September 24, 2016

Death by friendly fire

Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson

Just in the past week, we learned of several friendly-fire incidents in the Syrian civil war turned international crisis, in which Syrian troops allegedly were killed by U.S.-led coalition planes, and a humanitarian aid convoy was attacked by Russians.
Since there seems to be at least three sides in that conflict — and maybe a dozen, who knows — as a historian it’s simply déja vu.
Friendly fire in wartime is as common a commodity — and as certain to happen — as it is one side in a conflict will attempt to kill soldiers of their enemy.
It’s a simple concept we seem to be surprised about every time it happens.
As soon as I heard of Syrian soldiers dying from friendly fire, I thought of history past.
Have you ever seen the opening 27 minutes of the Academy Award-winning film “Saving Private Ryan?”
I have, easily more than a dozen times. If you haven’t, you should.
It is utter chaos, of soldiers continuously being shot and maimed and killed by the dozens and hundreds, each man enduring his own private hell — of fear, of sights and sounds and smells no sane person would ever want to hear again.
That is war.
It is not glorious, it is not coherent, it is not humane, it is not civilized. But it is real, it is mind-numbing. That’s why soldiers die from friendly fire.
You can curry-comb the pages of history past for friendly-fire incidents, and they are legion. Every war going back to the 1600s has had them — likely, every war before that as well — and those incidents simply have been forgotten or weren’t recorded.
During the American Revolution at the Battle of Germantown, two brigades of Continental soldiers opened fire on one another because of late arrival at the battle and lack of coordination. They simply failed to recognize that they were fighting on the same side, and both fled the battlefield in confusion.
At the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781, after several musket volleys and cannon fire between Continentals and British troops, the smoke of battle obscured the view of both sides, almost blinding soldiers and making breathing difficult.
In the confusion that is war, British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis of Yorktown fame, ordered cannon to fire on the Americans and British alike, for lack of being able to see. Many British soldiers died in the artillery fire.
World War I and World War II were absolutely rife with friendly fire incidents.
At Chateau-Thierry, American machine gunners described a night attack in 1918 by massed German troops, who were singing and locked arm in arm in a suicide charge over a Marne River bridge.
In fact, they were Allies of the French 10th Colonial division from Senegal, trying to cross the river to friendly lines. This incident was suppressed, and no German records were ever found of any attack on a bridge during the battle, which caused great loss of life.
In April of 1944, during the nine-day rehearsal for the D-Day landings at Normandy and Utah Beach, Exercise Tiger killed more American soldiers than the actual landing and fire by the Germans.
American troops during the live-fire training at Slapton Sands on a British beach, crossed over an area being shelled with live ammo by the British heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins.
Some 308 American soldiers died that day — from friendly fire. During the actual landing at Utah Beach, casualty figures for U.S. soldiers were 197 — from enemy fire.
Friendly fire is a hazard and a consequence of war — all war.
The single greatest incident from American history that came to my mind as soon as I heard of the Syrian incident, occurred in the tangled, vine and tree-choked depths of The Wilderness during the American Civil War — and as likely as not, hastened the end of that war.
Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was a legend during his military career, and in history books since America’s 1861-1865 trial by fire.
His tactics, generalship and brilliance during the Shenandoah Campaign of 1862 are studied to this day at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point — fighting, beating and winning against Union forces four times his size over 48 days.
The greatest victory by Confederate forces in that war occurred in May 1863, at Chancellorsville, when Jackson marched his men across the front of the Union Army in the thick Wilderness area of Virginia, slammed into the Federal right flank, basically winning the battle in a single blow.
After nightfall halted the attack, Jackson rode forward of the lines to reconnoiter, and while returning he and many of his staff were shot down by Confederate troops in the confusion.
Hit three times, the brilliant Jackson had his shattered left arm amputated and he died of pneumonia on the Sabbath — from friendly fire.

David Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. 

September 17, 2016

Fall's here, so it must be crickets

The legacy of fall — the lowly cricket

This is getting serious, I mean, really serious.
No, I’m not talking about the unending comedy (or tragedy, if you read too many Facebook posts on the subject) of the upcoming November presidential election.
I’m talking about serious stuff — crickets.
Is it just me, or are they really worse than in past years around here?
We used to have them falling out of the ceiling in the newsroom when I first started at the N&E 14 years ago, but a serious spraying regimen has their number to the point I don’t even see them anymore.
It’s my garage that has been invaded. I find crickets chirping and hopping about amid the clutter that has been slowly declining over the past few years, as a serious attempt has been made to clear wide walking paths — for the crickets.
I’ve just about exhausted my third can of Raid, and the crickets are thinning, and now I only find one or two a day, gasping on their last splayed legs after repeated baseboard dousing.
But crickets also mean autumn, and I love autumn, so on to something less serious.
Seems like just about every people throughout world history have some type of fall festival of sorts, and many bizarre ones have been the subject of past columns.
But, we here in America can’t point fingers at weird European autumnal observances from history past. We have a doozy or two over here.
I’ve picked out some of my favorites, headed by the West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off and Autumn Festival in Marlington.
Around those parts of the West Virginia hills, the specialties offered to attendees include a cook-off in which the main ingredient could come from the side of the road.
OK, they did stress the word “could,” so I don’t want anyone to get any ideas with the upcoming United Way Chili Cook-off approaching next month.
The West Virginia cook-off has included things like squirrel gravy and bear teriyaki.
So, for Oklahomans, would our fare include armadillo hors d’oeuvres or skunk chili?
Bleh!
Or there’s the Trailing the Sheep Fall Festival in Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho.
Since sheep outnumber inhabitants of that thinly populated state, the big event is a parade, where people can follow 1,500 sheep down Ketchum’s Main Street.
Move over, Cherokee Strip Celebration Parade.
Then, for the more sports-minded American, there is the fall Wife Carrying Championship in Bethel, Maine.
Begun in Finland, wife carrying long ago had some barbaric legends attached to it, so I won’t go there.
But in Bethel, the North American championship of wife carrying has the winners take home their better half’s weight in beer and five times her weight in cash.
OK, I could make all kinds of jokes here, but over the years I’ve grown wiser than to make those comments — and, females seem to outnumber men at the News & Eagle, so I’m going to just end this now before I get seriously injured.
For the closer-to-Halloween fall festival crowd, there is California’s Coarsegold Tarantula Awareness Festival in October.
Festival celebrants watch the hairy spiders race — from a safe distance, of course — and events near the Yosemite National Park include a tarantula poem contest, a scream-off and a hairy leg contest for both men and the ladies.
Ok, now I’m in real trouble. I can’t even go there.
Then, there is the Hollerin’ Heritage Festival in Spivey’s Corner, N.C., put on every year by the local volunteer fire department.
Now, I’ve been in on and attended more than my share of volunteer fire department fundraisers over the years, so I can appreciate this one.
The contest and festival isn’t just about calling hogs, which has its own following in many areas of the North American continent.
In Spivey Corners, they consider it to be the earliest form of communication between humans, which may have more than a little fact to it.
They have hollerin’ set to music, hollerin’ to call in herds and so-called expressive hollerin’, voiced purely for pleasure’s sake.
Then, the festival is capped off by live music and a barbecue cook-off.
OK, now a little barbecue is one great way to cap off a not-your-normal fall festival.
Not sure who is the best at hollerin’ in North Carolina or Oklahoma, but my money is on the fairer sex in this type contest.
OK, now I’m going to get a beatin’.
So, I propose a new fall festival for Garfield County, one where we see just how many crickets we can stomp, so I don’t have to listen to them singing at 5:30 in the morning, and can’t get back to sleep so I can write this column.
Can we start that stompin’ festival in my garage?

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. 

September 10, 2016

Terror and helplessness

Aftermath of the school bombing in Bath, Mich., May 18, 1927, killing 45, nearly all students and teachers

It was a quiet, rural community, in an area dotted with farms and a truly agricultural base.
The local school had several hundred students and teachers, consolidated over years from old one-room school houses of this nation’s past — historically much like smaller, rural schools in Garfield County and Northwest Oklahoma.
A terrorist had been plotting, perhaps at least a year, planting explosives in both wings of the brick structure’s basement — a lone madman, bent on a terrorist act. Bent on destruction of the school and everyone inside.
This scenario is America’s worst fear, its worst nightmare — that a terrorist someday may decide that whatever cause he or she espouses, with whatever ideology or lunatic-fringe idea they have, will strike at America’s heartland.
We have within the past 20-odd years experienced mass terrorist acts and attacks — both successful and foiled by authorities.
Americans, in fact most peoples of Earth, only desire peace and to live in a fairly ordered society, where they can live relatively free to do as they will, and lead a comfortable life.
We had a reality-shaking 5.8 earthquake in the past week in Oklahoma, that gave us a little taste of what many have experienced in their lives throughout recorded history.
That earthquake, which certainly could have been far worse, very easily could have devastated large areas of this state.
What would you do, as you are reading these words, if a 7.5 earthquake hit Oklahoma?
Electrical power would be lost, gas lines ruptured, water lines hopelessly destroyed as the earth shakes and undulates. Houses would be destroyed or become unlivable, and you and your family would be left in the rubble.
Without power, banking delivery systems would fail, and you would be without money.
Hard to get dollars out of an ATM that has no electricity.
Most would be out of work, without water, and the gasoline distribution system would break down completely.
Food would quickly become a scarce commodity, and National Guard troops soon would filter across the state to keep order in the ensuing chaos.
We like to think we could endure this greatest of hardships. And, many of us would endure.
Yet, in the end, we are powerless to stop nature from upending our lives, much like we are nearly as powerless — as human beings — when terrorists strike.
We are at their whim, at their mercy.
It only takes one terrorist to completely destroy the peace and calm of any American city or town, no matter how large or how small.
Headlines fill newspapers with terrorist attacks across the globe, as the deadly attacks of 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, Newtown, Orlando and Columbine still are very fresh in our memories.
The attack on a quiet, rural community school in my lead-in paragraphs is a worst fear. And, it already has happened — during the generation of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
On May 18, 1927, before the Great Depression and long before the Second World War, it was called the Bath School Massacre.
It wasn’t an Islamist terrorist, a radical right-wing bomber like Timothy McVeigh or Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida. It wasn’t the Weather Underground or the Black Panthers of the 1960s.
Andrew Kehoe, a 55-year-old farmer and treasurer of the local school board in Bath, Mich., was angered by increased school taxes on his property, and at having lost a 1926 election for clerk of the rural township.
Accounts said he had a reputation for difficulty while serving on the school board and in his personal dealings with others.
His wife was ill with tuberculosis, he had stopped making payments on his farm’s mortgage and he had been informed he would lose it to foreclosure.
His rural neighbors had noticed Kehoe had stopped working his farm for almost a year, and some thought he was planning suicide.
However, during that year, Kehoe had purchased substantial quantities of explosives and discreetly planted them all about his farm property and the basement of the Bath School building.
The Michigan farmer then murdered his wife, blew up his house and farm buildings and at 8:45 a.m. on that spring morning, as school was full of children and in session, a dynamite explosion devastated the north wing of the school, instantly killing 36 children and two teachers.
Kehoe then drove up to the shattered school in his truck, got out and used a rifle to detonate dynamite inside it, killing himself, the superintendent and several more adults and children.
During rescue efforts, 500 pounds of unexploded dynamite was found in the south wing of the school that failed to detonate.
This was just an average American, a home-grown terrorist and murderer.
That is the most terrifying aspect of this tragic, historic tale.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. 

September 3, 2016

'Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?'

Broadside from the Presidential Election of 1840

Presidential politics and campaign slogans have been the rage throughout much of American history. While we are amidst and closing in on November and another every-four-year vote for the nation’s highest office, I’m not sure slogans have stuck yet with candidates in 2016.
Political catch phrases usually come from among a presidential candidates supporters, and many have been coined from speeches various candidates have made in the run-up to the November election.
Sometimes they are winners, and sometimes they are losers. Sometimes, history forgot campaign slogans because they didn’t really stick with voters.
“I like Ike” was one America’s baby boomers should remember from their youth.
It was a no-nonsense slogan used to successfully brand two-term president and likable World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Of course, as one of my more witty (and younger) co-workers in the newsroom once said about the 1950s when I was a youngster, she said I grew up in the days when everything was black and white — meaning, before color TV.
Very clever.
Another slogan from my tween years was “In your heart, you know he’s right.”
That slogan was coined for Sen. Barry Goldwater, in a quite unsuccessful presidential fight with President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The Texan's own “All the way with LBJ” slogan was not great, a bit corny, but … who am I to argue with success.
My personal favorite campaign slogan comes from perhaps this nation’s most down-to-earth president — Harry Truman. It’s also one of the favorites of most presidential historians.
“Give ‘em hell, Harry” was a well-coined line that came from a supporter on one of his whistle-stop tours of the nation, yelled by an unknown man in a crowd Truman was addressing.
Harry indeed gave ‘em hell, and came from behind to best Thomas Dewey in 1948.
In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant used the slogan “Grant us another term.”
While it certainly was lacking in creativity and really was pretty lame, it certainly didn’t hurt the popular former Civil War general and hero, and he got his second term.
In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt was quoted in the press: “I propose a new deal.”
The New Deal became a catch word for Roosevelt from that point onward, as he won his presidential election against incumbent President Herbert Hoover, and went on to become the only man in U.S. history to win a third and then a fourth term as president.
When he ran for his second term as president, Ronald Reagan used the catch-phrase, “Morning again in America.”
While it’s not on the long list of well-known campaign phrases, it certainly was one of the most successful.
An early day presidential campaign slogan that still reverberates in history classes is the famous “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.” It came from 1840, when William Henry Harrison — noted for fighting Indians in the Battle of Tippecanoe, ran with vice-presidential nominee John Tyler.
So, our early presidential candidates did have some flair, after all.
“It’s the economy, stupid,” became a catch-phrase more than a slogan in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the White House.
That phrase, while crude, may be the most succinct of any in history.
Indeed, the economy almost always dictates how a presidential candidate will fare in November.
Perhaps the slogan that died the quickest was in 1928, when Hoover won the presidency.
“A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage.”
A year later, the Great Depression slammed the United States, and the phrase, the chickens, the pots and many of the cars pretty much disappeared.
In 1916, Woodrow Wilson had this slogan: ”He kept us out of war.”
Well, that one lasted just one year and Americans were dying on battlefields in France and Belgium in the First World War.
Abraham Lincoln had a really good one in 1864, as the Civil War raged and a then-unpopular president and an even more unpopular war couldn’t undermine Old Abe’s victory: “Don’t swap horses in midstream.”
Americans didn’t, and his face today graces Mount Rushmore and his memorial casts historical shadows and light upon the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C.
One of the oddest presidential anti-slogans I could find from American history occurred in 1884, when Grover Cleveland narrowly bested Sen. James G. Blaine.
“Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” was used by Blaine supporters against Cleveland, who was the father of an illegitimate child.
Cleveland supporters countered with, “Gone to the White House, ha, ha ha.”
Acrimony is not new to American politics.
So, what will be slogans and catch-phrases in 2016?
There have been lots of phrases and accusations in 2016 — I’m not sure what, if anything, will stick.
Time — and history — will tell.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle.