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#986 – Dick Bernard: Learning on a Beautiful Spring Day at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

PRE-NOTES: 1. Auschwitz-Birkenau, air photo and description: Auschwitz-Birkenau001
2. Recollections of a GI who visits Dachau shortly after liberation in 1945 are at the end of this post.

(click on photos to enlarge them)

A quiet walk on a beautiful day May 4, 2000.   Approaching the entrance to Birkenau death camp, Poland.

A quiet walk on a beautiful day May 4, 2000. Approaching the entrance to Birkenau death camp, Poland.

January 27, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp near Oswiecim, Poland. This day, 70 years ago, marks the beginning of the end of WWII, the deadliest war in world history, in which near 60,000,000 people died, about 3% of the world population.

Near 6,000,000 of these deaths were Jews, over half the world Jewish population at the time. One in six of the Jews who died in WWII, died at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

May 4, 2000, my 60th birthday, was spent at Auschwitz-Birkenau with a group of about 40 Christians and Jews from Temple Israel and Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis MN.

It was a beautiful spring day.

I suspect there were many such beautiful (weather) days at this horrid place during its operation 1940-45, but the business of this camp, which opened the same month and year that I was born, was death, pure and simple.

At Auschwitz, the victims were largely Polish political prisoners; at Birkenau, the victims were Jews.

Our Pilgrimage was a profound one. Earlier we had visited Plaszow (suburban Krakow, subject of the movie, Schindler’s List), Terezin, Prague. And spent a day at Tabor, a Czech town whose Jewish population was obliterated in the Holocaust, but whose Torah was saved and had become part of Temple Israel in Minneapolis.

May 4, we began our visit at Auschwitz. Then we walked to Birkenau, along the very same railroad tracks which brought box cars full of victims to the rail head within the camp (photo above). Men, Women and Children whose destination was the brutally efficient ovens.

Birkenau May 4, 2000 by Matt Smith

Birkenau May 4, 2000 by Matt Smith

Birkenau May 4, 2000, by Matt Smith

Birkenau May 4, 2000, by Matt Smith

The sole function of this awful place was to kill people, mostly Jews, as efficiently as possible.

It was an experience burned into one’s very soul.

If had lunch that day, I don’t remember it.

On our day, the sun was shining, temperature about perfect, the grass green, leaves were on the trees, birds chirping….

We walked mostly in silence in this horrible place; often the sound of our feet the only human sound.

One of our fellow Pilgrims, Len Kennen of Temple Israel, later assembled a photo gallery of what we saw not only at Auschwitz and Birkenau, as well as from other sites of the Holocaust we had visited. Len’s photo galleries, added with his permission, are accessible here and here. Click on any photo to enlarge it. (Photos from the other sites are accessible here.)

As our day closed, the group gathered for a memorial service and candles were lit in memory of those whose lives ended here.

Earlier in the day, at the entrance to the first of the horrific exhibit buildings at Auschwitz, we saw, posted, with emphasis, the oft-noted quotation of George Santayana:

“Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it”

We arrived home in Minnesota emotionally and physically exhausted a few days later, and after a period of several months of reunion and passion, building on what we had experienced, our lives cycled back to normal – a usual pattern after such high (or low) experiences.

Then, little more than a year later came 9-11-01. I suspect we reacted, individually, and continue to react, in different ways. We’ve never talked about that, as a group.

What would we say?

Today, 15 years later, the memories of the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau remain vivid.

But on this day of remembrance, and in all days, we humans are well advised to remind ourselves of what we, ourselves, are capable of, for good, and for evil.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is a powerful reminder; 9-11 as well….

A memorial service between the ovens....

Ben and the Memorial Candles within Birkenau

Ben and the Memorial Candles within Birkenau

Group Reflections at Birkenau May 4, 2000: Auschwitz May 4 2000 001

Directly related: North Dakota GI Omer Lemire was one of the first to visit Dachau after its mid-April, 1945 liberation. The experience affected him the rest of his life.

Here are his memories of that visit: Omer Lemire at Dachau001

#983 – Dick Bernard: Martin Luther King Day 2015: See “Selma”, and Read “Why We Can’t Wait”….

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States. The Day was first implemented in 1986; first recognized by all States in 2000. This years MLK Day is one of the most significant in the days history, in my opinion.

Yesterday I went to the film “Selma” about the events surrounding March 25, 1965, and the ultimate passing of the Voting Rights Act later that same summer*.

The film is powerful and moving. I would urge attendance.

Today the very Right to Vote is under serious attack in many places in our country.

I’m an old geography major, so I always seek some geographic context. Here is a map of Alabama from my 1960 Life World Atlas: Alabama as of 1960001. Here’s the more specific location:

(click to enlarge)

Selma Alabama is about 60 miles west of Montgomery, the capital of Alabama

Selma Alabama is about 30 miles west of Montgomery, the capital of Alabama

At the time of the 1965 march, Selma was on the very bottom of my list of priorities. My wife, 22 years old, was desperately ill, and two months after March 25, she and I were making the long trip from Elgin ND to Minneapolis where she was admitted to the University of Minnesota Hospital for a needed kidney transplant.

She died two months later.

The film, which opens with King receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, has been roundly criticized about its interpretation of then-President Lyndon Johnsons actions at the time of the voting rights act. At the same time, it has been suggested that the criticism has been motivated more by things like jockeying for position for Oscar nominations, than actual criticism of historical facts.

Actually watching the film, I think the general picture of that period in history is quite accurately portrayed, including its portrayal of Lyndon Johnson.

About a year before the events of Selma, and right after the assassination of President Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963), Martin Luther King Jr., then 34 years old, published a fascinating book, still available, called Why We Can’t Wait, recounting the incredible year of 1963. In this book, which includes the famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail, the final chapter assesses in brief but fascinating fashion Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower and Johnson.

I consider the book a must read for anyone hoping to understand the times of MLK. It is written in King’s own words, about the who’s and the what’s, just after the actions of 1963 had taken place.

There is one comment by Johnson in the film which wraps it up for me:

MLK is making his demand for Voting Rights for Negroes, and Johnson angrily asks King to understand the difference between advocating for a single issue, in this case, voting rights, versus the problem any President has, in juggling multiple issues, dealing with endless enemies and friends with differing and often conflicting priorities.

Of course, King also had enemies in high places: As most know, one of King’s major arch-enemies back in the day was J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful head of the FBI. The film uses, powerfully, entries from FBI logs about wiretapping King, then using these in efforts to destroy him.

It has long been clear to me that Johnson supported Kings ultimate goal of voting rights for all citizens, but, as Kennedy had before him, Johnson counseled King that a President, any President, cannot simply wave a magic wand and get his way with the often rebellious rabble called the Congress, and Governors, and all sorts of officials and individual citizens everywhere.

Direct, organized, cooperative citizen action is essential to success in any initiative.

That word “cooperative” is a tough one. King experienced those tensions too.

King, at least in my reading, got it, about how to succeed. The movement was not about him. He was an idealist, with a very practical sense about him. He knew his key ally, President Johnson, couldn’t do things exactly as demanded, on a set schedule, and that he had to mold the people into some kind of a working coalition needed to do the critical work, like enduring the danger of walking across the Edmund Pettus bridge in March, 1965.

Making change is very difficult. King, even with his allies sometimes in conflict with him, and with each other; and Lyndon Johnson, with an even more enormous quandary with everyone he had to deal with, accomplished something miraculous in 1965. About the time LBJ signed the bill, he was reported to have said that he knew this singular action would lose the south for the Democrats for a very long period of time, and he was right.

In my opinion, the Old South will not rise again, 50 years of some freedom and some justice have made a huge difference, though much work and diligence is required.

Some years ago I almost literally stumbled across another writing about the difficulty of political decision making, as recounted by two Peace and Justice leaders. They had met with former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s Vice-President, and here is how they recounted Humphrey talking about practical politics.

Do watch the film, and read the book.

But most importantly, not only increase your own actions, but be more aware of the need to compromise and to be satisfied with incremental change rather than a too common “all or nothing” approach to negotiations.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act is in peril; the difference between now and 50 years ago is that the people who can solve the problem are no longer disenfranchised, and simply need to be certain to register and to vote.

* – An outstanding photo chronicle of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement is the 1995 book He Had a Dream, by Minnesotan Flip Schulke. Copies of the book remain available. I have the autographed book, from the 1998 Martin Luther King Day Breakfast in Minneapolis where Mr. Schulke spoke. Pages 90-115 photo document the Selma action in 1965. Mr. Schulke was a graduate of Macalester College, met and first photographed Dr. King in 1958, and worked with him until Dr. King was murdered in Memphis April 4, 1968.

POSTCRIPT: I wrote previously about Why We Can’t Wait on Martin Luther King Day in 2013.

At the beginning of the 2013 post, ironically, I quote Fr. Pat Griffin, a retired Priest of the Diocese, who often says one or more Masses on Sunday at Basilica of St. Mary. Yesterday Fr. Griffin was again celebrant at Basilica, and this day quoted MLK as follows: “if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” This quote, from the end of a long sermon of King’s called the “Drum Major Instinct” given Feb. 4, 1968, not long before his death, became controversial because it was misquoted on the new monument to his work on the National Mall in Washington DC.

The key words left out: “If you want to say”….

Read the entirety of the sermon….

COMMENTS:
from Judy, Jan 19:
Read Bill Moyer’s comments about “Selma” He says the movie “sadly” inaccurately portrays Johnson’s role in steering the bill to passage. Johnson was extremely active behind the scenes in getting the bill passed. Though he was friends with some of those old racists from the south, he knew that the bill was politically and morally the right thing to do. Also, read Robert Caro’s book on Johnson and a book I’m reading now, “An idea whose time has come,” by Todd Purdum.

As you know, Moyers is a wonderful liberal who worked for LBJ. He recommends the film even with its flaws because it is a powerful reminder of what we have accomplished and what we still have to accomplish.

from Jermitt: Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts on MLK. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Dr. King during a Luther League Convention in Miami in 1960. His presence in the room along was overpowering. When he spoke, He had everyone’s attention. it really made the room totally silent with respect for what he was saying. The children I chaperoned at that conventions and I still talk about it when I see them.

from Jeff: My argument with the director, who I found a very creative intelligent person… she brought up the issue that many people had no correct historical understanding of the Civil Rights movement, many had misinformed ideas on several things.

Then when asked about artistic license in regard to the issue of deliberate factual errors in her own movie she completely pushed it aside.

This person sees a glaring inconsistency.

from Andrena: I also saw ‘Selma’ over the weekend. It was a powerful movie and I was disappointed the actor who portrayed Dr. King wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

from Lydia:Perfect for this day. Re-read your previous MLK essay sourced back in this one—thank you for the shout out :-)

We had a small but enthusiastic group for the screening of KING: MAN OF PEACE IN A TIME OF WAR yesterday. Mae Had a rousing discussion (which was recorded by a fellow KFAIer who I hope to work with further) that will be put on the air in near future. Sister Brigit MacDonald was there and of course was a welcome addition as well as Vets for Peace prez Dave Logsden (& out of town VFP member visiting Dave). Plus some new people I didn’t know! (Catalyst listeners).

I’ll certainly share your MLK pieces today.

#982 – Dick Bernard: A Prairie Home Companion

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

(click to enlarge photos)

Garrison Keillor, Jan 17, 2015

Garrison Keillor, Jan 17, 2015

It had been a long time since I last actually attended a performance of Garrison Keillor‘s long-running “A Prairie Home Companion“. Tonight was the night, and a wonderful night it was, with a distinctly blue grass tilt, featuring the Gibson Brothers, Heather Masse, (one of the very popular Wailin’ Jennys), and last, but certainly not least, Joe Newberry.

Here is the program booklet for tonights show, the 1,414th in a series that began in 1974: A Prairie Home Companion001. (The program is rebroadcast nationally from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the Sunday following the show. Check here for details.)

I first saw PHC in 1977, the year before the show moved to its long-standing venue, now the Fitzgerald, but for most of its life going under the name World Theatre of St. Paul.

In 1978, the show moved into the ancient World Theatre, and Garrison mused about that move in a story. Among other fascinating facts, PHC music director Rich Dworsky’s father owned the World Theatre at the time PHC moved in, and the first rent was $80 per weekend. I attended some early shows there, and the theatre was down in its heels at the time. Of course, today it is an elegant venue.

My son-in-law, who came along and greatly enjoyed the program, observed that there were many of we gray-hairs in the audience, and of course that is true. Garrison, who would have been about 32 when the first show went on the air, is now 40 years older, as are great numbers of his early fans. Indeed, centerpiece of the stage set (see photos) is the facade of an old country farm house (on whose porch about a half dozen audience members sat to watch the program last night.

At some point Garrison (and all of us) will move on, and one can only hope that there will be a viable alternative to carry on the tradition of remembering the olden days before things like Facebook and other forms of instant communication and gratification.

My personal tastes in music have always been quite varied, and tonight was the night for some distinctive sounds, primarily of the bluegrass family. It was a very fun evening, added to by the fact that there was a post-show second concert featuring the above musicians and, of course, Garrison Keillor himself.

In the bonus post-show show, “January Jump Start”, I had the opportunity to take a few snapshots, just to give a little life to the performers for the evening. Otherwise, very often YouTube has video of the various performers in action.

They’re all worth a look and listen!

Heather Masse and Garrison Keillor Jan 17, 2015

Heather Masse and Garrison Keillor Jan 17, 2015

Joe Newberry (guitar) with Richard Kriehn Jan 17 2015

Joe Newberry (guitar) with Richard Kriehn Jan 17 2015

The Gibson Brothers (3rd and 4th from left) with Joe Newberry and ensemble Jan 17, 2015

The Gibson Brothers (3rd and 4th from left) with Joe Newberry and ensemble Jan 17, 2015

POSTSCRIPT

Between PHC and the bonus “January Jump Start” we walked the couple of blocks to St. Pauls iconic Mickey’s Diner for a quick bite.

Mickey’s never surprises. Donny had a piece of pie and coffee; for me, a side of O’Brian’s Potatoes and a coke.

Mickey’s is a direct kind of place: we had to stand and wait our turn for a seat at the counter, just across from the grill. The place was busy but well organized, and the cook and server were friendly and efficient.

Mickey’s is, as their sign says, “24/7″, and the reward for good behavior is being served.

It was a show in itself…and the food was very good!

Cookin' at Mickey's Diner, St. Paul

Cookin’ at Mickey’s Diner, St. Paul

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

#979 – Dick Bernard: The Paris Attacks. An Opportunity, Once Again, to Learn, including from the Past.

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

In the annals of humanity there have always been unspeakable tragedies perpetrated by human beings, one or more against others. The increasing sophistication of instant world-wide communication about everything, including atrocities, may be a blessing, but can be a curse as well. We have to be wary of being manipulated; to slow down, and try to make calm, reasoned assessments of apparent realities.

(click to enlarge)

Je Suis Charlie, Paris France Demonstration, January 11, 2015, photo by Christine Loys

Je Suis Charlie, Paris France Demonstration, January 11, 2015, photo by Christine Loys

Thursday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune main front page story caught my interest: “TERROR SHOCKS PARIS” with two subheadlines, “IN EUROPE Attack is likely to fuel anti-Islamic sentiment” and “IN PARIS 1 gunman surrenders, huge hunt for 2 more”. Most of the content of five of the twelve pages of the world news section were dominated by the story about the killing of a dozen people by two brothers and a third person.

The Saturday paper brought news of a second attack in suburban Paris, with lots more printers ink.

Twenty people (including the killers) lay dead in the Paris metropolitan area of over 12 million people. Paris is one of Europe’s largest cities, and truly one of the worlds most ancient and celebrated cities.

I wrote an e-note of support to a good friend of mine, Christine Loys, whose home is Paris. Her reply*, printed below with her permission, does not need editorial comment except that she asked me a question which I have answered.

There is nothing remarkable about the tragedy in Paris this week. Examples of similar past tragedies are abundant: for instance, two years ago, 20 school children and 6 adults in a school in a prosperous suburban community were killed by a crazed gunman (Newtown CT). In 1999, 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton CO were killed by two fellow students, who subsequently killed themselves as well.

A complete list would go on and on and on.

The trial of the Boston Marathon bomber is now beginning….

Each time such crises happen, a great deal of attention is paid to them as a spotlight shines on them; then life goes on, until the next tragedy, which will certainly happen somewhere, for some reason.

Each time much effort is exerted to attach meaning to the madness – whose fault is it, who can be blamed. What is worse, as is happening now, is that the tragedy is used as an opportunity to organize around one’s particular belief.

But in the end, we usually seem to learn little or nothing from these truly isolated tragic episodes, and we could learn so much. The overwhelming vast majority of us are good people, who can make the needed changes, where we live. But mostly we don’t, and won’t, for reasons each of us know within ourselves (“I can’t do anything about it….”, etc. etc.)

Over 40 years ago, at a workshop I attended, the instructor distributed a handout which I have always found instructive at times such as this. It was called Crisis Sequence, and the original version appears below (click to enlarge).

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

Time after time in those 42 years I’ve seen the applicability of this chart to any number of Crisis situations, the most dramatic being 9-11-01. As we so well know, especially from 9-11-01, such Crises can be exploited easily, and take on a new life of their own.

Almost every American approved the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001: Afghan War Oct 2001001. History everywhere is full of examples of excessive response to such tragedies.

In my opinion, those who are shocked by what happened in Paris this week (which is all of us) should spend time learning from Paris, and all the other crises we have experienced during the “media age” in which we are immersed. There are many lessons we can learn, and they are immersed in that old handout reprinted above. Then, as Gandhi said, we must become the change we wish to see in the world.

* Here’s Christine’s comment from Paris, received earlier today:
“[Y]ou will be surprised that ALL of us Parisians were deeply traumatized first by the assassination of the artists from Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday morning (they intended to kill freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of talking…no less) and then by the hostages double drama that took place 48h later on Friday that ended up with 20 people killed !!! My friends and my family, at work or from home could not do anything else than follow the events on television or radio, live…we all were talking on the phone to each other at the same time. It has been a horror time with much fear… Children did not go to school when possible and people did not work or move from home when it was possible not to. I went to do some grocery shopping close by on Thursday afternoon and there was NOBODY in the streets of Paris… I felt like in a horror movie, quite frightened by the silence. Sales people in the cloth shops were expecting a huge amount of people for the sales, (it was the first day, usually the most crowded) but there was no customers….. Unbelievable….

Now all is over but it remains a very uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty, that it could start again anytime anywhere….

The authorities say that we should not enter into psychosis but it affects all of us in every way…. The trouble is that at the same time they say that they know it is going to happen again soon and we need to be prepared….. How would you react?”

Christine asks, “How would you react?”

I’m not sure how I’d be reacting now, if Parisian, and in Paris. It is doubtless a very traumatic happening, threatening personal safety.

I do know that my son and family lived one mile from Columbine High School when the student gunmen attacked the high school in 1999, and I was certainly concerned about my granddaughter who was then 13. A week later I was with them walking up “Cross Hill” above Columbine. So I guess I joined a “demonstration” of sort, out of grief for and solidarity with the victims and their families and community. (Originally, someone had put up 15 crosses on Cross Hill, including the killers, but someone else had torn down those two crosses. It was unfortunate that the two crosses were removed.)

Christine’s words remind me of American reaction to 9-11-01, beginning immediately after 9-11-01, I felt we Americans had grossly overreacted in our response to the tragedy of 9-11, and our collective grief was exploited and manipulated, much to our detriment (first the Afghanistan, then Iraq, Wars the prime, but by no means only, examples). In effect, a large tragedy (9-11) was magnified and we and others have suffered from the effects of misuse of this tragedy ever since.

In fact, I wrote about 9-11 then, immediately after the attacks: Post 9-11-01001. Now, more than 13 years after 9-11, I would say the same things I did then.

POSTSCRIPT Jan. 11, 2014: Perhaps my bottom-line worry for France and all of us remains as I expressed in two very short essays about the U.S. after the tragedy of 9-11-01. They remain accessible here.

POSTNOTE Jan. 12, 2014: My favorite blogger, Alan of Just Above Sunset, who I’ve always gathered considers Paris a favored city, summarizes world views on the situation, here.

COMMENT
from Stephanie, Jan 12:
It has been a horrible time indeed for the French and for the entire world. What is the answer? I don’t know.

Close friends of mine live in Montrouge, where the policewoman was killed. I spoke with them last week. They had gone to pick up their grandchildren at school, which they do every Thursday. The kids, ages 6, 8 and 9, were hyper…their teachers had told them all about what was happening, even that Kalishnokovs were the weapons of choice. Needless to say the grandparents, both retired educators, were not pleased.

My dear friend Marie-Christine was at Porte de Vincennes, picking up her granddaughter at preschool just prior to the massacre at the grocery store.

The sister-in-law of another friend lives at Porte de Vincennes and shops often at the take-out shop next to the grocery store.

I wrote to a cousin who lives in a Paris suburb not far from Montrouge. She replied
“En effet ces événements nous ont tous choqués, mais ce qui est rassurant est que les français se sont montrés très solidaires dans leur réaction ainsi que de nombreux pays étrangers. ”
(These events have shocked us all, but we are comforted by the fact that the French are very united in their reaction, as well as so many foreign countries.)

When I was in Paris in August I saw a man on the street who was wearing a yarmulke. He was about 40 years old. I asked if he felt in any danger or if he felt his head covering made him a target. He said no. He said he usually doesn’t wear a yarmulke but was on his way home from Saturday morning prayers. I have made it a habit to try talking to people in France who are identifiably Jewish, either because they are wearing a yarmulke or a Star of David. None has expressed a desire to leave their home in France to move to a foreign country. Some have said they feel that anti-Semitism is on the rise. I guess I think that in the US there is a rise in intolerance and anti-Semitism, so this is not a surprise to me.

I don’t have any confidence on our intelligence community or, for that matter, that of any country. Radicals are going to continue…when you don’t fear death and think you are right you can and will do anything. I have plans to go to Australia Feb. 2-26. My family doesn’t want me to go…but I will. Who would have thought that 9/11 would have happened? Or the bombing in the Canadian Parliament? Or in a café in Sydney? Is there any safe place? I don’t think so.

Sorry this is not a happier e-mail.

from Emmett, Jan. 14: Very interesting write-up and perspective. I try not get too wrapped up in this stuff. I can’t remember if I have told you that I am attempting a book on religion, but I am finding the greatest challenge is dealing with the “H” word, Hypocrisy, which runs rampant around the world. We have Israel and other countries represented in the marching in that parade in France who are known to have assassinated journalists. And just a few months ago, Israel bombed a Christian Church and three Mosques and a UN shelter in Gaza, killing around 500 Christians and another 1500 Islamic Palestinians, 700 of total being children. And all that after being told over a dozen times by the UN that these facilities were designated shelters for the besieged Palestinian civilians. I didn’t remember any parade of world leaders after that tragedy. So I just go about my life focusing of my charity work, my attempts at writing a book, and my scientific presentations to inspire students to pursue science and pretty much ignoring all the propaganda that is broadcast on the news channels.

Final Postnote, Jan 15: I try to keep tabs on Paris from afar. It appears that, so far, the general French reaction, public, government and otherwise, is similar to what happened in the United States in 2001. The Crisis Sequence model (above) holds true, as one would expect it would. We are all people, after all, in whatever country we live, whatever our ethnicity, language, nationality….

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail there, and war fever doesn’t infect them, as it did the U.S. back then. There are no winners in such angry reaction. Especially today, who do we kill to get revenge?

The “War on Terror” as envisioned by U.S. government leaders in and even before created a monster for all of us.

It began with the stupid definition of “Axis of Evil” by the Bush administration, and continued with a so-called “Coalition of the Willing”, where there was a defined enemy, a country, specifically a leader of the country, to be taken out.

Back then, France was derided because its leaders weren’t sufficiently enthusiastic about going to war. The U.S. House of Representative passed a stupid motion renaming French Fries in their cafeteria as “Freedom Fries” (I wonder if they’re still so named.)

We all know how the War on Terror has turned out. Rather than erradicating “terror”, we have institutionalized it; we have empowered rather than eliminated its proponents.

Now any lunatic, anywhere, can disrupt and confuse entire populations, such as the killers in France did last Wednesday and Friday. A country goes paralyzed, as ours was in the fall of 2001 (and in too many ways still is). At some level, I’d guess, we all know what we did to ourselves by our national response to 9-11. Humans being humans, we won’t admit it.

There is need for change, and it won’t happen at the highest political levels, in my opinion. It is individuals and small groups in the countries of the world who will change things, not a few Presidents standing in solidarity for photo opportunities; or idealogues of all stripes attempting to fashion the crisis to fit their own ideology. Even in these few days following the attacks in France, there have been endless examples of this manipulating of a reality to fit a narrative.

After September 11, 2001, we Americans had a choice of two forks in the road ahead: to make things better, or make things worse. We chose the wrong alternative, in my opinion, attempting to beat the rest of the world into submission by our awesome power (which turned out to be not so powerful). Too many of us continue to deny reality: our feeling of superiority masks the reality of our own self-imposed impotence. We are part of the world, not apart from it.

(I keep thinking about one factor that contributed mightily to our governments course of action after 9-11. A few years earlier a bunch of influential people developed what they called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), in which the U.S. would dominate the world. In my opinion, PNAC was used to implement our response to 9-11. 9-11-01, however it came to happen, was very useful to powerful American political leaders at the time.)

The website for PNAC has been suspended, which is why I link to Wikipedia, but the Wikipedia entry gives a good history, including the listing of the influential framers of the document: people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, key architects of the War on Terror. It is useful to relook at this piece of our own history. A good short summary of this time in history can be seen in the latter half of my January 1, 2015, post on the United Nations. See Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg’s comments headed Plan C, and note especially Plan B.

Personally, I have one relic of 9-11-2011 in my office, and a big file of materials kept from the time of September 11.

The relic is a drawing of an American flag made by a 5th grade boy, Lester, in a suburban Minneapolis school in early October, 2001, during the time that teachers everywhere were helping their students talk about what happened on September 11 through all of the means that teachers use.

Here’s that flag Lester drew that day. He would now be 19 or 20. I wonder what has happened to him since….

Let’s work for a better world. It will take each of us to accomplish that better world.

Student drawing of an American flag, early October, 2001, suburban Minneapolis MN

Student drawing of an American flag, early October, 2001, suburban Minneapolis MN

Paris Sunday Jan 11 2015 courtesy of Christine Loys.

Paris Sunday Jan 11 2015 courtesy of Christine Loys.

President Obama to France? Had President Obama gone to France, he would have been criticized; had he sent someone else to France, he would have been criticized. Personally, I saw no reason why he would go to France; indeed, I found it to be respectful of the French themselves. There was no need for our President to be there. I don’t recall world leaders coming to the U.S. at the time of 9-11-01 even though many countries lost citizens in the Twin Towers in particular. In fact, at the time, my guess is that the U.S. administration would have preferred to have no one sharing the stage with them. After all, as pointed out above, we were led by people who wanted the U.S. to be the sole super-power in the world. Personally, I like the commentary of President Carter on the topic earlier today. You can read/watch it here.

#977 – Dick Bernard: 2015: A Good Year To Remind Ourselves That We Are Part Of A Community of Nations.

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Continuing calendar/timeline for 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II: Community of Nations 2015 calendar April edition. This calendar will be updated on or about the first of every month in 2015. Your additions are solicited.

NOTE: Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg has separately written his own opinion about the history of the United Nations System and ideas for reform. His remarks are included, with his permission, at the end of this post.

Most Recent Related Posts, since January 1, 2015: (earlier posts are found at the end of this page, following Joe Schwartzbergs commentary.)
6. Mar. 6, 7, 8, 9, 2015: Series of posts about the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, Minneapolis MN.
Ten Videos featuring major speakers at the 2015 Forum can be accessed here. In particular, I recommend President Jimmy Carter’s Mar. 6, 2015 address, found at this link.

Remaining posts for March, 2015, primarily relate to the community of nations theme:
March
10 Thoughts at 1000
13 When Stupidity Triumphs
18 Netanyahu’s “Victory”
20 A Remarkable Evening remembering Vietnam War
21 Visiting Selma AL Mar 7, 2015
29 Esperanto
31 Negotiations with Iran

(click to enlarge)

UN vehicle in Hinche (Ench) Haiti, March 2006

UN vehicle in Hinche (Ench) Haiti, March 2006

The United Nations turns 70 this year, less than two months after the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.

WWII followed WWI by about 20 years.

The dreaded WWIII, which could easily destroy us, has not happened and I have to believe the very existence of the United Nations is a large part of the reason our human species has survived in spite of dire threats, and in fact will continue to survive as we cobble together ways to get along.

Most of us know little about the United Nations (UN), which is a shame. My personal learning curve has been recent. There is a great deal to learn.

To some, the UN is an enemy entity, even though it is not a country, and its structure mitigates against making imperialistic moves, if indeed its actors would even have an interest in such.

Perhaps it is because the UN was a coalition of partners which had a logical structure at the time of its formation: five powers have always dominated it, each possessing veto power. They are the countries which won WWII: United States, England, France, Soviet Union and China. There were 46 other founding nations in 1945; now there are 193. (Japan was admitted in 1956; Germany in 1973.)

I have noted that change happens within the UN system, though at a glacial pace. This is to be expected. Some observers wish the UN system would cease to exist; others expect miracles from it, including instant change. Given the enormity of its mission, it is a marvel it exists at all!

But the UN and its numerous associated agencies, like World Health Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, UNICEF, and on and on, contribute markedly and quietly to helping our diverse world not only survive, but thrive.

A key question, for me, is “where would the world be in 2015 without a United Nations?” I think we would rue the day the UN disappeared.

A new resource I highly recommend to those wishing to learn about the UN: Dr. Joseph Schwartzbergs 2013 book “Transforming the United Nations System, Designs for a Workable World”: Schwartzberg 2013001 (cover illustrations below). This 364 page academic work is full of data, history, and ideas for “transforming” the UN and it is a book that is getting broad attention within the UN community of interest. Book is available on-ine from Amazon,Barnes and Noble, or the Brookings Institution. Inquiries and comment about the book to Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg at his University of Minnesota office schwa004ATtcDOTumnDOTedu.

Schwartzberg book001

Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg, December 4, 2014

Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg, December 4, 2014

POST NOTE #1: Some personal thoughts about the UN (yours are solicited as well).

My direct contact with the United Nations is very limited. Until 2006, the only direct exposure to the UN was a visit to New York City in 1972, part of which included a stop, as a tourist, at UN headquarters.

In March, 2006, we visited the interior of Haiti. It was my second visit, and a time of political uncertainty in the country. In the interior city of Hinche (Ench), we met and visited with a retired police officer from Quebec who was on assignment with the UN to help build a more effective local police force there. He saw his duty as a needed service.

Later we saw a UN vehicle on a Hinche street (a photo leads this post). The photo speaks for itself. I don’t know who was with the vehicle; at any rate, it was calm in the streets surrounding.

A few days later, enroute back to Port-au-Prince and in the town of Mirabelaise, one of our vehicles stopped to repair a flat tire. We took a break, and we met by coincidence a squad of UN Peacekeepers from Nepal. We had a very brief chance to visit with some of them, and I took this two minute piece of video of our interaction. There was nothing intimidating in our interaction or what we saw in the park. The voice-over you hear is mine. It was simply a spontaneous piece of history that I filmed – a different look at the stereotype of UN Peacekeeper. (Here is the same video, without crawl script.)

In this amateur video, you can get a sense of the humanity of the “peacekeepers”; young soldiers as you’d find anywhere in the world. That they are Nepalese came to be notorious a few years later when their encampment just east of the town, was identified as the probable source of the cholera epidemic that devastated Haiti in 2010. Instantly, that incident became another piece of evidence, to some, that the United Nations was no good.

But that chance encounter with those few young Nepalese has had a durable and positive impact on me.

POST NOTE #2: At the end December, 2012, I stumbled across a local incident which attracted my interest. The Commissioners of Hennepin County (Minneapolis and area) had taken down a United Nations flag which had flown on the plaza for 44 years. This story continues – you can read it here – and is fascinating mostly in the active interest in keeping secret who it was who pushed the Commissioners to take their unanimous action in March of 2012.

More recently, I noted that a flag I thought had been a UN Flag had been taken down at a major Edina Hospital. I inquired about it, and was informed that it wasn’t a UN flag, but rather the flag of the World Health Organization (WHO) (which is one of those UN agencies, now independent, whose flag essentially mirrors that of the United Nations flag on which it is based.

Again, someone wanted that flag down, someone probably threatened by its very existence there, but it is near impossible to find out the truth….

(click to enlarge, once enlarged you can further enlarge the flag and see that it is indeed the WHO flag).

Fairview Southdale Hospital Edina MN April 1, 2013

Fairview Southdale Hospital Edina MN April 1, 2013

DR. JOSEPH SCHWARTZBERG COMMENTS January 5, 2015

THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM: TIME FOR “ PLAN C”

In any given period, the international system is characterized by some minimally acceptable rules of order. These rules may be partially codified; but, to a large extent, they are tacitly understood, generally reflecting the balance of power perspectives of a small number of influential states. This essay considers systems in the period since World War II.

Plan A: Traditional Power Politics Plus a Weak United Nations System

The United Nations Charter, adopted in 1945, was not a democratic document. In the Security Council, the sole UN agency to enjoy binding powers, the so-called P5, the principal victors in World War II, were not only given permanent seats, but also the right to veto any resolution of which they disapproved. All other members reluctantly accepted this dispensation, relying for protection on their sovereign immunity from outside intervention. In theory, all states were sovereign equals. Each could do whatever it wished, no matter how immoral, within its own borders. Nor did it matter whether its actions were for the good of the planet. Nevertheless, most states behaved reasonably and the system worked well enough to help avert World War III and to provide modest benefits to needy nations.

In its early days, the UN was looked upon favorably by the United States, which, together with its allied and client states, mainly in Latin America and Western Europe, could win just about any vote in the UN General Assembly. The Soviet Union, naturally, frequently used its veto to block Western initiatives. But, as the UN expanded, mainly because of decolonization in Africa and most of Asia, the balance of power shifted. What had been a primarily East-West contest morphed into opposition between the global North and South. In the new power configuration the South won many victories, but they proved to be pyrrhic in that decisions were non-binding, unenforceable and largely ignored by powerful states. New agencies continued to be created to deal with issues of global importance, but they were typically under-funded and inadequately staffed. The United States continued to pay lip service to the importance of the UN, but we also made sure that it did not become a serious contender for global political power.

Overall, the planet continued to be wracked by political, economic and social injustice. Looming environmental dangers were ignored. Leaders and diplomats were largely oblivious to many mounting dangers and failed to recognize the sowing of the seeds of terrorism.

Plan B: An Abortive Pax Americana

With the unanticipated implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989, a seemingly promising new era dawned in world affairs. The United States emerged as the sole hegemon in a politically uni-polar world. Its capacity to lead was unprecedented. Many of our leaders, however, especially on the political right, perceived the global situation as enabling the establishment of a “New American Century,” a Pax Americana backed by worldwide acceptance of free-market capitalism and guaranteed militarily by “full spectrum dominance” (on land, sea, air, and outer space) and marked by pro-American, nominally democratic regimes on all continents. Remaining adversaries were to be hemmed in by a global network of hundreds of military bases. To be sure, it would be expensive; but it was a scenario we believed we could afford.

But there were problems. Nobody ever asked us to be the world’s policeman and political arbiter. We lacked the skill to export democracy to other lands. Most of the world did not buy into the neo-con myth that we were the “shining city on the hill” And then came 9/11! Our response was the unwinnable global War on Terrorism that has obsessed our political thinking ever since. Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations have wreaked incalculable death and devastation and drained our economy of trillions of dollars and precluded meaningful reforms in our own country and abroad. For all practical purposes, the UN was relegated to a bit and subservient part. And most of our political establishment still doesn’t get it.

Plan C: A Transformed United Nations System

All of the problems confronting our planet before 9/11 are still with us. Some, especially climate change, have become appreciably worse. Plan B isn’t working and needs to be replaced. We need truly global, not essentially unilateral decision-making. The United Nations must be transformed and strengthened. Decisions must be binding, democratically reached, accepted as legitimate, and enforceable. The global South deserves to have an appropriate voice in world affairs. Terrorism must be addressed, not by killing ever-greater numbers of presumed potential perpetrators, but by eliminating its root causes in global and local injustice. Ordinary citizens deserve to be represented in a World Parliamentary Assembly. Better ways must be found to tap the wisdom of civil society. Unilateral military adventurism must yield to duly authorized missions carried out by a competent standing peace force. The jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court must be made universal. The list goes on.

Happily, solutions are in sight. Suggesting how best to address these issues is the purpose of my most recent book, Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World. The book, published by the United Nations University Press in 2013 has been enthusiastically endorsed by numerous prominent world thinkers. You may easily order a copy on-line from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the Brookings Institution Press.

(Continuation of Related Posts)
1. Jan. 16, 2015: Global Health: The Greatest Story Rarely Told
2. Jan. 15, 2015: The Paris Attacks.
3. Jan. 27, 2015: The 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau
4. Jan. 28, 2015:: Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Day After Yesterday.
5. Mar. 3, 2015: Netanyahu at Congress, March 3

#972 – Dick Bernard: The Dinner Party

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

There are several comments to the Cuba post, including a photo montage I’ve linked at the beginning of the Cuba section. See the additions here.

(click to enlarge)

Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Thursday evening we were invited to a small dinner party at the home of our neighbor, Don. He lives across the street so the commute was short. He had invited two other friends, Arthur and Rose, who we had not met before. Of the five, we were the junior members. The oldest was 84; the youngest 70.

We’re all well into the age when reminiscing is a common thread. Don, retired from a long career from a railroad office job with the then-Great Northern, had once, in his younger years, been a guest at a dinner party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor at her home in Hollywood. He was native of what has long been called the “frogtown” neighborhood of St. Paul.

Arthur came from a farm family of five in central Minnesota. He grew up in a log cabin, literally, he said. He named a tiny town I’ve been through, and said their farm was 12 miles east. I thought – I may have said – that is really in the boonies!.

His German immigrant grandfather was a carpenter and would load his horse drawn wagon with tools, and leave for sometimes as much as two and a half months, working on building this or that somewhere in the general area. “Commuting” with horses is not easy!

All the home windows, he said, were truly home-made, none of the fancy stuff we now demand.

Rose, also from a farm family, grew up near a little town that is now a Minneapolis suburb, and worked in a factory there.

As for us, I’m a tiny town ND kid, child of school teachers; Cathy is a St. Paul east-sider whose family basically could be called a “3M family”, from the days when that corporation often became a persons career.

As one might expect, our conversation was interesting and animated and covered lots of ground. Arthur became a meatpacker across the river in South St. Paul, and when the plant closed in the late 1970s, had a fairly long career driving a Metro Transit bus, often in neighborhoods that he deemed not safe.

Our social get-together ended, and we all went home. “Merry Christmas” to all.

I checked e-mails and there were three of special note:

Good friends Ehtasham and Suhail, both writing from Pakistan, wrote about the tragic bombing that killed over 100 school children in Peshawar this week. “Killing school children for political agendas has no parallel in history. The whole nation is mourning”, one said. The other: “Though I am safe along with my family, yet the kids who have lost their lives are all mine; they are my family as well. The level of frustration is so high that the things are looking gloomy and rays of hope are looking faint. I am currently working with Plan International, which focuses on child rights and child protection, and we have initiated an internal debate on how can we ensure protection to the lives of kids in Pakistan.”

Another e-mail came from a great friend, Said, a Syrian PhD in England, fluent in French, who I’ve been fortunate to know for years. “It is much better to make friends than enemies & especially in this world of ours with vulnerable internet/communications & weapons that are readily available and devastating! I have been investigating WWI a lot since it is a sad anniversary of sorts – except for the Christmas truce [of 1914] which moves me every time I read about it – I also watched a very good French film about it. I suppose instead of the war to end all wars that was the peace to end all peace (1918-19). Well I wish you & yours a Merry Christmas & a peaceful 2015.”

Eight different people, eight different life scripts, stories, differing cultures, backgrounds, religions…but with so many common threads to share. We are one human family; the overwhelming vast majority of us good people*, each who can make a positive difference each and every day.

A hymn I like so profoundly says: “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

All Blessings at Christmas and 2015.

POSTNOTE
*
- In mid-November, I attended a workshop by Paul K. Chappell, in which he cited research that found 98% of soldiers were averse to killing other people, even in battle. This left, of course, 2% who had no such scruples, called psychopaths. The research expanded to include civilians – our own U.S. population. The same results: 98% and 2%.

In other words, anywhere there are humans, of whatever race, or creed, or nationality, or country, 98% comprise the prevailing side of humanity.

There are a lot of people in the 2% of course, and they are everywhere, but the 98% overwhelmingly have it in their power to minimize the influence of the 2%.

I asked Mr. Chappell for a citation on the source of his data: “Roy L. Swank and Walter E. Marchand, “Combat Neuroses: Development of Combat Exhaustion,.” American Medical Association: Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 1946, 244″.

#970 – Dick Bernard: Reflecting on My 1977 Christmas Letter

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

All best wishes to you and yours at this season, however you recognize it – and that can get confusing. I just came from the post office, which annually offers a large variety of Christmas and holiday themed stamps, hopefully to treat respectfully the largest number of people in this wonderfully diverse country of ours.

It occurred to me yesterday that this year is exactly half a life-time since I sent my first “home-made” Christmas card (in 1977, below). It had three panels: very simple. The sentiments I expressed then, fit today as well.

(click to enlarge)

1977 Christmas Card

1977 Christmas Card

The year was 1977, 37 years ago. Son Tom, then 13, drew the Christmas tree (we didn’t have a “real” or even artificial one that winter).

Of course, the only means of transmission then were in person, or by U.S. mail.

The “tradition” came for me to identify one particular significant event each year, and to write something about it.

The first time I went primarily to electronic transmission was well after the year 2000.

Fast forward to today.

This greeting can go anywhere/everywhere. But likely fewer people actually read it, than read that handmade card 37 years ago. Many of my own age range have never warmed to even e-mail; many more, like myself, are slow on the uptake with the already old-fashioned Facebook, and more recent Twitter, and the other shorthand ways of “touching base”.

We’re still in a canyon of non-communication*. In the midst of infinite means of communicating, everywhere, any time, instantly, something like this won’t reach people who don’t do internet; many on internet don’t do e-mail, or are so glutted with “communication” that a survival skill is the delete key…and sometimes worthy communication is missed. It’s a trying time, in so many ways.

I’ll be long gone when the next 37 year mark is reached. I wonder how people will be communicating then, if there are even people left to communicate with (a scary thought, but worth contemplating – we are the difference between having a future, or not).

For now, though, have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

And if you wish, here are recent blog posts that might speak to you in some way or other: “St. Nicholas“; “The Wallet“; “The Retreat“; “The Dinner Party”

* – This came home to me in a handwritten note with a Christmas card from long-time friend Joanne, received Dec 15: “I was going to e-mail you this Christmas letter as I know you prefer that but no e-mail address for you! Please send it and I’ll make sure it gets on my computer.”

She forgot to include her e-mail address….

Yes, it is difficult to communicate these days of mass communication!

POSTNOTE: Dec 22: Saturday morning I was at my usual “station”, Caribou Coffee in Woodbury, writing Christmas letters (in this case, to people for whom I had no e-mail address, advising them of this blog post). After all, everyone knows someone with computer, even if they don’t know how to use it! I’ve also learned that printed out versions of blogs don’t look as good as on the screen – tiny type font and all. Another problem in transitioning to a new way.

An older guy, who I know as another regular, came up to note that I was probably doing Christmas cards. Yes I was, I said. He said, he doesn’t do Christmas cards any more. We didn’t explore the topic in any depth; we really didn’t have to.

1977 is long gone, but it was good while it lasted….

#967 – Dick Bernard: The Wallet, Pearl Harbor Day, 2014

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

PRE-NOTE: I have written often, here, about the death of my Uncle Frank, my Dad’s kid brother, on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, and how there was an unexpected family reunion – one I attended, as a one year old – in Long Beach CA less than five months before he died. Here and here are two related posts about this. This afternoon, at Landmark Center in St. Paul, 1-2 p.m. I’ll be one to share a small part of my own family story at a commemoration of December 7, 1941. A summary of what I plan to say is at the end of this post.

The Wallet.

A month ago a mystery envelope appeared in our mailbox – the small packet from Scottville MI was postmarked Nov. 6, 2014.

It was from a cousin of mine, and when I opened the envelope the content was an old leather wallet (photo below, click to enlarge all photos).

The Wallet, 2014

The Wallet, 2014

It was very fragile, this billfold (another name for wallet). I was curious.

There was no money, but plenty of paper, all of which I removed. The Identification card said the wallet belonged to Vincent Busch, Berlin, N. Dak. Vincent is my Uncle, who I’ve spent a lot of time with especially this past year. Here are the entire contents of the Wallet.

Busch Vince Wallet003

Busch Vince Wallet002

Busch Vince Wallet005

Finally, the rest of the contents spilled out. Here they are, speaking powerfully for themselves (look for and note, especially, the name Francis Long): Busch Vince Wallet004

I surmise that this wallet was a Christmas gift to Uncle Vince in 1940, probably from his parents (he would have been 15, then). The assorted photos and cards are classmates including his 12 year old brother, Art, a couple of nearby cousins, Anita and Melvin Berning, and other classmates from the Berlin High School. There were also some Gas Ration cards from WWII. There are two photos of Art, lower left of the four visible photos above, and at the top of the first pdf page.

Vince and Art shared a tiny little room in the farmhouse until Art graduated from high school in 1945. The winter heat source was the furnace chimney which came through their room. Bedrooms were for sleeping, period.

If I’m right, that the wallet was new in 1940, it was probably in Vincents pocket when the below picture was taken on Mother’s Day, 1941, at the farm.

Busch Bernard may 1941001

Vincent and Art and Anita and Melvin are the kids towards the right of the photo. Are left are Vince’s parents, my grandparents, Rosa and Ferd Busch; and interspersed are by parents Esther and Henry Bernard and my other Grandparents Josephine and Henry Bernard, down from their home in Grafton ND.

This was a peace-time photo, at least in the United States.

Seven months after this picture, December 7, 1941, the Bernards youngest son, and my Dad’s brother, Frank, went down with the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. We last saw him in late June in Long Beach, apparently a surprise visit as the Arizona was in port at nearby San Pedro. Every American instantly became a part of America and the World’s most deadly war, till now.

In the wallet, there’s the card for Francis Long, a neighbor and school mate of Vincent.

On Thanksgiving I showed Vince the wallet and its contents, and I also showed him parts of some of the many albums his family kept over the years.

In the collection was this photo:

Francis Long, probably spring or summer 1944.  He was apparently killed in action shortly after going on active duty.

Francis Long, probably spring or summer 1944. He was apparently killed in action shortly after going on active duty.

“Who’s that?” “Francis Long”, he said.

Francis went off to WWII. Apparently shortly after he went to the Pacific theatre, things went wrong. August 20, 1944, Grandma wrote a letter to another son, George Busch, a naval officer on a Destroyer in the Pacific Theatre, and said this: “Fri we had a memorial Mass for Francis Long killed July 2 on Saipan in action….” (This photo was developed by Brown Photo, Minneapols, Oct 5, 1944. In those years, few pictures were taken, and it often took a long while to finish off an 8 or 12 exposure roll.)

War is never a solution, but for some reason we persist in our insanity that it is possible to kill off our enemies, and thus achieve piece. We are all “enemies” to somebody, somewhere. Let’s change the conversation.

Pearl Harbor, the family reunion

The family members in the story are, at right: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard.  From left, Henry and Josephine Bernard, Josie Whitaker, and Frank Bernard, Henry's parents and siblings, in Long Beach.

The family members in the story are, at right: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard. From left, Henry and Josephine Bernard, Josie Whitaker, and Frank Bernard, Henry’s parents and siblings, in Long Beach.

Summary of remarks made at Landmark Center, Dec 7, 2015

I am one of very few Americans today who can honestly say they actually physically met one of those killed aboard the USS Arizona, Dec. 7, 1941. My last meeting with my Uncle Frank Bernard was at the end of June, 1941, five months before he died. I was one year old. I have the photo to prove it (above)!

The constellation of each and every victim that fateful Sunday, carry their own stories, in various ways.

Here’s some fragments of mine.

Frank served on the Arizona for six years. He was a shipfitter. Getting in the Navy was an accomplishment during the Depression. He seemed headed for a career in the Navy, but then there’s that letter he typed aboard the Arizona on “Nov 7 1941″ (a Friday) where he asks his brothers advice: “I think I will get hitch to that little girl up in Washington she is a honey…what do you think of that…?

I don’t know when that letter arrived back in ND. Neither do I know where the letter was written. From 27-31 October 1941 the Arizona was dry-docked at Pearl Harbor, and subsequent records went down with the ship.

Then, there’s a family picture I have, taken in late June, 1941, at Long Beach CA, of the entire family – there were 7 at the time. On the back of the photo Grandmother later wrote “the first time we had our family together for seven years and also the last.” It says it all. (The reunion was a surprise. No one expected the Arizona to pay a call at San Pedro, just down the coast from Long Beach.)

Forty years later, in 1981, Dad wrote a long and comprehensive history of his life and gave it to me. Ten years later, I was preparing a book of memories to give him on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and found in that history which he had written, not a single word about Pearl Harbor. This is how repressed memory works (or doesn’t work).

On the other hand, my parents next male child, born in Nov. 1945, was named Frank Peter, doubtless in memory of Dad’s brother.

I asked Dad about the missing memories. My folks had a battery operated radio but Dad recalled that on December 7 they were not listening to the radio. The first word of the bombing at Pearl Harbor was received when [a colleague teacher] returned …late in the afternoon.

“During the week following the attack it was first announced that John Grabinski, a sailor from Grafton and Frank’s friend, had been killed. It was only later in the week that it was learned that John Grabinski was safe, but that Frank Bernard had been killed aboard the Arizona.” (Mr. Grabinski lived into his mid-80s, much of his later years in Arizona.)

Of course, the early chaos brought no news of who had died. A high school student in Dad’s class recalled years later that “I don’t remember us ever talking about [Dad’s brother] losing his life from the Japanese attack.

The family did not get together, and to my knowledge there was no memorial service, or funeral. My grandparents, of Grafton ND, were in Long Beach; their daughter was in Los Angeles, and my parents were in rural North Dakota.

There was nothing much that could be done.

Many years later, a relative of mine found a very long article in the Grand Forks Herald of February 17, 1942, and sent it to me. It was about a North Dakota picnic in Los Angeles (in those days, state picnics were major events, attended, sometimes, by thousands). Reference was made to a talk by the Polish Consul in Los Angeles, in which he remembered “a young man of Polish descent at Pearl Harbor, the young man being a native of the Grafton area.

The article continued: “When he had finished reading a man and his wife arose in the audience, the man asking if he might interrupt for just a moment…the man said the report of that boy’s death later was found to be in error, but that the man actually killed at Pearl Harbor was the pal of the boy mentioned in the first report. “The boy killed,” said the man, “was our son!” The couple standing were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bernard, long time residents of Grafton. The entire audience arose and stood in silence for a moment in honor of the dead hero and the parents who made the sacrifice.

There are no winners in war. Let us not forget.

Frank Bernard, Honolulu, some time before Dec. 7, 1941

Frank Bernard, Honolulu, some time before Dec. 7, 1941

#965 – Dick Bernard: The Minnesota Orchestral Association Annual Meeting

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

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A brass quintet of orchestra members expertly closed out the public meeting.

A brass quintet of orchestra members expertly closed out the public meeting.

Pre-note, side comment, and recommendation: In light of current events it seems almost superfluous to write about a meeting of the Board of the Minnesota Orchestra. There is a great deal happening on the national scene, most recently the non-indictment of the policeman involved in the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Ferguson, Mo and spreading unrest around injustice. And all signs suggest that the U.S. Congress will be even more dysfunctional and confrontational with President Obama in 2015 than it is now, attempting its own power play with no good ahead for our country.

We are a country at war within ourselves. Still, a few words about an Orchestra organization trying to heal after one of the worst lockouts in American labor history seems worthy of some time.

On the national scene, the best daily source I have found, (6 days a week), summarizing major contemporary national and international issues of the previous day and offering intelligent comment, is a blog called Just Above Sunset, published by a retired guy in Los Angeles, Alan, whose brief bio is at the end of each post. Today’s post is about the Eric Garner situation. Here, here, here and here are links to a couple of others. Subscription is free. It silently finds its way to my e-mail at about 2 a.m. most days. My personal bias is clearly articulated at right on this blog.

Personally, I’ve never been a quitter, though sometimes, like now, I feel whipped as an ordinary citizen. It is not a constructive attitute.

It was good to listen in on the Orchestra Board meeting Tuesday night, and maybe there is some hope. But as with everything, its up to me, and to you, to get anything useful accomplished.

The Minnesota Orchestral Association Annual Meeting Dec. 2, 2014.

Tuesday night I dropped in on the public meeting of the Minnesota Orchestral Association Board at Orchestra Hall. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a good summary of the one hour session which, apparently, included about 150 of us, only a couple who asked questions.

I came to listen, and took the photo at beginning of this post of a brass quintet of Orchestra members. For those interested, here is most of the 2014 Annual Report: MN Orch Ann Report 2014001

At Tuesday’s meeting, you would have to have been an “inside baseball” type to gather that between October, 2012, and February, 2014, there had been a bitter and near fatal dispute between the Orchestral Association and its Musicians, and ultimately, Music Director Osmo Vanska, with the Audience as unseen bit players off on the side somewhere, though I would guess that everyone of us in the room knew full-well what had transpired over that long period of time.

My “filing cabinet” of that dispute is here.

We are one of those ordinary people with more-than-ordinary interest in the short and long-term success of the Orchestra. For example, after the meeting, I met my daughter and 14 year old grandson, Ted, in the lobby. He’s a music guy at his high school, especially interested in Jazz, and I wanted them to have a chance to see Wynton Marsalis and Ensemble from Lincoln Center that same day, best tickets available. It will likely be a long-time memory for Ted.

My guess is that we’ll lay out about $1000 for assorted things at Orchestra Hall this first full season back – for us, it is affordable, but noticeable in our circumstances. There are endless other entreaties for contributions from other worthy agencies. The well is only so deep.

As I sat, listening Tuesday afternoon, I kept thinking that the real dilemma for the Orchestral Association Board is to truly come to understand who we in the seats, the audience, really are, and how we can best participate in the Orchestra’s long-term success.

And it will be a difficult task.

Those who are the Orchestral Association Board are, I would guess, from a very comfortable economic class, well connected in the upper echelons of business and society, and influential in their circles. Indeed, this is a main reason they are appointed to this board: they not only have a passion for the music, but have both money and access to other important sources of money and power. The rest of us (once well described to me by head of a major twin cities Charity as “the poor ones”) don’t bring enough “value added” to effectively serve on such a Board, much less be listened to.

So, the only “power” the general audience possesses is whether we enter the doors or not, and keep this magnificent institution, this legacy of past benefactors, in business. It behooves the people on the Board to know us very, very well, and to talk with and about us as equals – not an easy task.

“During the meeting, a point was made of some “anonymous” donor who contributed $10,000,000 in the last few months to the Orchestra Endowment. Simply stated, that is 10,000 times our paltry $1000.

The big money is very important, granted, but it is people like ourselves who must fill the seats long term, and who must choose where to spend our discretionary income (if we’re lucky enough to have that).

The way this Orchestra (and most similar large cultural institutions everywhere) are structured, the sole responsibility for understanding the common folks in the seats rests with the uncommon folks who sit on the Orchestra Board and cannot really understand less privileged realities. And that $10,000,000 donor on any given night can occupy only a single seat as can I….

Put another way: Money most certainly talks, but that doesn’t mean it understands; to paraphrase the liquor ad, “with great privilege comes great responsibility”….

Understanding those of us come to the hall will help bring long term success. Without such understanding, long term recovery will be difficult.

Grandson Ted at right, Grandson and Ted/s cousin, baseball guy Parker, at center, Nov 29, 2014.  Both Ted and Parker's Moms were good at piano.

Grandson Ted at right, Grandson and Ted/s cousin, baseball guy Parker, at center, Nov 29, 2014. Both Ted and Parker’s Moms were good at piano.

#963 – Dick Bernard: The First Sunday of Advent, 2014

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Today, at least for Roman Catholics, is the First Sunday of Advent. It will be noticed today at my Church, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis.

As with most everything in our diverse society, there are many definitions of the meaning of this liturgical season, the four Sundays between now and Christmas Day, December 25. Here’s “Advent” as found in google entries.

I happen to be Catholic, actually quite active, I’d say. This would make me a subset of a subset of the American population.

In all ways, the U.S. is a diverse country. The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published by the Census Bureau, says about 80% of adult Americans describe themselves as “Christian”; 25% of this same population says they’re “Catholic”. (The data is here.)

Of course, if you’re a “boots on the ground” person, as I am, raw data like the above pretty quickly devolves. As the most appropriate mantra at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis (my church) is stated every Sunday: “welcome, wherever you are on your faith journey….” The people in the pews know the truth of this phrase, and know that on every given Sunday, two-thirds of them are not even in the pews.

Regardless of specific belief, the vast majority of us, everywhere, are good people*.

I’m drawn to this topic a bit more than usual this weekend since I just returned from a visit to my last surviving Uncle, Vince, winding down his long life in a wonderful nursing home in a small North Dakota town.

Thanksgiving Day I decided to bring to him, for hanging in his room, the below holy family** (which had not yet been hung, and appears sideways, as it appeared in his room, prior to hanging.)

(click to enlarge)

Nov. 27, 2014

Nov. 27, 2014

For many years this image hung in the family farm home, and Vince seemed glad to see it come to visit. I asked him how old it was, and he said it was his mothers (my grandmothers) favorite, and it was probably older than he, in other words pre-dating 1925.

When next I visit, I hope to see it hanging on the wall he faces each day, and as such things go, it will likely bring back memories, and perhaps other emotions as well. Images tend to do this.

Of course, even in the religious milieu, an event like Advent is complicated. It is observed (including not being observed at all) in various ways even by people within the Catholic Church. A constructive observance, in my opinion, is to attempt to use the next 25 days to daily reflect on something or other in my own life. A nominally Catholic but mostly inspirational book of Daily Reflections given to me years ago by my friend Les Corey comes immediately to mind**; and very likely I can “tie in” Uncle Vince through letters this month. (It helps me to make a public declaration of intention on these things – a little more likely that I’ll follow through!)

Of course, there is, always, lots of side-chatter in this country at this season: “Black Friday” rolled out two days ago. We are a financial “bottom line” nation, I guess. Profits trump most anything else.

But, be that as it may, perhaps my essential message is that the next few weeks can be helpful simply for quieting ones-self and reflecting on a more simple way of being, such as greeted that icon when it was first hung in that simple North Dakota farm home perhaps even more than 100 years ago.

Have a good Advent.

* – A few hours ago, we experienced a good positive start to Advent. After a party for three of our grandkids who have November birthdays, we all went to a Minnesota based project called Feed My Starving Children where, along with 115 others adults and children, we filled food packets whose ultimate destination is Liberia. It was our first time participating with this activity, and it was a very positive activity. Hard work, but a great family activity. Check it, or something similar, out. Special thanks to one of the birthday kids, 8-year old Lucy, who apparently suggested the activity.

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

** – Of course, I don’t know the exact origin of the print which so captured Grandma. Almost certainly the real holy family of Bible days was not European white, as I am, and she was; rather, most likely, middle eastern in ethnicity and appearance.

*** – The book I’ve dusted off for the next weeks: All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time by Robert Ellsberg.