Category Archives: U.S.

Wordcatcher Tales: Trümmerfrauen, Kachelofen, Luftbrücke, OGs

I recently finished reading a new book, Journey Interrupted: A Family Without a Country in a World at War, by Hildegarde Mahoney (Regan Arts, 2016). It’s about a German family in New York City who planned to visit relatives in Germany. They set out in the spring of 1941, after the war had started, so they aimed to take the long way around, via the West Coast, Pacific Ocean, Japan, and Siberia, because the war in Europe had started, but the Eastern Front was quiet. They landed in Yokohama just as Germany attacked the Soviet Union, violating the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. They spent the war years in Japan, several postwar years in Germany, arriving back in New York a decade after they left.

I came across a few words of interest, which I’ll cite in context to give a small taste of the tale.

Trümmerfrauen (rubble women), from Kindle Loc. 2036-2042:

We devoured the food the waiter gave us, thrilled to have solid food to eat. The next stop we made was at the Red Cross. Once again, we were badly shaken at the sight of the many men we passed who had lost legs, arms, or both and had not yet been able to get prostheses. Turning the corner into the next street, we saw something we deemed highly unusual. There, in front of long planks of wood, sat a row of women, all with hammers in hand, chipping cement off perfectly good bricks and throwing the cleaned bricks on a pile. They proceeded to take another cement-caked brick off the pile of rubble, knock off its cement, and throw it on the cleaned pile. That procedure went on throughout the day in almost every city, and it was thanks to the many Trümmerfrauen (“rubble women”), as they were known, that the rebuilding of Germany had slowly begun.

Kachelofen (tile oven), from Kindle Loc. 2338-2342:

The very gray days were beginning to get shorter, and even during the midday hours it was difficult to distinguish between land and sky. In that part of northern Germany the days were uniformly gray, cool, and frequently misty and foggy. It was a time of year I did not like at all, remembering the freezing weather in Karuizawa. It was, however, a time to enjoy sitting around the old-fashioned tile oven in the living room. In those days there was no central heating. Instead, each room had a Kachelofen (a tile oven) in which one built a fire in the early morning that kept on heating the room throughout the day with the addition, from time to time, of more wood or coal.

Luftbrücke (airlift, lit. ‘airbridge’), from Kindle Loc. 2610-2614:

In May 1949, there was good news. The Luftbrücke, also known as the Berlin Airlift, which had begun in June 1948 in response to the Soviet blockade of Berlin—the United States, Britain, and France had been flying in supplies to the western sector of Berlin after the Russians had cut off all routes by land and sea—was winding down when the Soviet barricades were lifted. At the end of September, Luftbrücke finally ended its operation after more than a quarter million flights.

OGs (Office Girls, called OLs in Japan these days), from Kindle Loc. 2858-2864:

I started work at Time Inc. on the twenty-third floor, where the Time International offices were located. There, right off the elevators, was the office girls’ desk, where two of us were stationed at all times. We were known as OGs and did everything from making coffee first thing in the morning to sorting and delivering mail, sharpening pencils, and running errands. At the end of the day, we made the rounds of the offices and picked up any mail left in the outgoing boxes on the writers’ desks and worked with the mailroom when there were larger packages or boxes to go out. Most of the week things went pretty smoothly, except at the end of every week just before Time magazine was put to bed and press time approached. Then things would get pretty tense, as everyone was pressured and under the gun to meet the deadline.

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Filed under Germany, Japan, labor, language, migration, U.S., war

Finding the Real Ty Cobb

Last month, City Journal published a review by Paul Beston of a book published last year, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, by Charles Leerhsen (Simon & Schuster, 2015). Beston’s review, titled A Wronged Man: Taking the spikes off Ty Cobb, outlines how the legend of Ty Cobb made him out to be someone far worse than he was, as each “documentary” account repeated and embellished stories that were completely fictional. Here’s a taste of the review:

Consider Ty Cobb, one of American sports’ legendary characters, whose greatness on the baseball diamond—he played from 1905 to 1928, mostly for the Detroit Tigers—was eventually overshadowed by stories about his fanatical racism and violence, which, in some accounts, even included homicide. Over two generations, Cobb has been portrayed as a virtual psychotic in articles, books, and films, including Ron Shelton’s 1994 feature starring Tommy Lee Jones and Ken Burns’s epic, 18-hour documentary, Baseball, in which Cobb plays the villain to Jackie Robinson’s hero.

There’s only one problem: this venomous character is predominantly fictional. In Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, published last year, Charles Leerhsen documents how Cobb’s wicked reputation largely dates to the years after his death in 1961, when sportswriter Al Stump created a mythical Cobb—“Ty the Ripper,” Leerhsen calls him—who displaced the real man in the public mind. Stump’s motives for spinning tall tales seem to have been financial. He had ghostwritten a careless autobiography for Cobb, who tried to stop its publication before his death. The book sold poorly, but Stump earned a handsome fee for a lurid magazine article filled with falsehoods, dubious quotes, and made-up incidents. Other writers repeated or expanded on these untruths over the years. “The repetition felt like evidence,” Leerhsen says. It was “well known,” director Shelton told Leerhsen, that Cobb had killed “as many as” three people, though the director didn’t explain how this was known. Drawing on Stump’s work, as well as a 1984 biography by Charles Alexander, Burns also helped enshrine Cobb’s demonic image.

Time and again, what Leerhsen discovered through exhaustive research undermined the Cobb created by Stump, who didn’t source his work (“because he produced fiction,” as a contemporary said). Leerhsen could find no tangible evidence that Cobb hated blacks. On the contrary, he spoke in support of baseball’s integration when asked—and he wasn’t asked, as best Leerhsen can tell, until 1952. “The Negro should be accepted and not grudgingly but wholeheartedly,” Cobb said then. “The Negro has the right to compete in sports and who’s to say they have not?” On another occasion that year, he said: “No white man has the right to be less of a gentleman than a colored man. In my book, that goes not just for baseball but for all walks of life.” The virulent racist of legend, supposedly driven to derangement if even touched by a black man, attended Negro League games, threw out a first pitch, and often sat in the dugouts with black players. He came from a family of abolitionists. He endowed educational scholarships for students of all races.

Leerhsen concedes that Cobb was complex and troubled, and while he debunks many incidents, he confirms others, such as an awful episode in 1912, when Cobb rushed into the stands to pummel a handicapped fan who had abused him verbally. Cobb was no one’s idea of easygoing, and his notoriety as a fiery (and fighting) competitor was well earned. But he didn’t sharpen his spikes before games to slash his opponents, as the myth has it. His peers didn’t regard him as a dirty player and they didn’t universally despise him, though many disliked him. The old ballplayers whom Lawrence Ritter spoke with for his 1966 oral history of baseball’s early days, The Glory of Their Times, criticize Cobb—mostly for being short-tempered and too quick to take offense—but none suggests that he was racist or otherwise hateful, and some liked him fine.

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Evaluating Romania’s Antonescu

From In Europe’s Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2016), pp. 139-141:

Who was Antonescu, really?

A French assessment of him in 1922, when Antonescu was forty and a military attaché to Paris, stated: “A well-tried intelligence, brutal, duplicitous, very vain, a ferocious will to succeed … an extreme xenophobia, [these are] the striking characteristics of this strange figure.” To read Deletant, Hitchins, and others, we can say that Antonescu was a realist, militarist, nationalist, and authoritarian, who had no use for parliamentary democracy. But neither was he strictly fascist: he purged the fascists from his regime early on and had a disdain for pageants and parades. He believed in order, but not as a prerequisite to freedom, only as an end in itself. His support for Hitler was heavily determined by the calamitous international situation he inherited from Carol II and Romania’s tragic position on the map between Nazi and Stalinist empires. Antonescu made the cold calculation that an alliance with Germany was simply the best option for regaining territories that Romania had lost to the Soviet Union. As Antonescu reportedly told journalists a few days after Pearl Harbor: “I am an ally of the Reich against Russia; I am neutral between Great Britain and Germany; and I am for the Americans against the Japanese. But at the same time, Antonescu could also say that “Europe has to be liberated once and for all from the domination of Free-Masons and Jews.”

If not a proponent of the Final Solution itself, Antonescu was among the twentieth century’s great ethnic cleansers. He spoke about the need to “purify” and “homogenize” the Romanian population, and rid it of “Yids,” “Slavs,” and “Roma.” (Antonescu’s deportation of the Roma people to Transdniestria—where some 20,000 died of disease, starvation, and cold—was not a result of German pressure, but something he had initiated on his own.) One of Antonescu’s ministers stated that the circumstances of German military successes provided Romania with a unique opportunity for a “complete ethnic unshackling.” Antonescu himself saw the Jews as a “disease” and as “parasites,” in Deletant’s language, “to be cleansed from the body of Romania.” The deportation of Jews from quasi-historical Romanian lands of Bukovina and Bessarabia to Transdniestria, a region where Romania had few historical claims, should be seen in this light.

And yet it cannot be forgotten that Antonescu kept, by some statistical reckoning, the largest number of Jews away from the Final Solution in Axis-dominated Europe. He did so in large measure because of “opportunism” and extreme nervousness as to his own fate, as the Soviets and Western Allies began to tighten the noose on Hitler’s war machine. The end to deportation and mass murder in Transdniestria and the decision not to send Romanian Jews from inside the country to death camps in Poland were all actions taken after the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad, when Antonescu began to realize that Hitler might not, after all, win the war. Radu Ioanid might refer to this as “opportunistic mercy.” Antonescu was more of a realist than a fanatical fascist, and so he was always sensitive to shifting geopolitical winds. There was also Antonescu’s own proud and autocratic character. The idea of the Führer ordering him from abroad to give up his Jews did not sit well with him. As someone in direct contact with Antonescu at the time observed, the Marshal “did not like receiving orders; he liked giving them.” There was also pressure brought to bear upon Antonescu from Romanian intellectuals, from the queen mother, Helen, and from the National Peasant Party leader Iuliu Maniu to save Romanian Jewry. Again, this all must be seen in the context of Soviet and American victories on the battlefront.

Antonescu was toppled in a palace coup on August 23, 1944, just as the Red Army was already marching triumphantly into Romania. He was tried by pro-Soviet Romanian authorities, duly convicted, and executed in 1946 by a firing squad at Jilava Prison near Bucharest. Antonescu was a mass murderer without strictly being a fascist. The fact that he kept an astonishingly larger number of Jews from death cannot erase the fact that he killed an astonishing number—in indescribable suffering. There is no moral ambiguity in that.

Georgetown University professor Charles King, an expert in these matters, remarked that the best thing which can be said about Antonescu is that he was a conservative anti-Semite, not a millenarian one like Adolf Eichmann or Alfred Rosenberg.

Upon Antonescu’s removal from power, the Romanians switched sides in the war. For the remainder of the war Romania contributed more troops—538,000— to the Allied cause than any other country except for the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States. Romanian casualties against the Nazis in 1944–45 were some twenty-five times greater than those of Italy, another country that fought first for the Axis and then against it. Of course, Romania’s change of heart was a consequence of its need to regain all of Transylvania from Nazi-occupied Hungary. Self-interest dominates foreign policy thinking most of the time in most places. Yet rarely has national self-interest been applied so nakedly as by Romanian regimes during World War II, descending as it did to the level of sheer opportunism. It also bears repeating that the shamelessness of Romania evinced during the war was, in turn, partly a function of its impossible geographical position, especially after Munich, when Chamberlain abandoned Central Europe to Germany.

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Filed under Britain, France, Germany, Italy, military, nationalism, Romania, U.S., Ukraine, USSR, war

Center Fielder Makes Unassisted Triple Play, 1911

The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 834-843:

The defensive play of 1911, or indeed any other year, was made by twenty-eight-year-old Vernon Tigers center fielder Walter Carlisle, whose name should be synonymous with the term “circus catch.” One of the fastest players in the league, he was known for his peculiar method of diving for fly balls. After making the catch, he rolled into a forward somersault before popping back to his feet to execute the return throw to the infield.

Carlisle’s unmatched feat occurred in the sixth inning of a July 19 game between the Tigers and Angels. With the scored tied, 3-3, and Angels base runners George Metzger and Charlie Moore at first and second with no one out, Tigers manager Happy Hogan brought Harry Stewart in to relieve starting pitcher Alex “Soldier” Carson.

The Angels’ next batter, Roy Akin, hit a low line drive just beyond the reach of the infielders. Certain the ball would drop, Metzger and Moore took off immediately. Playing in center field, Carlisle had positioned himself extremely shallow, directly behind second base, and got a terrific jump. At the last moment he dove, snagging the ball before it touched the ground and tumbling into a double somersault. Neither Angels base runner realized Carlisle had made the catch. When he popped back to his feet, Carlisle saw that Moore had already rounded third, so he ran in and touched second base for another out. Realizing the other runner, Metzger, had passed second base and could be easily beaten back to first, Carlisle calmly trotted over to complete what remains the only unassisted triple play by an outfielder in the history of professional baseball.

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Top Secret WWII POW Camp in Hawai‘i

Honolulu resident John Bond, who has done a lot of historical research on the Ewa area of Oahu, has posted on the Ewa Battlefield blog a long compilation of his findings about a top secret World War II POW camp near Iroquois Point. Here are a few excerpts.

Camp Iroquois was unique as a Japanese POW camp with a philosophy of winning the “hearts and minds” which helped play a significant classified, secret role in winning the Pacific War. Americans usually heard very grim and brutal stories of the treatment of American prisoners in the hands of the Imperial Japanese military.

Japanese military POW’s arriving from the Pacific island battlefields were relatively few in numbers due to the fact that they were expected to never allow themselves to be captured alive. Huge numbers killed themselves by suicide attacks or killing each other.

Those that were captured early in the war usually were the result of incapacitating wounds or ship being sunk, such as at the battle of Midway where the Imperial Japanese Navy lost four aircraft carriers, among other fleet ships. Those survivors that could be picked up were brought back to Pearl Harbor to be interrogated for their military knowledge.

Then they were screened for a possible interest in cooperating with the United States to win the war by saving Japanese lives and preparing for the future democratic government of Japan.

Additionally, the alumni of the Camp Iroquois project became some of the most important ambassadors, academics and writers that greatly influenced future American Japanese relations and the establishment of many organizations developing diplomatic and cultural relationships and a solid mutual defense partnership….

Camp Iroquois really should be a part of the telling of the Honouliuli Internment and POW Camp story. Fortunately a lot of the story has actually been saved in great detail by the US Navy Japanese/Oriental Language School Archival Project, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries in newsletters called The Interpreter.

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Filed under Hawai'i, Japan, language, military, Pacific, U.S., war

Origins of WWII Korean POWs in Hawai‘i

From Korean Prisoners-of-War in Hawaii During World War II and the Case of US Navy Abduction of Three Korean Fishermen, by Yong-ho Ch’oe, Univ. of Hawaii, in Asia-Pacific Focus: Japan Focus, vol. 7, iss. 49, no. 2 (30 November 2009):

Approximately 2,700 Korean POWs were captured and brought to the Island of Oahu, where they were incarcerated until the end of the war and their repatriation to Korea in December 1945…. Plucked mostly from various Pacific islands toward the end of the war, these Korean POWs were detained in a camp in Honouliuli on the Island of Oahu. This camp, located in Honouliuli Gulch, west of Waipahu, was opened in March 1943 as the Honouliuli Internment Camp to detain Japanese and Japanese-American internees as well as POWs from Japan, Italy, and elsewhere. It was later renamed as Alien Internment Camp and still later as POW Compound Number 6….

The first arrivals of Korean POWs to the Honouliuli camp must have come in late 1943 or early 1944 as the following report suggests: “As a result of the Gilbert Island operation and the capture of Korean noncombatant prisoners of war, it has been found necessary to construct an additional enclosure to separate the Japanese from the Koreans.”…

Among the 798 men on the Japanese side on Makin Atoll, there was one labor unit consisting of 276 men “who had no combat training and were not assigned weapons or a battle station,” according to one report. It is believed that most, if not all of them, were Korean. If this is true, out of 276 Korean noncombatants, only 104, less than half, survived as prisoners while 172 died in the fighting.

The Gilbert Islands Operation then turned against Tarawa Atoll, where more than 4,700 defenders, including 1,200 Korean laborers, were stationed.8 After four days of fierce combat, the atoll was brought under American control. The total Japanese and Korean casualties were reported to be 4,713. The only survivors were one Japanese officer, 16 enlisted men, and 129 Koreans who were taken as POWs. This means that out of 1,200 Korean noncombatant laborers on Tarawa, only 129 survived as POWs and nearly 1,000 died in battle….

In addition to these Korean POWs from the Gilbert Islands, some 300 to 400 Korean laborers were brought to the Honouliuli camp after the American military operation on Saipan in 1944. In a telephone interview I conducted with Mr. Young Taik Chun, a second generation Korean-American, on October 27, 1990, he stated that in July or August of 1944 the United States military authorities asked him to interpret for Korean POWs at the Honoulilui camp, who had just been brought from Saipan. When he arrived at the camp, there were 300 to 400 Koreans, all of them noncombatant laborers, who had recently been transported from Saipan….

It is likely that Korean laborers from various other Pacific islands, such as Guam, Tinian, Palau, and Peleliu were also brought to the Honouliuli camp as POWs, having experienced similar ordeals….

A United States military report, dated July 28, 1945, states that 2,592 Koreans were detained in Hawaii…. This number increased to 2,700 by December 1945 when a complete list of the Korean POWs of the Honouliuli camp was made just before they were repatriated to Korea.

There were also three Korean college student draftees (Ko. hakbyŏng, Jp. gakuhei) who deserted and surrendered to the British in Burma (a fascinating story), and three fisherman abducted in April 1945 by an American submarine, Tirante, in the strait between Japan and Korea.

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South Caucasus Just Waiting for Europe?

From Caucasus: An Introduction, by Thomas de Waal (Oxford U. Press, 2010), Kindle Loc. 4017-4050:

It seems an almost inbuilt problem of the South Caucasus that a positive development in one place causes alarm in another. Armenian-Turkish rapprochement angers Azerbaijan, which turns to Moscow. The “reset” American-Russian relationship is seen to damage Georgia. As soon as there was talk of the Armenian-Turkish border reopening, some Georgians were heard to worry aloud that the rerouting of trade would be bad for Georgia. Zero-sum thinking prevails.

The region suffers from a lack of inclusive thinking. Most of the big ideas and regional initiatives that have emerged in the last decade and a half have excluded either one of the South Caucasus countries themselves or a key outside power. Both Iran and Turkey have proposed “security pacts” for the Caucasus that have left out the United States and the European Union. The Commonwealth of Independent States is now without Georgia. GUAM excluded Armenia. For awhile, Moscow unsuccessfully promoted the idea of a “Caucasus Four” that included it and the three South Caucasus countries. Concentrating on a “Black Sea region” is to the detriment of Azerbaijan. Focusing on the Caspian leaves out Armenia. The metaphor of a “Silk Road,” pretty though it is, implies a return to a premodern world in which Russia did not exist. The idea of a “Great Game” unhelpfully casts Russia in a reprised role of a hostile nineteen-century power.

History has meant that there have never been any successful voluntary integration projects here. The plan for an independent Transcaucasian Federation in April 1918 collapsed after only a month. The only other unions have been colonial ones imposed from above, by the Persian, Ottoman, and Russian empires and by the Soviet Union. The Soviet project is hard to defend, but it did have the effect of bringing people together in a cohesive economic structure that many people still miss. In retrospect, the South Caucasian nationalists of the late 1980s lurched from one extreme to another when they took a bulldozer to the complex Soviet system. They exchanged suffocating integration for extreme disintegration, and you could say that they threw out the Caucasian baby with the Communist bathwater. Many of the economic and cultural links from those times are still there under the surface waiting to be reexploited.

The one neighbor that could be a facilitator for voluntary integration in the South Caucasus is the region that has itself accomplished such an integration, the EU. So far, unfortunately, the EU has been very slow to act in the region. One Georgian scholar says it is “too lazy and too late.” Most of its regional projects have been very modest. Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Asia, a European program started in 1993 for the eight countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, has spent less than 200 million euros since then—far less than BP, Gazprom, or USAID has spent in the region, to name three other foreign actors. The Eastern Partnership project is another laudable idea but is hampered by several constraints; the six countries involved have no membership perspective for the EU, which does not provide a strong incentive for reform. Promises of trade privileges and visa facilitation are more promising but have been watered down by European governments.

There is a widespread perception in the South Caucasus that it is “waiting for Europe” to notice its problems and pay attention to them. In the EU itself, there is caution. Partly, the EU has enough other problems to solve without having to deal with the headaches of the Caucasus. Partly, there is a perception that the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia need to show a stronger commitment to democracy and reform to deserve that stronger interest. So the current period may be one of less engagement and greater realism. If that is the case, it may not be all bad news. History has been unkind to the South Caucasus, but there is no shortage of experience or talent there. If the outsider powers step a bit further away, local people may remember that they also have the skills, fashioned by the centuries, to solve their own problems.

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Filed under Caucasus, democracy, economics, education, energy, Europe, Iran, nationalism, Russia, Turkey, U.S., USSR