The Great War/The Audacity of Bravery: The Inane Ability of Leaders to Often Choose Wrongly

In collecting our list of things to do at the local tourist office when we first arrived in Brugge, we found that there was an exhibit photoexhibit taking place in the center of town to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an attack on the town’s harbor. The raid, by the British, occurred late in the Great War, which was an attempt to blockade the submarine ports that had been set up in Brugge’s harbor of Zeebrugge. By 1918 the Germans, who had occupied the city from the very beginning of the war, had built a vast base that protected, repaired, armed and launched raids against the British supplies coming in through the North Sea. The base was extremely well protected, given the technology available at the time.

title photoWhile I loved to spend time in my career on the two world wars, and by the latter part of any school year there were great reasons for launching into the events of the wars- it really appealed to the boys and the consequences of each war were so profound on the succeeding decades that it set up the political realities of  the world and life as we know them today- the problem with covering these wars was that the unbelievable number of events, fronts, individuals and motivations made it extremely difficult to maintain context and purpose in a lesson. It was like throwing spaghetti at the wall to get a overall picture of the thing in the days or a couple of weeks one could devote to it. Then, there is the Treaty of Versailles, which is as important as the war.

The main problem was trying to make sense of the motivations of the many countries involved in the war, to account for the hundreds of battles taking place literally throughout the war (though those in Europe held precedence), and to give fair and equal accounting of the Eastern, Western, Balkan, Italian and Ottoman fronts, and other world regions, which often left what was happening at sea to be filled in around the events as the four-year war unfolded.

Yet, the importance of what happened on and under the sea cannot be minimized, even though it was always shortchanged in a sophomore history class or in an IB course that expects even more comprehensive understanding of significant events than can be given to such a section in the unit. I ended up hating giving assessments that ticked off a bunch of facts and names, always hoping that the students would gain understanding, make the connections and demonstrate understanding through analysis of what had transpired. That meant having enough information to make judgements.

It also meant that Belgium, in any such class on World War One, gained very little traction in planning a lesson about the war. The Schlieffen Plan, the surprise attack of Germany to march through Belgium, encircle Paris and get the French out of the war within two months, was the only marker placed in the list of events and places used in lessons. Our week here has enlightened us considerably about the impact of the war on the country. It was devastating in some areas, and Brugge was a prize that was never given up by the Germans until the very end.

The Great War, as it was then called, was one that found the technology far advanced of military planning (and one can, and has, argued that the minds doing the planning were often using egos, politics or outdated mindsets for conclusions). So many times military leaders, either in the army or the navy, and in the newly developing air force, had no idea how to use their new weapons most effectively. Politicians and royalty were really looking at traditional options, which meant they held power over all reason, as they wished to maintain- and grow- sovereignty over their dominions.

What they did have was millions of men, so they used them as they needed, often making horrible, seemingly unintelligent and tragic decisions that left thousands upon thousands of men maimed or dead, or perhaps damaged psychologically for the rest of their lives (even with no visual physical injury). I tend to be unforgiving of the many leaders of this war for making those decisions, though I also know full well that they were under tremendous pressure to move the marker on the planning maps in their favor and that historians are of the ilk of Monday Morning Quarterbacking who have the luxury of hindsight, something with which no general or politician is armed. True, keep in mind after the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, General Moltke, nephew of the great commander during the Bismarck years, advised suing for peace as he knew the war was lost. He was dismissed. And, on a very few occasions the gambles of leaders were successful and they are credited with being brilliant on those occasions. Still, so many deaths and disabilities suffered because of so many apparently horrible decisions to simply throw men at the enemy.

As the fourth year of the war arrived, and the Brugge/Bruges Offensive of 1917 having been renamed the Battle of Passchendaele by the Brits and Douglas Haig to save face, Brugge was still German and an elusive goal. At this point of the war, Haig had already been through three years of conflict, not only with the Germans, but with his own leaders. The most important adversary for Haig was his Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Lloyd George was unsparing in his criticism of Haig in his post war memoirs. And, since their publication in the 1930s, Lloyd George’s war memoirs formed the dominant view of the British army in the First World War, as “lions led by donkeys”. Lloyd George settled his personal score with Haig with the damning phrase “brilliant to the top of his army boots.” But, that is another blog and included here only to demonstrate the pressure on all involved in the Western Front.

Brugge was of continuing paramount importance to the Allied efforts, as the German submarine fleet that was so necessary to their war effort was located there. It was called the Flanders Flotilla. Therefore, in a lesson regarding the seas and their importance in the war, Brugge would have to be a significant part of any unit. I never had the luxury of enough time to include it in a lesson, other than as a mention in the Passchendaele Battle in 1917, which was really anticipated in its planning to really be the Bruges Campaign.  At least I can learn more now and do it at my leisure and with pleasure. To have the opportunity to be in Brugge, to see their rich history dating from Roman times, but to more recently have had roles in both the First and Second World Wars, has been part of the pleasure of the time we’ve spent in Europe this April and May. It has become too clearly apparent that this wonderful country did nothing in either situation of the 20th century conflicts to deserve the fate of occupation and destruction that resulted simply in their prime logistical position between to larger advisories. Those two unwarranted and unjustified wars changed their citizens’ lives forever.

That Flanders Flotilla that grew in size and destructive capability because of the logistical advantages of Zeebrugge were always on the Allied minds when looking for a resolution to the war.  Churchill said, in writing his memoirs in 1946, “The only thing that ever frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril” , though this also applied to the damage done by the NAZI U Boots in the Second World War. The strength of the Allied surface navies in both wars pushed the Germans into perfecting submarine warfare. The technology improved quickly, their numbers increased, as did the size and possibilities of what the U Boots could accomplish, and the hot spot for using them were Zeebrugge and Ostende harbors on the Belgian coast just outside of Brugge. The command post was in the Town Hall on the main square in town. Huge facilities were constructed of fortified cement to protect the fleet.

In early 1918 to plan was devised to cripple the access to the Channel from the inner harbor. The became known as the Zeebrugge Raid, map raidwhich took place on the night of April 22/23 over the course of just about one hour. It was one that saw unbelievable heroism on the British side, though it is hard to imagine a comparison of what a soldier, facing machine guns, mortars and exploding artillery shells, had to muster in the way of courage going up the slope to the village of Passchendaele, for instance. In that hundred day battle, most of it in pounding rain with mud wet, oozing and deep enough to drown horse and man alike. What men did in battle in that war is perhaps like no other, in that the killing rate was among the highest in modern history and one knew what his chances were. The went forward anyway. The number of British killed, wounded or missing in action in the Zeebrugge Raid was about ten per minute, out of a small landing party and an overall group, all volunteers, of about 1700 men. A third of them were casualties and twelve Victoria Crosses were awarded for the bravery demonstrated by those involved. The exhibit has assembled the VCs for the first time in one place. The stories of those men are compelling IMG_4161-wand links are provided below to some of them. Two are noteworthy, George Bradford and Albert McKenzie. McKenzie survived the raid and was made a public face of the battle and used to raise moral at home. A Youtube of this event is in this link. His home town recently unveiled a statue of him in the raid to commemorate the 100 year anniversary.

In the Zeebrugge Raid, the plan was to present a diversion by having a group of marines land on the Mole and to dismantle the German weaponry posted there. Using a smoke screen to accomplish this, it would also clothe the approach of three obsolete ships filled with concrete that would be sunk in the opening to the harbor. That was about the extent of the plan, one that would take the volunteer force right into the teeth of the German defenses.

The commander of the raid, and I am not sure how much also he was involved in its planning, was Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes. As is often the case when you dig into the particulars of any incident, the individuals involved are critical and making judgements about them and their actions involves needed clarity, diligence and breadth to be fair to their reputations. I have done a bit on Sir Keyes and am still asking questions about his motivations, ego and competence. To quote him and the captain of the Vindictive going into the raid: 

The significance of the date wasn’t lost on Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes, the driving force behind the Zeebrugge Raid.  Before the attack, Keyes signaled from his flagship, “St George for England”, receiving Vindictive’s reply, “May we give the dragon’s tail a damn good twist.”

Following is an account of the raid as told in the Telegraph by Paul Kendall, author of a new book on the raid:

The sailors at Chatham dockyard had a name for the men preparing for the Zeebrugge Raid. The “Suicide Club”, they called them. Events were to prove it a bloodily accurate title.

The British are often accused of wallowing in their wartime exploits, but the operation to block the heavily defended, German-held Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend on St George’s Day 1918, thus denying their use to the U-boats ravaging Allied shipping, is barely remembered. There will, however, be a few people commemorating the 90th anniversary of the raid today.

In the face of withering fire at Zeebrugge, a few thousand men of the Royal Marines and Royal Navy attempted to silence German batteries and scuttle blockships filled with concrete in the entrance to the ports. More than 600 men were killed or wounded.

The propaganda offensive that followed, which greatly exaggerated the raid’s success, helped to boost the morale of an empire nearing exhaustion after almost four years of war. Churchill, then minister of munitions, described the men’s efforts as possibly “the finest feat of arms” in the conflict.

In terms of the result he was guilty of hyperbole, but his words were more than justified by the raw courage and sacrifice displayed.

The awards, many posthumous, tell their own story: 11 VCs and more than 600 other decorations. During the fighting at Zeebrugge, which lasted little more than an hour, medals were being won at the rate of six a minute.

The raid was a response to the havoc wrought by German U boats based at the inland port of Bruges, which relied on two canals, one ending at Zeebrugge and the other at Ostend, in order to reach the open sea. Their attacks were responsible for a third of Allied ships sunk in the war.

With Britain’s maritime lifeline in danger of being cut, Bruges needed to be put out of action. Blocking the canal entrances would force the submariners to rely on naval bases in north Germany.

The major British offensive in Flanders in 1917 had as its goal the seizure of Bruges from the landward side, but its failure in the blood and mudbath known as Passchendaele left a daring amphibious operation as the only alternative.

The operation was commanded by Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes and the only prospect he could offer for those taking part was death or capture. Chief Engine Room Artificer Thomas Farrell had served 18 years in the Royal Navy and was a volunteer. He nonchalantly informed a friend: “I’m off on a suicide job.”

To allow the three blockships at Zeebrugge to reach their positions, the German batteries had to be silenced. They were sited on the mole, a breakwater extending into the sea.

Its capture was the job of a contingent of sailors and Marines aboard the obsolete cruiser Vindictive, which was to charge out of the mist, moor up to the mole and disgorge the raiding party. The guns would be silenced and a submarine packed with explosives detonated midway along the mole to prevent German reinforcements reaching the scene.

Many of the British casualties were sustained when the Germans, alerted to Vindictive’s approach, raked her with fire. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting ensued. One blockship grounded before reaching the canal but the two others were scuttled. The operation at Ostend was a complete failure and had to be repeated the following month – with only partial success.

Lt Theodore Cooke was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for leading his platoon of Marines on the Zeebrugge mole. Wounded twice, the second time in the head, he continued to fight on before being evacuated.

His citation read: “By his personal bravery under fire, he set a magnificent example to his men, and led them forward with the greatest courage and dash in spite of being wounded. He was wounded a second time while endeavouring to carry a wounded man back to the ship.”

Churchill, who was a friend of Vice-Admiral Keynes, waxed to the point of hyperbole by claiming the raid to be perhaps the best feat of military execution in the whole war. The government downplayed any thoughts of failure and pushed the propaganda to the limit to bolster public opinion at the time. Remember, in 1917 there had been a French mutiny, a Russian Revolution and demoralizing campaigns. The submarines were causing unsustainable losses, the Germans were moving their troops from the Russian front to the Western front. Hopes of the American weight was slowly being realized, but not with the impact needed to sue for peace. Their would be attacks and counter-attacks by both sides before each side was exhausted, finally. In a side note, Keynes was present with the Belgian Liberation_of_Bruges_1918King Albert in liberating Bruges in 1918, later became a MP and his speech condemning the Norway Raid in 1940 (while leaving a significant proponent of the raid, Churchill, his friend, out of the condemnation) which was central in the fall of the Chamberlain government and the choice of Churchill as his replacement in May of that year. Politics….

If you wish to continue at some time, enjoy the links below    Albert McKenzie—battle-for-the-north-sea-exhibition-in-bruges—the-royal-navy-raids-on-zeebrugge–ostend,_1st_Baron_Keyes 


Lumbee? When is an Indian an Indian: North Carolina’s Lumbee history

Consuming history is a lifetime’s work and one that is always full of surprises. As a longtime resident of North Carolina, it was always interesting to appreciate that state’s slant on history and living there, and living through some of its recent history, gave me my own slant on how the world works. In all the many years there, though, it never came to my attention that there was a Native American tribe in the southern portion of the state, along the border with South Carolina, called the Lumbee. They are presently 50,000 strong and the largest tribe east of the Mississippi. They were recognized both by the federal government and North Carolina in the late 1800s and movements on the state and federal level specifically identified them as the Lumbee tribe in the 1950s, but were excluded from federal funds with that act. The current Republican Congressman, Robert Pittenger, has introduced the Lumbee Recognition Act to the House of Representatives, but that has not progressed any further in this Congress as best as I can determine.

My own introduction to the Lumbee came from one of its members, who is presently teaching at UNC Chapel Hill. LoweryphotoHer name is Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery, and she has a very colorful family history of her own. The article she wrote was for the NYTimes and was specifically directed at the Native American heritage in the South, when the particular aspects of racism were codified into law in the South and distinguishing who was a Negro and who was an Native American was problematic. It also described how the Civil War was clearly a war about race and that the post war actions by Southern whites to mitigate the impact of losing the war led to new laws, new forms of segregation and subjugation, and how this also included Native Americans. At that time the Lumbee were often viewed ambiguously, perhaps because of how they had accommodated their own racial, ethnic and community places in the wider Southern community.  She mentioned, almost in passing, as it was not central to her thesis, that her family had suffered under this regime of domination by white supremacy. Her name is Lowery and her great-great-grandfather was hanged (wrongly) for participating in the Lowery Wars that occurred, initiated by the Civil War, but concluded long after the war was over. That Dr. Lowery is deeply involved in education, has suffered the Trump administration’s attitudes towards Charlottesville on such a personal level, and is still living through whatever transformation needs to occur in North Carolina is testament to the staying power of the Lumbee tribe. Therein lies my intrigue for today.

As she explained it so well, if you have not as yet, you must read her opinion piece first, then continue on to this link to get a much fuller and clearer description of the Lowery Wars than I would do justice. There was also a blog devoted to the wars. The tribe is still very active and must deal with all the issues Native Americans throughout the country must address related to segregation. Their members proudly claim their heritage, but it comes at some price. The Lumbee are only one of the tribes still active in North Carolina.NC-native-tribes-mapAs you can see from their own website in the following link, they have great representative American citizens who are also part of a Native American sovereign nation and work through tribal organizations to protect their heritage. Some of their members suffer from poverty, alcoholism, opioid abuse and its untimely deaths. The U.S. and N.C. state governments have not often done well by this and other tribes.

As an historian, I am always intrigued by how we only get a blink of a vision, a snippet of what is visible to us in the present from our past, to enable us to tell the story of what happened long ago. As we are presently on holiday in Belgium and sorting through the history of Bruges, which is also called Brugge, and has two languages surrounding its history and all the animosity and cultural baggage that accompanies two distinct languages living in the same region, we are sorting through the many beautiful nuggets of history and culture to be mined here.  In the past, dozens of other languages also did business with this community for nearly seven hundred years and those languages and more have returned in the 21st century. We appreciate this particular city as an example of what history exposes to us in the present. The silting up of its harbor in the 17th century weakened its economic impact, the money went to Antwerp, and Bruges was put to sleep economically for a couple hundred years. But, in doing so, preserved its architectural and artistic heritage to a great extent.

Today, we find it in a resurgent state, protected as a U.N. World Heritage Site, and taking advantage of its thousands of buildings built in the 14th through 18th centuries that are in remarkably good condition. Throngs of tourists are now appreciating that they avoided destruction to accommodate modernity at some later time. The paintings completed in Bruges in the 15th century were among the best done anywhere at the time, and they were groundbreaking in technique and medium. The three greatest painters associated with the oil movement in that era knew this town well and were patronized by its leading citizens. Indeed, two of them were among the leading citizens of Brugge, Van Eyck and Memling. Mary is currently inspecting the small details of Memling’s work where he actually painted the buildings and daily activities of Bruges that were contemporary to his life thereby giving us a snippet of life then that may still be around today. We’ll be off shortly to see if we can follow those bread crumbs.

This town, like so many other cities in the world that suffered economic downturns and were left adrift by history, have become open museums to an earlier time and are now very attractive because of what has been protected. Too, they are in the modern world, as well, in that other nationalities are attracted by its new economic pull. We had haircuts from a Portuguese gal, bought groceries from a Middle Eastern shop owner, the lady who is cleaning our flat, Fatmira, is from Kosovo and has been resident here for nearly a decade, and we hopped a cab ride from the station with Jeromy, who was born in Burundi to another name and who now speaks Flemish, French, German and English in addition to his native African language and has two daughters who have only been Belgian. One of them just celebrated her First Communion. Integration is such a wonderful thing, though most of those described above left under duress. But, to return to North Carolina…..

21lowery1-superJumboThe picture provided in Dr. Lowery’s article was taken by the Civil War photographer of great fame, Mathew Brady. His body of work alone is testament to the importance of any single person’s efforts to record what is happening in the world and how important that work is to future generations in understanding what happened. That the Lumbee Nation and the Lowery Wars are now a small part of my own understanding, I am grateful. The Robin Hood nature of those wars are worthy of a film, wouldn’t you think.

Yeah for this Royal Wedding: Their Dresses were Shades of Green, but there was so much more

It would not be fitting to describe me as a fan of wedding frenzy and newspaper coverage and paparazzi foaming for opportunities. I did enjoy the pomp of William and Kate, as that wedding seemed to be a harbinger of returning the Windsor Family to some sort of normalcy: there was proper lineage considered, they managed everything with the correct pomp and the two of them cut a wonderful path in protocol, policy and projects involving charity and goodness. Their children are photogenic, though they have been blessedly protected from overexposure and the luridness of paparazzi. 

The Windsor Family is a strange one; it changed its name because of the First World War and because it had too many Germans in the closet. It had by then expanded its already considerable reach into the royal families of Europe through the offspring of Victoria in the 19th century. Victoria was not the first hope of the monarchy in the 1840s, yet she, too, cut a long path in history once she asserted herself in the reign. She is being given a pass most recently for her actions, as movies, books and mini-series have portrayed her in a light that is more glow that glowering. In reality, she oversaw an empire that resisted any attempts at mitigating British power in their possessions, or associated with their allies or between their adversaries. The Victorian Era is still being paid for in world terms, especially by England but also by us all, and the British Isles have yet to come to complete terms with this legacy: Brexit and the Windrush Scandal are the most recent indicators of the simmering, long-term problems for them to face.

The heir to Victoria in England, Edward VII, was not a leader looking for a way forward and to progressive solutions for his country. If anything, he was the worst example of royal privilege, arrogance and debauchery in a long line of royals, tainting the family’s name in the wake of his activities. Few in the family have pushed for opening up to new ideas and for accepting the changes the world is offering, indeed, forcing on them. They most often were the biggest defenders of the old ways and of protocols that began sometimes centuries ago. 

Perhaps the children of Victoria would have been better off to model themselves after Princess Alice, who also just happened to be the mother and grandmother of so many of the world’s problem royalists in the past few generations: think Alexandra of Russia and her sister, Elisabeth, both killed by the Bolsheviks- Mountbatten was her grandson, Prince Phillip, the present Consort, her great-grandson. Alice, in contrast to the arrogance of most of her offspring, spent her short life championing women’s rights and working with the wounded and infirm. She was the one the family turned to to resolve internal conflicts.

Often the plight of the royal family did not follow a chosen or expected path. Edward VIII is still chastised by historians for his particular arrogance and for marrying a divorcee, one who was American to boot. His brother was not expecting or desiring the throne and we have some evidence that, after his accession, Elisabeth was not particularly pleased to have her bloodline also determine her life’s work. Phillip bridled against the expectations of duty often and their son, Charles, continued the difficulty of following royal protocol. He finally succumbed to a royal lineage choice with Diana, but that did not go well, as we all know. They did have two boys who have led interesting lives. The heir has done well by the royal family and Harry has had his ups and downs, but he certainly has been an interesting read.

Now, he has chosen to shift gears and take the royal family off the comfortable course by marrying Meghan Markle, another American, this time of mixed race. The coverage has brought me back to interest in the family because of this. Markle’s mother is black and handles herself with regal aplomb, as we have seen, equal to Betty. The two women representing Harry and Meghan at the wedding coordinated the color choice of green for their dresses, each with their own shade of interest.

The best article I have read concerning the event was in the New Yorker by Doreen St. Félix. It so impressed me, in fact, that this blog has served as an introduction to her piece, which I highly recommend. It speaks of how the blood of both mother and grandmother chose much of their life’s direction for them. It defends the wedding couple’s choice to bring American themes and philosophies into the ceremony. It hints at the problematic history of the empire and its subjugation of many of the world’s inhabitants, continuing down to the embarrassment of the Windrush Scandal presently playing out, all as a backdrop to the ceremony~oh the irony in a vow. The royal family long ago was pushed out of a political roll, but they are the standard bearers of the realm. The extended family of the Windsors is a colorful one, without the racial implications. It has shared its own embarrassing history of escapades and foibles for the past six or seven decades in sorting out its place in English and royal history. I am looking most forward to following the slant the Meghan and Harry family is going to make of it and on it.


Elizabeth Holmes?:  Criminal, Con, Cunt, Chimera, Creative, Combative, Capable, Clever, Competent or Dazed and Confused? She did preside over a House of Cards, though

Just this past Wednesday, Gabe Johnson, a former student and now friend who works for the WSJ, posted a video of his recent collaboration with John Carreyrou. This two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist’s three year attempts to get the story on Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos, has now brought the company to the verge of bankruptcy and the two principle owners to the edge of criminal proceedings. It was a video I gladly watched, as anything Gabe does is thoughtful, deliberate, insightful and clear. The juxtaposition of a computer game engaging a journalist, playing one of his favorite childhood games with his own image as the object of the game, and the journalist discussing the game, the reporting and the object of his reporting which were all tied to the nature of the game’s intent, all done in a few minutes, was wonderful.

holmesI had seen Elizabeth Holmes a few years ago interviewed on television, even on Charlie Rose, as she rocked the investment and health worlds, while also posing for dozens of photo shoots to feature her as the woman of the hour and the most recent glam girl of the feminist movement. She seemed to have it all. In 2019 a documentary has been made to illuminate her exploits.


To learn what has happened since then is a tribute to journalism in its purist form. Here is a person who asked the questions and Elizabeth Holmes kept ducking the answers to them and spouting her aphorisms instead. After three years, finally those who should have asked those questions are finding out some difficult answers. What could we ask all those people who gave her air time, magazine articles and cover shoots, money and fame, what they think about her and their involvement in the story now?

forbes and others covers

John Carreyrou’s persistence in the face of much derision and threats to his livelihood, with the WSJ occasionally questioning the strength of its commitment to the story in the face of the overwhelming press supporting Holmes, is a testament to a journalist and to what of importance should be covered in any class about investigative journalism. If you look at the individuals who posed with her, were interviewing her or joining in support of her mission or investment opportunity she provided, you would find many of the big names on both sides of the political aisle, in journalism and in Hollywood. She was campaigning for Hillary Clinton, even though her pedigree is long in the Republican suit; her father was appointed to government positions in the G.H.W. Bush era, while also being central to Enron’s exploits. Ms. Holmes led an early life greased with privilege and pluses. It appears it is now going to also be a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. Will that version become the new truth about her?

So, one of Carreyrou’s most recent articles about her was titled Theranos lays off most of its remaining workforce. It appears his early questioning uncovered much and unleashed, finally, some much needed oversight into what Holmes was claiming her instruments did to assess blood. It turns out they fell very far short of both aspirations and claims made by Holmes. Some even say she lied and forcibly attempted covering up failures in her company. Some would like to see her spend time in jail. Will she? This is a moving story that changes by the day….stay tuned if you are interested.

Journalism has taken such a hit in the last two years, though many of my blogs have addressed the history of this attack and it has actually been a combination of suicide and murder perpetuated on the profession for a couple of hundred years. Technology allowed it to be fast and cheap in the 19th century and dozens and dozens of publications made their daily rounds in many large cities by the turn of the 20th century. Their biases were often obvious, but now one only chooses his diet of news because of a bias. If you go to the links at the end, they all took on Ms. Holmes at various times in her journey to fame, fortune and fall, and each chooses their approach to her based on limited exposure to what they really need to know about her, but they are willing to sell their story. Following is a sampling of bias based on her story. Where is true journalism?

Facts: She is a female; quite young as a professional at the beginning of her rise and still so as she enters this phase of her life; she is attractive, blond, blue-eyed; she exudes confidence (or something effecting it); she uses her knowledge and language to convey expertise in pushing premises into the conversation or narrative; she has attended schools of high pedigree; apparently she blinks less than you or I and she may even effect a deeper voice than she really possesses naturally.

Questions: What is she attempting that is so revolutionary? Why did big money finance her venture? How did she get the list of supporters to be so impressive and to build this list so fast? These should be critical questions to anyone with personal financial risk involved to pass his or her money over any venture. It turns out few of these very important names did due diligence. 

Their game of “Pass the story on” asked some questions, but, in the true cognitive process of dissembling information and building a premise from these facts, there is no clear conclusion that you should give this person money other than there was a promise for possible future success. In 2016, at the apogee of her game, when she had accrued $700 million in investment and had a company valued at $9 billion dollars, a person named Evan Carmichael uploaded a Youtube clip listing her ten most important rules for success. I could, and will, ask the question, “why should you listen to Evan Carmichael? Over one million people do. Check him out on Instagram@…#Believe (hmm is that pretentious in any way?) His approach is the perfect Millennial list maker. He chooses ten as the prime number to explain Holmes. Do you see or hear anything of substance in those ten postings or were they perfect aphorisms? Forbes, or one of its Millenials, also did a listing on Carmichael. In Carmichael’s clip on Holmes, the last of her interviewers was Charlie Rose. Hmmmm. What questions should we have all asked about Holmes? and now about Carmichael?

Another person who took up the gauntlet on Holmes is Max Roscoe. Is he a journalist, is he credible, should we listen to him? He claims to be an aspiring philosopher… don’t we all. He ignores Americunts. Hmm. He posts on a site called   Is this journalism? Check out the comment section on his article on Holmes, The Biggest Start Up Failure in the Decade was caused by a woman. To quote him….

Without leftist journalists obsessed with women in STEM, there would have been no crazy hype about Elizabeth Holmes, her company, and her childish predilection with mimicking the fashion choices of Steve Jobs. Insouciant liars for major media outlets gladly applauded Theranos without conducting any due diligence whatsoever. They did not scrutinize Holmes’ business claims and, more importantly, they did not investigate even close to properly when it became clear that her purported “technologies” had scam written all over them.  

Holmes’ list of people on her board is stunning. Some big names are on that list, from both political persuasions, unfortunately. There is a respected Stanford professor with great accomplishments, a former chairman for the Center for the Prevention and Control of Disease, the current Trump Cabinet member, Jim Mattis, etc….. Many of them knew and know how to move around the government and Wall Street, for sure.


A recent article on Fox Business News exposed the things she did that are the absolute wrong things to do when you are being asked the questions someone should have asked from the beginning. Here these are:

-When an investigative journalist from the Wall Street Journal calls to tell you he’s got credible sources saying bad things about your company on the record and wants to chat about it, assume he’s not really serious. Keep stonewalling him and hope he finds something more exciting to write about.

-When the story finally breaks, and it’s a front-page blockbuster that casts serious doubt on the efficacy and accuracy of your technology, claim that it’s “inaccurate, misleading and defamatory” and that the allegations are “grounded in baseless assertions by disgruntled former employees and industry incumbents.”

-Post long rambling rants on your website Opens a New Window.  that deny everything the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter wrote because he’s simply flat out wrong. Attack him as being out to get you from the start. Call your posts “Theranos Facts” without actually stating any facts that can be verified by an objective third party.

-Express your outrage to a TV personality Opens a New Window. , decrying that, “This is what happens when you work to change things. First they think you’re crazy. Then they fight you. And then all of a sudden you change the world.” Act shocked and appalled that “the Journal would publish something like this …”

-Compulsively proclaim “unparalleled transparency Opens a New Window. ” while being completely opaque. Use impressive numbers with lots of zeros when talking about how many tests you’ve run, patients you’ve served, and pages of data you’ve submitted to the media while providing zero evidence of the accuracy of your tests.

-Threaten the widow of your former chief scientist with legal trouble after learning that she spoke to the Journal and said that her husband, who coauthored 23 patents during eight years with the company, repeatedly told her before he committed suicide that, “nothing was working.”

-Suggest that you voluntarily filed for FDA approval because it’s the highest standard. Watch as an FDA investigation concludes that your proprietary nanotainer is an unapproved medical device and approves the use of your proprietary technology for just one of the more than 240 blood tests you offer. Act as if that was all part of the plan.

-Ensure that none of the investors who pumped more than $750 million into your company are actually on your board of directors. Instead, stack the board with insiders and retired big-name politicians and administrators who have no real vested interest in the company.

-Claim that you haven’t submitted your proprietary technology for peer-review by independent third parties or medical journals because you have to protect the family jewels from evil competitors. But when push comes to shove, say you’ll do it. Really soon. Really. But never actually do it.

-Announce plenty of partnerships with big-name healthcare providers Opens a New Window.  like the Cleveland Clinic and San Francisco-based Dignity Health. Never mind that not one of those relationships ever gets off the ground.

-Go dark when it’s revealed that Safeway is abandoning plans to open Theranos wellness centers in 800 supermarkets, even after spending $350 million on the initiative. Mum’s the word when Walgreen’s halts expansion of your relationship and searches desperately for a way to distance itself from a growing scandal.

-When the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) investigate and find “serious deficiencies” that post “immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety” at your California Lab, brush it off as minor issues you’ve coincidentally already corrected, but actually haven’t.

-Make sure you’re nowhere to be found when researchers at Mount Sinai Opens a New Window.  show that your cholesterol test results are way off and a scathing 121-page CMS report reveals Opens a New Window.  that your proprietary Edison tester yields unacceptably inaccurate and erratic results on a whole bunch of blood tests.

-After a dozen years of development, hiring more than a thousand employees, and burning through ungodly amounts of cash, Holmes’ plan was apparently to make an enormous splash, go live on real people, and hope nobody notices that the stuff doesn’t work. At least that’s how it seems to me.

-And when the media got wind of it, she went into denial, avoidance and attack mode.

-Holmes recently told a group of Stanford graduate business students that, “The minute you have a back-up plan, you’ve admitted you’re not going to succeed.” That may be good advice if you’re writing an app, but when human beings are counting on you for an accurate diagnosis, it’s delusional.

There are also those who ask whether Elizabeth Holmes should go to jail for what she did. What is true is that she benefitted from a system that had ambiguous oversight. Was the SEC in charge, the FDA, the CPCD, the Justice Department or some other medical group that could have stopped Theranos from making medical claims that were obviously unverified? Going forward, what will happen?

John Carreyrou tells you how to spot the next Elizabeth Holmes who comes along. As you can imagine in this atmosphere of Fake News, where we have a president who many opined actually did not think he was going to win, and may not have actually wanted to win, who loves being on Reality TV everyday, though, what is true and what is fake. I think we are ripe for the next Ms. or Mr. Holmes to sell us their next list of the Ten Best Bonkers we have to own and in which to invest.

No matter how hard you get knocked down, get back up again….Eventually you won’t get knocked down.  Elizabeth Holmes to graduating Stanford students…is she about to get up, again?

In March, 2019, the NYTimes wrote an update of her story.

In terms of journalism, there are obvious candidates on the list of links below that are related to this story, and others that should be suspect but still hold great affection with readers in this country……

Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube: From this to “Stroppendragers”

Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube: From this to “Stroppendragers

It’s truly been a lifetime between the bookends of my own exposure to Charles V von Habsburg, 16th century Holy Roman Emperor who changed the world. Upon arriving in Europe forty years ago and finding new friends in London, one, Joe McEvoy, passed on one of his favorite books to me. It was about the Habsburg family and their influence on Europe. As Mary and I, after a couple of years in London, had just signed a contract with Bob Ater, head of the American International School in Vienna, Joe knew my love of history and knew Vienna was the home of the Habsburgs.  While they came from elsewhere, at least from the 1500s onward their main palace and center of power lay in Vienna. 

Over the next couple of decades while we lived in Vienna, I consumed all things Habsburg. It got to the point where I could stand on a corner in Vienna and recall significant incidents related to particular Habsburgs who lived within a radius of a hundred yards of that corner. If you moved around the town, especially the First District, the stories were myriad and always rattled my cage. We followed their lives, marriages and burials in that two decade span, covering their chins, their sicknesses, scandals, disasters and burials. The last Habsburg burial, that of Empress Zita, occurred in 1989 (her son, Otto, died later but he had renounced his legacy). Mary and I even took a trip to Yuste, Spain, to see where Charles V died~he had abdicated and withdrew from public life to spend his last three years dining on shell fish and living a quiet life away from all he could not control, which, in the end, was just about everything. From one with so much, there came little that left the world a better place. In a time when there were the likes of Erasmus and Thomas More to bring him wisdom and counsel, he chose conservatism, obstructing progress, fighting to keep all he had and to add to it constantly, and to act without compassion towards his enemies. We’ve learned often in history this is a poor way to make decisions.

This past week, we spent time at a wonderful Airbnb that is just about a 100 yards from the spot of Charles’ birth in February of 1500, to bring a bookend to our Charles experiences. Aula_principis_gandivi (1)The castle, called the Prinsenhof, and its 2 hectares of walled space with 300 rooms is no more. The city still uses what is left of it- only the Dark Arch remains (seen in the top right of the illustration), today to remind itself of the bad times when Charles was around.  More about that later.

As the city of his birth is Ghent, that complicates things for the Habsburg story. This is a family that started in Switzerland and eventually had a dog in almost every fight. The time just before Charles’ birth saw his grandfather, Maximilian the Holy Roman Emperor, marry most fortuitously; he was able to marry Mary of Burgundy, whose lands took up the east of FranceKarte_Haus_Burgund_4 and all of the Lowlands. Because of Maximilian’s father’s conflicts with Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, a marriage contract was secured between the Duke’s daughter, Mary, and Maximilian to avert further bloodshed and to secure the Burgundian lands as Habsburg lands. Their son, Philip the Handsome, married Joanna, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, which gave Maximilian title to all Spanish lands, as there was no male heir in those lands. As Maximilian’s son, Philip, predeceased his father, those lands will fall to to his son, Charles V, upon his majority. So Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube  “‘Let others wage war: thou, happy Austria, marry”

In Ghent, also where Maximilian married Mary of Burgundy, and where Charles was born, this town continued to grow and prosper as the cloth industry and trade throughout Europe came through the Low Countries. England was becoming a power in their lifetimes, trading its wool to Flanders, with Henry VIII flexing his considerable muscle and marrying his many wives.  The Italian cities are connected to the Low Countries through a route up over the Alps and along the Rhone, Danube and Rhine Rivers,ft394-p3-face_of_flanders_cropped and as an adult Charles V is fighting wars with the French, the German Lutherans and the Turks using these routes to move his troops. He needs taxes and Ghent has the funds.

But, Ghent also believed it was exempt from taxation and that Charles is in no position to confront Ghent’s ambitions based on all the problems he has elsewhere. This is a man who is always on his back foot. He is the one usually getting attacked and is not particularly adept at planning and the execution of plans for the long term. What he does have is a strong Catholic belief and a lot of lands that he has inherited to defend: the New World, north Africa, Burgundy and the Lowlands, Austria and Hungary and all the lands bordering those countries, much of Italy, and his main home country, Spain. He does speak many languages. Charles said, “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse” Spanish was his language of religion, Italian for love, French for diplomacy, and German for empire and power.

He had difficulty with England and Henry VIII, and had trouble with Germany and its new Protestants even though he is their Holy Roman Emperor- they seem to prefer Luther, autonomy and a new religious perspective over the Pope and his rule. The Turks are a constant problem to his south and east, and France is always in a position of untrustworthiness regarding previous arrangements. This is why Ghent feels it will be okay in this difficult world surrounding Charles.

It is not to be, though, as Charles elects to march up from Spain, pull in another 5000 soldiers from his surrounding lands, and declare the city forfeit. They all cave immediately. The ringleaders are executed and Charles destroys the main cathedral, builds a fort on its ground and humiliates the remaining surviving leaders and burghers, the lowest of which are forced to wear white shirts, walk barefooted and have a hang noose tied around their necks. 

Once free of the Habsburgs, the people of Ghent decided to commemorate this low ebb in history by marching each year on its anniversary and then holding a party. They take pride in calling themselves Stroppendragers, indicating their resistance and irascible nature as a citizenry. You might want to be here some July to partake….gentse_feesten_avond_c_stad_gent

Just around the corner from us is a statue…….

………to remind the citizenry of Ghent about those days of Charles V.  That Dark Gate remain in the long wall mentioned in reference to the above diagram is now visited by this Stroppendrager statue standing his vigil outside the gate and staring from a mound in perpetuity. Charles is not remembered fondly, though there is the statue of him here and there in the city, and his name occasionally pops up on a facade somewhere.

In the past few years, a film was made, called Emperor, with an international cast and Kiwi director. It has run into problems as its producer was arrested for fraud, tax evasion and other legal issues and the Belgian government counts the finished film as collateral against his obligations. Adrian Brody played the part of Charles V, and Sophie Cookson playing his mother. It is due out this year after several years in the can and on a shelf..


It seems interesting in its plot, though how Sophie Cooksin can play Brody’s mother is lost on me. Joanna was much older, of course, and was also a bit unstable, known to history as Joanna the Mad. Here are some shots from the filming…seems Ghent is still in a troubling relationship with Charles, but willing to make money off his legacy.

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The Threads Woven in Life: Ireland, Wool and, again, Woody Barr

Yesterday Mary and I completed our visit to Ireland with a return trip to a new favorite, the Foxford Woollen Mills. When it was originally suggested that we visit, we heard outlet and that was all we needed to think…tour buses, sloppy presentations and sale bins. Were we so wrong. After seeing a store representing the company here in Westport, we thought it might be worth a visit. The factory was first founded in a small community located to the interior of Mayo. The village was located on a road juncture and near a river, one known for the best salmon fishing in the country. Ireland was suffering deprivation and hunger at this time and Mayo was among the worst hit..Mayo, God Help Us as the saying goes. Yet, a determined nun, Mother Agnes Morrogh-Bernard, an Irish Sister of Charity, understanding the country’s pain from deprivation and loss, came to Foxford and started the business. It was not easy, but she was such a force of nature.

It was convenient in that sheep were all around the area and the farmers could come directly to the factory to deliver their wool- even in some cases sheering it on the premises. millsThe River Moy provided the power at first, with the mill converting to electricity in the twentieth century and today using a combination of modern technology, a fabulous design team, inventive and intelligent management and old-school knowledge about the weaving process. Their looms are set up by a technician from the old school, pre-computer age, who simply looks at the design and comes up with a system to program the machines to produce the design.

As the cool, damp Irish climate produces a wool that is more coarse, the mill selects wools from many countries to round out its present offerings. They offer Australian, New working-millsZealand, Spanish and Italian wools, already processed, dyed and spooled before arrival at the factory floor. Dye lot colors are scrupulously controlled and designs are amazingly consistent. The finished products come in dozens of modern colors and the design team has expanded the offerings to fit all sorts of lifestyle options for fashion and the home.

The present mills’ shop is built into the former mill and they have done a stunning job of presenting a modern, sleek and beautiful space to appeal to the eye and fashion senses. We were so impressed with the quality of the products, the presentation and the professional staff. It was also interesting to note that they carried other Irish brands, and some of these had their products made in China. Foxford’s cloth products all come from this site.

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One of our favorites was a reproduction of the Michael Collins blanket made for him by the mill in the early part of last century. When he was murdered, it was on the seat in the back of the car he was driving. collinsThey reintroduced it recently and it has been a huge hit in their inventory. The other wools they use and prepare are much softer than the Collins’ version, as they were only using Irish wool in the early 20th century for his blanket. We had to pick up a couple other options to have for our comfort in the cold Maine evenings next winter. You know Mary has already been communicating with the factory’s manager about selling some of their wares in Maine soon….

In going through the factory tour, it was explained how they meticulously sort every inch of the weave, looking for any break during weaving or damaged segments after the process is completed. The weft and warp threads cannot suffer any irregularities or the product does not pass muster. A pulled or broken thread will destroy the whole.

Recently Mary and I were again lamenting the loss of our great friend Woody Barr, who has been so central in our lives for four decades..he was part of our family. She commented on how he was the very fabric of our lives for that time. It reminded me of that factory tour, with a damaged thread destroying the whole. We somehow are not as whole as we were a month ago. It is not possible to repair this life’s cloth as they do in the factory and we must learn, like a limping soldier returning from war or when a family sets a place for the missing member, to get on with what we have been dealt, no matter how painful and sad it has left us. His joyful life filled so many lives with wonder, laughter and love.  We have that treasure and the bounty of his currency banked from a lifetime’s experiences involving him from which we all withdraw a slip when we need a portion of one of those memories now.

As part of our Irish ventures have put us in to contact with the island’s mythology and faeries, or with the thoughts of W.B. Yeats who sought the occult and the afterlife with passion for much of his life, if that concept has any credence in the reality of existence, Woody, we are thinking of you often and look for you in the clouds, or the laughter of children, the twinkle in the old man’s smirk and the cock of anyone’s head in response to something foolishly professed. You were always the best gatekeeper.


Yeats in Life…and Death Where is he? : To borrow words from better than I, he is no slouch

The body is dead, is buried with certainty, we know, but not where. From that moment in 1939, when he was first interred, the world began its slouching anew and disturbed his afterlife’s plans. His words are alive, but are they understood, pirated, misused, abused, loved, hated? We will continue to engage his works for as long as there are those who love life and death and the abilities of man to describe them, and so much else that caught Yeats’ eye, mind and pen. We are so much further along technologically than a hundred years ago when Yeats was then writing, or was about to, some of his most disturbing thoughts on the nature of the world. Then, there was Easter Rising, the revolutions elsewhere, the Great War, pestilence of the Spanish Flu, all signifying discord and uncertainty. He was right to ask what was next.

yeatsW.B. Yeats, one of the greatest of poets, was an Irishman who loved poetry, where he focused on his Irish Roots and its Mythological Culture and the everyday, physical world. While, at the same time he was uniquely mystical and spiritual in his private life. When he died, he was buried in a traditional, Western way, being first placed in a cemetery in southern France. There are so many ways Man has looked at the afterlife and how we should engage in the burial process, it’s interesting that Yeats accepted the traditional, Western method if you consider his personal philosophy on the soul. As was the custom, he was assumed to be there for eternity, as long as the family maintained the cemetery arrangements. When he was on the verge of dying, his mind was steeled to the thought and he penned some strong words about the end of life and his in particular. What did he privately think of eternity and would he have been more inclined to another method of celebration and ceremony if he were not concerned for his legacy in Ireland….some thoughts on such are produced below, first in Yeats’ words, then in a later biographer:

“The mysteries never were, never can be, put within the reach of the general public…. The adept is the rare efflorescence of a generation of enquiries; and to become one, he must obey the inward impulse of his soul, irrespective of the prudential considerations of worldly science or sagacity. (Sinnett 1881: 101)

The idea of an age-old secret doctrine, passed on by oral tradition from generation to generation. He (Yeats) found a God seen only as the boundless, Absolute, impassible, unknowable, indescribable. He found a world consisting of emanations from this Absolute, and souls who were sparks or separated fragments of the same substance. Their object was to return to the One from which they came, but to accomplish this they have to make a long pilgrimage through many incarnations, live through many lives both in this world and beyond. (Hough 1984: 39)

While George, his wife, was also very concerned for his legacy and was remarkable after his death in defending his name and work. She thought she was also organized when it came to his earthly remains, purchasing a ten year lease on the plot in the French soil with the understanding that it was temporary and that Old Ben Bulben awaited Yeats’ body. Yeats died in the winter of 1939. His dying wish was to be reinterred after the hubbub of his death died down and his instructions were to rebury him in Sligo, near his Irish roots, which he penned in a poem at the time of his death.

Under bare Ben

Bulben’s head

In Drumcliff churchyard

Yeats is laid.

An ancestor was

rector there

The war, another second coming, came in September of the year of his death, later in the fall, and France would not do well for the next six years. Southern France was Vichy until the NAZIs took over the southern half of the country late in the war. For some reason the bodies in that particular part of cemetery were dug up and moved in the meantime. When the war ended, and the Yeats family wanted to reinter his body, they had to rely on the French to find, correctly identify (there was confusion as to a neighboring corpse) Yeats and then transport him back to Sligo for burial. It may be to some future generation and technology to resolve the dispute, if anyone in the family is later so inclined. It seems they are not at present.

yeats reburial

Yeats wrote great words on spirituality, life, death, loves and what IT all means. Many of his most important phrases have been borrowed and paraphrased by other writers, cinematographers and such, almost as often as Shakespeare. There are many of Yeats’ poems that are fabulous in addressing the issues facing Man, though it is difficult to select the best. Here, though, is The Second Coming in full:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

“Things fall apart”, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity” and “Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”– are all segments from the poem that have been borrowed, paraphrased or analyzed as often or more than the rest of what he wrote. The Second Coming is truly about many things and Yeats himself catches himself, mid-thought, mid-penning, in clarifying it is not necessarily about spirituality, but could be. It could also be his frustration and worry about modernity, yet he also supported new ideas, new creations and new options…they cannot be avoided but must be understood…and hopefully controlled and corralled as we utilize them, lest they be rough beasts. 

This article, written in the year of his 150th birth celebration, does some wonderful referencing and analyses of his poems, September 1913, Easter 1916, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, The Second Coming and Meditations in Time of Civil War. It is worth a quick read if you are so inclined to see how the author places Yeats in the context of what forged his thoughts and words. All of these poems, too, are worth another look anytime. Yeats warned us of what he saw, what he thought in his moments by himself and that some things could be harbingers of ill or that there was more there than meets the eye. The complexity of life offers us visions of beauty, but Man can bring out the worst from himself, too.

We have had many such things slouching towards the future; the Holocaust, the bomb, AIDs, some new form of Fascism, the terrifying and overwhelming of us all in our new technology. Yeats was open to anything coming at us in the future and his question seems to be whether we would be up for it. We have made much of our time on earth and he was prescient and questioning of how we would do in the future. How’re we doing today?

Lockwood Barr and W.B. Yeats: How Life Sometimes Offers Up Gifts or The Country of Old Men

My glory was I had such friends. Would that we are all Sailing To Byzantium

woody and igrid

In anyone’s life, she approaches each phase with wonder and awe, as well as a determination to conquer each as best as can be. For those of us who have ticked off a few phases, who have beaten some and lost to many, we now enjoy, hopefully, the perch we’ve found and offer advice along the way. As teachers, we loved the chance to advise for much of the time and to make that our employ. 

That, too, was a phase, one that took its toll and changed the view. I found and still find, that a mosaic is the best metaphor for describing what is out there. Recently, the journey has taken Mary and me through the western part of Ireland, Yeats land. Yet, while he wished to return here and this land forged his very mind and verses, he spent much of his life elsewhere. Time in London, Paris and dying in southern France, a gift of his friends who felt the warm climate would do his ailing heart good. Pity twas a brutal winter.

Was he an Irishman or an Everyman in the end? He died in France, attended by his wife, whom he renamed George, and his last mistress. In this, the time of #Metoo, how do we view that? Surely some of his friends had a smirk, a nod to the knowing, a twinkle in their eyes and conversation when they spoke of him at a private dinner party. Or did they always remain in awe of his mind, that vessel, that organ or aura of its own? 

After retirement, I have kept up with some of my favorite students. Those quickly joined the rank of friends and only differ in other friends in the time spent here. They are short of phases, yet they are still wise and wielding such promise. It is a joy to spend time with them, whether using this medium the masters of the Worldwide Web have offered us or at a comfy table sipping something appropriate. Here’s a clink of the glass to many more such moments. May their phases link seamlessly and happily together. For those older students, who have seamlessly shifted into other phases, who have become friends to Mary and me not  unlike the colleagues we’ve worked with and who share the same phases’ birthdays and events as our earlier students, you all have started your journeys after ours, but have found similar meanings. You are traveling our shared road.

There are many, too many, who are not reading this piece right now because they veered off our road. They chose other paths and came to places I do not wish to visit. That’s okay, I think, though I fight judging their destinations and I find that those judgements win often. Mary and I are still looking for our road and want our good friends to tread along with us.

My own present phase has seamlessly arrived now. It was both a planned one and one that still has some serendipity about it, and one over which the Republican Party still seems to hold sway- we’ll see. Retirement is a strange word that comes from the twentieth century, as have many other terms and words. Men used to never retire and women were never allowed mens’ jobs in the “Old Days.” As an historian, my spectacles almost always view the world through those lens, though I also fight that judgement, knowing the futility of hanging one’s hopes on a single viewpoint- it is a social science and very prone to bias. It has been a goal along that journey to assess many, appreciate all and to enjoy the ride. Travel and “the other” have always been our greatest loves.

In our present saddling of the horse and taking it out for a ride, Mary and I are on the west coast of Ireland, a place that has conjured man’s mind for millennia. Here the Stone Age man flourished, was replaced in places by those wielding bronze, though they had to rely on their source of tin from elsewhere as Ireland needed to begin importing as early as the bronze age. Man’s travails begin then, having to sort it out by engaging with “the other”, which brought on all those other problems. We’ve seen remnants of iron age life here, the arrival of the Celts (perhaps from Austria), then Christianity and the works of Columba and Patrick. We sit now in sight of Croag Patrick, that holiest of holies here, and wonder at its majesty and might over the islanders. After them came the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, the English and all that brings with it: the Scots, the Henrys, the Armada, the Jameses and the Charleses, the Landlords, the Rising, the Troubles. It has been a joy and a jumble to sort through it. It is another phase.

On this ride, we paid tribute to W.B. Yeats under Bare Ben Bulben’s Head, the other day. We did pay tribute and hopefully to Yeats, but that is another matter. Like the origins of the Celts and the certainty of Yeats’ body being there, that is for another phase, another quest, another history. At least the present (and future) technology is beyond bronze and the future will be clearer. For Mary and me, we sufficed to conclude it was he in spirit and that he was worth the visit. What a mind.

From a scant knowledge of what he’s done, with our meager appreciation for the world he wove and what he left us, I now hope to dig a little deeper than his grave and find the morsels he left as he wandered through his own forest, dropping them along his path to let us find where he is and what he knows. There are so many that have woven the fabric, have created the mosaic, have painted the ceilings. Time, always the enemy.

While visiting Ben Bulben’s Head, Mary and I said a farewell to Woody Barr, one of our closest compatriots in our own trip. He joined us more than a generation ago, coming to work in Vienna in the fall of 1986, I believe. I need, as always and with more frequency now, to consult with Mary for the true north of the past. Mary and I had worked there for the better part of a decade and had joined the upper echelon by then, meaning that Liesl Tarbuk had given us a restaurant recommendation. We had already been accepted by many of the faculty, or rather, by those on the faculty that we chose and they accepted as compatriots on the same life’s path. They are still on our path and still in our hearts. When Woody showed up at the office, making his rounds to see who was worth their/his salt, he was already in a conversation with Steve Patoprsty and Tom Connolly, keepers of the AIS TUNIS ashes. Ahh, that is another story and one that had run its strange course by the fall of 1986. 

My buddies had already accepted Woody, knowing already they had a drinking buddy and someone of wit to bring to the brew events. I, too, saw that wit, but, being a bit longer of tooth than they and sharing the same phase stages as Woody, was a bit more circumspect. Not really, but I’m a smug SOB and too often in that phase flaunted it. Woody asked whom he should befriend at school and what trip wires should he avoid. I, rather than offering up such advice freely, responded, “You know, that is a great question. I will respond by my own. Will you be able to answer that question yourself in November?” True to Woody’s wisdom and wealth of perspective and aplomb at much, he cocked his head, delivered that wonderful laugh and said, “It’s a deal”…and we were lifelong friends. We didn’t need to wait for November, obviously.

In the many moons between, we enjoyed their company, knowing their two kids, who have become accomplished and part of the lore and part of a larger family of the Barrs and the extended world that loves and will always love Woody. Our own last meeting was last October celebrating the common birthdays the Maine bunch share. They left early, and they missed the evening of festivities with the headdresses used to celebrate the birthdays…hence the photo of the later delivered headdresses to them in Portsmouth above. Woody and Ingrid, though technically just over the river from Maine, are wholly part of the Living Life the Way it Ought to Be crowd. So many are. Woody, you are always on our mind, always, and will be part of our ongoing journey.

Mary and I marvel at how life good has been and how many fabulous friends have shared it. My glory is I have such friends. Thank you.

Post-Colonial World? / Post-American World?

In dabbling with thoughts and reading a bit of history, I came across some articles and references to Algeria’s War for Independence (1954-1962), which ended up with Algeria pulling away from France. This was not a grand time for France, or the world for that matter. During the Post War Era, the world was trying to figure out which direction it would go economically and politically, and whose military/country would be preeminent. Too, the threat of nuclear weaponry changed the very nature of how armies would prosecute a country’s ambitions. War ceased to be a war for a climax, where two nations (or the UN) sat down with both sides’ leaders discussing the new, post war arrangements of territory and sovereignty. War in the last three generations has evolved into endless squabbling of insurgencies and treacheries, with little resolved other than simmering peaces…much like the non-ending to the Korean War (which was technically a police action by the United Nations).


The Post War World was one that had many aspects to consider: de-colonization of the old order; a huge wave of baby-boomers arriving to adulthood in the Sixties; what side anyone was on in the Communism vs. Capitalism argument (with Europe depending on welfare statism to a large extent to rebuild); great technological change that is still making its waves; the growth of cities and the reverberating suburbs brought on by the automobile and re-segregation, and the domination of America in world affairs due to the power of the dollar and its military. As we enter a new era, one that has a fuzzy future and one that history should/could inform, let’s look at the Algerian War in summary and see if we can apply the circumstances to American attitudes, leadership, recent political choices and its ability to understand the world. Will we be as relevant in the next three generations?

In the 50s and 60s, the colonies of the world, formerly dominated by Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Russia,Turkey, Italy, Japan….and the United States, were all pushing for independence.

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The map of the world has changed radically in those three (now entering four) generations since the end of the war, with an uncertain future facing us as to which political system will prevail and what economic policies will be adopted by them to solve or salve the citizens’ needs and desires.

In Algeria, a little known war for independence in Algeria, the French government of Paris and its military did all they could to keep Algeria as a province of France. Its oil alone was enough reason for the French to push back against independence, but there were myriad reasons for Frenchmen and the Pied Noirs to keep Algeria. Within Algeria, there were those few indigenous inhabitants who sided with the French because of the symbiotic relationships that had been established, with the vast majority of the Berber Muslims pushing for independence. These Berbers were not united, though, in what the country should look like politically, economically and religiously, once they were free of France. Like most countries after the world’s war, there was a move towards urbanization, with the younger, urban population more secular and the rural population more religiously conservative. Yet, Algeria is 99% Muslim with nearly all of its population living along the Mediterranean Sea. It has been ruled by a authoritarian leadership since independence that does not appreciate radical Islam, though they do hold elections while omitting those religious parties. The disinterest in the population in the electoral process and its disdain for the corruption rampant in society have given the ruling party, the FNP, unchallenged control since independence. Those more radical have taken to the underground. Algeria is not unlike many countries since WW II that slipped into dictatorship or quasi-dictatorship after the war. Like Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Vietnam, Burma, Laos, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, etc., many countries were unable to shift towards democracy. This formula should be carefully studied and understood as we look for harbingers here in the States, even though we have had a storied history of democratic rule. Those who do not know history are condemned to take someone else’s….to misquote the obvious.

In Algeria, its war for independence was fought first to rid the country of the French. The French had hardly prepared the Berbers for democracy or independence. Algerians were nationalists, though, and saw the fall of Vietnam in 1953 after Dien Behn Phu as a hopeful signal and weakness of France. War broke out in 1954, for which the Algerians received ample support from the Soviets seeking to influence all throughout the Magreb and Islamic countries elsewhere, as well as anyplace that could weaken American hegemony. In the brutal war that followed, both sides resorted to inhumane warfare, torture, napalm and even to throwing the enemy from helicopters. After devastating the native population, the French Army had the upper hand, but DeGaulle’s government did not have an exit strategy nor a means of withstanding a home grown Algerian insurgency. This was truly an example of Pyrrhic victory in an unwinnable war. The French populace was exhausted from warfare, ( the Americans were unsympathetic to French efforts to maintain empire, especially after having to step in and clean up Vietnam), and DeGaulle simply realized that without American diplomatic backing and UN support, the French would have to give in and withdraw. Hundreds of thousands of Pied Noirs left and Algeria quickly became Algerian. If you view this as a war of nation-building rather than to maintain a false colony, the present Americans can easily see why a distant war that changes things drastically for that distant country can also have severe implications for one’s own domestic politics and attitudes.

Today, America has troops in more than a hundred and fifty countries with a quarter of a million men in uniform serving outside of the United States. In many places we are very unwelcome. In others we are unnecessary. Our military expenditures have allowed us to exhibit force where we hope to gain influence, but our ability to truly influence local politics or to affect a military-backed change in attitude through force is almost non-existent in reality. “Winning” a war is now next to impossible. To destroy the enemy’s capability to respond is possible, but only at an unthinkable and unsupported cost. Warfare is now insidious, amorphous, anonymous and done with the least amount of exposure to one’s public complaining. While the use of drones, proxies and realizing sporadic successes count for anemic headway towards an undefined conclusion, local populations suffer destruction of infrastructure, innocent deaths (regardless of the term “collateral damage”), emigration and refugee status for much of the population, and each foray by an aggressor means more enemies grow from the remaining survivors- willing to fight to the death and use any means of terror to fight back against overwhelming odds. While traveling in Ireland, it is clearly apparent the local population never accepts an overload. Victory is not easy accomplished and “mission accomplished” may never have meaning in future wars.

So how should America make its relevance on the world stage going forward? If Colin Powell’s doctrine of clearly having a reason to go in and, most critically, having an exit strategy for what should be accomplished and when a military incursion will end, then our troops in those 150+ countries must be viewed as deterrents or they should be brought home. Our use of the military should not be utilized unless it is clear that the world’s opinion is accepting of its use and preferably with a multi-national footprint and support, preferably from the United Nations.

NATO’s charter is a useful tool. NATO is a force that could be utilized in the 29 countries that are members, though that is strictly a defensive alliance and one that stands for the protection of the sovereignty of its members. It is a sort of Delian League and would be a useful diplomatic model that could accept new membership if a clear understanding of the defensive nature of the arrangement was prescribed for new members. If all nations were in such a league, warfare would be the last resort. The combined economic and diplomatic power of such a block would intimidate any potential foe. Any extraneous confrontations would be the purview of the engaging combatants, with the obvious caveat to be a member of the larger defensive alliance to dissuade potential aggressors from attacking. At present, the examples of the Baltic States, with their proximity to Russia, serve as examples of effective defensive alliances. 

But, the United States, even though it is a member of the defensive alliance, often goes into conflicts without consultation or internationally accepted pretexts. In those cases, we weaken our position and support from world bodies and allies. These instances, like in Iraq this last time, invite disaster, as we have certainly demonstrated. While the present US attitudes towards engaging countries militarily is difficult to describe, and the present administration campaigned on a quasi-isolationist policy, we are not inserting our stick back into its scabbard. Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the agreement regarding Iran is indicative of what could happen to its position in the world vis-a-vis the outcome of the Delian League, the others get tired of the leader’s arrogance and muscle and depose them.

Our populace and therefore the Congress, are not inclined to military incursions. Our presidents have used military power in ways of which we should be circumspect in recent incidents. Trump has used bellicose language, but has also said he would pull American troops home (much to the dismay of his military leadership). Unless we come up with a clear method of using diplomacy, of standing for realizable and justifiable policies related to foreign powers, especially those in which we have troops, we stand the risk of ending our relationships in those countries where we have troops, like France did with Algeria. Warfare is more the last resort now than it has ever been. 

The Wild West of Ireland: Pulling in the Pilgrims and Threatening Anyone Who Ventures into Its Waters

The island of Ireland sits out in the Atlantic off the coast of Europe intercepting the warm currents coming from the Caribbean. Those waters bring much moisture and at times they bubble up and rip into Ireland’s western coast. This region faces out away from civilization and has been remote for thousands of years, yet, humans have been drawn here for all of humanity’s time in Europe. Ireland’s sacred mountain, Croagh Patrick, sticks its promontory up into the skies here in the west where it still draws pilgrims as it did Saint Patrick some 1500 years ago. You can still imagine the swarm of black birds he faced, as they are prevalent everywhere in the region. A bit to the north of the mountain, there was another group of people lost to us for 200 generations until evidence of their existence was uncovered, literally, in the last century, by bog diggers. Who those people were is now possible to explore in the oldest human community available for our present examination, found at Ceides Fields Museum in Mayo. This is all now possible because of a young boy’s fascination with the area that eventually took him into the field of archeology, where his further exploration uncovered the community hidden in thousands of years of bog growth.


Dr. Caulfield, Archeologist, today, with his son and grandson

To imagine what has occurred along this coastline, now going on 200 generations of viewers, gives one pause. From nearby you can alsoRoutes_of_the_Spanish_Armada imagine looking out to the waters in 1588 when some of the ships from the doomed Armada were visible; their last efforts at navigating the wrenching waters off the western coast were laid to waste. The ships sank with few survivors, though some of the genealogy of the west of Ireland can still be traced to those few who made it ashore. One can view a cannon that washed ashore at another museum, or read about the exploits of those sailors and imagine their plights on that voyage. 

Or, you can stand on the rugged coast of Achill Island, just next to the point where the Armada faltered, and imagine another war armada nearly 400 years later in 1944. In June of that year, the combined forces of the Allies landed on Normandy. The Irish, only a couple decades away from earning their independence from England, had remained neutral in the war, even if much of their sympathies often lay with the bad guys. Yet, the Irish are a proud clan and an honorable one. During the war they prepared for any eventuality, which involved building defenses, developing a home guard, assigning spotters along to coast to watch for intruders or to assist when needed. The waters around Ireland have always been turbulent and filled with stories and, for the Second World War, many chapters of the Battle of the Atlantic were written off the western coast with U-boots and convoys carrying out their dances, counter-tangos and destruction on a vast sea of carnage. In June of 1944, a couple weeks after the Normandy landing, another convoy of supply ships was being sent from Britain down the outer side of Ireland (basically following the route of Spain’s Armada) to bring more men and supplies to complete the invasion of France. They were accompanied by planes, whose job it was to search for and destroy submarines, as by then the Allied navies had control of the surface. Three British Labradors had already gone down off the coast to the north that day, killing all on board. On Achill Island, a Corporal O’Malley was arriving at his morning duty call to change the watch, where he had become expert at the currents off the island’s coast. He received a message that a plane had just gone down off the shore and that he should procure a boat to assist in a rescue. There was a volunteer already at the lookout by the name of Cafferky who would come along. The two of them drove down to Keem Bay and found Michael McHugh salmon fishing and secured his boat for the effort, accompanied by McHugh to make sure of his boat’s survival. From his time spent looking out to see, O’Malley understood the swift currents and he calculated the time of the downing and estimated where they would need to go to find the men, which was not going to be where the plane went down. Within a remarkably short time the three arrived just where the three had drifted, pulled them out of the water and took them back to Keem Bay. The three were seen to by the local Red Cross and the appropriate authorities soon returned the men to the British military authorities, who had been contacted.

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There is a wonderful account of the incident and the individual who wrote the account also followed up on what happened to the three as the war progressed. One of the surviving airmen continued flying and suffered several more catastrophes, finally being shot down in a battle near Singapore. He survived the crash, but was captured and later was executed by the Japanese, as the British were still trying to recover their empire from the Japanese and were supporting the Allied efforts against the Japanese in Indonesia, the Philippines, Southeast Asia and the Southern Asian peninsula. After the war, one survivor came back to Achill to search out O’Malley to thank him and later descendants of the two survivors came to meet families descendants of the Achill rescuers. I recommend the story that was researched in this link to get the most meat of the bones of this tale.