Tag Archives: World War II

Sacrifice

This past week I watched the Ken Burns documentary The War, his 15-hour story of World War II. In case you don’t know, Ken Burns is like the Steven Spielberg of documentaries, and what makes The War different from all the other WWII films is that he tells it not from the viewpoints of the leaders, but from the vantage of the everyday people who lived through it. He follows several people from the cities of Mobile, Alabama; Luvern, Minnesota; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Sacramento, California. He delves into racial issues, such as the internment camps for Japanese-Americans and the segregation of black troops.

I had never seen a Ken Burns film, though I had heard of him. I started with a smaller one, his documentary about the Lewis and Clark expedition. At four hours, it’s a good primer for how thorough Mr. Burns is in his research. His later films are much longer, though, so start with a shorter one first and see if you like that much detail. Baseball clocks in at over 18 hours, and I’m not sure how long The West is—and it’s one I’d love to see, but the library doesn’t have it. I do have The Civil War on hold, and it’s supposed to be excellent as well. If it’s like The War, I’m sure it will be worth watching.

What impressed me most about The War is how much it ended up moving me. Mr. Burns doesn’t inject his own opinion about war or even the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. He lets the participants speak for themselves. And it turns out most of them have no regrets about using the bomb. Americans today gripe about the five thousand-some (or however many it’s up to right now) that we’ve lost in our Mideast engagements, but there were single battles that exceeded that total in WWII. I have to wonder if people today would be so judgmental of the actions of WWII leaders if they had to live through five years of rationing and having practically every family with someone fighting overseas, wondering if they would come home. No Internet, so you can forget jumping on Skype and talking to your soldier. You’d just have to content yourself with weeks, maybe months without hearing a word from him, all while watching Army officers visiting relatives and delivering those horrible telegrams.

Like everyone else, I’d studied WWII in history class. I’d seen the numbers, read about the battles (usually in abridged form, I’m sure), and thought it was terrible what happened. I felt a little closer to it because my maternal grandfather was a WWII vet. He served in the Navy onboard the USS Colorado, and I can remember him telling me about having a kamikaze pilot hit their ship and what he saw. Of course, this was only after I’d gone in the Army. Vets tend to talk to one another about things they won’t even discuss with their spouses because they know that vets will understand, where civilians won’t. It’s not elitist, it’s just that to truly understand what it’s like in the military, you have to have been there. It’s experiential.

But even with Grandpa’s stories, it never really sunk in what it was like (of course, being around 20 years old when he told them to me might have had something to do with it, too). Neither did reading about it in school. But watching The War and seeing veterans getting choked up about events that happened sixty years ago brought it all home to me. So did all the combat footage Mr. Burns was able to dig up. Seeing soldiers fighting on D-Day and during the taking of the various Pacific islands from the Japanese. Hearing their stories of how hardened they became to seeing dead bodies in all kinds of conditions, of the Marines losing so many people so fast that they didn’t even have time to learn their names, of the 442 Battalion—the Japanese-American unit that became the most decorated unit in Army history—losing around 400 men to rescue some 200 white men in Europe—Belgium, I think, but I had so much information come at me that I can’t keep it all straight—and so many other stories that really brought home the sacrifice these people made.

One of the scariest stories was one of the infantrymen talking about taking some German prisoners and one turned to him and spoke to him in perfect English without an accent. The German asked this man where he was from, and was very insistent about it. When the man finally revealed that he was from Waterbury, the German nodded and said he knew it, that the town was near the confluence of two rivers, one of which was the Mad River. Only locals were familiar with the Mad River, and he asked the German how he knew that. The German replied that he’d been trained to be a territorial administrator. The vet said that he got chills down his back when he realized that meant Hitler had planned on conquering the US along with Europe.

It’s easy to sit back now and dismiss a lot of this stuff. It was more than sixty years ago, after all. What’s it got to do with us? Well, as the story I just related shows, it means we’re not speaking German and attending Nazi rallies. That we’re not watching Jews get put in ovens—though if Hitler had had his way and we were under German rule, there might not be any Jews left by now. And if you think we persecute homosexuals, be glad we’re not part of the Third Reich. A little name-calling pales beside being executed for sexual preference.

We’ve lost most of our WWII vets by now, but I’m glad I saw this documentary. It makes me feel a little bit closer to my Grandpa than I did before, and a little more aware of what he went through.

If you like history, or documentaries, or both, I highly recommend both The War and Lewis & Clark: The Journey of The Corps of Discovery. I can almost guarantee you’ll learn something about both these events that you never knew before.

Later,

Gil

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Another “Stuff” Post

Okay, first of all, yes, I’ve changed my theme again. It’s not that I’m so much indecisive as I’m experimenting. I actually wanted to use this theme last time I switched but didn’t realize how versatile it is (for those of you who don’t use WordPress, you can sort of try on your themes before using them. Except they don’t always look like you can make ’em look when you activate them). Mostly I’m looking for something I can proof that’s easy on my eyes. I not only proof in my text box, I also proof after I publish the post because I sometimes spot mistakes there that I don’t see in the text box. My daughter liked the last theme I switched to, but it wasn’t my preferred one, so now I’ve switched to this one.

Besides, I’m kind of a gadget guy, so I like to change things up occasionally. I get bored leaving it one way. Heck, I tend to buy new watches (yes, I still wear one of those) just because I get bored with the one I’ve got.

Okay. Now that’s out of the way.

I just came from my writers’ group. I didn’t take anything to read tonight, which turned out to be just as well. This group has been around a long time, over twenty years, if I’m not mistaken. It’s run by Western author Dusty Richards and an old newspaper writer named Velda Brotherton. For those of you who read Westerns, as of this year Dusty has written 100 books. He has written some for the Ralph Compton estate as well as several under his own name. Considering that Westerns, as far as I can tell anyway, aren’t a real hot commodity in publishing right now (which is sad, in my opinion), I think that says something for him that he can get his stuff published.

Anyway, because our group is so old, attendance fluctuates. When I take reading material, I usually make twelve copies because that seems to be a happy medium. Some nights are like tonight in which I’d guess there were well over twenty people there, and others it’s more like ten or fifteen. You just never know from meeting to meeting. They’re a punctual group (they have to be), starting promptly at 6:30 P.M. and ending as close to 9:00 as possible. It rarely runs over that. Each participant can bring five pages of whatever work they want, and that includes poetry. We pass around copies, the author reads it aloud, and then everyone is free to comment on it. In other words, what we have is a critique group.

I like that. I mean, we joke and stuff, so it’s not 100% business 100% of the time, but we do keep our nose pretty close to the grindstone, simply because of time constraints. In order for everyone to read their material, it’s necessary.

We have a pretty diverse group, too. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I do sf/f and I’m starting to experiment with crime fiction. We have a couple of mystery writers, one other guy is doing a space opera, there are a couple of romance writers, and one who thought she was a romance writer but then evidently figured out she wrote chick lit. Nothing wrong with that. We have one woman named Jan Morril (I hope I spelled that name right) who’s writing what I guess you’d call a historical novel. If I understand her history correctly, she is originally from Hawaii and is at least part Japanese. Her book, which she’s calling Broken Dolls, is about a Japanese family from California interred in a camp in Arkansas during World War II and the people they meet. It’s excellent writing, and I don’t understand everything that’s happening because I’ve missed large chunks of it. But what I’ve read is impressive and I’d like to read the entire book. I hope she finds a publisher for it, because it deserves to be out there. Anyway, we also have  a couple of humor writers who tend to do sketches rather than full-blown novel-length pieces, but that’s okay, too. There’s room for all kinds.

The thing is, I thought that’s basically what all writers’ groups did: got together and critiqued one another’s work. It’s interesting to me because it lets me sample stuff I wouldn’t normally read (and some of it I never will), and it’s been interesting educating most of them in what goes and doesn’t in sf/f. They just weren’t that familiar with the genre.

It seems. though, that the group my daughter belongs to doesn’t do that. They do a prompt session where they spend five minutes writing some kind of little flash fiction thing, and they’re given five words to use in a story for the next meeting (please correct me if I’m wrong, Jesi). From what I understand, it’s a small group, about eight people if I remember right, and they meet once a week just like my group does.

Now, I’m not one to criticize another group. It’s not like I’ve got the ultimate wisdom on what a writers’ group should be and/or do. But, while I like the little prompts and such that my daughter’s group does, I have to wonder if they’d get more out of it if they did some critiquing. I say this because I have grown considerably as a writer since I started going to this group I’m in and, with the exception of sharing whatever good news there might be (I’m still waiting for someone to jump up and down screaming “I got an agent!” or something similar), critiquing one another’s work is all we do. Well, that and eat the wonderful desserts one of the women brings every week.

So is anyone out there reading this part of a writers’ group besides me, my daughter and Russell (I know he reads this because he’s commented a couple of times)? If you are, what does your group do? Do you think critiquing should be a vital part of what a group does, or are there other ways to help group members?

I ask these questions because, as I said, this is what I pictured writers’ groups doing before I joined this one, and I think  I would have been surprised if they’d done anything else. But maybe my exposure to such things is too limited or something, so it’s gotten me to wondering and I thought I’d ask.

Well, I believe that’s enough rambling this time around. Let me know what you think in the way of groups. Or my new theme. I want it to be different but easy to read at the same time.

Later,

Gil

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