Tag Archives: history

George C Marshall – the leader we needed – and still need

I’ve been reading a lot lately about General George C. Marshall. If you’ve heard of him, either 1) you grew up with me in Fayette County, PA and saw his name on the highway sign but didn’t know why, and/or 2) you have heard of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe in 1947-49 in the wake of total destruction from the war.
George C Marshall
Source: VMI
What I didn’t know (but Coart did, and he put me on to reading more about Marshall) is just how integral General Marshall was in creating the US military organization we have today, and establishing a US foreign policy for the Cold War era that might avoid hawkish bloodlust for destruction.

As Army Chief of Staff, Marshall transformed the US Military in 5 years from a woefully underfunded and unprepared force to the global powerhouse that punched the Nazis in the face. To list his accomplishments would require more words than you’re probably willing to read right now.

What really matters is that General Marshall was apparently one of the most incredible people. His unmatched personal integrity allowed him to unite a viciously divided Congress behind urgent causes like drafting men into the army in 1940 when most of America wanted nothing to do with Europe’s war (but Marshall knew it would come for us), or getting $2 billion in funding for the Manhattan Project (atomic bomb) despite not being able to tell the congressmen what the money would be for, or convincing Congress to spend half a BILLION dollars a month in 1947-48 to enact the recovery program for Europe. His personal integrity anchored his reputation and people trusted him.

He was probably the finest organizational leader, personnel developer, and military strategist of the 20th century…maybe in America’s history. Churchill called him the architect of Allied victory in WW2. Time put him on the cover of Man of the Year twice in the 40s. He is likely the only active military commander to win a Nobel Peace Prize. He trained or mentored 150 of the WW2 field commanders (and higher) who supervised multiple field armies and led millions of men to victory.

Some viewed him as austere and aloof; his close peers saw his kindness, generosity toward others, deep concern for human life, love for the front-line soldier, and dry humor. The more I’ve read, the more impressed I am, and the more I wish we had leaders around right now who could muster even a slice of his strength of character, dedication to the Constitution, and wisdom.
I’ll post a couple recommended reads below, if you want to put a book on your Christmas list.
PS. For my hometown peeps – Marshall’s dad founded coke ovens in Dunbar, Fairchance, and Cheat Lake, and built his brickworks on what became the Pechins parking lot. His family lived just off the National Pike near the historic inn, not far from Jumonville / Fort Necessity, and they summered up in the mountains nearby. He did survey work on Chestnut Ridge and fished the Yough (maybe near Ohiopyle?) He left PA to attend VMI and never really returned except for a couple visits, but I feel like he’s got the stamp of Western PA all over him. Go listen to a video clip of him testifying before Congress….. I know that accent. ūüėČ

Jumonville, PA was near Marshall’s home place and he fished, hunted, and played in this vicinity during his boyhood years from 1880-1898, when he left to attend VMI.

Recommended Marshall Reads (and Watches)

An excellent 90-min overview of Marshall that really highlights both his brilliance as well as his humanness.

The Marshall Foundation & Library offers a wealth of excellent resources. You can read plenty about Marshall’s work and biography, watch recorded lectures from visiting historians, and access quite a bit about Marshall’s life.

Ed Cray wrote a solid and informative one-volume biography of Marshall using many of the sources assembled by Forrest Pogue, Marshall’s official biographer who wrote four volumes. I don’t have time to read 5,000 pages. If you don’t either, then I recommend this one. It’s clear and easy to follow.

Jonathan Jordan is an amateur historian and practicing lawyer in Georgia who loves to write well-respected historical accounts. ¬†Go, Jonathan! ¬†This is the book I ordered my father-in-law for Christmas. It’s very very readable — almost to the point it would make career historians a wee bit nervous by how he leans hard into the storytelling part of history, and maybe filling in some details in between the facts. ¬†But it’s a really good read about how FDR, Marshall, CNO King, and Sec. of War Stimson found a way through the infighting and bureaucracy to hold the Allies together during the darkest years of the 20th century. ¬† I think you’ll like it, whether you’re a “history person” or not.

-Coart recommends Rick Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn * if you want to read a more holistic discussion of just how completely unprepared America was in 1939 for a global war. ¬†(Again! That’s what Marshall complains about in his WW1 memoir! We learned nothing!) ¬†Atkinson’s first of three volumes (the other two are out as well) covers the North Africa campaign.

Marshall & His Generals¬†* by Stephen Taaffe — I watched Taaffe give an excellent lecture on how Marshall selected top commanders for the European & Pacific theaters, and how well those men performed overall during the war. ¬†Taaffe’s book is a combination of individual biography and overview of the major campaigns of World War II. Along the way, he offers analysis of how well each commander performed his duties in advancing the war effort and the interpersonal drama that surrounded some of them. It’s a neat lens if you’re interested in leadership studies.

Check your library for these:

Marshall — ¬†Memoirs of World War I (1917-1919) — he asked that this manuscript be destroyed because he was so careful to remain politically neutral, and any military decision is eventually political or politicized. But his stepdaughter found this in the attic in the 70s and published it. ¬†If you’re into WW1 history, you’ll find it interesting. ¬†Young Marshall (he was a Captain when he went over; left as a Colonel I think) cut his teeth on the incredibly difficult logistical and organizational problems of making the US military a modern fighting force in the midst of trench warfare and horrible fighting. He would do that all again in 1939, and this shows you how he took in information, made decisions, experienced the war.

-Katherine Marshall – Together: Annals of an Army Wife — George’s second wife Katherine was his companion throughout the difficult 1930s-50s (his first wife died after they were married like 25 years). I really like her short book; it’s a nice window into a man who was so private and self-disciplined that people thought he was cold. ¬†Nope. Marshall had a great sense of humor and was really personable to all types of people — all while being a rather imposing military commander. Her account is very sweet.

Forrest Pogue wrote 4 volumes of Marshall biography; the library will probably have them. ¬†Overkill? ¬†I prefer a more condensed analysis, but he’s got a billon details if you want them.
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†I did read through much of the one-volume transcripts of Pogue’s Marshall interviews, and enjoyed seeing Marshall tell his own memories in his own words. ¬†You’ll get all of the best bits in any of the standard biographies, but academic libraries probably have this work.
*These links go to Amazon. I get like a fraction of a penny from affiliate links, so click ’em if you want to tip me. ūüėČ

USS North Carolina

Wrapped up an amazing week in Oak Island, NC on vacation – which took us near the USS North Carolina, a WW2 era battleship “parked” in Wilmington, NC.

So cool to scramble all over such a lovely lady of the sea. ¬†I took some iPhone shots, focusing on details mostly — old machinery, buttons and dials and switches, and the big guns. ūüôā


Flickr set: USS North Carolina

Review: The Debt (2011)

debt_movie posterRarely can I say a film manages to be satisfying and UNsatiafying at the same time…..but The Debt succeeds at this paradox. It also serves up an excellent example of 20th century Jewish literature meanwhile.

The story revolves around a set of 3 Mossad agents in two different times, 1966 and 1997. The 1997 frame tale takes all its motivation from the events in 1966, so the movie spends quite a while in the flashback. Both stories are superbly acted. The trailer revealed the 3 agents had traveled to Berlin to capture a notorious Nazi doctor, the “Butcher of Bierkenau.” Things didn’t go as planned; the trio lied to cover up the truth.

(SPOILER: the 2 men and 1 woman find the Nazi doctor and kidnap him, but they miss their pickup with the other agents through their own misfortune. The men could have made the drop if they’d abandoned the woman, but the more tender-hearted of the two men-David- had a soft spot for Rachel and refused to abandon her. the Nazi eventually escaped, but the 3 agreed to create a tale in which the injured Rachel manages to shoot the guy as he tried to escape. Afterwards, having returned to Israel and a hero’s welcome, Rachel hooks up with Stephan because David can’t live with his conscience well enough to stay in her life.)

The plot hangs on the psychological and relational effects of a lie maintained for 30 years. Having absorbed all the glory of success for most of a lifetime, letting the truth come out would devastate their reputations. Even Rachel’s daughter is at stake. An aspiring author, she just published a book about the incident.

This movie has incredible acting. Some of the best I’ve seen on screen. So believe me when I say I watched the entire film with intense interest.

(again, SPOILERS AHEAD). In the 1997 timeline, which climaxes the plot, Rachel finds the ancient Nazi stowed in a Ukrainian nursing home. Someone is threatening to publishe the truth, so she’s sent to find him and stop it. She can kill the old man right there or walk away and let her daughter be dragged down along with the whole mess. It’s a good ethical dilemma. After all, the IDEA of justice has carries them all for 30 years, not the reality. As far as the public is concerned, the man got his due. But the film begins to make a case for honesty. Ok.

This is where the ending left me with sawdust instead of resolution. I don’t want to spoil the ending …. Let me just say that we get neither justice nor forgiveness.

Like so much Jewish writing in the post-Holocaust world, the Mossad agents cannot see anything except Justice. Every character in the film is controlled by their personal sense of righteousness. Their consciences haunt them, but resolution escapes them. Either they kill the man, or they live under the crushing weight of moral failure. Somehow Justice rests on their shoulders alone.

It is this moral one-sightedness that makes the film a tragedy in the final analysis. I wasn’t hoping for forgiveness or a happy ending. But a world where crime merits only utter destruction (the alternative being moral compromise) makes for a dark film. I didn’t want the agents to forgive the Nazi. Let him burn. But the idea tha they *alone* had the power to meet out justice–and failed, so now must do a lifetime of penance …which culminates in a lie ….and then an attempt at honesty which will meanwhile destroy the innocent daughter…..? This is a brutal, cold world of Justice that I don’t want to live in.

Props to the actors for outstanding performances.
Props also to the screenwriter who created incredible moments of tension and psychological terror. The film is worth your time just for the craft.

Concert Report: The Restoration (Album release: Constance)

There are local musicians, and there are local musicians. Friday night we were privileged to hear Daniel Machado lead The Restoration in an incredible performance of their new album Constance. The evening was so awesome that it deserves its own report. 

I love how this band dresses the part for whatever story they're trying to tell
I love how this band dresses the part for whatever story they’re trying to tell

The Restoration¬†is a collection of talented musicians who play a variety of instruments. I’m not sure what genre fits them best; perhaps folk-rock? They incorporate older styles and skills into a modern musical landscape, blending the modern with the traditional.

What grabbed my attention about¬†Constance¬†several months ago was its back-history. Daniel was researching the history of his own hometown (Lexington) and was struck by the insidious racism that marked South Carolina’s history for a century (or more) after the Civil War. His research led to creative impulse, and this incredible album is the result.

The Columbia newspaper did a series of articles on the band and their historic/social project — I highly recommend them. The first one includes a lengthy interview with Daniel and the USC American Lit professor who helped him find literary voices from America’s racist past:
Restoring the past in hopes of a better future
Paste Magazine: 50 States Project (review)

Daniel Machado published two interesting articles on Scene SC while they were recording the album:
Part 1: Out of a Nashville Studio and into the Heart of Local Racism
Part 2: Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places, and Angry White Men

And you can watch the band’s short film about the use of shape-note singing in¬†Constance
The Making of Constance

The CD release show was a great example of how music and performance and literature and art can all combine to communicate unified story. I felt like I was watching a living “Multi-Genre Project.” The release show band included additional musicians — our friends Steven & Collin; a cellist, a sax player, etc. If you hit¬†The Restoration’s¬†site¬†you can hear some of the tracks, but the entire experience of sitting in the Trustus Theater and watching the music unfold live can’t really be reproduced in a recording studio. Sometimes the emotions behind the music get lost in the digitization. I still prefer the energy of a live show to a “perfect” CD.

(If you go listen, don’t miss “Constance.” That song will stick in your mind for days.)

I should mention that two interesting acts prepared us for the performance onslaught of The Restoration. The first were dancers from the Alternacirque dancers in Columbia. I don’t know what else to say other than “a displaced tribal belly dancer originally from New Orleans found herself in Columbia and opened a studio.” Lol.¬† It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen ….

Incredibly cool = getting to hear¬†Riley Baugus¬†play his Appalachian tunes in person. Riley is a¬†world-famous¬†banjo player and Appalachian mountain music man. He currently lives 10 minutes from Stevo in Winston-Salem (who promises me they’ll get to hang out soon, and I’m quite jealous). Riley gives you the history behind his tunes as he picks up the banjo or guitar or violin to transmit to us a tiny bit of America’s musical heritage. The modal melodies of the Appalachian tunes, the thumping rhythms, the lyrics/themes that suck your heart out through the sound of his raspy voice — that unmistakable blend of African and Irish/Scot/English and Native American — it takes me back to the PA mountains of my upbringing. I felt like someone had set a musical icon in front of me.

All this for $6. Ridiculous.  I should mention too that the TRUSTUS Theatre is a really cool performance space! Black interior, uber-comfy seats, lots of leg room & places to put your snacks, a clear view of the stage. Thumbs up.

I bought the¬†Constance¬†book that accompanies The Restoration’s album, which includes lyrics and photos and the full short story which brings Daniel’s vision into focus. Holler if you want to borrow.

And if you want to hear The Restoration for yourself, they’re playing with Riley Baugus in Columbia at the end of May. Show dates/info are posted on their MySpace.