My Times & Archives
| WAR WITH MEXICO
The dispute with Mexico over a “great wall” that will keep pesky foreigner out of our country is only the latest in a historical contest between the two.
Are we ready to cede land to Mexico? We will if a wall is built because one cannot build such a thing on any land but one we own so the wall will be built on American soil, meaning the land on the other side will belong to Mexico which could do whatever it wants with the land.
There has been ill-will between the two nations based on the events of 1846 to 1848. Most of the people listening to the White House chatter probably don’t know how the U.S. stole half of Mexico.
It started a decade earlier when Americans moved into the sparsely populated land of Texas, a province of Mexico, bringing with them slaves to work the land. Slavery was illegal in Mexico and therefore Texans were ordered to free them or leave.
Instead, the Texans declared the province independent and all sorts of provocateurs descended on the land forcing a series of military battles in which the poorly-led Mexican army was defeated. However, Mexico insisted Texas was part of its nation and not independent.
Then the U.S., planning on expanding slavery westward, annexed Texas as a state leading to more armed conflict that expanded into a full-fledged war. Under Generals Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor, the American army overwhelmed Mexican forces in a series of battles and eventually occupied Mexico City itself forcing the Mexican government to sue for peace.
In the ensuing treaty, Mexico was forced to give up half of its territory including what is now all of California, Nevada, Utah, and most of Arizona, plus parts of New Mexico and Colorado, along with recognition that Texas was part of the U.S.
To make matters worse, the occupying American forces went insane, raping, pillaging, and murdering private citizens, and to such an extent that soldiers like Lt. Ulysses Grant wrote home questioning the morality of the war.
The U.S. nearly went to war again when it was learned that during World War I the Germans had made overtures to the Mexican government to align with Germany to defeat the U.S. noting that when the war was over, Mexico would be able to regain all of that land lost 75 years earlier.
When the German-Mexican contacts were discovered, there was talk about declaring war on Mexico, but that soon fizzled. Still the ill-will was evident.
That persisted in World War II when there was apprehension the Japanese might offer the same incentive to Mexico if it would align with Japan thus allowing the Japanese army and navy to use Mexico as a staging area to invade the U.S. mainland.
That didn’t occur, but the ill-feeling was there and the distrust lasted for decades.
The odd thing about all of this talk of a wall is most of the people coming into the U.S. illegally are not Mexicans, but are those fleeing oppressive governments in Central America (which are backed by the U.S.). If a wall is to be built, it should be on Mexico’s southern border.
Gangs control much of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, with most of these founded by foreign gangsters in the U.S. who were deported back to their home countries where they continued to build their organizations.
So, blaming Mexico for the increase in undocumented aliens is a stretch at best, and an ill-informed president, babbling off the top of his head without knowing the history, can only lead to another sad chapter in an already unhappy situation.
* * *
AMERICA FIRST A SECOND TIME
This proposed new President Trump administration is quite breathtaking in its ignorance of history.
It seems doomed to repeat certain historical paths making the stories of “Brave New World” and “Fahrenheit 451” seem sunshiny in their foretelling.
Take for example the Trump-backing moron who suggested this week that rounding up Muslims and make them register their identities should be allowed based on the precedence of the U.S. rounding up Japanese-Americans in 1942 and placing them in concentration camps.
It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots. Step one, register today, you American Muslims, and, step two, be thrown in a camp in order to “protect America.”
Quite a few of those in the Trump entourage, including Trump himself, have claimed his administration will be an “America First” advocate. They go glibly on to babble about doing whatever it takes to protect America above all else, so “America First.”
Using the “America First” label tells me one of two things. Either they don’t know what that tag has meant in our history, or they do know and want to emulate it.
“America First” was a front for the Nazis in the U.S. It advocated keeping the U.S. out of the European War. They didn’t really care much about Japan, but concentrated on letting the Nazis have their way with Europe without American intervention.
One of the biggest advocates and members of the Nazi front movement was Charles Lindbergh, an American hero to be sure, because he could fly an airplane over water, and one who visited Germany and admired Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe. He said the U.S. air program was woefully inferior to the Reich’s modern air fleet, more than hinting that we didn’t want to get into a war where the other side is so superior. His words were gospel to America First’s 800,000 members.
So, if Trump wants to incorporate the America First movement, that’s saying he is in favor of revitalizing the Nazis in America. Oh, there are those supporters who pooh-pooh such a notion and insist no one is harmed if such a Muslim registration is established.
So what happens if a Muslim refuses to take part? Should that person be imprisoned? If he is an American citizen, he can’t be deported anywhere so what is to be done?
Oh, yeah, maybe they’ll turn the soon-to-be-vacant Joe Louis Arena in Detroit as a detention center (concentration camp), since Greater Detroit has the largest Muslim population in America. To round up tens of thousands of people would require an army, so maybe Commander-in-Chief Trump will declare a homeland security emergency and call out the regular troops, rounding up whole families at bayonet point. Don’t say that can’t happen because we know it already has happened in the past.
And this same Führer plans on rounding up millions of Mexicans and Central Americans to send them back to their native lands. How? Are we going to fly 10 million people across the border in a sort of air bridge? Using planes which hold 300 people it would take over 34,000 flights, say 10 flights a day for nearly 10 years.
This would cause hiring untold thousands more employees to process that program, not to mention the cost of running what amounts to an airline every single day for a decade. And what does that get us?
This is the same dilemma Adolf Hitler faced when trying to figure out how to get all of the Jews out of Germany in the 1930s, before the brilliant idea of extermination took root. He had plans to put them all on trains, sending them out of the country to neighboring nations, and all that would be paid for through the confiscation of their property.
Führer Trump might just see that as a way to go since he did as much in his business profession getting rich by converting bundles of foreclosed properties into cash.
People jump up and down at such talk because they say Trump will do no such thing, that his rhetoric has been all talk and was just show biz. He didn’t really mean it.
That’s what the German voters said, too, when voting in the Nazi party. These swastika adorned thugs couldn’t possibly do any of the things they said they’d do because it was all political bull. Once in power they’d change their tune. That’s true, it got worse.
What followed was the Holocaust.
* * *
THE MOST DANGEROUS ELECTION
A wild-eyed attendee of a recent political rally claimed that if his candidate didn’t win the presidential election, “there will be a revolution.”
When pressed, the redneck blabbered on that he meant “violent revolution.”
Since then there have been continuous accounts of how there might be a violent reaction to the election’s outcome, and that this would be the most explosive election in American history!
What was infinitely more divisive was the dissolution of the entire fabric of our nation, of our constitution, of our standing in the world was election of 1860 and its aftermath.
That’s when it all was blasted asunder. For years, the issue of slavery had been weaving in and out of the national debate, especially when nearly every other nation with any worth had banned the international slave trade or made domestic slavery itself illegal.
Not in the U.S. As the campaign developed between the Democrat Stephen Douglas and Republican Abraham Lincoln, it became clear to Southern slave holders that if Lincoln won, he would make every attempt to outlaw ownership of slaves and eventually creating a path to citizenship for all.
Southerners believed that if Lincoln became president, the country would disintegrate. The Southern politicians began making plans for their states to take up the brazen idea of secession, in other words, dissolving the union into a dozen or so independent little nation states.
There was no provision for that in the U.S. Constitution, but these knuckle-draggers decided it was the only thing to do, ignoring that document and forming new nations. That idea morphed into creating a new federal government of the South, modeling itself after the northern version except for one important proviso. The slave trade would be legal.
When Lincoln became president, there were those who made it no secret that he would be assassinated—it was just a matter of when it would happen.
What the hotheads didn’t understand was that Lincoln had never said he would abolish slavery overnight, but that it was a practice that would wear itself out, so negotiating an end to it, with compensation and other benefits to those affected, would be conducted over the ensuing years.
I believe there were those who would have suggested, just in accounting terms, that it would be cheaper and less worrisome to set up an employer-employee relationship with the former slaves, paying them wages and charging rent for adequate housing already on the premises, allowing for education of children and freedom of worship.
The majority of Southern state legislators, all lathered up with nonsensical rhetoric by a few blowhard demagogues, plunged their states into a conflict they were destined to not only lose but to self destruct. The end game would be the complete military domination of the entire region for nearly two decades.
All of that could have been avoided by a few level-headed leaders who saw the big picture and negotiated. In so doing, more than 600,000 young men would not have died. Imagine what some of those individuals would have accomplished if they had lived out their lives as they had planned.
Maybe there were some whose future kin could have changed the way we did business to prevent a stock market crash, thus negating the Great Depression, a world-wide economic disaster which lead to Fascism and Communism’s grip on parts of the world and sparked World War II. Then imagine if all of those millions who died in those conflicts lived out their productive lives.
How far advanced would we be today?
We’ll never know because in 1861 the wackos were allowed follow through with their threats.
This 2016 election may or may not have dire consequences such as those of 156 years ago, but we won’t know for another few decades what damage was done, providing our Republic is still standing.
* * *
LABOR DAY AND SAM GOMPERS
A few thoughts in the wake of the past weekend, noting that Labor Day is celebrated these days as a holiday, a break in the workaday world, but is a shell of its original intent and of how it was celebrated in the past.
In Bay City, there is a legacy of worker activism, in attempts over the past century and a half of trying to uplift the lot of laborers, the backbone of the middle class.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. One of the biggest strikes by laborers occurred in 1885 when the men in the nearly 100 sawmills all along the Saginaw River from the bay all the way to Saginaw City were shut down. The thousands of workers walked off their jobs, not as part of a labor union order since they weren’t members of unions, but by a spontaneous act of workers trying to get their work day cut from 11 hours a day to 10.
Most of the mills were shut down for the better part of two months and a state law went into effect declaring the work day to be 10 hours. The mill men proved they had the power to shut down the sawmills and never had to resort to that kind of act again.
There were rail strikes, coal miner strikes, shipyard worker strikes, and later on autoworker strikes, but after all was said, contracts were signed and the middle class thrived. It was the design foreseen by labor leaders across the nation.
In February 1888, in the midst of the lumbering boom that created a “millionaire” class of lumber barons in Bay City, national labor leader Samuel Gompers appeared here for a speech in the packed Woods Opera House.
The 38-year-old activist was then president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). He addressed the crowd with a series of ideas on reforming the working conditions, hopefully by negotiation rather than by threats and violence.
He argued that one of the main aims of the labor movement is for a reduction of work hours which would raise the quality of life for the workers and their families. Another aim of the movement should be improving the working conditions for female employees.
Gompers also noted he was not in favor of strikes, but realized they could be necessary if employers refused to negotiate with their organized workers. It was imperative, he said, that a full union treasury be available should major strikes occur.
A well-nourished, well-rested work force also would find interest in the world around them and would take an informed view into the voting booth. Not only would the labor unions have the negotiating power to advance the workers’ agenda, but to have a certain amount of leverage with politicians.
Gompers’ views proved to be prophetic, as his AFL merged with the CIO to create a major labor organization in the United States.
* * *
DANGER—GALLEANISTS AT WORK
History is a great illuminator, so looking back provides some perspective in setting the course ahead.
The latest terror acts have again frightened and angered the public, and yet Congress is doing its usual soft-shoe in avoiding anything of importance—and yet they continue to accept their salaries. It’s nothing new. Terror acts against the innocent is a human trait and has been going on since one group of humans learned to turn tools into weapons against another.
The tactics of terror in our own land began even before there was a country. The Sons of Liberty, the Boston Tea Party, and the hit-and-run ambush by colonials against the Redcoats were all considered terrorist acts by those at the receiving end. We look back and consider them patriotic and heroic.
So, one group’s terrorist is another group’s freedom fighter.
Night riding, hooded killers in the South after the Civil War and through more than half of the 20th Century terrorized black residents, burning down houses, shooting and lynching men and women, just to make a point on white supremacy.
In the 1960s, there was a wave of terror bombings by the extreme leftist groups such as the Weather Underground or the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and by the Ku Klux Klan and affiliates on the right.
By far, some of the most violent and extreme terrorists were known collectively as the Galleanists. Never heard of them?
They cropped up in America in the latter part of the 19th century and continued into the 1920s, shaping the way people thought of all sorts of issues from personal safety to immigration to politics. And the more actions they took by way of bombings and assassinations, the worse the reaction.
These anarchists were followers of Luigi Galleani, a life-long anarchist who was wanted in several countries including Italy and Switzerland and was deported from France for his disruptive activities. He was arrested in Italy and sentenced to five years in an island prison from which he escaped to Egypt, then to London, and finally the United States.
His life was fully documented by many European police administrations as an anarchist bent on overthrowing governments and yet he was allowed admittance the U.S. The blame for terrorist acts afterwards by the 40-year-old Galleani or in his name can be spread to not only his gullible followers but those who handled immigration policies.
Once here, he immediately agitated for violence to overthrow those who oppressed the workers, not unlike the Bolsheviks’ clamoring in Tsarist Russia. As editor of an Italian-language newspaper in New Jersey, Galleani made no bones about his intentions as a revolutionary and subversive.
In 1914, a wave of bombings spread across New York at various public buildings and at the private homes of police officials, judges, and businessmen. Bombs were the preferred modus operandi of the anarchists, though some resorted to poisoning banquet food, and plotting government leaders’ assignations. In most cases, no one was apprehended or charged because police agencies were reluctant to cooperate and exchange information, and there was no FBI yet nor any federal agency to oversee the interstate actions of these criminals. In 1919, mail bombs were sent to three dozen politicians and business figures, and a few of them actually detonated though the injured parties were not the intended victims.
While Galleani was arrested he was not charged with any of the violent activities, but as a subversive and undesirable alien. He was deported to Italy along with some of his followers.
Other anarchists included the infamous duo of Sacco and Vanzetti, who were convicted of a double murder and robbery of a shoe company paymaster and guard, and both were executed in the Massachusetts electric chair.
Terror bombings liked to the Galleanists included one on Wall Street in 1920 in which eight people were killed and scores wounded which ramped up even more fear to a fever pitch across the nation. The impact of the terror bombings and other violent and criminal acts of the Galleanists led to the demand for exclusion of all Italian immigrants, and some Americans demanded an end to immigration of Catholics and other “foreign” ideologies.
The early 1920s also witnessed the Red Scare, in which every foreigner was regarded as a Communist or Bolshevik agent with designs on overthrowing the U.S. There was a desire, too, not to admit Jews, Muslims, Irish, and non-whites from anywhere.
The relative prosperity of the middle and late 1920s put a crimp in the anarchists’ recruitment in the U.S. and police agencies had organized Red Squads including the Michigan State Police which were active into the 1980s. In the early days, they raided numerous suspected anarchist lairs, with or without proper warrants, and disrupted scores of terror plots.
The same tactics were employed with so-called “flying squads” that disrupted the illicit liquor trade during Prohibition.
* * *
Gene, Gene He’s Our Man…
The phenomenon of an elderly Jewish East Coast liberal vying for the Democrat Party’s nomination for President of the United States reminds one of another campaign a few years back—well, more than a few.
Eugene McCarthy, the senator from Minnesota, though non-Jewish, and non-Easterner, captured the imagination of the liberals in 1968 by challenging the powerful President Lyndon B. Johnson in an energetic anti-war campaign.
Almost overnight, McCarthy won the hearts and minds of America’s youthful voters—some, as I, voting for the first time in a presidential election. I liked the way McCarthy stood up to the powers that had cranked up the war in Southeast Asia, primarily Vietnam, creating a mountain of body bags of American soldiers.
The war was problematic from the beginning, and using conscripted teenagers as fodder in a quagmire-style war, was ill-advised to say the least. Vietnam meant nothing to America except a place to exercise what President Eisenhower warned against—the military industrial complex.
In fact, war profiteers were everywhere, sucking the millions of dollars from the treasury on top of the bodies of young American men. The war was proving nothing and the world could see it.
McCarthy railed against the war and he was right. However, a one-issue candidate rarely, if ever, can sustain enough support across the wide-spectrum of the American public’s needs and wants.
For example, McCarthy wanted to solve the problem of racial inequality in housing, by forcing the removal of black families from their neighborhoods into white neighborhoods, although how that could be done never quite got explained. Of course, that issue alone raised all kinds of problems. Would white people have to move out of their homes to make room for black families? Would the government buy homes for black people in white neighborhoods and give them to the families? And so on.
McCarthy also advised that he would not be opposed to having Communists incorporated into the South Vietnamese government as part of a coalition of political parties. This was said in the era of the Cold War when our very existence depended on standing up to the Russian Soviet Communists who had nuclear missiles aimed at all of our major cities. It was Russia who was backing North Vietnam. It was a Communist army killing American kids.
We are faced with a similar problem today in the Middle East with the challenge of ISIS and other militant armies.
Bernie Sanders is repeating some of the conversation of Eugene McCarthy—which isn’t a bad thing, but it is not a winning message. He says things that will get everyone cheering (much like Donald Trump does at the other end of the scale). However, none of Sanders’ proposals would win approval in Congress as it is now constituted.
Even with a Democratic Congress, it is unlikely his ideas would survive what would be a heated debate. Once again, his proposals are not bad and in fact they are quite “progressive” but change comes slowly.
If he had a Democratic Congress, he might be able to get the health care issue changed over to the originally-fine idea of a one-payer system like Medicare. Of course, Hillary Clinton would do the same.
McCarthy’s failure was his total lack of ability on foreign policy issues. At that time in our history, keeping the world from falling into a nuclear holocaust was essential. The U.S. was faced with challenges in Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.
At home we had challenges in the civil rights for minorities and women. Don’t forget, it was a decade when large cities, including Detroit, erupted in rioting and violence. We are at that point again.
While Eugene McCarthy would have lost the Democratic nomination to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in the convention, once Kennedy was assassinated, the challenge was filled by the Vice-President and fellow Minnesotan, Hubert Humphrey.
Humphrey was a good man who thought his upbeat personality would be useful in the Johnson administration, but he was shuffled aside most of the time until Johnson decided not to seek reelection. Even then, he didn’t want to run, but when Kennedy was killed, he became the only man who could reunite the party.
He almost did it, too. His problem was running against both the foreign policy disastrous legacy of Johnson and the devious and conniving rhetoric of Richard Nixon. Even at that, had the election been held three weeks later, Humphrey would have won. Instead, we were stuck with Tricky Dick, an extended war and Watergate.
* * *
FREE AT LAST, OR FREEDOM LAST
Now that the election cycle truly is underway for 2016 based on the vitriol the candidates are spewing, I am going to be commenting in the next few weeks on today’s politics as viewed through the lens of history.
Some of you won’t like it.
I’ve already heard some disparaging remarks when I suggested television news was show biz not journalism.
So here’s another one: we say we live in a democracy, but history shows us otherwise.
Just going back to the foundation of the “United States” of America when there were 13 colonies lashed together in a common cause, freedom from English rule. Through grit and determination, and more than a little help from our friends French King Louis XVI and others of the French nobility, we broke free from the tyranny of the English throne.
In fact, when the Revolutionary War ended and a new government was contemplated, it was assumed there would be a monarchy established here. But after a decade-long debate under a loosely governed conglomerate of “sovereign” states, it was decided that there would be a parliamentary government minus the noble titles.
The unopposed election of George Washington as president and not king laid the groundwork for modifications to the U.S. Constitution, which were euphemistically-labeled the “Bill of Rights.”
Despite all of our breast-beating, misty-eyed reverence to The Constitution, if one bothered to read the document, it excludes nearly everyone but the rich from having any rights. Women have no rights at all. They can’t own property, can’t vote, can’t enter into contracts, and on and on.
Same is true for any man who didn’t own property. He can’t vote either, nor can he hold office. Only white property-owning men have what we would call “rights.”
Under the original Constitution, slavery is the law of the land and encouraged as a property issue. A majority of those who signed the Declaration of Independence and later took part in the Constitutional Convention were slave holders. Two of our most revered Presidents were slavers—George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Surprisingly, and shamefully true, 13 presidents owned slaves, most even as they served as president. Before the Civil War, even Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant were slave-holders.
In the Civil War, more than 300,000 Union soldiers died fighting against slavery, but 300,000 Southerners died defending it. That may sound simplistic, but the outcome is the reality.
And servitude didn’t end with the 14th Amendment, only changed form. For the past 150 years or so, we have replaced chains with economic bondage. The masses are beholding to the oligarchs for every aspect of their existence—if the moneyed gentry withdraw their sustenance, those dependent on it become destitute.
The democracy we cherish is an illusion because it goes against everything the rich power brokers desire. They certainly don’t want us, the unwashed masses to sully their struggle to control the universe. Our ideals of fairness, equality, and justice are not sustainable accomplishments if the billionaires don’t want it.
More to follow!
* * *
“THE ONLY GOOD ONE’S A DEAD ONE”
Here’s a comment made by a certain public official:
“I don’t want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty. It makes no different whether he is an American citizen…”
One might think this was a quote from Donald Trump as he frothed at the mouth claiming all of the Muslims must be turned away from our country.
But no. The comment was attributed to Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, in charge of the military in the western U.S. after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.
He was commenting on setting up camps in which to move out all of the Japanese, American citizens or otherwise, from California.
To DeWitt, “a Jap is a Jap,” and he went even further. “…We must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.”
The sentiment of the American public shifted quickly in his favor, no matter how absurd and shrill the statements and it became an episode in our history that is so baffling as to be unbelievable—yet, to our shame, it happened.
Not only that, but when the troops came to round up the Japanese families from their homes, all they could bring with them was what fit in a suitcase. Their personal property (even for American citizens) became forfeit and reverted to the government. Bank accounts were seized and the funds turned over to pay for the resettlement. Their personal belongings were stacked up on curbs for scavengers. These American citizens never got their property back nor were they compensated for the seizures.
But it shouldn’t have been surprising. America, despite its welcoming façade, has had a tradition of degrading outsiders because of religion, language, ethnicity, or political beliefs. The roots of our nation depended on the demeaning, swindling, and killing Native Americans who had tried to hold onto their land, or language, or spiritual beliefs.
We’ve heard this line before, right? “The only good injun is a dead injun.”
Plug in any other ethnic group to that statement and it applied to other episodes in our history.
Waves of new immigrants, legal and otherwise, began arriving in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. First came the Irish who were hated because they were Catholic and of the poor economic class. Signs went up in store fronts: “No dogs or Irish allowed.”
My mother was a little girl in Saginaw, Michigan who remembers seeing a sign on a grocer’s door, and asked her mother what it meant. She said she never forgot that, being unable to understand why she was hated because she was Irish.
Some historians have pointed out the numerous riots that broke out across the country against the Irish Catholics (much of it fomented by the Ku Klux Klan and other supremacist groups). Then came hatred of the Italians and Chinese, Eastern Europeans (mainly Polish) and Jews, and lately Hispanics.
The hate was highlighted in 1939 when a ship, the SS St. Louis, with nearly 1,000 Jewish passengers escaping the Nazis, tried to dock in Havana, Cuba while the people were awaiting approval for American visas. The Cuban government refused and the ship sailed to Miami where it again was refused permission to dock. The ship returned to Europe and about half of the passengers disappeared into the Nazi death camps, although some had managed to find asylum in England.
So the anti-Japanese sentiment was not a great departure from America’s past.
Now we have the same feelings expressed again, the emotions whipped up by Donald Trump and his pals because they have discovered a way of advancing themselves politically by quashing the hopes of the terrorized refugees.
Trump could be using his billions to help humanity, but he has chosen to use his dough to do some play-acting as a presidential candidate. It is a great lark for him to put on this charade for the rest of the political world. He is doing exactly what Ronald Reagan did in 1980—portraying a political figure, a sort-of caricature of a serious person while an odd assortment of underlings actually ran the country after the election.
Trump’s ideas embrace xenophobia as classic Americana. This is reality TV at its ultimate level, a joke on America’s way of life (real life) of which Richie-Rich Trump really knows little.
If Trump got his way with his plans, it would be no surprise if the next step would be “resettling” all American Muslims into “relocation centers,” as part of Homeland Security. It has happened in the past, as we know, including the 1,000-mile death march of Cherokee to desert lands in Oklahoma labeled the Trail of Tears. The Japanese internment was just another in the long list, all with the blessings of many Americans.
Hitler did the same with the Jews and other “undesirables” in Germany that led to the extermination of over 12 million people. Besides Jews, the gas chambers ended the lives of Gypsies, the mentally ill, physically handicapped, homosexuals, Slavs, Russian soldiers and civilians, and an untold number of orphaned children.
These things were always couched in the guise of German national security and so the people went along with it until was too late to stop it which meant a World War was required to put an end to the madness, at least for a while.
Make no mistake. That’s the path we are on right now and the only way off it before it is too late is for true Americans to rise up and denounce and reject any politicians espousing this line of action.
* * *
TURKEY DAY CHAMPS
We might tend to think that combining a day of football with our Thanksgiving turkey dinner is a relatively modern invention, but not so.
As the University of Michigan Wolverines prepare to battle the Ohio State Buckeroos in football as part of a holiday weekend celebration this year, there was a time when Michigan’s biggest rival was that other U of M team.
That’s dat team over to da west of us, don’t ya know, the Minnisohohta Goofers, eh.
Well, it’s true and there was quite a heart-thumping controversy a few years back—actually way long before there was The Big House 110,000 seat coliseum of pigskin glory. It was in November 1902 as Thanksgiving approached that the debate raged on where to play the Turkey Day game.
It had been all set months earlier when athletic officials from both schools decided that the game, which was for the Western Conference (before there was a Big Ten) championship, should be played on a neutral field. The venue was Bennett Park in Detroit—home of the newly created Detroit Tigers baseball team.
For those who don’t know, Bennett Park became Navin Field, and then Briggs Stadium, and finally Tiger Stadium—oh yeah, that one, on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
Golden Gopher team officials, including Coach Henry L. Williams, accepted the idea of playing at Bennett Park, which could seat 14,000 or so. It was neutral enough an area although still pretty close to Ann Arbor to be considered a Michigan home game.
However, as game day approached, Michigan officials, led by legendary Head Coach Fielding Yost said “nope,” and reneged on the original agreement demanding the game be played in the newly named and improved facility known as Ferry Field. Yost believed up to 15,000 could be seated there, but that might have been wishful thinking.
In any event, a war of words erupted and a series of late-night meetings were arranged to thrash out the dispute. At first Williams said his boys would not play at Ann Arbor and since Detroit already had been part of the agreement, he saw no reason to change it. He said if Yost didn’t like it, there would be no game.
Yost held a press conference and scoffed at Williams, claiming he was afraid to play at Ann Arbor and, besides, the next year’s game would be in Minnesota. He said as long as Michigan demanded the game be played in Ann Arbor, Williams and the other Gopher officials would “come around.”
Shoor ‘nuf, eh. Williams capitulated at the last moment and the Golden Gopher team arrived by train at Mount Clemens and then was shuttled to a hotel to get ready for the game on Nov. 27, 1902. Williams stayed up guarding against his boys sneaking out for a “good time” rather than get enough rest to take on their mighty, and yes, arrogant, opponents. And the Wolves could afford to be a bit “swashbuckley,” since they beat Michigan Agricultural College 119-0, and Ohio State 86-0, and even Notre Dame 23-0.
In fact, the only team to score any points before that Thanksgiving game was Case Institute of Technology which managed a lone touchdown, losing 48-6.
Unlike today’s fields, the old-time football gridiron was usually a soggy bog in inclement weather, so to be safe, Ferry Field was covered with straw to absorb the rain and snow.
The big day arrived, and Michigan, led by Quarterback Harrison “Boss” Weeks, defeated Minnesota 23-6, allowing only one touchdown on a botched punt return. Only 9,000 fans were able to squeeze into the bleachers.
Michigan’s toughest game that season was played on Nov. 1 in Chicago when the Wolverines defeated Wisconsin 6-0.
So with the undefeated season, and one in which the Wolverines outscored the opponents 644 to 12, Michigan was named the National Champion, a feat made possible in part by switching the game from Detroit to Ann Arbor on Thanksgiving Day!
* * *
BAY CITY’S RED ARROWS HELP END WAR
The war that caused the creation of Veteran’s Day ended on this day in 1918 at the now familiar designation: “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”
Of course at that time it was to be called Armistice Day because that was the time determined for hostilities to stop but it would be another 18 months before a peace treaty would be signed, a document with so many flaws it would lead all of those nations into another world war two decades later.
At home in Bay City, the war became very real on June 9, 1917 when it was announced, three days after the U.S. declared war on Germany, that 150 local enlistees were needed immediately to fill vacancies in both the Ambulance Company No. 2 and Company B of the National Guard unit.
Young men 19 to 28 years of age were asked to enlist, and all young men had to register for the draft which would be required once it was determined how many would enlist voluntarily and how many would have to be conscripted.
In a dramatic show of patriotism, State Senator Augustus H. Gansser, of Bay City, addressed his fellow senators in Lansing. Wearing his uniform displaying his rank as senior major in the 33rd Michigan Infantry, Gansser declared that although he was German-born, he was an American and would not shy from fighting against armies of the land of his birth.
“America first, that is my creed,” he announced, pointing out that he was born in Germany. “But I came to this country and was educated in the schools of my home city. I was German-born but I am an American now, and to the last drop of my blood, I will fight for this land of mine.”
Gansser was a well-respected figure in Bay City, having won election to the Senate, but also as a soldier, leading Bay City men during the Spanish-American War in Cuba, and later on the Texas-Mexico border chasing Mexican revolutionary figure Pancho Villa, who had led his force across with raids on several U.S. cities. He also wrote a history of Bay County in 1905.
A month later it was decided that men between 21 and 31 had to register for the military draft, and in Bay City 3,513 men were registered while an additional 1,736 signed their names in other Bay County precincts.
By June 6, 1917, more than 10 million American men had registered for military service. Eventually about 2 million will serve until after the Armistice. More than 117,000 Americans would die during the 17 months of fighting in Europe, 53,000 in combat and the rest of disease and other causes.
Bay City’s military units ended up as part of the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division, with the ambulance unit designated the 128th Ambulance Co. Bay City’s fighting men and the ambulance crews went all across France and into Germany.
In 1997, local volunteers Bob Decatur and Retired Brig. Gen. Richard D. DeMara worked on restoring a 1913 GMC ambulance, one of the vehicles used by Bay City men during the war.
DeMara pointed out that the veracity of the Bay City men was noted when the French referred to the Red Arrow soldiers as “Les Terribles,” or The Terrible Ones meaning their brought terrible destruction on the enemy.
That ambulance now is on display in the Bay County Historical Museum.
* * *
THEY WILL SLIDE OFF THE PAGE
Once again the press is to blame when someone from the lunatic fringe goes on a murderous rampage. At least, that is what’s been playing on the evening news.
These killers want fame and the news media gives it to them big time, letting them win their monstrous games, it is said.
Not so fast, I say. Can you name any of the perpetrators in the epidemic of mass killings without looking them up on the Internet? How about identifying the 19 terrorists who killed all those people on 9/11?
The only murderers I can thing off over the past century have been killers portrayed in the movies, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Whitey Bulger, John Wayne Gacy, or Ted Bundy. These were serial killers rather than single-act executioners.
The limelight fades quickly on those killers who die either at their own hands or suicide by police. Some might remember for a time the few who make it to trial, but even their names slide off the page of history in short order.
I bring this up because there has been some hysteria emerging on the part of victims’ families that the identity of the killers should not be given to the media, that they should simply remain anonymous. The rationale for this idea is the assumption that the killers want to be remembered for their horrendous crimes and that by denying publicity, their actions go unrewarded.
I have had to deal with survivors and family members of murder victims, or those involved in fatal accidents, and some seemed to feel the same way, that they didn’t want publicity for the people responsible for their loved ones’ deaths. That is understandable.
However, others wanted the newspaper to cover every minute detail of the suspect’s life, exposing just how bad the person is and then report on each day of testimony in the trial, plus celebrate in print the life, or lives, of the victims.
It was always a struggle to determine how graphic details should be portrayed in news accounts of tragedies. On one hand, there should be some sensitivity to the victims’ families, but on the other, the public is clamoring for information, and not just a sanitized, watered-down version of the facts.
Another aspect that comes to mind is this: in the cases where we know all about the killer, how many people could name their victims, even though they were printed and identified in every news account over the years, and in the movie versions of the crimes?
People want to know every little detail of items that interest them, as evidenced by the traffic on social media where no obscure detail is left unobserved. Even if the mainstream news organizations intentionally refused to identify the killers, the news would spread via Twitter in a heartbeat anyway.
While the names of the perpetrators might not be essential, other information about the person is vital. Was the person a mental patient, a bullied kid, a radicalized religious terrorist, a person bent on revenge for some domestic reason?
Who, what, where, when, why, and how, are the tenets of journalism. Every story must answer those questions regardless of the sensitivities of some people. It is the difference between our American freedom much of the rest of the world.
* * *
GET RID OF THE CLOWN CAR
I’ve said this before, during the last Presidential election, that holding primary elections as if they were general elections is just plain wrong—and should be unconstitutional.
We’ve been witnessing the fruits of the current election process, which are unending, relentless, boring for the most part, and just plain wasteful.
I don’t know how all of this got started. I heard a story where a presidential primary was held a century ago when Robert Taft was battling Theodore Roosevelt for the Republican nomination and eventually Roosevelt formed his own political party.
It was a waste of time then and certainly is one now.
Why should our tax dollars and all of the election facilities of every county in just about every state of the Union except Iowa be used free of charge by the political parties to hold their primaries?
That was what political party conventions were supposed to accomplish.
Why should I encourage the city clerk of Bay City to use her entire staff, office facilities, voting machines, precinct workers, computerized tabulation of results, etc. to allow political parties to weed and whittle down the number of candidates?
Each political party should have its own hall for voting, and card-carrying, dues-paying party members only could enter to vote. They could have the election spread out over several days to accommodate a large crowd, although that isn’t likely to be needed.
Or, they could simply hold the weeding-out process at every county convention and be done with it. The last two or three standing then could be featured at the national convention for final selection, without costing all of the taxpayers anything.
There should be no need for aspiring candidates to be cavorting all over the nation a year and sometimes two years ahead of the election. If necessary, the U.S. Constitution should be amended to outlaw the huge financial contributions and formations of political action committees, period. The amendment also should install an “election season” of not more than 180 days prior to the election which would allow time for political conventions to take place and money to be raised for advertising and campaigning, at the county, state, and national level.
Question: Are you a Democrat? Are you a Republican? Really?
How many people actually join the political parties they favor? Not very many. Most people claim to be one or the other because that party is the one for which they usually cast ballots.
My father always said he was an Independent, even though he always voted for a Republican presidential candidate—with two exceptions. He said he voted for FDR once and I assume that was in 1944 when the president also was the commander in chief and we were winning the war, and soldiers even on the combat lines actually were able to cast their votes. The other exception was John F. Kennedy and my dad voted for him because, mostly, he was Catholic—and he didn’t like Richard Nixon even though he would vote for him in 1968.
So in my mind, I’d say my dad was a Republican. However, he was accurate in saying he was an Independent because he never would restrict his choices entirely by joining the Republican Party. In fact, as I think about it, I’m sure he voted for G. Mennen Williams for governor and John B. Swainson after that, both Democrats.
There are those who claim the current type of Trumpolitics is not only entertaining but brings out issues that need to be discussed. You mean, 17 people climbing out of the Clown Car can be taken seriously in debating important topics crucial to the American system?
Let the Republican conventions figure it all out and pick one candidate, and then the general electorate can decide on which one of the two parties they should elect as President.
* * *
GO AWAY, CLIFF HUXTABLE
What the heck is happening to the world?
Bad things are happening all over the world, but when one hears that Cliff Huxtable is alleged to be a serial rapist, I think the globe tilted.
Bill Cosby, an author of how to be a dad, and something of a controversial activist in criticizing black youths, and a comedian and actor with a 50-plus year career, stands accused of drugging women and raping them.
That accusation is nothing new even if as many as 100 women are claiming that he abused them.
What’s new is he admitted in a deposition that he, in fact, purchased Quaaludes to knock out women so he could have sex with them.
I remember first seeing Cosby as Alexander Scott, a trainer for the tennis star, Robert Culp’s Kelly Robinson, in “I Spy,” a television series which ran from 1965-1968. The show was great because, unlike other dramas, there was humorous banter between the two characters. One that comes to mind is how he would say to Culp about “the wonderfulness of yourself.”
What some people forget is Cosby next starred in a series called “The Bill Cosby Show,” featuring him as Chet Kincaid, a high school instructor and coach who gave advice and presented philosophical points over the two full season the show was on the air.
He tried a couple of other sitcoms that didn’t work and were cancelled almost before they aired. He then became a pitchman for “Jello,” which got him a lot of notice especially among younger people.
Then came “The Cosby Show,” in which he played Huxtable, a doctor specializing as an obstetrician. How ironic is that? The show ran from 1984 to 1992. It was extremely popular, ending up as the No. 1 show in the ratings four years running and in the top three in a couple of other seasons.
Somehow, people seem to confuse Cosby as Huxtable, the patriarch of an upper middle class family in Brooklyn Heights. He was a humorous, loving husband and father, often having the right answers to problems and when he didn’t, he deferred to his beautiful wife.
He even entertained millions of kids with his Fat Albert routine which became a cartoon TV series.
Well, Cosby isn’t Huxtable, of Kincaid, or Fat Albert, and never was.
For whatever reason and he has admitted to it, he slipped drugs into women’s drinks after getting them into his dressing room or some other place away from his own family. The women figured out what had happened to them, but with no proof, no one was going to take action against such a well-known and beloved actor.
That last word is important. He was an actor and a good one, a convincing one. He apparently used his acting skills to convince the women to be alone with him and then to not say anything about what may or may not have happened. He then repeatedly used his acting skills in an attempt to convince the public that these women were just trying to squeeze money out of him and to damage his reputation.
He should just slink away, retire into obscurity until the Reaper comes for him. He might be in the news for a while longer as prosecutors try to figure out if there is a way to charge him with something.
I remember listening to several of his standup routines on vinyl records and they are funny. I recall his “Noah” bit in which he ends up saying as it starts raining, “Just You and Me Lord.” He also had a great one about giving his children chocolate cake for breakfast to make them happy which does not make his wife happy.
So it was difficult to understand that such a guy would not only do some things that were pretty dumb as a young man, but he crossed into criminal assault and sexual assault, but these were a decade ago and earlier, so they are beyond the statute of limitations.
It was kind of like hearing that Joan Crawford beat her daughter with metal coat hangers and was an all around weird person, though Cosby’s actions were much worse, the disillusionment by the fans is the same.
* * *
THE TERRORIST FLAG IN CHARLESTON
The flag controversy has heated up again in South Carolina as Southern whites defend what they call a symbol of their state heritage.
As usual, they have misrepresented their symbol and by defending it, have labeled themselves not only white supremacists but hate mongers at best and terrorist-backers at worst.
I can already hear the gnashing of teeth as they gear up to proclaim their First Amendment rights of free speech.
Hello! Didn’t the South go to war to throw out the U.S. Constitution and everything it stood for? Didn’t South Carolina secede from the Union, the first state to do so, in order to keep slavery in place?
Defenders will say the state just wanted to be left alone by the federal government. So why did they create another central federal government to take its place, in the form of the Confederate States of America?
Duh! The only difference was the issue of slavery. Historians, economists, and any other sane person will note the entire war ended up being fought because of the slavery issue.
The flag that is in question now is the cross-buck-and-stars banner (red, white, and blue, by the way) which was the Confederate army battle flag not the governmental flag.
That cross-buck flag only became the Confederate’s official flag late in the war, but originally there was the “stars and bars” red-white-blue banner.
So to fly the battle flag of the Confederacy is the same as proclaiming that the war isn’t over and South Carolina didn’t really surrender. It is a white supremacist flag no matter how you try to sell it. It says to the world that if it had its way, South Carolina would leave the United States again as a slave state.
The idea is reinforced with the existence of such terrorist organizations as the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation, and their offshoots. These home-grown terror cells are no different than any of the other terrorist vipers the U.S. is fighting around the world.
No one can tell me that our Michigan homeboy Terry Nichols and his evil terror twin Timothy McVeigh were not acting on behalf of such terrorist groups when they blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. While no one ever bothered to link them to the KKK, I know for a fact that where they lived in Michigan’s Thumb has always been a hotbed for Klan activity.
When I first started in the newspaper business, I met a young journalist who worked on a paper in the Thumb who won an award for his story and pictures of a giant Klan rally complete with the uniform of sheets and large burning cross. One scary picture that won him an award was one of a Klan guard with white hard hat and uniform, not a sheet. The camera flash caught him by surprise and he glared at the photographer, a carbine in hand.
The reporter dashed away fearful at any second a shot would ring out, but he was lucky because he ducked behind some cars and made it to his own before anything more could happen to him.
What the heck was the armed Ku Klux Klan doing in a Tuscola County farm field? Well, it was as good as any place to be to avoid most prying eyes and one would expect the law wouldn’t interfere. Isn’t that the reasoning for the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan? We went to war to wipe them out.
Ten years later I went into Tuscola County to find Klan members to find out if the Klan was still active. It turned out there were quite a few, but they didn’t want to get to chummy with me, although they said there still was an active organization in the surrounding area, though not as visible (as per “Invisible Empire).
This was the environment that hatched McVeigh and Nichols.
This young man in South Carolina didn’t come out of the womb with a terrorist agenda either. He was trained for it either by his parental upbringing or by his surroundings. This sets him apart from, say, the Colorado movie theater gunman who just went in and killed whoever was in the seats, men, women, and children. He wasn’t legally insane, but he was nuts and clearly acted alone.
In South Carolina, the gunman targeted specific black people—Christian black people, and he followed the blueprint (or whiteprint) initiated by the hate groups. Flying the white supremacist flag is endorsing, if not encouraging, other young white men to take similar action.
It is time for decent people to stand up and take down the flag.
It also should be time, after 150 years, to take out these terrorist gangs by labeling them as such, and then use force, if necessary, to bring them down.
* * *
SELL IT HERE, BUILD IT HERE
When I was in high school, I started working in the public library on the Bookmobile in the summer (like the one shown here) and one-day a week janitor at the Muskegon Heights Branch Library.
From there I got a job as a bagger in a grocery store and eventually worked night stock.
While in Junior College, I worked at the S. D. Warren Co. paper mill in Muskegon. I was at the bottom of the unionized pay scale, but with overtime, I was making as much and more each week than my father who worked for an insurance company.
With all of that work, I was able to buy a car, clothes, school tuition and fees, and have enough to save and some to spend on entertainment. At the same time, I was in a dance band and earned extra money.
Then I moved East Lansing, played in another dance band, taught music, worked in a grocery store, all to pay to support my little family and for education. I landed a job at the Clinton County News as a reporter and then the editor and my newspaper career began.
I maneuvered successfully through life from teenager to a retired fuddy-duddy because there were jobs available, some unskilled, some needing experience and education. But they were there to be filled.
All across America, the manufacturing plants, foundries, retail businesses, transportation services, educational institutions, government programs, all were functioning, growing, hiring.
No one thought much to look at a label to see if an item was made in the USA because it was unless one was buying a trinket, or a cheap do-dad which most likely was made in Japan.
Everything of value was made in the homeland—clothing, shoes, cars, televisions, radios, telephones, building materials such as steel, wood processing, concrete mix, glass, and just about anything else you could name. All of the food we could eat or feed our animals was grown here.
There was pride in our vast manufacturing and industrial capacity. It was with even more satisfaction that we could point to World War II and how the entire nation went on a war footing, turning just about every factory, foundry, and plant into war production allowing America to defeat two of the most evil powers the planet ever produced in Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Industrial Giant America was able to create a Middle Class that was unique in the world. The middle class created and sustained Democracy in both state and federal political institutions. There had been nothing like it in size and power ever on this earth.
Where did it all go so fast?
While it was swell that we helped build up the economy of the fallen nations we defeated and helped struggling ones gain their footing, there was no reason to have abandoned our own power and turn it over to foreign, and eventually adversarial, nations.
Why are we at the mercy of some belligerent evil empires—because we have abrogated our superior position, discarding our true Democracy in favor of what has become a true Oligarchy. Don’t know what that is? It is Greek for “rule by the few.”
What we have in America today is the “Rule by the Rich.” The Middle Class, what there is left of it, has little say. We go to the polls to elect officials, but those officials are running because “a few” rich entities gave them money to run a campaign. Whoever wins in an election is beholding not to the voters but to the money lenders.
There are several ways to break the cycle and restore the Middle Class. One major rule should be, “If you sell it here, you make it here.” The exceptions would require a tariff applied to the products to equalize their value to home-built items. Revenue from it would go to help fund social services, such as Social Security, universal health services, and so on.
Added to that, the tax on the uber-super Riche, would be returned to its high level that everyone except the filthy rich thought was fair. At one time the income tax for those folks was 94 percent! Now it is in the 30s.
Even at 90 percent, the super rich didn’t notice the money was gone because their lifestyles stayed just as extravagant.
Next, eliminate the ability for corporations or large “Political Action Committees” from compiling obscene amounts of money to pay off politicians. There is nothing constitutional about those entities—they are evil and extortionate. Oh, you say, the Supreme Court ruled they are okay. Well, the high court has been packed over time by the Oligarchy with just enough justices who side with it.
The Middle Class must return to its prominence and those who oppose such a thing should go get one of those swell 10-cent-an-hour jobs in Mexico or China or Katmandu.
* * *
ISIL and a History Lesson
Americans seem not to understand why there is such animosity in the Middle East as the religious civil war rages in the Muslim world.
What’s the difference between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims? As far as Westerners are concerned there seems to be no difference, but to the people involved it is everything.
In our own history, the American Civil War might give it some context.
To Europeans at the time 150 years ago, the difference between Union and the Confederacy was merely that one wanted to break away from the nation and form its own while the other wanted to keep the country as it was, minus slavery, of course.
The people all looked the same, had mostly the same traditions, most of them were Christians, they had the same work ethics. Then what was so important that 600,000 men would die in the conflict and hundreds of thousands more would be crippled physically and mentally for the rest of their lives?
For most it was love of country, meaning their home “sovereign” states. Some, especially in the South, it evolved into protecting one’s property and family from “invaders.”
Viewed from afar, the entire four years of carnage didn’t seem in balance with the provocation. There are those who say the abolition of slavery was the outcome.
If the Congress was as “God-Fearing” as it proclaimed, abolition of slavery should have been done early in the 19th century. England did it, Mexico did it, and many other nations already had forbidden slavery. There were a number of ways the elimination of slavery wouldn’t have meant an economic crisis to Southern states. Look how prosperous northern states were without slavery.
The division between the two sects in Islam also can be equated with the schism in Christianity that’s gone on for over 900 years. How many wars and murders have taken place since the Catholic Church split apart?
To an outsider, the factions seemingly believed pretty much the same things. They believed in God, Jesus Christ as divine, and nearly everything in the Bible. Yet, to this day, the animosity among various Christian denominations is palpable.
I once worked in a paper mill and one of the co-workers was an Englishman from London who had been a bus driver for a number of years but immigrated to America. He said he had read with interest newspaper articles about American politics, how the Democrats and Republicans were adversaries and extremely partisan on nearly every topic, but he saw no real difference between the two factions.
“To me, it all sounds the same, just different tones,” he said. “They all seem to be saying the same things, to want the same things, just differ on how to get them.”
That was in the midst of the Vietnam War when all hell was breaking loose overseas and at home, yet he saw little difference in the politics noting everyone said war was bad and that there should be a solution to ending it.
So, when we look at the warring factions in Iraq and Syria and can’t seem to figure out why they are fighting, we might look at history to give us an answer, even if it isn’t a satisfactory one.
The ISIL gunmen are supposedly fighting to restore a form of Islam from the 9th or 10th centuries. These religious fanatics may believe what they are doing is good, or they may just want to take power, much like the religious fanatics did in Iran. That’s the goal.
Can such a faith-based terror be stopped?
Certainly and the U.S. could do it pretty much alone. Look at how fanatical Japan was before and during World War II. How fanatical were the Nazis in Europe?
The U.S. fought both of them simultaneously; two of the most powerful war machines ever produced on Earth, and devastated both inside of four years. We had to rebuild their nations for them, or with them, and we still have troops in those countries 70 years later.
Today, we could amass a war machine of 30 million soldiers and all of the nation would be part of the machine, just as in World War II. Most of our resources would go to the war effort.
Everyone would have to sacrifice, but not only would ISIL and all other terrorist bands be wiped out, but any future animosity would be discouraged in the wake of it.
It could be done, that is, if we felt strongly enough, or threatened enough.
* * *
IT WAS THE REAL THING
Now that the epic television series “Mad Men” has run its course, many fans have weighed in on the meaning of the program.
News flash! This isn’t akin to asking “What’s the meaning of life.”
The series was an excellent one, but it was a television series, designed to entertain and tease to get you to keep returning. It was a prime time soap opera with fictional beings based on combinations of personalities found in the real world.
Not many have asked about the lasting impact of similar soaps such as “Dallas,” or “Dynasty,” or even “Sex and the City.”
So what made “Mad Men” different?
Well, it was based on The Sixties, a time of the Cold War, greater prosperity, and technological advances. The world of advertising reflected much of the advances in American life in that era, as well as creating the need for some of it through words and pictures.
I think the series portrayed, in condensed form, some of the foibles, excesses, shallowness, and paranoia that were prevalent in the advertising industry, but I don’t think those things defined the success of the industry.
In real life, it took competent, dedicated, and talented people of all stripes to develop effective advertising campaigns, some of them becoming societal icons with memorable tag lines and jingles.
For example, according to the melodramatic end of the series, the jaded Don Draper/Dick Whitfield succumbed to the tranquilizing effect of the transcendentalist retreat (which certainly was out of character) hinting it sparked the idea behind the famous Coca Cola ad with its hillside singers proclaiming “I’d Like to Teach the World To Sing…”
Actually, the real-life story behind that iconic advertisement was more interesting, including the creative drive of a Waterford, Michigan man, Harvey Gabor, art director of the real-life McCann Erickson Advertising agency. He thought up the idea of young people on a hillside singing about Coca Cola, and helped organize and produce the piece.
The development of the entire ad involved creating the music, organizing a new singing group (The Hillside Singers), gathering dozens of young people to stand on an Italian grassy slope and lip-sinc the song with bottles of Coke in hand. It all was filmed, both by standard cameras on the ground and by one in a helicopter with its panoramic view.
The ad aired in early 1971 which would coincide with the end of the “Mad Men” timeline.
There is a bit of irony involving the creation of the Coke ad. The McCann Erickson team wanted to hire the folk group The New Seekers to sing the theme, but they turned it down, allowing for the creation of the Hillside Singers to do the job. However, when the tune became so popular that the public demanded a full version of it, The New Seekers recorded it, reaching the top 10 on the pop charts.
More irony involved the producer whom McCann Erickson hired. His name was Al Ham, a respected music producer called in after The New Seekers turned down the offer. Ham was the one who organized the Hillside Singers who included his wife, Mary Mayo, and daughter Lorri. The ironic twist, of course, is the fictional Don Draper is portrayed by Jon Hamm.
I liked the way the “Mad Men” series interlaced the story line with the actual historical timeline, giving it a dose of reality from episode to episode and year to year, such as the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and the Neil Armstrong moon landing.
It was a pleasure to see song-and-dance man Robert Morse and his rendition of "The Best Things in Life Are Free" in a post-mortem performance of his character, Bertram Cooper.
Commentary also was made regarding some of the more disturbing aspects of life in the 1960s, including racial discrimination, treatment of women in the workplace, and the relentless prevalence of cigarette smoking.
As in real life, the need to smoke overcame common sense as Betty continued her heavy smoking even as she learned of her lung cancer. Nor did the knowledge of the disease give pause to her daughter who had begun smoking as a young teen. Even Daddy Don continued puffing the Lucky Strikes even though he was the one who wrote an ad for the newspaper denouncing tobacco as a health hazard.
* * *
BAY CITY’S ACADEMY AWARD WINNER
Note to city officials: A new historical marker might be in order on the corner of Center and Washington avenues where a Hollywood legend gave her debut performance.
Her name was Leila Marie Koerber, a little girl from Ontario, Canada who moved to the lumber-boom town of Bay City with her family in the late 1870s. She is better remembered by her stage name, Marie Dressler.
Miss Dressler won the Academy Award in 1931 after an extremely long and productive career on the stage and in early motion pictures. She also held the title as oldest woman to have won the Best Actress award for another 51 years before Katherine Hepburn won in 1982 for “On Golden Pond.”
Marie was a wonderfully funny, entertaining, and effectively dramatic in both her film and stage careers, launched at the age of 11 in Bay City’s Westover Opera House (where the Phoenix Building stands today).
Leila Marie Koerber was the daughter of Alexander R. Koerber, a former Austrian military officer who had relocated to Cobourg, Ontario, Canada, before moving to Michigan.
Koerber also was a musician and music instructor, known as “Professor Koerber” to his students, establishing a music studio in his home on Farragut Street between 11th and 12th (Columbus) streets. He and his family lived here and in Saginaw during the late 1870s and 1880s.
He recognized his daughter’s talent for singing and acting and penned a musical play for her which was performed on the Westover stage in 1880. It was her first full-scale stage performance.
Two years later, she left home to perform with several touring opera companies, and changed her name to that of an aunt.
Towards the end of the decade, Dressler returned to Michigan, staying with her family who had moved to Saginaw. She wasn’t there long before a touring company played a date there and she was asked to join.
Three years later she was in New York performing in a production with the famous Lillian Russell and they became friends. She continued to perform in various troupes and even had one of her own for a while but went bankrupt. She toured England and amassed a modest fortune, losing it in another ill-advised production.
Dressler continued again to perform in New York. During WWI, she conducted productions for Liberty Bond drives and entertained the troops overseas in France.
She appeared in a number of silent films and later in a series of talking pictures. But her grandest success came in 1930 with the filming of a drama, “Min and Bill,” with equally well-known co-star Wallace Beery. For her role, she won the 1931 Academy Award for Best Actress.
She had become a star before that picture, but the award put her in high demand and she played in several more movies earning one more Oscar nomination in 1932 for her performance in the title role in “Emma.”
Marie Dressler died of cancer in 1934 in Santa Barbara, Calif.
A museum dedicated to her was opened in Cobourg in the same home where she was born.
So, how about it, city leaders? Shouldn’t we recognize one of the finest Hollywood stars of that early era who called Bay City home.
* * *