Monday, December 29, 2014

BOOK: 'STOP AT THE RED APPLE'


Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com
     Some of us go home again by passing the house we lived in as a child. Others visit the old neighborhood. For Elaine Freed Lindenblatt, it’s a restaurant, or at least the building that remains. Not just any eatery, but the famous Red Apple Rest between Tuxedo and Harriman, New York.
     Reuben Freed, Elaine’s father, opened the restaurant in the 1930s, and it operated through the 1980s on what was once the key road to the New York “Alps,” the largely Jewish summer hotels in the Catskills that gave respite and recharge to families trying to escape the summer heat in broiling Manhattan and the other boroughs.
     Elaine, who knew about lox, chopped egg and many delicious, homemade foods before she learned her times table, has written a book about the Southfields restaurant and her beloved father and family: “Stop at the Red Apple” (State University of New York Press, Albany). Its 265 pages, with photographs, is at once a love letter to Reuben Freed; then applause for those who build a business from scratch and invest day and night for more than five decades; and, finally, as the sunset of the restaurant became inevitable, a historical journey about part of American culture.
     The Red Apple Rest was known to every budding and  successful entertainer who performed in the summer resorts but also to Route 17 travelers and locals. It was family. It was a way stop, a place to refresh, to rest your feet, to kibbetz with your fellow motorists, to meet other people, to have a good nosh, and above all, to enjoy. Heading north to the Catskills had to include a long moment at the Red Apple, for it was an old friend that had to be visited to make the trip complete. A visit up, a visit on the way back. And this was true even after the Thruway was constructed in the early 1950s, Travelers would get off at Hillburn and then take 17 just to visit the Red Apple.
     Elaine Freed Lindenblatt is a masterful writer. She is at once accomplished in her prose and then poetic because she releases the emotion of the family and its business that were so thoroughly enjoyed by so many for so long. 
     This is a book to sit with and savor in another "visit" to the Red Apple. It is beyond a family story. It is many stories, and so many are the enduring, revealing characters, so well described as are the decades and the culture in those years.
     (For more information about “Stop at the Red Apple,” visit www.sunypress.edu.)
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

WHAT PRICE DEMOCRACY?



By Arthur H. Gunther III
Just months after World War II ended in August 1945, the Nuremberg trials began with impressive agreement among four of the Allied nations that those who commit atrocities in war are to be held accountable, that “following orders” is no excuse. Pity that such unanimity against horror -- war is the ultimate “atrocity” -- did not prevent the world conflict in the first place, the one that came after World War I, “the war to end all wars,” but such is the politics, often of convenience, among countries. Yet it can be said the Nuremberg trials of the Axis Powers participants were a moral watershed. Pity, again, though -- and again for the rationale of “convenience” -- that the 1945 moral purpose is now tainted by the U.S. in its deliberate sanctioning of sophisticated torture by CIA operatives and associates in the name of preventing terrorism.
That the operatives are also free of any crime since they were “following orders” is an insult to those men and women, children, Holocaust victims and civilians who lost their lives or suffered physical and emotional trauma during World War II. That horrible time owed surviving humanity a higher moral plain, and the Nuremberg trials set the stage. Pity, again, that a key actor left the stage and marched into the same shadows of rationalization to justify the end, by whatever means. Civilization is not civilized if such thinking endures. And torture is just that, be it by megalomaniacs or those “defending” democracy. There is no democracy if it is tainted.
A key principle at Nuremberg was that following orders -- or even interpreting orders that results in torture and depravity --  does not wash. The Nazis were guilty of ordering, encouraging, enabling “war crimes,” or as the charter establishing the “International Military Tribunal” stated in part: “War Crimes: namely ... murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war ... .”
Following that reasoning, torture, which surely includes water-boarding, threats to kill detainees’ relatives and mock executions, all cited in the recent Senate report on CIA operations involving suspected terrorists since 9/11, is inhumane, is criminal.
While this is not new controversy -- the U.S. Justice Department had investigated for some years and said it had insufficient evidence to convict anyone -- a democracy employing such interrogation is guilty of ignoring human rights in the name of protecting same, a moral impossibility.
There will be some -- many, perhaps, who conclude that avoiding future mass attacks on this soil justifies obtaining information no matter the means. Others, perhaps purists, including myself, contend that either you are a democracy and adhere to its humane principles or you are not. I do not want my flag saved by mock executions or shocking someone standing in water. I would rather fight -- even die -- to save that flag, with other “citizen soldiers.” Even die but keeping values intact to the finish.
To what end, this torture? The information gained is necessarily suspect given the way it was obtained.  And the $300 million or so spent in the CIA interrogations was squandered while Detroit went bankrupt, while our middle class was (is) losing jobs,  when there was so much need to assist Americans.
The Founding Fathers believed  in universal rights,  in human dignity, that the government later defined by Lincoln as that “of the people, for the people, by the people” must be directed by the people, that it cannot behave as it pleases. Our recent government has done just that, and with utter shame. What price democracy?
    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, December 8, 2014

HUMANITY IN WAR


By Arthur H. Gunther III
     In war, the human story trumps the “sturm und drang,” the storm and stress played out by the good guys vs. the bad guys. If not for the human element, each side might just as well blow up the other, for war is never the solution. It is inhumane.
      And so it was about 70 years ago, just before a war-weary world readied as best it could for Christmas and Hanukkah or had already observed holidays of peace amidst chaos, that the last major German offensive of the War, “Unternehmen Herbstnebel,” the Ardennes campaign, now so famously called the “Battle of the Bulge, began. There would be many stories of humanity, reported and not, in the largest sustained fight on the western front, which continued for three weeks with much life lost and thousands of casualties. 
    Before the Bulge and after, a related American push to secure the Hurtgen Forest on the Belgian-German border also raged with exceptionally deep loss for a campaign later criticized as tactically unnecessary. It would prove to be the longest fight between U.S. and German forces in World War II.
     It was in the Hurtgen where an exceptionally reaffirming story of sacrificing humanity unfolded. There, on Nov. 12, 1944, German Leutnant Friedrich Lengfeld, 23, died of severe wounds sustained while attempting to pull an American soldier out of a minefield. A plaque was set in the Huertgen military cemetery, proclaiming in both German and English: “Here in the Hürtgen Forest, on Nov. 12, 1944, Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld, a German officer, gave his life while trying to save the life of an American soldier lying severely wounded in the 'Wilde Sau' minefield and appealing for medical aid." The lieutenant’s memorial is the only known one for a German soldier placed by opponents in a German military cemetery.
     That an act of such compassion and bravery by Lt. Lengfeld and then, even with the great horror of the Bulge and the terror of the Hurtgen (where artillery fragments rained down on troops), that one enemy would honor the other side, reveals once again that war can never kill God’s purpose, which is, of course, humanity.
    The writer is a retired newspaperman whose Uncle, Winfield Gunther, lost three fingers to Hurtgen artillery “rain” on Feb. 10, 1945, his son’s birthday. This essay may be reproduced.