Sunday, July 31, 2011

July Anniversaries: Lincoln Issues "Eye for an Eye" order, 30 July 1863

When we "celebrate" the anniversary of the Civil War, we do many things: we honor the courage of the soldiers, we commemorate the carnage, and we ponder the issues at the heart of the conflict and its legacy: first and foremost, slavery, race, and racial equality.

As the case of the Massachusetts 54th reminds us, African-Americans had to fight for the right to fight, and then fight for equal rights even within the Union Army.  Shortly after the now-famous engagement at Fort Wagner, in which the 54th took part, President Lincoln, reacting to Confederate enslavement and murder of Black Union troops, ordered reprisal in kind against Southern prisoners.

When I wrote about the anniversary last year, I was struck (among other things) that the Union would take such a strong stand, even as it did not offer its Black soldiers equal pay and equal opportunity for advancement. Although the retaliation order was never fully implemented, it highlights with unusual clarity the nature of the conflict, and it continues to prompt moral reflection on the nature of war.

Here is the original post, "Abraham Lincoln's Rules of Engagement."


To flesh out this year's post, here is one contemporaneous report on the grim evolving policy, culminating in Lincoln's new order:
  The law of retaliation is formally announced by both the National and the Confederate authorities. Two Confederate officers were executed in Tennessee, June 9, by order of General Rosencrans, as spies found within our lines. The Confederates chose by lot, from among our prisoners at Richmond, two officers, and set them apart for execution, when ordered, in retaliation. Two officers of the enemy in our hands were then placed in close confinement, to be executed if the threats of the enemy were carried out. President Lincoln has also issued a proclamation declaring, in effect, that no distinction will be recognized in the treatment accorded to our white and colored troops who may be captured by the enemy. Every case of ill-treatment will be retaliated in kind: hanging for hanging, shooting for shooting, imprisonment for imprisonment. If a colored soldier, taken prisoner, is sold into slavery, a Confederate prisoner will, in return, be confined at hard labor in some prison until the colored prisoner is set free.
(Harper's New Monthly Magazine, September 1863, p. 559)

Up, up, and away: The Birth of the Air Force in the Civil War

What does the space shuttle have to do with the Civil War? Well, the connection is tenuous, but it's there.

When we think of the Civil War, we think of many innovations in the science of warfare, from Gatling guns to ironclads and submarines. Aviation may not come first to mind, but as the Library of Congress (LOC) and Smithsonian Institution remind us, it, too, belongs on the list.

150 years ago, on June 18, 1861, Thaddeus Lowe made a balloon ascent in Washington, DC. to demonstrate the usefulness of balloons for observation and intelligence-gathering. On July 25, President Lincoln sent a note to the Union Commander, "Will Lieut. Gen. Scott please see Professor Lowe once more about his balloon?" In October, Lincoln created the Union Army Balloon Corps.

Writing for the  "Inside Adams" science and technology blog of the LOC, Jennifer Harbster explains that this was was "the first official use of aviation in American military operations." In other words: Civil War aviation was the origin of the US Army Air Corps and Air Force. In honor of this 150th anniversary, she put together a bibliography of Civil War Aeronautics, which nicely supplements the existing LC Tracer Bullet: Balloons and Airships.

This past June, the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution held a conference and staged a reenactment of that historic flight:

“'We think it is really neat that an event of importance in the history of flight in America took place on the Mall just a few hundred feet in front of the present location of the museum, a building dedicated to the past, present and future of flight in America,” said Tom Crouch, a senior curator at the museum and the man in charge of coordinating the event."

Up, up, and away: but with what? from where?

As is often the case, there are charming or intriguing anecdotes, not all of which, for better or worse, turn out to be true. For example, it is commonly said that because one of the first Confederate balloons launched at Richmond was made of multicolored silk, the fabric had been donated by the patriotic local ladies from their own wardrobes.  In fact, as the US Centennial of Flight Commission tells us, "Although the 'Silk Dress Balloon' was constructed from dress silk, no actual dresses were sacrificed." (further: here)

Myth busted. That was fairly easy. In other cases, it's hard to get to the truth, or even the origins of the legend.

My favorite Civil War aeronautical anecdote dates back to my childhood. I grew up learning that Count Zeppelin made his first balloon ascent while stationed as an observer with Union troops at Fort Snelling , Minnesota, a historic site and military base that I knew well as a child. I was fascinated to think that the origin of the great airships lay in the hinterlands of our country during the Civil War.

And the truth? I dealt with this while discussing the anniversary of the first flight of the Graf Zeppelin to the US. Read on.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

July Anniversaries: Second Union Assault on Fort Wagner, 18 July 1863

Most of us have seen the film, "Glory," depicting the heroic story of the African-American soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th Infantry in the American Civil War. It was on July 18 that the fateful nocturnal assault on Fort Wagner (Battery Wagner) outside Charleston took place.

Far fewer of us are aware that African-Americans from Amherst fought in the 54th and in the 5th Cavalry. For that matter, most of us know very little about the history of the Black community in this town. That has been changing for the better in recent years, and the Civil War anniversary promises to bring still further progress.

Most recently, a minor confusion about the honoring of our African-American Civil War graves in West Cemetery brought some salutary attention to the issue as well as the Town's larger plans for the historic site. A formal ceremony honoring these soldiers and their service will take place on September 18 (see the calendar, above).

Last week, it was my turn to make the opening remarks at the meeting of the Amherst Club. The custom has been to read a poem or recount a bit of the town's history. As I was asked to do the latter, I chose something not from the town, but from Massachusetts history with a connection to the town. After noting the role of Amherst's African-American soldiers, I read a letter from another member of the 54th, James Henry Gooding, of New Bedford. Writing from Morris Island, South Carolina, on 28 September 1863, he asked President Lincoln to redress an injustice and provide Black soldiers with the same pay as whites received (the policy was finally corrected in 1864).

It is a marvelously eloquent and revealing document. In this passage, he refers to the sacrifices of the unit in the battle for Fort Wagner:
Today, the Anglo Saxon Mother, Wife, or Sister, are not alone, in tears for departed Sons, Husbands, and Brothers. The patient Trusting Decendants of Africs Clime, have dyed the ground with blood, in defense of the Union, and Democracy. Men too your Excellency, who know in a measure, the cruelties of the Iron heel of oppression, which in years gone by, the very Power, their blood is now being spilled to maintain, ever ground them to the dust. But When the war trumpet sounded o'er the land, when men knew not the Friend from the Traitor, the Black man laid his life at the Altar of the Nation, -and he was refused. When the arms of the Union, were beaten, in the first year of the War, And the Executive called more food. for its ravaging maw, again the black man begged, the privelege of Aiding his Country in her need, to be again refused, And now, he is in the War: and how has he conducted himself? Let their dusky forms, rise up, out the mires of James Island, and give the answer. Let the rich mould around Wagners parapets be upturned, and there will be found an Eloquent answer. Obedient and patient, and Solid as a wall are they. all we lack, is a paler hue, and a better acquaintance with the Alphabet. Now Your Excellency, We have done a Soldiers Duty. Why cant we have a Soldiers pay?
(The full text is available here.)
The University of Massachusetts Press has published Gooding's collected letters in an edition by Virginia Adams as On the Altar of Freedom: A Black Soldier's Civil War Letters From the Front (1991). The New York Times named the volume a Notable Book of the Year.

Check these pages in the coming months for further stories on Amherst's African-American community and the Civil War.

Previous posts

• the 2009 anniversary post
African-American Amherst
• the Mass 54th

Focusing Attention on Amherst's African-American Civil War Heroes

Because I was away on our Prague program, I missed Memorial Day in Amherst and was unable to take part in the parade or other commemorations, as I did last year.

As chance would have it, the marking of veterans' graves has recently been associated with some controversy. Last year, the problem was an epidemic of thefts of bronze grave markers (there were relatively prompt arrests but there have been no convictions to date). This year, it was the accidental failure to place holiday flags on the graves of African-American Civil War veterans. Retired Amherst College scientist and amateur historian Bob Romer both discovered and rectified the omission. There was no deeper meaning to the error, but the embarrassing incident did highlight the real problem—lack of public knowledge—which Town bodies, such as the Planning Department and Historical Commission, as well as private individuals, such as Bob (whom I first got to know when we were both on the Historical Commission) have been trying to address.

Here's the story by Scott Merzbach from the Amherst Bulletin. Scott reports on the holiday mix-up and Bob's plans for a formal ceremony later this year. He goes on to discuss related issues, such as the restoration of our Civil War memorial tablets. Although I was away as Scott was working on the story, we connected via email just as I returned, and so I, along with Planning Director Jonathan Tucker, briefly explained the Historical Commission's plans for restoration of the the historic 1730 West Cemetery, including the African-American section. In essence, our tentative proposal entails a landscape restoration and improvement, with the addition of some subtle memorial features.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Professor spurs effort to honor black soldiers who fought slavery

While Robert Romer was taking a walk the day before Memorial Day, he noticed that small American flags had been placed next to gravestones in the West Cemetery in honor of those who had served their country.

Conspicuous by their absence, though, were flags at the gravestones marking the final resting places of four black men who were Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Romer deduced that it was likely an oversight, not a slight, and quickly purchased flags for them at Hastings. But the incident got him thinking about how the town can better recognize the contributions that Amherst's African-American community made toward ending slavery.

It's a topic that holds great interest for Romer, a retired Amherst College physics professor who wrote the book "Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts." Now he's working to organize a ceremony, coinciding with the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War, to honor the black residents of Amherst who served in either the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment or the Massachusetts 5th Cavalry. More than 20 served; at least five lost their lives. Nearly 200,000 black soldiers and sailors participated in the Union's efforts overall.

"They were a large fraction of people who fought for the Union and this is a matter of how black men were willing to die for freedom," Romer said. "I think more people ought to be aware of it." (read the rest)
The newspaper story correctly notes that only four of our African-American Civil War veterans have marked graves. There is in addition a marker reading, "In Memoriam To Five Unknown Amherst Civil War Veterans."

One of the graves identified by name is that of Charles Finnemore, whose headstone, the report notes in passing, "was split in two, only recently being repaired." Finnemore, a Private in Company C of the Mass 54th, was wounded at the Battle of Olustee (or: Ocean Pond), the largest engagement fought in Florida (1, 2, 3).

When I made one of my periodic personal "inspections" of the Cemetery earlier this month—about two weeks after the news story appeared, and over 5 weeks after Memorial Day—I was pleased to see the flags still in place, here at Finnemore's grave.

The casual visitor will not be aware of how much work has already taken place in the cemetery, or what effort it took to get this single monument into this shape. Below is how it looked when I visited the section in April 2009, as we prepared to request funds for the aforementioned landscape improvements. (The Town had already authorized funding for headstone repairs, but the conservators had not yet reached this point on their priority list.)

Here, Civil War re-enactor Michael Coblyn stands next to the marker commemorating the unknown soldiers in the African-American section during a performance of "Conversations With the Past" for the Town's 250th anniversary celebrations, in May, 2009. The grave is honored with both bronze GAR markers and American flags, as is the custom in the spring, indicating that the absence of flags this year was indeed purely an oversight.

The Town secured the services of Monument Conservation Collaborative (MMC) of Norfolk, CT, which, using $ 145,000 in Community Preservation Act funds, was able to repair 249 of the most threatened stones in three sections of the oldest part of the Cemetery from 2008 through 2009. Cemetery conservation is a science, and one cannot casually clean or reconstruct historic funerary monuments. (Indeed, part of the work often consists in undoing the effects of bad earlier repairs.) Rather, one needs to take into account the material and integrity of the artifact, and the biological, chemical, and climatological threats to preservation. As MMC explains, contemporary practice has been "moving toward a 'conserve as found' approach," which seeks to to halt and mitigate any damage, but in the least intrusive way possible and without pretending to reverse all the effects of time. Accordingly, the Town's bid specifications were extremely detailed and of course included the requirement for appropriate documentation as well as treatment.

The case of Finnemore's gravestone nicely illustrates the process. The monument consists of a marble headstone (4 x 18 x 29 inches) and base. The conservators' first step had been to undertake a survey of the gravestones in the Cemetery, marking each on a grid map, assessing its current condition, and developing a conservation strategy.

Finnemore's grave is found at location Z.23, and assigned the index number 5.35 (representing Section 5, job number 35).

the blue arrow marks Finnemore's grave (in red)
the Finnemore gravesite seen from the air
The assessment, by MMC President Irving Slavid and Conservator and Partner Martin Johnson, classified the existing condition as category "2": "partial" damage (25-50%) in the form of separation from base, with breakage and some losses. The inscription was classified as "clear but worn." The conservation strategy consisted in reassembling and resetting the stone, and filling any gaps.

The inspection took place on July 7, 2008. Treatment, which comprised eight steps, began a year later, and took place over a full month, from June 2 through July 1, 2009.
1)  Conservators first removed old mortar and other debris from the setting surfaces of the headstone and base by hand and then treated them with "D/2 Biological Solution," a water-based biocidal cleaner intended to remove moss, algae, fungi, lichen, and other living organisms, and to prevent new growth. The stone is next "scrubbed with nylon brushes and water," and then "rinsed fully with water."
2) The setting surfaces are primed with Acryl 60 (diluted to 1:3), and "a relatively weak cement/lime-based grout (3/2/8) with fine aggregates (000)" is troweled on.
3) "Lower fragment is set plumb and level" on the base and braced for a minimum of 5 days.
4) The two broken (mating) edges of the headstone are treated with D/2 and rinsed.
5) The two halves are next attached to one another with Abatron A-5522 structural resin and "clamped and braced until cured." Any excess epoxy is then carefully removed by hand-chiseling.
6) In cases such as this, where the loss of some stone at the break could interfere with a proper fit and bonding, conservators fill cracks and gaps with color-matched RepliCal Marble filler.
7) The filled areas are misted with water to ensure a proper cure, and kept covered for a minimum of 3 days.
8) The partially cured filled surface areas are given a light acid washing (5% acetic acid or proprietary Limestone Afterwash, diluted to 1:4), and again thoroughly rinsed.
The result?



• The Town of Amherst website contains a page devoted to public cemeteries.  Entries include basic biographical information and a GIS map.

• As for Civil War veterans, the National Park Service has a wonderful resource in the form of the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. The database of 6.3 million entries can be searched by side, name, state, rank, and branch of service. Results include a reference to the microfilm role with the original record.

• For all the reasons indicated above, cleaning historic gravestones is not something that one should undertake without proper training; it is too easy to do more harm than good. Fortunately, many government and private organizations sponsor workshops and training, particularly in the summer.

And, as it happens, because many American veterans lie beneath government-issued marble headstones, which are subject to staining and corrosion, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) just last week issued new final guidelines on the best practices for the cleaning of these delicate monuments.  The new policies ban bleach-based cleaners and mandate the use of precisely the sort of gentle aqueous biocidal cleaners used in our West Cemetery conservation. A general explanation and downloadable guide (pdf) can be found here.

July Anniversaries: Wooden Whaling Ship "Charles W. Morgan" Celebrates 170th Birthday, 21 July

On July 21, the "Charles W. Morgan," America's last surviving wooden whaling ship, turned 170.  This year is also the 70th anniversary of her arrival at the present home in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. Staff and visitors marked the occasion with flowers, cannon, and cake.

Here is video from last year's celebration.  Further videos from Mystic describe her history and the three-year restoration work, still underway but scheduled to be completed by 2013.

The "Morgan" was one of the first American ships to be designated a National Historic Landmark, in 1966. (The USS Constitution was the first, in 1961.) Here she is depicted on one of four postage stamps honoring historic preservation (1971).

The wooden whaling ships were technological wonders of the day, and it is interesting to compare the fate of the "Morgan" with that of the space shuttle, discussed in the previous post. In one obvious sense, they are of course not comparable: the shuttle was a highly specialized machine manufactured for a need of a very particular moment as part of a very small "fleet," and modern high technology changes at a much faster rate than did traditional technologies. Still, even taking that into account, the "Morgan" does pretty well. The bark was launched in 1841 and remained in service until 1921. That is, it was fully functioning and able to carry out its mission for 80 years, even well after steam had eclipsed sail in most domains. By contrast, the space shuttle, which was intended to be a cost-saving vehicle in service for a limited period, was never efficient or fully reliable and became hugely expensive, a problem exacerbated by the fact that it was kept in service far longer than anticipated. Many scientists would say that the continuing reliance on the shuttle—both because of what it was and because of the resultant failure to develop either an alternative or a successor—was a major mistake.

Of course some mistakes can be unexpectedly productive. I remember very clearly my first visit to Mystic and the "Morgan" because, even though I was only a small child at the time, it became a part of family lore. We had driven from the Midwest to the East Coast and were traveling from New York to New Hampshire to visit relatives.  I assume that we were heading north on I-95, intending to veer northwest on 395 to I-93. My mother was driving and my father was navigating. Apparently, we kept going east on 95. After a while, my mother began to wonder whether we were in fact on the correct road. Finally she asked, "Are there supposed to be submarines over there?" We had ended up on the Atlantic at New London. At any rate, we soon discovered that we were near Mystic Seaport, which we had read about with great interest but never had a chance to visit. No time like the present. We decided to make the best of our mistake by making a day of it. I don't remember what we had for (a very late) supper when we finally got to New Hampshire. I'll never forget my first day in Mystic.

My father never liked to admit that he made mistakes. In any case, he said, he had little practice at it because error was such a rare occurrence for him. Perhaps for that reason, we never let him forget this one. Still, he had a sense of humor about the whole thing. As he would say, "I almost never make a mistake, but when I do, it's a doozy." Throughout the following years, he liked to refer to this little navigation error as "the best mistake I ever made."  We always agreed. Thanks, Dad.

And happy birthday, "Charles W. Morgan"!

Press coverage:

• Photos: Mystic Seaport Albums
• Photos: "Happy Birthday Charles W. Morgan," Mystic-Stonington Patch
• Photos: "Charles W. Morgan Birthday," The Westerly Sun
• Ian Holliday, "Seaport Celebrates Morgan's 170th Birthday, Seaport Press, 21 July
Charles W. Morgan - Whaling Ship (Mystic Seaport)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Spaced Out. 20 July 1969: Moon Landing; 21 July 2011: End of Last Space Shuttle Mission

Many of us have childhood memories of staying up all night to watch the first moon landing, excited that we were able to witness history being made. 

The word, "bittersweet," however, seems an appropriate one to characterize the end of the space shuttle program, which coincides with the anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing in 1969. It is sad that it in one way marks the close (for the foreseeable future) of our "manned space program" and, in another, reminds us of its mindless perpetuation: science on autopilot.

The other day, as I watched a grim debt-ceiling countdown clock ticking down on CNN, I was reminded of an earlier age and earlier countdown clocks:  when we were kids and there were only three networks, every manned space launch was a big deal. In fact, I recall days on which the teachers would wheel a television (black and white, of course) on a tall metal cart into the classroom so that we could watch the blastoff. And when a giant Saturn rocket was being wheeled out to the launch pad readied for a moon launch, the nightly news reports might show a clock that, like the current one, measured a week or days rather than minutes and seconds.

From countdown to blastoff to countdown to fiscal meltdown: how are the mighty fallen.

roving around the moon: when manned space exploration was still exciting

a souvenir of the last manned mission to the moon
from the moon to the earth: Apollo becomes a taxi
The space shuttle should have been the next great adventure. Indeed, all of us who were enthralled by Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" hoped to see the promise of routine NASA trips to and from a space station, even if not quite the regular PanAm space station commuter flights so (now it seems) naïvely depicted at the iconic beginning of that classic film. Like many a boy, I was excited by the idea of a reusable space vehicle, and so I built and repeatedly launched the Estes "Orbital Transport" model rocket (1, 2).

In fact, I came across the old model when cleaning out my old things at my mother's house some years ago.

It turned out even the grown-ups were naïve. Pan Am, unable to make it even here in earth atmospere, went out of business in 1991, exactly ten years before 2001. And in 2011, ten years after 2001, the "space station" is a glorified collection of tin cans rather than the huge and luxurious rotating city that we once imagined.

The manned space program was one of the glories of human endeavor, and yet, in our day, it also reminds us of the limitations of human judgment and government policy. One doesn't have to be a total opponent of the endeavor to acknowledge that it at times substituted symbolism for substance and persistence for purpose. Clearly, it was essential to learn how to transport humans safely to and from near and outer space, and the sheer heroism of the early effort was transfixing. Still, critics compellingly argue, manned exploration and manned space flight in general tended, over time, to become ends in themselves, increasingly unable to justify the means.

As impressive as they were, the shuttle missions embodied this dilemma. The scientific and technological results barely if at all justified the cost in dollars—and, in the long run, human lives. The only American fatalities associated with the ambitious, fast-paced, and heroic race to the moon occurred on the ground, in the Apollo 1 fire that killed astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee on the launchpad in 1967. The Soviets lost four cosmonauts on the ground and in the air. By contrast, we lost two full shuttle crews—14 human lives—in the course of what should have been routine service and scientific missions. That's something to think about.

I still remember very clearly where I was on the occasion of the two shuttle tragedies. On the day of the "Challenger" launch, I happened to be at my apartment in the morning because someone was coming over to see me on business.  When he left, I turned on the tv to check the news before going to the library—just in time for the launch. On the second occasion, I was watching what I expected would be a normal broadcast of a shuttle landing (I found it hard to resist any detailed coverage of the missions) on a lazy Saturday morning when the reports suddenly suggested that something was wrong and the "Columbia" vehicle had disappeared. Although the destruction of the "Challenger" became one of those emblematic moments "when everyone knew where they were when they heard the news," the less famous loss of the "Columbia stuck with me for a different reason. I was teaching a new Holocaust class as a guest professor at nearby Mount Holyoke College, and the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, the son of Auschwitz Holocaust survivors, had taken with him on the shuttle a reproduction of drawing by a child from the Terezín ghetto in the former Czechoslovakia. The image, by young Petr Ginz, depicted our planet as seen from a lunar landscape and, according to Yad Vashem, the Israel Holocaust memorial from whose collections it came, "attests to his aspiration to reach a place from where the earth, which threatened his life, could be seen from a secure range." I had planned to talk about it in class that week, as an example of both the particular and universal meaning of the Holocaust. Petr Ginz was gassed in Auschwitz in 1944, at the age of 16. As fate would have it, the "Columbia" burned up on the 75th anniversary of his birth.

Two catastrophic failures of shuttle vehicles in missions that should have been as routine as Kubrick's Pan Am flights brought home the tragic irony. The problem was that the shuttle was intended to be cheap, simple, and safe: It proved to be none of those.

Physicist Bob Park of the University of Maryland has been one of the harshest and loneliest critics of the manned space flight program, but the end of the shuttle missions provided a larger opportunity for retrospection and a platform for others likewise seeking to inject a critical (or at least analytical) perspective into a discourse too often reduced to either the triumphalist or the elegiacal.

As John Logsdon argued at the beginning of the month:
Forty years ago, I wrote an article for Technology Review titled "Shall We Build the Space Shuttle?" Now, with the 135th and final flight of the shuttle at hand, and the benefit of hindsight, it seems appropriate to ask a slightly different question—"Should We Have Built the Space Shuttle?"

After the very expensive Apollo effort, a low-cost space transportation system for both humans and cargo was seen as key to the future of the U.S. space program in the 1980s and beyond. So developing some form of new space launch system made sense as the major NASA effort for the 1970s, presuming the United States was committed to continuing space leadership. But it was probably a mistake to develop this particular space shuttle design, and then to build the future U.S. space program around it.
As he goes on to argue, the space shuttle became almost inextricably linked to the hard-to-justify space station. Operating costs were 20 times higher than projected, and because the vehicle was projected to be used for only 10-15 years but remained in service for 30, "NASA compounded the original mistake of developing the most ambitious version of the vehicle," the cost hampering the development of other projects.

He concludes:
I have previously written that it was a policy mistake to choose the space shuttle as the centerpiece of the nation's post-Apollo space effort without agreeing on its goals (Science, May 30, 1986).

Today we are in danger of repeating that mistake, given Congressional and industry pressure to move rapidly to the development of a heavy lift launch vehicle without a clear sense of how that vehicle will be used. Important factors in the decision to move forward with the shuttle were the desire to preserve Apollo-era NASA and contractor jobs, and the political impact of program approval on the 1972 presidential election. Similar pressures are influential today. If we learn anything from the space shuttle experience, it should be that making choices with multidecade consequences on such short-term considerations is poor public policy
Think about that next time politicians of either party wax enthusiastic about manned missions to Mars and the like. The world of interplanetary exploration remains as enticing as ever, but we ourselves may not need to be there every time, at least not just yet.

Still, it was a great ride. National Geographic offers "The Most Unforgettable Space Shuttle Photos" and Scientific American provides an overview of all 135 shuttle missions, spanning 30 years, in this 8-minute video:

The anniversary brought a whole crop of textual and visual retrospectives on the shuttle and the space program as a whole. A sampling:

• Tariq Malik, writing in Scientific American, provides an upbeat survey of the program in statistics rather than pictures ("NASA's Space Shuttle by the Numbers: 30 Years of a Spaceflight Icon"), while Logsdon asks, "As Atlantis Glides to Its Final Landing, What Comes Next?"
• Imperial College, London: four interviews on "the end of the shuttle era": Andre Balogh, Jonathan Eastwood, Tim Horbury, Nicholas Warner
•Caleb Scharf, "O NASA! My NASA!" (Scientific American blogs, 21 July)
Scientific American offers a host of reporting and commentary under the rubric, "The End of the Space Shuttle Program."

Previous Posts

Last year's post mainly points to the fortieth-anniversary post in 2009, which includes a hilarious appearance by Bob Park (highlight: discussion of a balky space toilet) on the Colbert Report, as well as Wallace and Gromit.

August update

Nature magazine, too, now offers a collection of coverage on the history and legacy of the shuttle program

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Second Candidate for Jones Library Director

Jones Library (here, undergoing repairs funded by the Community Preservation Act, fall, 2010)

27 July

Last night I attended the public appearance by Christopher Lindquist, the second of two candidates for Director, to succeed Bonnie Isman, who held the post for some 30 years until the end of 2010. The first, Sharon Sharry, spoke on the 21st.

Candidates are asked, in their presentations, to respond to the following statement, developed by Terry Plum, Assistant Dean at Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS):
Some critics of libraries claim that all of the important resources are available online, and that public libraries are just community centers with public computers.

In your view, can pubic libraries do things that patrons cannot do themselves on a computer?

And what services would you say that public libraries should offer which are typically not available at community centers?
This is of course a soft pitch, right over home plate: we all know the desired answer. No competent candidate could take a swing at this one and miss, so it’s not a question of hitting the ball, and rather, of the force and finesse with which the candidate connects and then runs it out. The hitter is guaranteed to get on base, but will it be a safe and easy single, a stand-up double, or a nail-biter of a slide into third? Or will s/he just knock it out of the park?

As before, though at somewhat greater length, and with rather more reliance on raised language and rhetorical flourish, Trustee and Search Committee Chair Sarah McKee explained the process and introduced the speaker. She spoke slowly and deliberately, as if to emphasize the importance of what she had to say.

“We think it only right,” she said, “for our book-hungry public to weigh in on the choice” of Director. She began by noting that a friend had been puzzled as to the proper role of the Library Trustees. Drawing upon her experience in the Washington, D.C., world of government and finance, she explained that the primary role, in a legal sense, was fiduciary: to be a good steward of the institution and its assets. However, she said, it was also much more.

She invoked the spirit of “Emily, our reclusive Dickinson neighbor,” and cited (what else?) the famous line, “There is no frigate like a book / To take us lands away.” (It also happens to be the motto of the Massachusetts Center for the Book, on whose board I serve). She took this as an opportunity to recount several stories of Amherst residents whose lives were changed by encounters with the local libraries. I’ll cite just the one from my own neighborhood: As a boy, Mark Ziomek shelved books at the North Amherst Library. Today he is the director of the Library at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Everyone,” she declared, “comes here with a dream”: from books to just a warm place or a cool place as relief from the weather. A book may be a “frugal chariot,” she said (alluding again to the Dickinson poem), but maintaining a library “takes resources.” Still, it is not all about money: “Preparing for the library’s unknown future takes imaginative trustees.” “We trustees, we find we are guarding the dreams, we are guarding the souls which our books carry.”

With that, she turned to podium over to Lindquist.

Like Sharon Sharry last week, he, too, used a PowerPoint presentation, which, although more sophisticated than hers, was not without its drawbacks. Yellow text on a blue background is not my aesthetic or practical ideal. And, although it avoided the classic PowerPoint “fail” of substituting form for content, it perhaps inclined too far in the other direction: some slides risked being too densely populated with text.

He began by stating his general theme or argument and then enumerating each of the topics and subtopics, which proved to be a longer list than I (or probably anyone) anticipated. I recall that my first impression was: this is very carefully organized—and there’s a chance of overkill (ironically, as one of the central themes of the talk turned out to be the challenge of coping with the information explosion). It was the more puzzling that the structure of the talk seemed to depart from the initial outline. (As in the previous report, I have rearranged some individual points for the sake of clarity.)

“The Future Role of Public Libraries: One Librarian’s View”

Becoming a Librarian

Lindquist praised the facilities he had seen and staff he had met in the course of his visit. Dressed in a gray-black suit, he appeared more formal and spoke more assertively than Sharon Sharry the week before. Like Ms. Sharry, however, he began with the personal: his own biography. He explained that he had been a library patron since the age of 3, but got his real start when, following in the footsteps of an older brother, he became a local library page at 16. He has worked in libraries ever since. Like many of us, he gravitated toward books. He then became an English major, eventually deciding, however, that he did not want to spend his life as an academic. He preferred a career in which he had more interaction with a large public: “Libraries are really a people profession.” He obtained his degree from Columbia University, “the mother of library schools,” since closed.

“Each library,” he said, “really reflects the community that it serves, and that to me is fascinating.” He has worked in various community settings but ended up as head of the Westfield Athenaeum. He described New England history as one of his “passions,” adding, “certainly, the historical collections here at the Jones are first-rate.”

He then turned to “The Challenge” as framed by Terry Plum. The core of the talk was devoted to the theme:

• The digital revolution: tough challenges and exciting possibilities

Here, he briefly engaged the audience, asking how many of us felt a sense of information overload. (Most). He proceeded to explain both the symptoms and the causes of this modern ailment. With a steady flow of statistics, images, and graphs that itself at times threatened to become overwhelming, he illustrated his contention: Today, he explained, a person is subjected to more information in one day than a person in the Middle Ages was in an entire lifetime. How are even the most digitally adept among us—say, the 750,000,000 Facebook users around the globe, or the 45.6 million smartphone-users in the United States—to cope in an environment that already has 1 billion web sites and, in the next four years, will generate more data than in the entire history of the planet?

How (citing a University of Michigan poster) do we “navigate on a sea of information?” Trying to get a specific piece of information from the internet, he said, switching metaphors but maintaining the aqueous analogy, is ”like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” There is a problem of quality vs. quantity. How do we filter the relevant from the irrelevant and then more closely assess the quality of what we have selected?

The answer, of course: “Professional librarians!”

It is they who teach us how to find and evaluate information, from the credentials and reliability of the web site or database to the accuracy of the individual fact or document. Many of us, he said, are far less sophisticated than we believe. We all laugh with a sense of superiority at the cartoon of the child who does not understand why the paper cribbed from the internet was not only ethically but also factually wrong.

Yet fully 60 percent of college students see no difference between the quality of commercial and ad-free sites. The librarian can save researchers from wasting time in a deeper sense, too, namely: by helping them to clarify at the outset what their real question or goal is.

And all this advice has to be tailored to the needs of the specific clientele. For example, college students may be technically savvy and familiar with software and public resources, but not with the more specialized databases to which libraries subscribe. And of course the young generation needs to be taught that often the best answer is still found in print resources. Seniors, by contrast, may need help even with the initial task of using an online catalogue. Not everyone has or is comfortable with a computer, and libraries bridge the digital divide by supplying not only the equipment, but also the training and advice, all free of charge. The professional librarian provides guidance for information- and communication-related tasks other than traditional research, particularly in the area of job searches and occupational skills.

What libraries are really doing, he said, is teaching information literacy, comprising not just traditional literacy, but also library instruction, media literacy, numerical literacy, and computer literacy.

Why do professional librarians matter? They are the ones best capable of determining what a given community needs. The Massachusetts Library Association, for example, has developed distinctive standards for overall staffing levels, service to varied clienteles, and collection development.

Our “amazing” special collections here in Amherst, he implied, help us to put the fading and coming eras in perspective. The Emily Dickinson holdings of the Jones Library, he said, allow us to “place the poet within the context” of nineteenth-century Amherst. But there are other collections as well: of Robert Frost (for which the Library received an honorific designation in 2009; 1, 2) or of contemporary author Julius Lester. There are records of the daily life of ordinary people, and there are non-print resources, including photographs and paintings. There is no substitute for the original, but intelligent digitization makes it far more widely available and moreover increases visitation by those eager to see the item itself or do further research in the collection. Lindquist praised our own award-winning “Digital Amherst," and noted that the Athenaeum had recently launched its equivalent, “Edwin Online,” to digitize materials that had hitherto been known only or mainly to specialists. Initiatives such as these, he said, are the result of “professional librarians doing what they do best.”

Even this does not exhaust the list of what librarians have to do today. They teach adult literacy, English as a Second Language, and citizenship—this, in addition to running adult cultural programs, community forums, teen and kids programs, outreach to schools, and the like. The Athenaeum has even started full-time service to the homebound, reaching up to 150 residents per week.

• Libraries and Democracy

“I would argue that libraries are fundamental to democracy,” Lindquist declared: they help to build an informed citizenry, they defend fair use and rights of privacy.

He cited former American Library Association head Nancy Kranich to the effect that libraries foster democracy by creating communities of mutual interests. He then offered his own declaration of principles, as a sort of formal reply to Terry Plum’s question:
The ‘commodification’ and ‘commercialization’ of information leads to more wealthy people having access to some kinds of information that less wealthy people do not have access to. What are the implications for our society and the future of our democracy if we don’t maintain our public libraries and continue to provide the broadest array of information in the widest array of formats possible to our citizens and those who are struggling to become citizens?

Public libraries are critical in helping this ‘democratic experiment’ we call the United States of America to continue to flourish in the 21st century.
As chance would have it, just yesterday I came across a most pertinent piece in The Atlantic by Keith Michael Fiels, head of the American Library Association and former director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. He was responding to a recent editorial—by a selectman from another Massachusetts locale, of all people (yikes!)—which proposed a per-item user fee as the way to adapt the library to the realities of the 21st century. Fiels denounced the idea as both undemocratic and inefficient. Libraries, which "provide all residents with unlimited access to the reading and information resources that will mean the difference between success and failure," "are supported by a very modest contribution of public tax funds, and provide a fabulous return on this investment by any measure." In fact, "national surveys show that the public considers public libraries the most effectively run of all municipal services."

The state of America’s public libraries: A statistical snapshot and a look at current trends

Citing numerous statistics, Lindquist argued that we cannot afford to be complacent, for the digital revolution shows no signs of slowing down. There will be fundamental changes to all aspects of libraries, from the media to the nature of the tasks. “The nature of the landscape may shift but the need for a navigator will remain.” Ebook use is accelerating, and represents the fastest-growing area of the book business. (This is true and needs to be addressed, but it is easy to overstate the case. Predictions of the both the demise of print and the rise of the ebook have been wildly exaggerated. Just today, a report reminded us that, even after 5 years, ebooks have risen to claim only 7 percent of the market. Good old print still accounts for the other 93.) There has been a huge upsurge in library use, corresponding to the increase in the information and services that these institutions provide. Last year, 65 percent of Americans visited a library, which sometimes offers the only free public access to computers, the internet, and wireless.

• The Digital Revolution: A Bridge to the Future

More and more resources—old and new—will be available electronically. Further: “Increasingly new content is being ‘born digital’ rather than created first (or at all) in analog form. The nature of the medium will change accordingly: “Networked books will proliferate”: the work that reaches us will not be the final product, but the start. “We thought we knew what a book was, but in the future, it’s an interactive process” between author and reader.

What will be the impact of a generation of digital natives? They will be used to more image in combination with text. Reading will become “more exploratory,” rather than a matter of “learning,” pure and simple. “In the future, all computing will be mobile,” as handheld devices replace the desktop and even laptop computer. We will become “digital nomads.” Already, some digital resources are optimized for mobile devices rather than full-fledged web site.

Accordingly, the role of the library and librarian will have to adapt to such sweeping and momentous change. Librarians will have to become accustomed to “managing both the static book collection and the networked collection,” the latter requiring far greater skill. They will need to provide greater and different forms of public space. Citing (but mispronouncing the name of) architectural historian Witold Rybczynski, who sees the institution as evolving into an agglomeration of “multiple destinations," he declared that “the future library will be about human relationships,” including collaborative activities.” “The library will become more critical and more central and more of a community hub than ever.”

• The Future: “The Great Good Place”

Lindquist wrapped up his talk by comparing two works of sociology: Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone (1995) noted a contemporary tendency toward social isolation, and Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place (1991) called for more public spaces where people could gather for leisure and socializing. He designated these latter as “third places,” distinct from both home and workplace. Although Oldenburg cited a variety of settings, from cafés and beer gardens to general stores and post offices, he “completely left out libraries,” Lindquist noted, arguing that they should have been at the top of the list.

Professional librarians will continue to play important roles in helping users to find the quality of information they need. They will serve young and old. They will remain institutions of democracy, helping the bridge the multiple divides in society. Even as media formats change, they will continue to meet diverse needs. A library, he said, is both “an indicator and a creator of social capital.”

* * *

On this evening, Trustee Christopher Hoffmann led the Question-and-Answer session.

As in the case of the previous candidate’s presentation, this portion of the event did not add much of anything new, but it dealt with some standard institutional challenges and allowed the audience members to engage the speaker on a more personal level.

(in what follows, I identify by name only current or recent town officials whose office is pertinent)

Tapping the community's resources
Q: A question about fundraising (same person as last time, similar wording/intent). In essence, how do we go about obtaining donations from people who would be prepared to support the library but have not been properly solicited?
A: (he summarized/interpreted the question well, as he would tend to do for the others): The Athenaeum just started a development committee. It is important to understand both the needs of the institution and the way to tailor the request to a given donor profile. First, one has to understand one’s own needs, and how to communicate them. Colleges are more skilled than libraries in this regard, but the latter will have to learn, as both state and local funds dry up. It is essential to develop private philanthropy, which can take multiple forms, from one-time contributions, to gifts of stock, to estate planning. With a smile: “Why should they leave their millions to their alma mater; they might as well leave it to their public library.”

Showdown on the drawdown?
Q: How to respond to those who, in time of crisis, feel the library should rely much more heavily on endowment?
A: Those who are knowledgeable know that one should typically draw only 5% for operating costs (as is the practice in Westfield). You retain the principal, and “you hopefully have a strategy to build your endowment to find other sources of revenue.” It would be “foolhardy” to try to address a critical need in one year at the price of future needs.” The real question is a deeper one: “We’re having this conversation nationally: what can we afford?” What are the core needs and services, what does it cost to provide them? He said he could see what the Jones could become in 5 years. “We have to invest” in the future: “we have to tell that story.”

Mission Creep?
Q: Former Trustee Molly Turner: The model of Westfield is much broader than that of the typical library. Will we develop that sort of identity? Samuel Minot Jones thought of the Library as the community’s living room, not only a place for books, but also an art gallery, etc. Have you thought of broadening the cultural mission in that fashion?
A: “Perhaps it strayed from that mission, I don’t know.” “In my experience, the library should be the cultural hub of the community.”
Amherst is perfect for this. He realizes that there are many other venues for the arts in the Five-College area, but the Jones should still claim a legitimate central role. And this should include the branches. “I am totally a proponent of that. If I am invited here, that would be one of my first things, to develop those connections.”

Divvying Up the Dollars
Q: Former Trustee Louis Greenbaum, on budgetary resources. It is strange to see Harvard alumni talking about shortages, but we are in that tradition, i.e. we have important research collections. But “That takes money.” (He noted our good fortune in obtaining Town support through Community Preservation Act funds.) “How do you achieve equilibrium” among “more conventional “ collection needs, preservation, special collections, etc.?
A: “Obviously, there needs to be a balance, and I think libraries are just starting to have that conversation internally.” They debate the need for books vs. CDs vs. e-readers. In the end, of course, they’ll all go away, and it will be “all steaming video.” “For at least the next generation, the book, I think, will be around.” He used the analogy of LP record collections as a “niche for the ‘old forms.’” “There’s no easy or short answer.”

Respecting Those Most in Need
Q: Former Select Board member and Current Chair of the Committee on Homelessness Hwei-Ling Greeney asked much the same question as on the previous night: Given that “librarians are people professionals” and different people have different needs: the library is the only place that provides an equal footing, i.e. free access for all from the kid with a skateboard to the homeless, etc. How does one deal with that?
A: This gets to his point about equal access: Westfield has a behavior policy, as must every place. “The challenge is to provide as much access as possible to everyone in the community while still maintaining certain standards, including safety and security.” “But as long as a person is not interfering with another person’s enjoyment of the library” or does not go outside the bounds of behavior, “then they are welcome.” Occasionally, one needs to speak with a patron about behavior, e.g. using cell phone, etc. Most, however, are very cooperative, and there is no real history of safety or security threats in his experience.

* * *

The talks by the two candidates, then, displayed both similarities and differences.

On the one hand, both candidates come highly recommended and share key values. Both are experienced at running a library. Both understand the challenges that libraries face today. Both professed a deep desire to be actively involved with patrons and residents of the town. Both left no doubt as to their commitment to the library as a communal resource, center of community life, and both guardian and nurturer of democratic values.

There was one interesting minor contrast: when Sharry spoke of Amherst libraries, she spoke of the overall budget and the economic relationship to the community; it was the most specific part of her talk. When Lindquist discussed the specifics of our library, he spoke of Special Collections. (What that reveals is not clear, but it’s worth noting.)

On the other hand, the two talks, taken as a whole, could not have been more different in style or substance. As a response to the common question posed to the candidates, Lindquist’s was, hands down, the better answer. Whereas Sharry’s talk was more casual in tone and remained on the level of broad generalization except when venturing into the anecdotal, Lindquist’s was rigorous and detailed. It showed a command of the overarching conceptual issues, societal trends, statistics, and professional literature. It showed a greater awareness—or at least demonstrated in greater detail an awareness—of the way that technological changes are changing the reading experience and the shape of library services.

Whether it was the better talk in the context of the search and interview process is a different question, and it is not for me to determine the answer. I had the sense that some attendees found Lindquist’s recitation more impressive, and Sharry’s chat more engaging. One said to me that she found Sharry’s talk to be more appropriate to a job interview, and Lindquist’s, more like a lecture. (Indeed, it did remind me of some of the presentations I heard at the book-studies conference last week.)

Of course, that should remind us that the public talk is only one element of a long and complex search process. The committee and trustees will be judging the candidates not just on what they said and how well they performed in a 45-minute public talk to residents, and rather, based on their one-on-one interactions with library staff, their skills as managers, motivators, and fundraisers, and much more that the rest of us could not see and are not able to judge.

We are left, then, with two very good but very different choices, and that’s often the most productive search result. It is fortunate that the committee was able to organize and manage this complex process with the requisite combination of speed and care, and it will be wonderful to welcome a new Library Director to Amherst just as the public schools reopen, the college students return, and the Town itself begins to take up next year’s budget.

Stay tuned.

Amherst Media is posting full videos within about a day after the presentation. (You get the raw information there; you get some sifting and interpretation here.) Here is the recording of Lindquist's presentation.

What do you think?

The trustees will take up the issue on 2 August, and the candidate could begin the job on 1 September.

Residents can submit feedback on the candidates online here.

Spring Flowers at the North Amherst Library

Last fall, volunteers put in new plantings around the North Amherst Library, mostly to take the place of the stately old beech tree that had to be taken down, but also as a part of a larger landscape beautification effort. This spring, we began to see and enjoy the results. Here, the scene in early May (in the background of the first shot: the historic 1826 North Congregational Church).


The structure itself—Amherst's oldest library building—acquired a newly colorful aspect when it was repainted, thanks to a Town Meeting appropriation under the Community Preservation Act.

Repairs this coming year, likewise to be supported with CPA funds, will help to stabilize the building's foundation (reports to follow).

Monday, July 25, 2011

July Anniversaries: Attempted Assassination of Hitler, 20 July 1944

July 20 as a historical date is many things to many people. For most of us nowadays, and Americans in particular, and this year above all (with the end of the space shuttle program), it is the anniversary of the moon landing in 1969.

For me, as a historian, it is always first and foremost the anniversary of the nearly successful bomb attempt on Hitler's life in 1944.
That date barely seems to register here, and Germans seem resigned to that fact, as well.  The editors of the English language international edition of Spiegel evidently decided that the first anniversary of the deaths in the gay "Love Parade" in Duisburg—21 people were trampled to death, and hundreds injured—would interest a wider readership. That topic earned two stories (1, 2).

Der Spiegel ran a series of very substantial pieces this past week, but they're only in German, so I'll just summarize and link.

The theme of guilt and survival may be a good place to start. The first of the pieces on the Love Parade disaster, "The Difficult Burden of Love Parade Guilt," is about a man who believes he accidentally trampled someone to death in that tragic incident. The second, "There Is Life Before, and Life After," is about a woman who was saved by a stranger. Both survivors wrestle with enduring psychological trauma.

One of the German pieces on the 20 July plot describes a different kind of guilt and suffering. "Mein Vater, der verhasste Held" ("My Father, the Hated Hero"), by Till Mayer, tells the story of Frauke Hansen. Her father, Col. Georg Alexander Hansen,
supplied the explosives for the plot and paid with his life. Hanged with a thin wire, he died an agonizing death that lasted half an hour. The agony for his family continued, as the widow and children were pilloried as traitors—and not just during the final months of the Nazi regime, but well into the postwar period. Chillingly, the daughter recounts how even three years ago, a client came to her and felt compelled to declare that he still regarded her father as a traitor.

"Heiliger Unterm Hakenkreuz" ("A Saint Under the Swastika"), by Peter Steinbach, marks the centenary of the birth of Klaus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, the originator of the plot, and describes the evolution of his reputation from traitor to officially celebrated hero. The piece includes original film footage on the assassination attempt.

Speaking of survivors, a story in the English-language international edition of the Spiegel profiles Ewald von Kleist who, at 88, is the sole remaining conspirator (the last member of the inner circle, Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager, died in 2008). In the lengthy interview, von Kleist discusses not only history and Hitler, but the present and future:  German involvement in Afghanistan (having to "die so that girls can go to school in Asia" strikes him as a steep price), the German military (not a threat to democracy even if there is a switch from conscript to professional army), President Obama's dream of world nuclear disarmament ("nonsense").

A few tidbits.

On German military preparedness:
SPIEGEL: One gets the impression that the Bundeswehr is having a harder time of it than other armies.

Kleist: I agree. Given our past, we are especially cautious and, as a result, we're also training our soldiers with a great deal of gentleness.

SPIEGEL: With too much gentleness?

Kleist: I would almost say yes, we are. Things are more difficult for them when push comes to shove. If possible, a soldier should be placed in a situation where he can handle the horrible things he's likely to experience.

SPIEGEL: The Bundeswehr is based on the ideal of the citizen-soldier, that is, a citizen wearing a uniform.

Kleist: We want the thinking soldier, which is in principle OK. But if you rely too heavily on thinking soldiers, the soldiers end up having problems. When he approaches his evil enemy and is thinking too much, he'll say: "Okay, the closer I get, the more dangerous it gets!" This isn't necessarily helpful.

SPIEGEL: Do we need to rehabilitate terms like "heroism" and "bravery"?

Kleist: Certainly not heroism. I never understood the saying "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." Is it really honorable and sweet to die for one's fatherland? This sort of thing is bloody idiotic, and we really don't need it. As a soldier, you do have to be brave so you can overcome your fear.

On fear, courage, and the moral imperative in the resistance against Hitler:
SPIEGEL: You are the last surviving member of the July 20 plot. Were you afraid when you decided to take part in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler?

Kleist: I think fear is very reasonable; fear extends life. But sometimes, when it's absolutely necessary, you have to overcome fear.

SPIEGEL: And was that one of those situations?

Kleist: When you encounter a situation like that and it was a voluntary decision, you've already answered that question in the affirmative.

SPIEGEL: You asked your father whether he agreed.

Kleist: He said: "You have to do it. A person who fails at a moment like this will never be happy again in his life."

• On the nature of war, government, and the press today:
Kleist: If only the people who talk about war today and make the decisions had experienced what it's really like. A father-son relationship develops between the commanding officer and the soldier, even if the officer is much younger. And then those things happen that happen in war. Someone gets hit and is lying there, and you have to go to him and watch him die, watch one of your own children die. And he had believed he was sacrificing his life for something just and necessary. It's horrible, you know.

SPIEGEL: Do you get inured to it after a while?

Kleist: Many people got used to it, but I never did. I still feel that way today, which is why security policy interests me. And that's why I'm worried that we sometimes treat these issues very recklessly.

SPIEGEL: Do you think that's because many people today haven't been through the life-and-death experiences you're describing?

Kleist: That's a good thing. But the job of a politician who specializes in security issues is to protect the blood and lives of those entrusted to his care. Nothing is more valuable than the blood of the people you are responsible for. People should be made to understand this.


Kleist: I believe that the media should report a lot more on these issues. Then people would understand.

SPIEGEL: Isn't it true that people today are far better informed about the war in Afghanistan than was the case in earlier wars? We sometimes get the impression that readers have only a limited attention span.

Kleist: Goebbels once told me that, when it comes to propaganda, you just have to keep repeating the same thing over and over again until people can't bear to hear it anymore -- and then you say it again.

SPIEGEL: That's what politicians running for office today say. You don't even have to quote Goebbels for that.

Kleist: Yes, but he was very clever, diabolically clever.

SPIEGEL: Mr. von Kleist, thank you for this interview.

 Worth a read. Read the rest.

Past posts:


July Anniversaries: Six Months Since the Death of Peace Corps Founding Director Sargent Shriver

I had almost forgotten:  July 18 marked six months since the death of Sargent Shriver (1915-2011), founding Director of the Peace Corps, one of the most admirable legacies of the Kennedy administration, and one of the institutions that invariably presents a positive face of the United States to the rest of the world. The Peace Corps, which, coincidentally, celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, has sent over 200,000 volunteers to 139 countries.

I became aware of the date because I was in Washington, DC, for a conference and happened to stroll past the Peace Corps headquarters on my way to a bookstore.

"We must seek, above all, a world of peace,a world in which people dwell together in mutual respect and work together in mutual regard."
John F. Kennedy
"The Peace Corps stands for some, if not all, of the best virtues in this society. It stands for everything that America has ever stood for. It stands for everything we believe in and hope to achieve in the world."
Sargent Shriver
That same morning I noted and was at first surprised at the sight of television trucks and a host of reporters encamped on a sidewalk up the street, apparently awaiting important news or important people, or both. I later realized that, because the building in question was Upshaw Place—the National Football League Players Association union headquarters—the throng was waiting for news of the football lockout (breaking news now suggests that it is about to end).

In retrospect, the attention devoted to the lockout was hardly surprising. Fans wonder whether the season will take place. And there is a lot of money riding on the outcome.

• For the 2011 NFL season, the owners are guaranteed $ 4.5 billion in television revenues, and the players stand to earn $ 4.4 billion in salary and benefits.
• By contrast, in Fiscal Year 2011, the Peace Corps had a budget of $ 400 million.

Of course, the Peace Corps is neither big business nor big news: it has become an accepted part of our daily national life, going about its business without fanfare, crisis, or scandal, accomplishing much with little. Maybe that's the best kind of legacy to leave.