Monday, November 10, 2014

'THE WAR TO END ALL WARS' AT 100 YEARS


By Arthur H. Gunther III

If, at the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of each year, from 1918 on when “The War to End All Wars” was over, you would toll a bell 20 times a minute for the 37,468,904 total in casualties, it would take more than 30,000 years to somberly do so.
Today, on the 100th anniversary of Great Britain’s declaration of war against Germany, and also the date that the United States said it would not get involved, but eventually did, the dead, the wounded, those with “shell shock” must not be recalled simply as numbers. Why didn’t this First World War prevent all others?
In one of the costliest battles of the 1914-1918 conflict, the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, the British suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day. When it was all over and just six miles gained for the Brits, there were 1,219,000 dead and wounded. And that does not include the emotionally afflicted, people who in World War II we would term suffering from “battle fatigue” and now, as the wars continue, “post-traumatic stress syndrome.”
War does not end because greed is always with us, greed of nations, individuals, the military-industrial complex that profits so well. War does not end because of power and false pride, nations who are really little children taking affront in what begins as a playground insult and escalates into utter horror, as happened when the dominoes toppled in 1914. The entangling alliances of that time over Belgian neutrality and world trade, culture, ethnicity, old hatreds, were the excuses to rally patriotism. Soon enough, the voices of the eager volunteers became the shrill cries of the brave as they went over the top, and as quickly, the deep stillness of the forever graveyard.
War is folly, and in the end it creates little that could not have been gained by compromise and common sense, long before madmen such as Hitler have a foothold that can only be broken by war.
In “All Quiet On the Western Front,” the famous post-war novel by  Erich Maria Remarque,  which details his fellow German soldiers' physical and mental harm during the war and  the isolation and detachment from ordinary life when back home,  the character “Kropp” says, “"It's queer, when one thinks about it ... we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who's in the right?”
     And, “We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from the true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left.”
     Now, 100 years later, the long trenches of the Marne, Passchendale, Verdun, so many other battlefields, still echo in history with their artillery fire, machine guns, death and madness, for war never disappears. The great still is indeed today’s all quiet on the western front, 2014, but the battles are stirring elsewhere.
      On this centennial of the beginning of a war meant to end it all, and, coincidentally the half-century mark of America’s accelerated effort in Vietnam, a nation with whom we now trade, the bells must continue to toll, for nations are ruled by men, too often by the folly of such.
    As in “All Quiet ...”:  “While they (the pontificating teachers and politicos) continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one's country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger.”
    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.


Monday, November 3, 2014

TWO WHO MATTERED MUCH


By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Many personalities and almost that number in characters passed through my Editorial Page desk at the old Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y., 1978-2006. Like a farmer pleased with a bumper crop, I was always provided with a fertile field of human emotion, accomplishment, sadness and elation for commentary. To a man, to a woman, to a child, all these people’s  stories made you feel humble, for the tales of the human world are life itself, no matter the age, place or time.
      So many unknown among us achieve without notice. So many suffer from this ailment or weight upon shoulders but get the job done. And so many do good, paying their own relative fortunes of whatever sort forward. Their stories are largely left untold.
     Editorial pages, which may soon no longer exist, the victims of cost management in the shrinking print media, traditionally have heralded the extraordinary who die in office, who have served the people. But the journalist writing those pieces, him(her)self usually a bit jaded by the hoi polloi and more attuned to the common folk, really chew better on testimonials for the ordinary achiever whose praise would otherwise be unsung.
     And, so, we come this day to two such people, presented here in appreciation and respect, not on an editorial page but at least in words. While both were Rockland County, N.Y., people upon death, each could have lived anywhere in the world for their kind are in every community.
     My first person of note is Albon Platt Man IV of Palisades, a community volunteer and peace activist for most of his 95 years. Albon was a most articulate fellow, precise in speech and manner, and a stickler for correct grammar and word usage. Yet his kindly ways nudged his criticism rather than applying it hammer-like. He spent a total of 45 years in two publishing and editing jobs. 
     He was a local historian who helped publish books for the Historical Society of Rockland. He volunteered in many community ways, including at a home for the developmentally disabled.
     Admiration for Albon Man comes easily, but for me it is anchored by his sacrifice for his beliefs. As a young man and then as a retiree, he opposed war, and he walked the talk by serving three years in prison for refusing induction into the U.S. Army. 
     When I was asked by the Historical Society to collect 100 of my newspaper essays and Albon and the late Associated Press writer Jules Loh edited them into a book, Albon asked me which was my favorite. “A fraternity of life and death,” I said, which was commentary on the World War II film, “Saving Private Ryan.” Though a pacifist, Albon, a man of dignity and great empathy, also understood “the fraternity of battle death,” of brothers in war but beyond it. In a way, I was talking about the ultimate peace. Albon knew. It is both the warrior and the peace-maker who can end all war and instead concentrate on the good the world can offer.
     Albon Man contributed much in his own ways. I have rarely met such a principled, selfless person.
     My second person of note is Jean Kathleen Sammes Gardner, a longtime Nyack resident who was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England (what a wonderfully sounding location). “Top girl” at Reigate County School, Jean volunteered in the London Civil Defense Corps, helping manage underground subway stations filled with residents during the Nazi “Blitz” bombings. Later she was in the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force where she was a radar reader in top-secret work. She met her husband, Harvey C. Gardner, an American, and moved to Nyack in 1953.
     Jean was an ardent community activist, fighting particularly for Rockland parkland and the Hudson River.
     Our paths met at a stop sign of sorts in the later 1990s when I editorialized that Nyack might remove some of the large oak trees in upper Memorial Park so that the Hudson could be better seen and more directly linked to the village proper.
     Jean, in a reply worthy of Winston Churchill’s bulldog stance against the Axis, quickly set me right. The trees had been there since just after World War I, when they were planted, each one of them, in memory of the men fallen in that “War to End All Wars.”
    I felt humbled. I felt ashamed. I vowed to research better. And I still stand up straight when I hear Jean Gardner’s name, as if a schoolboy chastened in proper fashion.
     What gifts we have on this earth when we meet such people as Albon Man and Jean Gardner.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.
     

Monday, October 20, 2014

RETURNING TO EARTH


By Arthur H. Gunther III
      Whether it is worry about family finances, or county government, the state of the nation or the world, the realization that we are but specks in time can put things in perspective. Quickly, the headache that comes with self-absorption is gone, and life can exist in the greater scope of existence.   
     No, this is not day-dreaming gone wild or too much pre-bedtime wine but the effects of the Internet, that remarkable portal to information, which has shrunk the world and perhaps the universe, too. Another way of expanding our limited outlook.
     Working the Net recently, a teaser appeared on a story about the NASA's onboard Mars rover Curiosity Mastcam recording of what looks like a petroglyph, the stick figure which has appeared since cave days all over the world. And now on a planet far away.     
     Of course, it could be coincidence that the rock on Mars has an indentation which  simply looks like a petroglyph, but is it also coincidence that stick figures from continent to continent, thousands of years apart, are so very similar? 
     In those times, despite what 2014 smart phone users might believe, there was no Internet to spread the message, to promote copy-catting.  Not even newspapers or books or TV. No Facebook or Twitter.
     So, was civilization more advanced than now? Or were we (are we still) visited by others not of this world, who left (leave) their mark? Or did we advance and then horribly put the world into a dark age from which we are still emerging, rebuilding technological greatness? 
     Ah, perspective. It can bring you back to earth. Or is it the other way around?
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

A POLICE OFFICER'S RESPONSE


 On Aug. 18, I offered an essay, "It's a two-way street," which argued that policing is a super tough job, and the officers deserve respect while being trained to know the community. It also  expressed concern about using military equipment and what I described as para-military clothing. Joe Badalamente, a retired New York City police officer, writes an articulate response in my space today.
 
By JOE BADALAMENTE
Thank you for your recent column about the police. Although I have been retired for nine years, your words struck a chord. Even after all that time, I still feel very much a part of “the police” in general, and the NYPD, specifically.
I spent twenty years with the NYPD, from 1985 to 2005. My field training took place in Brooklyn before I was transferred to the Central Park Precinct in July '85, a little more than a month prior to the murder of Jennifer Levin by Robert Chambers.
Although I agree with the spirit of your argument, and again, very much appreciate any support of police, I must take issue with a couple of points. Regarding salaries, I'm not sure how you define the Northeast, but I'm pretty sure outside of the immediate New York metro area, cops aren’t pulling down anywhere near Orangetown and Clarkstown money. I'm currently working as a financial investigator at a large bank, and my 29-year-old team lead is making roughly 125k after only two years, with only an undergraduate degree from SUNY. A 20-year veteran of the NYPD at the rank of Police Officer can’t come close to this without putting in a ton of overtime; not to mention cops in hundreds of small towns from  Boston to DC. It seems living in places such as Rockland, Westchester, Bergen, Nassau and Suffolk counties skew the public's perception of police salaries.
Perception is a great lead in for my second point: Your opinion of cop’s uniforms. In 1995, the once and future NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton brought back the department’s original dark blue uniform shirts and issued us nine-millimeter handguns. The confidence that one-two punch instilled in the rank and file was exponential. We no longer looked like bus drivers (not that I have anything against them!), nor felt so outgunned. The nine millimeter’s 16-round capacity afforded us a better chance in any potential gun battle -- reloading a fresh magazine into a semi-automatic weapon takes much less time than fumbling with a speed loader, the “fast” way to reload a revolver. Numerous cops over the years and around the world have been killed while reloading during firefights.
As for the combat-style boots you mentioned, on patrol, support is the most important thing, whether trying to catch a perp or fighting with one. As for uniform pants, I’ve never seen camouflage on a city or Rockland cop, so I can’t speak to that. However, the paratrooper/cargo type pants are utilitarian, containing many more pockets than standard uniform trousers. Having spent most of my career on patrol, pockets are important; it is quite difficult to reach into the front pockets of regular uniform trousers while wearing a gun belt; the cargo-style pants’ leg pockets come in very handy for the average patrol officer to stuff their memo book, extra pens, flashlight or what have you. (I know it’s leading with my chin to those who think all cops are corrupt to go on about the importance of pockets for police, but I’ll take that chance!)
The “demilitarization” of the police is something I keep hearing and reading in wake of Ferguson. Yet, at least in the NYPD, it is the Emergency Services Unit that utilizes such equipment, and they are called in when appropriate, such as when people are rioting and looting. Patrol cops are ill equipped to deal with rock and bottles being thrown at them. Helmets are needed, as are armored vehicles when the rocks suddenly turn into Molotov cocktails. Or would people prefer numerous police officers going on sick leave with injuries caused by these projectiles?
I find it difficult not to devolve into sarcasm here, but it amazes me how everyone is an expert on police tactics now because they watch “Law & Order" and “Blue Bloods,” or the latest ill-researched blockbuster churned out by Hollywood.
You seem to imply that civilians “feel” a certain way in reaction to how a cop might be outfitted; frightened, intimidated -- perhaps non-verbally bullied? Yet, society tells us how one “feels” when walking towards a group of kids whose pants are hanging below their asses, baseball caps turned sideways, toothpicks in their mouths and cursing up a storm, or seeing a bunch of bikers with ZZ Top-type beards outside a bar, or a couple of want-to-be Tony Soprano-types hanging in front of a social club in Bensonhurst is “profiling?” Aren’t you or your theoretical law-abiding citizen profiling any particular officer because he or she prefers to wear boots and paratrooper/cargo pants? Isn’t it more about your perception than about what a particular officer may or may not be trying to project?
A historical note; in the late ‘70s, leather jackets were taken from the NYPD because some felt it made them look like the Gestapo. The city even went so far as to change the names of groups of precincts from Divisions to Areas in an attempt at demilitarization. Yet crime continued to soar in and around the five boroughs through the ‘80s into the early ‘90s, until the aforementioned Bratton was brought in. Of course, the improving economy and Roe vs. Wade’s 20th anniversary dovetailed in with CompStat and the new weapons and uniform changes, all of which may or may not have had something to do with crime stats falling off a cliff. (And let us not forget how Rudy Giuliani took the credit for it all!) Lest I digress,  my main point is that the  confidence created by our being outfitted with more stylish uniforms and modern weaponry created a much more professional and potent police department, which played a major role in the drop in crime, in my not so humble opinion.
I know first-hand that no department, no officer is perfect. There are many problems in policing, including blatant racism, that interfere with how the public should be serviced. But like any other group on the planet, it is a small percentage of cops who tarnish the image of the rest. All I ask is for people to keep this in mind while consuming and digesting the so-called news.

Monday, October 6, 2014

BACK TO THE EARTH


By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Home heating systems may have kicked on to deal with lower temperatures in the USA's Northeast and wherever there is seasonal change, but for me, the change involves more than a turn of the thermostat dial. There is  a memory journey as well.
     Back when I didn’t worry about such things as heating, when the cocoon of early childhood had others taking care of room and board, my only assignment was to watch for the coal man.
     In that time, before there was a massive bridge connecting interstate carpets on both sides of the mighty Hudson River, before the hustle-bustle age, we lived in a sleepy community, Spring Valley, population perhaps 4,500, though summer tripled, maybe quadrupled that since there were seasonal bungalow colonies.
     Our cherished quiet time returned in September, and the assuring hum of small-town life as well, with its Main Street shops, two elementary schools, one high school, a few doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals whose family names had long been known by residents, and the village regulars all communities have and without which there is no small town, USA.
     One regular was the coal delivery man, from Comfort Coal or the other outfits which received their anthracite and bituminous lumps by Erie rail car. Living at 14 Ternure Ave., corner of Summit, at age 5, I watched for him.
     I would sit on the mound of grass and small Mountain Pink flowers, day-dreaming as a past time and an obsession, one ear cocked for the sound of truck gears changing as the coal man’s rig climbed Ternure’s hill.
     The delivery fellow would pull into the gravel driveway and stop next to the Mountain Pinks. I would run and tell my grandfather or grandmother, and they would open the coal chute door above the basement bin. Then the deliveryman would connect a metal chute to his truck and begin shoveling supply into the chute and down into the bin. The bin would always reach the same level, as the man had done his job for so long and was quite good at it, another community constant. 
     When the fellow was finished and had his chute  back on the truck, but before he hopped in his cab and left, he would come over to me, give me a lump of shiny coal and tell me to bury it for a day when I might need it as a big boy or an adult, probably when I had to provide my own room and board.
     I did what he said, and if anyone cares to dig into the dirt behind the Mountain Pinks at 14 Ternure, the east side of the house, they surely would find my stash of coal, buried there numerous times.
     That home, long gone from the family, now has natural gas for heating, not coal, and there are no such delivery men in what is no longer a small village, nor a small county. Progress relentlessly has  been on the march, but if it ever stops, I know where my rainy day savings account lies.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.
      

Monday, September 29, 2014

FALL'S IN THE HOUSE




By Arthur H. Gunther IIII
     Autumn arrives as a state of mind, prompted by the foliage change to wonderful hues, or by memories of fall’s past that tug at your senses and nudge you to “do it again.” But for both those who can see traditional seasonal change, and especially for those who cannot, there is the color switch inside your home or any place with a window.
     The light is different, incrementally as the weeks and months pass, but soon the imperceptibility becomes noticeable, and sitting in your living room chair or at a kitchen table, your mind wanders, you look at the incoming window light, and there it is, fall.
    Somehow, that signals body change -- mental surely, as you begin to think of coming winter and the fortification that will require, physically as you get ready for warmer garments carried on your frame. That is all natural to all, since the cave days.
     But then there is the emotional switching of gears. You have come down the pike either hellbent in a fast-paced summer or you have had the cruise control set at 20 mph for a lazy, hazy, hot season, relieved by the beach. Now you see color, beautiful color, as you near the bend, and you get a whiff of cool air, not quite winter’s breath, but enough that you know where you are headed.
      The journey is made all the easier by the appearance of nature’s tapestry, a light show outside, overflowing to the innards of both your home and yourself.
     Fortification, there she comes, this autumnal change, this brilliance of light in hues meant to tell you that though the heat of summer is gone and the cold of winter is approaching, fall’s color will be your cloak into the change. Nature’s mental protection, as it were.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, September 15, 2014

IGNORING OUR DIGNITY


Arthur H. Gunther III
    
ahgunther@yahoo.com




       I won’t vote for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the popular New Yorker seeking re-election. Nor would I for President Obama, if he were able to run anew, though I supported him twice. And I will be pleased when Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, steps down. Why no support for these three? Not because of their abilities or accomplishment, though each man in each category is subject to grades ranging from A-plus down. Both have been electable and applaudable for service. Yet these officials fail my confidence test, a right of my citizenship. And, I suspect they are the tip of the iceberg in a society that offers systemic indifference to the ordinary person.
     It is a little thing, my motivation that drops these three from the nice list, but it was small things becoming bigger that led us to our American Revolution and changes for the better, or at least the hope of those, hope still being chased.
     Each of these men are in highly visible, important, powerful positions where the expectation of good and full service to the citizenry is a given. The president and the New York governor ran for office as approachable people who empathized with the growing concerns of Americans without jobs, or long-lasting ones, or decently paid ones or ones that will put and keep them in the bulwark middle class that marks stable democracy.
     They were cheered on, these two, and sent off to do their work. But then the doors slammed behind them, locking out the people. Handlers came in, pros they are in security, in media control, in distancing the “men of the people” from, well the people. The ordinary men and women of these great United States are held back by these handlers, who would lock down the universe to keep their man away from humanity, from regular concerns, hopes, heartache, the yin and yang of living.
     How real is it for a president, a governor in office? Their lifestyle is not like most people. Yes, they see the death-bringing results of war, of natural disaster, but then they return to comfortable quarters after the handlers have arranged a trip or two.
     When you write these leaders, as I did several times to Obama, Cuomo and to the appointed but still-in-the-trust-of-the-people Bharara, snail-mail letters even, as I sent off  to the governor and the U.S. attorney, cogent, well-thought-out argument that required answers from those in our employ, in our trust, the answers never came. Acknowledgment of the letters never came. And the president, whose office bragged that it would be the first to set up an e-mail response system, failed mightily, with no replies, no acknowledgement of missives.
     That is bad form. It is not democratic form. It is rude and insensitive and snubbing behavior. It matters not that my questions may have been relatively small ones, not so imperative as foreign affairs and state budget woes. Communication with the people is never un-important. Little things add up and become symbolic of high-and-mighty affront that ignores the people and their concerns, their needs, most of all their dignity.
     The system no longer works, and if the snubbing of the common man and woman continues, democracy is in trouble. We cannot elect high-placed people nor see grand poohbahs in important positions who are then shut behind doors and kept from public discourse.
So, I would not vote for Obama, Cuomo, Bharara or anyone who ignores we, the people, even if it is their staffs doing the insulting deed. That makes it even worse, adding to their distance from the citizenry.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com