RSS Feed

The Intellectual Patriot: Social Conscience and Moral Courage in Challenging Times

Tom Palaima, Professor of Classics at University of Texas at Austin, was a dear friend of my mother, Joan Morrison. He invited Joan to speak to his class on war at UT, and they were kindred spirits.

In his latest piece for the Austin-American Statesman, “Moral conscience is hard to find in the limelight,” writes about Joan and her writings. Here is part of what Tom has to say. I urge you to read his whole piece.


Many years back I was blessed to review the late Joan Morrison’s magnificent oral history of American culture in the 1960’s “From Camelot to Kent State.” Joan was a genius at discovering, preserving and communicating the essence of human experiences. She was what former NFL great Jim Brown called NBA superstar LeBron James. Asked on ESPN whether James had become an athlete with the same kind of social consciousness that Jim Brown has always had, Brown remarked ‘What about a human being with a social conscience?’…

My mother and brother's book, From Camelot to Kent State.

My mother and brother’s book, From Camelot to Kent State.

Joan’s oral history makes clear that the widely acknowledged phrase “the banality of evil” has a companion. We apply banality of evil to those who are responsible for monstrously harmful and evil acts, but do not seem evil or cognizant of the harm they cause.

But there is also a “banality of goodness.” Many students who protested during the late 60’s did so with no real consequences. Even before the draft ended and the last American soldiers came home, student protesters, myself among them, went back to their normal lives. They did not work to see to it that wars like the Vietnam War would never occur again.”

You will find the entire article moving and important. I’m touched at Tom’s deft ethical hand in raising key issues for us as we celebrate July 4th this year. And at his saluting my mom as an “intellectual patriot,” an incredible compliment she would have savored.  I salute Tom for making us profoundly think.

The Unknown Soldier: A Little Flower in the Rain

My mother, Joan, wrote about the Unknown Soldier in a poem from late May 1937 when she was 14 years old.  You can trace her progress from experience–visiting the statue to an unknown doughboy in World War I as described in her diary–to her creation of a poem in honor of him.

Sunday May 30, 1937 (age 14)

This is Memorial Day and it rained.   Daddy and I went out for a walk and when it rained went under a tree near the statue of the Unknown Soldier. He looked so lonely there in the rain (the Soldier, I mean) and there wasn’t even a wreath to mark the day. It seemed so pitiful. So I picked a little flower from the tree and ran in the rain to lay it at his feet. And I’m sure he knew I did it and was glad that someone remembered him on this day. It was only a little flower but I’m sure it meant as much as a wreath. I’m glad I did it as I’m sure the Soldier is…

                        In Memoriam

         The sky is dark, it’s raining now

         I cannot sleep — stare out the window

         But think of the country he died to save

         They call this day Memorial Day.

7297041

The Doughboy at its original location in Garfield Park, 1939.

  I think of him standing bright in the rain

         Finding at last what he sought to attain

         With the wonder lurking still in his eyes

         He who loved life had found death his prize.

         Sinking alone in the mud he died

         And sure, he had a nobler pride

         In loving the land he came to save

         Dying alone so brightly and brave

         While the rain beat down on the Earth.

         I went to the statue of him today

         And the rain beat down in the same old way

         And in his eyes there was great surprise

And he still looked lonely and brave in the rain,

But the flower is stayed there where it shall remain

Till Memorial Day comes around again.

I went again today to see

The statue of him who had died for me.

The flower was beaten close to the ground

And the rain beat again with a steady pound.

               There was no wreath laid at his feet

               And the rain beat down with a steady beat.

               And his face looked noble and full of pride

               And bewilderment as when he died.

               The drenching rain made my face all wet

               And tears were mingled that all should forget,

               He looked so lonely and brave in the rain

               I thought he must be alive again.

               Was there none to honor him once again?

               It was only twenty years ago,

               How could the world have forgotten him so?

               And he sank down in the roaring din

               While Earth gathered him in.

               He should not go unhonored today

               I plucked a flower from where it lay

               Glistening and trembling with drops of rain

               One should honour him once again.

               I laid the flower down beside

               The statue of him who had bravely died.

               And his face looked brighter, the sun started to shine

               I’m sure he was glad I remembered his shrine.

               The sun burst out in bright array

               That one should remember Memorial Day.

 

 

Loving Eleanor: A Passionate Partner in Wartime

I recently had the delight to read a wonderful new book, Loving Eleanor, set partly during the time Home Front Girl takes place.  The love story between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok has been sensitively and movingly told by NYT bestselling author, Susan Wittig Albert.

 

Loving Eleanor, the wonderful new novel by Susan Wittig Albert.

Loving Eleanor, the wonderful new novel by Susan Wittig Albert

Never sensationalizing, Albert imagines the emotional passion –the triumphs and disappointments–of the journalist “Hick,” a trailblazer for women in a realm designed for males. The title, Loving Eleanor, recurs as a phrase throughout the novel, textured like a poem. Each time one hears “Loving Eleanor,” one senses the heartbeat of Hick, chimed with that of her beloved First Lady. Through the personal story of this pioneering role model, the novel deftly weaves in the political traumas, crises, and advances taking place during the Great Depression and World War II. Albert plaits into the story the life partnerships of a number of women couples, making clear that such unions not only existed, but were also recognized in the past. This classy and timely tribute to same-sex love would make a terrific mini-series.

Oddly, Joan never mentions Eleanor Roosevelt in her diaries. She does mention FDR, and not always positively.

Tuesday April 18, 1939: Age 16

Well, no war yet though a major one is predicted within next two weeks by our foreign ambassadors [Joseph] Kennedy and [William Christian] Bullitt.[1] Pres. Roosevelt’s peace plan seems to have died as all such things die…Witness Wilson, who died disillusioned.

            Oh well—….

[1] Bullitt was the first ambassador from the U.S. to the Soviet Union (1933-36) and then to France (starting in 1936). Kennedy was ambassador to Britain.

 

Tuesday Dec. 16, 1940: Age 17

Well, I won’t be seventeen much longer—3 more days –then adulthood…After all, eighteen, in the sight of the state I am grown, self-responsible…So has flown my past—all our pasts—I was thinking: 1940 is almost over…the magic year—the death year…. Our youth-year. We’ll look back and say, “Life was exciting when we were young.” It was. The magic years, though, are always magic. I’m glad I was young in 1940…

P.S. FDR wants us to rent our arms to the British. Our arms! Pretty soon we’ll be renting our boys—but we’ll never get them back.

Read FDR’s Fireside Chat 16: On the “Arsenal of Democracy” (December 29, 1940)

Tuesday Jan. 7, 1941: Age 18

It’s funny how people meet and touch and pass from each other. Like balloons, as filmy bubbles…contorting and then bouncing away…

P.P.S. The Italians surrendered Bardia [Libya]—another faery tale city –Sunday after 2 weeks siege. Yesterday in his opening address to Congress, Pres. Roosevelt asked for all possible aid short of men (how?) to Britain.

The Four Freedoms Speech

The Four Freedoms Speech

That was Joan’s muted reaction to the now famous Four Freedoms speech, the ideas of which were in “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 through the work of Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Sunday March 16, 1941: Age 18

….We had quite a cozy evening at home. Mom was working and came home late and ate in the kitchen. Daddy and I sat in the living room listening to Roosevelt practically declare war on Germany. I sat on the arm of Daddy’s chair, one arm around him and one holding a glass of milk. I sipped it as we listened and offered him some. He shook his head… He said: “Doesn’t this rouse your patriotism?”

Read about FDR’s day here. If you click to the next page, March 17, 1941, you will note the houseguest “Miss Lorena Hickok (arr. 7:30).”

Note Mrs. Roosevelt's diary as noted by a stenographer and Lorena's name

Note Mrs. Roosevelt’s diary as noted by a stenographer and Lorena’s name

Monday May 20, 1941: Age 18

Went to church Sunday. Guest rector who cried as he prayed for “the people of Great Britain in their hour of trial.” And for “our American Navy against its enemies.” Funny, as he prayed for the struggling island, for all the anger in me, still, melancholy came, and, kneeling, I found tears in my eyes because it seemed that a world, good or bad, was going. A world that was our world…a world now going. And my hat lowered over my eyes to hide the gleaming tears. Religion is, I suppose, emotional….

            Well, now, what is Roosevelt saying? Still about our South American “brothers.”

10:10 p.m. Hello again. Well, he just proclaimed a state of “extreme national emergency”. Also, though, he promised and stated that we would send convoys and defend by force of arms the freedom of the seas etc…. Well, it’s pretty close…I suppose we knew all along….

 SS Robin Moor

SS Robin Moor

Friday June 20, 1941: Age 18

Roosevelt’s demanding reparations from Germany for Robin Moor[1]…. Also consulates closed on both sides now…Well, they won’t have my help after tomorrow…

 

[1] A ship sunk by a German U-boat in May 1941 after the Germans evacuated it of crew and passengers.

Monday September 8, 1941: Age 18

… Roosevelt to speak tomorrow. “Important,” they say. It was to have been Tuesday but on account of his mother’s death they put it off…They say he’ll say, “Shoot without being fired upon”—to our ships. I dunno. Nice and peaceful at home, washed clothes, etc. Must begin learning to type…Been reading “Moon and Sixpence” and Edna St. Vincent Millay…also Wodehouse. I wonder if that world will disappear…Of course, it was unreal, but will that go?…. Can it?

Sunday December 7, 1941: Age 18

Well, Baby, it’s come, what we always knew would come, what we never quite believed in. And deathly calm all about it. No people in noisy excited little clusters on the streets. Only silent faces on the streetcars and laughing ones in windows. No excitement. Only it’s come. I hardly knew it, never believed it….War with Japan. ….And last night as we went out, the radio told of the possibility and we said it was just another war scare. I guess it wasn’t. I know now it wasn’t…

            Today Japan declared war on the United States…. She bombed Pearl Harbor and the Philippines while her diplomats were talking peace to Roosevelt. This afternoon at 2:30

…Tomorrow Roosevelt talks to Congress to declare war. 12 o’clock….The days are here, the days are coming. Oh God, God…..

FDR delivering his speech on Dec. 8, 1941

FDR delivering his speech on Dec. 8, 1941

Monday December 8, 1941: Age 18

Well, the first day is over. It’s unbelievably calm. [At school] listened with great crowd in Reynolds Club at 1:30 to Roosevelt’s declaration. England declared war at 8:30—beat us…My God—we are at war!

The declaration Joan refers to is FDR’s famous “Day of Infamy” speech. You can hear it at this site. And you can read about Eleanor’s assessment of that fateful day here.

Dec. 9, 1941 Tuesday: Age 18

Heard Roosevelt tonight on the radio; he said we must be prepared for a long hard war.

Eleanor Roosevelt wasn't any too pleased about Churchill's visit. Read about that visit here.

Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t any too pleased about Churchill’s visit. Read about that visit here.

Friday Dec. 26, 1941

Well hullo, Xmas and all that stuff all over. I’m not as cynical as I sound, of course. But it’s over. We lost Hong Kong and Manila we declared an open city. Merry Christmas, Japan. Churchill is here and all comradely etc. with FDR. Brotherly-love et al. Pigface! Christmas night it rained pour-pour and the skies weeping. I doubt that the gods really care though.

I think the “Pigface” is for Churchill, whom Joan did not, for some reason, like very much.

Alas, no references to Eleanor in Joan’s diary…but read Loving Eleanor to find a captivating portrayal of two passionate and principled women from the war years. Deep thanks to Susan Wittig Albert for making them come alive for a new generation!

 

 

 

Silent Night: Hear “The Christmas Carol” with Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles

Having just turned 15 years old, my mother, Joan, writes in her diary about Christmas, God, and A Christmas Carol in 1937.

Christmas Day! December 25, 1937

Hello! It’s Christmas Day! Isn’t that a lovely word—“Christmas”—the very sound of it makes you think of bright snow and blue stars and shining, laughing things—especially the “Christ” part—the sound of the word is like bright snow or sunlight. The sound of “God” makes you feel strange too. Not like “Christ,” not bright and shining, but like something glowing deep within you. Words—some of them—seem to come from the very heart of men—some bright and some deep within you. Words are terribly beautiful—sometimes.

We just heard Dickens’ Christmas Carol on the radio with Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge.

I was able to find the very  Christmas Carol my mother refers to.  It was a regular feature with Lionel Barrymore, hosted by Campbell’s Soup and introduced by Orson Welles. You can hear it all right here.

My mother continues to talk about Dickens.

Scrooge is another word that sounds like what it means. Deep and somewhat held in. I wonder if words sound like that because of the associations they bring up or because it’s really in them—not in us.

I’m sitting in the living room now listening to “Silent Night, Holy Night” and looking at our pretty pagan Christmas tree. It comes of course from a Norse pagan custom—but I guess we’re all a little pagan at heart. The tree was supposed to be the symbol of the Nordic or Teutonic nature worship and I rather think all the worshippers have a great deal of the nature god in their hearts. Anyhow, green trees and thick grass and bright growing things get me. Our religion has modified many other religions into itself and that’s what makes us come to it. We can’t get way from what is in us and nature is very close to our hearts, as are the things that have been.

Here, from Berlin about 1930, Silent Night sung by German boys and men.

Joan continues by pondering religion.

I can’t agree with myself on religion. Sometimes I read things that seem to explain it all and then it all seems to be there, but there’s something missing, I know, deep down inside of me. I think if we could understand everything there wouldn’t be any use of living. Things a little beyond are so much more beautiful. Promise is greater than fulfillment. Sometimes I’m afraid when people start to explain things—everything, it seems. But there’s something in me that won’t be explained—and that’s what scares me. And trees and the lake and the sky and rain and—me. I do get scared when I start to think. Momma says I shouldn’t worry about things—but don’t you see—I must—it’s me and I can’t dismiss it because it’s too big for me. And then things attract me that I can’t explain. We’ve got a Buddha on our table and he—just—gets me. It’s very soothing to look at him—so of course he can’t be wrong. I wonder if anything is.

Joan as the Virgin Mary in her church pageant, 1938.

Joan as the Virgin Mary in her church pageant, 1938.

My mom, Joan, concludes:

But Christmas and songs make you feel very believing in beautiful things and very sure about right and wrong. But the wondering is still there—I’m not sure about me.

A German Class Christmas Party in 1940, Schubert, and the Miro Quartet

75 years ago this week my mother, Joan, wrote about a German class party she attended at college.  She was almost 18 years old when she wrote about the fraught political undertones at this end-of-the-semester celebration for her class taught by Herr Jolles.  Her best friend, Betty, dislikes the Germans, but Joan hopes people don’t overreact against all things German in a kind of faux patriotism.  She praises Schubert, whose amazing string quartet you can hear part of as performed by the miraculous Miro Quartet who fortunately for me live in Austin.  First, Joan’s commentary, then…music!

[Written between Dec. 11 and Dec. 14, 1940 by a 17-year-old Joan]

…Went to German Christmas party last night—Santa Claus, a pretty tree…marzipan that I like, etc. Betty came too…They sang German Christmas carols, “Tannenbaum”…We joked about it sounding like a Bund meeting and Betty wanted to get up and shout, “We’re all Americans!” But we mustn’t even pretend to have that kind of patriotism. God, keep us wise and cool.

Joan at age 17 when she was keeping her diary.

Joan at age 17 when she was keeping her diary.

Then they sang—a male quartet — old songs in the faintly meaningful language (I can understand about one quarter)…and I leaned back dreamily…I like to hear their strong male voices—deep and proud—singing the good songs. Schubert—“Silent Night”…. The tree brings out the Nordic, the Scandinavian, in me and I think of my ancestors. Betty whispers, “What an ugly language it is!” The world’s spinning outside, the moon is gleaming on the white snow… In here we are separate…warm—out of the world. Someone opens a window and a chilly blast sweeps in…Herr Jolles sees me and nods, smiling…. He makes an announcement and it is only afterwards I learn he has said the punch is spilled. My German is none too good. But the almond paste cookies are. I eat a great many.

Betty says, “Let’s go”—we go—just as Santa Claus returns…with bells…. Someone stops me at the door and says, “Are you a high school girl?”

            I say with dignity, “A University woman.”

            Herr Jolles looks up laughing and recognizes me, “Oh, yes, indeed she is,” he corroborates. “But aren’t you going to stay?…. No?…Then Gute Nacht.”

            Young men like him…they are all killing..lots of them, all over…..

            Betty and I race over the cold, gleaming Midway…Our breathe curls in the air…The white clouds, like curly feathers, seem to be behind the moon….Orion is a fantastic diamond necklace in the sky….We dance in the dark at her house: the Conga. Do our Sociology: Hobbes, Locke. God, this is 1940 A.D. Good Night, World!

Healing Open Wounds: December 7, 1941

Two days after Pearl Harbor, my mother Joan, aged 18, wrote this poem.

Dec 9 – 1941

Now it is come, we are as calm as we have never been.

We drink our coffee with still hands

And with grave eyes ask what is trump

Or whose lead now and carefully repair our rouge.

And read the Tribune and Thomas Aquinas

With equal imperturbability.

Once we were shifted by the sound of words

By great black headlines, by the screaming boy.

Now we are calm as we were calm in Troy

We are as silly as we ever were.

But now our silliness is bravery.

We are so shallow that the dying of a world

Cannot break through our consciousness

Or are so deep that it cannot.

That which we never quite believed has happened.

We touch inanely hands that never reach

And, like a wounded lion, the world

Lies down to die with dignity.      

 

We are as calm as we were calm in Troy.

Joan felt that the incidents recounted in Homer’s The Iliad were ever fresh. What happened at Troy was happening at Pearl Harbor.  Again and again throughout history there is death and destruction. Yet, through it all, some persevere.

One man who survived the Pearl Harbor attack has made it his life’s mission to have the unidentified corpses of military identified and laid to rest. An article by Curt Sanburn and John Corrales in The New York Times earlier this year tells how “[a] quest by [Ray]  Emory, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, for better grave markers helped strengthen the push to identify the battleship Oklahoma’s unknown sailors.”

The remains were removed from two grave sites and taken to laboratories where they will be analyzed using DNA and dental records. From The New York Times.

“The remains were removed from two grave sites and taken to laboratories where they will be analyzed using DNA and dental records.” From The New York Times.

Notes in Ray Emory's home office in Kahala, Hawaii. A quest by Mr. Emory, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, for better grave markers helped strengthen the push to identify the battleship Oklahoma's unknown sailors.

“Notes in Ray Emory’s home office in Kahala, Hawaii.” From The New York Times.

This story tells how endeavors by one man may help heal open wounds decades after that assault over 70 years ago.

Remains that cannot be identified will receive a full military honors burial, [Lt. Col. Melinda F. Morgan, a director of public affairs for the Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency,] said. Near the time of that burial, Colonel Morgan said the Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency would determine what to do with remains without surviving or identifiable relatives.

For some families, the long wait may soon be over. Thomas Gray of Guilford, Conn., hopes to bury his second cousin, Edwin Hopkins, in a family plot in Keene, N.H., next spring.

“It was like an open wound,” Mr. Gray said of the time before Mr. Hopkins was identified earlier this year.

Never think that wounds cannot be healed.  The laying to rest of the dead is a sacred duty by all cultures.  Let us hope more victims can find a place to rest and that the hearts of their families can find consolation in that.

 

 

Diaries in History: Resilience and Memory in Japanese American Internment

The Yale Sterling Library currently has on exhibit items from its collection of paintings, diaries, and other materials related to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. This free exhibit, “Out of the Desert: Resilience and Memory in Japanese American Internment,”  is open through Feb. 26, on weekdays, at Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library at 120 High Street in New Haven, CT.

A watercolor by Charles Erabu Mikami depicting the Topaz internment camp in Utah. Charles Erabu Mikam, via Beinecke Library, Yale University

A watercolor by Charles Erabu Mikami depicting the Topaz internment camp in Utah. Charles Erabu Mikam, via Beinecke Library, Yale University

In her article about the exhibit, The New York Times reporter Patricia Leigh Brown focuses on on internee at a camp in Arkansas, Yonekazu Satoda, 94, whose diary from during his internment only recently came to light.

As the article reports, Mr. Satoda records the trivial and profound, revealing the experiences of those interned — innocent civilians — as poignant and all too human.

“Today was supposed to be my graduation day at Cal.” [May 13, 1942]

“Got hell from Mom for fooling around with women.” [May 19, 1942]

“Hot as hell today. Ptomaine poisoning in mess hall. 3 or 4 hundred sick.” [May 20, 1942]

Interned for 3 years, Mr. Satoda was supposed to have graduated from Berkeley on only his second day of his confinement.

Posted prominently in public, posters like this one instructed "all person's of Japanese ancestry" to report for "evacuation" by April 3, 1942. Many internees lost their property as they rushed to store and sell their belongings to pack only what they could carry. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

Posted prominently in public, posters like this one instructed “all person’s of Japanese ancestry” to report for “evacuation” by April 3, 1942. Many internees lost their property as they rushed to store and sell their belongings to pack only what they could carry. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

Mr. Satoda became an “Mr. Satoda spent nearly two years as an intelligence officer in Japan, retiring as a major after 20 years of service in the United States Army Reserve.” Here he is with his wife, Daisy Satoda, who had been interned at Topaz.

Mr. Satoda with his wife, Daisy, who had also been detained at an internment camp during World War II. Mr. Satoda’s diary is part of a Yale exhibition on Japanese-American internment. Credit Ramin Talaie for The New York Times

Mr. Satoda with his wife, Daisy, who had also been detained at an internment camp during World War II. Mr. Satoda’s diary is part of a Yale exhibition on Japanese-American internment. Credit Ramin Talaie for The New York Times

 Mr. Satoda’s diary struck me immediately, not only because it is such a valuable historical resource. It also looks like my mother’s diary.

The first page of a diary Mr. Satoda kept at an internment camp in Arkansas in the 1940s. Beinecke Library, Yale University

The first page of a diary Mr. Satoda kept at an internment camp in Arkansas in the 1940s. Beinecke Library, Yale University

My mother’s diary likewise was in a ringed binder.

From Joan's diary: Saturday, August 30, 1941

From Joan’s diary: Saturday, August 30, 1941

I often wondered by she used a ringed binder. Was it because it was cheaper? Or she could add pages if she wanted to?

Numerous religious and humanitarian groups opposed the internment. This pamphlet was published by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

Numerous religious and humanitarian groups opposed the internment. This pamphlet was published by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

On December 7, 1941, after Pearl Harbor was bombed, she reflected about the fate of the Japanese now that the U.S. was destined to join the war. She had been in the country with her girlfriend, Ruthie, and they had had no idea that the bombing had taken place. Then they get a lift into Chicago.

One of the fellows drove us into the city and then Ruthie and I took the streetcar and saw a bright headline. US and Japan near war. And waited in a quiet tavern for another streetcar and got on and gasped to see in black placid letters as though it had been said before: “Japan Attacks U.S. We are at War. . . .” And saw two Japanese on the streetcar, gravely watching us. . . .

I hope those calling for Syrian refugees to be interned learn from the history of our nation.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,722 other followers

%d bloggers like this: