Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

How Long Should a Novel Be?

July 25, 2017

When David O. Selznick produced Gone With the Wind, some Hollywood movie moguls told him it that was too long.  Running time is 3 hours 46 minutes. It has an intermission. His response was that the answer to the question of how long should a movie be, was reportedly, “As long as it is good.”  I would say that reasoning also applies to novels.

I just finished two critically acclaimed novels that some probably feel are long, but, to me, they were not longer than they were good. Compared to two of the greatest novels ever written, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and Tolstoy’s War and Peace, both running more than a thousand pages, A Gentleman in Moscow, hardcover at 462 pages,  and All the Light We Cannot See, hardcover at 522 pagesare really not all that long.

Both are excellent reads. If I had to rate them, I’d list Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See first.  To me, it has greater emotional depth. It’s historical background is World War II. Towles’  A Gentleman in Moscow is, in a sense, more entertaining. It has a lot of laughs, even if its background is the reign of one of the most notorious dictators of all time, Joseph Stalin. The “gentleman” is Count Rostov, who was sentenced to house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow.  I recommend both if you’re into historical fiction.


Where Were You…When the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor 75 Years Ago?

December 4, 2016

Not born yet?

Most people weren’t.

But a few of us were. I was 11 years old on that “Day of Infamy” That’s what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the day that took America into World War II.

As was said on CBS Sunday Morning, one of the best programs on TV in my view, that attack on December 7th, 1941 changed the United States from an isolationist nation to a global superpower.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that many people can remember exactly where they were when cataclysmic historical events happen. Here’s some of what I wrote about the Pearl Harbor attack in my memoir The Newsman:

  On December 7th. 1941, my father was in his usual Sunday afternoon state, asleep in his easy chair. After lunch, he would turn on the radio and listen to the live CBS broadcast of the New York Philharmonic. Actually, he didn’t listen consciously to most of it, because within minutes of turning on the radio, he would fall asleep and sleep through the entire concert. However, I learned that he was not as asleep as I thought he was. One Sunday, I decided since he wasn’t listening to the symphony, I would tune to something that would appeal more to eleven-year-old me.  As my hand reached for the dial, he said, without even opening his eyes, “Don’t touch that dial.” You better believe I did not touch that dial. He never fussed at me at all. If I did something that displeased him, he would, without uttering a word, engage in corporal punishment.

On December 7th it wasn’t I who roused him from his napping; it was interruption of the program by CBS announcer John Daley, who told the nationwide symphony orchestra audience that Japanese planes had attacked Pear Harbor. Everyone, including young me, knew that meant we would be going to war.

When I went out to play on that sunny December 7th afternoon after the news bulletin about Pearl Harbor broke, I remember telling my buddy Carlton Bussey who lived a few doors down from us,  “This means war. A lot of people are going to be killed.” He solemnly agreed. There was no whooping and hollering and rebel-yelling that we had seen in Gone with the Wind when someone came running into the plantation house with the news that Fort Sumter had been bombarded by Rebel artillery.


Why the 20th Century was the Most Violent in History

June 18, 2012


The 20th Century was not the century of two World Wars and a Cold War, but the century of a single Hundred Years War.

Nationalism didn’t cause the conflicts. Empires did. It wasn’t ideologies of class or the influence of democracy or socialism that drove the century. It was race.

Though we thought the West had triumphed, the truth is that power moved towards the Eastern empires.

Those are the controversial assertions of Scottish historian Niall Ferguson in his documentary series War of the World, which is also a highly acclaimed book.  I saw three of the documentary episodes on Netflix, but there is also a website, Top Documentary Films, that offers it free.  You can check it out by clicking this link.

The Ferguson doc is not only exceptional for the creative way it is written and produced, but for a new way of understanding why the 20th Century is the most violent in history. 

One of his interesting claims is that World War III is not in the future.  It started right after World War II.  In other words, the Cold War was actually hot. The United States and the Soviet Union couldn’t fight directly because of the guaranteed mutual destruction that a nuclear exchange would engender.  They fought it through proxy countries.  A couple of good examples were Korea and Vietnam. 

The shift of empire power to the East  started in 1905 when the Japanese sank two-thirds of the Russian fleet.  Up until then the West truly dominated the world, with its empires subjugating  the East. Those empires have since been demolished.  Nations like China and India are ascending.

 And he points out that  war can cause the good guys to be bad guys as they adopt the tactics of the bad guys, using as examples the massive killing of civilians by bombardment from artillery and the air in World War II.

His findings are controversial, but he has a good case for his positions.  Watch the series and tell me what you think.   

TV is not the Wasteland that it Once Was

June 4, 2012

Television may still be a wasteland, but no longer a vast one.  Former Federal Communications Chairman Newton Minow, who was appointed to the FCC by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, coined the “vast wasteland” phrase in a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, complaining of the endless junk on commercial TV at the time.  

Newton Minow (Photo courtesy: Newton Minow)

He told the broadcasters at the NAB convention, “When television is good, nothing – not the theater, not the magazine or newspapers – nothing is better. But when it is bad, nothing is worse.”  Then he challenged them to sit down in front of their TV sets a for a day and watch their station’ s programming and added, “I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”

 At the time, in most cities, there were usually only three or four channels to watch, so that gave the three major networks a lot of power to influence the public.  With the advent of cable, that changed, and now we have hundreds of channels to choose from, and there is some really fine programming available, though, it’s definitely not in the majority.

For instance, I just finished watching  the PBS The War of the World series.  It has given me a truly interesting perspective on the causes of the many wars of the 20th century, the most violent century in history.  For instance, Niall Fergurson, the Scottish historian who wrote and narrated the series, maintains that World War III is not something that could happen. It’s something that has already happened.  More on that in a future post.    


Andrew, Me, and a Waco Biplane

May 8, 2012

That’s my step-grandson Andrew Champion standing with me in front of a classic Waco biplane right before we took off. The ride was a Christmas present for me and a 20th birthday present for  Andrew.  It was another example  of creative gifts provided by Ken and Katrina Champion, and my three other stepsons, Richard, Doug, and Mick.

Following pilot Bruce Dance’s instructions, I backed into the cockpit. After I finally got my long legs in, Andrew did the same thing to get his even longer legs in.

The big challenge of  the ride was Andrew and me shoehorning into the front cockpit which was quite roomy for one person, but a little  snug for two  adults. The pilot, Bruce Dance of Biplane Rides over Atlanta, who is also a flight instructor and crop duster, gave us specific instructions on how to back into the cockpit.  It wasn’t easy for an old arthritic guy like me and a young 6’4″ man like Andrew.  It was worth it, though. 

When one flies in an open cockpit biplane one really knows he is flying.  My stepson Richard, who is also a pilot, said that airline pilots fly biplanes when they want to fly for the  fun of it. 

The ride was a hoot.  We flew from Peachtree-Dekalb Airport, a general aviation facility that houses a lot of really expensive corporate jets, to  downtown Atlanta and back.  With the radial engine roaring right in front of us, and the wind blasting around us, we got super views of the downtown Atlanta area.  Bruce warned us to make sure we tightly held on to our camera straps.  “That wind will rip a camera right out of your hands,” he told us.  

Adding to the special experience was the 57th Fighter Group restaurant from where the biplanes operate.  It’s a World War II aviation themed eatery that’s a show in itself. Air Force memorabilia including pictures of WW II fighter pilots decorate it.  Even a trip to the “latrine” is entertaining.  There are sandbags along the walls of the hall leading to the restrooms.  Instead of background music being piped in, recorded speeches of Churchill and FDR were playing.  The background music in the rest of the restaurant was WW II era popular music.   There is a great view of the airport runways and the two biplanes stationed beside the restaurant, and the food is quite good.   

It was a fine family outing and I certainly recommend it for anyone  who loves  airplanes old and new. 

The Role of Oil in 9-11 and World War II

September 11, 2011

The motivation to control oil is one of the biggest reasons  for war in the world, and it’s been that way from the 1940s until now, and it is even a reason that the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists in hijacked jet airliners.

I’ll explain the 9-11 connection first.  Osama bin Laden wanted Americans out of Saudi Arabia and Islamic countries for religious reasons.  He mistakenly thought he could do that through acts of  terror. Americans are not there for religious reasons. They are there for oil.

Why are we in Iraq?  Not because weapons of mass destruction were found or that 9-11 had anything to do with it, the  two untrue reasons given by the George W. Bush administration. How about the other reason given, turning Iraq and the rest of the Middle East into American style democracies?  Why not just admit to the real reasons: oil and protection of Israel?  Who knows, SUV and Israel-loving Americans might buy those reasons.

If we are really all that interested in spreading democracy, why don’t we put pressure on Saudi Arabia, reputedly one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Simple. That’s not why we are there. We are there because of oil.

As I said, it goes back to the 1940’s. The  Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because of oil.  It needed lots of it to militarily spread the Empire of the Rising Sun.  It was getting a lot of it from the United States, and planned to get a lot more by taking Indochina.  Not being happy about the atrocities the Japanese were committing in China and other places, the U.S. not only cut off its oil spigot to Japan, but moved its headquarters for its Pacific fleet from San Diego to Hawaii.  Seeing both of these moves as an American plan to prevent Japan from taking Indochina, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  Big mistake.  An isolationist United States forgot that idea, immediately united and put together the mightiest war machine in history.

Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded North Africa and the Soviet Union for oil,  and other natural resources, in order to fuel his plan to create a massive German empire. The first invasion by  American troops in World War II was in North Africa where it joined the British to push Germany and Italy out of that oil-rich part of the world. The Soviet war machine, heavily supplied by America, and the Russian winter, drove Hitler out of the Soviet Union.

Yes, the  desire for control of oil has gotten millions and millions of people killed.  Everyone knows the solution to this: development and use of other sources of energy, especially renewable sources. Work has started on that, but no where near the effort needed to make it a reality in the near future.  Why?  Change  never comes easily, but change the world must, or the wars will never end. Unfortunately, never-ending wars suit some people.  They have to be defeated at the ballot box.

Remembering Where We Are on Great Days in History

September 10, 2011

No doubt, all of us who remember the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers, know exactly where we were when we first learned the news. I was in my cardiologist’s office when I heard a nurse say that someone had just told her that a plane a flown into one of the towers.   I immediately called my late wife Melba and told her she would probably want to turn on the TV to see what was going on. She did.  When I got home, all TV networks and the cable  news channel were live with wall-to-wall coverage.

That’s the way it is with truly unforgettable historical events that happen during our lifetime. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on a sunny Sunday afternoon on December 7th, 1941, dragging us into World War II, the CBS bulletin came over our floor model  Zenith radio.  I don’t think I was actually listening to the radio because at age eleven I wasn’t much interested in The World Today , CBS’s 2:30 Sunday newscast or the live 3:00 broadcast of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, but my father, I remember, almost never missed the symphony.  He would sleep through most of it, but that Sunday he didn’t.  When word swept through our upstairs home at 1109 1/2 5th Avenue in downtown Columbus,  all the talk turned to the attack.

Shortly after the bulletin was aired, I went outside the play on that nice sunny December afternoon . I headed for my buddy Carlton Bussey’s house. I remember basically what I told him.  It was something like this: “This means we are going to war. A lot of people will be killed.”  He agreed.

I was at home having lunch on Celia Drive when the bulletin came on the air that President Kennedy had  been shot.  He had been shot in Dallas, Texas at 1:30 p.m.. EST on November 22, 1963. We weren’t watching the TV, but it was on and we heard the bulletin, went into the den and watched Walter Cronkite tell us what he knew.  My immediate emotion was anger.  I assumed, incorrectly, that it was probably the work of some racist fanatic.  They hated him for his federal enforcement of Southern college desegregation.  Instead it started looking as though he was assassinated by a communist sympathizer since Lee Harvey Oswald had been to both Cuba and the Soviet Union. For a lot of people, including me, who was really behind that assassination is still a mystery. Cuba looked like a prime suspect to me since our CIA reportedly tried to assassinate Castro.   

To be honest  I don’t remember  where I was when President Roosevelt died at Warm Springs on April 12, 1944, probably in class at Columbus Junior High School, because that’s where I was in April of 1944.  I do remember where I was on V-E Day when Germany surrendered. I was a doorman at the Bradley Theater.  It was the only time that I remember that  we actually stopped the showing of a movie. We put a slide on the screen saying we were connecting with WRBL for a news bulletin.  The bulletin announced that  Germany had surrendered unconditionally.  The audience applauded and cheered, and most promptly got up and left the theater.  Mill  whistles started blowing, and car horns blasted away as bumper-t0-bumper cars circled Broadway. There were torn up newspapers all over the sidewalks, which was the closest thing people could get to tossing up confetti.

All of those events were world-changing, including, of course, 9-11.  More on that tomorrow,  9-11’s tenth anniversary.

WWII Thoughts on the 4th of July

July 4, 2011

On this, the most patriotic day of the  year, I reflect on the most patriotic time of my life, World War II.

I was eleven when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  The nation immediately united behind  the war effort.  With 14 to 16-million Americans in the armed forces, just  about  everyone had someone  in potential harms way. Not so now. Few have a friend or relative in the  services. A relatively small minority is bearing  the  sacrifice as the rest watch.

My late sister Betty and brother-in-law law Jack Gibson during world War II.

Both my brother Elbert and brother-in-law Jack Gibson were drafted.  Jack, a machine-gunner, was wounded a few days after landing  at  Normandy, and awarded a Purple Heart medal.  My sister Betty made her first trip out of the South when she took trains to Wisconsin to see Jack a few days before he went overseas.

My late brother Elbert in Germany, 1945

Elbert, who was younger than Jack, was drafted near the war’s end. He was in the UK, heading for France when Germany surrendered.  He drove a Jeep for a lieutenant around Germany looking for the lieutenant’s German relatives.  Before he shipped overseas, my mother decided she and 13-year-old me would visit him in Joplin, MO, where he was getting  Signal Corps training.

What an  adventure that was for untraveled me. The railroads had every car that would roll in service. With gasoline rationing, you took a train or bus, especially on  a long  trip. When we boarded the train in Columbus, there was only one seat available. I had no seat from Columbus to Birmingham, sitting in other folk’s seats when they would go to the restroom or to smoke.  We did get seats when we had lunch in the  diner, my first  diner experience. I loved it.

13-year-old me

There  were no hotel rooms available in Joplin, but people in private homes rented rooms to visitors like  us.  My mom and dad did the same  thing, renting out a room to Ft. Benning soldiers and  their wives. One couple had a little girl. She was meaner than any boy I knew, and I couldn’t  hit her becaused she was a girl.  Wanting to keep their room, her parents tried to make it up to me by taking me to a movie with the three of them. It helped.

Keeping everyone involved in the war effort, we were encouraged to buy war  bonds and stamps. Kids like me would buy dime stamps and put them in a book that we could cash in or use toward buying a $25 bond when the book was filled. Folks also saved and took tin cans, old tires and scrap paper to collection centers to be recycled  to make things for the armed forces. Just  about  everyone I knew did it. As a Boy Scout, I remember riding  in the  back of a truck, going door to door to pick up scrap paper people were saving.

Yes, it was a very different time and a very different war. Today, people do respect and support our troops, even though most are war weary and want  us out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.  But, there is definitely not the involvement and  the  sharing of the sacrifice as there was then.

Infantry Museum’s IMAX Theater Shows “To Hell and Back” Sunday, Audie Murphy’s Birthday

June 19, 2010


Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier of World War II. The military's top award, the Medal of Honor, was one of the many he was given. After the war he became a movie star and played himself in "To Hell and Back." He was killed when his private plane crashed in 1971. His grave at Arlington is the second most visited, with John F. Kennedy's being most visited. (U.S. Army photo)

The showing of “To Hell and Back” is a benefit screening for the local Audie Murphy club.  Proceeds will go to the club and the museum. The public is invited. Tickets are $10.

Though shown int he IMAX Theater, it will not be an IMAX movie, shown instead on the theater’s digital projector which is similar to the ones in Carmike Cinemas.  

Speaking of projectors, we’ll take a closer look at the IMAX projectors and how the theater has fared in its first year of operation starting Monday. Stay tuned.


August 3, 2009


I was 14 years old, a doorman at the Bradley theater in downtown Columbus, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and  three days later, when one was dropped on Nagasaki.  I don’t remember where I first learned about it,  but I do have recollections of the screaming headlines in the Columbus Ledger and Enquirer newspapers.  I don’t think I fully grasped the lasting effects of those blasts at the time,  just that I, like everyone else I knew, was glad that the U.S. had the weapon and not the other side. 

Atom bomb blast at Nagasaki, Japan,  August 9th, 1945 (Photograph by the U.S. Army Air Force)

Atomic bomb mushroom cloud over Nagasaki, Japan, August 9th, 1945 (Photograph by the U.S. Army Air Force)

I do remember exactly where I was and what happened six days after the Nagasaki bomb was dropped, because that was when Japan surrendered,  ending the most destructive war in history.  I was on duty at the Bradley.  It was the only time I ever recall that a feature film was stopped for an announcement.  A slide came up on the screen saying that the theater was going to broadcast a bulletin from WRBL.  The projectionist connected the sound system to the radio station and we heard the announcement that Japan had surrendered and the war was over.  People cheered, of course,  then left.  The theater became virtually empty.

We could hear the mill whistles blowing and horns honking on Broadway outside the theater.  Though on duty, we just couldn’t stand it any longer,  and went out on the street to see what was happening.  Cars were circling Broadway bumper to bumper,  horns blaring away,  and the sidewalks were full of excited smiling people, and, though Columbus had no skyscrapers from which to throw confetti,  people adjusted by tearing strips off of newspapers and tossing them in the air.  The sidewalk was littered with paper.

I knew of no one at the time who said we should not have dropped the bomb.  It ended the war, and that was justification enough. Our servicemen and women would be coming home.  Besides, after four years of anti-Japanese propaganda in movies,  radio programs, magazines and newspapers,  most people had no love at all for the Japanese.  It wasn’t until later when we saw newsreels in theaters of the human suffering, mainly civilians, including children, that we started to comprehend the moral dilemma of the event.  Still, as President Truman had said,  dropping the bombs ended the war and saved possibly a million American lives and millions of Japanese lives that would have been lost in an invasion of Japan. Estimates of the time it would take to win the war without dropping the bombs ran from six months to two years. 

Col. Paul Tibbets waving from the Enola Gay, 1945 (Photo by the U.S. Army Air Force)

Col. Paul Tibbets waving from the Enola Gay, 1945 (Photo by the U.S. Army Air Force)

Once, when Colonel Paul Tibbets,  the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima,  came through Columbus to see some old friends in the 1980’s, he gave me an exclusive interview, which aired on WTVM.  I had to promise not to reveal the location of the interview  because  Tibbets did not like for people to know his whereabouts since he could attract anti-nuclear bomb demonstrators.  

Once the interview started,  he told me, if I remember correctly,  that the crew had been told it had a special bomb on the plane, but only he, his co-pliot,  and the scientist aboard the plane who came along to arm the bomb in flight, knew what kind of bomb it was.  The rest of the crew didn’t know until they saw the mushroom cloud.  

How did he live with the knowledge of knowing the bomb killed about 140,000 people, most of them civilians?  He said that he was doing his job, and that he agreed with President Truman that it would end the war and save many more lives. 

Tibbets achieved the rank of Brigadier General before he retired in 1959.  He died in 2007.

Though there has been great proliferation of nuclear bombs in too many countries for comfort,  none has been used in war since the United States dropped them to end World War Two.  So far,  even the nationalistic fanatics have not dared use one.   The balance of nuclear terror has held.  Nobody would win in a nuclear exchange;  the world, we are told, would become uninhabitable.   The danger, however, is still very much with us.