by Rick Bretz
The Way It Is-Bruce Hornsby and the Range, 1986
A song that references the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 and specifically the formation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to “Give those who ain’t got a little more” as Bruce Hornsby sings. The also refers to the Food Stamp Act of 1964 to help those people who need an assist to boost themselves up the economic ladder. Best remembered words of the song: That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change. That’s just the way it is. Ah-but don’t you believe them.
We Didn’t Start The Fire-Billy Joel, 1989
Billy Joel has stated that he doesn’t like singing this song in concert because he has to remember a string names and events from history. Indeed, he’s on record as saying he didn’t think the song was “that great to begin with.” Song criticisms aside, the song does a good job of listing several famous people and historical events while rhyming at the same time.
Here’s one of the best:
“Rosenbergs, H Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen Maciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye”
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald-Gordon Lightfoot, 1976
Gordon Lightfoot researched the tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald and put the events leading up to the freighter sinking into a song that is classic still being heard today. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald Great Lakes Freighter surrendered to the cold waters of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 during a heavy storm and with it took the lives of its crew of 29 souls on board. It’s a perfect blend of words and haunting music.
Dirty Laundry-Don Henley, 1982
I know this doesn’t reference history but it refers to the people who write the first draft. This is an amusing song to listen to but it is so true. He wrote this song in 1982 but it is relevant as ever today. He’s turns the microscope on media but he’s really scolding us, the audience, for liking it way too much. Lines like “People love it when you lose” throughout the song disrobe the media so the listener can see the king, the media, without their clothes while simultaneously scolding the audience for giving the media the power to continue their wicked ways.
Sunday Bloody Sunday-U2, 1983
Considered one of the best call to action songs of all time. Bono tells the listener he’s tired of the violence. It’s non-partisan song but he is clear from the lyrics that he wants the killing to stop. The militaristic drum beat in the beginning sets the tone for the words and music U2 brings to the song. Lead singer Bono sings, “I can’t believe the news today. Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.” Later, he asks “How long must we sing this song.” From their “War” album, the song concentrates on the “Bloody Sunday” incident in Derry, Northern Ireland in the Bogside area on January 30, 1972 when 13 protestors died from injuries from battling British forces during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association March.
Abraham, Martin and John-Dion, 1968
This is a song that has been covered by many singers and is about three significant people in the fight for civil rights. The words, “Has anybody here seen by old friend Abraham” and repeated for Martin and John are poignant throughout the rendition. A song about what might have been.
American Pie-Don McLean, 1971
A song about a terrible plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959 that killed everyone on board including Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
On the surface this masterpiece of writing is about that plane crash but has several references and meanings in the lyrics left to interpretation of the listener. The interpretation is left to the audience because Don McLean refuses to say what he had in mind when writing the lyrics. This has left several people to create websites to fill the void about what the song means.
“19”-Paul Hardcastle, 1985
This song is about the Vietnam War and how it affected soldiers after they came back to the United States. It is a song that is relevant to every soldier coming home from every country involved in a conflict, As the song title states, the average age of the Vietnam soldier was 19 years old. An age significantly lower than the Korean War and World War II.
Honorable Mentions: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down-Joan Baez; Strange Fruit-Billie Holiday; Pride (In The Name In Love)-U2; Zombie-The Cranberries; Ohio-Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
by Rick Bretz
I see and hear many negative news items on the web, radio and television. I decided to write about what is great about living in today’s society. For the most part, people practice their religious faith or lack thereof despite a few pockets of backward groups and societies. Wars and violence have always existed. Unlike the past with local papers and radio, today each instance is magnified by all of our media choices. Blank internet pages need to be filled with content so local news gets more real estate on the screen. This means that the world and the people who live on it, separated by cultures, religions, language and nation boundaries, remain a work in progress. We all have issues to work on but overall today’s societies have many positives to offer.
1. Fighting Diseases–The current Ebola virus issue is an example of how countries today are better equipped to stop the spread of dangerous diseases. Sure it has moved to other countries but it has been identified and individuals quarantined. In the past, the disease might have moved without anyone knowing about the virus until it would have become a worldwide epidemic. Today the Center for Disease Control and the Worldwide Health Organization monitor the spread of diseases and create strategies to combat any epidemic. In addition, vaccines prevent the spread of disease among children and adults. Penicillin and other drugs prevent or hold many health issues in check. A hundred years or so, it was common for parents to lose children to diseases before the age of 10. Today it happens but rarely from a common disease like mumps or other types of contagious diseases
2. Technology–Let’s face it. We have hardware today that just makes life easier. The dishwasher, the microwave, the GPS, the SMART phone, ATM machines, remote controls, cameras on cars for backing up, and garage door openers help us get through the day. Here’s hoping that all of the satellites stay in the sky because if they fall out, all of us will have to pull over on the side of road because we will all be lost. We even have automated windshield wipers. I recently bought a new car after driving the same one for more than 10 years. The new car has all of the wiz-bang stuff such as satellite radio and Bluetooth command technology but it also has auto sensing windshield wipers so if it rains we don’t have to bother with turning the knob on the steering wheel. Just in case I can’t recognize that it is raining, the car does it for me. Yesterday’s cars didn’t even have power steering.
3. Freedom of Movement–We can go anywhere, anytime by car, train, airplane or boat as long as we have the money, time and the means. Today travelers move at a faster rate across the country and the globe for less cost than at any time in the history of the human race. We can run anywhere but we can’t hide. But that’s another list about today’s tracking technology.
4. Consumer and Worker Safety–Watchdog groups have made it a safer world to live and work. Some may hold the view that they go overboard but you could also say that if it has the potential to happen, it will happen, either at work or at play. Nobody wants to see a loved one hurt and organizations like the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the Food and Health Administration and Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversee safety and health in the United States. International organizations include the International Consumer Product, Health and Safety Organization in addition to an individual country’s safety departments. With procedures and equipment in place like fall restraints, harnesses and safety glasses, the labor force is more secure and protected than ever. Lately work place violence has been in the news but that has always been a danger due to personalities and conflict issues. Stress will always be a part of everyday life. Making sure one takes care of a family’s health and well-being tends to do that to someone.
5. Less Crime and Violence–This one may be controversial but it is true. Taking into account the single years where crime statistics rise slightly, FBI Crime figures show a decrease. If you cherry pick certain years and types of crime you can justify certain increases but overall there has been less crime. In addition, if you zero in on cities with large populations with high murder rates, you would think that violent crime in increasing. Statistics by the FBI and other organization like the Department of Justice show a downward trend. From its peak in the middle 90s, violent crime rates have been dropping or holding steady. That’s in the United States. In most European and Asian countries you can walk around relatively safely. Now that is not taking into account areas of the world where war is raging. For any traveler though, it is best to take precautionary measures whether traveling form the United States to another country or international citizen flying to the United States. We always need to work on decreasing violence but domestic violence, reported and unreported, is what needs to be addressed. Check it out for yourself.
6. Less War–It’s true that more people have been killed by war and conflict in the 20th century than any other. The statistics are inflated due to weapons technology. Bigger, better, faster weapons used against citizens as well as the military means more death and higher numbers. Two world wars and a long Vietnam War as well as the war on terrorism that began long before this century has contributed to the human death toll. Having stated that, previous centuries were filled with conflict in several countries at the same period in history for different reasons. The exception was peace rather than war during a lifetime. You can point to a certain year on a timeline and examine Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Asia Minor, Russia and Africa and more often than not a conflict or war was raging among countries on those lands. Although the United Nations has its critics, the organization does provide an opportunity for countries to resolve differences and hold leaders accountable for their actions.
7. Economic Stability–Despite pockets of poverty and suffering throughout the world, a majority of the world enjoys the ability and the right to earn a comfortable wage and most make enough to satisfy the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, such as food, shelter, security, and other things like SMART Phones. Furthermore, governments, having passed measures and legislation, prevent wild stock market fluctuations and crashes by using all of the countermeasure tools after learning the lessons of 1929 and 2008 economic collapses. Laws such as antitrust legislation also exist today enabling justice departments to catch white-collar financial crime.
8. Natural Disaster Measures and Warnings—The ability to forecast hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, tornadoes as well as snow storms and other weather problems has helped people throughout the world prepare before nature unleashes its wrath. Sometimes forecasters miss the mark but more often they let us know what is moving in well before the day it arrives. Often predicting disasters like the 2004 Tsunami is difficult. The good news is that with each year, forecasters and scientists are learning and finding out more information about how to prepare.
That’s it. When you think about it as President Barack Obama said to the United Nation’s General Assembly recently, “this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, and to be free to pursue your dreams.” He is right. If you think objectively without any political leanings, he is correct. We do live in a world today that is much safer and more convenient than ever. And that’s a positive.
President Barack Obama’s speech here.
by Rick Bretz
We’ve all seen the movie “Marathon Man” when Dustin Hoffman’s character is repeatedly asked, “Is it safe?”. Lawrence Olivier not getting an answer then sadistically digs into Hoffman’s teeth as a form of torture.
Today, professionals working in the journalism and broadcasting fields have to ask themselves, “is it safe?”, before venturing into dangerous areas of the world where hate, revenge and conflict rule the day. The job has always had its inherent dangers with the threat of prison sentences, injury, assassination and outright murder before every interview or timely picture.
The brutal murders of media professionals James Foley and Steven Sotloff in the last few weeks by ISIS, a terrorist organization without any morals or a modicum of decency, has answered that question for many in the profession.
The ISIS cowards have gone as low as to behead British hostage David Haines, an aid worker trying to help others in a war-torn part of the world. British Prime Minister David Cameron called it an “Act of pure evil.” I have other words but I won’t use them in this article.
Journalists and broadcasters write history’s rough draft for authors to analyze and research later. I love history and I don’t like people who try to suppress the information writers might use later. People who harass, kill, maim or intimidate journalists, videographers, photographers or broadcasters contribute to man’s inhumanity towards man in perpetuity.
There’s a difference between media professionals being captured and killed purposely for an organization’s propaganda purposes as opposed to a journalist being killed in the line of getting the story. One is an accepted risk while the other is just pure calculated murder for propaganda reasons and to show the world how brutal one can be. In reality terrorists are just plain old cowards who would rather make the world a darker place rather than an enlightened one. What courage does it take to kill someone kneeling with their hands tied behind their back?
I’ll answer that, none whatsoever, not an ounce. The person kneeling before the terrorist has the courage.
Have you ever watched a film or tape from the prohibition era, of war atrocities, or someone fighting racial inequality? If you have, you must realize someone had to be in harm’s way to capture that moment in time so a student or government representative could learn from it. Someone has to be on the other side of the lens to get it to the audience watching and reading safely in their homes.
The danger that media professionals have had to endure has been around a long time. If there’s a story, a person has been there to tell it. That’s why we have history.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is a website that exists to monitor media professionals and how many have given their lives so we can understand what is happening throughout the world.
Their website is:
These are statistics on those killed.
More people should read this website and find out about the latest information.
These courageous journalists and broadcasters have understood one truth, If evil, death, intimidation and fear hide behind a curtain, then nothing will change. Their words and pictures shine a light on these issues and force the world to wake up. Their lives will not go unnoticed.
By Rick Bretz
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit this book is my first authored by Stephen E. Ambrose. After finishing it in less time than it took veterans travelling from the United States to Italy by boat in 1944, I will read more written by Ambrose, who also wrote “Band of Brothers”, “Undaunted Courage”, “Eisenhower: Soldier and President”, and many others.
The Wild Blue, with the subtitle, “The Men and Boys Who Flew The B-24s Over Germany”, is well researched and an entertaining read. It is not a thorough examination of air power used in World War II. It, however, depicts the stages several individuals passed through to get ready, travel to a foreign country, and fly combat missions and hopefully arrive safely back home. The book zeroes in on one particular B-24 unit, the pilots and crews of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, and one crew in particular that flew missions from Italy into Central Europe at the end of the war.
As Ambrose’s story unfolds chapter after chapter, the reader understands the commitment and courage bomber crews exhibited during the last days of World War II. Ambrose died in 2002 and with this book, published in 2001, he left us with the story about another significant American, 1972 Democratic Presidential Candidate and Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern, who died in 2012, and the his fellow servicemen.
Before George McGovern worked as an author, history professor, US Representative, Senator from South Dakota and Presidential Candidate, he was a trained pilot. By all accounts from the book, he was an excellent, composed pilot, respected and admired by his crew. Ambrose’s description of McGovern’s training and the dangers involved just to make it through the training is riveting. His account of how his fellow crew members came to sign up for the Army Air Forces and how they worked their way through training to graduation is enlightening. Some potential pilots washed out while some didn’t make it back. The book takes you through McGovern’s and his crew’s missions during World War II while describing his leadership style. The account of how he earned his Distinguished Flying Cross is particularly captivating.
The book is thorough but short enough to satisfy the reader who wants to know about the B-24 Liberator bombers and the story of George McGovern’s experience during the war.
I’m giving away my age here, but I was 12 years old when the 1972 Presidential Election was decided by the voting majority. I didn’t know much about either candidate back then. Today, I know more about former President Richard Nixon. I understand that McGovern was against the Vietnam War as early as 1962. As a World War II bomber pilot, McGovern understood the cost of war and in reading this you develop more insight into his thinking during those turbulent days in the 1960s.
by Rick Bretz
Band of Brothers (2001)
The story of Easy Company from their tough initial training through World War II’s D-Day to V-J Day. The 10 part series, based on a Stephen Ambrose book, covers the hardship and the elation of being part of a great cause. Each episode begins with an interview showing the real members of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Best Line: Lt. Winters, “That night, I took time to thank God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed I would make it through D plus 1. And if, somehow, I managed to get home again, I promised God and myself that I would find a quiet piece of land someplace and spend the rest of my life in peace.
From the Earth to the Moon (1998)
This mini-series shows the challenges, heartache and triumph of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs as they achieved the nation’s goal of sending a man to the moon and bringing him back safely.
Best Line: Astronaut Frank Borman speaking about the cause of the Apollo 1 fire, “A failure of imagination. We’ve always known there was the possibility of fire in a spacecraft. But the fear was that it would happen in space, when you’re 180 miles from terra firma and the nearest fire station. That was the worry. No one ever imagined it could happen on the ground. If anyone had thought of it, the test would’ve been classified as hazardous. But it wasn’t. We just didn’t think of it. Now whose fault is that? Well, it’s North American’s fault. It’s NASA’s fault. It’s the fault of every person who ever worked on Apollo. It’s my fault. I didn’t think the test was hazardous. No one did. I wish to God we had.
George Washington (1984)
Barry Bostwick gives an outstanding performance of a young and ageing George Washington in this almost forgotten mini-series from 1984. It covers his early life as a young officer and his wooing of Martha Custis whom he would marry. The cast includes some of the greats: Hal Holbrook as John Adams, Patty Duke as Martha Washington, James Mason as General Braddock, Jaclyn Smith as Sally Fairfax and many more. Many actors have attempted to portray George Washington and some have succeeded but Barry Bostwick comes pretty close to getting the personality and spirit of the man.
Best Line: General George Washington addressing his officers, “Gentlemen, you’ll permit me to put on my spectacles, as I have grown not only grey but also blind in the service of my country.”
This is considered one of the best mini-series of all time. Based on the novel by James Michener, It’s on just about every one’s “best of” list. The central theme identifies the many challenges and hard ships associated with settling in the West as the concept of manifest destiny was put into practice. The cast includes just about every major actor of that era. Raymond Burr, Robert Conrad, Lynn Redgrave, Sally Kellerman, Richard Crenna and Sharon Gless and more. The story crosses two centuries and chronicles the lives of people living in and around the town of Centennial, Colorado.
Best Line: “Only the rocks live forever.”
John Adams (2008)
Paul Giamatti captures John Adams prickly personality as well as his determination in forging a new country. More than that, he was perfect for showing the audience how intellectually sound John Adam’s was when arguing for his clients in court or persuading the founders to adopt a course of action. The mini-series also makes a point to show how important Abigail Adams was to her husband’s success. Based on the book by David McCullough, the series makes it a point to show the hardships the John and Abigail Adams endured.
Best Lines: John Adams, “My thoughts are so clear to me… each one takes perfect shape within my mind. But when I speak, when I offer them to others, they seem to lose all definition.”
Benjamin Franklin, “You are a guest in Philadelphia. Fish, and guests, stink after three days.”
The Men Who Built America (2012)
Before you can succeed anywhere you have to possess a vision. These men had it with some to spare. This series points the key and fill lights on the Mount Rushmore of businessmen who built America. Each segment tells the story of giants in their field. The series tells the stories of J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford and how they accumulated their vast empires and wealth. More importantly, the series tells how they worked with one another or challenged each other for another’s piece of the economic pie. If you want to know how America became an economic superpower after the civil war, this is the mini-series to watch. Many of today’s business leaders talk about what it takes to be ultra-successful in the business world during the series.
Best Line: H. W. Brands (historian) “Carnegie demonstrated that if you’re the first at whatever you do, you have a huge advantage over the people who come along later because you got the jump on them and very often that jump allows you to carve a niche and to maximize your profits within that niche.”
North and South (1985)
This series covers the friendship between two young cadets at The United States Military Academy at West Point. One is from, you guessed it, from a wealthy plantation owning family in the South and the other from a wealthy industrial and factory owning family from the North. The series tackles racism issues as well as the ideological differences among plantation owning southerners and industry building northerners. The civil war wages on and the friendship between the two main characters is tested.
Best Line: Orry talking to George, “This is our way of life, it has been for more than a hundred years! (Pause) How would you like me, to come up to Lehigh Station, telling you how to run your life, to change the way you have always lived?”
Roots is one of the most celebrated and well know mini-series since the inception of genre. It has great actors and a compelling story of slave family and slave owners. The first episodes in the series show the viewers what slave ships would have been like and how the slave trade was perpetuated by profiteers. LeVar Burton plays the lead character Kunta Kinte as we follow him from Africa to the United States. Based on the book by Alex Haley, the series shows how families were torn apart when the United States thought it was acceptable to own another human being. The all-star cast gives a bravura performance that captivated the country in 1977.
Best Lines: Omoro, Kunta Kinte’s father, holding his infant son up to a starry sky, “Kunta Kinte, behold the only thing greater than yourself!”
Fiddler, “Christmas is when White folk give each other stuff don’t neither of em need.”
Kintango, “It is impossible to kill an enemy. You may end a man’s life, but his son becomes your new enemy. A warrior respects another warrior, even he is his enemy. A warrior kills only to protect his family, or to keep from becoming a slave. We believe not in death, but in life, and there is no object more valuable than a man’s life.
Honorable Mentions: The Company, The Kennedys, Jesus of Nazareth, Shogun, Holocaust, The Civil War, The Winds of War, War and Peace, Hatfields & McCoys
by Rick Bretz
“The Gate of Hell has opened and shrapnel came through the windows,” a Gaza resident said today. The Gaza resident’s statement could apply to any war throughout history. One hard truth remains: Once the gate of hell opens it is difficult to close.
When people can’t settle their differences through diplomacy, civilians inevitably see the failed results at their front door step. History has proven that leaders and generals believe adversaries surrender when spears and arrows find their way to a civilian’s living space. News channel broadcasters describe horrific tragedies from current events daily. It happened in Persian Gulf and Afghanistan Wars, the Vietnam War, Korean War, World War II, World War I all the way back to the first earthly disagreement over territorial rights.
It’s happening now in the Ukraine and in the Middle East while Hamas and Israel fire rockets at each other. For most non-combatant civilians, it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. Some civilians even pick a side until they see at what a cause costs. What matters then is the smell of death has entered their universe and they want it to stop.
July 21st marks the anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas or the First Battle of Bull Run as the Union Government called it. The battle marked the first major fight between the Armies of Virginia. If there is one truth other than death inside the universe of battle and that is the fight will always involve civilians on the battlefield. Such is the case at the Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run depending on your loyalties during the Civil War. The Confederates refer to the battle as Manassas while the Union called it Bull Run. The signs leading to the battlefield today read “Manassas” as you travel down Interstate 66 in Virginia just outside Clifton and Centreville, Va.
A key part of the Manassas battle occurred on Henry Hill around the Henry House. Judith Carter Henry, 84 or 85 years old, stubbornly refused to leave her upstairs bedroom while the battle continued around her house. Judith Henry was killed by a Union cannon shell meant for the snipers who were using her house. She was the first civilian killed at First Battle of Manassas, July 21, 1861. The house had been in the family for a number of years and grave markers remain on the battlefield in front of the house rebuilt in1870.
The battlefield is a place where you can get a sense of the “Universe of Battle.” This is where armies and governments from both sides may have formulated the idea that this war would be over later than sooner as General Tecumseh Sherman predicted at the beginning. Another dynamic general, General Thomas Jackson got his name that would go down in history when General Bernard Bee yelled, “There is Jackson standing there like a stone wall.” So it was General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson as the name remained throughout history. Some accounts have claimed that the statement was meant as a criticism of Jackson’s refusal to move and help his fellow units. However, history proves that Jackson’s unit suffered many casualties during the battle.
When walking most battlefields including this one, the observer gets the sense that communication must have been difficult. They used flag signal codes and runners for communication. Command and control as well as integrating battle elements such as cannon units, cavalry and infantry must have been difficult. Today’s satellite communications and almost instant intelligence data from the field gives today’s commanders more time to make decisions.
The phrase “Universe of Battle” suggests different meanings to a person’s point of view. It can represent the horrors of war invading a civilian’s universe as in the case of the recent downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 or the conflicts in the Middle East between Hamas and the Israeli defense forces.
The universe of battle could also mean the particular space you’re living in when fighting in a battle. The kind of universe where all your senses reach a new level from hearing every audio wave, and smelling the cannon’s gunpowder to seeing the blood on wounded soldiers and civilians. It’s a bubble atmosphere until it’s all over.
I choose to visit battlefields to honor those who find themselves, through the accidental fate or personal choice, in a situation where they have to fight or die for a cause, defense of a country, for the elimination of a social system, for a particular religion or for the continuance of mankind’s maturity. Maybe there will be a time when people will cease creating new battlefield parks. Imagine.
by Rick Bretz
A trip to Vermont can provide an opportunity to remove oneself from all that prevents peace and relaxation. While travelling the highways, back roads, and by ways of the state, you can witness the vivid green mountain ranges as well as see up close the covered bridges that connect roads over valleys and waterways. Using a thoroughly modern piece of machinery, the automobile, to find architectural skill that benefited the horse and buggy rider sometimes requires compromise. For almost all bridges, there is room for only one car to cross at a time so diplomacy is required. “You go first, then it’s my turn.”
The covered bridge lives in many states across America but it also can be found in many countries such as Germany, China, Switzerland and Turkey. Covered bridges have an architecture all their own and can vary is types. color and size.
Construction workers and engineers built the first covered bridge in Pennsylvania over the Schuylkill River in 1800. Pennsylvania has its share of covered bridges, more than 200 spreading out across the state. However, Vermont has its share and the count comes in at just over a 100. The state has the highest number of covered bridges per square mile than any other state.
The covered bridge was engineered for a couple of reasons. The primary requirement was to protect the bridge from the weather by enclosing it on its sides and with a roof. Experts in the field of Covered Bridge-worthiness say that an authentic covered bridge is built with trusses. Vermont law now protects covered bridges and none can be torn down without approval from the governor and the Board of Historic Sites. A covered bridge can extend the life of bridge well past the 10 or 15 years a wooden bridge can last without the cover and enclosure walls.
Many states can boast covered bridges but they will have a tough time matching the high concentration of bridges per square mile combined with the scenery you will enjoy while looking for them. Besides the skiing, Vermont’s bridge scenery remains in place for travelers to see the past.
by Rick Bretz
This is what you learn after reading the book “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser. The subtitle gives away the theme, “Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.”
The book moves through the early stages of the Cold War landscape where the country’s leaders addressed many thorny issues such as fixing weapons program technical malfunctions and, even tougher, how to eliminate human errors.
In the Cold War business doing things right 99 percent of the time only gets you criticized for the other one percent when things go wrong. The men and women who keep the country safe and secure while working inside missile control centers and bombers remain examples of intelligent and reliable military professionals. The military forged new territory after World War II when they had to invent procedures and checklists for managing and controlling intercontinental ballistic missiles and warheads designed to wipe cities and countries off the map.
Despite the best planning and “What If” matrices by government and defense professionals in the military, accidents will happen and did happen. Through sheer good fortune the nuclear weapons program didn’t accidentally kill innocent civilians like the 1961 “Broken Arrow” incident near Goldsboro, NC., when bombs went through all but one of the fail safe steps that prevented a detonation after a B-52 bomber crash. Prior to that, the government even authorized military studies such as the Army’s Office of Special Weapons Development report in 1955 titled, “Acceptable Military Risks from Accidental Detonation of Atomic Weapons.” These chapters make you sit up and read with a little more attention so you won’t miss any other revealing “that was a close one” information.
This book scrutinizes and outlines the thought processes and policy battles within the civilian and military government leadership for control of the country’s use and design of the nuclear defense program. He portrays key figures at the early stages of weapons technology like Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay and Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, who had to deal with the weapons command and control issues in the beginning. A concern raised by leaders at the start was the communication time-lapse from a Soviet Union launch to the moment the President receives word that missiles were on the way. This time period was vital for having enough time to make the correct decision to launch weapons or realize it was a false indicator. If recognition and communications were slow, the President may not have had enough time to give the OK to send missiles down range in retaliation, especially if the target was the nation’s capital.
For the baby boomer generation, this book is a trip down mutual destruction memory lane. The author liberally uses the acronyms some of us have come to know and love like MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), DEFCON (Defense Readiness Condition), ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and even some new ones like PAL (Permissive Action Link), a term used to describe a coded device installed within a nuclear warhead or bomb, like a lock to prevent unauthorized use of the weapon that might accidentally facilitate MAD.
Several of the acronyms are downright ingenious like MANIAC (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer), an early electronic, digital computer used at Los Alamos to design the first hydrogen bombs.
The author Schlosser, who also wrote “Fast Food Nation”, begins with an event that occurred on September 18, 1980, in a Titan II missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas. It describes the command and control center and how, through a series of mistakes, a missile came close to contaminating a large part of the state. It’s a story thread that is woven throughout the book. The author walks you through the launch complex while giving the reader a vivid picture of what a missile looks like and the difficult job “Missileers” had keeping our country safe from communist aggression. The job was much more dangerous than conventional thinking would have you believe.
The Air Force officers and airmen mentioned in the book, working at missile silos and control centers across the United States and overseas, trained diligently for a task they were given during a tense time on the Cold War timeline. They were putting into action the Cold War Theory of deterrence. In between the face-offs and stare downs, misinformation and disinformation flowed as part of campaigns to unsettle each other’s government leadership. All the while, agency and department chiefs fought for control, budgets increased, military services developed their own weapons initiatives, and strategies shifted from deterrence and MAD to the strategy of conflict escalation during the arms race.
For some people this book will get tedious in the middle when the author outlines policy arguments and protocols. The read gets interesting when he describes the many personalities that have worked in the program. Some parts take on a solemn tone at times when he writes about young people who have given their lives while flying missions or trying to prevent a missile silo from contaminating an area.
I recommend this book if you want to read about the history of America’s arms race with the Soviet Union and how the two countries played a high stakes game of poker with millions of lives on the table. At times, America bluffed and other times the Soviet Union had the bad hand but played as if they had a straight flush.
by Rick Bretz
The first apology in the history of the world, of course, occurred shortly after Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.
She had to send out a Tweet that went something like this, “I deeply regret the error of my ways. I saw it and I took it. I shouldn’t have and media cameras caught me. Most of all, I am sorry for hurting the only human being that I can have a conversation with, Adam. Please do not use me as an example. I didn’t know what I was thinking.”
That Twitter apology was followed by a Facebook post and several talk show appearances.
This was soon followed by a heartfelt, “I’m Sorry” from Adam for coming home later from whatever he did in those days.
Many apologies later from Caesars, Pharaohs, Kings, Queens, husbands and entertainers led to another famous apology.
History would reveal that Leonardo Da Vinci apologized for taking so long (4 years) to complete the Sistine Chapel. Ok. That didn’t happen but if he were doing today, he would have to explain why he was behind schedule on an evening news show, followed by Congressional Hearings to explain how the money was being used.
An avalanche of heavy-hearted apologies have inundated the radio, internet and talk shows the last several years. Too bad most of them aren’t sincere. The apology-makers are trying to save something they have, like money, reputations, endorsement deals or careers. Part of the problem is that the word usage police and special interest groups have begun to hold people’s reputations and careers hostage until they submit to their social penance demands. People have to show the proper amount of contrition or else they can’t move on with their lives.
Here is an effective apology from the past. In 1077: Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV apologizes to Pope Gregory VII for church-state conflicts by standing barefoot in the snow for three days.
Now this is an apology. No words but action. I’ve given some apologies but I would have never thought about this as a way to say, “I’m Sorry.” If I did think of it, I would have kept it to myself and thought of something else like “I’ll light the candles in the Chapel for seven straight days or something like that.”
However, when you need a real apology done the right way there are two examples that come to mind. One is a non-apology no fault appeal.
It was John Belushi’s last second plea to his scorned girl friend at the end of the Blues Brothers movie, “No I didn’t. Honest… I ran out of gas! I–I had a flat tire! I didn’t have enough money for cab fare! My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners! An old friend came in from out-of-town! Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!!
Then there is the insincere heartfelt apology given to Kevin Kline by John Cleese in the movie, “A Fish Called Wanda.” He states while hanging upside down out of a window, “All right, all right, I apologize. I’m really, really sorry. I apologize unreservedly. I do. I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact, and was in no way fair comment, and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.”
There are many ways to apologize but don’t say you are sorry unless you mean it. Also, don’t keep saying I’m sorry for no reason, it loses its effectiveness and just makes the offender look ridiculous. So, with that stated, I’m sorry for wasting your time reading this post. Really I am.