Tuesday, September 30, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #2 - The Texas Revolution

The Texas Revolution
            As I am a veteran of twenty years in the military, I am often drawn to historical accounts of military engagements.  As a result, the Texas Revolution became an obvious choice for my second response essay. 
            There are several factors that come to mind when examining Texas Revolution combatants and warfare with the eyes of a modern armed forces veteran.  It is hard not to contrast military actions of two centuries ago with those with which I am familiar.  
            During the fight with Mexico in 1835-36, the majority of the Texas fighting force were not professional soldiers.  It was largely composed of a militia of volunteers, colonists, and farmers.  The actual numbers of the small force varied drastically since members were not conscripted and virtually came and went as they pleased.   Soldiers went on furlough, deserted, changed units, or simply went home, at their own discretion.   In addition, the leaders of the Revolutionary Army were elected by the units and the democratic nature of these components did  not lend itself to organization or discipline.  Failure to obey orders  to the point of actual mutiny ran rampant among its ranks.  A revolving door of commanders did not improve the effectiveness.  Any efforts to organize a professional military organization met with funding inadequacies.       
            The only way this small, ragtag group was able to defeat the much more powerful Mexican Army is that the latter was in similar disarray.  Though better equipped and trained, fundamental political differences in Mexico between the Centralists and Federalists continued to take focus away from quelling the Texas revolt.  Allegiances were divided between the  population, military and civilian leadership, and the troops, reducing their capabilities in the north against an inferior force.   Mexico had its own instability of leadership.  The Texas Revolution was the beneficiary of a perfect storm. 
            Another element that piqued my interest was the brutality with reference to prisoners of war.  It seemed the Texas policy towards them was at the discretion of the local commander.  Some were released, others held captive, and still others executed.   The Mexicans appeared to have had orders from the highest authority to execute detainees.  These directives were not always carried out, but more often than not they were.    I believe this might have been due to the Mexican government treating the Texans more as terrorists than with the deference afforded a respected military force.  The Texans sometimes put to death surrendered Mexican soldiers in retaliation from the murder of their own. 
            We have a similar modern argument as to whether captured terrorists are to be treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention.  Though we do not execute them, we have tortured and humiliated them, using the distinction between a criminal and a soldier as justification.         
            As with most nineteenth century warfare, much of the fighting in the Texas Revolution was boots on the ground, face to face and hand to hand combat.  Today's warfare can be conducted by piloting drones from the safety of a command center thousands of miles from the battlefield.  This brings up some major discussions  with respect to Just War Theory.  It is much easier to kill an enemy when you don't have to look into his eyes and are not putting your own personnel in harm's way.  In those days, senior officers actually led troops into battle and often died alongside them.  In today's military, generals seldom venture to the front lines unless they have been deemed safe enough for a USO show.    

Thursday, September 11, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #1 - Indian Removal

Indian Removal
            I chose Jackson's Indian Removal as the subject of my first Response Essay.  I think that while most Americans are fairly knowledgeable about the evil of slavery, few are cognizant of the near extinction of an entire race of people. The Native American people still suffer from treatment  that began with the landing of the white man in the Caribbeanin 1492.  Most Americans have not even heard of the Indian Removal and few of those that have realize that it was conducted for nearly the entire decade of the 1830s.    It was not just a single march of 80 miles, like the brutal Bataan Death March.   The Trail of Tears, the final portion of the Cherokee removal, was arguably  the most barbaric of the atrocities visited on the tribes in our history.  It crossed nine states and hundreds of miles.  This dark period was certainly not taught in the history classes of my youth.   
            I am in no way saying that slavery was not an abomination, but I believe that the Native Americans that were uprooted and moved west across the Mississippi River experienced an even  more horrific existence.  Slaves were considered  a valuable commodity so they were housed, fed, and clothed.  They were provided medical  care.  Many slaveholders were cruel, but they valued their slaves as they did their livestock.  Also, many slaves lived on the same land for generations and as a result had some stability in their wretched lives.   
            These tribes were forcibly removed from their land and everything they knew. Thousands died from disease, starvation, and exposure to the elements. These "savages" were not even valued as highly as slaves.  The government just wanted them to go away and they nearly did.   
            The United  States has never been the melting pot that it advertises itself as.  Throughout our history, each ethnic group, nationality, and race has been victimized and exploited by the white, primarily British, male, "ruling" class.  While it is mainly people of color that experienced the most prejudicial treatment, "lesser" white people, such as Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrants have been victims.  The Americans, following the British imperialist model, have colonized and exploited many other countries, expanding the reach of political and military power and desire for resources.  But none of this even approaches the evil it has  exercised  on the Native Americans.  Most immigrant groups have eventually been accepted, if not welcomed, and allowed to share in the quality of life afforded an American citizen   The "American Dream" has  been primarily a nightmare to the American Indian.  
            My mother's grandfather was a full-blooded Native American.  He died long before I was born, and was never talked about.  My mother's grandmother was disgraced by having "been with" an Indian.  I only found out about him by accident.  That is a part of my ancestry that I will never know about.  A philosophy lost to me.     
            I lived in Wyoming for six years in the town of Riverton, in the middle of the Wind River Reservation.  I got a firsthand look at the hopelessness of these people.  I even substitute taught in one of the Indian schools.  Abject poverty; alcohol, drug, and physical abuse are a way of life.  Unlike the African Americans, the Native Americans have scant positive role models to encourage expectations of a better life.  They have no Michael Jordans, Martin Luther Kings, or Barack Obamas to inspire them.  They have casinos.  However, the income from those often does not trickle down below tribal "leaders."      
            Though the American government has always lacked respect for people of color, I believe the Native American has received the poorest treatment for the longest time.                               

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Beatles Come To America - "A Really Big Show".

The second of my pieces for my CCU Music course.  Other geezers will get it.

            I was 11 years old in February of 1964 when the Beatles were introduced  to me and the rest of America on the Ed Sullivan Show.  I knew they were something special because the girls were screaming so loudly that I could hardly hear their music and my Southern Baptist mother thought they were the devil incarnate.  I had to throw a mini-tantrum for her to allow me to watch.  I had never seen anything like them.  To a blue-jeaned boy with a flat-top haircut these four guys in Edwardian suits and bowl haircuts were as alien as if they had arrived  in a spaceship.  If not for the assassination of President Kennedy a few months earlier, this would have been the most memorable event of my youth.  It turned out to be one of the most significant in my life.
            The arrival  of the Beatles gave the nation a much needed diversion  from  the grim  realities of the previous year:  the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination.  It could not have come at a better time and timing is everything.  They made four appearances that month, but none had the impact on the world, or me, that the first one did.  It is estimated that 40% of the population of the United States watched that program.   They performed five songs:  "All My Loving", 'Till There Was You", "She Loves You", "I Saw Her Standing There", and "I Want To Hold Your Hand."  Using my paper route money I purchased Meet The Beatles the very next day from a local drug store.  I was disappointed that only four of the songs I had heard were included, but still excited.  "She Loves You" came in the second of many Beatles albums that I subsequently purchased.           
            My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Wakefield, was young and beautiful (to a boy entering puberty) and had already become a Beatles' fan.  She used to post the Billboard Top 10 on our bulletin board and each week at least half of those songs belonged to  the Beatles.  She brought in fan magazines and was my source of all things Beatles for the remainder of that school year.  I remember being amazed that though I could sing along with all the song lyrics I could not understand a word they said during interviews.  It was as if Liverpudlian English was a foreign language.
            The Beatles stayed together throughout my Junior and Senior High years until my graduation in 1970.  In just six years they produced more memorable music than any of the flood of British bands that followed in their wake.  Like great composers throughout history, much of Lennon/McCartney music was timeless.  The songs I heard in that first televised performance were nowhere near their best compositions.  They continued to evolve.  Unprecedented success allowed them to continuously experiment and creative genius insured those endeavors were nearly always fresh and interesting.  It seemed to me that every new release ventured into unexplored musical territory, borrowing from many genres of music.  Early in their careers, they covered songs from a variety of artists from R&B to Country.  They were inspired by such artists as Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Carole King, and Little Richard.  Their initial  influences  of American Folk, Rockabilly, Skiffle, Ragtime, and Motown, eventually expanded to include both   Western  and Indian Classical, innovations  previously unheard of in rock/pop music.
            Though I became a fan of many other performers, no others had the life-long influence on me, or the world, that the Fab Four did.  All four had successful post Beatle  careers, though none captured the magic in a bottle that the synergy of their collaborative efforts produced.          

Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Indoctrination To Classical Music or "What's Up Doc?"

In my Music class I was assigned to write two pieces about how music relates to me.  This is the first of the two:

            I was exposed to classical music at a very young age  and  did not realize it until many years later.  The soundtracks of nearly all of my childhood cartoons were orchestrations of classic compositions by many of the greatest composers of all time.  This is probably a combination of the ease with which cartoon action can be coupled with classical movements and the fact that much of this music is public domain and no royalties needed to be paid. 
            Cartoons of that period tend to have a fluidity that lends  itself to the various crescendos and diminuendos that are present in  classical symphonies.   I did not realize it at the time but the background music revealed to me when Bugs Bunny was outsmarting the hunter, Elmer Fudd, was often Beethoven.  Pastoral serenity before the encounter might be" Moonlight Sonata" followed by the inevitable chase  and resulting violence fueled by his "Fifth Symphony".  And when Buggs eventually knocked Elmer unconscious  we would hear the soothing refrain of Brahms' "Lullaby vocalized by Elmer's rhythmic snoring.   I have long since forgotten individual episodes of these programs but the music stayed in my head and eventually I identified it and learned to appreciate and enjoy it for what it is. 
                Even one of my favorite childhood  westerns, The Lone Ranger, opened and closed  with Rossini's "William Tell Overture".  Once again, the title and composer realized many years later.  Even though it has been well over 50 years since that program aired, I cannot hear that particular piece without thinking of a hearty "Hi Ho Silver".  Rossini shows up again in a number of cartoons and it was not uncommon for eight year  old boys to be singing "Figaro,  Figaro," though we had no idea that it was from  a famous opera, "Barber of Seville" .     
                Of course in the feature animated film, "Fantasia", the music was more important than the animation and I never really appreciated it until I was an adult.  It is probably the all-time classic marriage of cartoon and  classical music artistry.  I still enjoy seeing it today.  Probably even more than I did as a child.
                A cereal commercial from my youth featured Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" complete with canon  fire.  I  had no idea  until much later that this piece  was  written to commemorate Russia's defeat of Napoleon.   It has  become a popular companion  to Independence Day fireworks displays.  I do not remember the name of the cereal but I will never forget the vibrant music.   I was in my twenties when  I first heard Dan Fogelberg's "Same Auld Lang  Syne"  and there it was again, slowed down and subdued, but unmistakably Tchaikovsky.  
                Who could have imagined that my introduction to what my mother would call "high brow music" would come from such sources?  I think subsequent generations were robbed of that  enriching experience.  Though classical music still appears in today's culture through commercials, movies, and use in modern music, it is not nearly as prevalent as in my childhood.  The subliminal exposure to it had a lasting effect on my future appreciation of music that I may not have had access to in my rural childhood upbringing by bluegrass, blue collar, parents.
                Though I am not a musician, music is a very essential part of who I am.  I have a very eclectic taste in  music and enjoy many genres.   Classical music strike a chord in me in a way that no other music does.  At its  softest,  it is as emotional, often  without words, as any heartfelt ballad carved from the heart of James Taylor  or The Beatles.    On the other hand, when it is rousing and dynamic, it can make the hair stand up on the back of my neck and energize  me  every bit as much as the  frenetic guitar riffs of Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen.     
                So it seems my Saturday mornings sitting too close to the television were not wasted.  When the Roadrunner was torturing the hapless Coyote, I was a sponge soaking up culture.