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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day 2013 - "A Soldier's Creed"

In honor of Memorial Day this year, I tweeted Oliver Wendell Holmes's tribute to "a soldier's faith" in battle, faith that the cause is good and the commander's know what they are doing. I noted that my uncle Willem van Stockum wrote a letter with a similar theme to his sister, my mother, and it was published under the heading "A Soldier's Creed" in the Horn Book of November-December 1944. My uncle was shot down over Laval, France during D-Day week (he was slowing down the German troops from advancing on Normandy) and is buried there along with his crew and the crew of another RAF Halifax bomber shot down the same night.

Dr. Lis Paice, author of New Coach, asked me to post Willem's letter. Here it is, with an introduction by the blogger (Lauren at The Loveliest Hour) who posted it the same day I referred to it (coincidence?) and saved me typing it in:
I share with you an essay written by Willem van Stockum, the brother of one of my favorite authors, Hilda van Stockum. Willem was a famous physicist who made his way from The Netherlands to America to work with Albert Einstein. At the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. When Hilter invaded his native Netherlands, van Stockum transferred to the Dutch Air Force as a fighter pilot. He was killed in action in June 10, 1944. Willem van Stockum penned the following essay in effort to explain his own reasoning for joining the war as a fighter pilot. While he did not fight in the American Armed Services, I feel that his message echoes our hearts as we remember those who have given their lives for our nation.
Willem van Stockum (front, center - captain) and crew.
Official RAF photo. There were 8 in the Halifax crew.
A SOLDIER’S CREED By A BOMBER PILOT (later credited to Willem van Stockum, kept anonymous previously for military protection) Published in the Horn Book, Christmas 1944.
I didn’t join the war to improve the Universe; in fact, I am sick and tired of the eternal sermons on the better world we are going to build when this war is over.

I hate the disloyalty to the past twenty years. Apparently people think that life in those twenty years, which cover most of my conscious existence, was so terrible that no-one can be expected to fight for it. We must attempt to dazzle people with some brilliant schemes leading, probably, to some horrible Utopia, before we can ask them to fight.

I detest that point of view. I hate the idea of people throwing their lives away for slum-clearance projects or forty-hour weeks or security and exchange commissions. It is a grotesque and horrible thought. There are so many better ways of achieving this than diving into enemy guns. Lives are precious things and are of a different order and entail a different scale of values than social systems, political theories, or art.

“Why are we not given a cause?” some people ask. I do not understand this question. It seems so plain to me. There are millions and millions of people who are shot, persecuted and tortured daily in Europe. The assault on so many of our fellow human beings makes some of us tingle with anger and gives us an urge to do something about it. That, and that alone, makes some of us feel strongly about the war. All the rest is vapid rationalization. All this talk about philosophy, the degeneration of art and literature, the poisoning of Nazi youth, which the Nazi system entails, and which we all rightly condemn, is still not the reason why we fight and why we are willing to risk our lives.

Here, let us say, is a soldier. He asks himself, “Why should I die?” You would tell him: “To preserve our civilization.” When the soldier replies: “To Hell with your civilization; I never thought it so hot,” you take him up wrongly when you sit down and say to yourself: “Well, after all, maybe it wasn’t so hot,” and then brightly tap him on the shoulder and say: “Well, I’ve thought of a better idea. I know this civilization wasn’t so hot, but you go and die anyway and we’ll fix up a really good one after the war.”

I say you take him up wrong because his remark: “To Hell with your civilization” doesn’t really mean that he is not seriously concerned about our civilization. He is simply revolted by the idea of dying for ANY civilization. Civilization simply isn’t the kind of thing you ever want to die for. It is something to enjoy and something to help build up because it’s fun, and that is that, and that is all.

When a man jumps into the fire to save his wife he doesn’t justify himself by saying that his wife was so civilized that it was worth the risk! There is only one reason why a man will throw himself into mortal combat and that is because there is nothing else to do and doing nothing is more intolerable than the fear of death. I could stand idly by and see every painting by Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo thrown into a bonfire and feel no more than a deep regret, but throw one small, insignificant Polish urchin on the same bonfire and, by God, I’d pull him out or else.

I fight quite simply for that and I cannot see what other reasons there are. At least, I can see there are reasons, but they are not the reasons that motivate me. During the first two years of the war when I was an instructor at an American University in close contact with American youth and in close contact with the vital isolationist question in the States, I often felt that there was much insincerity, conscious or unconscious, on our, the Interventionist, side of the argument. We had strong views on the danger of isolationism for the United States. We thought, rightly, that for the sake of self-interest and self-preservation the United States should take every step to ensure the defeat of the Nazi criminals.

But however sound our arguments, our own motives and intensity of feeling did not spring from those arguments but from an intense passion for common righteousness and decency. Suppose it could have been proved to us at that time that the participation of the United States in the stamping out of organized murder, rape and torture in Europe could only take place at great cost to the United States, while not doing so would in no way impair her security. Would we not still have prayed that our country might do something? And would we not have been proud to see her do something?

There is an appalling timidity and false shame among intellectuals. The common man in the last war went to fight quite simply as a crusader. I am not talking about politics now, I am not either asserting or denying that England declared war from purely generous and noble considerations, but I am asserting that the common man went and fought with the rape of Belgium foremost in his mind and saw himself as an avenger of wrong.

After the war the common man went quietly back to his home. The intellectuals, however, upon coming back, ashamed of their one lapse of finding themselves in agreement with every Tom, Dick and Harry, must turn around and deride the things they were ready to give their lives for. As they were the only vocal group, the opinion became firmly established that the last war was a grave mistake and that anyone who got killed in it was a sucker.

And now, in this war, these intellectuals are hoist with their own petard. They lack the nerve and honesty to represent the American doughboy to himself for what he is. They do not give him the one picture in his mind which would stimulate his imagination and which would make him see beyond the fatigues, the mud, the boredom and the fear. The picture is there for anyone to paint who has a gift for words. It is a simple picture and a true picture and no one who has ever sat as a small child and listened with awe to a fairy story can fail to understand.

The intellectuals, however, have made fun of the picture and so they won t use It. But some day an American doughboy in an American tank will come lurching into some small Polish, Czech or French village and it may fall to his lot to shoot the torturers and open the gates of the village jail. And then he will understand.

There is a lot of talk among our intellectuals about our youth. Our youth is supposed to want a change, a new order, a revolution or what not. But it is my conviction that that is emphatically NOT what our youth wants. Have you ever been in a picture house on a Saturday afternoon, when it is filled with children and some old Western movie is ending in a race of time between the hero and the villain? Have you seen the rapt attention, the glowing faces, the clenched fists?

What our young men really want is to be able to give that same concentrated attention and emotional participation, this time to reality, and this time as heroes and not as spectators, that they were able to give to unsubstantial shadows, before long words and cliches had killed their imaginations. Killed them so dead that they can no longer see even reality itself imaginatively.

It is up to the intellectuals to rekindle the thing they have tried to destroy. It is as simple as St. George and the Dragon. Why not have the courage to point out that St. George fought the dragon because he wanted to liberate a captive and not because he wanted to lead a better life afterwards? Some day, sometime, my picture of an American doughboy in a Polish village will become true. Wouldn’t it be better for him then to have the cross of St. George on his banner than a long rigmarole about a better world?

As long as our intellectuals and leaders do not have the courage to risk being thought sentimental and out-of-date and are not willing to stress that nations as well as individuals are entitled to their acts of heroism and chivalry, they will never be able to give our youth what it needs. It is true that every fairy story ends with the words: “and they lived happily ever after.”

How irritating a child would be, though, if it interrupted its mother at every sentence to ask: “But, Mummy, will they live happily ever afterwards?” It simply isn’t the point of the fairy story and it isn’t the point of this war. Presumably we won’t live happily ever after this war. But just as a fairy story helps to increase a child’s awareness and wonder at the world, so this war may make us more aware of one another. Perhaps we shall learn, and perhaps some things will be better organized. I hope so. I believe so.

But only if we engage in this war with our hearts as well as our minds. For goodness’ sake let us stop this empty political theorizing according to which a man would have to have a University degree in social science before he could see what he was fighting for. It is all so simple, really, that a child can understand it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

7. Will Woodin in East Hampton (Superseded)

Will Woodin's House, "The Dunes", at 105 Lily Pond Lane.
The house still stands, significantly renovated in 1951 by
 the man who bought it in 1941, Lawrence Flinn.
This post has been superseded by this one.

It is being left up to avoid breaking links.



Sunday, May 19, 2013

EAST HAMPTON | LVIS History, 1840-1920

The LVIS History
by Colleen Rando.
The Ladies Village Improvement Society has produced a chronology of events with which it was associated, starting with 1840. The book was prepared by Colleen Rando.

My wife Alice is a volunteer and just brought home a copy. Readers may order their own from LVIS, which may be reached at info@lvis.org. The history is extensively treated in books published by the East Hampton Star and by the East Hampton Library; the LVIS book has a special perspective.

The chronology goes up to 2012 and includes many interesting photos. I am covering only the first 80 years, selectively and rephrased where I feel like it, and occasionally with some new information:

1840 - Families from NYC and Philadelphia start to summer in East Hampton, boarding with local residents on Main Street and going to the beach in horse-drawn carriages that permit changing at the beach in privacy.

1877 - Artists come to East Hampton from NYC's Tile Club in search of its special lighting, which relates to its flat topography and multiple accesses to bays, inlets and ocean. East Hampton is later referred to a "the cradle of [American] art".

1890 - In the "gay 90s", summer visitors begin building their own seasonal homes, which are called "cottages" and are simply designed of wood covered in shingles, unlike the elaborate Newport mansions.

1895 - The Long Island Rail Road finally gets to East Hampton, instantly changing the accessibility of the resort. The ladies of the resort decide to get ready to try to preserve the culture of the resort in the face of an expected onslaught of visitors from NYC. The first LVIS meeting was held in Clinton Hall. The group erects a flagpole, arranges for its daily raising and lowering, provides for flags along Main Street on Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day and other holidays. The LVIS installs oil lamps to light the streets at night, and puts in bike lanes. It cleans the streets with two sprinkling carts.

The Mostly Annual LVIS Fair. My wife Alice Tepper
Marlin  has  done three booths over the years -
the food booth, playland and the silent auction.
1896 - The first of the mostly annual LVIS fairs. Raises $300, which is $8,149 in 2012 dollars after adjustment for inflation using an unofficial inflation calculator (the BLS calculator doesn't go back before 1913). The first LVIS cookbook is published. LVIS dredges the village pond.

1898 - LVIS pays for lamps and $190 for a lamplighter. LVIS takes over the Good Roads movement promoted by the Clinton Cycle Club.

1899 - LVIS spends $1,316 on street sprinkling.  Mrs. Dayton is quoted as saying of the LVIS:
We go in for business. We charge members 50 cents a year [$14 in 2013 dollars - JTM] and we do not have pink tea meetings. We are all business. We hope soon to show what we can do in road building. ... And what do the men say? They smile, look wise and murmur something to the effect that it is their money that does the business. But the ladies don't mind that. They give the brains. So there." [From the New York World, November 22, 1899.]
The New York Journal also weighed in and an article that appeared in this paper was reprinted in the East Hampton Star on November 24, 1899. An excerpt follows:
The women of East Hampton do not agree with former Senator John Ingalls [R-KS 1873-1891, former President of the Senate, led campaign for Kansas statehood, coined the Kansas State motto, 7th cousin of Laura Ingalls Wilder - JTM] that the fair sex has no initiative and rarely knows enough to come in before the rain stops. They want him to visit their town, where the real municipal government is in the hands of women and the men are not allowed to interfere in local affairs. ... Statistics show that when East Hampton was governed by males, there were no crosswalks, the common was ragged and unkempt, and half the time there was no kerosene in the street lamps.
1900 - LVIS arranges for the paving of Main Street from Newtown Lane to Huntting Lane - not very far, but hey, it was a start. The road had cobblestone gutters.

1902 - The Electric Light Company is formed and starts replacing oil lamps owned by LVIS. LVIS insists that all wires be buried underground.

1903 - LVIS hands over to East Hampton Town the business of cleaning the streets, along with, as a guide to the Town, the near-unanimous LVIS recommendation that any request by the Summer People for Sunday cleaning would be unacceptable to LVIS.

1908 - Summer People hold a "gymkhana" horse-jumping contest and raise $700 for LVIS ($18,900 in 2012 dollars).

1909 - East Hampton Town takes over street lighting and road paving along with the street cleaning handed over in 1903.

1910 - LVIS is incorporated. LVIS starts admitting summer people to active membership. Previously summer members were called "associate" members and paid four times as much as regular members.

1914 - LVIS starts looking into the proliferation of signs.

1915 - LVIS gets permission from David Gardiner to make improvements in the Sheep Pound. It is hereafter mowed along with other East Hampton village greens.

1916 - No LVIS fair is held. Incorporation of East Hampton Village is voted down. Woodrow Wilson is reelected on a platform of (1) Opposing involvement in the European Great War, and (2) Opposing a federal amendment acknowledging the right of women to vote. New York suffragette Inez Milholland collapses in Los Angeles on a multi-month cross-country campaign against Wilson on behalf of Votes for Women.

1917 - Wilson declares war on Germany and reverses himself also on votes for women after months-long picketing in front of the White House following sarcasm from President Wilson when a delegation from the National Woman's Party appeals to him with memorials of Milholland's death.

1920 - Proposal to incorporate the Village of East Hampton passes 166-57. LVIS retains its activities relating to trees, village greens, trash cans and flags. Also any activities designed to beautify the Village. In August, Tennessee - the last required state -ratifies the 19th amendment and Votes for Women is the law of the land.

For the whole history of LVIS to date, and many photographs, order the book from LVIS - info@lvis.org.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

RONDO | Hero Dog Catches Alligator in NYC


Hero Dog with Catch. So where is the false alligator?
I was walking my Grandpup Rondo (my daughter's dog) this afternoon and was admiring the excellent new CitiBike installation on Ninth Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Streets.

When I turned round, and... Rondo had a baby alligator in his mouth!

Hero Rondo gets appreciation from Grandma.
Where the contractors were working on the bike installation, a manhole cover had been left open and the baby alligator must have crawled out.

The baby alligator was beyond rescue by the time I inspected it, so I brought both Rondo and the alligator upstairs to show Alice, my wife in the photo, what our Hero Grandpuppy had caught.

One less alligator to terrify our dedicated and brave
NYC sewer workers.
I am attaching a couple more photos for those Alligator-in-Sewer sceptics.

Who do you want to believe?
  • Your own eyes? ...
  • Or the "Urban Legend" deniers?
If you want to read about the long history of alligators in the NYC sewers and alligators mailed to NYC from Florida, here are two reports from Snopes.
  • The first is  about alligator sitings in New York, in and out of sewers. Snopes 1
  • The second is a report, with stories dating back to the 1930s, about baby alligators being mailed to NYC from Florida. Snopes 2.
May false alligators be put to rest by heroes like Rondo, and may true alligators thrive all around. 

P.S. Rondo is a hero again! For another True Hero story, go here

Sunday, May 5, 2013

STONE AGE WALK | UK's Dunstable Downs

Dunstable-Kensworth-Whipsnade area.
Dunstable Downs is a fine place from which to explore the Stone Age. It is the highest point in the East of England and commands views of five counties.

It is also a gliding and kite-flying destination, with a National Trust Visitors Center providing food and a gift shop. They sell kites at the kite-flying shop - simple ones and complex. If other kite-flyers are at work, this is  evidence of sufficient wind for kiting.

To get here, start with the M1 going north from London. Then at Harpenden, north of St. Alban's, Herts., follow the A5 northwest. When the A5 reaches Dunstable it makes a rough triangle with the B4540 and B4541 roads. Within this triangle with Dunstable at the top are the village of Kensworth and the Kensworth Quarry.

West of the B4541 is a smaller triangle that includes the Dunstable Downs, the Visitors Center and the historic Icknield Way, which was originally a path made by migrating herds of animals and then became a trade route. The chalky area was a good one for finding flint for arrows, other weapons and for starting fires. South of this smaller triangle is the Whipsnade Zoo.

There are three pleasant walks in the area, each of which can consume an hour or more. I have done parts of two of these walks and the entire third.
Northern direction (#1) on the Stone Age Icknield Way.

(#1) Along the ridge of Dunstable Down on the Icknield Way, going north from the Visitors Center - half an hour or more, depending how many of four destinations one visits and for how long. They are near one another, marked on the Dunstable Downs map available from the Visitors Center.

(#2) Along the ridge going south, the Ickneild way takes you to Whipsnade and the Tree Cathedral, which is the fifth destination on the Dunstable Downs map.

(#3) A walk along the Isle of Wight Road to the Village of Kensworth (home to a general store and the excellent Farmer's Boy restaurant), where there is a footpath that cuts through to a roundabout connecting B4540 and B4541, beyond which is the historic Old Hunters Lodge, close to the Tree Cathedral and the Whipsnade Zoo. This walk is the most complicated and requires a printout of the map provided here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunstable-downs-chilterns-gateway-and-whipsnade-estate/how-to-get-here/