Posts tagged ‘World War II’

SCOTUS

How will the Supreme Court’s decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning affect democracy?

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

When Pope Francis named 19 new cardinals to be installed in February, it underscored the efficiency of a nondemocratic government. The elevation of Les Cayes Bishop Chibly Langlois (at 55 the youngest of the appointees) from Haiti, shows how much can be done very quickly by an autocrat, in this case, to implement Francis’s agenda of ministering to the poor of the world. Bishop Langlois’ youth makes likely he will still be around and under age 80 when the time comes to vote for the next pope. All this in less than a year since Francis became the pontiff.

I likewise saw how efficient the totalitarian government of China could be in clearing the roads blocked by a landslide after a great rainstorm in 1991, when Fred and I were stranded for an extra day in the Tibetan foothills while visiting the Panda Breeding Station.

With us were Charles Brown, Brian Aldiss, Brian Stableford, Malcolm Edwards, and a couple of dozen others from outside China for the occasion of the World SF meeting in Chengdu, Sichuan. The authorities were not going to let their honored guests be inconvenienced one more day than absolutely necessary!

It’s an old joke that at least Mussolini got the railroads to run on time during World War II.

Contrast this with our seemingly dysfunctional Congress in the United States where democracy rules. Well, actually we have a representative democracy, which means we have established checks and balances that are supposed to preserve the basic rights of minorities and prevent too hasty decisions from being implemented by well-meaning people who fail to see potential unintended consequences of their agendas. But for the sake of brevity, we call it “democracy” and are quite proud of it.

Democracy as we practice it is, undeniably, a much slower and more cumbersome way to reach decisions and implement change. And it’s an equally self-evident logical principle — sorry, those who want to maintain the old ways no matter what — that situations can not ever be improved without making changes. But democracy (we’ll call it that for shorthand) has one big advantage over totalitarian, top-down management. That is, when everyone can have his or her say before a decision is finally reached, the decision is likely to be fairer and last longer before it too needs to be changed. Americans don’t like having stuff shoved down our throats.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the question of whether the president has the right to make interim appointments to key positions, including judicial appointments, which in turn may lead to appointments to the Supreme Court itself. We do live in interesting times!

 

The Space Merchants

 

In 1944, I was an Army Air Corps weatherman attached to the 456th Bomb Group (Heavy) at its base near the tiny town of Stornara, Italy. For years the group had survived with a total weather complement of two, one major and one sergeant, but then at last the weather training school at Chanute Field, Illinois, had been able to put a force of several hundred trained weathermen onto a troop transport headed for Italy. The 456th got eight of that shipment, and one of them was me.

With all those weathermen, none of us had to work very hard. When a mission was on there was a flurry of pre-dawn activity until the B-24s began to rumble and waddle down the runways to get airborne, then not a lot to do until they, or the survivors among them, came (often limping) back. And of course if the weather was bad not even that much happened. Then everybody had most of the day off.

For those reasons I had a lot of free time on my hands. Much of it I spent exploring the nearby Italian towns and the just as nearby Adriatic Sea beaches. But I was also a little homesick for my beloved city of New York, and what I decided to do about that was to write something about it. That something became a novel, not science fiction, set in the city and concerning what seemed to me one of New York’s most interesting manifestations, the advertising business.

So for a while. on days when I was not otherwise occupied. I would carry the lavender Remington No. 5 portable typewriter that my mother had given me on my twelfth birthday (and that I lugged with me throughout World War II) to the Enlisted Men’s Club, where I added a few more pages to a novel entitled For Some We Loved. (The title comes from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, to which I had been addicted as a teenager.) And I did, in fact, after some couple of hundred pages, type “The End” on the last page and pack it into the bottom of my duffel bag to await better times.

Then time passed. The war ended. Better times did come, and I was a civilian again with a neat little apartment and attached roof garden at 28 Grove Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. And one of the first things I did after moving in was to pull that manuscript out and read it over.

It was not a joyous experience. I quickly realized that the story had an incapacitating flaw. It was about the advertising business, which was a subject I knew nothing about. It showed.

After some thought, however, I could see a possible way of remedying that. I picked up a copy of the Sunday Times, turned to the Help Wanted pages and found three ads for advertising copywriters. I answered all three. One of them was the tiny Mad Ave. advertising agency of Thwing and Altman. They specialized in book accounts, including the Merriam-Webster dictionaries and Doubleday’s Dollar Book Clubs, and when I showed them the house ads I had written as an editor at Popular Publications, they took me on.

And that was the beginning of a few prosperous years spent in the advertising biz. (Not very much of that period was spent at T & A, however. They didn’t pay much. On months with only four Fridays my take-home pay was not quite enough to cover the month’s rent on that nice Village apartment, and I felt that I’d really like to have a few more dollars coming in to spend on food, clothes, cigarettes and science-fiction magazines. So when I decided to stay on for a while with this advertising racket, I went looking for, and found, a better job, which was on the payroll of the advertising and editorial departments of the Popular Science Publishing Company.

At some time a couple of years into my new career, I had rented a summer place high up over the great Ashokan Reservoir, maybe a hundred miles out of New York. One of the things I liked best about the large house that came with it was the big flagstone fireplace on its second floor.

And there, one Saturday evening, I once more pulled out that manuscript from my 456th Bomb Group days and read it over. As I read it, I perceived that it had another flaw I had not previously noted. Considered on its merits as a novel it was — what’s the word I should use? — well, lousy.

So as I read the manuscript, I fed it page by page into the fire. And when I was through, there I was, now with some notions about advertising that just begged to be put into a novel, and no novel to put them into.

I did have some sketchy notions, however, and so I wrote a few pages of an opening, but didn’t like it very much.

 
To be continued. . . .

S.S. Marion McKinley Bovard

S.S. Marion McKinley Bovard

The East-West Homegoing crossing, from the Bay of Naples, down around Sicily and its somber dark-red-lit volcanic peaks and out into the stormy Atlantic, was a lot more exciting than the voyage out, even though we weren’t scanning for the snorkels of enemy submarines from the time of departing Port of New York to arriving at the wreckage-strewn harbor of Naples. The difference was weather. Going out in midsummer we hadn’t had any. Coming back, we had one of the worst winter storms on record.

Making the run from England to Boston a thousand miles north of where we were crossing in the bouncing, swinging little Marion McKinley Bovard, the Queen Elizabeth lost part of her bridge to wave action, nearly a hundred feet above the waterline. Months later, I ran into an Army nurse who had been on that run. When I asked her what it was like, she stared into space, shook her head and finally said, “Have you ever seen 2,400 men and women all puking at once?”

But down where we were, a thousand miles south, we were only in a brutally fierce, but not record-breaking storm. As soon as I saw a mimeograph standing idle, I had volunteered to put out a ship’s newspaper, so I had the run of the ship, barring a few places where I might hurt myself or fall overboard.

I had stationed myself in the captain’s bridge for the duration of the storm, where I kept my eyes fastened on the ship’s clinometer. We’d roll right 25 degrees, then come left about as many on the return — then 26 degrees, 30, 32, 30 — -and then a big one, 38 degrees, 42, 40, 43, 35 — and I couldn’t help myself, I just had to ask the third officer, standing next to me watching the same mad dance of the clinometer, “What if, you know. it hits a swell at the wrong time and just doesn’t come back?”

Continue reading ‘My War, Part 4: Homegoing’ »

Speed Graphic

The Speed Graphic, the best camera in the world.

I was appointed squadron historian without a written history to work on. There had been one, though incomplete, at one time. It’s just that no one could find it. And the man who had been writing it, an early arriver, had had one of the longest lists of campaign badges in the squadron. The more badges you had the sooner you got home, and he was already long gone to the U. S. of A.

Well, what to do? Every week another clutch of squadron weathermen got their own orders to report to the transit depot outside of Naples which would decide whether you got first-class seats in a C-53 Courier flight or three-deep bunks deep in the hold of a battle-weary troop transport. If we just did nothing for a few months, nearly everyone would be discharged and gone, and the problem would have solved itself, because there would be nobody left to care.

And I had one secret weapon that was all mine to wield. In the cascades of too much of everything that had suddenly begun to flow from everywhere, I had got up from breakfast one morning and discovered a full-size mobile photo lab parked outside my door. The staff sergeant driver/photographer/lab worker came out of the dining room, picking his teeth with the remnants of the fourth of Lisa’s cheese omelettes he had consumed, to inform me that his unit had just disbanded itself, and he had been ordered to report to me for duty.

Although he ranked me — I was still a buck sergeant — Staff said he would take my orders, and he hoped I would have some real work for him as he, a recent arrival, had hardly any battle buttons and wouldn’t get sent back to the homeland he had just left for months.

So that’s how I got my first idea. With me aboard, I ordered him to drive us to the transport depot, where the last contingent of our homebound men for that week were just checking in — and start taking every weatherman’s photo. with one of his four Speed Graphics.

My staff-sergeant helper grasped his duties at once. Not only did he patrol that area until he’d photographed every man with weather-squadron shoulder patches, but after he’d been doing it for a hour or so, he got an idea: “So I told them that if we got enough photos and stories, we’d make them into a book, and if they wanted to make sure they’d get a copy for themselves, they could pre-pay for it by giving me a ten-spot, which we would turn over to whoever was the last squadron financial officer, and he would be responsible for getting the books mailed out.”

I patted his shoulder. “You’re doing a great job,” I told him. “I’d put you for promotion to tech sergeant if I knew who to send the recommendation to. And, by the way, I see you’ve still got three more of those Speed Graphics. Better issue one to me, in case I see something I want to snap for the book — I mean, if there ever is one.”

How could he refuse? I could have made it an order.

And the Speed Graphic, I want to mention, was immediate new heir to the title Best Camera in the World as soon as I shot a few seascapes and turned them over to Staff for developing and printing. The Graphic was a reporter’s kind of camera. It didn’t have particularly good optics, but what it did have was huge negatives.

“Just point and shoot,” Staff advised me. “The picture you want will be on that negative somewhere and I’ll find it and vignette it and print it for you.”

And he would have done it, too, I’m pretty sure, if two sergeants in an MP jeep hadn’t shown up to get into my mobile photo lab, jiggle some wires under the dashboard, get it started and drive it away, Speed Graphics, vignetted prints and all.

 
To be continued.

 
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Air Corps poster

 

My time with the 456th Bomb Group was cut short when somebody at Air Force headquarters in Caserta, Italy, noticed that as a civilian I had been a writer and magazine editor, and immediately jerked me back to headquarters to write publicity for the weather squadron. None of what I did in that capacity, I promise you, did the slightest harm to the German Wehrmacht or the least imaginable good to the Allied — no, wait a minute. By gosh, I did do a little something for the ground-down enlisted men of the 12th Weather Squadron. See, they were getting screwed, and they didn’t even know it.

The 12th Weather Squadron was unusual among small military units in that it was split up into quite tiny groups, four or five officers and half a dozen enlisted men, or just enough to man a weather station for each bomb group. The people in these detachments seldom saw any of the two or three thousand other people in the squadron.

I received a copy of every promotion, so I could write a little news release about it to send to the promoted fellow’s hometown paper (who almost always threw it away). Meanwhile I had started a little, well, all right, it was pretty much a sort of fanzine — only for the B-24 groups rather than sf fans — that was circulated to all the detachments. I encouraged each of the detachments to send me little stories about what they had been doing, even if no more than occasionally playing softball. I decided to make that more interesting, so I started printing news of promotions in every issue, officers in the left-hand facing page, enlisted men in the right. As I had expected, most months there would be a couple dozen officer promotions, few or none for enlisted men.

This caused some concern among the squadron’s higher authorities, who didn’t think it was good for morale, and they dealt with it by promoting me to the post of Squadron Historian, which carried with it a few privileges, including the right to rehouse myself in the squadron’s recreational hotel, the former Albergo Eremo or Hermit Hotel, halfway up the slope of our friendly local volcano, Mt. Vesuvius. So I took the bribe, turning all my news writing and fanzine publishing over to a corporal who, I think, soon stopped bothering with any of it.

As a resident of the Eremo, I had my own room with my own sheeted and pillowed bed, made every morning by my maid, and my meals were cooked to order by Lisa, the hotel’s peacetime cook, who got us all kinds of delicacies by trading powdered eggs and Spam for fresh Italian veggies and other edibles. And I got some of my own writing done, though, unfortunately, little of it was on the squadron history.

 
To be continued.

 
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Bombs Away!

 

See, I wanted to get into the action This was World War II, and it was my personal war. I wanted to fight. When I was inducted, they put me, as they did everybody, through a battery of tests, and when they looked at all the results they said, “Boy, you qualified for everything. Now, you have to list what branch of service you want to serve in and, bam, then you’re off to basic training in that service and pretty soon you’re in the war, right where you want to be.”

So I took the list and checked off my three choices.

Number One was Infantry. That was the down-and-bloody place for fighting, and they said, “You put that down anywhere as a choice and that’s where you’ll go, because that’s where they need replacements all the time.” Just to make sure, I put Field Artillery as my second choice and Armored Corps as my third, and next thing you know, I’m on my way to basic training.

In the Air Force.

That’s when I began to perceive that they didn’t really much care what I wanted. Somewhere somebody was making arcane calculations of what the Army wanted. And that’s what they chose.

All right, I was in the Air Force. Then they kept me stooging around the Lower Forty-eight for two years before they at last dumped me into the hopper of the 456th Bomb Group (Heavy) weather station in Italy. It was just in time.

The rumbling and grumbling roar of B-24 motors was coming from every one of those takeoff strips that sprawled over what had once been Italian farm fields and olive groves. We weathermen just arriving from the States had got there in such a hurry that I had already pulled my first shift in the weather station by the time I dumped my baggage in the four-man tent, one of whose cots would be my home for the foreseeable future.

At last! I was in the war! The proof of that was right overhead, where some three hundred or so lubberly B-24s were fighting every attempt of their pilots to gain altitude so they could form up for the long pull across the Mediterranean to where their war would start — No! Had started already!

Once I was outside, I could see in the last glimmer of daylight those chubby B-24s nuzzling into their formations, a few of them all formed up already and already starting to line out across the Mediterranean Sea toward southern France. That’s what it was, the invasion of Southern France, begun at last! And every American and British bomber and fighter in Italy or North Africa was joining in the fight.

The sky was full dark now, stars beginning to appear, along with the little running lights of all those planes — no! It wasn’t dark! Two great blossoms of red and yellow fire swelled overhead, followed at once by the great ker-BANG blast of two B-24s that had cut their turns too fine and exploded in the air as they turned into a collision … and then, suddenly, another immense ker-BANG from a little farther away, as two more B-24s collided … and then a single, smaller blast as a plane flying by itself caught a chunk of wreckage from one of the collisions and itself blew up.

That was five heavy bombers afire at once in the sky over the 456th Bomb Group. Ten men in each crew. Fifty human beings dying before my eyes.

And the next morning at daybreak, every last cook, clerk or MP in the 456th Bomb Group was rousted out of his bed at dawn and set to join one of the wobbly lines of searchers that trudged across the earth under where the explosions had been, looking for a head, a thumb, an ear, a boot with something that once had contained a living human’s foot, to turn over to the graves registration squadrons to try their luck at identification.

That’s what I saw that first night with the 456th. There were ten men, from pilot to tailgunner, in each of those five blown-up bombers, but there were no parachutes and no survivors.

Oh, I was in the war all right. I just wasn’t allowed to do any fighting.

 
To be continued.

 
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