12 July 2009


Last week Robert McNamara died. He was the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War era and is sometimes credited as the architect of that war. I was surprised by the continuing vilification of this man, in spite of his acknowledgment that the War was a mistake. Here's an excerpt from an interview he did with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, in 1995:

"You have to understand where we came form . Many of the protesters had not. President Kennedy, Dean Rusk and I and many others of us had fought in World War 2. Three years, 4 years, 5 years. Churchill said millions of men lost their lives in that War because the West acted too late to Hitler's menace to the security of Western Europe. And, by God, says Churchill, we should never do that again. Just after that War, the Soviet Union took control of Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. After that, in my period, in August of 1961, the Soviet Union sought to take Berlin. This was a dangerous world. A year later, Khrushchev put nuclear missiles into Cuba. To this day, the American public doesn't know how close we came to nuclear war. It was a dangerous world that was driving us to our action in the Vietnam War. We were wrong. The protesters turned out with hindsight to be right. We didn't believe it at the time."

22 June 2009

The Little Stranger

I just finished reading Sarah Waters’ latest book, The Little Stranger. I unreservedly recommend anything she’s written. Her latest yarn takes place just after the second World War, in Warwickshire, England. Ostensibly a haunted house story, its subtext chronicles the deterioration of the once-immutable class system.

As I was reading the book (on my new Kindle!), I came across an interesting comment from Dennis Healey, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Woman’s Hour," a BBC radio show I listen to in podcast form, was doing a story on the rise of nonagenarians. One of them was Healey, who said that one of the reasons he had lost interest in
politics was the end of the “class war:”

“The class war, which was very alive in my time, has completely disappeared. If you ask a young person what class they belong to, they don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. They say, ‘Oh, I left school ages ago.’”

The Little Stranger wonderfully details class differences in a society recently battered and broken by a grueling 7-year war.

12 June 2009

Chicken Soup Radio Spot

I was listening to an episode of The Campbell Playhouse, the radio show Orson Welles and John Houseman produced just after the infamous "War of the Worlds" Mercury Theatre debacle. The Playhouse ran from 1938-1940 and was sponsored by Campbell's Soup. This is an example of an ad that ran in the middle of the show. Imagine the 30's diction and cadence of the speaker. My own editorial comments are in brackets.

"The time was, and it was not so long away, when chicken was a rare and special treat [chicken? rare?]. What magic the words "chicken for dinner" conjured up in our young minds and how we looked forward to these great events. With proud gusto Father [his work never ended] would dexterously separate wings and legs and then carve tender white slices from the breast, while each of us silently prayed to be granted his special favorite part. And then on the second day there came another treat. The remaining meat in the carcass [ewww] went into Mother's soup kettle to be simmered slowly, seasoned gently and served forth as a supper-time delight. Today if you have wistful memories of that glorious home chicken soup, then Campbell's chicken soup is just made for you. Because Campbells' chefs follow faithfully the good home recipe, only changing it to made an even better soup. They use, for example, all the good meat of the chickens, fine plump chickens they are too, such as you'd choose proudly for your own table [again, ewww]. Such chicken soup with snowy rice and tender chicken pieces is a special treat indeed, but one you may enjoy on any day. Your grocer has Campbell's Chicken Soup and it's yours for the asking. Remember Campbell's Chicken Soup."

09 June 2009

Herbert Marshall

I caught a Bette Davis movie the other day, "The Letter."  Davis' co-star was Herbert Marshall (1890-1866), an accomplished stage, film and radio actor.  Marshall lost his leg in the first World War and used a wooden leg.  Interestingly, he cultivated a walk meant to hide his disability. The camera, at least in this movie, helped:  he was never shown walking from a distance.  

06 June 2009

65th Anniversay Observances of Normandy Landings

This weekend President Obama will join French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day in France.  There's been some scuttlebutt in the press because of the failure to invite Queen Elizabeth II. She, after all, is the only head of state who actually served in uniform during the war. Sarkozy denied that the Queen had been deliberately snubbed, and Brown said it never occurred to him to invite her.  It was announced yesterday that Prince Charles will attend the ceremonies.  Queen Elizabeth served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the War.   

I'm hoping to catch some of the coverage on television.  Assuming there will be coverage.  I haven't seen very much this week.  I remember Bill Clinton, in what must have been the 50th Anniversary, giving a speech in which he said (and I'm paraphrasing and hoping I'm remembering this correctly) that we should never forget that when the veterans of the War were young, they literally saved the world.  

04 June 2009

Official Word

After hours of speculation, a report is broadcast from London: 

"This is Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces. The text of Communique Number 1 will be released to the press in 10 seconds, repeat 10 seconds from now...Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied Naval Forces, supported by strong Air Forces, began landing Allied Armies this morning on the northern coast of France."

Bob Trout says, "This means invasion. Ladies and gentlemen, here we are back at Columbia's news headquarters, the newsroom in New York.  Everything to this point has been German reports and Communique Number 1 now says it is now official.  The landings have begun."