July 31, 1945: Letter From Stimson

Little Boy was assembled on Tinian on July 31.  The bomb could in theory be dropped the next day.  However a typhoon was moving towards Japan and weather would delay the bomb drop for several days.  Secretary of War Henry Stimson sent to Harry Truman a proposed statement to be released after the bomb drop:

Letter of Statement Draft
From: Henry Stimson, Secretary of War
To: Harry S Truman, President of the United States of America
Date: July 31, 1945

July 31, 1945
Dear Mr. President:

Attached are two copies of the revised statement which has been prepared for release by you as soon as the new weapon is used. This is the statement about which I cabled you last night. 

The reason for the haste is that I was informed only yesterday that, weather permitting, it is likely that the weapon will be used as early as August 1st, Pacific Ocean Time, which as you know is a good many hours ahead of Washington time.

This message and inclosure are being brought to you by Lt. R. G. Arneson, whom Secretary Byrnes will recognize as the Secretary of the Interim Committee, appointed with your approval, to study various features of the development and use of the atomic bomb. 

Faithfully yours,
Secretary of War. (more…)

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American Gothic and Ma and Pa Kent

A first-rate video on Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930).  One of the more famous pictures at the Art Institute in Chicago, I have long admired it.  Endlessly interpreted, the  picture lends itself to a Rorschach  type of test where what the viewer says about the painting says more about the interpreter than it does about the painting.

Whenever I look at it, I have always thought of Jonathan and Martha Kent, the fictional foster parents of Superman.  The date of the painting would have been when the future Superman would have been around 11 based on his original chronology.  The Kents would have been desperate to keep their beloved son, just beginning the mastery of his awesome powers, away from the notice of the World.  The figures in the painting seem to me to be keeping a great secret.  They look suspiciously at the viewer.  The shades on their house are drawn.  The averageness of the couple is belied by their desire to keep prying eyes away from that house.  At the same time there is nothing that gives any hint of evil about the man and woman.  They simply have something great that has been placed into their care and they wish to protect it from outsiders.

The association of the painting with the Superman saga is not original to me.  In Superman The Animated Series Mr. Mxyzptlk, the imp from another dimension who periodically torments Superman, turns Ma and Pa Kent into a facsimile of the painting.

One can imagine the encounter that led to the painting.

From the diary of Jonathan Kent: (more…)

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Chester A. Arthur and Elizabeth Jennings

Chester A. Arthur is one of our more obscure presidents, and that is unfortunate.  He ran an honest administration that won the praise of such a jaundiced observer of the political scene as Mark Twain, and in many ways he led an interesting life.  One of the aspects of his career worthy of note is a legal victory that he gained at the age of 24.

On July 16, 1854, Elizabeth Jennings, a schoolteacher and a Church organist was running late for Church.  She boarded a streetcar owned by the Third Avenue Railroad Company at the corner of Pearl and Chatham streets in New York city.  So far, so humdrum.  However, Miss Graham was black and the Third Avenue Railroad Company banned blacks from riding on their streetcars.  The conductor told her to get off and she refused.  He then attempted to physically remove her, and she resisted.  Finally, a policeman was summoned and he removed her from the train. (more…)

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July 28, 1945: B-25 Bomber Crashes into Empire State Building

 

Aviation was only 42 years old in 1945 and flying a plane, especially in fog, was as much an art as a science.  This was demonstrated on Saturday, July 28, 1945 when a B-25 Mitchell bomber, Old John Feather Merchant, struck the north side of the Empire State Building between the 78th and 80th stories, striking the building where the National Catholic Welfare Council, the predecessor organization of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Flying to Newark Airport, the pilot, Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith, Jr., was advised of zero visibility conditions by the landing tower at La Guardia and advised to land which he declined to do.  A 1942 graduate of West Point, the 27 year old Smith was an experienced combat pilot with forty missions with the Eighth Air Force, and had earned a Distinguished Flying Cross with cluster.  It is theorized that Smith became confused and thought he was over New Jersey when he was actually over downtown New York at a hair-raising 500 feet.  He managed to avoid three skyscrapers before careering into the fourteen year old Empire State Building.

All three men on the bomber were killed instantly and eleven people in the building, with twenty-five wounded.  Twenty year old elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a 75 floor elevator plunge caused by the crash.  The resulting fire was put out in 45 minutes. (more…)

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Warren G. Harding and the Race Allegation

 

 

Americans have a pleasing illusion that politics was at one time a pristine pursuit in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and that it is only in their time that politics has  descended into the gutter.  Cold historical evidence indicates otherwise.

A century ago Democrats were engaged in rumors that the Republican standard bearer for President, Harding, had negro blood in his ancestry.  The rumor was not a new one and had dogged Harding throughout his political career.  The abolitionist leanings of his family had led to allegations that the family was of mixed race.  His own father in law thought that Harding was a black man, using an insulting term for the race, albeit a smart one.  Harding never denied the rumors, merely stating that he did not know.  As he told a reporter on one occasion, how could he know if one of his ancestors had jumped the fence.

Prior to the election William Estabrook Chancellor, a professor At Wooster College, collected affidavits of elderly individuals in Ohio  that Harding was mixed race, his great grandmother Elizabeth Madison was black.  Prior to the election pamphlets came out indicating that based upon this research Harding was of negro ancestry.  Chancellor denied writing the pamphlets, but was dismissed from his professorship four days before the election and fled to Canada due to death threats that came his way.

During his brief Presidency Harding gave the greatest civil rights speech to be made by a President between the Grant administration and the Kennedy administration  on October 26, 1921.  That he gave it in Birmingham, Alabama, at the height of Jim Crow and at a time when the Ku Klux Klan was a rising power, attests to his courage and willingness to take political risks in an area where he was vulnerable.

In 2015 DNA samples from relatives of Harding demonstrated that the persistent rumors had been false after all.

 

The text of Harding’s speech on October 26, 1921 that dealt with race:

[13] Indeed, we will be wise to recognize it as wider yet. Whoever will take the time to read and ponder Mr. Lothrop Stoddard’s book on The Rising Tide of Color, or, say, the thoughtful review of some recent literature of this question which Mr. F. D. Lugard presented in a recent Edinburg Review, must realize that our race problem here in the United States is only a phase of a race issue that the whole world confronts. Surely we shall gain nothing by blinking the fact, by refusing to give thought to them. That is not the American way of approaching such issues.

[14] In another way the World War modified the elements of this problem. Thousands of black men, serving their country just as patriotically as did the white men, were transported overseas and experienced the life of countries where their color aroused less of antagonism than it does here. Many of them aspire to go to Europe to live.

[15] A high-grade colored soldier told me that the war brought his race the first real conception of citizenship—the first full realization that the flag was their flag, to fight for, to be protected by them, and also to protect them. He was sure that the opportunity to learn what patriotism meant was a real opportunity to his race.

[16] These things lead one to hope that we shall find an adjustment of relations between the two races, in which both can enjoy full citizenship, the full measure of usefulness to the country and of opportunity for themselves, and in which recognition and reward shall at last be distributed in proportion to individual deserts, regardless of race or color. Mr. Lugard, in his recent essay, after surveying the world’s problem of races, concludes thus:

[17] “Here then is the true conception of the interrelation of color—complete uniformity in ideals, absolute equality in the paths of knowledge and culture, equal opportunity for those who strive, equal admiration for those who achieve; in matters social and racial a separate path, each pursuing his own inherited traditions, preserving his own race purity and race pride; equality in things spiritual; agreed divergence in the physical and material.”

[18] Here, it has seemed to me, is suggestion of the true way out. Politically and economically there need be no occasion for great and permanent differentiation, for limitations of the individual’s opportunity, provided that on both sides there shall be recognition of the absolute divergence in things social and racial. When I suggest the possibility of economic equality between the races, I mean it in precisely the same way and to the same extent that I would mean it if I spoke of equality of economic opportunity as between members of the same race. In each case I would mean equality proportioned to the honest capacities and deserts of the individual.

[19] Men of both races may well stand uncompromisingly against every suggestion of social equality. Indeed, it would be helpful to have that word “equality” eliminated from this consideration; to have it accepted on both sides that this is not a question of social equality, but a question of recognizing a fundamental, eternal, and inescapable difference. We shall have made real progress when we develop an attitude in the public and community thought of both races which recognizes this difference.

[20] Colonizing countries everywhere have in recent times been more and more dealing with the problem from this point of view. The British commonwealth of nations and races confronts it, and has been seeking its solution along the lines here suggested. There is possibility of our learning something applicable to our own country from the British. It is true that there is a great difference between bringing into our own land the colonists of another race and going out to another land and subjecting it and its people to the rule of an alien race. Yet the two cases have so many elements of similarity that it seems to me the experience of each must furnish some light upon the other.

[21] Take first the political aspect. I would say let the black man vote when he is fit to vote: prohibit the white man voting when he unfit to vote. Especially would I appeal to the self-respect of the colored race. I would inculcate in it the wish to improve itself: distinct race, with a heredity, a set of traditions, an array of aspirations all its own. Out of such racial ambition and pride will come natural segregations, without narrowing any rights, such as are proceeding in both rural and urban communities now in Southern States, satisfying natural inclinations and adding notably to happiness and contentment.

[22] On the other hand I would insist upon equal educational opportunity for both. This does not mean that both would become equally educated within a generation or two generations or ten generations. Even men of the same race do not accomplish such an equality as that. They never will. The Providence that endowed men with widely unequal capacities and capabilities and energies did not intend any such thing.

[23] But there must be such education among the colored people as will enable them to develop their own leaders, capable of understanding and sympathizing with such a differentiation between the races as I have suggested—leaders who will inspire the race with proper ideals of race pride, of national pride, of an honorable destiny, an important participation in the universal effort for advancement of humanity as a whole. Racial amalgamation there can not be. Partnership of the races in developing the highest aims of all humanity there must be if humanity, not only here but everywhere, is to achieve the ends which we have set for it.

[24] I can say to you people of the South, both white and black, that the time has passed when you are entitled to assume that this problem of races is peculiarly and particularly your problem. More and more it is becoming a problem of the North: more and more it is the problem of Africa, of South America, of the Pacific, of the South Seas, of the world. It is the problem of democracy everywhere, if we mean the thing we say about democracy as the ideal political state.

[25] Coming as Americans do from many origins of race, tradition, language, color, institutions, heredity; engaged as we are in the huge effort to work an honorable national destiny from so many different elements; the one thing we must sedulously avoid is the development of group and class organizations in this country. There has been time when we heard too much about the labor vote, the business vote, the Irish vote, the Scandinavian vote, the Italian vote, and so on. But the demagogues who would array class against class and group against group have fortunately found little to reward their efforts. That is because, despite the demagogues, the idea of our oneness as Americans has risen superior to every appeal to mere class and group. And so I would wish it might be in this matter of our national problem of races. I would accent that a black man can not be a white man, and that he does not need and should not aspire to be as much like a white man as possible in order to accomplish the best that is possible for him. He should seek to be, and he should be encouraged to be, the best possible black man, and not the best possible imitation of a white man.

[26] It is a matter of the keenest national concern that the South shall not be encouraged to make its colored population a vast reservoir of ignorance, to be drained away by the processes of migration into all other sections. That is what has been going on in recent years at a rate so accentuated that it has caused this question of races to be, as I have already said, no longer one of a particular section. Just as I do not wish the South to be politically entirely of one party; just as I believe that is bad for the South, and for the rest of the country as well, so I do not want the colored people to be entirely of one party. I wish that both the tradition of a solidly Democratic South and the tradition of a solidly Republican black race might be broken up. Neither political sectionalism nor any system of rigid groupings of the people will in the long run prosper our country. I want to see the time come when black men will regard themselves as full participants in the benefits and duties of American citizenship; when they will vote for Democratic candidates, if they prefer the Democratic policy on tariff or taxation, or foreign relations, or what-not; and when they will vote the Republican ticket only for like reasons. We can not go on, as we have gone for more than a half century, with one great section of our population, numbering as many people as the entire population of some significant countries of Europe, set off from real contribution to solving our national issues, because of a division on race lines.

[27] With such convictions one must urge the people of the South to take advantage of their superior understanding of this problem and to assume an attitude toward it that will deserve the confidence of the colored people. Likewise, I plead with my own political party to lay aside every program that looks to lining up the black man as a mere political adjunct. Let there be an end of prejudice and of demagogy in this line. Let the South understand the menace which lies in forcing upon the black race an attitude of political solidarity. The greater hope, the dissipation of hatred, the discouragement of dangerous passions lie in persuading the black people to forget old prejudices and to have them believe that, under the rule of whatever political party, they would be treated just as other people are treated, guaranteed all the rights that people of other colors enjoy, and made, in short, to regard themselves as citizens of a country and not of a particular race.

[28] Every consideration, it seems to me, brings us back at last to the question of education. When I speak of education as a part of this race question. I do not want the States or the Nation to attempt to educate people, whether white or black, into something they are not fitted to be. I have no sympathy with the half-baked altruism that would overstock us with doctors and lawyers, of whatever color, and leave us in need of people fit and willing to do the manual work of a workaday world. But I would like to see an education that would fit every man not only to do his particular work as well as possible but to rise to a higher plane if he would deserve it. For that sort of education I have no fears, whether it be given to a black man or a white man. From that sort of education. I believe, black men, white men, the whole Nation, would draw immeasurable benefit.

[29] It is probable that as a nation we have come to the end of the period of very rapid increase in our population. Recent legislation to restrict immigration will be in part responsible for a slacking ratio of increase. The new immigrants have multiplied in numbers much the more rapidly, but as the immigrants become Americanized, amalgamated into the citizenry, the tendency has been toward less rapid multiplication. So restricted immigration will reduce the rate of increase, and force us back upon our older population to find people to do the simpler, physically harder, manual tasks. This will require some difficult readjustments. It has been easy, indeed, but it has not been good for the people of our older stock, that a constant inflow in immigration made it possible to crowd off these less attractive and profitable tasks upon the newcomers. I don’t think it has been good for what the old Latins called the national virtue. That is a word 1 have always liked, employed in the Roman sense. I wish we might have adopted it into our vocabulary, in this sense. It strikes me as a good deal better than morale. Anyhow, we are under necessity to raise honest, hard, manual work to a new dignity if we are to get it done. We will have to make its compensations more generous, materially, and, if I may say it, spiritually; to make usefulness of service, rather than spotlessness of hands, the test of whatever social recognition depends on the individual’s occupation. I confess a large disgust with all such classifications, and I earnestly bespeak an attitude toward good, honorable, hard work that will end them. I do not want to coddle and patronize labor; I want us all to get out, put on blue denims, roll up our sleeves, let our hands be honorably soiled, and do the work. That’s what we’ve got to do, if we are to get on. We must do it, and be glad we can; for there is small chance that we will ever again have such armies of laborers landing on these shores, as have come in the past.

[30] In anticipation of such a condition the South may well recognize that North and West are likely to continue their drafts upon its colored population, and that if the South wishes to keep its fields producing and its industry still expanding it will have to compete for the services of the colored man. If it will realize its need for him and deal quite fairly with him, the South will be able to keep him in such numbers as your activities make desirable. At any rate, here is a problem and it is pressing for settlement.

[31] Is it not possible, then, that in the long era of readjustment upon which we are entering for the Nation to lay aside old prejudices and old antagonisms and in the broad, clear light of nationalism enter upon a constructive policy in dealing with these intricate issues? Just as we shall prove ourselves capable of doing this we shall insure the industrial progress, the agricultural security, the social and political safety of our whole country regardless of race or sections and along the line of ideals superior to every consideration of groups or class, of race or color or section or prejudice.

[32] Here are the reflexes of magical industrial development, here are the fruits in the making of a nation and its commitment to free productivity and trade. There is a materialism which sometimes seems sordid, but on the material foundation we have expanded in soul, and we have seen this Republic the example to freedom aspiring throughout the world. We wish to cling to all that is good. We want to preserve the inheritance over which we fought because our conflict made it more precious. But we wish to go on as well as preserve.

[33] The march of a great people is not a blind one. We can not be unmindful of human advancement. We wish to be more than apace with progress—we wish our America leading and choosing safe paths. Fifty years is a narrow span. Yet the marvel of Birmingham is less than the marvel of our astounding America. And we mean to go on. If we are just and honest in administering justice, if we are alive to perils and meet them in conscience and courage, the achievement of your first half century will be magnified tenfold in the second half, and the glory of your city and your country will be reflected in the happiness of a great people, greater than we dream, and grander for understanding and the courage to be right.

A century later one might wonder what the fuss was about.  In its day it was revolutionary and might be called the morning star of the modern civil rights movement.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on July 27, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Warren G. Harding and the Race Allegation  
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July 26, 1945: USS Indianapolis Delivers Hiroshima Bomb to Tinian

The delivery of the Hiroshima bomb by the crew of the USS Indianapolis to Tinian on July 26, 1945 received screen immortality in Quint’s (Robert Shaw) speech in the movie Jaws (1975).  Although historically inaccurate on several points, the scene has an understated power that makes it a gem of the filmmaker’s art:

 

“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. We’d just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes.

Didn’t see the first shark for about a half-hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that in the water, Chief? You can tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know, was that our bomb mission was so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’ by, so we formed ourselves into tight groups. It was sorta like you see in the calendars, you know the infantry squares in the old calendars like the Battle of Waterloo and the idea was the shark come to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and sometimes that shark he go away… but sometimes he wouldn’t go away.

Sometimes that shark looks right at ya. Right into your eyes. And the thing about a shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… ’til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all your poundin’ and your hollerin’ those sharks come in and… they rip you to pieces.

You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks there were, maybe a thousand. I do know how many men, they averaged six an hour. Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. He bobbed up, down in the water, he was like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist.

At noon on the fifth day, a Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he spotted us, a young pilot, lot younger than Mr. Hooper here, anyway he spotted us and a few hours later a big ol’ fat PBY come down and started to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went into the water. 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.

Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

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July 24, 1959: The Kitchen Debate

 

Hard to believe that it is 57 years since the Kitchen Debate between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschchev.  The US scored one of the biggest propaganda coups of the Cold War by building a typical American house, cut in half for easy viewing, at the American National Exhibit at Sokolniki Park in Moscow in 1959.  This was part of an agreement where the Soviet staged an exhibit in New York the same year.  Ordinary Soviets flocked to see it and were awed at the technology in the house featuring the latest labor saving and recreational devices in 1959.  They were floored at the contention of the Americans that this was a typical house that an average American could afford.  The impromptu debate between Khruschchev redounded greatly to the benefit of Nixon who came across to American audiences as an able champion of their cause.  Khruschchev was also impressed by Nixon, so much so that he later claimed that he did everything in his power to defeat Nixon when Nixon ran for President in 1960. (more…)

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Theodore Roosevelt, the Ring and Lincoln

 

All of his life Theodore Roosevelt was an admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  His Secretary of State, John Hay, had been a secretary to Lincoln, and after his death purchased six hairs from Lincoln’s head taken during his autopsy.  Almost 40 years after the assassination of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt was being inaugurated for his second term.  Hay sent him a special gift for him to wear while taking his oath of office, a ring, pictured above, containing one of Lincoln’s hairs.

Dear Theodore:

The hair in this ring is from the head of Abraham Lincoln.  Dr. Taft cut it off the night of the assassination, and I got it from his son-a brief pedigress.

Please wear it tomorrow;  you are one of the men who most thoroughly understand and appreciate Linocln.

I have had your mongram and Lincoln’s engraved on the ring.

Longas, O utiman, bone dux, ferias, Praestes Hesperia.

Yours affectionately, John Hay

The Latin quote was from the Roman poet Horace, Odes, IV, V:  “Mayest thou, Good Captain, give long holiday to Hesperia!”  Roosevelt was deeply touched by this gesture and responded:

 

 

“Dear John, Surely no other President, on the eve of his inauguration, has ever received such a gift from such a friend.  I am wearing the ring now; I shall think of it and you as I take the oath tomorrow.  I wonder if you have any idea what your strength and wisdom and sympathy, what the guidance you have given me and the mere delight in your companionship, have meant to me these three and a half years? 

With love and gratitude, Ever yours….”

Published in: on July 23, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Theodore Roosevelt, the Ring and Lincoln  
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Greyhound

 

Anyone seen this?  One of the film victims of the Black Sniffles, it is available on Apple TV.  Based upon the late CS Forester’s (he of Horatio Hornblower fame) 1955 novel The Good Shepherd, it tells the story of a US Destroyer, the USS Keeling, and its fight to escort a convoy across the Atlantic in 1942.  The battle for the Atlantic was perhaps the decisive struggle in World War II, and yet is sadly neglected in most general histories of the War.  If American troops, munitions and supplies could get across the Atlantic the Third Reich would be eventually defeated.  If not, Hitler stood a good chance of winning his War, or fighting to a draw with Stalin.  The struggle was a fantastic three dimensional battle, involving cutting edge technologies, seemingly ripped from the science fiction pulp magazines of the time.  Thirty-six thousand Allied sailors and thirty-six thousand Allied merchantmen went to watery graves to keep the Atlantic sea lanes open, and they deserve a greater appreciation of their role in the victory won in Europe.

A full review after I get around to seeing the film.

Published in: on July 22, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Greyhound  
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July 21, 1861: Battle of Bull Run-Lessons to Learn

The First Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas, was the first major battle of the Civil War.  A Confederate victory, it gave lessons to those paying attention:

1.    It amply demonstrated the hazards of sending half-trained troops into combat.  Both the Union and Confederate armies were green, and it showed in clumsy battlefield maneuvers and  an inability to coordinate attacks.

2.   An early indication that it was much easier to defend and counter-attack than to launch an initial attack in the Civil War.

3.    Rifled muskets were going to make this an exceptionally bloody war.  5,000 Union and Confederate casualties resulted from this battle, just slightly below the total American killed and wounded for either the entire War of 1812 or the entire Mexican War.

4.    One able general, Stonewall Jackson in the case of Bull Run, could seize the initiative and turn the tide of a battle. (more…)

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