Category Archives: The Good War

The Pencil Today:


“I love America more than any other country in this world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” — James Baldwin


I didn’t want to make a big deal of this yesterday mainly because I painted a less-than flattering portrait of the American Dream — on the Fourth of July, no less.

I didn’t want it to appear as though I were piling on.

It strikes me, though, that the vast majority of people we celebrate on the anniversary of this holy land’s birth seem to be soldiers.

Military Vehicles In A Fourth Of July Parade

Several of my most loyal readers are proud former soldiers so I don’t mean to insult them. One was in the regular Army and served in Iraq. Another was a Marine officer. Others served in the National Guard and the reserves. Much as I hate to admit it, there’s a need for people who are willing to go out and kill other people for the sake of the country. I’m glad there are plenty of people who can do that; I know I couldn’t have.

I’d have refused induction, deserted, or been thrown in the brig had I been drafted during the Vietnam era.

One of the most heroic acts in American history, I feel, was the stance Muhammad Ali took when he got his “Greetings” letter from the Selective Service System. He chucked his lucrative career as a world champion boxer, reported to his induction center, and refused to say “Here” when his name was called.

Muhammad Ali After He Refused Induction Into the Army

He explained: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. They never called me nigger.” Later he said, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from my home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

My own reasons for not wanting to fire deadly weapons at the Vietnamese included my refusal to participate in what I knew to be an arrogant, wrong-headed war, one that could only have been waged by a people who felt superior to all the other peoples on this weird, weird planet. That and the fact that I believe it is a superlative accomplishment to go through this mad life without killing, maiming, or otherwise injuring another human.

Sometimes, sure, there’s a need to kill another. Studs Terkel had the right idea when he entitled his oral history of Word War II, “The Good War.”

Somebody Had To Clobber These Dopes

You’ll note that there wasn’t as broad an epidemic of mental illness among the veterans of that war. Certainly the people who had to blow the brains out of Nazis and Japanese suffered emotionally and psychologically. But so many of the veterans of Vietnam, Iraq I & II, and Afghanistan have suffered profound emotional torture upon their return to this country.

Why? Perhaps because World War II veterans understood that they were fighting for a righteous cause. That can go a long way toward ameliorating one’s psychic fallout after participating in the brutality of war.

World War II vets could say to themselves, “I had to kill bad guys.”

What can the veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom say to console him or herself?


So, I’m not unmindful of the role the armed services have played in the existence of these United States.

On the Fourth of July, though, you can be excused for thinking the only people who have meant anything to this nation’s existence were soldiers.

Let’s not forget people who didn’t have to blow people’s brains out for the good of their country:

  • Jane Addams — Philosopher, sociologist, and settlement worker, she founded Hull House
  • Roger Baldwin — Co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union with Crystal Eastman and Walter Nelles
  • Ella Baker — Co-founder with Bayard Rustin of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which Martin Luther King, Jr. was president, she also helped organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
  • Daisy Gatson Bates — Journalist, led the effort to desegregate Little Rock schools after the US Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision

Daisy Gatson Bates

  • Philip and Daniel Berrigan — Catholic priests and radical anti-war protesters during the Vietnam Era.
  • Nellie Bly — Undercover journalist, exposed conditions for the poor and marginalized people
  • Rachel Carson — Wrote “Silent Spring,” awakening the nation to the threat of environmental pollution
  • William Sloane Coffin — President of SANE/Freeze, anti-war activist, civil rights advocate, gay rights supporter
  • Dorothea Dix — Fought for insane asylum, poorhouse, and prison reforms

Dorothea Dix

  • WEB DuBois — Co-founder of the NAACP, the first black to receive a doctorate from Harvard University, an educator, author, historian, sociologist, philosopher, and poet
  • Marian Wright Edelman — Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund and civil rights activist
  • Barbara Ehrenreich — Investigative, undercover journalist who exposes corporate and employer abuses as well as poverty conditions
  • Daniel Ellsberg — Delivered The Pentagon Papers to the New York Times
  • Matthew Gaines — A former slave, freedmen leader, and state senator, he helped establish free public schools in Texas
  • William Lloyd Garrison — Abolitionist, advocated women’s suffrage, co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society
  • Alex Haley — Authored “Roots: The Saga of an American Family”
  • Mary Harris “Mother” Jones — Labor and community organizer, co-founded Industrial Workers of the World

“Mother” Jones

  • Seymour Hersh — Investigative journalist, exposed the My Lai Massacre as well as many government abuses
  • Hubert H. Humphrey — Forced the Democratic Party to adopt a civil rights platform at the 1948 national convention
  • Robert La Follette Sr. — Progressive senator, fought against the corporatocracy, an unapologetic liberal

“Fightin’ Bob” La Follette

  • Malcolm X — Grew to reject violence and separatism in the fight for civil rights
  • Biddy Mason — A freed slave, became a wealthy entrepreneur, donated huge amounts to charities
  • Lucretia Mott — Helped organize the Women’s Rights Convention, her home was an Underground Railroad station
  • Ralph Nader — Consumer advocate, fought against the corporatocracy
  • A. Philip Randolph — Labor leader, civil rights advocate
  • Bayard Rustin — Civil rights advocate who help organize civil disobedience protests, espoused nonviolence and pacifism, advocated for gay rights

Bayard Rustin

  • Mario Savio — Free speech advocate
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton — Advocate for women’s rights, abolitionist, universal suffragist
  • I.F. Stone — Independent investigative journalist, exposed racism within the FBI, revealed South Korean instigation of hostilities prior to the Korean War
  • Lucy Stone — Advocate for women’s rights, abolitionist
  • Sojourner Truth — Abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights
  • Howard Zinn — Iconoclastic historian, insisted on telling Americans what we’ve been rather than what we wish we were.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, games, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

◗ IU Theater AnnexChildren’s musical,  “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs,” presented by Indiana Festival Theater; 11am

Monroe County Public Library“What It Was Like,” Fairview Elementary alumni share reminiscences of the school from the 30s-70s; 4-6pm

Bear’s PlaceDavid Linard Trio; 5:30pm

David Linard

Muddy Boots Cafe, Nashville — Kara Barnard & Chuck Willis; 6pm

Third Street ParkOutdoor concert, Hungry Dog Blues Band featuring Snarlyn Carlyn Lindsay; 6:30pm

The Player’s Pub The Blue Rivieras; 6:30pm

◗ IU Wells-Metz Theatre“The Taming of the Shrew”; 7:30pm

Cafe Django“Singing to Katmandu,” fundraiser for BloomingtonKatmandu exhibit featurng local artists and musicians; 7:30pm

The Comedy AtticRyan Singer; 8pm

◗ IU Auer Hall, Simon Music Library — “Quattro Mani,” Alice Rybak and Susan Grace perform Creston, Beach, Rzewski, Bowles, Bolcom, & Hovhaness; 8pm

Alice Rybak

Serendipity Martini BarTeam trivia; 8:30pm

Max’s PlaceBluegrass, New Old Calvary; 9pm


◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibit, “I’m Too Young For This  @#!%” by John D. Shearer; through July 30th

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibit, “Urban Landscape: A Selection of Papercuts by Qiao Xiaoguang; through August 12th — Exhibit, wildlife artist William Zimmerman; through September 9th — Exhibit, David Hockney, new acquisitions; through October 21st

◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryKinsey Institute Juried Art Show; through July 21st, 11am

Monroe County History CenterPhoto exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

The Pencil Today:


“The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.” — J. Robert Oppenheimer


Steve the Dog and I enjoyed the last of the really pleasant dusks of the season at Lake Monroe Thursday.

We go to Cutright and Paynetown three or four nights of the week to watch the sunset. Well, I watch the sunset — Steve is too busy sniffing every surface he can put his snoot near.

I got a special treat Thursday when two magnificent Great Blue Herons took flight together across the water from the direction of the Paynetown ramp all the way toward Mellencamp’s manse.

The birds were so close to the surface of the water that the tips of their wings occasionally plinked up a bit of water as they flapped.

Starting Friday, though, the lake area became a madhouse, meaning similar solitary sightings will become far rarer for the next three months or so. The campgrounds were overflowing, the trailer lots were packed, the shores were lined with fisherbeings casting their lines — I think I saw one woman reel in the man who was fishing next to her.

Of course, it’s the Memorial Day weekend but the summer season seems to be getting off to a chaotic start, what with a couple of knuckleheads wrasslin’ and horsin’ around until one of them drowned.

On a more pleasant note at an apparently less perilous lake, some people have seen one or more Brown Pelicans at Patoka Lake, about 50 miles south of us. Here’s a photo taken May 12 by Amy and Noah Kearns:

A week later, a fellow named Jim Sullivan snapped some glorious shots of the bird:

Who knows? Perhaps the pelican or one of his kin will make the trek up to Lake Monroe this summer. I hope so — toward that end, Steve the Dog and I will continue to run down to Cutright and Paynetown despite all the wrasslin’ and all the people trying to snag each other with their fishing hooks. He’ll sniff, I’ll keep my eyes open.


Just in case you’re one of those Luddites who believe everything created by science and industry is the handiwork of the devil, I submit this:

The Golden Gate Bridge opened 75 years ago today.

It is not only a triumph of humankind’s engineering prowess but of our capacity to create art.


How about that Dario Franchitti? If I’m him, I play the lottery. He won the Indy 500 yesterday, he’s one of the most successful IndyCar drivers in the world, he’s a charming and charismatic personality whom the TV talk shows love to have on, he’s loaded, and he’s married to the scrumptious and very cool Ashley Judd.

Hi Honey, I’m Home!

Some guys, huh?


Not that I’m lacking in the luck department. Here’s the latest on The Loved One. We purchased our first riding mower the other week.

We let it sit in the garage for a while, mainly because we were afraid to touch it. But by and by the lawn started looking rather rainforest-y so T-Lo gave the word, Let’s crank it up.

Sure, honey, I said, at which point I turned on my other side and fell back into a delicious snooze. Next thing I knew, I heard T-Lo pushing the contraption out of the garage to the driveway where she could fill its tank and try to turn the engine over.

Our New Hot Rod

I hauled myself up off the sofa and went to help, which is code for watching her do the work. She eventually dragged me into the process, though, and between the two of us we had the thing running within a half hour.

Okay, I said, it works. Let’s put it away now.

T-Lo had other ideas, though. She began mowing the front lawn with a demonic look on her face. Within minutes, she was handling the thing the way Dario Franchitti wheels his IndyCar around the Brickyard.

You sure you don’t want me to do it? I yelled over the roar of the engine. She gave me a look that implied I’d get myself bloodied if I tried to get her off it.

Now our lawn is the envy of the neighborhood. BTW: I was fast asleep again before T-Lo was finished.


Memorial Day. All the radio and TV stations as well as the newspapers and websites are chock full of stories about how wonderful we are because men have been willing to die for our holy land.

When I was a kid, I drank that brand of Kool-Aid. It was easier to believe it all then. The fellows who fought in what Studs Terkel dubbed the Good War, were still around, many of them in the latter parts of their prime. My own daddy-o was drafted in 1945 and was just about to get an all-expenses paid trip to the South Pacific when the Army Air Corps dropped the Fat Man on Hiroshima. He was lucky.

A Hundred Thousand Died So I Could Be Conceived

Memorial Day was a celebration of brave humans who sacrificed their lives so Fascists and Nazis and Imperialists wouldn’t take over the Earth.

Since then, though, it is these Great United States, Inc. that has become the empire. Thankfully, we’re not Fascists or Nazis despite what some overwrought drama junkies care to believe. Still, we often bully our way from one end of the globe to the other.

Korea, Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Grenada, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan — we’ve been racking up the advantage miles for some 70 years now.


Some of our little adventures have been noble. Well, noble-ish. Trying to stop the warlords of Somalia from slicing up the people there, or helping put an end to the Qaddafi crime syndicate were quasi-admirable decisions. Throwing the Taliban out of Afghanistan was good. Curbing Serb and Croat bloodlust in Bosnia had to be done.

But ousting the democratically elected president of Iran for the benefit of British Petroleum? Bucking up the corrupt petit-tyrants of Vietnam? Those were the acts of the world’s biggest bully.

American men and women lost their lives in many of those follies, too. They died because we weren’t so wonderful.

The truth is every nation demands its people die for it. Wehrmacht soldiers were just as willing to offer up limb or future for the cause as some farm kid in Iowa.

If we really wanted to honor people like Miles Craig or Ron Kovic, we’d demand our elected leaders knock off the bully-boy games.

Ron Kovic At 1972 Anti-War Rally

The truth is, though, we don’t give a shit about Miles Craig or Ron Kovic. We’re more concerned with drinking the Kool-Aid.

The Pencil Today:


“O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee of the refuge of the grave and denied it.

“For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

“We ask it in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.

“Amen.” — Mark Twain, from his short story, “The War Prayer


David Jones, the recently retired director of Indiana University’s Center on Southeast Asia, shook his head  and muttered, “My god.”

He was thumbing through this morning’s paper in Soma Coffee and had come upon yet another story about that Army sergeant who apparently went out and systematically killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan.

House Of Death

This latest bit that made Jones splutter was the suggestion that the as-yet unnamed sergeant was drunk when he committed the alleged deed.

Jones railed about what he perceives to be an attempt to excuse the soldier. He also expressed a fear that the incident may lead to a web of deceit or even unlock secrets about greater atrocities.

At which point, I mused that, rather than look for individual bad guys to string up, thereby making ourselves feel better about this nasty business of war, we ought to look upon the killings as a natural result of war.

War, I said, pushes all its participants to the edge of civility and even sanity. The most fragile of those participants, I concluded, often snap.

My Lai

Were Jones an orator of my school, he would have said bullshit. Unfortunately, the vocabulary imposed upon him by academia precludes him from employing such piercing and effective terms.

Still, my hypothesis was, in Jones’s estimation, full of crap.

“Then we should have opened up the doors to all the jails that held those who participated in the Holocaust,” Jones said.

How can I argue with his point?


Studs Terkel called it “The Good War.” World War II often is seen as a battle of good versus evil.

Really, all wars are carried out so that “good” will prevail. Leaders of nations are opportunistic and duplicitous, sure, but none has ever been so brazen as to try to convince his people they should sacrifice their lives because theirs is Lucifer’s mission.

But even the defeated Germans and Japanese today acknowledge that the beating they took in the 1940s was deserved.

The United States won its war with Japan for a variety of reasons. The outcome of the war, essentially, was sealed only six months after Pearl Harbor when the US Navy decimated the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway. Had Japanese leadership not been so bloodthirsty and ambitious, that nation would have sat down with the US to negotiate a peace soon after.


But Japan didn’t. The war would rage on for another three years. Millions of lives were lost because the Japanese bosses couldn’t bear to accept reality.

It was feared that the only way to end the war would be to invade the Japanese mainland. That meant we needed a fighting force even more bloodthirsty than the Japanese had.

No one was more bloodthirsty than Curtis LeMay.


As a rising star in the Army Air Corps, LeMay earned a reputation as a demanding, innovative, brilliant, cutthroat strategist and leader. Robert McNamara described him in a report as “the finest combat commander of any service I came across in war. But he was extraordinarily belligerent, many thought brutal.”

LeMay was transferred from the European to the Pacific theater in 1944. He rose to become the commander of air operations against the Japanese mainland. In his new role, he instituted the practice of massive nighttime, low-altitude, incendiary bombing raids on Japanese cities.

Under this plan, American bombers attacked 64 Japanese metropolitan areas. Most Japanese housing was constructed of highly flammable wood and paper. The bombing raids, carried out from March through August, 1945, destroyed 40 percent of the structures in those cities.

That’s the equivalent of an enemy destroying almost half the land area of every US city ranked by population from New York to Anchorage, Alaska. One raid took place on March 10th over Tokyo. The ensuing firestorm killed 100,000 civilians and destroyed 250,000 buildings. Estimates of the number of civilians killed in all the raids range from a quarter to a half a million. Some five million Japanese were made homeless.

The Day After

Another aspect of LeMay’s strategy was called Operation Starvation, aimed at disrupting Japan’s food distribution channels. Its name alone says all you need to know about it.

LeMay himself was quoted as saying he would have been tried as a war criminal had the US lost the war.

Then the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two attacks served as exclamation points for America’s argument that Japan should surrender unconditionally. The war ended six days after Nagasaki.


The Good War.

Again, even the Japanese today agree that the good guys won.

Curtis LeMay, therefore, was one of the good guys.



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