first, was not united about the war or what should be done about it. We see local traces of pacifism, radicalism, fascism and isolationism — the city could have been a staging ground for the war itself. From 1941, there is an anti-isolationist cartoon by Theodor Seuss Geisel, who became the postwar baby-boomer fantasist Dr. Seuss. There is also a Teutonic poster promoting a German American Bund celebration of Nazi youth culture in 1939 Brooklyn, along with a photograph of festivities at Camp Siegfried on Long Island, where the “Horst Wessel Song” was sung, and rustic paths were named after Hitler and Goering. (Later we learn that the prewar American salute during the Pledge of Allegiance so resembled the Nazi gesture that the hand on the heart became a permanent replacement.)

There are also wartime products here from regional factories that reinvented themselves. We see an M1 carbine, one of the Army’s standard firearms, assembled like hundreds of thousands of others in plants run by I.B.M. The bra manufacturer Maidenform, we learn, had to lobby for its products to be recognized as wartime essentials for the female work force, but it hedged its bets with a “pigeon vest,” shown here and used to cradle homing pigeons behind enemy lines. It “resembles a bra in construction,” the exhibition tells us, “with snug but comfortable mesh to allow the bird to breathe.”

The first penicillin factory in the world, we learn, was opened by Charles Pfizer & Company in Brooklyn in 1943, making 90 percent of the drug carried by Allied forces on D-Day. (Rare samples are on display.) Steinway & Sons in Queens switched from making pianos to fashioning glider wings (presumably because, like piano rims, they required layers of hard wood shaped into set curves).

We also learn that the two ground-floor galleries of the historical society were turned over to the American Red Cross, which produced four million surgical sponges here by December 1944. And the Arms and Armor Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art designed the helmets and body armor for American soldiers and bomber crews, based on historical models.

But it isn’t just that New York factories and museums were altered. The war had an immense physical presence here. Some 900,000 New Yorkers served in the military; by 1945 about 3.3 million American servicemen had shipped out through “the country’s principal war port.”

One mural shows us silhouettes of tankers, troopships and tugboats in the nocturnal New York Harbor: a convoy of ships, grouped for protection against attack, making its way with troops and supplies across the Atlantic. Between 1942 and 1944, more than one convoy a day left the harbor. In 1943 alone, 488 convoys were dispatched — 7,039 ships. By 1944, New York’s port was handling 50 percent more ship traffic than all other United States ports combined.

A deliberately old-fashioned illuminated display shows us a map of the region, with lights marking military and strategic centers. The Army’s Eastern Defense Command was on Governors Island, responsible for guarding the American coast. On Staten Island an anti-submarine net was laid to protect the harbor, a net constructed, we are informed, by the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company “of Brooklyn Bridge fame.”

The Office of Strategic Services — the forerunner of the C.I.A. — was housed in Rockefeller Center. And the Brooklyn Army Terminal — still an astounding sight on the coastline — was the largest warehouse of its time, unloading and storing freight, and housing the Port of Embarkation command headquarters that coordinated the international movements of American soldiers. (Among the fine videos here is a too-brief tour of World War II harbor sites with the historian Kenneth T. Jackson, a consultant for the exhibition.)

And as one set of displays shows us, the Bronx campus of Hunter College (which is now Lehman College), along with neighboring apartment buildings, was taken over for the training of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. The Navy called them Waves, and they became a formal branch of the military.

In Queens, the current site of the Museum of the Moving Image became another kind of training ground for soldiers wielding cameras, who were assigned to document the war. One cameraman, Francis Lee, stitched together his footage in 1976, creating a 22-minute survey of his experiences shown here; the more familiar D-Day imagery is almost eclipsed by accounts of his visits to Picasso after the liberation of Paris.

The show’s final portions are disappointing, particularly the capsule biographies of soldiers: “New Yorkers Who Served.” They were so clearly chosen to represent diverse identities that they could form a modern counterpart to the studiously multiethnic fighting unit familiar from 1950s war novels and films.

But this self-consciousness about diversity also reflects one of the show’s themes. As seen here, the war’s impact on the city is not primarily industrial, intellectual, political or economic, but social. During the war, there was a “Double V” campaign by black American leaders, suggesting that victory over fascism abroad should be accompanied by victory over racism at home. Defense factories had been refusing to hire black workers, even after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1941, issued an Executive Order forbidding discrimination. One video includes a chilling story of a Brooklyn Navy Yard supervisor who ordered his workers’ badges to be labeled W for White or C for Colored. The exhibition argues convincingly that protests against such injustices, particularly in the context of a war fought in the name of freedom, led to the postwar civil rights movement.

This is also the subject of a small complementary show, “The War for Civil Rights,” in the hall outside the main exhibition. We learn of the policies of “blood segregation” adopted by the Red Cross and the military during the war, and of the futile protests that greeted them. But another example ends in success as Stuyvesant Town — meant to reflect a postwar ideal of subsidized urban planning — is forced to allow integrated housing.

The recognition of the war’s role in this transformation is important, but as executed here, the proportions are strange. World War II was, as the show notes, “the most destructive war in history,” with an estimated 60 million dead. But instead of pulling back to see it whole, or to say something about the city the war transformed, other considerations are put aside to make these social points.

Social issues, though, are only part of the history. Even the account of prewar New York might have benefited from a larger vision that at least took into account elements like the Communist Party’s Popular Front, with its supposedly unambiguous anti-fascist stance, or the Hitler-Stalin Pact. (Could this have been the impetus behind one of the antiwar “Medals of Dishonor” displayed here from 1939, by the sculptor David Smith, which sweepingly attacks all munitions makers?) The influential group New York Intellectuals evolved out of those prewar and postwar debates. And such considerations might have led the show in entirely different directions, perhaps to a different exhibition entirely: another look at the Manhattan Project.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

Diary of 1916 Irish Uprising

Cathy Hayes for, October 3, 2012:

The letters of a mother in Dublin, writing to her son who was missing in action in the Balkans in 1916, have been published online.

Mary Martin, from Monkstown, Dublin, wrote letters to her missing son, starting in January 1916. Shortly before this time she had been told that her son, Charlie, a soldier with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was missing on the Salonika front.

The wealthy Catholic mother of 12 children wrote letters to her son recording the daily activities of her family and friends against the backdrop of the Easter Rising in Dublin and the ongoing First World War.

In total there were 132 diary entries. She wrote them to her son in the hope that when, and if, he returned from the war he would be able to catch up with the daily goings on of his family in Dublin.

In her first diary entry she said, “Since I heard you were missing as well as wounded, it has occurred to me to write the diary in the form of a letter. We hope to hear from you soon.”

Martin’s diary ended on 25th May. By this time she had been told that her 20-year-old son had been captured and killed the previous December.

Director of the M Phil in digital humanities at Trinity College Professor Susan Schreibman said, “It is a very poignant collection, written by a woman whose experiences were similar to many mothers of the time.

“The diary was never meant for public consumption, so it is very candid. These were ordinary people going through extraordinary times.”

She added that the project “provides a model of how we can bring alive historical treasures too infrequently seen by the public.”

The project was launched at Trinity College by Ireland’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan who said, “This online edition is a rich source for anyone interested in Irish history, military history, women’s history and genealogy and takes its place within a collection of other publicly available online resources that shed light on Ireland’s complicated past.”

In the diary she writes about how news travelled from the city center out to the South Dublin coastal town of Monkstown, about the Easter Rising.

On Tuesday, 25th April 1916, she wrote, “A very quiet peaceful day here but we hear (no newspapers published or mails arriving) that the Sinn Feiners are still in possession of GPO, & Westland Row & are defying the military. They say several people have been killed & that the GPO has changed hands a couple of times.”

The next day she continues, “Still no authentic news but it appears the Sinn Feiner still hold the City”.

“It is predicted food will get very scarce so ordered what I can conveniently get. No mail boat came in so there is no tidings of the boys. In the afternoon I went to the Tea Rooms we had a good many soldiers & sailors mostly of Staffordshire regiment. This has been a glorious day it is too terrible to think how it is being desecrated with murders & pillage for of course the mob is looting the shops.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles