Category Archives: History

Vietnam, 1968 – PBS and me

I stuffed another thousand envelopes watching Sunday night’s return to Vietnam. It was about 1968 when I was in my last year of Debate at Mankato High and would switch over to being a Senior. I would drop debate because I wasn’t quite as dedicated as our teams survivors. Our coach was a misogynistic jerk who leered at girls in short skirts. Besides, I’d overcome my panic attacks and was drawn into the speech team’s story telling and our schools theatrics.

1967-68 was the year our family hosted an African student, Bedru, who unwittingly integrated the all white Mankato High. I was dating for the first time, tentatively and politely. I could drive the family car. College was a certainty two years off but even for a high school kid it was hard to keep one’s eyes off politics.

Last night’s PBS episode covered the basics that I was watching in my peripheral vision that seminal year. Martin Luther King was assassinated. (Ironically my Ethiopian roommate did not seem very moved by this. Perhaps he was used to being in a minority back home. BTW – I suspect that our family stopped hearing from Bedru a few years later after he was murdered as a political prisoner by his pro-American government.)

Bedru was however intensely interested in the Kennedy’s who stirred such hope across the third world. My intensely political father had us all up late to watch the California returns that would almost guarantee that his little brother, Bobby, would be the next president. Bedru, who was pulling for the younger Kennedy, stayed up even later than the rest of the family to watch the coverage from California after the results came in.

The next morning we discovered he had silently gone up to bed after watching Kennedy’s assassination.

Civil rights and Vietnam both came to a head in 1968 and I have many vivid memories from the events laid out in last night’s episode. For instance, my Dad’s shutting me up as I yammered questions just moments before Lyndon Johnson declared that he would not seek or accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for reelection. Its the only time I recall him ever shushing me.

I remember the riots that blazed across the nation after King’s assassination. The riot in Detroit has now been portrayed in a recent motion picture that I’d like to see. One took place in Baltimore. Three years later when I worked as a summer intern in Washington DC. I visited my friend Jim Zotalis in a suburb where he was an assistant in the Don Budge Tennis camp. I had just given him a tour of the nation’s capitol and he was reciprocating by hosting me. The drive into downtown Baltimore was a shock. I went through the King Riot zone and all the shops that had reopened in fire blackened brick buildings had heavy iron bars across the storefronts.

As for Vietnam, it was the fighting in the Tet Offensive that lasted a month in Hue that prepared college for me more than the other way around. A year-and-a-half later as a freshman I would see my first-and-only draft card burning and participated in a counter productive blocking of the downtown’s most important intersection. I’ve shunned self righteous crowds ever since.

I watched George Wallace, Richard Nixon and a bevy of Democrats vying for the job LBJ no longer had the fortitude to endure and that left me prepared for Donald Trump last year.

It was a helluva year.

Tecla Karpen

No posts yesterday because I put in two 18-hour days in a row on my campaign. I shouldn’t have woken at 3AM tonight but when I did I thought about Tecla Karpen. She was the only person out of thousands of witnesses who commended me when she saw me at my finest. It was during the Vietnam War after a march on campus to protest it. It was the last march I would participate in until this year marching to honor Martin Luther King Day in Duluth. I wrote about it here along with that fine moment from my life. I did not however, mention Ms. Karpen who’s name was memorable enough for me to remember to this day. There is scant information about her on the web; she died last May; but there is this.

I thought I had mentioned her by name in the blog but was wrong. My Dad knew her but as the Faculty President at Mankato State, today’s Minnesota University, Mankato, he knew everyone. She was a speech teacher and I got an easy A or B in her class because I had long before gotten over panic attacks..

As I explained in the first post linked to I was outraged when a scruffy bunch of self righteous, preening protesters stood up before the quickly improvised speaking stand and screamed for a reporter to come to the microphone and justify his showing protesters at their worst on the news when they blockaded busy Highway 169. When he haltingly came to the microphone, a reluctant center of attention, they shouted him down with hoots and insults. Behind them stood a crowd of several thousand silent marchers who had just ended their two-mile march and had returned to the MSU commons to hear speakers. I was near the back by Armstrong Hall when I was overcome with contempt for them. I shouted over the gaggle and told the “suns of bitches” to shut up and let the man speak. Shocked at my flattery thru imitation they shut up. The reporter then explained, “I just reported what I saw.”

Only one person ever commented on this, Ms. Karpen. She told me I’d done a good thing and that she wished that she’d done it. Its about the best compliment I’ve ever gotten in my life. It was my man before the Tienanmen tank moment.

I mention this because of Burn’s continuing episodes on Vietnam which I have watched with great intensity while stuffing thousands of envelopes with campaign materials recommending my return and a change from the Red Plan status quo that still rules the school board. Sticking up for Art Johnston at the Editorial Board interview for his honor and integrity probably sunk my chances of getting the Trib’s endorsement so I have no choice but to pull 18-hour days.

My sticking up for the much slandered Art Johnston probably explains the Trib’s injured sniffing that Loren Martell and I were part of an “Ugly” past that the people of Duluth should get over. What a truly, shitty analysis by the leaders of a “newspaper” that still can’t bear to report that the Red Planners cannibalized millions of classroom dollars annually, for the next twenty years, to to pay for pretty new schools with overcrowded classrooms. They could have added that our status quo school boards were too chickenshit to raise our taxes high enough to pay for their vanity. They would leave it to our children to pay for it with less teacher contact time.

Yesterday, as I was going door to door in the heart of Denfeld, I ran across an older couple (that’s funny for me, a 66-year-old, to say) getting in their car. Before they could depart I gave them my song and dance and the husband impatiently asked me whether I was a Republican or a Democrat. I told him I was neither but he would have none of it. “You’re one or the other he insisted.”

I made a stab at summing up my long, tortured history with the two-party system. I explained that I had been a Republican but that I’d recently asked the DFL to endorse me but that I wasn’t good enough for them. (Never mind the School board is a non partisan office) As we fenced he asked me if I went to church. That apparently would be a deciding factor about my party choice. I said that I’d sung in the church choir for a quarter century. He said he’d been a Democarat most of his life but he was through with them. I got the idea he didn’t think the Party was Godly enough because he told me that he was a Republican now.

I tried to change the subject by telling him that I just wanted to treat the western schools fairly and he allowed that I had just said the magic words and I would get his vote. That was good enough for me.

Oh, and since I haven’t posted any daily campaign pics for a while I’ll offer up this from today… er yesterday …as I continued to tramp the Denfeld neighborhood. It is one of the loveliest lawn ornaments I’ve seen and it was in the yard of a very modest but tidy home:

I won’t be campaigning today. Having recently joined the church’s Building and Grounds committee I will be spending the day painting and picking up Glen Avon Presbyterian.

Burns, Vietnam 3

I had hoped for a short meeting so that I could get to the second airing of the third PBS Vietnam installment. No such luck with the mulch discussion. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sDAgx5Yfic

I had to wait until 10 to catch a repeated episode and took the occasion to stuff my campaign materials for later door to door work. It was tough staying awake for the next hour and a half because I’ve had some pretty short nights lately. Still I soldiered on.

The chief takeaway from this episode was the loss of faith in our government because of officials and military men who refused to be honest about the developing debacle.

I watched that debacle and that cynicism grow for a decade. I got married a few weeks before the government of South Vietnam fell. Most folks of that era don’t think American’s faith in their leaders survived it just as many Duluthians faith in our public schools took a hit over the Red Plan.

That’s why my lawnsigns say: “Honesty is the best policy.”

Dear Duan

Back in Wuhan, at the end of my Yangzte River journey, I decided to give Barbara Tuchman’s book on Stilwell to our tour guide. He mentioned that previous guests had given him such books over the last decade that he has been leading tours. Some of them like “Wild Swans” are on the government’s version of the Vatican’s “Index list.”

He had told me, when I asked, that he mostly read histories and I was pretty sure Tuchman’s book was even rarer in China than it is in American used book stores.

I found time on our trip to get half way through the book reading out loud to Claudia. At times we we read about Chinese locales while we were actually passing through them. Giving the book before we finished it and departed from Shanghai would be no sacrifice because we had already downloaded it to our kindle account as well. I will buy another hard cover copy in any event. That is the collector in me.

I found myself mentally composing a thank you in the middle of the night to write in the book’s inside front cover. This is essentially what I wrote:

Dear Duan,

When I was 11 in 1962 the author of this book may have played a part in preventing World War III. Her book, Guns of August” had just been read by our President Kennedy when he discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Guns of August was about how the European governments unwittingly stumbled into W W 1. JFK having read it, was determined not to begin a nuclear war with the Soviet union because of miscommunication. Even if it hadn’t inspired Kennedy to save the world it was a great book. It was awarded our nation’s highest literary honor, the Pulitzer Prize, for history. The author would earn a 2nd Pulitzer for this history of General Stilwell.

I wanted to share it with you so you could see that some Americans have always looked on China with some subtlety and a great deal of sympathy. Joe Stilwell was one of them and by the way he was no fan of Chiang Kai-Shek. I don’t think my father was either when I was growing up. He is the person who gave Tuchman’s book to me.

You have been a wonderful, insightful and good humored guide to your land’s people and history. You have given me hope that our two nations can look forward to the future as friends and maybe even allies. Vinegar Joe seemed to anticipate that future as well.

You have my best regards and many thanks.

Harry Welty
AKA: www.lincolndemocrat.com

PS. To my knowledge this history has not been banned by the People’s Republic.

The Internet is leakier than the White House

Traveling down the mid stretch of the Yangtze River has been quiet enough to let my brain fret over China’s middling and meddlesome censorship. I came here hoping to post pretty pictures on Facebook and the blog but my cell phone is no match for the bamboo curtain.

So, I have been reading American/Chinese history and probing the Internet for the past couple days. It’s been fascinating. Vinegar Joe Stilwell just made General a year shy of Pearl Harbor (I am 32% done with Tuchman’s bio of him) and I found this Newsweek story from 20 years ago about Bill Clinton’s opening American tech to the People’s Liberation Army.

http://www.newsweek.com/chinese-military-power-us-might-643022

Chiang Kai-Shek would have killed for US war materiel like Clinton passed out.

I am still inclined towards the promiscuous spreading of information rather than to it’s stingy hoarding. I am a liberal arts kind of guy.

I will get to check out a Chinese school today on this sleepy stretch of our river cruise. Maybe it will give me some useful insights to bring back to the Duluth Schools. I just hope it’s air conditioned.

The “Schmeercase Affair”

This was a test to see if I could post a cell phone recording to you-tube. Yup! My intention has been to record the speech I gave, but which the sound system prevented me from broadcasting, to the DFL endorsing convention. This is my reading of a brief anecdote about General Joseph Stillwell in Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography about “Vinegar Joe.”

As you will see my cell phone stopped recording after its memory was overloaded but at a convenient point in the anecdote.

In order to upload it I had to free up some space and I did so by removing all my picture files which had already been uploaded to my Flickr account and which are in the Cloud. I am about to upgrade my cell phone which is a Samsung 5 while 8 is the current Samsung favorite. I have a reduced priced upgrade available and I want it to have a better cell phone camera for my trip to China. I plan on taking the Stillwell book with me and hope the Chinese don’t confiscate it when we arrive. I haven’t found it on the list of books they won’t let in. We have a couple of those banned books on our shelves.

Bringing back Phil to manage my school board campaign

Alanna Oswald told me yesterday that she might not to vote for me because of all the posts in which I whine about having to campaign instead of writing about my Grandfather. She says my getting off the School Board might be the only way she gets to read that book.

Its a tough choice. I’d love to compare George Robb with his fellow Kansan, oil billionaire fifty times over, Charles Koch. My Grandfather was a rock ribbed Republican but Koch is making it his business to roll back not only Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society AND FDR’s New Deal BUT the trust busting reforms of Teddy Roosevelt. Koch truly wants to take America back 100 years to the Gilded Age and Jim Crow. Perhaps that explains the jarring video I saw the 82-year-old Koch along side our Era’s Stepin Fetchit Snoop Dogg. Koch is a lot more comfortable with a black idiot sidekick than a sober and brilliant Black President taxing his billions and restraining his pollution.

Hell, when I was exploring the Kansas State Historical Museums files on my Grandfather I got a peek at his old College scrapbook which gave a pretty strong hint that my then 21-year old Grandfather liked Teddy Roosevelt. He pasted in a flyer from Park College’s Teddy Roosevelt Club into the book the year the ex-president’s Bull Moose party challenged Wilson and Taft. It was probably Koch who talked right-wing talk show host, Glenn Beck, to denounce Teddy. Beck was regularly invited to attend Koch’s soirees to return America to the days of John C. Calhoun and State’s Rights.

But as tempting as it is for me to try to save America with a boring reminder of a more decent political past, my Grandfather also set another standard before me when he fought in the Great War. As the lyrics to one of his Era’s war songs put it “…and we won’t come back till its over, over there!” I’m afraid that my school board work is not over either.

My Grandfather’s war lasted about one year. Mine began 28 years ago (if not earlier) when I first ran an unsuccessful race for the Duluth School Board in 1989. That was two years after moving to our new home on 21st Ave E and my Daughter Keely’s request that I build a snow dinosaur. I was reminded of this a week ago when visitors asked if they could look at my scrapbook of a 30 year snow sculpting career.

Following my second failed attempt to run for the School Board I decided to make a not so subtle comment about the struggles of the Duluth Schools in 1991 in snow. The DNT’s head photog, Chuck Curtis, snapped a photo which made it to the Front Page if I remember correctly. A passerby with a camera took a photo of me sculpting it and sent it to me afterwards. Until the advent of cell phones Claudia and I got used to flashes coming through our drapes on winter nights from folks dropping by to take a picture of our front lawn to mail to their friends in warm weather states.

Like my Grandfather I conceived of my campaigns for the School Board like his Meuse-Argonne campaign. I ran a third time and lost that election as well. As a consolation Claudia gave me a small black figurine of a disconsolate Gorilla sitting chin on hand like the thinker for my birthday. That became my inspiration for yet another snow sculpture and perhaps an augury for a change in my political fortunes.

This sculpture was the first of a couple which made it to newspapers on the Associated Press circuit.

By now I had a name for my gorilla. Phil. It was prompted by yet another gift from Claudia which came with a card inspired by the cartoonist Gary Larson:

After christening Phil I decided to attach a story line to him. He became my “campaign manager” who couldn’t get me over the finish line. I pinned the blame on him in a letter I penned to the News Tribune. That’s in my scrapbook too and for school board wonks its a most interesting peek back at our school district’s history.

What I wrote is the gospel truth. In the 1987 school year (the year in which, by coincidence, I lost my teaching job) our school district reported that we had 1200 seniors. And yet only 775 seniors graduated. We were paid by the state of Minnesota to educate 425 students who seem to have vanished into thin air. It was school board counselors who told me to check the numbers and they were confirmed by an employee in the Minnesota Department of Education. Sadly, the MDE didn’t lift a finger to call the District on the carpet. It was a preview of how they would handle the preposterous financing proposed for the Red Plan.

Discovering that public school administrators would lie was as shocking to me as it was for Loren Martell to find himself handcuffed for addressing the Duluth School Board during the Red Plan. Its the sort of experience that turns concerned citizens into ever vigilant watchdogs. Its been my Meuse-Argonne ever since.

I thought I had left the School District in pretty good shape when I retired from the Board in 2004. Three years later, after the voters were denied a chance to vote on the half billion dollar Red Plan, I realized that if I could get elected again I could put the issue before the voters. I was prepared to offer a smaller plan should that referendum fail. Instead, the Dixon administration worked hand in hand with my critics to attack my motives and those of Gary Glass. In doing so school administrators passed on one more great lie – that Johnson Controls would earn no more than 4.5 percent of the building program’s cost. Throw in the wildly incorrect promise that the Red Plan would barely increase property taxes and you can see how my vigilance was rekindled.

The travesty of seeing my colleague Art Johnston raked over the coals has done little to restore my faith – especially after it become evident that 30% of Duluth’s eligible ISD 709 resident students have left us. Golly! We’ve got new half-billion dollar schools to fill up and maintain and we are not succeeding at either objective. I’ve got five months to make a case for shoring up our schools even while my Grandfather’s life story begs to be told.

This began as a light-hearted reintroduction of my old campaign manager, Phil. I’m bringing him back.

Phil has given me the idea to raise money for my campaign by selling snow sculpture trading card packs in lieu of political propaganda. Goodness knows I’ve taken lots of pictures of my creations over the years. Here’s the first page of my scrapbook’s Table of Contents:

I’m going to do things a little differently. Rather than ask for donations by mail this year I think I’m going to offer the trading cards in sets of five to help me recoup my expenses incurred to defend Art Johnston. That was because the school board used the excuse of a nonexistent assault to remove him from the Board. My Mother’s death left me with a modest inheritance that allowed me to give Art $20,000 to help defray the $75,000 legal charges Art incurred to defend himself from the vile accusations hurled at him, to wit:

“Racism” (He was a member of Duluth’s NCAAP Board for crying out loud)
“Conflict of Interest,” for sitting in on meetings affecting the employment of his school district employed partner. Nevermind, that a Red Plan supporting Board member sat in on similar meetings when a relative ran a school bus into a child – the relative was given a desk job!
“Violence” Who wouldn’t be mad after serving five years on the School Board while constantly denied public data and then discovering that the School Administrator who recruited your last opponent was now orchestrating a spy network to harass your partner starting on the very day you beat the candidate that said administrator encouraged to run against you?

$20,000 is almost all I “earned” over my first three years on the School Board. I spent just as much trying to get a Red Plan referendum on the ballot. Its been expensive to pay for the honor of serving the public.

So, if I print up trading cards, I’ll treat it as a small business and use the proceeds to pay for my campaign. Maybe I’ll break even on the cards and avoid going any deeper into the financial hole to stay on a school board that has finally calmed down from the insanity of 2014 to 2015. Calmed down yes, but we still need to get out from behind a $3.4 million dollar a year eight ball that costs us 36 teachers.

It may be hard for folks to take Phil seriously as my campaign manager so thank goodness my old rival, Representative Mike Jaros, has agreed to be my campaign chairman. He ran a dozen or more campaigns and never lost. Having only won three of 16 campaigns for public office myself, I am in awe of his record.

I just can’t wash my hands of Phil. He’s been the logo above my old webpage for almost twenty years now. Like me, Phil deserves a little respect.

Mankato, another Minnesota town with some history

A few weeks ago an old acquaintance from Mankato, where I graduated from high school in 1969, asked me to write up a post on a popular boutique shop that my Mother set up with a collection of “faculty wives” who called themselves the “Harpies” and who’s store they named “Harpies Bazaar.” Unfortunately, he asked me to post it on Facebook, a notoriously upbeat online space where people get depressed because everyone else’s lives are made to look so good. I linked to a blog post about my Mother’s Alzheimers. Downer.

But then Brad asked me to tell a bit about my foreign exchange student, Bedru Beshir, from Ethiopia. Brad was a class ahead of me and within a year of his 50th year anniversary of his graduation. There had been some curiosity after all these years about what had become of “Beds.” Brad and others from Bedru’s class had located Facebook pages of various Bedru’s currently living in Ethiopia. I had to tell him they were not our Bedru. Other graduates of the class of 68 had already discovered my old Reader Column spelling out Bedru’s likely fate. It was not a happy one for the first black student in memory to have attended Mankato High School. Double Downer.

What caught Brad’s attention to me was a response I had left to a series of Mankato History Facebook posts that had been prompted by the news that the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The garden was in the news for a controversial piece of art depicting the massive scaffold built in Mankato in 1863 to hang 38 Sioux Indians. Downer number three. I wrote about that in the Reader as well.

There were some furious arguments going on in Mankato between descendants of murdered settlers and sympathizers of the Sioux warriors. I waded in to say that not all the hung men were guilty. To another comment pinning the blame on Lincoln and a rebuttal by Lincoln defender who pointed out that Abe had reduced the number to be hung from over 300 to 38 I stuck up for Abe. I pointed out that despite the cries for vengeance during the Civil War when the President needed all the help he could from the North to prosecute the Civil War, his ten-fold reduction of those to be executed was an act of bravery.

To a person who responded to my reply that it was time to forget the hanging and “move on,” I quoted Santayana, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” I read almost the same argument for ignoring Duluth’s lynching in a letter-to-the Editor in the Trib shortly after Duluth began paying attention to its infamous 1920 lynching. Mankato, like Duluth, has some infamy in its closet.

One of the people who spoke up for Mankato in the face of this third downer was one of the Saiki’s. She came out with a long Chamber of Commerce like list of wonderful things to have been invented in Mankato that changed the world including the Honeymead Corporation’s use of soybeans which has had a huge impact on our oversea’s trade with Asian nations. One of her Japanese forbears happened to bring those soy beans to Mankato from California.

I wrote back in reply explaining that I had graduated in 1969 with one of her family members. I then mentioned that my Mother had told me about her family’s arrival in Mankato. They had been interned (imprisoned) during the Second World War but their mysterious ability to sex chicks to be rid of the useless roosters-to-be was just what the Nation needed to produce eggs for its soldiers overseas. I told her that that the consequence of this fourth downer gave her family and Mankato every reason to be proud of that all but forgotten bit of local history. And that was not a downer.

In the same way, Duluth’s embracing of its notorious past offers more than a little redemption.

92 pages into Dark Money and a change of scenery

I am reading Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money. It is an intensely serious exploration of the unscrupulous but entirely legal attempt to subvert any trace of socialism that has accumulated in the United States over the last century. To call the billionaires who are bringing this about anarchists comes close to their objective – the rule of wealth.

This was an unplanned excursion into modern American politics because I have been busying myself reading up on the politics of my Grandfather’s youth and young adulthood. Karl Rove’s book about the McKinley/Bryan election was in the batters box. I’m sure I find it even more interesting after finishing Dark Money. One selling point for the Rove book is that the 1896 election is something of a model for 2016’s carnival. Like our most recent election 1896 was the first mega bucks presidential race. It pitted a free silver radical, Bryan, against Millionaires who thought he would bleed them dry with cheap money. This was Mark Twain’s “Gilded Age” when the gulf between rich and poor was vast as it has once again become. Since 1970 a collection of billionaires who have put their financial muscle behind a genetic re-engineering the Republican Party away from John Maynard Keynes and allied it with the ghosts of our unsavory past.

I checked the index of Dark Money to see how often Karl Rove was mentioned in it – 9 times and then took a second look at Rove’s dust jacket. It wasn’t only conservative pundits that praised his book. So did Jon Meacham author of a biography of Andrew Jackson and Doris Kearns Goodwin who has written some of my favorite books about Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and FDR. The Billionaires would love to erase all memory of the latter two presidents.

The Koch Brothers (2 of the 4) put almost a billion dollars into the 2016 election and tag teamed with Vladimir Putin to change our political landscape. Mayer says of them that they want to roll back not only Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society but FDR’s New Deal and even Teddy Roosevelt’s “Square Deal.” It was teddy who called the rich of his Era the “malefactors of wealth.” Mark Hanna, the Charles Koch of his Era and the man who elected McKinley, grimly said of Teddy after he succeeded the assassinated McKinley “Now that damned cowboy is in the White House”. Hanna’s modern day successors feel the same about the “trust buster.”

When Glenn Beck made his first appearance in the book (8 mentions) I was reminded of hearing Beck express great reservations years ago about Teddy for steering America wrong. Who the heck today doesn’t like TR? Well the Billionaires don’t and it seems Beck was one of the regulars at the secret gatherings at the Koch home. No doubt he drank deeply of the Koch’s antediluvian thinking.

BTW. Beck has been on something of a repentance tour. I was astonished to see him on Samantha Bee and even more surprised last Sunday to catch him in his confessions on Public Radio’s On Being.

I’ve run as a Republican several times although the last time in 2002 I had to beat the endorsed candidate in a primary. I think so. I can’t quite remember. Its a long time ago. Starting in 2006 I went to my first DFL precinct caucus and felt like a fish out of water although it was more tepid than the GOP waters I had been roiling in previously. That’s when I named the blog.

I was also delighted to hear Abraham Lincoln lauded at a DFL gathering. The GOP has been embarrassed by him ever since Ronald Reagan was elected President. And one of my one of my favorite political memories was attending the 2008 Seventh District convention and seeing so many other Obama supporters. I haven’t attended a DFL precinct caucus for a couple of elections. Its tough on my gills so, at best I’m a compromised Democrat but I am about to attend this weekend’s screening committee to ask Duluth DFLer’s to endorse me for the School Board race. I’ve left a message asking where and when to appear to have my credentials validated.

…………………………WeltyforSchoolBoard.com

Graduation Ceremony – Harry’s Diary

Claudia and I left early Saturday for the Twin Cities with our grandsons. The occasion was the following day’s graduation ceremony for the United Theological Seminary. Claudia joined our son, Robb, as a master hers being a Master of Arts in Religious Leadership degree. Of course, our son expects to jump further ahead at the end of next year with his Doctorate.

On Saturday, in advance of the ceremony, we took the boys to the Minnesota Zoo and checked out the new traveling Australian exhibition with Wallabies and Emus galore. We wandered the Zoo for six hours before retiring to our hotel and an hour in the pool. The next morning we took the boys to the Science Museum in Minneapolis and took in the Omnimax movie about the desolation of the Southeastern Asian reefs. I couldn’t help but think about the decimation of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. I barely read the press yesterday but did note that once again President Trump has come to the rescue of polluters.

It was lovely in the Twin Cities yesterday and while Claudia practiced her graduation rigmarole with peers I walked over to a local playground with the boys for a little diversion before the ceremony began. I took dozens of grainy cellphone pics and woke up today with an urgent request from my brother in law to share them through Facebook. Its one more chore for me to add to my list of to-dos most of them related to ISD 709. A weekend away from Duluth and they are piling up.

Before I’d left for the Cities I was hit up for budgetary info on the District that I had promised and failed to give someone a couple months ago. This morning I discovered a couple of small wildfires burning in the 709’s backyard. I guess there’s no rest for the wicked. And by the way – I plan to send up a third edition of the I won’t wait for 3 years posts. Then, I’ll have to compose a response to a pretty demanding set of questions sent to me by the Denfeld parent’s group on district wide equity. Sometimes being on the Duluth School Board feels like being an electron in a lightening strike. Maybe Claudia’s study of heaven can help me come to terms with this occasional hellishness.

I’ve also ordered a couple more books to add to my list and one of them strays from my reading on the political era my grandfather George Robb was born into Its called “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” It will be a nice follow up to Karl Rove’s book on the first mega-money election for the Presidency in 1896: The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters.

Oh, and a few minutes ago Claudia handed me another book from the mail. Driven Out: The forgotten war against chinese Americans. This is yet another issue that pervaded the America of my Grandfather’s youth. America has long been a land where the Enlightenment’s principles enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution have wrestled with the messy resistance to the “Melting pot.”

A little “flight” reading – The Sage of Emporia

For years I’ve wondered if William Allen White “the Sage of Emporia” ever wrote anything about his fellow Kansan, my Grandfather George Robb. Although I’ve known about him and knew the famous quote about his sagacity for years it took Doris Kearn’s wonderful history Bully Pulpit about Teddy Roosevelt and WH Taft to fill in White’s biography.

That’s because as Kearns researched the book she discovered how closely Teddy was to the many “muckrakers” (Teddy’s description) the dedicated journalists who exposed the many evils of the “Gilded Age.” Teddy was just as effusive as Donald Trump but unlike Trump he was also well informed and a friend of the press and its investigative reporters. White was one of these although, unlike so many others of this era William Allen was a country boy. He retired from the Progressive era and New York to sedate Emporia Kansas where he owned and edited the Emporia Gazette with a national reputation gained in the Roosevelt Years.

Last year, after subscribing to Newspaper.com, I found that White’s Gazette regularly covered my Grandfather’s politics after he was appointed State Auditor of Kansas. Many of the articles mentioned his being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor but I’ve found nothing that suggests the men rubbed shoulders together which was a bit of a disappointment. But last Fall I discovered White’s name in a letter sent to my Grandfather by his closes brother, Bruce, while George Robb was hospitalized after the War.

“Uncle Bruce” mentioned in his letter that he had just read William Allen White’s short book about the War, “The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me” to better understand what trench warfare had been like. Well, I had to read that. I found it online as its now in the Public Domain. I printed it out and decided this trip to Florida was the prefect time to read it through.

White wrote the book when he and the editor/owner of the Wichita Beacon were asked to check out the theater of war by the American Red Cross just after Congress declared war. White was in France during the time my Grandfather volunteered and began his training.

Its a light read and it gave me some wonderful context. I’ll mention two such items:

White writes: “‘In the English papers the list of dead begins ‘Second lieutenant, unless otherwise designated.’ And in the war zone the second lieutenants are known as ‘The suicides’ club.'” Then White proceeded to explain why. My Grandfather was a second lieutenant.

White describes meeting an English mother of two children whose husband is in recovery after losing an arm and a shoulder. He suggests somewhat indelicately that her husband should get a good education and become a typist. When she says they couldn’t afford for him to go to school White reports his reply to her: “That’s too bad–now in our country education, from the primer to the university, is absolutely free. The state does the whole business and in my state they print the school books, and more than that they give a man a professional education, too, without tuition fees–if he wants to become a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer or a chemist or a school teacher!”

As my Grandfather began his education in Kansas and became a teacher in Kansas and was chosen to be a principal in Kansas only to turn down the promotion for the trenches, I found White’s assessment of public education one hundred years ago fascinating.

Ripped (off) from the headlines

I twitted Wrenshall a couple posts ago so this post might be viewed as excessive harassment which I don’t mean to inflict. However, that post jogged the memory of an omniscient friend who sent me this clipping of the small unwitting part Wrenshall played 56 years ago in the promotion of the cinematic treatment of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. I was but ten years old at the time.

BTW – My son was born in 1984. He was a little brother.

Books that count

I just polished off my seventh book of the year and entered it on my reading list online. I set Destiny of the Republic aside a couple times to read books on China to Claudia and fuss with school board and family but whenever I picked it up it read fast and furious.

I seem likely to set a new second place – ten books in a year – since I began recording my serious reading. That first year 1979, was in the aftermath of losing a teaching job, losing my second race for the legislature and my discovery that I didn’t have it in me to sell life insurance. Instead, I decided to try once again to teach history and intended to do so by reading it. I began substitute teaching and the Assistant Superintendent made it a point to tell me that those subs who brought books to read to our substitute jobs weren’t serious about our work. It was one more example of someone failing to read my mind.

Vanity compels me to explain what I treat as a “serious book” and how such books get on my list. I’ve read a lot of children’s books but I don’t include them on my list. For instance, I’ve read all seven of the Harry Potter Books to Claudia and, with the exception of the final book, read them to her twice. They are perfectly serious books but they don’t count. I will count adult novels but I haven’t read a lot of them. Non fiction is my thing and I only include books that I’ve read cover to cover. I will leave an unread book like “Mr. Speaker” unfinished for years before adding them to the list. That one finally made this year.

I have two other partially completed histories I suspect I will finish this year. American Lion is about Andrew Jackson and I have another book on Presidents Monroe and Madison before they achieved the nation’s highest office. As with the Old Testament, which I finished a few months ago, much of this reading preceded this year. I also have two other political books waiting in the wing and one on World War I, but I may wait to dig into them until I get back from China on August 3rd. I’ve got to start a campaign for reelection and I’ve got half a dozen books on China that I’m reading to Claudia. Some of them may never make my list of completed books because I’m not that attached to the thought of reading them cover to cover. I’m 80 pages into a fat little general history of China but I suspect I’ll abandon it long before the Cultural Revolution because I’m already pretty familiar with that period. Ditto, the book Idiot’s Guide to Chinese. Sampling that will be sufficient and I hate reminding myself that I’m a school board member. Which reminds me…….

One of my recently retired idiot colleagues has recently been telling folks that our current school board is behaving badly and I have little doubt that she’s talking about me. With advertising like that I’ll have to hustle to win re-election.

I do aspire to more, which leaves me with one indelible memory from the book I just finished tonight. James Garfield was one of the most decent human beings ever to sit in the White House. He was so virtuous that his lingering two-month long death drove the most corrupt Vice President we ever elected, Chester A. Arthur, to reform himself and institute the far reaching reform of Civil Service which put an end to a crass system of political spoils in the national government.

The only similar example I can think of was LBJ’s passage of Civil Right’s legislation in the wake of John Kennedy’s assassination. Lucky for Chester there was no war being waged simultaneously. As one of his corrupt old political cronies explained it: “He ain’t ‘Chet Arthur’ any more. He’s the President.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say the same of Donald Trump?

Indian ghosts

I just keep adding more books to my reading list. The lastest is Killers of the Flower Moon. I’ve been catching reports on Public Radio for a presentation this week at the Fitzgerald Theater by its author David Grann.

The book is about the murders of Osage Indians which took place south of Kansas in Oklahoma about the time my Dad was born. I’ve never heard of them but I’ve always been fascinated by Oklahoma because of its eccentric ties to the South during the Civil War. When Andrew Jackson removed the Indians from the South in the winter of the Trail of Tears they took their African-American slaves with them. Ironically they had been civilized enough to adopt America’s slave tradition. When the Civil War broke out they looked at it as an opportunity to throw off Union control and sided with the same southerern slave holders that had removed them from the South.

The ex-slave Larry Lapsley, who had a farm next to my Grandfather after escaping from Texas had to travel at night through Oklahoma to avoid being caught by the slave owning Indians of the territory and being sent back.

My eight loyal readers know I’ve devoted a lot of space to Civil Rights in the blog tilted almost exclusively to African-Americans. However, I’ve never been in doubt about the treatment of Native Americans. I always wince on the Fourth of July when PBS reads the full Declaration of Independence and gets to this line about the wrongs of King George:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Reading about this book opens up another haunting tie to my past. I’ve often written that when I was in sixth grade I was a minority white kid in Mr. Ross’s class although just barely. It was a 15/15 white/black split with one Native American kid added to make minorities of all of us. Sammy was an Osage Indian and new to Loman Hill Elementary so I really never got to know him since I moved to Minnesota at the end of my sixth grade year. He was a quiet kid.

White Kansas had a long history with both black and Indian populations. My Grandmother Ruth Welty’s great-grandparents were saved by a black woman, Black Ann Shatio, when they crossed over into Kansas from Missouri. (I just found this link today while looking for a reference from the Kansas Historical Society. Jerry Engler would be my shirt tail relative). Kansas also contributed a Vice President Charles Curtis to the United State. He was three quarters Native American. And of course my mother’s father, George Robb roamed around on land well traveled by Indians. A month ago I wrote that I had probably lost the arrowheads he collected on his farm in Assaria, Kansas, when I sent them off for a grandson’s show and tell. Hooray, they were rediscovered and returned. Here they are:

Vice President Curtis was one-quarter Osage and I can’t help but wonder if he makes an appearance in the Flower Moon although he was a Kansan not an Oklahoman. The Osage were one of the minor tribes who were moved to Oklahoma and you can see by this map of their reservation they lived adjacent to Kansas.

One of my Mother’s great-grandfather’s, Joseph Freemong McLatchey, lined up to race across the Oklahoma border in 1905 in hopes of claiming a piece of the territory only to find the land already occupied by “sooners.” He ruined his daughter’s prize horse in the attempt and remained in Kansas.

In the map above you can see where I was born – Arkansas City, Kansas. I remember hearing a local tell a “funny” story about the Oklahoma Indians after they struck oil on the once worthless land they imprisoned in. It seems one Osage, bought a car with his unexpected wealth and drove it around until it stopped moving a day or two later. Then he went out and bought another. He didn’t understand that cars needed gas.

According to the Flower Moon book the Osage’s white neighbors didn’t just make jokes about the Indians. They did their best to steal the oil for themselves by poisoning and shooting the unlucky Osage. Exposing these murders was the making of J Edgar Hoover’s FBI which uncovered 24 murders. Grann’s research suggests that this was just the tip of the iceberg. There may have been over a hundred. An Osage historian said that today there is hardly an Osage descendant that didn’t lose a relative to the murders of the 1920’s. I wonder if Sammy was quiet because he was haunted by ghosts.

I recently mentioned that one of my grandson’s had some Choctaw blood. They were another of the Native American tribes that were removed to Oklahoma.

Beezus and the code talkers

Beverly Cleary was six days shy of turning one year’s old when the United States Congress voted to go to war against Germany and join World War 1. She turned 101 two days ago and I was greatly surprised to learn of her age. Her Books about Beezus and Ramona were read to our children and, had I been a reader myself, I would no doubt have read them in grade school. She published her first children’s book in 1950 as I was finishing up my gestation. I was 41 when I published mine. The less said about that the better.

I made sure to watch all three episodes of PBS’s American Experience on the Great War Monday through Wednesday. It was an excellent series. You can watch it here.

I knew that my Grandfather’s Infantry Regiment would be highlighted and so on the second night I waited eagerly to see if the historian Dr. Jeffrey T. Sammons would be interviewed. I was not at all surprised, but delighted none-the-less, when he made his first of several appearances to talk about the role of African-American soldiers. I texted him my congratulations and he texted back that he had only a limited role in the production.

Dr. Sammons wrote The authoritative book on the Harlem Hellfighters or as he corrected the Harlem Rattlers which is what they called themselves. I’ve mentioned him a couple of times on the blog because he was commissioned to do some research on my Grandfather for a speech he delivered on Leap Day last year. (which launched my current drive to write a book about him.)

On Wednesday night I had my grandson’s over and let them watch the first few minutes of the last installment before they headed off to bed. The next morning I was able to tell my older Grandson, who has a little Choctaw inheritance, something that was new to me. The Americans found their cable telephone lines tapped into by the Germans who could listen in on their planning and thwart their plans of attack. When one American officer overheard two Choctaw troops speaking in their first language he asked them what they were doing. Both of the Choctaws froze expecting to be reprimanded. One recalled going to a school where the teachers washed children’s mouths out with soap for not speaking in English. Instead the officer put them on the telephones to confound the Germans.

I had known about “code talkers” in the Second world war but this was new. Not even the Army forgets a good idea.

More books I’m reading

I’m not sure where I read Richard Rubin’s promo/review of the PBS series on the Great War but its conclusion mentioned several of the books he had written of which two were about the Great War. That has been a subject of great fascination for me since childhood but it was another of his books that caught my attention. The review had a convenient link (which I can not immediately find) to his first book chronicling how he took his Ivy League History degree and got a job back in the 1980’s reporting on local sports for a Mississippi backwater newspaper. Confederacy of Silence : A True Tale of the New Old South is a New York Jewish kids memory of learning about the race issue in Mississippi in the modern era.

I sensed a kindred spirit so I checked out this books on the Great War. One particularly intrigued me. Mr.Rubin wrote a book about wandering over those the French battlefields: Back Over There. I could think of nothing to better prepare me for a similar expedition. I did mention the idea to Claudia. She told me to check it out. I ordered the book.

I would much rather spend this summer reading up on history than going door to door campaigning for the School Board. I’ll have to do both so if I must give up something it will just have to be sleep.

And for now the books are split between turn of the century American politics and China. One of the big fat Chinese histories I’ve been reading to Claudia started sounding a bit repetitive so I pulled a book that had been collecting dust to try out. It’s a “charming” tale about they young Mao Tse-Tung. That’s how one reviewer described it. And it is, which is a bit surprising considering Mao’s blood drenched record.

I found the paperback a quarter century ago and the title was irresistible to me: Mao Tse-tung and I were Beggars. Back in the day I paid $1.95 for it. Amazon lists it for $30.00. It was written by a student who went with his younger colleague, Mao, on a sight-seeing tour of China in the teens of the Twentieth Century.

The beginning of the book describes a headstrong boy who nags his resistant father into letting him go to primary school. Mao’s friend, the author of the book, describes how a hulking 15-year old Mao, looking every bit the peasant that he was, barged into the new primary academy for boys half his age and pleaded to be allowed to learn despite heckling he endured from the much smaller students.

The original book was published in 1959 when I was nine years old. That was ten years after Mao and company took over the mainland and the same year that Fidel Castro was posing as not necessarily a commie in his take over of Cuba. Like Donald Trump Fidel had imagined a career playing for the New York Yankees so he didn’t seem like too big a threat. He had his own set of fans who, like Mao’s biographer, did their best to allay American fears.

Speaking of threats, I sure hope the Chinese don’t treat me like a United Airlines passenger when I arrive. I’ve read they are burning up the Internet with outrage over this example of what they consider profiling.

Principles before Principals – The rush to war

I’m two days late mentioning the centenary of America’s entry into World War 1. For the next 20 or so months I’ll be reminding myself of my Grandfather’s service in that war. Maybe I’ll even write a book about him which will cover the subject. I just peaked into the news clippings I printed out from Newspaper.com earlier in the year and the first mention of his joining the service that I found was August 11th of 1917 in the Salina Evening Journal. Two weeks later the Topeka Daily Capital published a story that should have made the folks at Great Bend, Kansas burst their buttons with pride. The Capital reports that, “Every man on the teaching staff last year with the exception of the City Superintendent has been accepted in one of the two training camps.” Among the new volunteers was my Grandfather George S. Robb.

That had not been my Grandfather’s prewar plan. There was a short announcement in the Salina Daily Union a month earlier on June 4. “Mr.[George]Robb taught in the Iola High school the past season and will be the principal of the Great Bend high school next year.”

All the books I’ve been reading to Claudia about China must have put her travel bug into high gear. We’re still a hundred days before we fly off to China but she asked me where we ought to go next. I teased her about getting ahead of ourselves but it occurs to me that I’ve always wanted to tromp around the battlefields near Sechault, France. September of 2018 would be the hundredth anniversary of the actions at that village that led to the awarding of his Congressional Medal of Honor. That would be a sweet little trip.

An ounce of prevention

I’m just shy of half way through Destiny of the Republic. Garfield has had one bit of luck before derangement wins the day. His self-appointed tormentor Senator Conkling, a preening bully of a man, has just overplayed his hand right out of the United States Senate. What should be the path to well deserved reform and fame for the President will soon give way to what I found when I moved to North Mankato in 1963. Oblivion.

That fall I began three ignominious years at Garfield Junior High. No one called it that. It was always “North Mankato Junior High” the martyred President having been all but forgotten in the intervening 84 years. Within three months of my enrollment a fourth President would be assassinated.

Destiny has done a wonderful job of describing Garfield’s addled assassin Charles Guiteau. The Congress had made Garfield all the new President all the more vulnerable by cutting the Secret Service’s budget by half shortly before Garfield took office. Their job wasn’t to protect the President anyway back then. They were set up to go after counterfeiters.

Lincoln had been murdered fifteen years before. William McKinley would be murdered twenty years later and Teddy Roosevelt would be saved the same fate when a fat little speech in his breast pocket stopped a bullet not long afterwards. It was a bad run of luck for Republican Presidents.

I mentioned the importance of perspective in the last post. I am annoyed by the vast unexpected sums that are being required to protect our new President and his globe hopping family. There has been a whole raft of news stories on that subject. I have little choice but to support what it takes to keep our President safe. I’m pinning my hopes on impeachment but until then I am relying on Seth Meyers.