Friday, January 23, 2015
"I don't know how many of you are familiar with being subjected to one continuous lie after another, but it was an experience I'll have to think about for a long time in order to come to sensible conclusions, and I'll never be able to understand it... I do want very much to tell the people of the United States how much the crew of the Pueblo and myself had faith in them for the entirety of our detention. I had people come to me and say on so many occasions that they never appreciated how great it was to be an American until they had the misfortune to have been captured and stuck in a country that is so completely devoid of humanity and truthfulness.."
- Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, U.S. Navy, Captain (above), U.S,S. Pueblo, on December 23, 1968.
The U.S.S. Pueblo was captured by the military forces of North Korea on today's date, January 23 in 1968. Her crew was taken captive and held prisoner in that forsaken country for eleven months before being released. During a large portion of that time they were beaten, starved and tortured by their captors. Please read and re-read the words of this brave and patriotic naval officer spoken on the occasion of that release, as I have countless times. They fill me with a sense of awe, and after I give you a brief account of the "Pueblo Incident", I will explain exactly why it is that they affect me in this way.
The U.S.S. Pueblo Incident
On January 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo (pictured below), a Naval intelligence vessel, was engaged in a routine surveillance mission of the North Korean coast. At the time the Pueblo was positioned about 15.4 miles off the Korean coast. This put her comfortably outside the internationally recognized 12 mile limit for territorial waters, Lunch was being served in the ward room when a call came to the ships Captain, Lloyd M. Bucher that Pueblo was being approached by a ship 8 miles away. The ship turned out to be a North Korean subchaser, S0-1, approaching at 40 knots. As the enemy ship closed, it became clear that it's crew was at battle stations. It radioed, asking Pueblo's nationality and was answered by the raising of the U. S. flag. Pueblo shortly found herself surrounded (above) by another sub-chaser as well as three P4 torpedo boats, all of which were heavily armed and demanding her surrender. Pueblo tried to escape, but the North Koreans fired upon her, wounding the commander and two others. Firing back was impossible as the Pueblo was only lightly armed. Pueblo stalled for time, destroying the classified information aboard while sustaining more damage from enemy fire. Several more crew members were wounded. Ultimately Pueblo was boarded and taken to Wonson. The 83-man crew was bound, blindfolded, taken to Pyongyang, and charged with spying. One U.S. sailor was killed.
The United States government held that the Pueblo had been in international waters and officially demanded the release of her captive crew. The Tet Offensive began just seven days later 2,000 miles to the south in Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson believed that the two events were linked, but LBJ ordered no direct retaliation. Negotiations followed. With the American forces so heavily engaged in Vietnam, LBJ wanted to avoid any sort of events that might lead to an escalation of the incident into a second Korean war.
The Pueblo Crew is Tortured
Meanwhile, the North Koreans, by the systematic use of torture, beatings, starvation, and coercion worked on their helpless captives. At one point they showed Commander Bucher the wretched condition of a South Korean whom they had nearly tortured to death, and told him that they would do exactly this to every member of his crew if he didn't sign a "confession". In this way, they eventually wrung a confession and
And in 1990 the Navy finally awarded Prisoner of War medals for the Pueblo crew.
Conclusion: American Ideals Matter
This is all particularly relevant in these days wherein we have continued threats from North Korea over nuclear weapons, and freedom of speech issues. No amount of lies that they tell either then or now can alter the huge lie that is North Korea. No amount of extolling the virtues of "the dear leader" or butt face, or Baby Kim or whatever he's called can change he essential fact that when they were being tortured by these villains, it was their faith in the essential truth and humanity of America and her people that sustained these men. In my posting about the Berlin wall I said that "evil must be confronted and challenged in the world of ideas, because there could victories be won that were more important than military triumphs." Well here we had the simple ideal of America as a just and noble country, coming up against the evil of the lies being beaten into these brave men by their North Korean captors, and the idea of American exceptionalism won. And that's why the words of Captain Bucher fill me with a sense of awe. And I hope that they will do the same for you.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
It used to be that the President of the United States (POTUS) was directed by the U.S. Constitution to take office on March 4. But this was during the days when the fastest travel around was by horseback. It would take awhile for all of the election returns to be brought in from the far corners of our country to be counted. But by the 1930's with the advent not only of the telegraph as a means of communication, but also radio, there was no longer a need to wait an entire four full months for the new POTUS to be inaugurated. With the 20'th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (passed in 1933), the Inaugural date was changed to January 20, at noon. So the last POTUS to be sworn in on March 4, was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. FDR thus also became the first POTUS sworn in on January 20, 1937. Let us now take a look at some memorable Inaugurations in our history:
Franklin Roosevelt, 1945 =
This inaugu- ration was unique for several reasons. It was the first inaugu- ration given during wartime since Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural in 1865. It was the first time that the inauguration was held at the White House, instead of the traditional location at the U.S. Capitol Building. And of course, due to the advent of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1947, which limits the President to two elective terms, it was the first, last and only time that a U.S. President was ever given a fourth inauguration. FDR was gravely ill by this point in time, and it shows pretty clearly in my opinion his fairly depleted appearance in the above photo. Nevertheless, in his very brief address, his belief in the essential decency of America, her people and her noble place in the world comes through:
"We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community. We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that "The only way to have a friend is to be one." We can gain no lasting peace if we approach it with suspicion and mistrust or with fear. We can gain it only if we proceed with the understanding, the confidence, and the courage which flow from conviction. The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world."
John F. Kennedy, 1961 =
John F. Kennedy's was also unique in a couple of aspects. He was the youngest man ever to be inaugurated as President, at age 44. He was also the first Roman Catholic man ever to be inaugurated as President. The Star Spangled Banner was sung by the well known African American Marion Anderson, and poet Robert Frost recited his poem "The Gift Outright", although on this day of bright sunshine, and high winds, the poet required the assistance of Lyndon Johnson, who shaded the poem with his hat. But at last Frost's voice rang out clearly. In his inaugural address, JFK pointed out that it was a younger generation of men who were taking power to direct the worlds affairs: "The torch has passed to a new generation of Americans...", and then warming to that theme, he issued his famous clarion call for America's citizens to do their part in bringing about our nation's call to greatness:
"In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."
With each passing year, I shall add to these memories of Inaugurations past. But I though that these two would make a good start. Do any of you... my "Today in History" readers have any memories of Inauguration Day that you would like to share? C'mooon! Let's hear it!!
"Killing Patton" by Bill O'Reilly, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2014
"JFK - The Man and the Myth" by Victor Lasky, Arlington House, New York, 1963
Sunday, January 18, 2015
"We continued to see birds every day, sometimes in greater numbers than others; and between the latitude of 10 degrees ("deg.") and 11 deg., we saw several turtle. All these are looked upon as signs
of the vicinity of land. However, we discovered none till daybreak in the morning of the 18'th, when an island made it's appearance bearing NE b E. and, soon after, we saw more land bearing N., and entirely detached from the former. Both had the appearance of being high land."
- The Journal of Captain Cook from January 18 of 1778.
This was the Journal entry made for this day in 1778 when British explorer Captain James Cook (above) made what was likely the most unexpected of his discoveries... the existence of an island group in Pacific Ocean - the Hawaiian Islands.
Captain Cook and His Voyages
British Royal Navy lieutenant James Cook, a surveyor in the Royal Navy, was commissioned a lieutenant in command of several different ships in the Royal navy and with his crew made three voyages through the Pacific Ocean between 1768 and 1779. With these crews he charted courses around the island of Tahiti, Antarctica, Australia and also New Zealand. He had earned considerable fame and renown in Britain for his first two voyages, and was even called “the first navigator in
Cook and His Men Meet the Friendly Natives of Hawaii
The natives were all very friendly with Cook and his men, never having seen European ships of the size and elaborate construction as Cook had with him. They apparently “thought that Cook was a god and that his men were supernatural beings,” in the words if the Mariners Museum. Cook took note of the native's appearance and their and their attitude when they met on the 19'th:
"These people were of a brown colour and, though of common size, were stoutly made. There was little difference in the casts of their colour but a considerable difference in their features; some of their visages not being very unlike those of Europeans. The hair of most of them was cropped pretty short; others had it flowing pretty loose and, with a few, it was tied in a bunch at the crown of the head. In all it seemed to be naturally black but most of them had stained it as is the practice of the Friendly Islanders (Tongans), with some stuff which gave it a brown of burnt colour.... They seemed very mild and had no arms of any kind, if we except some small stones which they had evidently brought for their defence; and these they threw overboard when they were found that they were not wanted."
But things were not destined to go quite so smoothly with relations between Captain Cook and these native Hawaiians in the future; certain small acts of thievery did not set too well with the Brits, starting with a butchers cleaver stolen just a day after this encounter. But the amity held for the rest of this time. Cook and his ships left Hawaii and
"Captain Cook's Voyages, 1768 - 1779", selected and introduced by Glyndwr Williams, The Folio Society, London, 1997.
Monday, January 12, 2015
On today's date, JANUARY 12, in the year....
Jack London, was born in San Francisco. The hard-driving author of novels of adventure in the wilderness of America was born as the illegitimate son of a man who abandoned his family. Early on London struggled to make a living as a cannery worker, a sailor, an oyster pirate, and a fish patroller. He also spent time as a hobo, riding trains. as one of many who were unemployed in the economic crisis of 1893. But he resolved to better himself through education, finishing a high school equivalency course in one year, and enrolling at the University of California for a year, during which he read voraciously. But he dropped out in 1897 to join the great gold rush in the Klondike Mountains of Alaska. It was here that London found the sort of powerful characters and motivations which formed the basis of his novels "The Call of the Wild" (1900) which made him famous, "The Sea Wolf" (1903) which featured the violent and dangerous character of "Captain Wolf Larsen" and also "White Fang" (1906). London, who was all of his life a heavy drinker died (possibly a suicide) on November 22, 1916.
United States Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, addressing a dinner in his honor at the Council of Foreign Relations said that the United States would protect her allies through a policy of "deterrent of massive retaliatory power." This announcement coming as it did in the midst of Cold War, and the early days of nuclear weapons, made it clear that the Eisenhower administration had decided to rely on America's nuclear arsenal as a means of deterring communist aggression around the world. This made clear the new emphasis on a pro-active approach to foreign policy by Eisenhower (as opposed to the reactive approach which Ike felt that Truman had followed), and Ike's belief that the nuclear option was the most cost effective way to deal with military challenges around the world.
Friday, January 9, 2015
You all may recall my posting of Decem- ber 13 wherein I passed along news taken directly from the Web that announced the recovery of a Time Capsule from the Massachusetts State House which had been placed there in 1795 by such eminent founding fathers as Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. Well here is what they found inside of the little box from history. This is all taken from the website: www.vox.com, specifically: http://www.vox.com/2015/1/7/7508793/time-capsule-boston :
January 7, 2015
Last night, at the the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, historians carefully opened the country's oldest time capsule — a ten-pound brass box that had been laid in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams way back in 1795.
Inside, they found all sorts of cool things: 23 coins (one dating as far back as 1652), a page from the Massachusetts Colony Records, the seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, five newspapers that were centuries old, an engraved plate commemorating the building, and a medal depicting George Washington.
The history of this time capsule is itself pretty interesting. It was originally placed there by Revere, Revolutionary War colonel William Scollay, and then-governor Adams during the construction of Massachusetts State House in 1795. But in 1855, emergency repairs to the building unearthed it. At the time, preservationists opened it, cleaned and catalogued its contents, added a few coins and newspapers from their own time, and replaced the lead sheets that originally encased it with a brass box. Then, the whole thing was reburied in the cornerstone.
It was largely forgotten until December 2014, when workers repairing water damage came upon the capsule. They alerted historians, and Pamela Hatchfield of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts carefully extracted it. Most of the items inside weren't a huge surprise, since they'd been catalogued, but she and other experts had been worried about the condition of the items — especially since the 19th century preservationists had used acid to clean them. X-rays last month, however, indicated that they were all in fairly good condition. Then, last night, Hatchfield used specialized tools to delicately open the box, revealing the items directly.
The news- papers — two copies of the Boston Bee, two of the Daily Traveller, and one unknown — have deteriorated a bit, but they're still mostly legible, as are some of the coins. The engraved plate, meanwhile, is still in excellent shape, clearly showing the original 1795 dedication, proclaimed by "his Excellency Samuel Adams, Esquire, governor of the said Commonwealth."
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
On today's date, January 7 in 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected President of the United States of America. It was the first Wednesday in January that year, and while I'm not entirely certain that the date of Jan. 7 is correct, I've found it in three different sites, so I'll go with it. Of course it wasn't done in the traditional fashion which we have come to know... each person going to his humble polling place, etc. It was a new thing this election of the president, and the machinery was still being worked out. In this case it was the presidential electors from each state who met on this day and cast their votes. The new Constitution of the United States left it up to each state how to elect its presidential electors, and some of these were elected by popular vote, and some were appointed. And those doing the voting were restricted to property-owning white men over 21.
George Washington Was THE MAN!!
Neverthe- less, there was no doubt in anyone's mind who the first Chief Executive would absolutely have to be. There he was. THE MAN! At a height of 6 feet 2 inches and a weight of over 200 pounds, Washington would have made a decent sized NFL line backer. He literally towered over most men of his day. He had served honorably, bravely and successfully as the General in charge of the Army that had won independence from the Brits. And when the delegates at the Constitutional Convention (May to September of 1787) created the office of the President they clearly had him in mind. As President of that convention (above), Washington said very little, but his formidable presence right there on the podium set the standard for how a man in charge should behave, and the delegates knew that here was a man.. perhaps the only man whom they all agreed could be trusted to wield executive power wisely and carefully.
Mr. Washington Didn't Really Want the Job
Really the only difficulty that there was in this first and only UNANIMOUS election of a president in our nation's history was in getting the man himself to accept the post. The fact is that he didn't really want it. At 57 years old - he was pushing the limits of life expectancy in those days. So while he was still up to the job, he was getting on in years. And after his long arduous service during the revolution, he really did wish to settle down to the life of a gentleman farmer at his beloved home of Mt. Vernon. But from all over the
Regarding the “delicate subject with which you conclude your letter, I can say nothing, because the event alluded to may never happen; and because, in case it should occur, it would be a point of prudence to defer forming one’s ultimate and irrevocable decisions . . . it is my great and sole desire to live and die, in peace and retirement on my own farm.”
But eventually Washington's sense of duty to his country outweighed his private considerations, and he accepted the job. He served two terms as our president, from 1789 to 1797. He only lived a brief time after his long-delayed retirement to Mount Vernon, dying in December of 1799. Upon his death he was eulogized by Henry Lee of Virginia as being "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen." And it is worth noting: in that picture of Washington above, those are indeed African American slaves - all of whom he freed in his will.
"Presidential Campaigns" by Paul F. Boller Jr., Oxford University Press, New York, 1984
Sunday, January 4, 2015
In January of 1790, a British Country Squire named Arthur Young (left) was traveling through Europe. France had recently been convulsed by the events of the French Revolution which had resulted in the King himself, Louis XVI, and his whole family being imprisoned in their fabulous palace outside Paris, the Tuileries. Young, for whom this was an unbelievable sight, the once mighty King of France reduced to the status of mere prisoner in a gilded cage, remarked on the appearance of the King his Queen, Marie Antoinette, and their son:
"After breakfast walk in the gardens of the Tuileries, where there is the most extraordinary sight that either French or English eyes could
"The King is as plump as ease can render him..."
"A mob followed her talking very loud, and paying no other apparent respect than that of taking off their hats wherever she passed, which was indeed more than I expected. Her Majesty (below) does not
Louis and his family attempted to escape France in June of 1791. But their plan fell through and they were re-captured. With this attempt to escape, Louis lost all hold he had on popular respect or sympathy. He went to the guillotine on January 21, 1793, and his Queen followed him there on October 16 of that year. The Dauphin - Louis Charles - was kept in prison wherein he died at age 10, in 1795.
"Eyewitness to History", Edited by John Carey, Avon Books, New York, 1987.