Art in the Soviet Union underwent a number of phases – from great restriction in Stalin’s time to some more open, less restricted periods in the decades after. Here, Alyse D. Beale provides an overview of the history of art in the USSR, with a focus on Socialist Realism art.

Lenin in Smolny in 1917 by Isaak Brodsky. An example of Socialist Realism.

Lenin in Smolny in 1917 by Isaak Brodsky. An example of Socialist Realism.

As with all else under Joseph Stalin’s domain, arts within the Soviet Union glistened with the red tinge of communist propaganda. Whereas Realism in the West sought to illustrate an unromanticized vision of daily life, Socialist Realism employed its artists as propagandists. Soviet authorities ordered countless works of herculean factory workers, the victorious motherland in all its monumental glory, and its robust leaders strolling the Kremlin. Yet with Stalin’s death, Soviet art evolved parallel to its country, becoming at once more democratic, realistic, and rebellious. Socialist Realism, once created as propaganda for a political machine, later became a tool for working against the very regime that created it.

 

We recommend you view:Gerasimov, Aleksandr MikhailovichI.V.Stalin and K.E.Voroshilov in the Kremlin after the Rain (1938). 296х386. https://painting-planet.com/iv-stalin-and-voroshilov-in-the-kremlin-by-alexander-gerasimov/

 

What is Socialist Realism?

Socialist Realism in its early form was not so much art, but a political machine that sought to indoctrinate every citizen with communist ideology. The movement first appeared in 1932 at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers and was later adopted as the Soviet Union's official and sole art form two years later when the Soviet Writer's Congress outlined the criteria for all future works for art. Socialist Realism, as Karl Radekexplained during the Congress, meant a reflection of "that other, new reality -- the reality of socialism...moving towards the victory of the international proletariat…[and a] literature of hatred for putrefying capitalism."

 

We recommend you view:Mikhail Khmelko.The Triumph of the Victorious Mother-Motherland (1949) . https://01varvara.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/mikhail-khmelko-the-triumph-of-the-victorious-mother-motherland-1949/

 

The Writer's Congress mandated that Socialist Realism embody the Soviets' vision of themselves and their future. The movement emphasized monumental sculptures and buildings to depict the country’s strength and wealth. Bold music prompted workers to action, and paintings displayed cheerful workers, happy peasants, or aggrandized leaders, such as Stalin and Lenin. Each work of art had to meet four requirements: it must be proletariat, typical, realistic, and partisan. Each artwork must show a connection to the proletariat on a basic level, meaning that they be simple to understand and depict scenes from the common man rather than the bourgeoisie. More importantly, each work ought to be partisan, an unquestionable endorsement of the communist party. Socialist Realism left no room for interpretation; it was either total support for the regime, or it was treason.

 

Art in Thaw

Stalin's death ushered in a somewhat freer era, popularly known as "the thaw" under his successor, Nikita Khrushchev. Though arts within the Soviet Union remained restricted, Stalin's death allowed many new artists to enter the scene. Existing artists, too, embraced this more relaxed atmosphere and created more freely and originally. 

As the country underwent a de-Stalinization, authorities altered works to eliminate Stalin's likeness. The Stalinskaya Station was renamed as Semenovskaya, and removed the dictator's portrait and quote from its walls. At Belorusskaja Station, the new regime replaced a mosaic of Stalin with a red labor flag. 

 

We recommend you view:On left, Stalinskaya Station. On right, the renamed Semenovskaya Station with Stalin's head removed.  Eugenia. "Moscow Underground Without Stalin - See The Gaps." Real USSR: Lifting the Iron Curtain. March 2, 2010. Accessed December 6, 2015. http://www.realussr.com/ussr/moscow-underground-without-stalin-see-the-gaps/. 

 

Because the USSR remained highly censorious, even during “the thaw,” many artists opted to create truly realistic works that avoided any political references at all. Other artists and writers, such as V. Dudintsev who penned Not By Bread Alone, an indirect criticism of the regime, pushed the limits of what Khrushchev would allow as art, and helped pave the way for the late Socialist Realism movement.

Though Khrushchev publically supported more liberal policies concerning the arts, he often contradicted himself, which inadvertently popularized the later, more defiant movement. When the 1957 All World Festival of Youth introduced the USSR to an array of American modern and pop art, Khrushchev denounced it and martyred artists unwilling to conform to state guidelines. 

Late Socialist Realism garnered even more support when authorities ended a 1974 art show with bulldozers and a show of force. Government critics thereafter renamed the event as the "Bulldozer Exhibition." These actions divided art within the Soviet Union into two sects: official and unofficial. While the official state art remained Socialist Realism, unofficial art became more rebellious.

 

A Painted Rebellion

The Severe Style and Sots Art were two artistic movements that grew from Soviet artists’ rebellion against traditional Socialist Realism. While the Severe Style under Khrushchev’s rule critiqued the government implicitly, the later Sots Art movement grew increasingly blatant in their criticisms, and even mockery of, the Soviet Union.

The Severe Style portrayed Socialist Realism much more realistically than the overly propagandized, early works. Late Socialist Realism became more pessimistic in their view of the working class and embraced western styles of Expressionism. Many artists, sick of communist ideology, refused to paint any topics resembling works done under Stalin at all. Instead, they opted to create depictions of daily life or images that represented change in their country. The Severe Style favored construction sites for this reason, as it implied support for a newer, freer country.

 

We recommend you view:Bohouš Cizek.Untitled (circa 1960). http://www.eleutheria.cz/socpresent.php?lang=en&image=023

 

Technically the fusion of Soviet and Pop Art, the Sots Art movement was a complete rejection of the state-sponsored Socialist Realism. Sots Art is defined by its satirical nature and inclusion of Pop Art as a means of criticizing Soviet policies. Art critics claimed that Sots Art pieces, such as those done by Komar and Melimid (famous for their representation of Stalin sitting aside E.T., with a hiding Hitler in the shadows) were "at once subversive and nostalgic." It was a "manifestation of so-called styob, which can be translated as a kind of 'mockery' that involves miming something to such a degree that the original and the parody become indistinguishable."

 

We recommend you view:Komar & Melamid.Yalta Conference (1982).Tempera and oil on canvas, 72”X48”. http://russian.psydeshow.org/images/komar-melamid.htm

 

Art in Transition

Late Socialist Realism became a channel for protest, but also a symbol of their society’s transition to becoming, though with varying degrees, more democratic, realistic, and free.

Perhaps Soviet artists' boldest move was exposing the lie of happiness under Stalin's totalitarian regime. They did so not by political sabotage or physical rebellion, but by implementing ink and paint to portray what life was truly like for the ordinary Soviet citizen. Late Socialist Realism took no part in "heroic idealization of the working man," as Stalin had. These new artists exposed the monotony, drudgery, and grime of factories and fields if they chose this subject at all.

 

We recommend you view: Ivan Babenko. Waiting, set in 1945 at the end of WWII (1975-1985). Oil on canvas, 123x167 cm.

https://kieramotorina.tumblr.com/post/118353730352/week-8-waiting-ivan-babenko-1945

 

Late Soviet art became more democratic in the sense that it became available to all, rather than just state-sanctioned artists. Shortly after Stalin's death, the first public art competition took place, accepting submissions anonymously and allowing non-established artists to enter. Even the jury had become more democratic, composed of those with various professions and without allegiances and vested interests.

 

Embers to Flames

Socialist Realism ended with the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Artists, glad to be free from a controlling communist regime, began creating works independently from the state. It seemed as though all were glad to forget Soviet art and life in general. A "fatigue" of anything remotely Soviet led many to dismantle and hide works of Socialist Realism.

Recently, however, the discussion of Socialist Realism has gone from "stultifyingly boring" to trendy. Art collectors and Russian moguls began snatching Socialist Realism pieces, interested more in their history than in the artists' ideologies or techniques. Such pieces have been put on display around the world, featured in exhibitions from Berlin to London and even Minneapolis. One article, interestingly named "Socialist realism: Socialist in content, capitalist in price," dubbed 2014 "the year of socialist realism." The article described a 2014 Sotheby's auction that featured around forty Socialist Realism works, but the exhibition was only one of many. A June 2014 auction estimated that about twenty-four of the pieces were collectively worth about $7.7 million. Socialist Realism, once a tabooed subject of art history, gained a universal interest in a way that it failed to do even in its prime.

 

We recommend you view:Yuri Ivanovich Pimenov.First of May Celebration (1950)
This work, celebration International Worker's Day, was sold for 1.5 million by Sothebys London. https://tmora.org/2009/02/02/russkiy-salon-select-favorites-and-newly-revealed-works/yuri-ivanovich-pimenov-first-of-may-celebration-1950-132x300/

 

What do you think of Socialist Realism? Let us know below.

References

 

  1. Eugenia. "Moscow Underground Without Stalin - See The Gaps." Real USSR: Lifting the Iron Curtain. March 2, 2010. Accessed December 6, 2015. 

  2. Hosking, Geoffrey A. The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1992.409.

  3. Khidekel, Regina. It's the Real Thing: Soviet & Post-Soviet Sots Art & American Pop Art. Minneapolis, Minn.: Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum :, 1998. P. 19.

  4. Lindsay, Ivan. "Socialist Realism." Agents | Dealers - An Authority on Russian Art. Accessed December 6, 2015. http://www.russianartdealer.com/socialist-realism/.

  5. Neumeyer, Joy. "Socialist Realism’s Russian Renaissance." Socialist Realism's Russian Renaissance. May 19, 2014. Accessed December 6, 2015. http://www.artnews.com/2014/05/19/socialist-realism-has-a-russian-renaissance/.

  6. Pyzik, Agata. "Get Real: Why Socialist Realist Painting Deserves Another Look." The Calvert Journal. December 18, 2014. Accessed December 6, 2015. http://calvertjournal.com/articles/show/3475/socialist-realism-Soviet-official-painting.

  7. Radek, Karl. "Contemporary World Literature and the Tasks of Proletarian Art." Karl Radek: Contemporary World Literature and the Tasks of Proletarian Art (August 1934). Accessed December 6, 2015. https://www.marxists.org/archive/radek/1934/sovietwritercongress.htm#s7

  8. "Reflections: Socialist Realism and Russian Art." Guggenheim. https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/reflections-socialist-realism-and-russian-art.

  9. "Socialist Realism History, Characteristics of Political Propaganda Art." Encyclopedia of Art Education. Accessed December 6, 2015. 

  10. Thorpe, Vanessa. New Exhibition in Berlin Brings Forgotten Soviet Art Back to Reality. October 24, 2009. Accessed December 6, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/oct/25/soviet-art-painting-berlin-exhibition.http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/socialist-realism.htm.

  11. Vinogradova, Yulia. "Socialist Realism: Socialist in Content, Capitalist in Price." Socialist Realism: Socialist in Content, Capitalist in Price. July 24, 2014. Accessed December 6, 2015. http://rbth.com/arts/2014/07/24/socialist_realism_socialist_in_content_capitalist_in_price_38351.html.

Museums are important in helping us connect with the past and with historical events – but not all museums are equal. Here, Shannon Bent explains why she thinks Berlin’s Topography of Terror Museum, a museum that considers the dark past of the Nazi regime, is an excellent museum.

Berlin’s Topography of Terror Museum. Remains of the Berlin Wall are at the top of the picture. Source: Adam Carr, available  here .

Berlin’s Topography of Terror Museum. Remains of the Berlin Wall are at the top of the picture. Source: Adam Carr, available here.

In my previous article posted here on ‘History is Now’ (here) I spoke about Checkpoint Charlie, a well-known tourist destination in Berlin. I talked about this over-commercialised site, and how completely insensitive and underwhelming I felt the ‘attraction’ was. Funnily enough, a few days ago and around a month after I wrote this article, my Dad handed me a page from the British Daily Mailnewspaper with the headline ‘Mona Lisa? It’s a bit rubbish’. It was a small section on the page and detailed the results of a survey done by the airline ‘easyJet’ about what the most desirable tourist destinations to visit in Europe were. While the Mona Lisa was named the most disappointing, Checkpoint Charlie came in at a close second with 84% of 2,000 Britons polled saying they disliked the site. At the risk of being smug, or using the phrase ‘called it’, I’m hardly surprised. It does, however, further the idea that this site is rather useless at its intention and doesn’t exactly educate or even interest many visitors. I was actually rather pleased to read this; at least quite a few other people actually agree with me and I’m not just overreacting!  

Now we’ve seen an instance of failure in the museum sector, perhaps I can offer a view and recommendation for a museum I feel could not be more opposite to the infamous Checkpoint Charlie. Situated perhaps less than a five-minute walk apart, this museum to me is a symbol of the right way to do it; an example of how to educate accurately and effectively on a sensitive subject while remaining interesting and respectful: The Topography of Terror.

 

The Topography of Terror Museum

The building is initially imposing, yet it is not obvious as to what it contains. Situated next to a preserved section of the Berlin Wall, and on the site of the SS central command, this simply curated museum takes the visitors through the chronology of the reign of terror that the Gestapo, SS and Reich Security lead over the people of Germany and beyond during the Second World War. With room for temporary and special exhibitions within the space that remain within the general theme of the museum, this site doesn’t hide anything. The site that it is on also provokes thought. What better way to keep the memory of the horrors inflicted alive than by placing them in a building sat on the area where the headquarters of the main perpetrators once resided. There is something fairly poetic and thought-provoking about this. Furthermore, with the remains of a piece of the Berlin Wall encompassed into the site that you can walk along and see the remnants of the graffiti from those that lived through it, it further serves as a reminder of the humanity caught up in war, and seeks to remind you that you are learning about individual and real people who had to face the horrors that presented themselves to them during both the Second World War and the Cold War. The area is alive with history, and therefore is the perfect place to keep history alive in. 

When you first enter the Topography of Terror, I would argue that most would be struck with the expanse of space, cleanliness and I should think some would argue sparsity of the place. The museum is free, something that I always appreciate. So, there is no funnelling towards a desk where they’ll ask for your money and try and sell you an overpriced guide book on top of your tickets. Furthermore, and thankfully, there is no gift shop. I hardly think it would be appropriate to place the SS symbol on a pencil or a tote bag to sell at the end of your visit, so a huge well done to the person that manages to keep the retail and commercialisation issue away. Therefore, upon entrance you are free to roam wherever you wish to begin. Despite this, the fantastic curation of the museum lends itself to naturally leading you in a chronological order through the build up to the Nazi regime and through the Second World War.

 

The Curation

I mentioned that it is the fantastic curation that pulls you into a kind of ‘one-way system’ concept around the room, yet the curation is simple. The entire concept is just boards hung from the ceiling, with one main introductory board per section, numbered in order to help the flow. As you can see, it pulls you around each corner and makes you curious for the next board, in a rather morbid way perhaps. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. Just because these subjects are some of the darkest and bloodiest points in history doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting. Besides, if people are interested, or if it is interesting to them then they are learning about the topic. Ultimately, isn’t this the aim of museums such as the Topography of Terror? Education of these subjects so they shall never be repeated again is of course the main remit of the museum. Consequently, I see no issue with a visitor of this museum finding the content of interest, and with a want to learn more around each information board. 

The phrase ‘it pulls no punches’ may be a little insensitive on this subject, but also fairly appropriate. Perhaps one of my favourite things about this museum is it does not seek to hide the facts, or veil them in mystery and inaccuracy. The facts, the stats, the numbers and the photos are clear for everyone to see. It perhaps for some is an overload of information and writing; if you aren’t already interested in the topic then perhaps this isn’t the museum for you. Certainly, it isn’t a museum to bring younger children. They would find it pretty boring, with no interaction or engagement tailored to them. But in my opinion, this isn’t poor planning or curation on the museum’s part. They knew their target audience, and they knew what information they were aiming at who, and in my opinion they have pulled this off very well. The text is simple and fairly broken up into smaller paragraphs, interspersed with many photos of varied sizes. It gives the exhibition variety, but also makes it an information packed display which is of course the overall aim.

 

The Meaning of the Museum

The reason I wanted to speak about this museum though, is because of its greater meaning. It has been created by the German people in full knowledge of the history of the site that it is sat on, and it is a symbol that they are not afraid of the truth. While a comical concept, there was once a thought of ‘don’t mention the war’ when it came to the countries that were involved. However, this museum shows that education and information does not have to be hidden from its place of origin and removes the concept of guilt or blame and simply seeks to teach so we can learn from mistakes. It baffles me that there was once a thought that Germany should not be open about the crimes that occurred during the Second World War. After all, and I think I can be accurate and agreed with when I say this, the Nazi regime and the extreme SS that came from it were not truly representative of the country or the majority of its people at the time. These days, while neo-Nazism does exist in various countries and that is a terrifying thought, the viewpoint that caused the atrocities that the Topography of Terror details are reserved luckily to a small section of people. This museum proves that the past doesn’t have to be hidden, or glossed over and more to the point can in fact be shown in greater detail to educate as many people as possible. 

This museum, and certainly this mindset, is a triumph. I can only hope that this continues and spreads wider. The Topography of Terror achieves what all museums should set out to do; clear and accurate information, accessible to as many people as possible and presented in an intriguing and unique way. Even if the subject matter is difficult and sensitive, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, usually the total opposite. It is these subjects that need to be understood the most, by as many people as possible. Its museums like this one that ensure that it can be understood, so it is never repeated in history again. 

 

I would highly recommend this museum. If you are interested, here is the website and if you are in the area, I would urge you to visit. Let’s keep the knowledge of topics like this and the museums that tell the stories as widely known as possible. Link here.

 

I hope you can come along with me on this exploration. Don’t hesitate to comment, feedback, and you could even email me for a chat about all this on s.k.bent@hotmail.co.uk. I would really love people to get involved in this.

The U.S. Coast Guard played a key role during World War Two. Here, Daniel L. Smith tells us about the varied and important role the service played in saving lives and contributing to the US and Allied Powers’ war efforts around the globe.

You can read a few of Daniel’s past articles on California in the US Civil War (here) and Medieval jesters (here).

The U.S. Coast Guard Escanaba crew on board the boat in World War Two.

The U.S. Coast Guard Escanaba crew on board the boat in World War Two.

The naval history of World War II is propense, given the size of the war and participation of nations involved. And more often than not, the United States Navy offers a huge and understandingly repetitive presence over the naval history of WWII. More often than not however, it is the United States Coast Guard’s selfless service and true expense that is lost in that large shadow. As an Honorably Discharged U.S. Coast Guard Veteran, I wear a Coast Guard “Excellence” Ribbon, as well as the 9/11 Transportation Medal for service in the 9/11 attacks in 2001. With experience in rough seas, law enforcement, and search and rescue – I am pleased to share this story about the U.S.C.G. in WWII.

In November of 1941 the Coast Guard went from the Treasury Department to the Department of the Navy; so perhaps this was why the histories of WWII usually look past or only shortly mention the Coast Guard’s priceless role in the great event. The United States declared war after the Japanese surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor, and spent four years and eight months in the fray of internal and external conflict. It was this catalyst that the Coast Guard’s accountabilities to its service to country extended significantly, being valued more than just search-and-rescue, and law enforcement; now it was seen completely integrating militarily.[1]

The Coast Guard was actually involved in some very significant events in World War II. How effective were they? Seaman John Cullen, for instance, was walking the beach performing routine night patrol on the 13thof June of 1942. During his walk Seaman Cullen observed four Germans landing ashore, on a saboteur mission code-named Operation Pastorius. Seaman Cullen of the U.S. Coast Guard was actuallythefirstAmerican who came into contact with the enemy on the shores of mainland USA during WWII.[2]Another incident, CGC Icarus (WPC-110), a 165-ft patrol boat that once had been a rumrunner chaser during Prohibition, put a German U-352 under water on 9 May 1942, off the south coast of Charleston, South Carolina.[3]The Icarus crew took on 33 prisoners that day. They were the first German nationals taken in combat as prisoners by any U.S. armed force.[4]

During the entire length of WWII, U.S. Coast Guard elements sent 12 German and two Japanese submarines to the bottom of the ocean, and would end up capturing two German warships. Finally, Signalman 1stClass Douglas A. Munro was the only Coast Guardsman to be awarded the Medal of Honor. It was at the 2ndBattle of the Matanikau, Petty Officer Munro was tasked with leading the extraction of 400 United States Marines that had been beaten and overrun on the Japanese island. Munro used a 7.62 mm deck-mounted machine gun aboard his “Higgins Boat” to direct a suppressing fire against the Japanese positions as the other recovery boats took on the beaten and battered American Marines. He would end up selflessly putting himself between heavy fire from the Japanese forces and the U.S. Marines – leading the ten landing craft and saving all five-hundred U.S. Marines, including 25 wounded, all escaped.[5] 

 

A DRIVING FORCE

The United States Coast Guard wasand continues to remain to be the most professional, elite, and underappreciated service out of the 5 branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. In WWII history, evidence suggests the U.S. Coast Guard was more involved than the history books lead on. So, justhow effective was the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II? Admiral Chester Nimitz highly praised the valuable and selfless performance of Coast Guard men and women in World War II by stating: “I know of no instance wherein they did not acquit themselves in the highest traditions of their Service, or prove themselves worthy of their Service motto, ‘Semper Paratus’—‘Always Ready.’”[6]

It was back in 1837 that the Coast Guard went even further with the order to save lives and property. The main functions of the service were no longer just law enforcement related, but now relied upon as the saviors of life and property with maritime safety taking up an equally important role. For a branch of service that has less peopleserving in it than the New York City Police Department, it always seems it is the U.S. Coast Guard that always stands out at the end of their long days. The Coast Guard has been involved in every single one of our nations wars at sea –along the side of their Navy counterparts. These brief aforementioned illustrations stand as evidence to the examples of the Coast Guard, its crew, and its mission capabilities. Of course, all of this centered around being a 5thmilitary branch of service, with all privileges entitled. 

There is another historical event that would equal silenceto the incredible effectiveness of the Coast Guard’s mission capabilities. Signalman 1stClass Douglas A. Munro, is the aforementioned Coast Guardsman who would equally compare in this quiet and unpromotedglory in while their service. Its interesting in part to think about just howunrecognized the service is. Proof? Half of my recruit training company didn’t even know the Coast Guard was a seagoing service when asked about it by the Company Commanders.[7]If recruits are naïve about the mission, is it unreasonable to assume that the general public wouldn’t have an idea of Coast Guard’s mission effectiveness? Of course not.

The mission effectiveness pre-dating our modern era is apparent when looking back in the historical entries. The Revenue Cutter Service (as it used to be known) was re-named United States Coast Guard in 1915, after the U.S. Government observed justhoweffective they were as a wartime andnon-wartime entity.[8]It is amazing that with such successes in the field and low publicity, both publicly and within the other four military branches, the Coast Guard still continues to remain the mostunderappreciated branch of the services. 

 

UNDERAPPRECATED, MOST EFFECTIVE

Overall, the Coast Guard performed valiantly with statistics of their own military accomplishments during WWII. 12 submarines were sunk in the Atlantic Theatre by Coast Guard Cutters, Coast Guard Anti-Sub Planes, and Coast Guard-crewed naval vessels. The U.S. Coast Guard documented that from 1941, to the end of the war, Coast Guard crews had served successfully on board Navy attack transports (APs & APAs) and with personnel to spare. They continue on to say, “It was an obvious choice to let the Coast Guard continue to assist in manning various ships of the ever-increasing Navy fleet. They readily took to all of the various types of landing craft utilized by the Navy, including the Landing Craft Infantry, Large, or LCI(L)s, beginning in 1943.”[9]

Technologically, the Coast Guard headed a cooperative effort between scientists and the U.S. Navy, to develop the Long-Range Navigation (LORAN) system. The Coast Guard stated that, “Pulse transmission of radio waves permits LORAN to measure the time a signal travels. This allows an infinite number of lines of position to be placed over the Earth’s surface by radio. Using special charts and a simple receiver, a plane or ship could determine its general location within a few miles by longitude and latitude. LORAN is the first use of electronic navigation, precursor to Global Positioning System (GPS).”[10]

In June of 1942, legislation in the Executive Branch changed the face of the U.S. Coast Guard forever sealing their fate as a military service. Further, the presidential decree allowed for the centralization of the Coast Guard as the premier multi-mission branch of service. According to the U.S. Coast Guard Historians Office:

“The President delegates port-security to the Coast Guard. Responsibilities included: Control of anchorage and movement of all vessels in port; Issuance of identification cards and the supervision of access to vessels and waterfront facilities; Fire-prevention measures including inspections, recommendations and enforcement; Firefighting activities, including use of fireboats, trailer pumps and other extinguishing agents; Supervision of the loading and stowage of explosives and military ammunition; Boarding and examination of vessels in port; Sealing of vessels' radios; Licensing of vessels for movement in local waters and for departure; Guarding of important facilities; Enforcement of all regulations governing vessels and waterfront security; Maintenance of water patrols; General enforcement of federal laws on navigable waters and other miscellaneous duties.”[11]

 

Handling and piloting these small boats in the rough surf is most certainly a specialized skill. Additionally, this type of emphasized skillset was not common among men in the Navy. Not guys in the Coast Guard though. Many of the coxswains (small boat handlers) had learned this skill from pushing boats through the surf at coastal lifesaving stations. Coast Guard small boat handlers were actually only at lifesaving stations. Most were highly seasoned small-boat handlers, as this proved valuable to the service. Maneuvering landing craft through strong currents, reefs, sand bars and heavy surf, is what these lifesavers excel at. Further, their aid to amphibious operations during the entirety of the war is infinite. 

 

RISING UP

The experience of these surfmen were priceless during amphibious operations. The Coast Guard's surfmen acted as trainers and coaches to the U.S. Navy small boatmen trying to learn the complexities of controlling craft in the rough waters and heavy seas. During the early period of WWII, thousands of Coast Guard and Navy personnel were skilled and apt to handle landing craft in preparation for the beaches.

Part of that landing craft mission was landing troops at D-Day, but, given the sheer size of the operation, the Navy and Army asked that the Coast Guard also provide a flotilla of ships to rescue Americans stranded in the water. The Coastie’s punctually rose-up to complete the challenge, pulling from their daily experience in saving lives for over a century. The Coast Guards Cutters and other small-craft went to war on D-Day. They were literally behind the first wave of landing craft hitting the beaches of Normandy. They had been told to stay two miles away from the shoreline, but most of the Coastie’s took their craft closer to shore where they could rescue more lives. 

The United States Coast Guard pulled over 400 men out of the water that day. One small-boat named "Homing Pigeon," manned by the Coast Guard, rescued 126 lives in one day.[12]It was the Coast Guard Cutters Eastwind and Southwind that would end up capturing the Nazi vessel Externsteine off the coast of Greenland doing weather and supply duty after a brief fire-fight with nobody killed. The Coast Guardsmen gave the newly captured Nazi ship the name USS Eastbreeze and placed 37 men on board to man the vessel. Eastbreeze would end up sailing to Boston where the U.S. Navy renamed her USS Callao. Nazi supply vessel Externsteine was the only enemy ship captured while at sea by any U.S. naval forces during World War II.

What was the scope of the Coast Guard’s rescue operations in WWII? A thorough examination of the United States military’s records in the European phase of the war will reveal just how operationally effective the small services were outside of battle. 4,243 servicemen and merchant mariners were saved, and of these 1,658 survivors were picked up from being torpedoed along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. 810 souls were saved in the North Atlantic, and in the Mediterranean 115 saved. Further, 1,660 were saved from rescue cutters from the English Channel at D-Day. The fact is almost four and a half million fighting soldiers would embark by ship, to fight the enemy in Europe and Africa. Of all who were deployed , 3,954 were lost at sea.

 

THE TOUGH KEEP GOING

Over the course of World War Two, the U.S. Coast Guard remained completely active with the remaining landing forces until Japan surrendered. Other operations that contributed to the Coastie’s efforts were mine-sweeping off the coasts during occupation. At the finish of major military operations in the Pacific, the soldiers., sailors, and airmen being ferried home by the Coast Guard would come to know the last ride home as… “Magic Carpet” rides. These rides home would have to have been one of the most relieving moments of any war wearied serviceman. 

The Coast Guard contributed as much as any other branch of service to the war effort as part of the amphibious forces in the Pacific theatre of war. The men of this nation's smallest branch of service, – smaller than the N.Y.P.D. to be exact – proved as heroic and valiant as the men in the other branches. The Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, in 1946, would stand on the podium and publicly state that during the war the United States Coast Guard "earned the highest respect and deepest appreciation of the Navy and Marine Corps. Its performance of duty has been without exception in keeping with the highest traditions of service." 

The fact of the matter is…“Their experience in operating in all types of surf conditions as well  as on the high seas made the Coast Guard crews a valuable addition to the Allied invasion fleets.”[13]The United States Coast Guard continues to be the most elite branch of service operational today, also making the Coast Guard statistically, the best the five branches of military has to offer. The truth is that for being the most underappreciated branch of service; the men and women of the Coast Guard display their moraland ethicalprinciples in the line of duty.[14]They truly were mission effective in WWII.

 

 

What do you think of the US Coast Guard in World War Two? Let us know below.

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at complexamerica.weebly.com.


[1]Bishop, Eleanor C. 1989. Prints in the sand: the U.S. Coast Guard Beach Patrol in World War II. Missoula, Mont: Pictorial Histories Pub. Co. https://archive.org/details/printsinsand00bish_0.

[2]Walling, Michael G. 2008. “Dangerous Duty in the North Atlantic.” Naval History http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=31947742&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[3]Ibid., pp. 204-207.

[4]Ibid., p. 208.

[5]Quesada, Alejandro de. 2011. US Coast Guard in World War II. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. WorldCat Reference Center, Online. p. 97.

[6]U.S. Coast Guard, Statistical Division/Historical Section, Public Information Division, The Coast Guard At War (Washington: Public Information Division, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, 30 June 1944–1 January 1954), (monograph 7).

[7]“USCG Basic Training Experience, Delta-162” Daniel L. Smith, 2002.

[8]U.S. Coast Guard, Statistical Division/Historical Section, Public Information Division, The Coast Guard At War (Washington: Public Information Division, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, 30 June 1944–1 January 1954), (Monograph 17)

[9]"U.S. Coast Guard Manned LCI(L)'s." U.S. Department of Defense. Accessed April 1, 2019. https://media.defense.gov/2017/Aug/08/2001789793/-1/-1/0/LCIS.PDF.

[10]"Time Line 1900's - 2000's." United States Coast Guard (USCG) Historian's Office. Accessed April 19, 2019. https://www.history.uscg.mil/Complete-Time-Line/Time-Line-1900-2000/.

[11]Ibid.(USCG) Historians Office.

[12]Christy, Gabe. "How 60 Coast Guard Cutters Saved Over 400 Men On D-Day." WAR HISTORY ONLINE. Last modified September 14, 2017. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/60-coast-guard-cutters-saved-400-men-d-day.html.

[13]"What’s in the Coast Guard’s Secret Sauce for High Retention?" Federal News Network. Last modified January 16, 2018. https://federalnewsnetwork.com/dod-personnel-notebook/2018/01/whats-in-the-coast-guards-secret-sauce-for-high-retention/.

[14]"From the Homefront: Top 10 Things We Wish People Knew About Coast Guard Life « Coast Guard All Hands." Coast Guard All Hands. Last modified February 5, 2014. https://allhands.coastguard.dodlive.mil/2014/02/05/from-the-homefront-top-10-things-we-wish-people-knew-about-coast-guard-life/.

Sources

Alejandro de Quesada,. 2011. US Coast Guard in World War II. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. WorldCat Reference Center, Online.

Arch A. Mercey and Lee Grove, eds. Sea, Surf, & Hell: The U.S. Coast Guard in World War II (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1945).  pp. 12-14.

Eleanor C. Bishop, 1989. Prints in the sand: the U.S. Coast Guard Beach Patrol in World War II. Missoula, Mont: Pictorial Histories Pub. Co. https://archive.org/details/printsinsand00bish_0.

"From the Homefront: Top 10 Things We Wish People Knew About Coast Guard Life « Coast Guard All Hands." Coast Guard All Hands. Last modified February 5, 2014. https://allhands.coastguard.dodlive.mil/2014/02/05/from-the-homefront-top-10-things-we-wish-people-knew-about-coast-guard-life/.

Gabe Christy. "How 60 Coast Guard Cutters Saved Over 400 Men On D-Day." WAR HISTORY ONLINE. Last modified September 14, 2017. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/60-coast-guard-cutters-saved-400-men-d-day.html.

Ken Wiley,. 2007. Lucky thirteen: D-Days in the Pacific with the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II. Philadelphia: Casemate. http://books.google.com/books?id=CIrxAAAAMAAJ.

Michael G. Walling, 2008. “Dangerous Duty in the North Atlantic.” Naval History http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=31947742&site=eds-live&scope=site.

U.S. Coast Guard, Historian’s Office, “World War II” www.uscg.mil/history/WW2Index.asp

 "U.S. Coast Guard Manned LCI(L)'s." U.S. Department of Defense. Accessed April 1, 2019. https://media.defense.gov/2017/Aug/08/2001789793/-1/-1/0/LCIS.PDF.

U.S. Coast Guard, Statistical Division/Historical Section, Public Information Division, The Coast Guard At War (Washington: Public Information Division, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, 30 June 1944–1 January 1954), (Monograph 1-30)

"What’s in the Coast Guard’s Secret Sauce for High Retention?" Federal News Network. Last modified January 16, 2018. https://federalnewsnetwork.com/dod-personnel-notebook/2018/01/whats-in-the-coast-guards-secret-sauce-for-high-retention/.

Across the world many languages have become extinct over the past decades. Here, Casey Titus considers this in the American context by telling us about five Native American languages that have become extinct in the twenty-first century.

Four members of the Osage Nation with US President Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

Four members of the Osage Nation with US President Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

1.     Serrano 

This language was spoken by the Serrano people of Southern California, a Serran branch of the Uto-Aztecan family which is one of the world’s primary language families and that stretches from Idaho in the United States to El Salvador in Central America. Serrano translates as “highlander” or “mountaineer” in Spanish, and was given by Spanish missionaries in the late 18thcentury as the Serrano historically resided in the San Bernardino Mountains and other Transverse Ranges as well as the Mojave Desert. Due to forced relocations and smallpox epidemics for which the Serrano people had no immunity, their population was greatly reduced and by 1910, only 150 of the Native Californians were estimated to be left. The last fully fluent speaker was Dorothy Ramon, who died in 2002.

 

2.     Unami

 

An Algonquian language that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to Atlantic Canada, Unami was spoken by the Lenape people, who stretched across five states, but primarily Delaware, from the late 17thto early 18thcenturies. The Lenape had a matrilineal clan system whose women elders could remove leaders of whom they disapproved and families were matrilocal; newlywed couples would reside with the bride’s family where her mother and sisters could assist her with her growing family. By 1682, their population was endangered and subsequent decades of intertribal conflict and forced relocation pushed the Lenape people further west until the 1860s when the United States government sent most remaining Lenape to present-day Oklahoma under the Indian removal policy. Currently, the Delaware Tribe of Indians is one of three federally recognized tribes, with Unami being one of two Delaware languages, the other being Munsee. The last fluent speaker in the United States was Edward Thompson who died on August 31, 2002.

 

 

3.     Klamath-Modoc

A traditional language of the Klamath and Modoc people spoken around the Klamath Lake that extends to southern Oregon and northern California, both ethnicities speak a dialect of the language. Klamath is part of the Plateau Penutian language family and, like Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic languages, this language is abundant in ablaut, any sound change within a word that indicates grammatical information. By 1998, only one native speaker remained. Four years later, the last fluent Klamath speaker residing in Chiloquin, Oregon, Neva Eggsman, died at the age of 92. As of 2006, there are no more native speakers of either the Klamath or Modoc dialects.

 

4.     Osage

Osage is a Siouan language spoken by the Osage people of Oklahoma. Siouan languages are located primarily in the Great Plains, Ohio, and Mississippi Valleys. The Osage Nation developed in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys around 700 BC and migrated west of the Mississippi after the 17thcentury because of ongoing battles with the Iroquois, who were invading the Ohio Valley from New York and Pennsylvania in search for new hunting grounds. “Osage” is a loose French version of the tribe’s name that roughly translates to “warlike.” At the height of their power in the early 19thcentury, the Osage was the dominant power in the region and feared by neighboring tribes. The missionary Isaac McCoy described the Osage as an “uncommonly fierce, courageous, warlike nation.” Though not officially declared extinct, as of 2009, approximately 15-20 elders claimed Osage as their second language. In early 2015, Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear announced he would render Osage language immersion and revitalization a priority.

 

5.     Eyak

Historically spoken by the Eyak people, indigenous to south-central Alaska. Eyak is one of twenty-one official languages in the state of Alaska. The rapid spread of English and restraint of indigenous languages contributed to the decline of Eyak. The last full-blooded Eyak and native speaker, Marie Smith Jones, died in 2008 and with her, the Eyak language. In June of 2010, an astounding revival effort was made when the Anchorage Daily News published an article about Guillaume Leduey, a French college student who taught himself Eyak from the age of 12 through the use of print and audio instructional materials received from the Alaska Native Language Center. He is now classified as a fluent speaker, translator, and instructor of Eyak.

 

What do you think of the extinction of these languages? Let us know below. 

References

“Klamath Language.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_language.

“Osage.” Atlas of Endangered Alphabets, www.endangeredalphabets.net/alphabets/osage/.

Revolvy, LLC. “‘Klamath Language’ on Revolvy.com.” Revolvy, www.revolvy.com/topic/Klamath%20language.

Revolvy, LLC. “‘Unami Language’ on Revolvy.com.” Revolvy, www.revolvy.com/page/Unami-language.

“Serrano Language.” Serrano Language - Howling Pixel, howlingpixel.com/i-en/Serrano_language.

“Serrano Language.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serrano_language.

“Unami Language.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unami_language.

During the presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981-89) the Cold War got hotter – and there were a number of major Cold War battlegrounds. Somebody who played a key role in many of these was CIA Director William Casey. Casey was to play a major role in several noteworthy and controversial events, perhaps most infamously in the Iran-Contra Affair. Scott Rose explains.

You can read Scott’s past articles about spies who shared American atomic secrets with the Soviet Union (read here), the 1950s “Red Scare” (read here), the American who supplied the Soviets with secrets in the 1980s (read here), and Cuban spies in the US in the 1980s (read here).

William Casey, CIA Director from 1981-1987.

William Casey, CIA Director from 1981-1987.

As the Cold War drew to its conclusion, President Ronald Reagan was viewed as the one individual most responsible for the eventual demise of the Soviet Union. Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin will probably always be thought of as the beginning of the end of communism in the U.S.S.R. and its satellite states.

However, there was another American official just as responsible for the Cold War victory of the Western world. William J. “Bill” Casey was Reagan’s CIA Director from 1981-1987, and Casey pulled the strings of American Cold War policy, making it his personal crusade to bleed the Soviet Union dry. Undoubtedly, Casey was one of the most powerful CIA Directors to ever hold the position.

Instead of being remembered for his patriotism as Reagan is, Casey’s legacy is quite controversial and unclear. Most Americans who remember Casey will forever associate him with the murky episode known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

 

Lawyer, Spymaster, Writer

Bill Casey was born in New York in 1913, to a hard-working family with limited financial means. From his childhood onward, Casey was ambitious and determined to change his social status. During his grade school years, he displayed great intellect, while showing a temperamental side as well, earning the nickname “Volcano” from his classmates. The only mark he ever received less than a B grade was a C in personal conduct. He became a caddie at a local golf course and taught himself how to play golf, which would remain a lifelong hobby.

Casey’s good grades got him into Fordham University in Manhattan, followed by law school at St. John’s University. In 1938, he passed the bar exam and began working at a law firm in New York. Casey displayed a talent in business and financial law, and created what is known as the “tax shelter.”

During World War II, Casey went to work for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the pre-cursor of the Central Intelligence Agency. He served in France and helped coordinate American spying operations inside Nazi Germany. Fiercely patriotic, Casey was by all accounts very effective in his position managing spies and gleaning vital information as the Allies prepared to invade Germany, and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. After the war, he would return to his legal practice in New York.

Casey wrote several books about business law during the 1950s; the books sold well, and were widely purchased by other American lawyers. He made a small fortune, which was multiplied by successfully investing his earnings into a variety of business ventures and stock holdings. He also lectured on tax law for fourteen years at New York University.

Casey was a strong supporter of Richard Nixon during the election of 1968. Nixon and Casey had common ground; both were conservative lawyers, World War II veterans, and staunch anti-Communists. In 1971, Nixon named Casey chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and three years later, Casey became Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.

 

A Partnership with Reagan

During the late 1970s, the United States looked to be losing prestige on the world stage. The Jimmy Carter Administration had failed to check Soviet influence around the world, and the Iran hostage crisis had made Carter appear soft. The American economy was in recession, compounding the nation’s problems in foreign affairs.

Ronald Reagan was challenging Carter in the 1980 election, vowing to restore America to its former glory. An unabashed capitalist and anti-Soviet, Reagan was a candidate Casey could relate to, just as Nixon had been. Upon announcing his candidacy, Reagan named the crafty and tireless Casey to be his campaign chairman. Reagan won in a landslide, and shortly after he was inaugurated, the Americans who had been held hostage in Iran were released. There has been a popular theory that Casey persuaded the Iranians to delay the release in order to weaken the Carter campaign; whether or not this was true has never been established.

Reagan asked Casey to become the new CIA Director, but initially Casey was not enthused about the prospect. He wanted to help shape American foreign policy, not merely report intelligence that had been gathered. However, Reagan promised Casey he would be given a large role in the country’s international affairs, and Casey took the job. Still well respected in the intelligence community for his OSS operations, he was a popular choice with many of the senior officials at the CIA.

During the Carter years, the CIA had been vilified in several Senate hearings. The Agency’s budget had been drastically cut, and by 1980 morale had dwindled. Upon becoming Director, Casey sought to rebuild the CIA back into the world’s strongest and most effective intelligence organization. Budgets were increased, and many new agents and administrators were hired. Casey voiced his intention to not only stop the increase of Soviet influence, but to “roll back” the Soviet world presence as well. His understanding of intelligence gathering and economics had put him in a unique position to do just that.

 

Taking on the Soviets

As the American economy recovered, Casey realized that the Soviet economic system could be damaged through long, drawn-out military operations such as the one in Afghanistan. The Soviets had invaded the country in 1979, but were now engaged in an ongoing conflict with Afghan rebels known as mujahedeen, or freedom-fighters. Casey asked Congress for financial aid for the Afghans, and received even more money than he had asked for. The CIA used these resources to furnish the Afghans with military equipment for use against the Soviets. Before long, the mujahedeenwere using American anti-aircraft missiles to bring down Soviet military helicopters. Just as Casey had expected, the U.S.S.R. poured more money and personnel into the conflict. In all, the Soviets would be bogged down in Afghanistan for nearly ten years, before withdrawing in 1989, losing billions of dollars and thousands of troops along the way.

Casey had hoped to accomplish the same objectives in Nicaragua, where the Soviets were sending $400 million per year to back the communist Sandinista government in its fight against the American-backed Contra forces. However, Congress was not as receptive to aiding the Contras, who had a less-than-stellar record when it came to human rights. Eventually, a bill was passed to limit American aid to the Contras. When the CIA mined harbors in Nicaragua, Casey was called to testify before Congress, and most of his answers were vague and indirect. By this time, Casey spoke in a slurring fashion (referring to Nicaragua as Nica-wag-wa), and there were many occasions when he spoke and left his listeners completely confused. In 1984, Congress passed a second measure, completely banning American aid to the Contras.

Neither Casey nor President Reagan had any intention of letting the Contra cause die. Before the second Congressional Bill was passed, Reagan asked his National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane, to find a way to keep the Contras afloat. McFarlane and his deputy, Lt. Colonel Oliver North, were able to persuade the royal family of Saudi Arabia to send a million dollars per month to the Contras. This was a far cry from the level of assistance the Sandinistas were receiving from the Soviets, but enough to keep the war going for the foreseeable future. For Casey’s part, he went on record that the CIA no longer had any involvement in Nicaragua.

In 1984, Casey had another huge problem to deal with. William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Lebanon, had been kidnapped by Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed organization. Shortly after Buckley’s kidnapping, American intelligence operatives in Lebanon began to disappear. It was clear that Hezbollah was torturing Buckley to gain information. These fears were confirmed in early 1985 when a videotape arrived, showing Buckley being tortured. Reportedly, the tape was so graphic that several CIA officials openly wept upon watching it.

 

The Iran-Contra Conundrum

Casey ordered his subordinates to find Buckley’s location and plan a rescue mission. In spite of this, the CIA couldn’t determine where Buckley was, or if he was even still in Lebanon. With each passing day, the Agency became more desperate to find the agent.

Eventually, a shimmer of promise came in the form of an Israeli foreign agent named David Kimche. In July of 1985, Kimche visited Robert McFarlane in Washington, telling the National Security Advisor that there might be a way to get Buckley and six additional American hostages released. Kimche told McFarlane that there was a group of Iranians who wanted American support for overthrowing the anti-American Iranian government of Ayatollah Khomeini. In return, these Iranians would use their influence with Hezbollah to obtain the return of the Americans being held in Lebanon, including Buckley. The point of contact would be an Iranian named Manucher Ghorbanifar.

 

McFarlane told President Reagan and other cabinet members, including Casey, about his conversation with Kimche. The President and Casey were in full support, while others in the Administration were more suspicious of what they heard. Kimche returned in August, telling McFarlane that Ghorbanifar’s group was asking for American weapons as part of the deal. Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger were opposed to the idea, arguing that it would become an “arms for hostages” situation. Undeterred, Kimche proposed to McFarlane that Israel sell the weapons to Ghorbanifar, with the United States resupplying Israel. Weinberger argued that this would be illegal, while Casey disagreed. McFarlane and Casey supported Kimche’s idea, and ultimately, so did President Reagan. However, Casey had not been forthcoming with the President or McFarlane; he was actually already aware of Manucher Ghorbanifar. The CIA had met with the Iranian in 1984, administering two polygraph tests which Ghorbanifar had failed. Afterward, the CIA issued a “burn notice” on Ghorbanifar, meaning he was not to be trusted under any circumstance, a fact Casey made no mention of.

Shortly afterward, the arms shipments began. However, after the first shipment of TOW missiles, Ghorbanifar claimed the shipment had “fallen into the wrong hands.” After the second shipment, Ghorbanifar told McFarlane that Hezbollah would release one hostage, and for McFarlane to pick the hostage. McFarlane promptly picked William Buckley, but to Casey’s horror, the captors replied that Buckley was too ill to be moved, and another hostage would have to be chosen. Within a few months, the American government would find out that Buckley had actually died of a heart attack while being tortured in June of 1985.

The arms shipments continued into 1986; in all, there were seven shipments, with only three hostages being released. Then, in autumn of 1986, the lid was blown off the entire operation. In October, a helicopter carrying supplies to the Contras was shot down in Nicaragua. The lone survivor, an American named Eugene Hasenfus, told the Sandinistas that he was a CIA operative, which Casey denied. Then, in November, a Lebanese magazine reported the arms shipments to Iran. The Reagan Administration initially refuted the allegations, promising an investigation. Later the same month, Attorney General Edwin Meese confirmed not only that the arms shipments had indeed occurred, but also that proceeds from the arms sales had been diverted to the Contras in Nicaragua.

The spotlight turned squarely on Casey and the CIA. He was called to testify before Congress in December; however, the morning before he would have testified, Casey suffered a seizure at CIA headquarters. Taken to the hospital, he suffered a second seizure the same day. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and three days later he had surgery to remove the tumor. Casey would never recover his health, and resigned as CIA Director in January of 1987.

As the Iran-Contra affair unfolded in spring of 1987, several current and former members of the Reagan Administration were called to testify before Congress, but Casey was never able to do so. Most of the American public speculated that Casey was the one person who knew the entire story. On May 5, a former Air Force officer and CIA operative named Richard Secord testified that he organized weapons deliveries to the Contras, under direction of Casey and Oliver North. The next day, Bill Casey passed away.

Legendary Washington Postreporter Bob Woodward wrote a book called Veilabout Casey and the CIA, which includes a controversial story about Casey during his final days. Whether the story is factual or simply sensationalism is up for debate. Woodward claimed to have entered Casey’s hospital room for a few minutes while Casey’s guards were away. According to Woodward, he asked Casey, “You knew about the diversion to the Contras didn’t you?” He claims Casey looked and him and nodded that indeed he had. Woodward also states that he then asked the former CIA Director why he had approved of the events that had taken place, to which Casey faintly replied, “I believed.”

 

What do you think of the Iran-Contra affair? Let us know below.

References

Steve Coll, Ghost Wars, Penguin Press, London, 2004

Robert C. McFarlane, Special Trust, Cadell & Davies, New York, 1994

Joseph E. Persico, Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey: From The OSS to the CIA, Penguin Books, London, 1991

Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1987

Museums are important in helping us connect with the past and with historical events – but not all museums are equal. Here, Shannon Bent explains why she loves museums and why she was less than pleased while visiting the famous Cold War crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie, in Berlin.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

The importance of museums

I will hold my hands up and admit that I am a museum nerd. It may seem a little niche and uninteresting, but I love museums. From a very early age, my parents took me to historical sites, castles, battlefields and museums. My love must have begun there. Not only was I learning (yes, I am that child that loved to learn), but I was also in a place where it was totally acceptable to enjoy learning what was around you. More than that, you were learning in a totally different way to sitting in a classroom being talked at for hours on end. I was interacting, I was playing with objects, I was touching things were hundreds of years old and I learning how they worked. This bought a huge amount of joy to me as a child, and thankfully it never wore off. Still to this day, I step into a museum and I feel at peace. It feels familiar, it feels safe and it feels homely. If you, like me, just love to be around knowledge and learning, you too will have a place which evokes the same kind of emotions. 

As I became older and began visiting the museums I had loved as a child in my adult years, it started to become clearer to me why these places were so important to me. They continued education and knowledge in such a way that you don’t realise you are learning. Yet days later you are still thinking about and remembering something you read or did in a museum. It then became my mission to try and get myself into these environments on a day-to-day basis and perhaps create this kind of feeling for another that could then fall in love with museums in the way I once had. 

Because of my love for these places, presenting themselves in old buildings, new buildings, caves, tunnels, rooftops and walls, wherever I go I seek out a museum. I am lucky enough to have the people closest to me sharing similar interests (or at least putting up with my interest) and so any holiday, day out or trip away can involve finding a new museum to explore. At the end of last year I travelled to Berlin. I don’t recall a day I didn’t visit a historical site or museum. It was there that I began thinking about this; a museum’s role in remembrance and commemoration, and how some places do it better than others. Yes, I can be critical of museums too!

 

Visiting Berlin

 

The first time I visited Berlin, I was eighteen years old. I was heading to university two months later still with a huge passion and love for history. The trip was with school; a bunch of us from history class and our favourite teachers. It was July and baking hot. On our school-arranged itinerary was the Checkpoint Charlie museum. I was excited and fascinated with this museum, having not had a chance in school to study the Cold War and was fuelled by my own interest and research. 

Checkpoint Charlie was, as you perhaps could guess, a checkpoint in central Berlin that during the Cold War when Germany was cut in two, allowed passing between the two sectors. West Germany, or the FRG, was controlled by the British, Americans and French. East Germany, the GDR, was controlled by the Soviet Union. This line, a crack through the country and indeed through the world, represented two very separate lives for the people that were zoned into these sectors. Checkpoint Charlie was a break in the physical wall that had been put up from August 13, 1961, and became a symbol of separation during the Cold War. After the wall came down in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany, Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. 

You will see Checkpoint Charlie featured in many Cold War films, novels, and historical articles. It is a focal point, and an incredibly important site in history. I remember being upstairs in the Checkpoint Charlie museum, and from one of the windows you could look down onto the street and see the checkpoint. It remains as it was; the signs indicating the various sectors, the booth which housed the patrolling soldiers, it is all still standing. A snapshot of history preserved as it once was, hopefully forever, to remind people what happens when you build walls. I looked for a while, because to me it was captivating. Then I noticed there were ‘soldiers’ at the checkpoint. I say it like that, ‘soldiers’, because it was clear they were reproduction uniforms with an attempt to be historically accurate and failing pretty badly. Even me, aged eighteen, could see that it wasn’t right. Not only that, but they weren’t saluting correctly for the country that they were supposedly a soldier of. I remember pointing this out to my classmates, and my teacher, who all laughed along with me at how absurd the entire scene was. 

It clearly stuck in my head though, as I remember saying I wasn’t too bothered about seeing Checkpoint Charlie again as I found it over-commercialised and unnecessary. It was probably then, some five years later, that I began to consider what this commercialisation of such an important historical site actually meant for the preservation of the memory.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

Presenting History as it was

I am what I guess you could call a ‘historical purist’ or ‘historical prescriptivist’. Basically, I believe in presenting historical fact in the purest form. Present it how you wish, in as many different forms as you wish; writing, TV, movies, plays, exhibitions, podcasts, the world is your oyster. Just make it accurate. None of this embellishment for dramatic effect. No need to change the facts to make it interesting. Trust me, present it right and the history will speak for itself. Now apply this logic to Checkpoint Charlie. You have the original signs each side of the street, making it clear to everyone standing there just how close capitalism and communism lived for the best part of 29 years. You have the booth where the soldiers would have stood, hour after hour, day after day, in freezing Berlin winters, patrolling a border that they themselves were probably affected by. Throw in a few photos of the wall, the roadblocks, the tanks and place them around they booth with a few well-written info plaques and hey presto, you have yourself a thought provoking, accurate historical site. You don’t need people dressed up, charging for tourists to have photos with them. You don’t need the visual of dressed up soldiers at all. 

Now you may be thinking ‘chill out. It’s just a bit of harmless tourist fun’. And yes, in a way it is. But here’s the way I look at it. Those soldiers they are impersonating were once real people, with real lives. In fact, the likelihood is they are still around today, perhaps even in that city. They had family, friends, lovers and enemies. They lived and breathed that city, that conflict, right off the back of the biggest war the world had ever seen. The wall went up practically overnight and the checkpoint followed. The men that had to work at that checkpoint perhaps lost family the other side of the wall or had to leave their life long friends behind. If you want to think about it in a darker manner, those soldiers being impersonated perhaps had to stop or even shoot people that were attempting to escape through the checkpoint, whether they agreed with the ethics of the wall or not. Some 136 people died between the years of 1961 and 1989 at the Berlin Wall. There are not clear numbers of how many of them were at the checkpoint in question. But chances are those soldiers had to perform violent acts that morally they were not at peace with. Do you think it is morally correct for people to then pretend to be these soldiers? I doubt it would sit well with the actors if they thought about it, and it would certainly baffle those that lived through the iron curtain.

 

Maybe that is more the point I am making. Perhaps I’m getting too hung up on the smaller intricacies of the topic. My overall point is this; people lived through the thing that is now being (badly, may I add) impersonated for money. I feel the concept to be a little weird and overall needless. There are many fantastic ways of presenting facts, of making history come to life that is accurate and respectful. And I am in no way against visual representation. There are some really good TV series and films that are as accurate as possible, for example Darkest HourDunkirk, and the absolute masterpiece that was Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old. Similarly, I have seen re-enactments, and what I believe is called in the business ‘costumed interpreters’ that have fantastic reproduction uniforms and costumes that provide a deeper and more visually impactful experience for the visitor. But it is done more tastefully, and with a far greater respect for the historical significance.

 

Recent History

There is also the question of this with regards to recent history. My parents vividly remember when the Berlin wall fell. I was born eight years later. My mum always says how when she was in school in the 1970s they didn’t teach history on the Second World War because it was too fresh and recent to make it a historical subject. While I don’t agree with that wholly, and do believe that it should be taught no matter how recent, there is a lot to be said for the way in which the topic is presented and what is respectable when there are still people living in that city that lived through a time when Checkpoint Charlie was actually operational. 

I do get angry when I think about all of this in context. When I was in Berlin last November, we were killing time before heading for food, and I said to my boyfriend ‘lets walk past Checkpoint Charlie, just so I can glare at it’. The people that are stood taking photos with the soldiers and instagramming it are entirely missing the point of, well, everything. It isn’t a place of remembrance and commemoration. To them, it’s a ‘how many likes can I get’ challenge, and the significance of the place goes right over so many people’s heads because it isn’t being presented in the right way. To me, it is beyond disrespectful. I guess you can only hope for change in the future. 

As I’m sure you can tell, this is a topic that I am very passionate about. Not just Checkpoint Charlie, but the overall controversial topic of how to present a museum, the commercial aspects of public history, and what is to be done when the topic in hand is sensitive. This series will seek to explore these different aspects of museum and heritage sites, using not only my knowledge but definitely my opinion, from the countless visits I have done to numerous places. Don’t worry, the whole thing won’t be me ranting consistently. I have some positive things to say too! I hope together we can explore and have a general discussion about this. If you love museums too, this is the place to be!

 

I hope you can come along with me on this exploration. Don’t hesitate to comment, feedback, and you could even email me for a chat about all this on s.k.bent@hotmail.co.uk. I would really love people to get involved in this. After all, history and museums are for us all! So don’t be shy! History is cool, and history is now. 

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The Battle of Stalingrad from August 1942 to February 1943 was the largest battle of World War Two, and one of the largest in all history. It involved a major battle for the city of Stalingrad (modern-day Volgograd) between Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Here, Joshua Potts tells us the role that snipers played in the battle.

Vasily Zaitsev, a key Soviet sniper, in December 1942.

Vasily Zaitsev, a key Soviet sniper, in December 1942.

The Battle of Stalingrad

In 1942, Hitler attempted to cut off Soviet communication and supply routes along the Volga River by launching a two-pronged attack on the oil-rich fields of the Caucasus and the city of Stalingrad. Since the previous Operation Typhoon had failed to take Moscow, the Germans decided to circumvent the Soviet expectation that they would attack the capital again and instead went for Joseph Stalin’s namesake city. Initially, the German Blitzkrieg tactic inflicted huge numbers of casualties in the city and gained Army Group South B an important advantage over the shocked Red Army. However, it wasn’t just the Wehrmacht who had tricks up their sleeves. 

Within several weeks, more and more troops were being committed to the Battle of Stalingrad and intense fighting had broken out in the streets. Both sides used underground sewers to work their way behind enemy lines, trying to eliminate resistance in the city. The 10,000 tonnes of explosive dropped by the Luftwaffe had already damaged the city and reduced its many weapons and farm-machinery factories to rubble, and the ensuing conflict within the city exacerbated the destruction.

 

Snipers

Both the Germans (and their allies) and the Soviets had deployed hundreds of professional snipers into Stalingrad, placing them behind fallen buildings and broken machinery. They picked on unsuspecting soldiers (and often civilians) from rooftops and windows, making sure to hide their optical scopes so that the sun wouldn’t reflect on the glass and give away their hiding places. 

Many of these master snipers had grown up in poor families or had previous training in their families. They were all expert marksmen, able to kill their targets with as few shots as possible. All Soviets strong enough to hold a rifle were ordered by Stalin to fight for their city. Therefore, many women and children were separated from their husbands and fathers as the men left to become snipers. By November 1942, over a million German troops were trying to defeat the Red Army in Stalingrad but the Soviets held out, continuing to reload their rifles and prime their sights, refusing to give in.

 

Vasily Zaitsev

Perhaps the Soviet Union’s best sniper was Vasily Zaitsev, who killed over three hundred Nazis during the Battle of Stalingrad. He was born into a poor family and grew up hunting wolves in the snow with his father and younger brother. Repeatedly, he was taught not to waste bullets and only use one per target, as they were expensive and precious where he lived. Zaitsev joined the Red Army in 1937 and by the time he volunteered to join the frontline, he had already reached the rank of Sergeant Major. He joined the 62ndArmy which was defending Stalingrad as part of a rifle regiment. 

His commanding officer immediately noticed his talent and tried to test his skill with a quick shooting challenge. He pointed out an enemy officer that was located about 2,500 feet away. Vasily took a single shot and killed the target using his standard-issue Mosin-Nagant rifle. 

Vasily Zaitsev’s partner was Nikolay Kulikov and his favourite tactic was a strategy called “sixes”. He would cover an area from three different directions, assigning both a scout and an experienced sniper to each post. Following the correct rules of a sniper – hiding in a variety of places and changing every few shots – he managed to achieve 225 verified kills within 7 days.

 

Vasily Zaitsev and Major Konig

Perhaps the most well-known sniper story in Stalingrad is the sniper duel between Vasily Zaitsev and Major Konig. The Germans were getting increasingly concerned about this undefeatable Soviet sniper who was just impossible to locate. Nazi High Command had ordered Konig, headmaster of “Berlin’s Sniper School”, to hunt down Zaitsev and kill him. The sources and accounts of the duel are probably highly biased or contain false information as they all come from either Zaitsev or the Soviet Army. There is also no documentation on the German side for which sniper by the name of “Konig” was sent to Stalingrad, nor for the existence of a sniper-training school in Berlin. Thus, many speculators believe that the tale was either modified, incorrectly recorded, or even entirely fake. 

It took little time for Zaitsev to hear about Konig’s arrival. A captured German POW had boasted that he would not survive for much longer, as the Nazis had sent in their best marksman. A journalist travelled around with Zaitsev as he searched for Konig, waiting for the perfect moment to get a first-hand account of the killing. At one point, as Zaitsev was waiting for his nemesis to appear, the journalist stood up to point out a moving figure in the distance. Konig instantly fired his gun and Zaitsev’s journalist companion fell back, dead. 

From this point onwards, Vasily Zaitsev continued with his partner, Kulikov. The duo attempted to locate Konig’s hiding place, and Kulikov fired a blank shot in order to catch his attention. He then raised a helmet as bait, trying to entice Konig into shooting at it. Sure enough, a rifle shot rang out, Zaitsev’s companion drew down the helmet as if the fake target had been killed, and Konig’s muzzle flash gave a rough idea of where he was hiding. 

At this point, Major Konig raised his head above a sheet of corrugated iron he was lying behind, wrongly believing that he had shot the Soviet Union’s best sniper and that his mission was complete. In response to his enemy’s location being revealed, Vasily took his shot and killed the foolish and unsuspecting German sniper. 

Konig dies, Zaitsev lives on. 

Vasily Zaitsev taught other snipers and was decorated with numerous prestigious awards, “Hero of the Soviet Union” and “Medal for the Defence of Stalingrad” to name a couple. The sniper duel was depicted in the generally-inaccurate 2001 film, Enemy At The Gates.

 

Female Snipers

It was not just the men who fought as snipers at Stalingrad. Hundreds of female snipers were trained to fight on the Soviet side, being taught how to aim and fire a rifle. One notable example is Tatiana Chernova. A character based upon her profile featured in Enemy At The Gates. Finding her parents dead in Belarus – killed by the Germans – after visiting to warn them of the danger, she furiously joined the Russian resistance. She was trained by the legendary Vasily Zaitsev and trekked through sewers to reach her post at Stalingrad. Although she had 24 confirmed kills, she never actually admitted to killing anyone. Instead, she preferred to use the phrase, “breaking sticks” or “I snapped X twigs”.  She left service when she stepped on a landmine which seriously injured her.

Another notable female sniper is Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who was often called “Lady Death”. She left her work at Kiev University when the Germans launched their invasion. When given an audition and told to target two enemy Romanians, she took out both with ease.

Both male and female snipers played a crucial role in the defence of Stalingrad and inspired others to follow suit. They were the courageous, unrelenting, merciless killers of the Soviet Union that refused to give in until the end. The Battle of Stalingrad came to a close on February 2, 1943, after over five months of desperate conflict, with a Russian victory. The disastrous defeat for Hitler, drained the morale and supplies of his troops. Undoubtedly, the Soviet victory owed in part to the efforts of the brave Red Army snipers.

 

What do you think of the Red Army snipers? Let us know below.

Joshua Potts writes at The Augustus blog here.

The Nazi Holocaust is one of the most dreadful and infamous events in history – and of the most important ways to remember it is through survivor testimonies. Here, Amy Kim discusses the importance of survivor testimony of genocide in the context of the Holocaust and her own experience of meeting a former Korean comfort woman from the time of the Japanese invasion of Korea.

Hungarian Jews arriving at Auschwitz concentration camp in summer 1944. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA 3., available  here .

Hungarian Jews arriving at Auschwitz concentration camp in summer 1944. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA 3., available here.

The dread in my heart when I listened to Holocaust survivor HannsLoewenbach recountbeing identified on the streets of Berlin byan SS officer (and formerclassmate) is a feeling no history textbook can induce. The uniqueness of each survivor’s testimony allows us to present the tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust in the most compelling and lasting way, allowing readers to attempt to conceptualize its historical singularity and unthinkable horrors.Survivor testimonies provide painful but historically essential information no other sources could ever reveal. Though rightly considered “singular,” there is nevertheless an increasingly terrifying danger of a recurrence of genocidal ethnic violence, making it crucial to teach and learn the Holocaust through survivors’ accounts.

 

Loewenbach’s testimony

In his testimony, Loewenbachdescribes the discriminationthat began long before Hitler’s rule:he remembers being beaten upin publicby 10 classmates just for being Jewishwhilethe rest of the student body looked on passively. After Hitler took power and began stripping Jews of rights and then deporting them to concentration camps, Loewenbach made the desperate decision to swim across the icy Baltic waters to Denmark to plead for protection. As soon as he reached these shores, however, a Danish officer confronted him and told him to swim back to Berlin, threatening that he would otherwise be turned over to German officers - a fate that meant certain death. 

Though pedagogically, and therefore politically, indispensable, the powerful effects of survivor testimony by no means exclusively serve students. If Loewenbach had not decided to speak up, historians themselves might never have known this specific detail about life in Nazi Germany and its surrounding polities. Neither could historians have otherwise divined Loewenbach’s incredulity when a German officer asked him, “Aren’t you happy?” when offered a spot in the German Army, or similar surprise when his former classmate-turned SS officer offered to forge a passport for him instead of turning him in.

 

Survivor Testimonies

The accumulation of Holocaust survivor testimony not only fills an objective lacunae in the historical record, but also helps preserve politically necessary examples of this atrocity in order to prevent its recurrence. If revisionist historians value “official” records and secondary sources shorn of emotion over primary sources because they presume that survivor testimonies are “unreliable” and “trauma-based,” they are failing to employ the most vivid and effective method to record the Holocaust, a catastrophe whose memory must be preserved to ensure a brighter future. In addition, especially because survivors often recount feeling fearful of revealing their histories, we must be especially proactive in seeking out and preserving their testimonies. Loewenbach famously said “Evil does not need your hate, just your indifference” after first encountering Elie Wiesel, a fellow Holocaust survivor and acclaimed author of Night. In turn, Wiesel told Loewenbach that they must speak out about the Holocaust for those whose lives were taken and could not speak for themselves. 

I vividly remember therainy day in May of 2017 when I had the privilege of interviewing a former Korean comfort woman, who had beenforced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation of Koreaduring the Second World War. Her name was Yi Ok-Seon. Yi had also initially hidden her past, avoidingpersonal shame (and blame)by concealingher victimizationby Japanese military officers. Like Loewenbach, however, she could not endure the possibility that victimslike her might be erased fromhistory, ultimately inspiringher to speak out at countless conferences and commemorations, in addition to me, a high schoolerworking on a humbledocumentary. I still remember the atmosphere in the room weighingdown on me and the angst in her voice as she said, “We are all over the age of 90, and all we want is for the Japanese to listen and apologize.”

In studying historical events, students often empathize with past plights using relatable personal experience, but this is rarely the case for genocide or the Holocaust. For the average student, it is difficult to understand the unique horrors of the Holocaust when our access is primarily through secondary sources - including competing popular media narratives. Only survivor testimonies capture emotions and humanity of the very people who endured those horrors and thereby facilitate an unmediated, empathetic response from students. It is time for us to realize that in considering the pedagogical and political reasons for preserving primary source testimony, we must not overlook the psychological imperativeto hear the voices of the tortured and the dead. The preservation ofsurvivor testimonynot only enriches the learningof history throughoriginal accounts that offer a genuine connection across generations, but also preserve the voices of past martyrs providing, a priceless tool for building a better future.

 

What do you think of the importance of survivor testimonies of genocides? Let us know below.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The Vietnam War remains probably the most important war for America since World War Two. In the battle to contain communism, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers went to Vietnam – and many nurses were closely involved with them. In the concluding article of the ‘Nurses in War’ series, Matt Goolsby tells us about trauma nurse Deanna McGookin.

The previous articles in the series are on US Civil War nurses Clara Barton (here) and Cornelia Hancock (here), World War One nurse Julia Catherine Stimson (here), World War Two nurse Reba Z. Whittle (here), and the Chief Nurse for the US in the Korean War, Eunice Coleman (here).

A US Army hospital in Vietnam.

A US Army hospital in Vietnam.

The Years before a ‘Police Action’

After the Korean War had ended, an unstable peace existed in Asia. America was reeling from the McCarthy probes that seemed to take place under every nook and cranny, the purpose of which was to expose potential communists.

The United States had helped stop the communist aggression in South Korea. Now there were two independent countries on the Korean Peninsula, and an uneasy truce.

The threat of nuclear war was also very real as the Soviet Union possessed radioactive material and had built, as well as detonated, multi-kiloton platform devices. 

As China and the Soviet Union were expanding their territories, the United States was highly concerned about the potential fall of nations to Marxist doctrines. 

The heightening tensions of a further ‘Red Scare’ increased both locally and globally.

Americans were not ready for another declaration of war, so a looming ‘Police Action’ was on the horizon.

 

French Occupation in Southeast Asia

During World War II the Japanese had met with strong resistance from the Viet Minh when they invaded Southeast Asia. The Viet Minh had been assisted by China, the Soviet Union, and the United States with arms and military training since they had a shared purpose.

Once the war had ended, the Viet Minh set their sights against the French occupying forces. Ho Chi Minh, himself a communist, was the leader of these guerilla armies.

French Indochina, which was largely comprised of modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, had been a French colony since the late 19thcentury. As many countries learn the hard way, nations often don’t want to be under the rule of a foreign occupier.

From 1946 until 1954, the French battled the ever-strengthening forces of the Viet Minh, who had been trained by the People’s Republic of China from 1950. This was called the First Indochina War.

American involvement with Vietnam had started back in 1946 to thwart the ever-expanding communist influence.

The French forces had been bruised and battered by the Viet Minh for almost a decade and finally surrendered at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu on May 7th, 1954, negotiating peace as well as granting sovereignty to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Vietnam was still considered two independent nations by this time as the Geneva Accord signed by the belligerents split the country at the 17thparallel for 300 days with the guarantee of a ‘free’ election being held.

This sounds eerily reminiscent of the Korean peninsula. The oft-quoted words that Winston Churchill said in a 1948 speech to the House of Commons: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”, has been demonstrated repeatedly in East and Southeast Asia. 

 

America’s ‘Police Action’ Begins

On November 5th, 1955, the United States’ conflict, or what is known as the Second Indochina War, began. 

Just two years after the Korean War ended, America was again involved in an armed ideological conflict with communism. Many Americans were highly concerned and tense because of nuclear proliferation and the growing ‘commie’ scare.

The belligerents on the communist side were: North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union along with their allies. The allies involved on the anti-communist side were: South Vietnam, South Korea, the United States, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, and several others.

Since this war was never officially declared by the United States Congress, it remains a military ‘police’ action that has caused much angst and a continued rift to this day.

History will eventually render a judgment as to whether or not this conflict was necessary, but in my opinion, as somebody who has met many people who participated in the war, it has left an indelible scar permanently on America’s national psyche.

As an example of the wounding it caused, many veterans either became mired in drug abuse to escape the pain or took their lives because of the moral conflict it caused.

America as a nation must continue to help and wisely counsel those who fought in this war so that they can experience some level of healing.

 

United States’ involvement escalates

In December of 1960, the Viet Cong or what was officially called the National Liberation Front, was created to be the anti-government disrupter of South Vietnam and to disrupt and render ineffectual American military advisors. Their aim was also to drive out foreign influence with the eventual goal of uniting the North and South under communist rule.

The Republic of South Vietnam at this time was being governed by Ngo Dinh Diem, who had been appointed Prime Minister during the 1954 Geneva treaty. Mr. Diem was a Roman Catholic, anti-communist, nationalist, and social conservative.

The Vietnamese people were mostly followers of Buddha and had a deep suspicion of Diem’s government. Unfortunately, many of their suspicions were proved correct as Diem governed with more of an autocratic bent and whose administration was rife with corruption.

In 1961, after the election of John F. Kennedy, who decided to draw a ‘line in the sand’ against communism, troops began to be authorized for the increasing conflict between the North and the South. 

By 1963, there were 16,000 U.S. troops in Southeast Asia. This was in contrast to the 900 ‘advisers’ that President Eisenhower had sent starting in 1955.

Also in 1963, the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) established Operation Nightingale to recruit nurses for the ever-increasing conflict.

 

The Nursing Field expands

Deanna McGookin was born on February 1st, 1941 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Samuel and Violet McGookin. She was the oldest of three girls, which included Violet and Judith.

The family immigrated to the United States through Detroit, Michigan in June 1950

They settled in Phoenix, Arizona where she went to West Phoenix High School, graduating in 1958.

By 1965, Deanna had become an Assistant Head Nurse in the local Phoenix hospital emergency room. This experience helped her learn how to take care of traumatic injuries and assist with the associated shock.

She joined the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) in 1968 and was given an assignment to Vietnam because of her Emergency Room experience. 

Deanna, like many women during the Vietnam War era, felt an obligation to serve others who may not have had a choice as to whether to go to war or not.

The Vietnam War had more than 5,000 American nurses who served during its entirety. For the first time, 21% of them were men serving as officers in the ANC.

Of these more than 5,000, most had less than 2 years of practice in their profession. The average age of a nurse during the war was 23.6 years. 

The horrors of war must have compounded the already difficult task at hand, especially for those who hadn’t experienced traumatic injuries.

Deanna’s experience was the exception: “. . . I spent my year in Vietnam at the 67th evac in Qui Nhon, which was the headquarters of II Corps. The conditions were pretty much what I expected - but not the bulk, the quantity of the wounded. In Phoenix [Arizona, hospital emergency room], we were used to seeing one or two come in at a time. Now you were talking 50 or 60 at a time, with a wide variety of traumatic wounds. I had seen traumatic amputations of extremities from cotton-picking combines in Arizona. So that was not a horrendous sight for me, as it was for some others. The bulk . . . that there were just so many of them coming in at once . . . that was the issue for me. You had these helicopters land and there could be 60-70 casualties with various stages of injuries. Some of them might not have been as serious as others. It depended on the season. In Tet of '69 we were getting 200-300 patients coming in a day.”

As her tour progressed, Deanna, like so many others had before, began to question the sanity and morality of the Vietnam War: “We all had questions as to what we were doing in Vietnam, why we were there. We didn't seem to be getting anywhere. Day after day, things seemed to be pretty much the same . . . they'd take a hill, lose a hill, take a hill, lose a hill. Being in the age group where motherhood and children were a big factor, I think you do think: "What are we doing to the future generations of this country? What sort of genius would this blond young man have been had he been allowed to go about his life and do his own thing?" Most of the time you were so busy, just literally, physically busy that--although these thoughts stayed with you for awhile--you soon forgot about them, because it always seemed like there was someone else coming in to take the previous patient's place.”

 

In salute to the ‘Nightingales’

American nurses found different ways to deal with their pain and the emotional wear and tear they experienced. Some found solace in sex, drugs, or alcohol. Most of them just suppressed the pain until they could deal with it later. 

One of the more positive ways of dealing with pain was the way Deanna handled it: “It wasn't so depressing all the time, I must admit. We went on medcaps, medical missions to remote villages, places where there was no regular medical care. We did reconstructive surgery on children, gave them false limbs, and taught them how to get around. These kinds of things helped relieve some of the frustrations I was feeling.”

After her tour had ended, Deanna came back to the states and settled back in Phoenix, Arizona. As with all veterans of war, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) haunted her. 

She describes the affects PTSD had on her: “the young boy down the block had a car that backfired all the time. Every time it backfired, I was on the floor and under the bed."

Deanna would go on to serve in Afghanistan and attain the rank of Colonel in the Army Nurse Corps. There’s no evidence that she ever married, a common thread with the other nurses researched for these articles. 

Colonel Deanna McGookin passed away on September 14th, 2013 at the age of 72, having served her country for many years. 

She represents the best of what America has to offer and her life is a tribute to the sacrifices that so many made to help the men and women who’ve faithfully served our country.

May they never be forgotten.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

References

Dan Freedman and Jacqueline Rhoads, editors, “Nurses in Vietnam: The Forgotten Veterans.”, Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press, Inc., 1987.

“The Vietnam War and its timeline”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War

“Nursing and Medicine in the Vietnam War”, https://ceufast.com/blog/nursing-and-medicine-in-the-vietnam-war

“Find a Grave: Deanna McGookin”, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/119126532/deanna-mcgookin#source

“Deanna McGookin on Family Search”, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-G5MV-9S4Y?i=5451&cc=1916040

“Women and War”, http://issues.texasobserver.org/pdf/ustxtxb_obs_1987_07_17_issue.pdf

“Winston Churchill 1948 House of Commons speech”, http://www.whiteboardbusiness.com/those-who-fail-to-learn-from-history-are-doomed-to-repeat-it-sir-winston-churchill/

Erwin Rommel had been a military man for decades by the time that World War II broke out. Having fought in World War I for Germany, he was a key general for Nazi Germany by the time of World War II. During the war, Rommel was to play a major role in North Africa, and even tried to remove Hitler from power. Samuel Mitcham Jr., the author of a new book on Rommel (Amazon USAmazon UK), explains.

Erwin Rommel in 1942. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1985-013-07 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available  here .

Erwin Rommel in 1942. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1985-013-07 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available here.

The Desert Fox. The words conjure up an image of a dust-covered, sunburned military genius, making quick and incredibly brilliant decisions against overwhelming forces. He is seen as a Godlike and almost infallible figure, winning victory after astonishing victory over his numerically superior but less astute opponents, yet fighting a war without hate and even with a degree of chivalry. This myth is not entirely accurate, of course, but there is a great deal of truth in it.

 

EARLY LIFE

Erwin Rommel was born in Heidenheim, Wuerttemberg, in the southwestern region of Imperial Germany known as Swabia, on November 15, 1891. His father, Erwin Rommel, Sr., was the headmaster of a secondary school, and young Rommel grew up in a stable, comfortable middle-class German environment. In many ways, he was a typical Swabian: self-reliant, pragmatic, thrifty, with a strong work ethic and a streak of stubbornness. He was a simple, practical young man and would remain so until the day he died.

Despite the lack of military background in his family, he decided to become a soldier. With his father’s help, he gained an appointment as a Fahnenjunker(officer-cadet) in an infantry regiment in the isolated garrison town of Weingarten. Here, lonely and away from home for the first time, he had an affair with a woman who was a fruit seller. He was shocked when she turned up pregnant. In the class-conscious world of the Second Reich, however, she was not considered officer wife material. He decided to marry her anyway; then his father pointed out that he would have to resign his commission if he did so. It was 1913, and many could see what was to become World War I on the horizon. If he left the army now, Professor Rommel pointed out, everyone would think he was a coward. That settled the issue for Lieutenant Rommel. He broke up with his girlfriend, although he provided financial support for his daughter for the rest of his life.

Erwin Rommel learned his lesson. He married Lucie Mollin, the daughter of a West Prussian landowner, and they remained happily married the rest of his life. He apparently didn’t even think about being unfaithful.

 

1STLEUTENANT ROMMEL TO CAPTAIN ROMMEL

Rommel joined the army in 1910 and was commissioned in January 1912. His career was not out of the ordinary until World War I broke out. The battlefield changed him from an ordinary, if overly serious second lieutenant into a first-class warrior. As Desmond Young, who fought in the Indian Army against Rommel in Africa and went on to write the bestselling Rommel: The Desert Fox (Amazon USAmazon UK), would explain, “From the moment that he first came under fire he stood out as the perfect fighting animal: cold, cunning, ruthless, untiring, quick of decision, incredibly brave.” He fought on the Western Front until the fall of 1915, when he was transferred to an elite battalion of mountain shock troops. He served with them in France, Romania, and Italy. In October 1917, during the Battle of Mount Matajur, Rommel (now a 1stlieutenant) took charge of four companies in addition to his own and captured two Italian brigades and several smaller units, totaling 9,000 men and 81 guns. His total strength never exceeded 800 men. A couple of days later, he captured the entire Italian 1stInfantry Division at Longarone: 10,000 men, 18 guns and 200 machine guns. For this feat, he was awarded the Pour le Merite, which was the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor when granted to someone so young. He was promoted to captain shortly after that.

After the Armistice ended World War I in late 1918, Rommel was selected for the Reichsheer, as the peacetime army was called. Here, he was a content family man. He took to marriage enthusiastically. At home, he was good-tempered and an excellent fix-it man. His only flaw was attempting to play the violin—apparently without a great deal of success.

Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Rommel’s political convictions and his ambivalent relationship with the Nazis have been the subject of controversy in recent years. Like many Germans, he supported Hitler at first—at least to a degree. He was pleased with Hitler’s successful economic efforts to end the Depression in Germany, as well as his public works programs (including the building of the autobahnen), his renunciation of the odorous Treaty of Versailles, his rebuilding of the military, and his reoccupation of former German areas taken from the Reich after World War I. Only gradually did this change. Sacred vows were broken, and outlandish statements which Rommel and most Germans dismissed as wild rhetoric turned out to be uttered in deadly seriousness. But all that was in the future.

 

MILITARY CAREER TAKES OFF

Rommel was a lieutenant colonel in 1935, teaching at the War School in Dresden, when he wrote a book based on his lectures and World War I experiences. It became a best seller and Adolf Hitler read it. He determined to meet the author and had Rommel attached to his escort for the Nuremberg Party Rally of 1936. The Fuehrer liked the Swabian and named him commander of the Fuehrer Bodyguard Battalion during the occupations of Czechoslovakia and Memel, and during the invasion of Poland in 1939. He promoted Rommel to major general on August 23, 1939.

In Poland, Rommel saw the blitzkrieg at first hand. Although he had no armored experience, he saw the future lay in the armored branch. After the fall of Warsaw, he asked Hitler for the command of a panzer division, and the dictator gave it to him.

Erwin Rommel had a natural grasp for mobile warfare. As commander of the 7thPanzer Division during the French campaign (1940), he captured 97,468 men and captured or destroyed 458 tanks and armored cars, 277 guns, 64 anti-tank guns, 4,000 to 5,000 trucks, tons of supplies, five French admirals, and about 20 Allied generals. He had approximately 10,000 men and 218 tanks, mostly inferior Czech T-38s.

Rommel was on occupation duty in southwestern France in early 1941 when the Italian 10thArmy in Libya collapsed under British attack. Hitler ordered Rommel to North Africa as commander of the Afrika Korps (15thand 21stPanzer Divisions) to restore the situation. Here he won victory after victory and made himself a renowned military general. In his First Cyrenaican Campaign (1941), Rommel pushed on to the Egyptian frontier and overran all of Libya except Tobruk, smashing the British XIII Corps (the former Western Desert Force) in the process. With less than one full panzer division, he destroyed the British 2ndArmoured Division. Only four of its tanks escaped.

 

RESILIENT AND RESOURCEFUL AGAINST GREAT ODDS

Rommel was forced to lay siege to Tobruk. It lasted 242 days. The British made three attempts to liberate Tobruk: Operations Brevity, Battleaxe and Crusader. Rommel was severely handicapped, because the British sank 85% of its supplies, and he had only 15% of his needed petroleum and ammunition. Fighting an entire British army with only two divisions, Rommel destroyed 814 British tanks and armored cars, while losing only 167 himself. He had only about 80 tanks left when he was forced to retreat in December 1941.

“If Rommel had an outstanding quality, it was resilience,” British Brigadier Desmond Young wrote later. “He was like one of those weighted toy figures, no sooner was he knocked down than he was on his feet again.” In January 1942, when he received a shipment of 50 new panzers, he assumed the offensive again. This was the Second Cyrenaican Campaign. In five days, he destroyed or captured 299 tanks and armored cars, 147 guns, and 935 prisoners. He lost three tanks and 14 men. 

The British dug into the Gazala Line, which they enhanced with a million mines. Rommel outflanked it on May 26 and started a battle that lasted until June 21. He had 333 panzers and 228 mostly useless Italian tanks against 900 British tanks. The British 8thArmy had fewer than 100 “runners” when it retreated into Egypt. Rommel overran Tobruk and took 19,000 prisoners. Hitler was so pleased that he promoted the Desert Fox to field marshal.

After the fall of Tobruk, Rommel invaded Egypt, even though he had only about 55 runners. A heavily reinforced 8thArmy checked him at El Alamein, just 60 miles from the Nile. The British then launched a series of counterattacks against Panzer Army Afrika, aimed primarily at Rommel’s Italian units. Rommel checked them all.

The Desert Fox launched a last-chance offensive at Alam Halfa Ridge on August 30. He had 259 panzers. Montgomery had 713 tanks and absolute command of the air. Rommel lost almost 3,000 men and 49 tanks. Monty lost 1,750 men and 67 tanks. It was the turning point of the Desert War.

The decisive battle in North Africa began on October 23, 1942. When it started, Panzer Army Afrika had 104,000 men (half of them German) against Montgomery’s 195,000. The Germans were outnumbered 4 to 1 in men, 5 to 1 in tanks (excluding Italian tanks), 3 to 1 in anti-tank guns, and 3.6 to 1 in aircraft. Rommel’s forces were dangerously low on fuel, making a battle of maneuver impossible. Rommel had 293 tanks when the battle began. Only a dozen of them survived the battle. The British lost about 500 tanks.

In December 1943, Rommel’s Army Group B assumed command of the 7thArmy, 15thArmy, and Armed Forces Netherlands. They were part of Rundstedt’s OB West (Oberbefehlshaber West), the German Supreme Command in the West. OB West had 58 divisions. Hitler had 151 divisions fighting on the Eastern Front.

 

DEFEAT, CONSPIRACY, AND SUICIDE

Rommel significantly thickened the defenses of Fortress Europe. When the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944, Rommel was able to check but not repulse the Great Invasion. Meanwhile, Rommel learned that Hitler and his cronies were committing mass murders in the East. He turned against the Nazis and joined the conspiracy to overthrow Hitler and his regime. 

Field Marshal Rommel was seriously wounded by an Allied fighter-bomber on July 17. Three days later, the conspirators detonated a bomb under Hitler’s table, severely injuring him. After the coup attempt failed, the Gestapo launched a full-scale investigation. They discovered Rommel’s part in the plot. On October 14, 1944, a pair of Nazi generals offered Rommel a choice: stand trial in front of the People’s Court or commit suicide. Under the doctrine of Sippenhaft—collective family responsibility—the Nazis would then arrest his family, and they would end up in a concentration camp, if they were lucky. However, if the field marshal committed suicide, they said, his family would be spared, and would even be allowed to draw his pension. Rommel declared that he would be dead in 15 minutes. He took a cyanide pill provided by the Nazis and was dead within half an hour. Thus ended the life of the military general.

On this occasion, the Nazis actually kept their word. They did not harm Rommel’s family. Lucie Mollin Rommel died of natural causes in 1971. Their only child, Manfred, died in 2013. Gertrude, Rommel’s illegitimate daughter, passed away in 2000.

Let us know what you think about the article below. 

 

Dr. Samuel W. Mitcham Jr. is the author of newly-released Desert Fox: The Storied Military Career of Erwin Rommel (Regnery History; March 12, 2019 - Amazon USAmazon UK), and more than forty other history books. He has appeared on the History Channel and the BBC, been a visiting professor at West Point, and served as an Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.

The Wall Street Journal praised his previous title, Vicksburg: The Bloody Siege that Turned the Tide of the Civil War (Regnery History; June 4, 2018 – Amazon USAmazon UK), as a work that “thoroughly recounts the series of battles leading to the gates of Vicksburg and illuminates some underappreciated aspects of the war.”

He lives with his family in Monroe, Louisiana, where he is now devoted to writing military history books.