War is tough enough without having a traitor in the mix, and when a traitor is involved, things get even worse. One such traitor of World War II, was Mildred Gillars, aka Axis Sally. Apparently, Gillars, an American, was a opportunist. In 1940, she went to work as an announcer with the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (RRG), German State Radio. At the time, I suppose that she did nothing wrong…up to that point. In 1941, the US State Department was advising American nationals to return home, but Gillars chose to remain because her fiancé, Paul Karlson, a naturalized German citizen, said he would never marry her if she returned to the United States. Then, Karlson was sent to the Eastern Front, where he was killed in action. Gillars still did not return home.
On December 7, 1941, Gillars was working in the studio when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was announced. She broke down in front of her colleagues and denounced their allies in the east. “I told them what I thought about Japan and that the Germans would soon find out about them,” she recalled. “The shock was terrific. I lost all discretion.” This may have been the the last time she had any self respect. She later said that she knew that her outburst could send her to a concentration camp, so faced with the prospect of joblessness or prison, the frightened Gillars produced a written oath of allegiance to Germany and returned to work. She sold out. Her duties were initially limited to announcing records and participating in chat shows, but treason is a slippery slope. Gillars’ broadcasts initially were largely apolitical, but that changed in 1942, when Max Otto Koischwitz, the program director in the USA Zone at the RRG, cast Gillars in a new show called Home Sweet Home. She soon acquired several names amongst her GI audience, including the Berlin Bitch, Berlin Babe, Olga, and Sally, but the one most common was “Axis Sally”. This name probably came when asked on air to describe herself, Gillars had said she was “the Irish type… a real Sally.”
As her broadcasts progressed, Gillars began doing a show called Home Sweet Home Hour. This show ran from December 24, 1942, until 1945. It was a regular propaganda program, the purpose of which was to make US forces in Europe feel homesick. A running theme of these broadcasts was the infidelity of soldiers’ wives and sweethearts while the listeners were stationed in Europe and North Africa. I’m was designed to promote depression. I guess her aversion to the ways of the Japanese and Germans wasn’t so strong after all. She also did a show called Midge-at-the-Mike, which broadcast from March to late fall 1943. I this program, she played American songs interspersed with defeatist propaganda, anti-Semitic rhetoric and attacks on Franklin D. Roosevelt. And she did the GI’s Letter-box and Medical Reports 1944, which was directed at the US home audience. In this show, Gillars used information on wounded and captured US airmen to cause fear and worry in their families. After D-Day, June 6, 1944, US soldiers wounded and captured in France were also reported on. Gillars and Koischwitz worked for a time from Chartres and Paris for this purpose, visiting hospitals and interviewing POWs. In 1943 they had toured POW camps in Germany, interviewing captured Americans and recording their messages for their families in the US. The interviews were then edited for broadcast as though the speakers were well-treated or sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Gillars made her most notorious broadcast on June 5, 1944, just prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, in a radio play written by Koischwitz, Vision Of Invasion. She played Evelyn, an Ohio mother, who dreams that her son had died a horrific death on a ship in the English Channel during an attempted invasion of Occupied Europe.
After the war, Gillars mingled with the people of Germany, until her capture. Gillars was indicted on September 10, 1948, and charged with ten counts of treason, but only eight were proceeded with at her trial, which began on January 25, 1949. The prosecution relied on the large number of her programs recorded by the FCC, stationed in Silver Hill, Maryland, to show her active participation in propaganda activities against the United States. It was also shown that she had taken an oath of allegiance to Hitler. The defense argued that her broadcasts stated unpopular opinions but did not amount to treasonable conduct. It was also argued that she was under the hypnotic influence of Koischwitz and therefore not fully responsible for her actions until after his death. On March 10, 1949, the jury convicted Gillars on just one count of treason, that of making the Vision Of Invasion broadcast. She was sentenced to 10 to 30 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. In 1950, a federal appeals court upheld the sentence. She died June 25, 1988 at the age of 87.
While Germany was willing to go to war, they had, nevertheless, a healthy fear of the United States. During World War I, Germany introduced unrestricted submarine warfare. It was early 1915, and Germany decided that the area around the British Isles was a war zone, and all merchant ships, including those from neutral countries, would be attacked by the German navy. That action set in motion a series of attacks on merchant ships, that finally led to the sinking of the British passenger ship, RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915. It was at this point that President Woodrow Wilson decided that it was time to pressure the German government to curb their naval actions. Because the German government didn’t want to antagonize the United States, they agreed to put restrictions on the submarine policy going forward, which angered many of their naval leaders, including the naval commander in chief, Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, who showed his frustration by resigning in March 1916.
On March 24, 1916, soon after Tirpitz’s resignation, a German U-boat submarine attacked the French passenger steamer Sussex, in the English Channel, thinking it was a British ship equipped to lay explosive mines. It was apparently an honest mistake, and the ship did not sink. Still, 50 people were killed and many more injured, including several Americans. On April 19, in an address to the United States Congress, President Wilson took a firm stance, stating that unless the Imperial German Government agreed to immediately abandon its present methods of warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels the United States would have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the Government of the German Empire altogether.
After Wilson’s speech, the US ambassador to Germany, James W. Gerard, spoke directly to Kaiser Wilhelm on May 1 at the German army headquarters at Charleville in eastern France. After Gerard protested the continued German submarine attacks on merchant ships, the Kaiser in turn denounced the American government’s compliance with the Allied naval blockade of Germany, in place since late 1914. Nevertheless, Germany could not risk American entry into the war against them, so when Gerard urged the Kaiser to provide assurances of a change in the submarine policy, the Kaiser agreed.
On May 6, the German government signed the so-called Sussex Pledge, promising to stop the indiscriminate sinking of non-military ships. According to the pledge, merchant ships would be searched, and sunk only if they were found to be carrying contraband materials. Furthermore, no ship would be sunk before safe passage had been provided for the ship’s crew and its passengers. Gerard was skeptical of the intentions of the Germans, and wrote in a letter to the United States State Department that “German leaders, forced by public opinion, and by the von Tirpitz and Conservative parties would take up ruthless submarine warfare again, possibly in the autumn, but at any rate about February or March, 1917.” Gerard was right, and on February 1, 1917, Germany announced the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. Two days later, Wilson announced a break in diplomatic relations with the German government, and on April 6, 1917, the United States formally entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
Americans don’t really like to think that our military is out spying on other countries, but like it or not, we spy on them, and they spy on us. We know it and they know it. So, spying is not really the problem…it’s getting caught that causes a problem. Getting caught is the ultimate faux pas, and that is what happened on May 1, 1960, when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union while conducting espionage. The plane was being operated by Central Intelligence Agency pilot Francis Powers, under the order of the CIA. The U-2 spy plane was the brainchild of the CIA, and it was in all reality, a sophisticated technological marvel. It could travel at altitudes of up to 70,000 feet, and it was equipped with state-of-the-art photography equipment that could, according to the CIA, take “high-resolution pictures of headlines in Russian newspapers as it flew overhead.” The flights over the Soviet Union began in mid-1956, and the CIA assured President Eisenhower that the Soviets did not possess anti-aircraft weapons sophisticated enough to shoot down the high-altitude planes. How wrong they were.
On May 1, 1960, over Russia, a U-2 flight piloted by Francis Gary Powers disappeared, while doing reconnaissance. The CIA reassured the president that, even if the plane had been shot down, it was equipped with self-destruct mechanisms that would render any wreckage unrecognizable and the pilot was instructed to kill himself in such a situation. Looking at the wreckage, I suppose it was unrecognizable…to a degree, at least in the picture, but how can a pilot be ordered to kill himself. I don’t know about you, but I would have to disobey that order. Apparently Powers felt the same way, because he parachuted out, rather than crash with the plane. Still, based on this information, the United States government issued a statement indicating that a weather plane had veered off course and supposedly crashed somewhere in the Soviet Union. Khrushchev took great pleasure in embarrassing the United States when he produced not only the mostly-intact wreckage of the U-2, but also the captured pilot…very much alive.
It was at this point that President Eisenhower had to publicly admit that it was indeed a United States spy plane. On May 16, a major summit between the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France began in Paris. Issues to be discussed included the status of Berlin and nuclear arms control, but as the meeting opened, Khrushchev launched into a tirade against the United States and Eisenhower and then stormed out of the summit. The meeting collapsed immediately and the summit was called off. Eisenhower considered the “stupid U-2 mess” one of the worst debacles of his presidency. The summit was supposed to solve some things, but it ended up making matters much worse.
As Americans began to expand to the West, new territories had to be opened for settlement. Of course, this was not always met with approval from the Indian nations who were living there at the time. Nevertheless, the settling of this nation would not be stopped, and while it was handled wrong in many ways, it was inevitable. Nearly two million acres of land in Oklahoma Territory had been preciously deemed unsuitable for white settlement, and so were given to the Native Americans who had been previously removed from their traditional lands to allow for white settlement. The relocations began in 1817. By the 1880s, Indian Territory was home to a variety of tribes, including the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Apache.
By the 1890s, with the improvements in agricultural and ranching techniques led some white Americans to realize that the Indian Territory land could be valuable, so they began to pressure the United States government to allow white settlement in the region. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison agreed, making the first of a long series of authorizations that eventually removed most of Indian Territory from Indian control. To begin the process of white settlement, President Harrison chose to open a 1.9 million acre section of Indian Territory that the government had never assigned to any specific tribe. I suppose it was a way to ease into it without taking land from any specific tribe…initially anyway. However, subsequent openings of sections that were designated to specific tribes were achieved primarily through the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, which allowed whites to settle large swaths of land that had previously been designated to specific Indian tribes.
On March 3, 1889, Harrison announced the government would open the 1.9 million-acre tract of Indian Territory for settlement precisely at noon on April 22, 1889. Anyone could join the race for the land, but no one was supposed to jump the gun. With only seven weeks to prepare, the land-hungry Americans quickly began to gather around the borders of the irregular rectangle of territory. They were referred to as “Boomers,” and by the appointed day more than 50,000 hopefuls were living in tent cities on all four sides of the territory. At precisely high noon, thousands of would-be settlers make a mad dash into the newly opened Oklahoma Territory to claim cheap land. I can only imagine the chaos. The events that day at Fort Reno on the western border were typical of the entire process. At 11:50am, soldiers called for everyone to form a line. When the hands of the clock reached noon, the cannon of the fort boomed, and the soldiers signaled the settlers to start. With the crack of hundreds of whips, thousands of Boomers streamed into the territory in wagons, on horseback, and on foot. All told, from 50,000 to 60,000 settlers entered the territory that day. By nightfall, they had staked thousands of claims either on town lots or quarter section farm plots. Towns like Norman, Oklahoma City, Kingfisher, and Guthrie sprang into being almost overnight.
An extraordinary display of both the pioneer spirit and the American lust for land, the first Oklahoma land rush was also plagued by greed and fraud. Cases involving “Sooners,” who were people who had entered the territory before the legal date and time overloaded courts for years to come. I’m sure that the Indians weren’t pleased either, and I would imagine that there was periodic trouble over the whole process too. The government attempted to improve the operations of subsequent runs by adding more controls, finally adopting a lottery system to designate claims. By 1905, white Americans owned most of the land in Indian Territory. Two years later, the area once known as Indian Territory entered the Union as a part of the new state of Oklahoma.
When the United States was first trying to become a sovereign nation, due to the unfair treatment it received from its parent nation, Great Britain, King George III’s army tried to stop it in any way they could. I’m sure the king could see the possibilities this nation had, and I’m also sure he could see the writing on the wall concerning our independence. Still, the king said to fight, so fight they did. The people in the colonies thought the king’s rule was tyrannical and infringed on the colonists’ “rights as Englishmen”, and so they declared the colonies were going to be free and independent states. A war ensued, that we know as the Revolutionary War.
On April 7, 1775, British activity suggested the possibility of troop movements, and Dr Joseph Warren, an American physician who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in the early days of the American Revolution, sent Paul Revere to warn the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which was located in Concorde. This was also the site of one of the larger caches of Patriot military supplies. The warning spurred the residents into action…moving the military supplies away from the town. Just one week later, on April 14, General Gage received instructions from Secretary of State William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth. The orders had been dispatched on January 27. The British soldiers were told to disarm the rebels. It was known that they often hid weapons in Concord, as well as other locations. They were told to imprison the rebellion’s leaders, especially Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Dartmouth gave Gage considerable discretion in his commands. Gage issued orders to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith to proceed from Boston “with utmost expedition and secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy… all Military stores…. But you will take care that the soldiers do not plunder the inhabitants or hurt private property.” Gage did not issue written orders for the arrest of rebel leaders, because he was afraid that doing so might spark an uprising.
On the night of April 18, 1775, with tensions rising, Joseph Warren went to see Revere and William Dawes. He told them that the king’s troops were about to embark in boats from Boston bound for Cambridge, as well as the road to Lexington and Concord. Warren’s intelligence suggested that the most likely objectives of the regulars’ movements later that night would be the capture of Adams and Hancock. They did not worry about the possibility of regulars marching to Concord, since the supplies at Concord were safe, but they did think their leaders in Lexington were unaware of the potential danger that night. Revere and Dawes were sent out to warn them and to alert colonial militias in nearby towns. Prior to this time, Revere had instructed Robert Newman, the sexton of the North Church, to send a signal by lantern to alert colonists in Charlestown as to the movements of the troops when the information became known. In what is well known today by the phrase “one if by land, two if by sea”, one lantern in the steeple would signal the army’s choice of the land route while two lanterns would signal the route “by water” across the Charles River. The British would ultimately take the water route, so two lanterns were placed in the steeple. Revere first gave instructions to send the signal to Charlestown. He then crossed the Charles River by rowboat, slipping past the British warship HMS Somerset at anchor. Crossings were banned at that hour, but Revere safely landed in Charlestown and rode to Lexington, avoiding a British patrol and later warning almost every house along the route. The Charlestown colonists dispatched additional riders to the north. Riding through present-day Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, Revere warned patriots along his route, many of whom set out on horseback to deliver warnings of their own. By the end of the night there were probably as many as 40 riders throughout Middlesex County carrying the news of the army’s advance. Revere did not shout the phrase “The British are coming!” The success of his mission depended on secrecy, and the countryside was filled with British army patrols, and most of the Massachusetts colonists, who were predominantly English loyalists. Revere’s warning, according to eyewitness accounts of the ride and Revere’s own descriptions, was “The Regulars are coming out.” Revere arrived in Lexington around midnight, with Dawes arriving about a ½ hour later. They met with Samuel Adams and John Hancock, spending a great deal of time discussing plans of action. They believed that the forces leaving the city were too large for the sole purpose of arresting two men and that Concord was the main target. The Lexington men dispatched riders to the surrounding towns, and Revere and Dawes continued along the road to Concord accompanied by Samuel Prescott, a doctor who happened to be in Lexington. Revere, Dawes, and Prescott were detained by a British Army patrol in Lincoln at a roadblock on the way to Concord. Prescott jumped his horse over a wall and escaped into the woods. He eventually reached Concord. Dawes also escaped, but fell off his horse not long after and did not complete the ride. After being roughly questioned for an hour or two, Revere was released when the patrol heard Minutemen alarm guns being fired on their approach to Lexington.
About 5am on April 19, 700 British troops under Major John Pitcairn arrived at the town to find a 77 man strong colonial militia under Captain John Parker waiting for them on Lexington’s common green. Pitcairn ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation, the Americans began to drift off the green. Suddenly, the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the green. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, eight Americans lay dead and 10 others were wounded Only one British soldier was injured. The American Revolution had begun.
In the late 19th century, America was growing. The pioneers headed west, because many couldn’t resist the lure of the tall grassy land in the midwestern and southern plains of the United States. They planned to settled there to farm. The next few decades were prosperous, but when the 1930s rolled in, so did strong winds, drought, and clouds of dust that plagued nearly 75 percent of the United States between 1931 and 1939. The Dust Bowl, as it was known, had arrived. The problem likely began in the early 1920s, when a post-World War I recession led farmers to try new mechanized farming techniques as a way to increase profits. Many bought plows and other farming equipment, and between 1925 and 1930 more than 5 million acres of previously unfarmed land was plowed. With the help of mechanized farming, farmers produced record crops during the 1931 season. However, overproduction of wheat coupled with the Great Depression led to severely reduced market prices. The wheat market was flooded, and people were too poor to buy. Farmers were unable to earn back their production costs and expanded their fields in an effort to turn a profit. The prairie was covered with wheat in place of the natural drought-resistant grasses, and to add to the problem, they left any unused fields bare. With the drought leaving much of the country severely dry, no natural grasses to hold the dirt in place, the higher than normal temperatures, and increasingly strong winds, the country was hit with what many called Black Blizzards, which were rolling dust storms driven by high winds.
Now, if you have ever been in a Haboob (Arabic meaning, blasting), which is a type of intense dust storm carried on a weather front, you have a pretty good idea of what the Dust Bowl was like, except that instead of lasting a few hours, the Dust Bowl storms continued to occur from 1931 to 1939. Now imagine 8 plus years of dust blowing everywhere!! It was in their hair, in their eyes, in their houses, and in the food. They couldn’t get away from it, and since 75 percent of the United States was in the grip of the Dust Bowl, moving didn’t help either…not to mention the fact that no one could afford to anyway. It was a disgusting situation, and it was about to get much worse. By 1932, 14 Black Blizzards were reported, and in just one year, the number increased to nearly 40. It seemed that no end was in sight, but still, the worst was yet to come.
On the afternoon of April 14, 1935, the residents of the Plains States were forced to take cover as a Black Blizzard, blew through the region. The storm hit the Oklahoma Panhandle and Northwestern Oklahoma first, moving south for the remainder of the day. It hit Beaver around 4:00 pm, Boise City around 5:15 pm, and Amarillo, Texas, at 7:20 pm. The conditions were the most severe in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, but the storm’s effects were felt in other surrounding areas. The day would forever be labeled Black Sunday. It was one of the worst dust storms in American history and it caused immense economic and agricultural damage. It is estimated to have displaced 300 million tons of topsoil from the prairie area of the United States. The storm was so harsh because of the high winds that hit the area that day. The combination of drought, erosion, bare soil, and winds caused the dust to fly freely and at high speeds. The loose dust flying around was enough to inhale, and many people suffocated with the dust filling their lungs. The day was a black day for more reasons than one. It is hard to contemplate a dust storm that was so severe that people couldn’t breathe…to the point of death! Nevertheless, that was exactly what Black Sunday was like.
Following the horrible Black Blizzards of 1935, and the massive amount of damage caused by these storms, Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act, which established the Soil Conservation Service as a permanent agency of the USDA. The SCS was created in an attempt to provide guidance for land owners and land users to reduce soil erosion, improve forest and field land, and conserve and develop natural resources. It was the hope that the United States could prevent another Dust Bowl, and while small areas have a tendency to have dust storms, there has never been another era like the Dust Bowl era that the United States citizens suffered in the 1930s.
For anyone who has watched the process of getting a bill made law in Congress, the word Veto is a well known word. If the president doesn’t like the bill, he can always threaten to veto it, forcing Congress to get a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate to override his presidential veto. The exact number depends on how many representatives vote, so the actual number is subject to change. The word veto is Latin for I forbid, and it is the power used to unilaterally stop an official action, especially the enactment of legislation. Therefore, if the president doesn’t like the bill, even if it has passed the House and Senate, he can veto it to see if he can keep it from being passed on a second vote.
The first veto ever exercised was by President George Washington on April 5, 1792. The bill introduced a new plan for dividing seats in the House of Representatives that would have increased the amount of seats for northern states. After consulting with his politically divided and contentious cabinet, President Washington, who came from the southern state of Virginia, ultimately decided that the plan was unconstitutional because it provided for additional representatives for some states, and it would have introduced a number of representatives higher than that allowed by the Constitution. After a discussion with the president, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter that votes for or against the bill were divided along perfectly geographical lines between the North and South. Jefferson observed that Washington feared that a veto would incorrectly portray him as biased toward the South. In the end, Jefferson was able to convince the president to veto the bill on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and introduced principles that were liable to be abused in the future. Jefferson suggested apportionment instead be derived from “arithmetical operation, about which no two men can ever possibly differ.” With Washington’s veto, the bill was sent back to Congress. Though representatives could have attempted to overrule the veto with a two-thirds vote, Congress instead threw out the original bill and instituted a new one that apportioned representatives at “the ratio of one for every thirty-three thousand persons in the respective States.” That is a much more fair plan, in my opinion. George Washington would go on to veto one more bill during his time in office. In February 1797, the former commanding general of the Continental Army vetoed an act that would have reduced the number of cavalry units in the army. Neither of the vetoes were overridden by Congress.
Thirty six of the 45 presidents have vetoed at least one bill, with the most regular vetoes going to Franklin D Roosevelt with 372…seconded by Grover Cleveland with 346. There is also something called a pocket veto, which is basically when the president simply does nothing…refusing to sign it into law, or to veto it outright, and it was used by a number of presidents as well. That one seems strange to me, but it seems to have the same procedure to pass the bill into law that the regular veto does. Politics is a messy business, because with so many people involved, there is bound to be differing opinions on what should be done. Nevertheless, try as he might, while the buck might stop at the president’s office, the bill might not, but only if Congress can get its collective act together and vote to override a presidential veto.
With the American flag at the center of so many protests, it seemed to me a good time to discuss the flag that many, and I believe truly most, Americans hold so dear. Over the years that the United states has been a nation, there have been a number of different flags. As we grew, the flag had to change to show the growing number of states. There were people who were not happy about the move from a flag with 13 stars to one with 20 stars…so the decision was made to reduce the number of stripes to 13, in order to honor the original 13 colonies. On this day, April 4, 1818, Congress passed an act to do just that at the suggestion of United States Naval Captain Samuel C Reid. The plan also allowed for a new star to be added when each new state was admitted. The stripes would never change. The act specified that each new flag design should become official on the first July 4, our Independence Day, following admission of one or more new states. The most recent change, from 49 stars to 50, occurred in 1960 when the present design was chosen, after Hawaii gained statehood in August 1959. Before that, the admission of Alaska in January 1959 prompted the debut of a short-lived 49 star flag. If another state were ever to be added, I think it would take some getting used to. Our current flag has been the flag for 57 years after all. That is almost all of my life.
For 241 years, the American flag has been the symbol of our nation’s strength and unity. It’s been a source of pride and inspiration for millions of citizens. It has been a prominent icon in our national history. On January 1, 1776, the Continental Army was reorganized in accordance with a Congressional resolution which placed American forces under George Washington’s control. On that New Year’s Day the Continental Army moved to take back Boston, which had been previously been taken over by the British Army. Washington ordered the Grand Union flag hoisted above his base at Prospect Hill. It had 13 alternate red and white stripes and the British Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner. In May of 1776, Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. On June 14, 1777, in order to establish an official flag for our newly independent nation, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act, which read, “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” Congress passed several acts between 1777 and 1960, that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed for additional stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state. The Act of January 13, 1794 provided for 15 stripes and 15 stars after May 1795. The Act of April 4, 1818 provided for 13 stripes and one star for each state, to be added to the flag on the 4th of July following the admission of each new state, signed by President Monroe. An Executive Order by President Taft dated June 24, 1912, established proportions of the flag and provided for arrangement of the stars in six horizontal rows of eight each, a single point of each star to be upward. The Executive Order of President Eisenhower dated January 3, 1959, provided for the arrangement of the stars in seven rows of seven stars each, staggered horizontally and vertically. The Executive Order of President Eisenhower dated August 21, 1959, provided for the arrangement of the stars in nine rows of stars staggered horizontally and eleven rows of stars staggered vertically. Today the flag consists of thirteen horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with 6 white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies, the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. Even the colors of the flag are symbolic…Red symbolizes Hardiness and Valor, White symbolizes Purity and Innocence, and Blue represents Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice.
Our flag is more than just a piece of cloth, or a protesting tool. It is a flag to be proud of, not to burn. It is the symbol of a great nation…a nation that rushes to the defense of other weaker nations, so that they can remain free…a nation that vehemently protects the rights of it’s citizens, even when every fiber of its being want to slap some people silly. Our nation knows that if one right is taken away, it opens a door for others to be lost as well. Our freedom depends on our insistence to follow the rules laid out before us…like them or not. As a patriot, I understand that, but I also wish that those who use the freedom to protest, would also realize that in burning the flag, they are, in essence, saying that they don’t think that we should have the very freedoms they use to protest. It is really a vicious circle when you think about it. They are fighting, and burning a flag, in an effort to have the freedom to do what they want, but in doing so, they are saying that they don’t respect the nation that made that very thing possible for them. What a strange idea!
After the March 5, 1946, speech by former British Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill, condemning the Soviet Union’s policies in Europe, in which he declared, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” It was basically the opening remark that defined the Cold War years, and everyone knew that Russia could not be trusted. I suppose that they were similar to the North Koreans today. The Cold War would continue for the next 45 years. It was a source of concern for a number of United States Presidents over the years, as well as the American people. President Ronald Reagan was one of those presidents.
On March 8, 1983, while speaking at a convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Florida, President Ronald Reagan publicly referred to the Soviet Union as an evil empire. It was the second time in his career that President Reagan had made this reference. He had first used the phrase in a 1982 speech at the British House of Commons. Some considered Reagan’s use of the Star Wars film-inspired terminology to be brilliant democratic rhetoric, but then in my opinion there was little about President Reagan that wasn’t brilliant. Of course, there were those within the international diplomatic community who denounced it as irresponsible bombast…typical remarks from those who would appease their enemies, thinking that it would stave off any attack. Most evil nations think of appeasement as a show of weakness…and it doesn’t do much for how the citizens of the good nations feel about their own safety either.
President Reagan was prepared to take an aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union. In his plan, known as the Reagan Doctrine, he warned the nations of the world against what he saw as the dangerous trend of tolerating the Soviets build-up of nuclear weapons and attempts to infiltrate Third World countries in order to spread communism. President Reagan’s policy was basically peace through strength. We had to make the Soviets understand that we would never compromise our principles and standards, nor ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire. To do so would mean abandoning the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil, and he knew that must never happen. I think we, the nations of the world, have seen just how detrimental a weak security stance can be given the current mess we are digging out of.
Reagan proposed a policy that went beyond the Truman Doctrine of containment, urging active intervention. His plan was to increase United States military spending and, if necessary, to use force to roll back communist expansion in Third World nations. His administration provided military aid to Nicaraguan groups fighting the leftist Sandinista government and gave material support to the Afghan mujahedeen in their ongoing war against Soviets. At the same time, he reassured Americans that he would pursue an understanding with totalitarian powers and cited the United States’ effort to limit missile development as a step toward peace. Reagan’s doctrine came at the same time as a surge in international and domestic protests against the United States-Soviet arms race. His opponents blamed the administration for causing the largest increase in American military spending since the beginning of the Cold War, a policy that swelled the nation’s budget deficit. I suppose that those who just look at the money, might think this was a bad thing, but in the late 1980s the Soviet Union collapsed, ending decades of communist rule in Russia and Eastern Europe. There were those who believed that it had collapsed under the weight of its own bloated defense spending and a protracted war in Afghanistan, but Reagan and his supporters credited his hard-line anti-communist policies for defeating Soviet communism. I am inclined to agree with President Reagan, because I have never believed that we can appease our way to peace and safety in this world.
During the Civil War, the fighting was much different than these days…not just in the weapons used, but in a much bigger way. To send men out to battle in the winter was just too risky. Impassable, muddy roads and severe weather impeded active service in the wintertime. In fact, during the Civil War, the soldiers only spent a few days each year in actual combat. The rest of the time was spent getting from one battle to another, and wintering someplace because of bad weather. Even the rainy seasons caused problems, because rain brings muddy roads, and you can’t move heavy cannons on muddy roads. They get stuck. The soldiers tended to have a lot of time on their hands in the winter, and they couldn’t just go home either. In reality, disease caused more soldiers’ deaths than battle did.
The soldiers sometimes kept journals of their time, which is where so much of the information we have about their time, came from. One such soldier was Elisha Hunt Rhodes. The winter months were monotonous for the soldiers. There was really nothing to do, but they needed to be kept in shape and at the ready, so the solution became days spent drilling. I’m sure that the boredom caused tempers to flair at times too, but the down time allowed the soldiers some time to bond and have a little bit of fun, as well. Nevertheless, the main objective for the winter months was to stay warm and busy, because their survival depended on it.
Rhodes was in the Army for four years, and he kept a journal for all of that time. He was a member of the 2nd Rhode Island Rhodes and fought in every battle from the First Bull Run to Appomattox. He rose from the rank of private to the rank of colonel in four years. According to Rhodes, the winter months were pretty quiet for the soldiers. They didn’t fight many battles, and so the months were spent drilling or smoking and sleeping. Some of the troops gambled and others drank or even visited the prostitutes who hung out around the camps. Believe it or not, the soldiers actually welcomed Picket Duty, which is when soldiers are posted on guard ahead of a main force. Pickets included about 40 or 50 men each. Several pickets would form a rough line in front of the main army’s camp. In case of enemy attack, the pickets usually would have time to warn the rest of the force. Picket Duty became a welcome break from the day to day monotony, because in Rhoades words, “One day is much like another at headquarters.”
Rhodes spent most of his winter months in or near Washington DC, giving him more diversions than some soldiers in the Civil War, who were in more remote locations. On one such trip into town came on February 26, 1862, he took the opportunity to hear Senator Henry Wilson from Massachusetts speak on expelling disloyal members of Congress. After listening to the speech, Rhodes and his friend Isaac Cooper attended a fair at a Methodist church and met two young women, who the soldiers escorted home. Like other soldiers, Rhodes welcomed the departure from winter quarters and an end to the monotony. “Our turn has come,” he wrote when his unit began moving south to Richmond, Virginia,in 1864. His winter break was over, and he would find himself back in battle again. Rhodes would survive the Civil War and after a long life, passed away on January 14, 1917 at 75.