Saturday, March 28, 2020

Forts, studies, hide-outs and covid-19

I didn’t like going places long before I couldn’t.  My situation seems ordained.  I made walking sticks years before the accident. . . well, I was actually intending to make hiking sticks, but if I ended up having to shorten certain sticks because of defects in the wood, I finished them anyway, calling them walking sticks and saying, 'who knows.  One day they may come in handy.'  My orthopedic surgeon was impressed with them.  He spent more time looking at my sticks than at my knee. 

I was looking forward to the weather clearing so I could take the dogs hiking, but it still hasn’t cleared and now it’s moot.  I wonder how the homeless people living on the river are dealing with covid-19. 

And, ever since I was a little boy I liked the idea of having a “fort,” and built several.  We lived alongside a huge vacant lot and in those days forts had to be dug into the ground, which I enjoyed doing.  Neighborhood boys used to pelt us with grass clods and we would pelt them back.  After we moved, I built a fort up in a tree out front.  It was fairly well built.  A friend and I used to go up there and make Japanese money.  We’d cut up blank paper into the size of money and then make Japanese-like scribbles on it -- can't remember why, but I was probably 12 at the time.  There was an oil-well next door and something attached to the top of the oil-truck collided with my fort – which was stronger.  The oil company made me tear it down.  

It was from inside another fort, one I built out beside the garage to wait for the end of the world which Dr. Clem Davies on the radio convinced my mother was going to happen on one Saturday when I was 13.  It was a good sturdy fort.  It withstood that particular Saturday quite well.  After I went into the Marine Corps, my stepfather tore it down.  He said it was a lot harder to tear down than he imagined. 

After I was working at Douglas for a couple of years, Karen, my first wife complained about not having a house of our own; so I bought one in Torrance, making sure it already had a fort – out behind the garage with lots of sliding glass doors.  It wasn’t built to code and so wasn’t included in the price of the house, but none of my previous forts were built to code either; so I didn’t mind.  Functionally, it became a study, and the houses I owned since that one needed to have studies, not forts, but since I am now officially sequestered I’ve been thinking of my study, from which I can see the mountains over the trees through the large window next to my desk, along the lines of my forts of old – not that any of them were forts in the medieval sense.  They couldn’t withstand an attack that came with anything more potent than grass-clods.  “Hideouts” didn’t exactly describe them either, because everyone knew about our “forts” and it was easy to know when we were in them.  And so, yes, the one I’m in now is a traditional study.  It has the desk, books shelves, lots of books and computer gear, but it is also on the second floor, away from the front part of the house, and I can always look to my right and see the mountains.  Since covid-19 it has seemed more like a fort than a study.  Any intruder larger than a virus would have a difficult time entering the house and coming up the stairs.  He would be confronted by a fiercely barking Jessica, who would be joined by Ben (who joins her if she is barking at something he is interested in like cats and strange dogs) and finally Duffy.  And if they were all barking at something, I would get up to check. . . the last time that happened I went downstairs and saw a Yorkie-sized dog sniffing around on our front lawn.    So perhaps “hideout” works better than “fort” under the current circumstances.  Hiding out is sort of like sequestering oneself.  But it is sort of like what I was already doing before covid-19. . . and I found myself looking out my study window and imagining what I would have thought if I knew I would ever have a “fort” like the one I spend most of my time in.  I would have thought it would be very good to live as long as I needed to, to get here. 

Covid-19 ruminations

I started smoking when I was 18 in Korea and gave it up when I was 28 during the cancellation of the Skybolt program in Long Beach.  I was doing a lot of free-diving in those days and didn’t want my lungs affected.  I can recall especially liking cigarillos and considered taking it up again recently figuring that surely I wouldn’t live long enough for a recent addiction to cigarillos to affect my health.  On the other hand, I am much given to day-dreaming and in that state am forgetful.  I might very well set fire to myself.

As to reading the papers, I discontinued reading the local Riverside Press Enterprise which I had delivered and which I would have to wobble out in the dark every morning to retrieve.   I replaced it with the on-line edition of the Los Angeles Times.  I get several periodicals in the mail and do have to wobble out to my mail box for these, but I do that at mid-day when the sun is out:  the TLS, London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The American Interest, Foreign Affairs, Discover, Scientific American, Science News, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Wired, and National Review

Being a hermit at heart, the Covid-19 distancing and isolating hasn’t affected me much.  I have a cleaning lady come in once a week.  I leave a check for her downstairs and keep my dogs up in my study while she cleans.  That was our arrangement before Covid-19 and hasn’t changed.  A gardener comes once a week to take care of the lawns.  His only concern is that I keep the dogs out of the back yard while he is here; so he sends me an email when he is about ready to arrive. 

I recall discussing retirement with a professor of theology from Philadelphia years ago.  He said that he would want to retire near a major library.  I was used to having access to major libraries, but was not willing to retire to a city and so reconciled myself to buying whatever books I needed.  That has worked out well enough.  Whatever subject I happen to be interested in at the time, if I only buy books I am ready to read, I can’t read fast enough to cause their purchase to make a dent in my bank balance. 

Years ago during one of the Israel vs everyone else in the neighborhood conflicts (and not trusting my news sources at the time) I subscribed to the Jerusalem Post, but after a few years let my subscription lapse.  Yet even today, several organizations assume I am Jewish, and send me notifications and invitations for various publications and activities.  My theological friend would have told me I could have avoided that by reading The Jerusalem Post in a decent library. . . all of which seem to be closed at the present time because of covid-19.

Blavatsky, philosophical yoga and flying saucers

I described in an earlier note, an English major acquaintance-longshoreman-communist who regularly loaned me books with the intention, perhaps, of converting me.  In a similar fashion, a few years later, at Douglas Aircraft Company I worked with an English major (MA from Duke) who was interested in a variety of off-beat authors and subjects, one of whom was Madam Helena Blavatsky, and so I read her Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled and then branched out into others, writing roughly on philosophical yoga – as opposed to the two other forms of yoga, mastering the body through yoga exercise and a life of service. 

I recall that Blavatsky's reported claim to have direct contact with immortals living in the Himalayan mountains; which always struck me as a bit doubtful – and then there were the various practices she was involved in none of which did very well if I remember correctly.  She was primary founder of the Theosophical Society.  I checked that out and found there was a small group that met in a small building some place in Los Angeles, but I never attended any of their meetings. 

But this Duke fellow was much more interested in flying saucers at the time.  That was a lot of fun.  I spent a lot of time staring at the sky at night through binoculars.  I also had a telescope that would block out the sun’s bright light.  He believed flying saucers could hide in front of the sun much as Zero’s did during WWII.  We resolved to investigate further.  He joined Donald Kehoe’s NICAP and I joined Coral Loranzen’s APRO.  We would get their monthly publications and exchange them.  But my friend was more attracted to the NICAP conclusions: there is something out there that witnesses have verified that can’t be explained.  I found Loranzen’s conclusions much more intriguing: there is something out there and it is hostile. 

But we did talk mostly about poetry.  He had planned to get his PhD and focus on criticism (a plan he gave up after getting his MA).  Since he worked with a fellow who wrote, he expended all of his critical energies on him.  He eventually got tired of working at Douglas  (McDonnell Douglas by that time) and didn’t resist being laid off in about 1970.  He was very good at picking winners at local race tracks and supported himself doing that for several months, but after tiring of that got married and took a job in some lower-tier aerospace company after which I lost track of him.

As to being affected by having to sequester myself as a result of Corvid-19, after the broken knee-cap incident on 8-15-19 I found ways of getting everything I needed delivered to my front door.  Also, I had previously taken to stocking up on various essentials partially because I didn’t trust the world out there.  My daughter in Idaho, who also has stocked up on necessities says they call it “getting ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.”   Also, the outings I enjoy most involve hiking, which my broken knee-cap may inhibit, but it has also been raining which also inhibits hiking.  I suppose when the weather clears up I’ll be wanting to try out my knee again on some hikes and will chafe a bit more over Corvid-19's restrictions.

Battles of attrition: Grant, Lee and Haig

I recently criticized Haig and Grant for their battles of attrition.  James M. McPherson would disagree with me, at least in regard to Grant.  He wrote, “. . . Grant did not admit culpability for the heavy Union casualties in the whole campaign of May and June 1864.  Nor should he have done so, despite the label of ‘butcher’ and the later analyses of his ‘campaign of attrition.’  It did turn out to be a campaign of attrition, but that was more by Lee’s choice than by Grant’s.  The Union commander’s purpose was to maneuver Lee into a position for open-field combat; Lee’s purpose was to prevent this by entrenching an impenetrable line to protect Richmond and his communications.  Lee was hoping to hold out long enough and inflict sufficient casualties on Union forces to discourage the people of the North and prevent Lincoln’s reelection. 

“Lee’s strategy of attrition almost worked.  That it failed in the end was owing mainly to Grant, who stayed the course and turned the attrition factor in his favor.  Although the Confederates had the advantage of fighting on the defensive most of the time, Grant inflicted almost as high a percentage of casualties on Lee’s army as vice versa.  Indeed, for the war as a whole, Lee’s armies suffered a higher casualty rate than Grant’s (and higher than any other army).  Neither general was a ‘butcher,’ but measured by that statistic Lee deserved the label more than Grant.”

However, it was well known that Lincoln couldn’t find a general who would fight against Lee.  They all backed down or were defeated.  But Grant had a reputation for not backing down and not being defeated; so Lincoln gave him control over all the Northern Armies, and Grant promised there would be no more turning back.  There never was a time, apparently, when Grant, at least during a battle, considered the butcher’s bill too high.  In retrospect, however, he wished he had backed away from Cold Harbor because the bill was too high for the little that was at stake.   Did he keep at Cold Harbor too long because of his promise to Lincoln? 

Haig, it seems, was willing to get in the trenches and grind the German’s down, knowing The British Empire, had more men at its disposal than did the German’s.  Lee got his men into trenches assuming Grant wouldn’t be willing to pay the expense in men’s lives necessary to drive them out, but Grant was willing, and when Lee moved back and retrenched, Grant was willing to drive him out again. 

Years later Yamamoto spent some time in the U.S. and had some idea of its industrial might, but he had a poor opinion of America’s military might, and he was a little bit right because the U.S. military was tiny and not very serious.  Lincoln had to go through a number of inept generals before he ended up with Grant, Sherman and Sheridan and a trial by error process had to occur before America in the Pacific war found admirals able to stand up to Yamamoto.   Lee kept hoping Grant would back down – either that or that the Northern government would force him to stand down.  Yamamoto assumed that America had no ability to produce admirals comparable to his.   Tojo and his army believed the same sort of thing about American Generals.  Tojo's and Yamamoto's forces were surprised in island after island by Marines on the ground and Naval support at sea. 

Late in WWI the Germans had reason to fear the masses of men the U.S. was willing to send to oppose them in Europe, but it was their quantity rather than quality that the German’s feared.  The Americans didn’t fight the Germans long enough to be able to go through the trials and errors necessary to find Generals comparable to Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and Patton. 

Increased death toll when we moved from monarchies to democracies

Chapter two of Leonhard’s Pandora’s Box is entitled “Antecedents: Crises and Containment before 1914.”  Most interesting (and alarming) is his drawing attention to the sorts of wars princes engaged in during the period of the monarchies vs. what came later with democracies.  If a prince wanted to go to war with a neighboring prince, he would raise an army assign a commander and off it would go to do the prince’s bidding.  If the commander lost the army, he would not be given another. 

But with the American Civil War all that changed.  With everyone a citizen, the armies that could be raised were limited only by a nation’s population.  More soldiers were killed in America’s Civil War than in all the subsequent wars America was engaged in.  Grant set the standard for Haig.  If you had more soldiers your enemy,  you could trade with him in battle after battle, confident that your enemy would run out of them before you did. 

Princes were indeed involved in WWI’s beginning, but they had lost much of their power.  Ordinary people were citizens and had rights.  They could also be drafted into armies.  But in 1914 it wasn’t just nations that were contending, it was empires.  Britain, in splendid isolation could draw upon the manpower of an empire larger than anyone else’s. 

Nevertheless the German’s thought they could whip the British and French.   The war degenerated into a trench-warfare stalemate.  The Germans decided to sink the American ships bringing aid to the allies and when they did that America declared war on Germany.  American armies were subsequently assembled.  Initially, Germany wasn’t too worried. It would take America a long time to get their armies to Europe, but when the war dragged on longer than expected, and when the American armies started arriving . . . it was sort of like a chess game.  The Germans seemed to be doing okay, but its best thinkers could see several moves ahead and with larger and larger numbers of Americans arriving, they stood no chance of winning, so they resigned. 

Poorer thinkers later on challenged that decision.  Germany wasn’t properly defeated, they told each other, so they resolved to play the game again and this time all the way to the end.

Leonhard didn’t say all the above.   I have taken the liberty of reasoning from what he has said.  His book is a bit overwhelming – as overwhelming as House of Government, but much more interesting in my opinion.  I have read several books about WWI in the past, but have never encountered much of what Leonhard is presenting, e.g., the increased death-toll of war when we moved from monarchies to democracies.