Category Archives: education

Crossing the Pacific for School, 1947

From Last Boat Out of Shanghai, by Helen Zia (Ballantine, 2019), Kindle pp. 189-190, 192-193:

In the first weeks of May 1947, American universities mailed their admissions notices to prospective students for the fall. On May 22, Ho received letters of acceptance from both MIT and the University of Michigan for their doctoral mechanical engineering programs. He was ecstatic to be accepted by his top choices, especially knowing that every engineering graduate in China would have applied to both schools. Ho couldn’t decide which school to choose. The University of Michigan would be the less expensive alternative for his family, but MIT had the big name and reputation. As he prepared the documents to apply for his visa, he suddenly noticed that the letter from MIT had no signature. Ho went to the visa authorities to see if the unsigned letter would be accepted. Their answer was an unequivocal no. The hard decision was made for him—he would go to Michigan, home of the American automobile….

After weeks of waiting, Ho received his passport and exit visa on July 19. With his doctoral program beginning in less than two months, he bought a one-way ticket for third-class passage on the American President Lines, the only company carrying passengers across the Pacific to the United States. The cost was 171 U.S. dollars, a large expense already but only a fraction of what his family would have to spend. Those first postwar passenger crossings from Shanghai to San Francisco were made by two converted World War II troop transport ships, among the thousands built by Rosie the Riveters after Pearl Harbor: the USS General M. C. Meigs and USS General Gordon. Ho would sail on the General Gordon, departing August 24. After the sixteen-day voyage, he planned to take a train to Ann Arbor. He’d make it just in time for the start of school on September 13….

THE AMERICAN SHIP OFFERED Ho a first glimpse into his upcoming life in America. To cool off from the heat of the sticky August day, he took a shower—his first experience with such a contraption. Nearby was the water fountain—another first. After a few cautious sips, he quenched his thirst from this amazing device that dispensed a continuous stream of clean water—no boiling necessary. In the third-class dining room, he waited in a long but orderly line for servings of sausages, potatoes, carrots, rice, bread, fruits, tea—and sugar, a precious commodity in Shanghai. The unlimited quantities stunned him, especially the sugar. That night he jotted down a new American phrase: “All you can eat.”

With Ho, more than three hundred of China’s brightest young minds were heading to the United States to continue their educations. Like him, fifty-two were Jiao Tong University graduates, and thirty-three were headed to the University of Michigan. The students held meetings onboard to prepare for life in America, with topics ranging from transportation to their schools to dealing with American culture and cold Michigan winters. Ho attended all the meetings and volunteered to compile a list of everyone’s names to help them stay in touch once they scattered to their respective destinations.

The ocean voyage exposed Ho to another new concept: leisure. He’d brought along some books to study but barely opened them. Instead, he played bridge, watched movies, and spent time with new acquaintances. Most of the students were male, but several were female—including a lady professor. Ho had never gone to school with girls or women—and he was surprised to learn that they had big dreams for their educations too. At some point, Ho realized that he wasn’t practicing much English, in spite of the many American passengers and crew. “I could pass the entire voyage to America speaking only Chinese!” he wrote, resolving to start using more English. It was for this reason that the father of another Shanghai student, Ming Cho Lee, insisted that his son enroll at Occidental College in California—he feared that if his son went to school in the northeastern United States, he would spend his time mostly with other Chinese.

Ho, ever the engineer, eagerly explored the bowels of the ship to understand its mechanics. He admired the genius of a vessel that could cut through the powerful waves as though gliding on ice. The vast beauty of the ocean, with its different hues of blue, gray, and black, mesmerized him.

When they reached the open sea, sick passengers began skipping meals. Ho, too, grew queasy, but he had paid for the meals and was determined to eat them all. He took careful notes on the Americans’ habits. He wondered why people would want to eat bread at every meal but then realized that the rice was just for the many Chinese passengers—it was the only item familiar to most of them. By week’s end, the students grew bored with the bland American food. One of Ho’s cabinmates groaned, “I miss Chinese food more than I miss my wife.”

One thing disturbed Ho: the vast quantities of wasted food. He thought of the starving beggars in Shanghai. “One would exclaim in astonishment at the amount of leftover food at every meal,” Ho wrote in his journal. “The leftovers are all dumped into the ocean, along with countless boxes and bottles.”

Leave a comment

Filed under China, education, food, migration, travel, U.S.

Reconciling Split Universities, 1946

From Last Boat Out of Shanghai, by Helen Zia (Ballantine, 2019), Kindle pp. 170-173:

At war’s end, two parallel Jiao Tong universities emerged: the returned students from the makeshift Jiao Da in Free China and Ho’s campus in Shanghai.

Over the weeks and months after the surrender, the split grew wider on every campus. Instead of having a joyful reunion, the students who had lived under enemy occupation were now stung by accusations. Ho and the other “fake” students were being called out as puppets and collaborators. Some accusers were embittered returnees seeking targets to blame for their years of misery, while others saw an opportunity to get revenge or to climb over the disgraced.

Ho’s discomfort turned to alarm and dismay as his own academic record was challenged. Living under the Japanese occupation hadn’t been easy. His family, too, had suffered the privations of war. Now, after all his hard work and his family’s sacrifice, everything he had accomplished was diminished, and his loyalty to China was in question. To make matters worse, the students who stayed in Shanghai were academically much stronger than the students from the interior, who had lacked essential tools for a solid education—and it showed.

In 1946, the returned Nationalist authorities imposed a “reconversion” training program on the teachers and students who had remained in Shanghai. They declared that “fake students” like Ho were “corrupted,” just like the collaborators and traitors. They even called Ho and his cohorts “puppet students” who lacked the political understanding of the “real” Jiao Da students. The new Ministry of Education questioned the validity of the academic records of graduates from colleges and middle schools in occupied Shanghai. It created a special program in Nationalist ideology, requiring all such students to take the course. Students and graduates who failed the exam would be considered corrupted, their reputations tarnished and their diplomas and academic credits rendered worthless. Teachers were also to be tested for their loyalty to and knowledge of Nationalist principles.

Ho was horrified—and indignant. Why should he be stigmatized solely because his family hadn’t joined the difficult exodus to the interior? He had been only thirteen in 1937. Neither his elderly grandmother nor his sick brother could have endured the journey. Everyone had personal reasons for the choices they had to make during the long war. How could all of the thousands of students in Shanghai during the eight years of enemy occupation be corrupt puppets? With such accusations of ideological inferiority, Ho worried that his dream was slipping away, falling like a stone into the filthy Huangpu River.

Just as Ho was beginning to lose hope, he saw that some of his fellow students were fighting against the gross unfairness. Campus activists stood on the steps of buildings, arguing that they should not be treated as though they had supported the Japanese enemy. Ho stopped to listen. They hadn’t joined the Wang Jingwei puppets in Nanjing or aided Pan Da’s puppet police at 76, the students asserted. Didn’t the accusers know that many students and teachers in Shanghai had been arrested and executed for their anti-Japanese resistance? Or that students across Shanghai had refused to study the Japanese language?

The protests against the Nationalist sanctions spread like wildfire. Shanghai’s workers, too, called for relief from the years of hardship and repression. The students and workers combined forces in massive citywide demonstrations that seemed to explode with greater ferocity each day as the postwar unrest spread.

Ho found himself pulled into the groundswell. He agreed with the protest organizers. After all, they had been children during the war. It was unfair and outrageous to condemn them as traitors and ruin their lives. It made sense to Ho that he should stand up for his own future and not depend on others to do that for him. When students in his dormitory asked if he would support them, Ho surprised himself by joining the protests in spite of rumors that some of the students were secret Communists. Ho didn’t care. He had to show everyone that he was a student, not a traitor.

A massive mobilization called on all students to gather at the Shanghai North railway station, the major rail terminus in the former International Settlement. Ho fell in step with throngs of Jiao Tong schoolmates as they marched the five-mile distance. He, too, shouted, “Fair treatment for all students and teachers!” and “Punish the real traitors, not the ordinary people!” Along the way, the ranks swelled with men and women from other campuses: Shanghai University, Tongji, St. John’s, Fudan, Aurora, and the many other schools that were an important part of Shanghai’s intellectual life.

Leave a comment

Filed under China, democracy, education, Japan, migration, war

Inside the Bubble, Shanghai, 1939

From Last Boat Out of Shanghai, by Helen Zia (Ballantine, 2019), Kindle pp. 81-82:

Blinded by their own good fortune and privilege, the children of Shanghai’s elite didn’t notice when their own neighbors couldn’t afford to buy food. Essentials such as rice, cooking oil, medicines, and fuel became scarce at any price. The Japanese military that surrounded Shanghai controlled the flow of goods, seizing whatever it wanted for its war effort or for its comfort. Scarcity drove prices into a dizzying inflationary spiral as hoarders and speculators gorged themselves on the desperation of others—those who couldn’t afford to pay black market prices starved. Without kerosene or coal, the poorest had frozen in the two harsh winters that had come and gone since the start of the war. Bodies of the poor and homeless lay as rotting detritus on the streets and alleys of Shanghai until corpse-removal trucks eventually took them away.

Benny didn’t have to think about the present when his future seemed predetermined and rosy, war or no war. Since he had passed the difficult entrance exam for admission to St. John’s Junior Middle School, his path all the way to its eponymous university was automatic as long as he continued to pass his courses. His parents had no worries for their son when everyone knew that doors opened for St. John’s graduates. They stood out in every crowd, speaking fluent English and carrying themselves as though they were proper English gentlemen and ladies. At both St. John’s and its sister institution, St. Mary’s Hall, classes were taught in English. Thanks to his alumni parents, Benny could already speak English well and would fit right in. So many of China’s most powerful political, business, and intellectual leaders had studied at its schools: T. V. Soong, former finance minister and governor of the Central Bank of China; Wellington Koo, representative to the League of Nations and ambassador to France; Lin Yutang, influential writer and philosopher; and a long list of others. The well-connected were well served. That was the Chinese way.

With his pedigree and school ties, Benny was set. Still, the boy harbored a secret wish for himself. He wanted to chart his own course, the way his father must have when he left accounting to join the police ranks. Benny hoped to pursue medicine when he reached college, for St. John’s had a medical school that was affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania in America.

But there were plenty of pitfalls in the sin city for boys like him. Shanghai was notorious for its spoiled firstborn sons who had nothing better to do than become playboys, squandering their families’ wealth on opium, women, and gambling, bringing shame to their families. Benny’s mother and her friends gossiped about the latest scandals about young men from reputable families during their all-night mah-jongg games. “Pay attention in school, and stay away from those bad boys,” she’d admonish her son afterward.

“Yes, Mother,” he’d reply obediently. Benny had already resolved to stay away from opium. He’d known what the narcotic had done to his grandfather.

Benny could easily have pursued a life of pleasure, as other Shanghai scions did. His family appeared to have unlimited resources. His father was thriving in spite of the war. Or as others might say, because of it.

Just as Benny didn’t see the beggars all around him, he had never thought about the ample food and luxurious goods that his police inspector father managed to bring home at a time when rice riots were breaking out in the city. Benny didn’t wonder how his mother could continue her shopping habits that allowed her to dress in the latest foreign fashions, adorned with ever-fancier jewelry. It was unthinkable for proper Chinese children to question their parents. Even when Benny noticed that some of his father’s associates looked rather tough and unsavory, like the kind of men that his mother warned him to avoid when he rode his bicycle, he would have never thought to ask about them. They were just people that a police inspector needed to know, like the assortment of British, Americans, Russians, Japanese, and other foreigners with whom his father dealt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, China, economics, education, Japan, language, opium, U.S., war

Evacuating Monte Cassino, 1944

From The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy, by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt, 2007), Kindle pp. 398-399:

THE holy road up Monte Cassino made seven hairpin turns, each sharper than the one before. Hillside tombs and a Roman amphitheater stood below the first bend, along with remnants of Augustan prosperity from the ancient market town called Casinum….

Rounding the last bend, fifteen hundred feet above the valley floor, the great abbey abruptly loomed on the pinnacle, trapezoidal and majestic, seven acres of Travertino stone with a façade twice as long as that of Buckingham Palace. On this acropolis, in an abandoned Roman tower, a wandering hermit named Benedict had arrived in A.D. 529. Born into a patrician family, the young cleric had fled licentious Rome, avoiding a poisoned chalice offered by rival monks and settling on this rocky knob with a desire only “to be agreeable to the Lord.” Benedict’s Rule gave form to Western monasticism by stressing piety, humility, and the gleaming “armor of obedience.” Black-robed Benedictines not only spread the Gospel to flatland pagans, but also helped preserve Western culture through the crepuscular centuries ahead. It was said that Benedict died raising his arms to heaven in the spring of 547, entering paradise “on a bright street strewn with carpets.” His bones and those of his twin sister, St. Scholastica, slept in a crypt hewn from his mountain eyrie. Over the span of fifteen centuries, the abbey had been demolished repeatedly—by Lombards, Saracens, earthquakes, and, in 1799, Napoleonic scoundrels—but it was always rebuilt in keeping with the motto “Succisa Virescit”: “Struck down, it comes to new life.” After a visit to Monte Cassino, the poet Longfellow described the abbey as a place “where this world and the next world were at strife.”

Never more than in February 1944. The town below had first been bombed on September 10, and within weeks more than a thousand refugees sheltered in the abbey with seventy monks. “To befoul the abbey,” complained the abbot, Dom Gregorio Diamare, “was a poor way of showing gratitude.” As the war drew nearer and wells ran dry, most civilians decamped for the hills or cities in the north. An Austrian lieutenant colonel, Julius Schlegel, who before the war had been an art historian and librarian, persuaded Diamarea to remove the abbey’s art treasures for safekeeping. Throughout the late fall Wehrmacht trucks rolled up Highway 6 to the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, hauling treasures in packing cases cobbled together from wood found in an abandoned factory. The swag was breathtaking: Leonardo’s Leda; vases and sculptures from ancient Pompeii; eighty thousand volumes and scrolls, including writings by Horace, Ovid, Virgil, and Seneca; oblong metal boxes containing manuscripts by Keats and Shelley; oils by Titian, Raphael, and Tintoretto; priestly vestments and sacramental vessels made by master goldsmiths; even the remains of Desiderius of Bertharius, murdered by Saracens in the eighth century. An immense thirteenth-century Sienese cross was “so large that it could only be carried diagonally across a lorry.” The major bones of Benedict and Scholastica remained in their monastery crypt, but silk-clad reliquaries holding mortal fragments of the saints also went to Rome after a special blessing by the abbot. Two monks rode with every truck to keep the Germans honest; even so, fifteen crates went missing and later turned up in the Hermann Göring Division headquarters outside Berlin.

As the evacuation concluded, Monte Cassino on Hitler’s orders became the linchpin of the Gustav Line. Kesselring in mid-December promised the Catholic hierarchy that no German soldier would enter the abbey, and an exclusion zone was traced around the building’s outer walls. But day by day both the town and surrounding slopes became more heavily fortified. A Tenth Army order directed that “allein das Gebäude auszusparen ist”—only the building itself was to be spared—and Hitler in late December ordered that “the best reserves must stand on the mountain massif. In no circumstances may this be lost.”

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Britain, education, France, Germany, Italy, military, religion, U.S., war

Destruction of Naples, 1943

From The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy, by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt, 2007), Kindle pp. 241-242:

Naples itself—“the most beautiful city in the universe,” in Stendahl’s judgment—had been mutilated. German vengeance at Italy’s betrayal foreshadowed the spasmodic violence that European towns large and small could expect as the price of liberation. Half of the city’s one million residents had remained through the German occupation, but none now had running water: Wehrmacht sappers had blown up the main aqueduct in seven places and drained municipal reservoirs. Dynamite dropped down manholes wrecked at least forty sewer lines. Explosives also demolished the long-distance telephone exchange, three-quarters of the city’s bridges, and electrical generators and substations. Among the gutted industrial plants—about fifty in all—were a steelworks, an oil refinery, breweries, tanneries, and canneries; others were wired for demolition though they had been not fired. Saboteurs wrecked city trams, repair barns, and even street cleaners. A railroad tunnel into Naples was blocked by crashing two trains head-on. Coal stockpiles were ignited, and for weeks served as beacons for Luftwaffe bombers. The Germans had extorted ransom from Italian fishermen for their boats—a small skiff was worth one gold watch—and then burned the fleet anyway. Even the stairwells in barracks and apartment buildings were dynamited to make the upper floors inaccessible.

The opportunities for cultural atrocity were boundless in a city so rich in culture. A German battalion burst into the library of the Italian Royal Society, soaked the shelves with kerosene, and fired the place with grenades, shooting guards who resisted and keeping firemen at bay. The city archives and fifty thousand volumes at the University of Naples, where Thomas Aquinas once taught, got the same treatment, leaving the place “stinking of burned old leather and petrol.” Another eighty thousand precious books and manuscripts stored in Nola were reduced to ashes, along with paintings, ceramics, and ivories.

Worse yet was the sabotage around the great port, which compounded grievous damage inflicted by months of Allied bombing. Half a mile inland, the city’s commercial districts remained mostly intact, although looters had rifled the Singer Sewing Machine showroom and the Kodak shop on Via Roma. But along the esplanade—where the corpse of the beautiful Siren Parthenope was said to have washed ashore after Odysseus spurned her “high, thrilling song”—all was shambles. Bombs had battered the Castel Nuovo, the National Library, and the Palazzo Reale, where every window was broken, the roof punctured, and the chapel demolished by a detonation beneath the ceiling beams. Grand hotels—the Excelsior, the Vesuvio, the Continental—had been gutted by bombs or by German vandals who torched the rooms and ignited the bedding in courtyard bonfires….

Not a single vessel remained afloat in the port, a drowned forest of charred booms, masts, and funnels. Thirty major wrecks could be seen, and ten times that number lay submerged. All tugs and harbor craft had been sunk; all grain elevators and warehouses demolished; all three hundred cranes sabotaged or toppled into the water. Vessels had been scuttled at fifty-eight of sixty-one berths, often one atop another. An Axis ship with seven thousand tons of ammunition had blown up at Pier F, wrecking four adjacent city blocks, and fires still smoldered on October 2. At Mole H, slips were blocked by a dozen rail cars and a pair of ninety-ton cranes shoved off the pier. Quayside buildings were dynamited so that their rubble tumbled like scree across the docks. To complicate salvage, German demolitionists had seeded the harbor with ammunition, oxygen tanks, and mines.

Only rats still inhabited the waterfront, and hungry urchins with knife-edge shoulder blades who reminded Paul Brown of “small, aged animals.” Although U.S. Army engineers reported that the sabotage had been conducted “by a man who knew his business,” a closer inspection revealed that the Germans “planned their demolitions for revenge, to wreck the economy of Naples, rather than to prevent Allied use of the port.” As the Allies learned from each campaign, so did the Germans, and they would be less sentimental and more comprehensive when the time came to undo Marseilles and Cherbourg.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, economics, education, France, Germany, industry, Italy, labor, military, U.S., war

Field Marshal Montgomery’s Reputation

From The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy, by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt, 2007), Kindle pp. 125-126:

“What a headache, what a bore, what a bounder he must be to those on roughly the same level in the service,” a BBC reporter wrote of Montgomery. “And at the same time what a great man he is as a leader of troops.” That contradiction would define Montgomery through Sicily and beyond, confounding his admirers and infuriating his detractors. “A simple, forthright man who angered people needlessly,” his biographer Alan Moorehead concluded. “At times a real spark of genius … but [he] was never on an even plane.” Even the official British history of the Mediterranean war would acknowledge his “arrogance, bumptiousness, ungenerosity… [and] schoolboy humour.” American disdain for Montgomery tended toward dismissive condemnation: “a son of a bitch,” declared Beetle Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff. His British colleagues, whose scorn at times ran even deeper, at least tried to parse his solipsism. “Small, alert, tense,” said Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, “rather like an intelligent terrier who might bite at any moment.” Montgomery so irritated Andrew Cunningham—“he seems to think that all he has to do is say what is to be done and everyone will dance to the tune he is piping”—that the admiral would not allow the general’s name to be uttered in his presence. “One must remember,” another British commander said of Montgomery, “that he is not quite a gentleman.”

That he had been raised in wild, remote Tasmania explained much to many. Son of a meek Anglican bishop and a harridan mother who conveyed her love with a cane, Montgomery emerged from childhood as “the bad boy of the family,” who at Sandhurst severely burned a fellow cadet by setting fire to his shirttail. “I do not want to portray him as a lovable character,” his older brother said, “because he isn’t.” Mentioned in dispatches six times on the Western Front, he carried from World War I the habits of meticulous preparation, reliance on firepower, and a conception of his soldiers “not as warriors itching to get into action, which they were not, but as a workforce doing an unpleasant but necessary job,” in the words of the historian Michael Howard. He also accumulated various tics and prejudices: a habit of repeating himself; the stilted use of cricket metaphors; an antipathy to cats; a tendency to exaggerate his battlefield progress; “an obsession for always being right”; and the habit of telling his assembled officers, “There will now be an interval of two minutes for coughing. After that there will be no coughing.” No battle captain kept more regular hours. He was awakened with a cup of tea by a manservant at 6:30 A.M. and bedtime in his trailer—captured from an Italian field marshal in Tunisia—came promptly at 9:30 P.M.

In Africa he had seen both glory, at El Alamein, and glory’s ephemerality, in the tedious slog through Tunisia. Montgomery much preferred the former. Now the empire’s most celebrated soldier, he received sacks of fan mail, including at least nine marriage proposals, lucky charms ranging from coins to white heather, and execrable odes to his pluck. Professing to disdain such adulation, he had a talent for “backing into the limelight,” as one observer remarked. On leave in London after Tunis fell, still wearing his beret and desert kit, he checked into Claridge’s under the thin pseudonym of “Colonel Lennox,” then took repeated bows from his box seat at a musical comedy as ecstatic theatergoers clapped and clapped and clapped. “His love of publicity is a disease, like alcoholism or taking drugs,” said General Ismay, Churchill’s chief of staff, “and it sends him equally mad.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Britain, education, Italy, Mediterranean, military, publishing, U.S., war

Rating Eisenhower in Africa, 1943

From An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy, by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt, 2002), Kindle Loc. 7906ff:

On Friday, March 12, as Rommel lamented his plight, Eisenhower wrote his own son at West Point: “I have observed very frequently that it is not the man who is so brilliant [who] delivers in time of stress and strain, but rather the man who can keep on going indefinitely, doing a good straightforward job.”

A “good straightforward job” was now called for, and in this homely requisite the Americans found their genius. If the winter campaign in North Africa had revealed Eisenhower’s infirmities, just as it revealed those of his army, spring would elicit strengths of character and competence in both the man and the host he commanded. Eisenhower had been naive, sycophantic, unsure of his judgment, insufficiently vigorous, and a more titular than actual commander. The U.S. Army had been sloppy, undisciplined, cavalier, insufficiently vigorous, and a more titular than actual army. These traits did not abruptly slough away, molting into brilliances of generalship and élan. But new martial lineaments emerged, and they became the stuff of victory and liberation.

After months of sailing with the wind in his face, Eisenhower now found a fresh breeze at his back. His health returned. Alexander and Patton shouldered many of his battlefield burdens. Axis weakness and the weight of Allied material strength became increasingly evident. The praise he craved was forthcoming—from Churchill, who publicly extolled his “selflessness of character and disdain of purely personal advancement,” and from President Roosevelt, who sent word: “Tell Ike that not only I, but the whole country is proud of the job he has done. We have every confidence in his success.” With his equilibrium restored and his job apparently secure, Eisenhower’s leadership ripened with the season.

“I have caught up with myself and have things on a fairly even keel,” he assured Marshall in early March. He sensed the power of a few fixed ideas compellingly preached, and these became tenets of the armies he commanded, even if sometimes practiced more in the breach than the observance. Foremost was Allied unity. “German propaganda is trying to convince the world that [the] British and Americans are at each other’s throats in this theater,” he told Alexander in a handwritten note. “We’ll show them.” He also radiated certitude of victory, which he saw in raw terms: good triumphing over evil after a struggle to rival the primordial brawl of angels. “We have bitter battling ahead, even in Tunisia,” he wrote an old friend on March 21. “Beyond this is the more serious, long-termed prospect of getting at the guts of the enemy and tearing them out.” To his brother Edgar he asserted, “We’re going to clear the Axis out of Africa—and that’s something!”

He was busier than ever, but more focused. “Political questions are not plaguing me as much as formerly,” he told Edgar. He announced that visitors to Algiers were unwelcome unless vital to victory. “American Legion commanders, princes, and others of that stripe are nothing but a deadly bore,” he wrote Marshall. “I am cutting everybody off my list [who] has not something specific to do with winning the war.” He took a personal interest in fielding better mine detectors, better tank sights, even better colored smoke for battlefield signaling.

Endearingly modest, he retained the homespun authenticity that was part of his charisma; men would do much to evoke that remarkable grin. “Eisenhower’s genius seems to be that of a good chairman,” the reporter Philip Jordan, once a harsh critic, told his diary in the weeks after Kasserine. “I have changed my views of this man: he has something.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Britain, education, France, Germany, Italy, Mediterranean, military, U.S., war

1918 Flu Hits Holy Zamora

From Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, by Laura Spinney (PublicAffairs, 2017), Kindle pp. 79-83, 87:

The Spanish city of Zamora–known as la bien cercada, or well enclosed, due to its impressive fortifications–straddles the River Duero in the north-western region of Castile and León. Deeply religious, it is famous even today for its sombre processions of hooded, barefoot penitents in Holy Week. In 1914, when its citizens learned that they were about to receive a new bishop, the bells rang out for three days. The man himself arrived a few months later, stepping down from a specially chartered train to a railway station packed with well-wishers. Fireworks were let off, and a joyful crowd accompanied him to the cathedral where he took his oath of office. The church-sanctioned newspaper, El Correo de Zamora, promised obedience to the new bishop, and praised his eloquence and youth.

The bishop’s name was Antonio Álvaro y Ballano, and at thirty-eight he already had a glittering career behind him. As a student at a seminary in Guadalajara, he had shone in every subject he had turned his hand to. At twenty-three he had taken up the chair in metaphysics, and after winning a hard-fought contest for the magistral canonry of Toledo, the most important archdiocese in Spain, he had come to the attention of Cardinal Sancha, Primate of Spain. He had been named a bishop in 1913, and prior to his arrival in Zamora, had held the post of prefect of studies at the seminary in Toledo.

When the Naples Soldier [the Spanish name for the flu] returned to Spain in the autumn of 1918, it appeared first in the east of the country, but it soon followed the bishop along the train tracks to Zamora. September is a month of gatherings in Spain. The crops are harvested, the army takes on new recruits, and weddings and religious feasts are held–not to mention that most popular of Spanish pastimes, the bullfight. Young army recruits, some from distant provinces, converged on Zamora to take part in routine artillery exercises, and in the middle of the month, the Correo reported nonchalantly that ‘There is cholera at the frontier, flu in Spain and in this tiny corner of the peninsula, fiestas.’ Then the recruits began to fall ill.

Attempts to quarantine the sick soldiers in barracks on the site of the city’s eleventh-century castle failed, and the number of civilian casualties began to rise. As it did so, the shortage of manpower began to interfere with the harvest, exacerbating pre-existing food restrictions. The press began to sound less sanguine. On 21 September, the Heraldo de Zamora–a newspaper that was nominally independent of the church–rued the unsanitary state of the city. Zamora resembled a ‘pigsty’ in which, shamefully, people still shared living space with animals, and many houses lacked their own lavatory or water supply. The paper repeated an old hobbyhorse, that the Moors had bequeathed to Spain an aversion to cleanliness. ‘There are Spaniards who only use soap for washing their clothes,’ it noted severely.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the country’s inspector general of health, Martín Salazar, had lamented the inability of a bureaucratic and underfunded health system to prevent the disease from spreading. Though provincial health committees took their lead from his directorate, they had no powers of enforcement, and they quickly came up against what he described as the ‘terrible ignorance’ of the populace–the failure to grasp, for example, that an infected person on the move would transmit the disease. Now that the Naples Soldier had returned, one national newspaper, El Liberal, called for a sanitary dictatorship–a containment programme imposed from the top down–and as the epidemic wore on, the call was picked up and echoed by other papers.

On 30 September, Bishop Álvaro y Ballano defied the health authorities by ordering a novena–evening prayers on nine consecutive days–in honour of St Rocco, the patron saint of plague and pestilence, because the evil that had befallen Zamoranos was ‘due to our sins and ingratitude, for which the avenging arm of eternal justice has been brought down upon us’. On the first day of the novena, in the presence of the mayor and other notables, he dispensed Holy Communion to a large crowd at the Church of San Esteban. At another church, the congregation was asked to adore relics of St Rocco, which meant lining up to kiss them.

Also on 30 September, it was reported that Sister Dositea Andrés of the Servants of Mary had died while tending soldiers at the barracks. Sister Dositea was described as a ‘virtuous and exemplary nun’ who had accepted her martyrdom with equanimity and even enthusiasm, who had slept no more than four hours a day, and who had spent much of her time coaxing sick soldiers to eat. The Mother Superior of her order asked for a good turnout at her funeral, and the papers passed on her request. In accordance with tradition, readers were informed, the bishop would grant sixty days’ indulgence to those who complied. Apparently the turnout was not as good as the Mother Superior had hoped, because the day after the funeral the Correo lambasted the citizenry for its ingratitude. The bishop, on the other hand, was satisfied with attendance at the novena, which he described as ‘one of the most significant victories Catholicism has obtained’.

By mid-November, the worst was over. … Zamora had suffered worse than any other Spanish city. But its residents do not seem to have held their bishop responsible. Perhaps it helped that they had grown up with the legend of Atilano, the first Bishop of Zamora, who in the tenth century had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to repent of his sins and free his city of plague. There are even those who defend Álvaro y Ballano, claiming that he did what he could to console his flock in the face of inertia at the town hall, the real problem being an ineffectual health system and poor education in matters of hygiene. Before 1919 was out, the city had awarded him the Cross of Beneficence, in recognition of his heroic efforts to end the suffering of its citizens during the epidemic, and he remained Bishop of Zamora until his death in 1927.

1 Comment

Filed under disease, education, migration, military, religion, Spain

1918 Flu Hits Holy Mashad

From Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, by Laura Spinney (PublicAffairs, 2017), Kindle pp. 116-120:

Mashed was still medieval in 1918, but its mud walls were crumbling. It was a city of graveyards where pilgrims who came to die had been buried on top of each other for centuries, and where, from time to time, old graves simply gave out, dissolving into the water supply. This took the form of man-made channels called qanats, that brought the water into the city from the nearby mountains. The water flowed uncovered down the middle of the main street–a permanent throng of pilgrims, merchants, camels and mules–and in the absence of a separate and enclosed sewage system, was easily contaminated. Germ theory had made its mark in Persia by 1918, but only in the literate 5 per cent. When it came to water, most people were guided by a religious prescription according to which water was clean if it was flowing, and if its volume exceeded one korr (350 litres). They therefore washed their pots and pans, their donkeys and themselves, very close to the open qanats.

Because Mashed was a holy city, the shrine managers wielded great power–not only spiritually, but also financially, since the shrine owned large amounts of real estate. In 1918, Islamic thinking was still based on ninth-century teaching when it came to epidemics. It accommodated the concept of contagion, but only up to a point. The general rule was that those inside a plague-stricken area should not flee, while those outside it, who were still healthy, should keep away. But there was also a fatalistic element to the prescriptions: plague was a martyrdom for believers and an agonising punishment for infidels. When sick, the vast majority of Persians turned to hakims or herb doctors, who followed two apparently complementary systems of medicine: the Galenic, and one that held that the Quran offered the best protection against disease. They might put an illness down to a humoral imbalance and recommend a change in diet, in line with the first; or they might identify the cause of the illness to be the sting of a jinn, and recommend strapping a prayer to the arm, in line with the second.

Qavam wrote to the shrine managers on 18 September, asking them to implement the recommendations. He was asking them to suspend centuries-old traditions, potentially even challenging sacred texts, and he must have anticipated the possibility of a rebuff, but his famous powers of persuasion saw him through. … Graves, he ordered, should be at least one metre deep. After the corpse had been placed inside, it should be covered with a thick layer of earth and lime, ‘to eliminate the risk of noxious air rising from the corpse’. Anyone who failed to obey the new rules would be severely punished.

It was a breakthrough, of sorts, though not one that was likely to rein in an illness of winds–and certainly not at that late stage. The epidemic ran its natural course in Mashed. The worst was over by 21 September, by which time Khorasan and neighbouring Sistan provinces were thoroughly infected, and the flu was travelling west to Tehran at the speed of a ‘prairie schooner’–the American nickname for a diligence. [Americans call the diligence a stagecoach, not a prairie schooner.–J] From Mashed, it rippled out with pilgrims, merchants and soldiers to the four corners of the country. By the end of September it was almost gone from the city, though it was still depleting outlying areas. At that point, life for Mashedis eased in one way and one way only: raids and attacks on pilgrims became rare. Qavam’s policy of zero tolerance towards bandits may have begun to bite, but the hiatus was probably also an ominous sign of the havoc the flu had wrought in the mountains.

In a city with fewer than a hundred hospital beds, some 45,000 people, or two-thirds of the population, had come down with flu. An insight into the state of mind of the survivors–not only in Mashed, but in Persia as a whole–is provided by the words of the city’s chief astrologer, spoken at a public meeting towards the end of September. Astrologers were essentially mystics to whom Persians turned in times of crisis, and whose credibility was bolstered by the Islamic belief in predestiny. The chief astrologer relayed prophecies made a few days earlier by his counterpart in Tehran, to the effect that the British government would be annihilated the following year, 1920 would see the return to Persia of the current shah’s father, who had been deposed in 1909, and 1921 the return of the Mahdi, the long-awaited Twelfth Imam, who would rid the world of evil.

Qavam survived the turbulence of General Reza Khan’s British-backed coup in 1921, and finding favour with the new shah, went on to serve five terms as the country’s prime minister. The shah eventually rebuilt Mashed on a rectilinear plan, linked it to Tehran by a modern road, and demolished its graveyards. Hoffman, who stayed on there until 1947, witnessed the transformation: ‘The bones of centuries were shovelled into wheelbarrows and dumped into unmarked pits, the gravestones being used for street curbs and sidewalks.’

Leave a comment

Filed under disease, education, Iran, migration, religion

Public Health in Rio, 1918

From Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, by Laura Spinney (PublicAffairs, 2017), Kindle pp. 52-54:

At the time that Nava fell sick, Rio was the capital of a young republic. A military coup had brought the reign of Emperor Dom Pedro II to an end in 1889, and with the abolition of slavery the previous year, it had seen a massive influx of freed black and ‘mulatto’ slaves. The poorest moved into cortiços or slums in the city centre. The cortiços–the Portuguese word for ‘beehives’–often lacked running water, sewers and proper ventilation. Living conditions were better there than in the subúrbios, the shanty towns expanding on the outskirts of the city, but the cortiços were more visible. White, middle-class cariocas saw them as parasitising the city proper. Aluísio Azevedo conveyed the fear that they inspired in his novel O Cortiço:

For two years the slum grew from day to day, gaining strength and devouring newcomers. And next door, Miranda grew more and more alarmed and appalled by that brutal and exuberant world, that implacable jungle growing beneath his windows with roots thicker and more treacherous than serpents, undermining everything, threatening to break through the soil in his yard and shake his house to its very foundations.

When President Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves came to power in 1902, he launched an ambitious programme of urban renewal with the goal of turning Rio into a showcase of modern, republican civilisation. In his vision of the cidade maravilhosa, the marvellous city, there was no place for the cortiços, those nests of disease whose inhabitants, condemned by their biology, were ‘locked into a vicious cycle of malnutrition and infection’. They were razed and their inhabitants forced out. Six hundred homes were destroyed to make way for the magnificent Avenida Rio Branco, so that by the time the American travel writer Harriet Chalmers Adams described the city in 1920, she could write that ‘This portion of the city has been cooler ever since, as the breezes sweep through the wide avenue from waterfront to waterfront.’

But the easy mixing of the different classes that had once characterised Rio, their coming together in the seeking of pleasure–especially when it came to music and dancing–had gone. Now there was no area of carioca life in which rich and poor were not divided by an impenetrable gulf. The president also set out to rid the city of infectious diseases, and in this he was aided by a doctor, Oswaldo Cruz, who in 1904, as head of the General Board of Public Health, had ordered a campaign of compulsory vaccination against smallpox. At the time, the vast majority of Brazilians had no grasp of germ theory. For many it was their first experience of state intervention in public health, hence something extraordinary, and poor cariocas rioted. The ‘Vaccine Revolt’, as it was called, was about more than one perceived violation, however. It was an expression of a broader class struggle over whom the city should serve–the Brazilian masses, or the European elite.

A decade later, vaccination had been accepted by most Brazilians, but Cruz’s unpopularity survived his death in 1917, and it was this legacy that shaped cariocas’ response to the new disease threat in 1918. On 12 October, the day that the flu spread through the elegant guests at the Club dos Diàrios, the satirical magazine Careta (Grimace) expressed a fear that the authorities would exaggerate the danger posed by this mere limpa-velhos–killer of old people–to justify imposing a ‘scientific dictatorship’ and violating people’s civil rights. The press portrayed the director of public health, Carlos Seidl, as a dithering bureaucrat, and politicians rubbished his talk of microbes travelling through the air, insisting instead that ‘dust from Dakar could come this far’. The epidemic was even nicknamed ‘Seidl’s evil’. By the end of October, when half a million cariocas–more than half the population–were sick, there were still those among Rio’s opinion-makers who doubted the disease was flu.

By then, so many corpses lay unburied in the city that people began to fear they posed a sanitary risk. ‘On my street,’ recalled one carioca, ‘you could see an ocean of corpses from the window. People would prop the feet of the dead up on the window ledges so that public assistance agencies would come to take them away. But the service was slow, and there came a time when the air grew filthy; the bodies began to swell and rot. Many began throwing corpses out on the streets.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Brazil, democracy, disease, education, migration, slavery