World War II: 80th anniversary

“We must suffer them all again”

World War IIIt will be eighty years come September 1 since World War II began. I have a strong sense that a lot of folks in the US, in particular, have no idea. It’s in part because lots of Americans are oblivious to history. And if they know anything about WWII, it’s Pearl Harbor, which didn’t take place until 27 months later.

When I was younger, I glibly understood that a reason for WWII was that the victors of World War I treated the Germans poorly. The Britannica seems to concur. “The war was in many respects a continuation, after an uneasy 20-year hiatus, of the disputes, left unsettled by World War I.”

In fact, most of the 1930s felt like a precursor of the Second World War: Japan invading China, Italy taking over Ethiopia, Germany annexing Czechoslovakia, etc.

Or maybe earlier: on November 8, 1923, there was the Beer Hall Putsch, when Adolf Hitler unsuccessfully led the Nazis in an attempt to overthrow the German government. Though it was crushed by police the next day, less than a decade later, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.

Six and a half years after that, the war in Europe began, as Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany. Thus began the deadliest military conflict in history, with at least 50 million killed directly by the war and at least 20 million perishing as a result of war-related disease and famine

I am, as is John Green (no relation), uncertain and afraid about the war then and how it may parallel what’s going on now.

So John thinks about the W. H. Auden poem September 1, 1939. Though Auden later repudiated his own work as overly sentimental, it became quite popular.

After 9/11, this couplet was analyzed on National Public radio:
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief,
We must suffer them all again

Auden particularly rejected the sentimentality of the last line of the penultimate verse. Yet it is that line that gives me both hope and despair: We must love one another or die.

America redux, and not knowing everything

I shake my head sadly, looking to the ground mournfully, showing pity to these poor deluded fools.

Mr. Frog, in the comments:

Interesting that your daughter goes back to the things that scare her. I do that, too. Have you ever seen Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal? I was so afraid of that movie–despite it being one of my favorites–until literally a few months ago. I should write about that…

No, I haven’t. I’m not sure why, exactly, but when it came out, it just didn’t appeal to me, so I never even wanted to see it. It seemed, from a trailer, maybe, to be too…dark? By now, it had all but left my consciousness. I wouldn’t NOT see it, but it isn’t on the list of films I must watch, though you’ve made it more interesting to me. Wouldn’t watch it with the Daughter, though, until I had seen it first.
And yes, you should write about it.

Another example for me is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. I HAVE written about that: at age 5, it scared me so bad I was basically traumatized. But I became fascinated by stuff like UFOs, which led me to reading books about ACTUAL science. Then when it was re-released when I was 9, I loved it, and now it’s my favorite movie. It makes me cry badly, but in a cathartic way.

Odd thing about that film. Saw E.T. at the time and loved Drew Barrymore screaming, loved the classic Spielberg broken family, anti-authority motifs, even the Reese’s Pieces product placement. I just didn’t like the ending, the bikes in the sky thing, and I haven’t ever seen it since then, so I could not specifically tell you why. I was willing to believe the alien, but not that. It played at the local second-run theater, the Madison, in early April, but I just didn’t have time to see it. And I would rather have seen it like that then on video.

(Sidebar: there was some story on CBS Sunday Morning recently about the decline in the movie box office. Some twenty-something they interviewed was so smug. “I can watch movies at home. I can pause it when ever I want to…” And if you can pause it, for me, it isn’t watching a movie; it’s watching a video – I use the term generically.)

If I can ask a follow-up to Jaquandor’s question about America: do you worry that it’s too late to change course? I don’t want to get too doomsday about it, I’ve just been reading too many things lately that seem to be adding up to a depressing future. Of course, I have mental disorders and that seems to be the way I process things a lot of time (“catastrophizing” is what my therapist calls it).

Is it catastrophizing when the levee has broken? On one very big hand, the news is grim. We live in an oligarchy. It’s not just that economic disparity is unfair; it doesn’t make much economic sense. One hundred people poor/middle-class people will buy 100 gallons of milk, while two rich guys will buy two, or maybe three. The tax structure is totally screwed up. The SCOTUS is corrupt. The environmental stuff is scary.

If I opt to be positive, it’s not a function of being a Pollyanna. I just don’t see the point, for me, to think the worst. I mean, maybe things will suck, but hey, what if they don’t? (Yes, this is the reverse corollary to my pessimism rule that when things are looking TOO good, better check for the rusty lining.)

But what if the 99% get really ticked off enough to dump the oligarchs? One of the narratives about the Occupy movement was that it was a failure; I think not. Polling shows that people at least RECOGNIZE economic inequity is taking place. Younger people appear, in the main, to be less racist, less homophobic. Demographics alone will help get rid of the old guard eventually. Wish I could give you something more bright and shiny, but that’s all I got.

Jacquandor observes:

Hmmm. Greg makes an interesting point that I hadn’t considered: Europe literally had to rebuild itself virtually from scratch twice in thirty years, while it can be said that America is just finishing building itself the first time. So I wonder if the disconnect is between those of us who think it’s time to start rebuilding what isn’t so great now on the one side, and the “Bah, it’s just fine” thought process on the other.

Yes, getting your infrastructure destroyed (see also: Japan) means you have to update it.

Certainly, the United States felt that it was rather impervious to real harm, having not one, but TWO, oceans protecting it from most other countries. There was a great tradition of isolationism in the country for the majority of its history. Although there were always chicken hawks, even to this day, that seem to think that invading – Syria! Ukraine! – is the way to go.

Maybe it’s also geography that changes the calculus. French people pick up stuff from Germany and Spain and Belgium. But the expectation is that anyone coming ALL THE WAY TO AMERICA should become American, even though it takes a few generations for the Irish, then the Italians, et al., to become white, in the eyes of those who were as already in the country.

The answer to the recent Quora question also applies here: Why is the desire to travel internationally so low for Americans? Expense and limited vacation time, for two. Plus the vastness of the US may make folks less inclined. “Why go to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, when I can go to Las Vegas to see a replica for far less?”

Maybe this Quora question too: Why do Americans seem to be shallow and superficial while Europeans seem deep and pensive in general? Assuming the premise to be true, it may have to do with Europe’s longer, and more difficult history.

Tom the Mayor asked:

Have you ever heard Frank Sinatra’s version of “Being Green”?

I OWN Sinatra’s version of the song on some album, probably a compilation. Still prefer the frog’s version.

New York Erratic wants to know:

Can I still ask Roger anything?

Yes. Yes, you can. And you may.

Here’s one that’s somewhat important: you’re very smart. How do you cope when people treat you like an idiot and/or get an attitude when you don’t know literally everything?

We’ll assume, for the purpose of this question, that I AM very smart. Yet I don’t know that people always knew that. Here’s a bit I’m sure I mentioned before but bears repeating in this context: Before I was on JEOPARDY!, I was at a party and I was noting how alpacas are better-tempered than llamas, something I had researched as a librarian. My factual statement was dismissed as “male answer syndrome,” which frankly irritated me. I DID know that fact!

Then, in 1998, I appear on a game show. I win ONCE. Suddenly, people believe I’m smarter than I actually am. Here’s the thing; I prefer it to being perceived as less smart. Oh, there are people, mostly techies, who are astonished by what I DON’T know, but I decide they’re being schmucks.

Every once in a while, I’ll get this from people online, but most of them really ARE schmucks. I’ve been very open about my deficiencies. When they THINK you know everything, – which is impossible – it is THEY who appear unreasonable when confronted by my, or anyone’s, limitations.

I mean, what don’t I know? There are three categories: stuff I wish I knew but am resigned not to know (technology, languages); stuff I don’t care to know (Which Kardashian is married to whom, et al.); and stuff that I need to know for a particular purpose. That third group is what I try to utilize all day long. Stuff that people interested or trained in a particular field have learned. If I get a question about the physical nature of the earth, I’m contacting YOU, because you know way more than I do. What I know as a librarian is where I can find the information (usually), not know it off the top of my head, though there are obviously a few things I’ve picked up over the years.

I don’t know much about cars. Can’t make coffee, but then don’t DRINK coffee. I am extraordinarily bad at collating; it’s not that I think it’s beneath me, or something, it’s that I don’t do it well. But for most topics, I can hold my own as well as any layperson.

Part of the answer is that I spent enough time proving that I AM smart not to give it short shrift. That perception that perhaps I was not might have been because I worked at a comic book store, or because I eschewed wearing suits and ties, or some other reason. Having fooled people into believing I’m smart, I’m not all that willing to give it up.

Here’s the difference between you and me, NYE. You’re a lot younger than I. So the real answer is I really don’t give a damn about their attitude anymore. As suggested, if they think I should know EVERYTHING, and a bit of that DOES come with the J! territory – and they’re nasty about it, which HAS happened – then I shake my head sadly, looking to the ground mournfully, showing pity to these poor deluded fools. (You may recognize this as the Mr. T philosophy, rendered more politely.)

I is for Iceland

The area of Iceland is about the size of Virginia or slightly larger than Ireland.


There were two things that particularly fascinated me about Iceland, one as a child, the other as an adult. The childhood recollection is that the explorers named Greenland and Iceland as they did to throw others off about the beauty of Iceland. Apparently, this was not true. Still, despite its latitude, Iceland is relatively moderate in temperature because of the Gulf Stream.

The other is that the population is so relatively homogenous that scientists believe Iceland’s population, a mixture of descendants of Norwegians and Celts, should make it a good place to investigate the genetic factors involved in human disease, although the project was not without controversy.

Here’s what the US State Department has to say about the country:

Iceland was settled in the late 9th and early 10th centuries… In 930 A.D., the ruling chiefs established a republican constitution and an assembly called the Althingi (Alþingi), the oldest parliament in the world. Iceland remained independent until 1262 when it entered into a treaty establishing a union with the Norwegian monarchy. Iceland was then passed to Denmark in the late 14th century when Norway and Denmark were united under the Danish crown.

… In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland limited home rule, which was expanded in scope in 1904. The constitution, written in 1874, was revised in 1903. The Act of Union, a 1918 agreement with Denmark, recognized Iceland as a fully sovereign state united with Denmark under a common king. Iceland established its own flag, but Denmark continued to represent Icelandic foreign affairs and defense interests.

The area of Iceland is 103,000 sq. km. (39,600 sq. mi.); “about the size of Virginia or slightly larger than Ireland.” Population (January 1, 2011) was 318,452, less than half of the Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY, metropolitan area.

I also associate Iceland with:

In chess, Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972; see this video
The Reykjavik summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev on October 11-12, 1986 over nuclear weapons.
The fact that Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of a sovereign state.
The abundant amount of volcanic activity. The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull – easy for YOU to say – closed airports in Europe, hundreds of miles away.

Read Inside the Reykjavik Art Museum

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

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