Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Twin Ports Art: Things to See and Do in July

Ink on 1939 London Times. Signed. 
These are certainly strange times. I'm referring here to the ongoing lockdown, which brings to mind the little button fans of The Truman Show were wearing: When Will It End. (It may have been How Will It End.) The film with Jim Carrey as Truman has been a personal favorite for the psychological and philosophical issues it raises. It stands alongside Groundhog Day as an example of a creative entertaining way of having us think more deeply about the meaning of our lives.

All that being said, the urge to make art seems pretty innate in a lot of us. Therefore, there's still plenty of creative expression taking place here. Thanks to Esther Piszczek, you can find a lot of it at the Twin Ports Art Blog that she maintains. You will find the list of July activities here:
https://twinportsart.blogspot.com/2020/06/happy-july-everyone-fresh-vegetables.html

Item of note: There will be what's billed as an Arts Industry Social Hour next Tuesday. Local Artists Moira Villiard, Adam Swanson, Ryan Tischer, and Amanda Hunter will be co-hosting a panel discussion on the impact of current events on the local arts community and businesses. This will be the first of several such virtual events this summer. Login details at Twin Ports Art.

EdNote: If you are not a regular Zoomer, it's a good protocol to log in early and then mute yourself so that background noises and interruptions are kept to a minimum.

* * * *
On a semi-related note, here's a Jay Leeming poem that was shared on Garrison Keillor's The Writers Almanac in 2006. I discovered it through Phil Fitzpatrick's March Madness-style bracketed poetry competition. Each week he paired off four sets of poems and we (the participants) would select the winner for each pairing. At this point we've narrowed the field but still have a ways to go. It's been a tremendously fun experience, stimulating more poems than usual from my own pen.

Here's the beginning of this poem, with a link to the rest, after which I share a link to one of my own.

Man Writes Poem
This just in a man has begun writing a poem
in a small room in Brooklyn. His curtains
are apparently blowing in the breeze. We go now
to our man Harry on the scene, what's

the story down there Harry? "Well Chuck
he has begun the second stanza and seems
to be doing fine, he's using a blue pen, most
poets these days use blue or black ink so blue

is a fine choice. His curtains are indeed blowing
in a breeze of some kind and what's more his radiator
is 'whistling' somewhat. No metaphors have been written yet,
but I'm sure he's rummaging around down there
(You can read the rest here.)

* * * *

And finally, a link to one of my own: Cancel Culture.

* * * *
Whether you write, paint or make music, don't bind your creative spirit to a post in the basement. Give it wings and let it soar.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Duluth-Born Les Crystal Dies at 85: an Influential Executive Producer for the PBS NewHour

It's well known that Bob Dylan was born here in Duluth. There are many from here who've made an impact, perhaps in part due to the work ethic that seems as pervasive as the red ore of the Northland.

This weekend I heard an interesting story from Craig Grau, retired UMD professor of political science, Dylanologist, and influential member of the Duluth Dylan Fest committee. He shared, “Back in the 1980s, I met a ship captain in Duluth from Italy.

He asked if Duluth had produced anyone famous besides Dylan. I said, ‘Les Crystal.’

“He was the man behind the News Hour. I never met him but I knew his babysitter. She was quite proud. I wish Duluth had been as proud.”

Though most of Crystal’s career took him elsewhere, he wasn’t forgotten where he was from. I asked Louis Kemp, author of his friendship chronicle Dylan and Me, if his family knew the Crystals. Louie sent me this reply: “Yes, his Father and my Father were very close all their lives. His father was very active in the Duluth Jewish Community. In fact, I bought the property at 40th Ave. West where I put my Crab Delights plant in Duluth from Izzy Crystal, Les’ father. His sister Dinah was my age and we all spent time together.”

Louie went on to add, “Izzy had a specialty fine food store on Superior Street for years and later he had a wholesale food distribution company in Duluth. They were a Great Family."

* * * *
I mention all these anecdotes because of the recent passing of Lester Crystal last Wednesday, June
24. His obituary appeared in the New York Times two days later, and many other media outlets as well.

The Times obit begins with this brief summation of his life before sharing a more in depth overview of significant moments in his life: Lester M. Crystal, who after 20 years at NBC News, including two as its president, moved to “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report” on PBS and immediately set about transforming it from a half-hour program into “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” a broadcast widely acclaimed for its breadth and depth, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 85.

Born in Duluth, Minnesota, on Sept. 13, 1934, Mr. Crystal went on to acquire two journalism degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School and returned her to work for a spell at KDAL, our local AM radio station. His career serves to underscore the reality that you really don't know how high our local talent can fly till they leave the nest.

The Times obituary is filled with anecdotes that make it a good read. While he was president of NBC one of his tasks was to unseat CBS as the number one evening news provider. With Walter Cronkite as the talking head for CBS, he can't be faulted for failing on that particular mission. With the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour at PBS, he was able to create a new set of rules.

Crystal's most gut wrenching experience during his time at NBC came after sending a news correspondent and cameraman down to Jonestown to see what was going on at the Peoples' Temple in  November 1978. The two were killed as they tried to leave. Hours later Jim Jones' 900+ followers literally "drank the Kool-aid," ending the cult's earthly sojourn.*

Numerous news outlets have written about his passing, including this one at PBS.org which focuses on his character and begins:
“Gentle.” “Calm.” “Generous.” If you ask someone to describe Lester Crystal, who helmed the PBS NewsHour as executive producer for more than 20 years, you’ll hear those words again and again. He died at age 85 on Wednesday after a battle with brain cancer and pneumonia, but in his long career as a leader in broadcast journalism, he stood out to his colleagues as a font of singular kindness, fortitude and grace in the hectic business of daily news.

Click the links to find the full story, which is really only an introduction to a life with some impressive achievements.

Related Links
Lester Crystal, Guiding Force Behind ‘NewsHour,’ Dies at 85 (NYTimes)
Louis Kemp's Dylan & Me Book Signing: Bringing It All Back Home

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Complicit Support for Stalin Showed Media's Lack of Integrity: Mr. Jones Tells the Story

Over the years I've had a number of writers influence me in significant ways. Upon discovering a writer I resonated with I would dig through their works the way a miner follows a gold vein through a mountain, reading everything I could get my hands on. Hemingway, C.S. Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, Graham Greene are a few such writers whose works I collected.

Another was Andre Gide (1869-1951), the 1947 Nobel Prize winner who was at the center of the French literary scene for decades. An author of more than 80 books, he exemplified beautiful writing, integrity and original thinking.

At some point in the mid-nineties I read The Journals of Andre Gide, all four volumes, from which I learned much about the writing life and have frequently shared insightful quotes. One incident especially stuck with me, from his 1936-37 journal notes.

While the Great Depression rocked America, economic trauma was also eroding European confidence about the future. As Marxist/socialist idealism swirled through intellectual circles, the notion emerged that over there, in the Soviet Union, a Golden Age was dawning. The workers paradise was being praised and the promise of a brighter future.

Writers were being invited to come see with their own eyes what was taking place so they could tell the story of what was happening. One of these was Andre Gide. He went expecting to see something promising, or at least evidence that something promising was happening. Instead what he saw and learned resulted in a book that discredited what many other writers were saying. His 1936 book of essays began with "delightful approval" but ended up a denunciation.

I'd never read that book, but saw clearly in his journal entries for 1936 that things were not what they purported to be and he could not, with good conscience, parrot what others were saying. His September 3 journal entry begins, "A tremendous, a dreadful confusion." Then he describes a conversation with another who spoke of his "disappointment" with the U.S.S.R.  Gide responds that the word disappointment is not really accurate, "but I do not know what to suggest in its place."

Because he was expected to come away from his U.S.S.R experience with a book that praised Stalin's achievements, he writes in a later journal entry that he must write an introduction that "warns the reader at the outset." It took courage to publish this book so out of alignment with what his peers were saying.

The book he published was titled Return from the U.S.S.R. Here are excerpts from a review on Amazon that offer a snapshot of what Gide saw.

Publicity still from Mr. Jones
The political situation André Gide noticed that now that the revolution had triumphed, those who kept the revolutionary ferment became an embarrassment and were hated by the powerful; worse, they were simply swept from the earth. What the Politburo demanded, was a full endorsement of all that happened in the USSR. 

Attitudes
André Gide saw the inertia of the masses, the complete depersonalization of the individual.


Education
Critical thinking was forbidden and soviet citizens remained in an extraordinary ignorance of what happened in foreign countries.


The Social Situation
André Gide saw the emergence of a new aristocracy ... of conformists. Joining the Party was the first and indispensable step for a successful career.


Art
In the USSR, an artist had to follow `the line'. Art had to be popular; otherwise it was branded as 'formalism'. But André Gide correctly stated that without liberty art loses all its meaning and value.


André Gide expected to find in the USSR at least the beginnings of an anti-capitalist State. But, his hopes were bitterly dashed and he had the courage to publish his devastating verdict. He should be an example for all commentators and writers today, who should speak out and tear the curtain of the virtual world created by the media.

* * * *

All of the above came to mind when I read about a new film called Mr. Jones that has been released on Amazon Prime. I read about it in a review titled The Media's Role in Concealing Stalin's Evils Exposed in Mr. Jones.

The setting is Moscow 1932. The review begins (T)wo reporters are in a venomous argument. One has just admitted to filing false stories attributing miraculous economic achievements to Joseph Stalin while ignoring the fact that he's systematically starving peasants by the millions. Hitler, she declares, is on the march in Germany and, soon, the rest of the world, and without Stalin's help, he'll never be stopped.

"You sound like you work for Stalin!" the other reporter declares in horror.

"I don't work for Stalin," the first reporter haughtily insists. "I believe in a movement that's bigger than any one person."

The convergence of all these things is somewhat striking. The movie that had circulated through European film festivals in 2019 finally came to theaters in February and now to the public right in the middle of a new historical zeitgeist involving clashing cultures and competing worldviews. Notions of right and wrong are being turned on their heads.

A second article from Reason this week highlights a new attitude being proposed by some journalists. The article is titled Journalists Abandoning 'Objectivity' for 'Moral Clarity' Really Just Want To Call People Immoral. There are journalists who wish to abandoned the notion of objectivity. My response is two-fold. First, it's long been apparent that news is not always objective. Second, isn't this why Opinion pages exist so that people can express opinions on whatever is happening?

Maybe the solution to the latter problem would be to make larger opinion pages. As for the former issue, every fiction writer knows that if you want to create empathy between a reader and a character in a story, you hurt him or her. It's a normal human response. So it is that when covering riots, by focusing on rioters being hit, you create empathy for these "victims" of brutality. Why do we never see all the bricks and bottles that have been smashing into the faces and heads of police, sending them to hospitals around the country?

The coverage this past month has not been objective. Neither was the journalistic coverage of Stalin's atrocities.

Related Links
The Death of Stalin
The Media's Role in Concealing Stalin's Evils Exposed in Mr. Jones
Carol Veldman Rudie Sheds Light on Soviet Era Art in Lecture at the Tweed
Local Art Seen: Tweed Spotlights the Art of Russia
Karelia: A Finnish-American Couple In Stalin's Russia, 1934-1941

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Local Art Seen: COVID-19 Doesn't Stop Painters from Sharing Their Work

Covid-inspired collage by Linda Glisson
No question about it, the pandemic and lockdown has had consequences few of us could foresee at the outset. I miss the smiles at checkout lines at the grocery store, though we've learned to recognize friendly twinkles in peoples' eyes. I also miss the art openings, seeing friends in our arts community, catching up on what's happening.

Nevertheless, just as the business world has made adjustments, conducting meetings via Zoom and other means, so have artists found ways to get their art fix. (See: Virtual Gallery Hop Like No Other)

This past couple months I had been invited to attend an online meeting of the Lake Superior Abstract Artists group, which never seemed to work out. Nevertheless, two weeks ago I logged in for part of DAI director Christina Woods' presentation of what is happening at the Duluth Art Institute, and yesterday was able to participate in the group's regularly monthly meeting.

Acrylic and collage, Linda Glisson.
I can see why they have been doing this. Artists enjoy sharing their work. They also get inspired by seeing what other artists are doing.

Those in attendance yesterday included Sue Rauschenfels, Cindy Mattthews Rosa, Claudia Faith, Rosemary Guttormsson, Edna Stromquist, Sarah Archibald, Joan Hunn, Christie Eliason, Marge Stocker and Linda Glisson. Even though it is an abstract artists group, many participants do other kinds of work, in water color, acrylic, collage and even natural dyes.

One of the features that Zoom users enjoy is the "screen share" capability it offers. In this manner presenters giving speeches or artists sharing their work can fill the screen with slides or images. Linda Glisson's current series of Covid-inspired paintings were the first shared with the group. In some ways Glisson is a kindred spirit who is not locked into a specific mode of expression but is continuously exploring different styles. You could feel something in the work that corresponds with the times.

Glisson's blues.
In addition to sharing several completed pieces, she also shared several blues-themed pieces that were "works in progress." A nice feature of this group is that everyone is encouraged to share, but critical assessments are offered only if the presenter asks. Because critiques have value, the group is available for that as well.

Virginia Alexander was next, first sharing a color wheel and then some explorations around the theme of the Beginning of Time.

As pieces are shared the others ask questions so they can learn more about how the work is created, what inspired it. There was a discussion about Rune Songs, and drawing inspiration from one's roots. There were discussions about the various kinds of paper selected and where to find it.

Another presenter shared work that she's been doing through a Zoom class with an instructor in England. Think about it. People can take classes with teachers from almost anywhere in the world. One of the exercises involved taping off six boxes, then selecting three colors plus black and white. The exercise was to paint for ten minutes in each box with your selected colors. It is an hour long exercise. Remove the tape and voila!

This reminded me of one of my own exercises from eight or ten years ago in which I would do a painting on paper only for the duration of a song. Naturally I preferred longer songs and selected songs like Desolation Row and Voodoo Child over 3-minute pop Sixties hits.

I've noticed many local artists began placing their art on Instagram when it launched, a platform for easy sharing. What I enjoyed about this kind of meeting is the feedback loop it provides.

Here are a few more pieces from Friday's gathering.

Yes, they will bear with you if you are not painting abstracts.
Rosemarie G's Dawning: The Beginning of Earth


Got a creative urge? Let it flow.

Friday, June 26, 2020

My Lucky Day

Joe Carlson's 4-Leaf Clover Pendants can be found at Art on the Planet
So, I'm checking my mail, and guess what? Everyone is giving me money.

First I got this notice.
We wanted to remind you of the settlement payment that may have came in for you from a class action lawsuit. Hit your link below to recover what is reserved in your name.

Then I got this one:
Member, this is our second attempt to reach out to you! We think that you may be the WINNER of $50,000! Please click below to discover if you've won.

Then I got this big break:
Congratulations! After careful consideration, you’ve been hired to work part-time, online. This opening pays $5,700/month, so rush to your link to verify your new salary.
Sincerely, Your Employment Specialist | Lonna

This was next:
We've done all the work to hook you up with this $1,000 BANK OF AMERICA Visa Card. It's now up to you to VERIFY IT using the requests attached!

Followed by this:
I've been attempting to contact you. I think you are going to LOVE the Amazon Order that's been ready for you! Please use your link to finalize the details to have it headed your way.

Finally, one more:
Member, this is our 2nd attempt to reach out to you. A large relief payout from 2016 may still be OWED to YOU. Hit your link to discover just how much you have coming your way and claim your check!

* * * *

To be honest, if things come together regarding the Nigerian matter (Someone important is dropping 53 million dollars into my account.  I sent him my bank account numbers and it will be discreetly deposited $100K a week.) then I will probably not follow up on these other offers. I'll have more than I know what to do with right soon, I believe.

How's your day going? Nothing like a windfall to put a little spring in your step.

Related Links
Oh Lucky Man! 4-Leaf Clovers Galore
In Plain Sight

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Snapshot of Artist Kehinde Wiley, Who Painted President Obama

THROWBACK THURSDAY
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JANUARY 2012


During the holidays I had the opportunity to visit Savannah for the first time. I'd heard it was a beautiful city, and it did not disappoint. Savannah is famed for its history, its food, its riverfront, its architecture and its graveyards. It is also home to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

Though the aim of our three night stay in Savannah was to visit my son, who is a manager in one of the city's many nice restaurants, I also very much desired to take in the SCAD Museum of Art. It was worth the visit.

Among the exhibits on display at this time is the work of a New York-based portrait painter named Kehinde Wiley. His paintings are very large, and in the style of the classic masters, except they are different.

A museum staff member said that Wiley takes people off the street (for example, Harlem) and has them choose a classic pose, but he paints them in their contemporary garb. My guess is that he is cleverly introducing these ordinary people to extraordinary slices of culture and art history. The piece here on the left is titled, The Three Graces.

This weekend I went online to find out more about Kehinde Wiley. On his website I found the following Artist Statement.

Kehinde Wiley’s portraits of African American men collate modern culture with the influence of Old Masters. Incorporating a range of vernaculars culled from art historical references, Wiley’s work melds a fluid concept of modern culture, ranging from French Rococo to today’s urban landscape. By collapsing history and style into a unique contemporary vision, Wiley interrogates the notion of master painter, “making it at once critical and complicit.” Vividly colorful and often adorned with ornate gilded frames, Wiley’s large-scale figurative paintings, which are illuminated with a barrage of baroque or rococo decorative patterns, posit young black men, fashioned in urban attire, within the field of power reminiscent of Renaissance artists such as Tiepolo and Titian.

What impressed me was not only the conceptual fusion of art history and Black American experience, the paintings themselves were masterfully produced. Wiley's brushwork demonstrates nothing short of wizardry.

I've forgotten how long the Wiley exhibit will be up but for now through the end of January you can see the paintings photographed here at the SCAD Museum of Art. To see additional works by Wiley, visit his page at the National Portrait Gallery website.

For what it's worth, this very young artist in his mid-thirties has a lot of years ahead of him. He'll be someone to keep an eye on in the 21st century.



The Obama Portrait
Since writing this blog post in 2012 Wiley has produced an impressive body from his studios in Brooklyn and Beijing. Most significantly, he was selected and commissioned to paint President Barack Obama's portrait which took two years and was unveiled in 2017. (Amy Sherald painted Michelle Obama's portrait.) You can read more about this impressive painting here.



KEHINDE WILEY'S RESUME

Click images to enlarge.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Billy Collins Captures the Way It Is in Some Days

Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins writes in a folksy contemporary style that has endeared him to many a fan. His poem Some Days is typical of the light touch he uses to amuse us while providing a morsel to chew on afterwards.

In between this intro and the poem I thought I would throw in a couple unrelated items for you to think about. The first is an article I read on Medium titled, The Deepest Hole in the World. I don't care much for publications with limits but I suppose they're there for a reason. Medium is free of advertising so they need rely on other methods of rewarding their contributors.

The second is this little item that surprised me, found on the CDC website. If you came of age in the Sixties, do you recall a flu pandemic that killed a million people? Probably not, because we were distracted by a Vietnam War, riots in the streets and assassinations (MLK and Bobby).

According to the CDC the estimated number of deaths was 1 million worldwide and about 100,000 in the United States. Most excess deaths were in people 65 years and older. It also states that the H3N2 virus continues to circulate worldwide as a seasonal influenza A virus. Seasonal H3N2 viruses, which are associated with severe illness in older people, undergo regular antigenic drift. There is not a lot of detail but you can read about it here and find links to other past pandemics.
See: 1968 Pandemic (H3N2 virus)

* * * *
And now, Some Days by Billy Collins.

Some Days
Some days I put the people in their places at the table,
bend their legs at the knees,
if they come with that feature,
and fix them into the tiny wooden chairs.

All afternoon they face one another,
the man in the brown suit,
the woman in the blue dress,
perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved.

But other days, I am the one
who is lifted up by the ribs,
then lowered into the dining room of a dollhouse
to sit with the others at the long table.

Very funny,
but how would you like it
if you never knew from one day to the next
if you were going to spend it

striding around like a vivid god,
your shoulders in the clouds,
or sitting down there amidst the wallpaper,
staring straight ahead with your little plastic face?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Where is the Balance Between Free Expression and Harmfull Online Misinformation?

"Pinched". Pencil on paper, 1969.
How do Americans weigh a core value like free expression against the downsides that come with harmful content and misinformation online? A new report by Gallup and Knight Foundation, released June 16, explores attitudes toward key issues in tech policy, including content moderation, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and approaches to industry self-governance like Facebook’s Oversight Board. This new study provides a springboard for tech companies, government and citizens like to advance a conversation about free expression online.

* * * *
The above was the intro blurb/advertisement for a seminar I attended last week by the Gallup organization and the Knight Foundation. They've been doing a series of programs with interesting and relevant data from Gallup combined with insightful commentary by experts.

At the heart of this issue is a very real problem. Who decides? Who decides what is and is not acceptable "free speech"?

Because all of these social media platforms are accessible to all, there is a sense of responsibility that accompanies their use. And then there are the darker aspects of this issue. For example, when Facebook or Twitter or Reddit post content that hurts other people, should these people be allowed to sue Facebook, Twitter and Google?

Currently there is a section of the law called Section 230 that prohibits suing the platforms. 66% of the public favors keeping Section 230 as is. But a full one-third want to eliminate that.

Heather Moore from Facebook was one of the speakers addressing questions about governance of content. In 2019 Facebook established an independent board designed to hold Facebook accountable for their rules in this area. She said they chose an independent board because people don't trust government. Politics has become polarized and rules inconsistent.

Gallup/Knight assembled a lengthy report which I will link to at the end, but here are a few highlights of note.

Nearly all Americans (98%) say child pornography should never be allowed on social media, and particularly relevant today, 85% say misleading health information also should be prohibited.

The Executive Summary states:
Many Americans have personally been targeted by harmful online behavior. – Of the types of harms people experience online, Americans most frequently cite being called offensive names (44%). More than 1 in 3 (35%) say someone has tried to purposefully embarrass them online, 18% have been physically threatened, and 15% have been sexually harassed.

and


Challenging issues in challenging times.
Fully 3 in 10 Americans (31%) have requested a social media or internet company remove a post made by someone else they considered harmful, and 21% have had a post they made removed by a social media or internet company.

Those numbers perhaps help put a little perspective on things. But then there is the issue of trust. Can the social media companies be trusted to make good decisions? 44% of Americans do not have a lot of faith in the social media folks to make trustworthy decisions and 40% don't trust them at all.

It must be challenging for the companies because nearly half say they are not tough enough and others say they are too tough.

When it comes to free expression, 52% of Democrats say that people should have freedom to express their views and 76% of Republicans feel this way. Neither party believes in unlimited free expression.

The report is available for downland and a worthwhile snapshot of an important issue today. You can find it here: Free Expression, Harmful Speech and Censorship in a Digital World

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Great War: So Much Sorrow and for What? Lessons from the Horror.

As the 20th century dawned, intellectual optimism ran rampant. True, the Industrial Age had its critics, but there was a general feeling that life was good, the the trajectory of human progress was upward bound.

When I was in college I used to talk with my grandmother about philosophy, science and technological change, and she would always say that she'd grown up in an amazing era. Born two years after Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers' first "manned flight", she saw the advent of the automobile age, radio, television, the evolution of transportation to include jet flights around the world and rockets to the moon--all of it astonishing and inconceivable as a child in rural West Virginia.

What she had escaped, growing up in the U.S., was the horror of that first experience of "total war" that rocked Europe, eventually inducing America to sacrifice its youth for a conflict that no one fully understood.

Two weeks ago I watched a series of lectures about "The Great War" and am reading a book titled "World War I: A Turning Point In Modern History." It's challenging to wrap one's mind around the degree of suffering this conflict generated. At the Battle of Verdun alone there were 800,000 casualties (dead and wounded). At the Somme, the Brits sent 60,000 young men to their death in the first day. Final tally of lost lives for Britain, France and Germany in these two battles was 1.2 million. And there was virtually no progress made in either front in these battles.

British soldiers returning from the Western front.
(It's awful to consider it but what was the strategy at Somme? "We'll keep sending our boys forward until the Germans' trigger fingers get tired.")

If you find these numbers are hard to grasp, think about this: one out of every two French men between the ages of 20 and 32 in 1914 were dead by the end of the war.

Of the 70 million soldiers who fought in this war, 9 million died. Equalling appalling: nearly 6 million civilians died as well.

* * * *

French soldier in the trenches on the Western Front.
What prompted me to revisit this war was the current eruption of violence these past weeks in response to the George Floyd fiasco, combined with the previous months of COVID-19 lockdown.

This brief blog post will note just a few of insights I gleaned from the this book by Jack Roth and the lectures by Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius of the U of Tennessee.

* * * *

Here is a brief list of things that occurred beginning in 1914 that seem noteworthy.

1. When the year 1914 began, few people had the slightest inkling that by late summer all hell would break loose.  Few saw it coming. How many of you were expecting a pandemic and race riots this year?

2. The trigger event that unleashed the violence of that war was a terrorist act. The response by leaders of the various European nations caused tensions to escalate until all Europe was consumed. The earliest days of the conflict resulted in a power stalement. Instead of attempting to negotiate and make concessions, each side believed the only way out was to continue full bore until the other was annihilated.

Russian soldiers on the Eastern Front.
3. This was the first conflict involving entire societies mobilized to wage unrestrained war, devoting all their wealth, industries, institutions, and the lives of their citizens to win victory at any price. The Civil War here in the U.S. foreshadowed this on a smaller, but still devastating, scale.

4. The victors, being idealists, believed that when all was finished everything was tidily tied up. Aristocratic empires had been dethroned--Germany, Austria, Russia, Turkey--and "democratic-sounding constitutions" put in place, most farcical being the Soviet Union.

5. By all accounts the war was a manmade disaster.  Who got the worst of it? Everyone got their share, but for the British--who for the previous century ruled 20% of the world's geography and 25% of the world's population and had adopted the role of global police--the sun finally began to set on the Empire. They would never be a world leader again, and their Colonial history would tarnish the glory that once animated them in the same way slavery has stained a measure of our own history.

6. Ironically, the American doughboys who helped bring an end to the war also brought a new strain of virus to Europe which spread everywhere with disastrous effect. Thinking it originated in Spain it was nicknamed the Spanish Flu. It was later determined to have originated in Kansas where our soldiers trained before transporting it to Europe.

Aerial photo of German (bottom and right) and British (upper left)
trenches in 1917 at battle of Loos. No man's land in between.
Trivia 
There were 35,000 miles of trenches dug during the war, all dug by hand. The French and Germans built fairly deep trenches with boardwalks so as to keep soldiers's feet dry as much as possible. The British, confident that these trenches would not be long occupied, built shallow trenches that filled with muck, that would became dreadfully inadequate. At some points enemy trenches were only 15 yards apart. (If you watch NFL football, that's a first down plus a five yard run.)

There are a number of expressions we use today that originated during this war. Here are a few:

"No Man's Land"
Trench Coats
"going over the top"
Life in the trenches

"Here today, gone tomorrow" came into use because so many soldiers were alive on day and gone the next.

The word "Cooties" first came into usage in the trenches. It was the British term for lice.

"Sniper" was another new word. In previous wars they were called sharpshooters.

"Shellshock" was another new word. At the Battle of Verdun the Germans opened with a bombardment of 2 million shells—more than in any engagement in history to that point—and the two sides eventually fired between 40 and 60 million shells over the next ten months. In this drawn out demolition that went nowhere there were 800,000 casualties.

* * * *
The senselessness of all that happened is astounding. The fear and suffering it generated feels incomprehensible.

In our world today we need leaders with integrity who see the need to de-escalate, who will use dialogue to build bridges, generate understanding, bring a new era of peace and prosperity for all. The last several weeks have revealed a powder-keg below the surface of our contemporary culture that is a threat to everything we've sacrificed to achieve.

Who speaks for peace?