Monday, August 31, 2015

Town Meeting Follies. The New Hampshire View (2): Quaint Characters

As noted in the previous post, a chance historic preservation and genealogy conversation on Twitter some years ago about antiquated New England town offices led me to a humorous piece on the character of town meeting in New Hampshire Magazine. As I also mentioned, the URL for that piece has vanished, a victim of link rot. But, as they say, when God shuts a door, he opens a window: and so, my recent, unsuccessful search for that piece brought me not only further information on weird and vanished town offices, but also more commentary on the institution of town meeting.

The article is entitled, "Town Meeting and Other Relevant NH Government Relics" and moreover has the descriptive and charming subtitle, "Like programs on the History Channel, some civic traditions are profound while others are ridiculous, and just like the folks who preserve them, they all have stories to tell."

As I said last time: to share this material is not to voice an opinion on the move for a "Charter vote" that would conceivably abolish Amherst Town Meeting (and my own prestigious and lucrative position on the Select Board: as former Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe used to say on bad days: "82 cents a day."). The purpose is only to share more comparative material on our civic and political institutions. On the whole, I think Amherst comes off looking pretty good. As I like to say: "it could always be worse."

Still, you may see some things that you recognize here. Take a look at this "Town Meeting Cast and Crew" and see what you think. Any familiar types?

Town Meeting Follies. The New Hampshire View (1): "I Hate Town Meeting"

Given that we have launched into the great debate over the proper form of local government, I am hauling pertinent past posts (or parts of them) out of the vaults.

Several years ago, in the course of a Twitter conversation with a fellow historic preservationist about obscure or obsolete New England town offices (the one in question was that of "hog reeve"), I came across this humorous portrayal of a mildly undemocratic, corrupt, and dysfunctional town meeting. It was originally published in New Hampshire Magazine back in 2008, and the URL appears to be a victim of proverbial "link rot," so I am glad I grabbed a portion of the text at the time and can share it here again.

Lest anyone leap to any invidious conclusions: I am doing so simply to illustrate the range of character of and opinion about New England town meetings. As one of the labels for the post should suggest, we in Amherst are fortunate to have a Town Meeting that--whatever one thinks of the views expressed at any given time--is serious, ethical, and managed by skilled Moderators. We should be grateful for that, because: "it could always be worse."

Still, you may see a few traits that you recognize.


I hate town meeting.

Town meeting is a laboratory sink for psychologists.

Every dreadful facet of human nature reveals itself at these gatherings. One must have the emotions of a sociopath to escape town meeting with one's soul intact.

I remember a town meeting in Temple years ago where the Police Chief, Russ Tyler, was attacked for using his cruiser too much. Poor Chief Tyler used his own car as the cruiser. He saved the town a lot of money using his own car.

But the mob at the meeting was sure he was getting away with something.

I remember thinking, "You people are crazy to be yelling at the Chief like this. He has a gun."

But Chief Tyler also had great heart. He was a straight shooter and a nice guy (although he did look like that sheriff in the old TV ad who says, "Boy, you're in a heap of trouble.")

In the end, the meeting vented itself and the Chief got his budget. But what heroic self-restraint that man showed.

Towns are made up of people who do not trust one another. It is and has always been "us and them."

The "new" people settle here with an idyllic view of living in a small town. They come from places where no one knows each other. Here they expected to find love.

What they find, of course, is resentment. The old Yankees don't trust the newcomers. Usually the newcomers are Democrats.

Some newcomer always stands up at the meeting and says something like, "My name is Ralph Lumpman and Loraine and I moved up here last fall from Darien. We bought the old Cosgrove place on Swamp Road. And I'd like to say that our moderator tonight is doing a bang-up job and I think we should give him a round of applause."

Then all the people, who recently moved to town, clap.

And there is always someone who informs the moderator that the flag is on the wrong side of the stage.

Town meeting gives people license. No one is expected to practice restraint.

Everyone is there to tell it like it is.

For 24 years of my life I was a small-town newspaper reporter and did news on the radio station in Peterborough.

I have attended over three hundred town meetings.

In my 50-plus years of going to town meetings I've seen a lot of changes. Years ago most towns were controlled by the families who owned the mills. In Milford it was Charlie Emerson; in Jaffrey it was D.D. Bean; in Wilton it was the Abbots; in Dublin, Robb Sagendorph.

If you didn't work for these men, someone in your family did. I used to watch D. D. Bean sit in the front of the hall at the Jaffrey Town Meeting.

Mr. Bean owned the match factory, in Jaffrey. When an article important to him came up he would turn and look back over his seat and note who voted "for" and who voted "against" the article.

Robb Sagendorph was the publisher of Yankee magazine and the Old Farmer's Almanac up in Dublin and he had double clout. Robb Sagendorph was also the moderator. If he didn't like an article he would close down discussion.

"We have had enough jawing about this matter," he'd say. "It's time to vote." 

Artifact of the Moment: "Souvenir de la Libération": France, 1944

As the anniversary of the start of World War II draws near, time to squeeze in one more piece on the endgame. Recently, it was Okinawa and Hiroshima in the spring and summer of 1945.

This time: the liberation of Paris, August 25, 1944.

Dia.: 40 mm. Rim dia: 61 mm. Length: 311mm
It is a British brass shell casing, decorated and inscribed, "Souvenir de la Liberation." I bought it from an English antique dealer couple who were visiting a colleague here in the US and had brought a few items to sell during their trip. I haven't researched is as thoroughly as I would like, but unless I am way wide of the mark, it is a shell from a 40 mm Bofors L60 gun (1 , 2) which was widely used by both sides.

As a piece crafted to celebrate and recall the "Liberation," it presumably dates from sometime between D-Day and August 27, when De Gaulle told the Resistance that their work was done, or soon thereafter.

Many would term it "trench art," which Paul Cornish's photo essay on the Imperial War Museum website defines as "objects made from the debris and by-products of modern warfare": originally applied to works by soldiers of the First World War, but now even beyond that period. He further notes,  "Many examples of trench art were also made by local civilians for sale to soldiers" and "after the war. . . for sale as souvenirs to the visitors to battlefields and cemeteries." Given that this one is French, and taking the inscription into account, I would assume that it falls into that latter category of works made by civilians for the general market. That said, the fact that the word, "Liberation" lacks the appropriate accent aigu on the "e" (é) could perhaps (though probably not?) suggest a foreign origin.

a flower

the dove and dawn of peace
Although it was sold as a topical item tied to the events of the day, it has somehow survived for over 70 years, thus indeed preserving the memory of a moment that seemed to herald the dawn of a new world.

Naive, we may think. Barbarism and intolerance have not disappeared. Europe was powerless in the face of the genocide committed against Bosnian Muslims and has also failed in the face of subsequent horrors. And yet, as this stamp issued for the 50th anniversary of the end of the war reminds us, something of that hopeful moment did become a reality.

[updated images]

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Town Meeting: "We’ve been at this since 1780, we kind of have it down by now"

Or in our case: 1759. (Well, 1735, if you date the history of Amherst Town Meeting from the time when this was simply the Third District of Hadley.)

Given that a Charter vote to reform our system of government is now on the table (if not yet the ballot), I'll dig up some goodies from the vaults.

As noted recently, one of my favorites is this clip from the classic "Newhart" show in which comedian Bob Newhart plays a man who, with his wife, moves to rural Vermont and fulfills their dream by purchasing a classic country inn.  In this 1982 episode--"All Hail the Councilman"--set soon after his arrival, he seeks a stop sign for a dangerous intersection near the inn (more on that in a later post) and is encouraged to run for "town council."

Although the gathering that he attends is called a "town council," it actually functions like a traditional open town meeting except that the members elect one another (what? they couldn't get any real New Englanders to advise them on this?!). Then again, perhaps that confusion or hybrid form is completely apropos, given the choices now (or soon?) before us.

In any case, although one complaint about Amherst Town Meeting is that we spend too much time talking, part of the humor here nonetheless also rings true: the speed with which we approve most budget articles, and our inveterate tendency to take stances on foreign policy matters on which we cannot possibly have any practical influence. Oh, yes: and there is the crank in the back of the room who always brings forward his pet motion (I'll leave it to you to decide whether we have an equivalent here). And a bonus: dress code.

Questioned by Bob as to why the votes on expenditures proceeded so quickly, handyman George Utley (played by real-life close friend Tom Poston; see below) responds:
We’ve been at this since 1780, we kind of have it down by now.
When Bob is surprised that "town council" meets only once a year rather than once a week, George responds:
What would we talk about every week?
Do we "have it down"?
Once (well, twice) a year--or once a week?
What do you think?



* * * 

Fun facts to know and tell:

Tom Poston--said to have "appeared in more sitcoms than any other actor"--was a World War II pilot whose aircraft carried paratroopers on D-Day. In addition, he was married to Suzanne Pleshette, who played Bob Newhart's wife on the predecessor series, "The Newhart Show."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

And so it begins: Charter proponents seek change in the form of Town government

On Thursday afternoon, members of a new group, whose existence had long been predicted, rumored, or mentioned in hushed conversation, came out into the open. "Amherst for All" officially announced its presence by filing papers for a ballot initiative that would create a Charter Commission to review and (presumably) change our form of town government.

Charter supporters gather before visiting the Town Clerk (blogger Larry Kelley at right)
Front row: Yuri Friman, Michael Alpert, Andrew Churchill, Niels la Cour (and son: behind, left), Adam Lussier (with clipboard), John Kuhn, Richard Morse
Rear row: Jerry Guidera, Jackie Churchill, Peter Vickery
at the Town Clerk's office
Town Clerk Sandra Burgess explains the signature-gathering process

Poll positions

Town Clerk Sandra Burgess took the time to explain in great detail to the group (joined by Town Meeting member Clare Bertrand, who arrived later) what constitutes a legal and verifiable resident signature. 3,215 such signatures would be required to get this measure on the ballot next year. As Larry Kelley notes: last time, that took nearly two years, whereas this time, the organizers are shooting for the spring election, which is but seven or eight months away. But as he also notes, we now live in the age when internet access is taken for grant and new social media amplify and speed up the conversation.

A side-issue is the date of the spring election: traditionally, it takes place between the last days of March and the opening days of April, but this year, another option is to make it coincide with the presidential primary, whose date of March 1 is mandated by State law. There are arguments on both sides. Some think it would make sense to combine them, for the sake of efficiency and better turnout. Clerk Burgess expressed strong support for keeping the two elections separate, arguing that combining them would (because of the technical requirements of local and state ballots) in fact not result in any monetary savings and, rather, simply overstress Town staff. (The last time such elections coincided was in November 2008, when, however, the presidential contest caused more residents to volunteer at polling places.) The issue will soon come before the Select Board, which has the authority to set the date.

Scrap Town Meeting or throw all the bastards out?

Everyone "knows" that this pro-Charter movement is primarily an anti-Town Meeting movement, and that it would replace our current system of government with a mayor and city council, right? The first is clear. The latter, not so much. 

The desiderata, according to the website, are:
Accountability, Representation, and Year-Round Decision-Making.
The last of these looms largest in the explanation, but the former two are the proverbial elephant in the room. Clearly, Town Meeting is the main target of all three:
Our government structure isn’t built to keep up with these challenges and maintain our great quality of life. We have a Town Meeting that meets twice a year.  We have a five-member Select Board and a Town Manager.  Too many issues have to wait until the next Town Meeting to be addressed – and if a proposed solution needs some tweaking, maybe the next Town Meeting after that. 
Another passage at least implicitly references former Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe's editorial on the problem of executive authority and accountability:
with leadership diffused across the Select Board and Town Manager, it’s hard to know who’s in charge.  Who represents us with the state, the colleges, businesses, and citizens?  Who can we hold accountable for meeting the many challenges of maintaining our quality of life?
On the other hand, the organizers claim to be agnostic about the precise nature of the alternative arrangement:
We don’t know what the right government structure is for Amherst.  That’s why we support electing a representative study group to take a look at it.  Whatever the final proposal looks like, we think it should meet a few clear standards – it should be year-round, representative, and accountable.
I think we can take them at their word. We should after all remind ourselves that the last (unsuccessful) Charter proposal indeed proposed replacing Town Meeting and the Select Board with a mayor and council--but also retained the institution of a professional, appointed Town Manager, which Amherst has had since 1954.

What are the issues?

I wouldn't presume to analyze this in depth here: just a snapshot and some guesses.

We've been through this before, in 2003 and 2005, when Charter initiatives came within a hairsbreadth of winning. Many of the underlying issues are the same, though the dynamics as well as the players are, I suspect, somewhat different.

Last time, it seemed, Town Meeting was the focus of much of the dissatisfaction. Critics charged, for example that it was inefficient, consumed with process and deliberation rather than action (and too eager to take on issues beyond the local realm). The Select Board was unpopular in many quarters, as well. Critics accused it of the double sin of inefficiency and intrusiveness: it was seen as meddling and micromanaging.

This time, I think, the active hostility is directed principally at Town Meeting. There is the perennial complaint that it spends too much time talking and is too slow to reach decisions, but I think it is more about the substance. In the last three to five years, Town Meeting has become increasingly polarized around a set of issues that could be broadly grouped under the rubric of "development": from zoning changes to the permitting of major new downtown construction projects (and of course, the ill-conceived and stillborn "Retreat" proposal for commercial student housing). Only the zoning changes strictly fall within the remit of Town Meeting, but ill will over the other issues clearly shapes the course and character of our debates.

At the risk of oversimplifying for the sake of clarity:

One faction sees large new downtown construction projects and measures promoting greater density in village centers as jeopardizing Amherst's comfortable "rural" or "small-town" feel. It accuses Town Hall (especially the Planning Department, and to some extent the Town Manager) of turning a deaf to ear to residents' fears over loss of neighborhood character and instead catering to the interests of developers. The role of the University and the problem of off-campus student housing is a closely related concern. Among some, the distrust extends to all at the "front of the table"--i.e. the appointed Planning Board and Finance Committee and elected Select Board--accused of thinking and voting in lockstep. As a result, this faction sees Town Meeting as a watchdog that should view major planning and economic development proposals with great skepticism, and in many cases, block them.

The other faction sees economic development and increased density in village centers as a form of smart growth: the only way to begin to shift more of our tax base from residential (currently: 90%) to commercial property and to address the housing shortage that is pricing many would-be residents--including young families--out of town. It sees the other faction as creating a toxic atmosphere characterized by incivility and lack of trust between residents and government. As a result, it despairs over the possibility of change, believing it has become nearly "impossible to get anything done," meaning, for example: pass comprehensive as opposed to incremental legislation in crucial areas such as planning and zoning.

As a result, following last spring's Annual Town Meeting, one heard increasing concerns that our system of government was caught in a sort of gridlock with no solution in sight.

Obviously, Town Meeting encompasses a wide variety of individuals and people, including many who belong to no "faction," and even those associated with one of the aforementioned groupings do not necessarily vote together on all issues. Still, these seem to be the dynamics driving much of the renewed interest in a Charter vote.

Then again, I am not part of this Charter movement, so you'd have to ask them. I'm sure we'll soon find out.

I don't intend to provide detailed coverage of the issue in these pages (hyperlocal blogger Larry Kelley seems to be taking care of that). Rather, I just want to note it, because I've been talking about Town government, and this could radically affect what all of us do in the civic realm (including my own post as an elected official).

For the record: no one on the five-member Select Board has publicly discussed or taken a position on this initiative. We have been elected to carry out the duties of our office, we have a great deal of work to do, and it is on that work that we are focused.

*  *  *

Fun facts to know and tell:

Contrary to concerns raised in a recent op-ed piece by veteran Finance Committee member Marylou Theilman, the Town would not be obligated to pay present Town Manager John Musante half a million dollars (or whatever fearsome sum some have in mind) in the event that a Charter change occurs. Town Counsel confirmed to the Select Board, and we stated in our press release on his contract renewal and salary, that our original interpretation of the original 2010 contract holds: 9 months' severance pay if the contract is terminated.

So, at least you can cross that issue off your list as you ponder the change in form of government. Debate away, in the confidence that the determining factor will be the effectiveness of government rather than the bottom line.

Footnote (can't help myself):

Props to the Amherst for All website designer (whoever he or she may be) for a clean aesthetic and good navigation (you can't always take those essentials for granted, even nowadays)--and some interesting image choices.

Start with the organization's logo:

Smart choice: not just the iconic 1889 Town Hall (as both landmark and seat of government, with the word, "Amherst," mostly but not entirely below it), but also individual houses: underscores the "for all" and "for everyone" message. And, given that much debate in and around Town meeting has focused on both affordable housing and the threats posed to existing neighborhoods by predatory rental conversions, it reminds us of the substantive issues under debate.

Finally, although the length of the image series is dictated by the need to match that of the text below, there is just something about the two-tiered horizontality of the icons that to me subtly underscores the message, "for all" and "everyone."

(Of course, one might instead choose to read the Town Hall and houses as the Town Manager and five Select Board members, since that's one theoretical outcome of a Charter Commission, as well. Okay, clearly time to stop this.)

Another example: the top of the page borrows from the Town's promotional slogans: a great place to live, study, work, play.

But for "a great place to study," the image used is that of the beloved Jones Library, thus referencing a Town civic institution rather than having to choose between the University of Massachusetts and the private Amherst and Hampshire Colleges. Smart move.

On the other hand, inclusion of that atrocious hippie-flavored student mural near Rao's and the Bangs Center (admittedly, I think I know some people who took part in creating it) toward the bottom of the page? Not so much. Or maybe that is a very subtle way of indicating the need for a break from the ways of the past?

{corrected; apologies: a trackpad error caused the post to go up before it was complete}

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Follow-up on the Town Manager Evaluation

Citizen blogger Larry Kelley was kind enough to respond to my piece on the Town Manager evaluation (since I had referenced his).

I started a long reply, but then it occurred to me that both halves of the exchange might serve the public better as a separate post.  So here goes.

Larry Kelley said...

Well I did use a question mark with my title "Trouble at the top?"; and notice I went out of my way to find a photo where both the Town Manager and SB Chair Alisa Brewer seem to be sharing a lighthearted moment.

A fighter pilot is trained to scan the horizon and ignore everything that should be there making it easier to spot a tiny dot -- enemy fighter or incoming missile -- that should NOT be there.

When LBJ won the NH primary in 1968 by 49% to 42% over Eugene McCarthy, the headlines could have stated: "LBJ wins by decent margin" or "Is LBJ in trouble?". I of course would have used the latter.

After the tumultuous years for the Select Board during the reign of Anne Awad and Gerry Weiss the institution has become, for lack of a better word, boring (other than the 9/11 commemorative flag fiasco of course). So any hint of discord or friction is made even more newsworthy.

If UMass or Amherst College were to suddenly address grade inflation with new stricter criteria it would shock the first transitional generation of students to come under the new evaluation methods.

Perhaps now that average citizens and town employees know the Select Board takes its job of evaluating the Town Manager so seriously, and that he is not above criticism, the number of people submitting evaluations will increase next year.

* * *

Citizen Wald replies:

No problem, Larry. As I said, I assumed you stressed the negative because it was more newsworthy (dog bites man is not much of a story).

the options should not be just either a pat on the back or a pink slip

I just wanted to clarify for the public that the Town Manager (unlike LBJ) was not in trouble, for that's the point: the options should not be just either a pat on the back or a pink slip. The possibility for strong, constructive criticism should be something that we accept as normal and healthy. In fact, it also lends more weight to the positive things we have to say. 

Amherst has been served well by the institution of Town Manager--and the evaluation process

Speaking more generally, I might add: Amherst has been served well by the institution of Town Manager ever since it was introduced in 1954. The evaluation process is intended to ensure that this continues to be the case.

Since you bring it up: I would like to stress that, in each of the six years during which I have been involved in the process, the evaluation was performed with great care and seriousness. Obviously, the views and manner of expression of each Select Board member will vary. It is, for example, quite possible that one member issues a "needs improvement" rating while another chooses "satisfactory," and yet they may be offering much the same judgment in their prose remarks.

This is why it is so important that residents consider the full evaluation process and documentation and not just the composite grid, which can give a false sense of numerical precision. Now, obviously, not everyone has the time or inclination to read the (this year) 11-page Evaluation Memo or even to watch the discussion on television, not to mention, plow through 91 pages of total material. And that is why we look to the press to provide thorough and nuanced coverage.

These newspaper reports are pretty much bare-bones stuff. As I said, I completely understand the pressure to get out a prompt summary of the evaluation text and meeting: that is the nature of the trade. But does that have to be the end of the story?

Consider these numbers: Scott Merzbach's piece on the Town Manager evaluation came out with characteristically admirable promptness and clocked in at around 950 words. By contrast, Matt Vautour's piece on the UMass basketball team's trip to Europe (and I like basketball and the Eiffel Tower as much as the next guy) ran to about 1100 words, and Cheryl Wilson's nice feature on the renovation of the landscape at Edith Wharton's home, "The Mount" (you all know I am a fan of both gardens and historic preservation) weighed in at almost 1700 words.

Given the importance of the role of the Town Manager in our political system, would it not be helpful to have a follow-up on the evaluation, which, written without the pressure of the looming deadline, could use a few more column-inches to add some depth and detail?

PS As for the Select Board being boring, I take that as a compliment: as I tell people, that's the way we like it. We should not be the news.

[correct text: accidentally had two editing panes open before]

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August 2002: Julia Child's Kitchen Becomes Historical. And stray thoughts on the period room (not necessarily in that order)

Traditional "period rooms," once a staple feature of the museum of history or fine arts, fell into disrepute in recent years for a variety of reasons. As one curator puts it, they often incoherently (re)presented "decorative arts displays" or "local history" or "confusing combinations of both approaches." Still, there is certainly a value to preserving the individually significant interior as well as the exemplary collection for the study of material culture in general.

In its original incarnation as the spanking new but architecturally retrograde Museum of History and Technology (1964), the National Museum of American History (as it is now known) still featured old-fashioned period rooms (e.g. for showing off the dresses of First Ladies), considered at the time "a certain crowd-puller."

"history happens in parlors and kitchens as well as in the halls of Congress"

Still, this is not to say that everything was choked in conceptual cobwebs. My favorite example: in 1963, activists saved an 18th-century Ipswich, Massachusetts, house from demolition literally at the last moment by arranging to have the Smithsonian acquire it. So, instead of yet another Colonial period room, we have an entire home (the largest--some say: greatest--artifact in the collection) which tells the story of both structure and inhabitants from its origins to its abandonment. As the Smithsonian puts it, "The five families whose stories are told here were not famous, but they remind us that history happens in parlors and kitchens as well as in the halls of Congress." In the most recent interpretation (2002), portions of the walls have been opened up to reveal the timber-frame structure, thus doing justice to the original focus on the evolution of technology.

The Museum continues to think innovatively in its acquisition and interpretation practices regarding historic interiors and objects. To be sure, you can still find such things as a 17th-century chair-table (nothing wrong with that!)--but also Archie and Edith Bunker's chairs, from the TV series, "All in the Familly"--which a curator boldly calls "the equivalent of the "Appomattox chairs" used by Grant and Lee when the Confederacy surrendered.

Equally interesting are the larger interior ensembles. For me, one of the most memorable and moving is the famed Greensboro desegregation lunch counter. As of 2008, it is also part of a new series of "landmark objects" anchoring and highlighting the themes of a given wing.

One kitchen that made history

As the Smithsonian says of the Ipswich House, "history happens in parlors and kitchens as well as in the halls of Congress." And so, it seemed but fitting that at least a portion of another Massachusetts house should enter those galleries. It didn't make the cut as a "landmark object," it didn't date back to the 18th century, and it didn't play a role in the triumph of human rights, but it did change America in its own way, from foodways to women's history, and it has proven extremely popular. I am speaking of Julia Child's kitchen.

It opened at the Smithsonian on August 19, 2002, only shortly after the updated installation of the Choate House from Ipswich. When Julia Child (1912-2004) decided to relocate from Cambridge, Massachusetts to her native California at the end of her public career, she gave her kitchen to the Smithsonian.

"A Place for Everything"

"While kitchens of the 1950s and 1960s were often designed to keep everything hidden from view, Julia and Paul preferred to hang their pots and pans on a pegboard for quick and easy access. Nor would there be any confusion about where that pan belonged after it had been used, thanks to the outlines Paul traced on the pegboard. Later, for the benefit of student and guest cooks working in the kitchen with Julia, snapshots were added." (Smithsonian)
"Work zones"

"Julia organized her kitchen around work zones, making sure tools and equipment were placed near the surfaces where they would be used. Her pots, pans, and utensils are near the stove, her knives are near the sink, and her small appliances are set on solid work surfaces, ready to use." (Smithsonian)

As Mass Moments puts it:
Designed by her husband Paul in 1961, the room was specially tailored to his wife's particular needs, with high countertops to accommodate her six-foot two-inch frame. In her ten cookbooks and eight television programs, several of which were filmed in her own kitchen, Julia Child demystified French cooking for American audiences. She became, in the words of the New York Times, "the French chef for a Jello nation." The exhibit is titled "Bon Appétit!" — as she signed off at the end of every show she hosted during her 38 years as a television icon.
Viewers of the film, "Julie and Julia" (the former was a whining Amherst College graduate: nuff said) will be familiar with the backstory behind the first great cookbook, but just in case, Mass Moments explains:
She fell in love with French food and enrolled in the prestigious Cordon Bleu culinary school. In 1952 she and two Frenchwomen formed a cooking school and began writing a French cookbook for American readers.

In 1956 the Childs returned to the U.S. and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Julia Child continued work on the book, communicating frequently with her French partners. When Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961, with 734 pages of detailed but unintimidating recipes, it was a critical and popular success. In an era when American "cuisine" consisted of cake mixes, TV dinners, and health food crazes, the book made sophisticated French food not only appealing but accessible. Child ignored fads, and Americans embraced her "cuisine soignée: long, caring cooking."

My mother was a good cook, but by no means a gourmet. Still, Julia Child's first great book was one of the main cookbooks in our kitchen. I believe it was a present from my father.

When I learned to cook (mostly while I was a grad student: it seemed preferable to bankruptcy or starvation), I bought myself a copy, too. (Later, my mother gave me more recent Julia Child books as presents.)

The original installation, pictured above, closed in early 2012 and, to mark the centennial of Child's birth, was reinterpreted later that year as the focus of a new exhibition, "FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000."

It seems fitting: just as the Choate house chronicled the lives and material culture of ordinary people "who were not famous," so, too, her kitchen helps to chronicle the transformation of the way that all of us eat and think about food.  There is more than one way for history to happen in the kitchen.

Bon appétit.


Local connection: The pioneering chef was a graduate of Smith College (history major, I am proud to say), which celebrates a Julia Child Day. In fact, I recall meals at the former Faculty Club where we were served a special "Julia Child" label house wine.


Bon Appétit! Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian
10 Crucial Facts About the Julia Child's Kitchen Exhibit, Reopening Tomorrow, Washington Eater staff, 14 August 2012 (includes video of the conservation and reinstallation process)

[updated 26 August; full piece did not post the first time]

Prerequisite to World War II: the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact

Any commemoration of the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II would be incomplete if it neglected the sordid bargain that preceded and enabled it.

On August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union stunned the world by signing a ten-year nonaggression pact. The overnight and shocking shift among erstwhile bitter enemies provided the background for similar episodes in George Orwell's 1984.

Those who pay attention to history are aware of the shameful agreement. Yet I would wager that even many of them are less than well informed about the immediate consequences: we always speak of Germany invading Poland on September 1, 1939--but how many of us know that Soviet forces entered on September 17 and occupied the eastern portion of the country? It's a question that I always raise when I teach twentieth-century European history, as I will again in the spring.

Ironies abound. On the one hand, the pact stands as the epitome of cynical (as opposed to naïve) deal-making with Hitler. On the other hand, contrary to the intentions of those behind it, it saved as well as took innocent lives: those in the eastern occupation zone who did not fall victim to Soviet terror escaped Nazi rule in 1939, and some, by one means or another and with a great deal of luck, were thus also able to do so after 1941.

Some in the "West" broke with the Communist Party over this apparent betrayal of principle. Others rationalized it.

The pact exposed the hypocrisies and fault lines on the left. Some in the "West" broke with the Communist Party over this apparent betrayal of principle. Others rationalized it.

My mother recalled that, when she was a student at Hunter College after the outbreak of World War II, fellow student and obnoxious Stalinist "activist" (as we would call her nowadays) and future Congresswoman Bella Abzug was running around, loudly defending the Pact and proclaiming, "The Yanks Aren't Coming!" For the Stalinist apologists, World War II was a war between imperialist rivals in which right-thinking socialists could have no righteous part. Of course, that eventually changed. When the inevitable German attack came in the summer of 1941, Stalin, having refused to heed the warnings from his own spies, was caught unawares (1, 2). And so, the communist loyalists and fellow travelers in the West suddenly discovered that the War was a worthy cause, after all. Nick Cohen adduces a host of examples from the UK and eviscerates that slavish mentality, adding: "The echoes of our own day when so many on the liberal-left go along with Islamo-fascists are chilling and fascinating."

Following are some graphic reactions from the time.

The above image, by progressive cartoonist Daniel Robert Fitzpatrick, cites Isaiah 21:11 to convey the concern over the storm on the horizon. Two-time Pulitzter Prize winner D. R. Fitzpatrick (as he was most commonly known) was, I am pleased to say, a Wisconsin native who worked first for the Chicago Daily News and then the St. Louis Post Dispatch (1913-58), for which he produced this and other famous pieces.

This piece, by contrast, makes a more explicitly political statement about the Nazis and Soviets, as such.

Both images come from a World War II scrapbook that I acquired a good many years ago. I don't know anything about its origins, but the American owner religiously clipped and saved brief press reports, photographs, and cartoons from the early days of the War.

They are powerful. Another image (not from the scrapbook) hints at the ultimate consequences of the pact. This photograph was taken moments after the delegates to the Twenty-first Zionist Congress, meeting in Geneva in August, 1939, heard the news.

The late Conor Cruise O'Brien, who had the interesting fate of serving as Irish Ambassador to the UN--and was thus literally caught between the Iraqi and Israeli delegates in the General Assembly--comments, in his book The Siege (from which this photo comes):
The Twenty-first Congress broke up earlier than planned because of the announcement of the Hitler-Stalin Pact (August 23, 1939). There is a photograph of the Congress platform, taken just after the news of the pact broke. In a small group--the copy before me shows twelve heads fully--four, including Weizmann, have a hand over their face or their head. Ben-Gurion, beside Weizmann, has his head bowed over his hands, which are crossed on his chest. They do not look like people who have just heard a piece of political news. They look like people who have heard a death sentence pronounced on members of their family. (p. 242)

{erroneously posted under a previous date; updated: images}

Monday, August 24, 2015

Getting the Select Board's Town Manager Evaluation Wrong

Reviewing books or reporting the news must be among the most unenviable tasks: no matter how hard one works to get things right, one will inevitably be accused from all quarters of having gotten things totally wrong (often as not, with base motives imputed).

That said, journalists often do, objectively speaking, get things wrong. There are causes apart from mere carelessness: the pressure of deadlines and the stringent limits on space no doubt cause many an error or oversimplification. I understand all this and take it in stride, so I normally don't bother to comment publicly on journalists' mistakes regarding my individual or collective civic role. (There has been the occasional exception.) However, it struck me that the coverage of the Select Board's annual review of Town Manager John Musante might give rise to some false impressions, so I would like to correct them.

The Town Manager Review Process: a long timeline, a lot to digest

The Select Board is the Town's collective chief executive. Under the Town Government Act and Massachusetts General Law, we five members of the Select Board, as the "chief elected officials," hire and review the performance of the Town Manager, who is the "chief administrative and fiscal officer."

Former Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe led the way in developing a notably robust and rigorous review process. Each year, the Select Board and Town Manager agree on a set of performance goals for the coming year. The Town Manager reports periodically on his progress toward attaining those goals, and then a detailed timeline takes us through the actual process, running to almost four months, from June through September. The initial result is a set of our five individual assessments of 15 rubrics: based on our day-to-day experience of working with the Town Manager, his self-evaluation, and the officially solicited input of Town employees and the general public. Then, in late August, in public session, we spend an hour or more reading one another's evaluations for the first time (yes, it makes for thrilling television, but this is one of the consequences of the State's Open Meeting Law) and, finally, discuss them and respond to a summary compiled by the Chair (the only person to have seen all five in advance of the meeting).

Admittedly, it is a lot to digest in short order--nearly 100 pages of material: 74 pages of individual assessments by Select Board members (Alisa Brewer: 29; Connie Kruger, 8; Doug Slaughter, 7; Andy Steinberg, 10; Jim Wald, 20), plus a 6-page composite grid of ratings compiled from the preceding, along with the 11-page draft evaluation memo by Chair Alisa Brewer. One does not envy the reporter faced with the challenge of getting out a coherent, well-integrated story within 24 (not to mention, 2 or 3) hours. That said, that draft evaluation memo plus the oral discussion provide the bedrock for any story, and then the reporter (in my experience) goes through the individual evaluations, pulling out (one hopes) representative quotes from each Select Board member in order to lend the whole an air of comprehensiveness, real or feigned.

Accurate facts, fragments, impressions

The task of the journalist, like that of the historian, is not simply to share a set of facts, but also to select them systematically and place them in an appropriate analytical or interpretive framework. It is admittedly a subjective task, and yet there are ways to judge its success or failure. Often, it is a matter of emphasis or completeness rather than factual truth or error, as such.

Blogger Larry Kelley (who often beats the mainstream media to the punch and got this piece out in a hurry) fastened on the negative aspects of the evaluation:
interesting criticism from the two most experienced members of our executive branch -- Chair Alisa Brewer and Jim Wald.

Ms. Brewer gave Mr. Musante "unsatisfactory" a total of nine times (out of possible 44) while Mr. Wald checked it off five times.

Brewer and Wald were in unanimous agreement in response to goal #5, "Relationship With the Select Board"  by giving him "unsatisfactory" to the same five of eight statements. Ouch!
It was in many ways understandable: criticism by nature calls more attention to itself than does expected praise for a job well done and thus might seem more "newsworthy." Of course this is not the whole story: the post dwelled only on the negative and merely cited the categories rather than the actual substance of the evaluation; a reader would have to click through to the actual document. In part, Kelley's emphasis on the ratings grid was intended to create a contrast to a similar, recently completed process for School Superintendent Maria Geryk, who received only one "unsatisfactory" ranking from 13 evaluators. Still, the title "Troubles at the top?" overdramatized the situation.

The reports in the traditional papers by veteran beat reporters Scott Merzbach of the Hampshire Gazette and Diane Lederman of The Republican/ were likewise about what we have come to expect.

Both Merzbach's and Lederman's pieces on the whole aptly summarized our work under the respective titles, "Amherst board praises Musante’s fiscal management, criticizes communication" and "Amherst Town Manager John Musante receives favorable review, concerns cited."

Both, rather than just citing the handful of negative rankings, also identified some reasons.

But both Wald and Brewer criticized Musante in the area of maintaining “a professional and effective relationship” with the elected board.

They both cited Musante’s comments on election night, during an interview broadcast on Amherst Media, that the proposed solar project on the former landfill was dead, which caught board members by surprise.

They also didn’t like that details about a settlement with former high school math teacher Carolyn Gardner, who filed a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination lawsuit, were revealed in the Gazette before any executive session was held.

“The potential settlement figure in the Gardner MCAD complaint was never discussed with the Select Board. The Select Board was shocked to find out a settlement had been reached by reading about it in the newspaper,” Brewer wrote.
By contrast, some other topics and quotations seemed almost chosen at random or at least taken out of context. Just one example: Andy Steinberg's affirmation of the value of diversity of opinion on Town boards was unexceptionable but by itself unintelligible to someone not reading the entire evaluation.

Lederman simply devoted the bulk of her piece to raw quotations from the evaluation, connected by brief explanatory passages. However, the quotations at least provided the rationale for the negative assessments of the aforementioned cases:
"It seems clear that you have no intention of withholding information from the Select Board, but rather that it simply does not occur to you to share it," according to the memo.
 "We can't provide input on either straightforward or complex policy and practice initiatives and changes before they are implemented if we don't know they exist.
"Finding out about them in the newspaper or other media is simply unacceptable. Most egregiously, we did not hear about the end of the old landfill lawsuit, the end of the solar farm project, nor the resolution of the town-schools MCAD complaint, from you.
"While this "saved" us having to hold Executive Sessions, it significantly damaged our credibility in the community.
"We also cannot effectively represent our community's values when we are presented with and expected to act on issues immediately without having had any opportunity for thoughtful deliberation in an open meeting or other potential for public [input]."
No single piece thus quite captured the full nature of the evaluation with the precision and thoroughness that one might have hoped for. Still, each offered something and, taken together, the three would enable a reader to grasp the nature of our criticism.

The editorial in the Amherst Bulletin was another matter.

Editorial license

Under the title, "Two Amherst leaders get a bit of homework," the editors commented on the evaluations of both Superintendent Geryk and Town Manager Musante (School year's about to begin: grades, homework. Get it?) The gist was that both leaders received generally high marks but also a few low or failing ones--and that, in our political system, this criticism was properly public and on the record, rather than private and behind-the-scenes. Right on the mark. So far, so good.

However, when it came to our actual criticisms, the piece missed the point by a mile:
Alisa Brewer, chairwoman of the Select Board, told Musante in an evaluation summary that she and others “look forward to your continued success in so many critical areas.” But they also want action on aspects of his job “that truly need more of your attention.” Chief among them: communication with other town leaders, particularly members of the Select Board. In this area, he earned ratings of “unsatisfactory” and “needs improvement.” Brewer and board member James Wald faulted Musante for not maintaining “a professional and effective relationship” with their panel. That’s at odds with other aspects of Musante’s review. Select Board member Connie Kruger called him “professional, considerate, fair and very good at managing multiple agendas. He remains calm during a crisis and instills confidence.” The dissonance may stem from ongoing policy disagreements in Amherst, including friction over the impact of development projects downtown.

If Musante was a mayor, he’d have to answer to voters about such matters. But as a town manager, his constituency is the Select Board.

Communications issues are far less tangible than the areas the board praised — particularly fiscal management. But if the Select Board feels it is not getting enough advance information from Musante on major policy matters, that’s a problem he must address.

Even so, this is a fuzzy area. Select Board members didn’t like that they heard first through the media about some things, including the fate of a solar project and a legal settlement with a teacher. But in both instances, Musante was sharing information with town residents — and that counts as communication. The board should not be asking him to curtail comments to the media.
This is all so wrong that one can only shake one's head in dismay.

 • To imply that Ms. Brewer's and my sharp criticism of the Town Manager under "Relationship with the Select Board" is in any way "at odds with other aspects of Musante’s review" is nonsense. First, it stands to reason that the two most senior members of the body (8 and 5 years' service, respectively), encountering a recurrent problem under one particular rubric, would be more pointed and insistent in their criticism than those who joined in only the past 1 to 2 years. Second: elsewhere in the document, as in last year's evaluation, we individually and collectively praise the Town Manger for his consummate professionalism and the professional expertise of his overall performance, particularly in the financial domain. The official evaluation is about the overall picture: greater than the sum of individual ratings. This is why, as Chair Brewer says, we do not issue a numerical score. Or, as I sometimes put it: it's not the SAT.

• The only thing loopier than the editors' making the preceding charge is concocting an explanation out of thin air: "The dissonance may stem from ongoing policy disagreements in Amherst, including friction over the impact of development projects downtown."

Huh? They couldn't have asked us? There is zero evidence for such a hypothesis. Ms. Brewer noted a desire for better communication regarding upcoming zoning articles, but this was about process, not development, as such. In fact, some of the criticism that Mr. Musante received from the citizenry was for publicly taking a stand and voting the same way as the Select Board on zoning articles. All five members of the Select Board moreover gave Mr. Musante a "satisfactory" rating for pursuit of economic development opportunities.

• But most dismaying of all is the final section: On the one hand, the editors say, if Mr. Musante has not been giving advance notice of decisions to the Select Board, "that's a problem he must address." Indeed. But immediately afterwards, they go on to say the equivalent of "oh, never mind":
Musante was sharing information with town residents — and that counts as communication. The board should not be asking him to curtail comments to the media.
Um, no it doesn't, and no we weren't. The issue being evaluated here was specifically and exclusively "Relationship with the Select Board." (Under the separate rubric of "actively engage the community and the media," the Town Manager received four "satisfactory" ratings and one "needs improvement.")

The editors here completely miss the point of the sharpest and most consistent criticism that we gave the Town Manager. The presumed choice between his informing the Select Board and informing the public is a false one, and no action or announcement flagged here was so urgent that it could not have allowed time for consultation.

This goes to the heart of our system of government. Town Meeting is the legislative branch. The Select Board is the collective chief executive. The Town Manager is the chief administrator, not the mayor: he reports to us. We have the power to hire, fire, and evaluate him. We set his salary. How can we work in partnership with him and explain Town policies and his actions to the public if he does not inform us about them?

Clear, one would think.

Conclusion: a strong relationship

To summarize: there is no crisis, but neither should one casually dismiss our criticism. Fortunately, that criticism focused on some delimited problems that are in principle easily rectifiable. The members of the Select Board, individually and collectively, hold Mr. Musante in high esteem: we greatly respect his professionalism and skills, we enjoy working with him.

There are thus no "troubles at the top." What there is is honesty and due diligence--and work to be done. A truly healthy and respectful relationship allows for strong criticism, offered in a constructive and collegial spirit. The Town Manager took it as such, and it is a shame that the Gazette chose to trivialize it, in the process distorting the larger picture of how we work.

Would the editors and public have been happier if we had simply checked all the ratings as "commendable" (the highest option) and confined our comments to generic praise and trivial critiques? It certainly would have saved us a lot of time. But it would not have been responsible, and it would not have been good governance.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

‘This is a good Jap–a dead one" - "The armed forces disapprove strongly of this sort of thing."

Lest one conclude, from recent posts, that the emphasis here should be exclusively on Japanese atrocities and fanaticism: on the contrary. The intensity of the animosities and combat also elicited behaviors from US forces that we nowadays find hard to contemplate.

For example, the previous post dealt with the rescue of civilians--including a child--from mass suicide attempts that the Japanese military either encouraged or compelled. But as combat dragged on and intensified, US forces became less cautious in the application of force. The Wikipedia entry for the battle of Okinawa--a site from which a great many Americans will presumably get their information--cites this recollection by a soldier:
There was some return fire from a few of the houses, but the others were probably occupied by civilians – and we didn't care. It was a terrible thing not to distinguish between the enemy and women and children. Americans always had great compassion, especially for children. Now we fired indiscriminately.
Earlier this year, I noted here a piece posted on the tumblr about one of the most notorious images of US World War II photojournalism. Because we are now marking the anniversary of the atomic bomb and the end of the Pacific War, I'll reproduce it here:

The Bloodiest Battlefield Mementos: Even the “Good War” Had Its Bad Side

Although all war is terrible and we may recoil at the scenes that we see on our televisions and computer screens, the shock is the result of both greater moral sensitivity and continual and less inhibited flow of information (including that from nongovernmental and nonprofessional sources). As I noted in the previous post, we therefore find it all the more difficult to imagine the wars of the past, which were often both more bloody and less explicitly reported.
Even during World War II–the so-called “Good War”–US troops at times engaged in behavior that would by our standards (or even those of that day) be considered barbaric.
Occasionally, the façade cracked. Consider, for example, the May 22, 1944 issue of Life Magazine (the leading US photojournalism periodical). The typical American man or woman settling in for a spell of leisure reading found on its cover a heartwarming tale of professional success and domesticity.


As the title story on page 65 explained, photogenic young women were finding no contradiction–and indeed, many rewards–in combining motherhood with modeling. (This was apparently the 1940s privileged version of “having it all.”).


If that reader passed too quickly over page 35, he or she might have been forgiven for assuming it was part of the title story. It, too, featured a photograph of a similarly attractive young woman. It’s just that, rather than holding her baby, she happens to be holding a pen while contemplating a human skull. The homemaker as Hamlet–but evidently without the self-scrutiny.


The caption of this “Picture of the Week” read:
When he said goodby two years ago to Natalie Nickerson, 20, a war worker of Phoenix, Ariz., a big handsome Navy lieutenant promised her a Jap. Last week Natalie received a human skull, autographed by her lieutenant and 13 friends. and inscribed: ‘This is a good Jap–a dead one picked up on the New Guinea beach.’ Natalie, surprised at the gift, named it Tojo. The armed forces disapprove strongly of this sort of thing.
As John Dower wrote in his War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1987), “Life treated it as a human-interest story, while Japanese propagandists gave it wide publicity as a revelation of the American national character.” (65) It was the more ironic given that American propagandists made much of the sixteenth-century Japanese Hideyoshi’s “ear mound” of 40,000 pickled noses and ears in the wake of war with Korea. (20, 28, 65) As Dower says, Japanese atrocities accounted for some of the behavior of the US forces, though not all. In his words:
     On the Allied side, some forms of battlefield degeneracy were in fact fairly well publicized while the war was going on. This was especially true of the practice of collecting grisly battlefield trophies from the Japanese dead or near dead, in the form of gold teeth, ears, bones, scalps, and skulls… . [64]
  Despite the attention given in Allied propaganda to Hideyoshi’s three-and-a-half-century-old ear mound, in the current war in Asia it was Allied combatants who collected ears. Like collecting gold teeth, this practice was no secret. “The other night,” read an account in the Marine monthly Leatherneck in 1943, “Stanley emptied his pockets of 'souvenirs’–eleven ears from dead Japs. It was not as disgusting, as it would be from a civilian point of view. None of us could get emotional over it.” Even as battle-hardened veterans were assuming that civilians would be shocked by such acts, however, the press in the United States contained evidence to the contrary. In April 1943, the Baltimore Sun ran a story about a local mother who had petitioned authorities to permit her son to mail her an ear she had cut off a Japanese soldier in the South Pacific. She wished to nail it to her front door for all to see. On the very same day, the Detroit Free Press deemed newsworthy the story of an underage youth who had enlisted and 'bribed’ his chaplain not to disclose his age by promising him the third pair of ears he collected. [65]
Dower goes on to say that “Scalps, bones, and skulls were somewhat rarer trophies, but the latter two achieved special notoriety in both the United States and Japan” in two cases: first, when a soldier sent FDR a letter opener made from Japanese bones (the President rejected the gift), and the second, the aforementioned picture in Life. As Dower further explains:
     Most combatants did not engage in such souvenir hunting, and Leatherneck itself published a cartoon which expressed contempt and pity for all scavengers of the dead. At the same time, most fighting men had personal knowledge of such practices and accepted them as inevitable under the circumstances. It is virtually inconceivable, however, that teeth, ears, and skulls could have been collected from German or Italian war dead and publicized in the Anglo-American countries without provoking an uproar; and in this we have yet another inkling of the racial dimensions of the war. [66]
War is still hell, but at least this is a circle that we visit less frequently.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Background to Hiroshima and V-J Day: Death and Life on Okinawa, AP Wirephoto

Among the first little historical curiosities that I collected as a high school student was a group of World War II Associated Press Wirephotos found among the random stuff in the bins of a Wisconsin antiques store. (I seem to recall that there were other subjects and I simply picked out the few wartime shots as most suited to my interests and budget.)

Accustomed as we now are to being able to receive the news in live time, most of us have no idea what the classic AP "Wirephoto" service was: how it functioned , and how it revolutionized journalism by transmitting images with unprecedented speed, thus enabling them to become news in their own right.

As this retrospective nicely explains, a transmitter, equipped with a sort of early optical scanner, converted a photo to electrical signals, sent via "10,000 miles of leased telephone lines – the wires," to a receiver, where they were "converted back into light, which was then recorded onto the negative, reproducing the original image." (The "Wirephoto" still exists, but in digital form since 1989.)

World War II, understandably enough, greatly increased the demand for photographic reportage, and the US Army Signal Corps developed its own radiophoto service, a matter of particular importance and difficulty in the Pacific theater.

The battle for Okinawa was one of the greatest land and sea engagements of the war, as well as one of the fiercest, lasting for three months, from 23 March to 23 June 1945. US deaths were at least 12,520 killed in action, while estimates of Japanese losses range from around 77,000 to 110,000. Above and beyond that, anywhere from 42,000-150,000 Okinawan residents (out of a total of some 435,000) perished. Total deaths thus arguably exceed the combined toll of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The heavy losses on both sides are generally said to have played a role in the US decision to use the atomic bomb in hopes of avoiding an even bloodier invasion of the Japanese home islands. Of particular concern to the Americans were the mass suicides of Okinawan civilians: on the one hand, natural cause for humanitarian empathy, on the other, presumed proof of Japanese "fanaticism" and the resistance they could expect in "Operation Downfall."

This photo remains one of the most moving pieces of World War II memorabilia in my small and eclectic collection.


The appended fuller description reads:
rescued by troops of the U.S. 77th Infantry Div. who braved Jap
machine gun fire to frustrate an attempted mass suicide on
Tokashiki Shima in the opening stages of the battle for
Okinawa. ( Nestled in the arms of 1st/Sgt. John S.Evens [sic],
of Springfield, S.C.)
The child appears placid, yet questioning, cautious, The unshaven soldier appears gentle but fatigued. That he does not look directly into the camera allows us to speculate: presumably he is not indifferent, and rather, weary, contemplating what he has experienced. The eyes have that familiar wartime look of having seen too much. Yet we know that on April 4, the land battle had gone on for only 4 days, whereas 80 more remained.

We also know that Sgt. Evans of the 306th Regiment survived the war. Apparently, he died in 1973 and was buried in his home town.

Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle was not as fortunate: he was killed by machine gun fire while at the front with the 77th on April 18.

The mass suicides remain controversial to this day. Some civilians evidently killed themselves because they believed atrocity stories about the Americans that the authorities told them, but in other cases, the Japanese military forced civilians to commit suicide (e.g. 1, 2, 3). Either way, the Imperial Japanese government and military bore the responsibility, but as in other cases of wartime atrocities, conservative forces in contemporary Japan have attempted to erase or rewrite the history. (It is hard to imagine what is more painful to an elderly man: the memory of having beaten his mother, brother, and sister to death because he believed the propaganda--or that the textbooks suddenly portray this as a voluntary act, committed in a vacuum.)

Reviewing a book of Japanese testimony about the civilian experience on Okinawa (2014), Jonathan Mirsky explains that he has gone from childhood belief in the conventional US narrative to acceptance of the view of "liberal and leftist Americans: that the reasons given for dropping the bombs—among them, above all, that the Japanese would never surrender unless pulverized—were self-serving and false." But "Because of this new book I am thinking again."  He concludes:

In early 1945, the Japanese prime minister had recommended that the war be brought to an end, but as Ealey and McLauchlin [the editors of the volume under review] write, Hirohito believed that one last military success “would force the United States and its allies to offer peace terms that would allow Japan to maintain its national polity, which of course hinged on the status and institution of the emperor.“ Had the prime minister’s advice been followed, they observe, “there may never have been a Battle of Okinawa, or atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.” Indeed. General Douglas MacArthur urged that the emperor’s status be preserved, and there is a memorable photograph of the two recent adversaries standing side by side in Tokyo not long after the war ended. Hirohito’s descendants have remained on the throne to this day. What we learn from this profoundly disturbing and enlightening book is that tens of thousands of misled Okinawans died for nothing. 
This photo is a reminder. It continues to haunt me.


Roy E. Appleman, James M. Burns, Russell A. Gugeler, and John Stevens Okinawa: The Last Battle (Washington, DC: Center of Military History United States Army, 1948)

Previous Wirephoto: Potsdam Conference