MARCHING FOR THE CAUSE? NOT EXACTLY. – Marilyn Armstrong

So the question was:

“If your day-to-day responsibilities were taken care of and you could throw yourself completely behind a cause, what would it be?”

You mean other than loathing our current president? The answer is I wouldn’t. I can and do write about it, the evil minions in our capital. When I have a spare $5, I try to make some kind of minimal contribution. Otherwise, in the immortal words of Phil Ochs, “I ain’t marchin’ anymore.”

I marched against war and for peace.

I marched for civil rights.

I campaigned for universal health care and free care for anyone who needs it.

I marched against evil and for justice all my life and now, it’s time for a younger generation with better feet and hips to do the marching. I’m not sure, after all that marching whether or not I even accomplished anything … other than to make denim a fashion fabric. Now, with my spine a mangled wreck of arthritis and just plain falling-apartness, my marching days are done.

So far, at least, the world spins and night follows day whether or not I can get my feet moving.

If you are marching, good luck. Take a few sandwiches and something to drink. And wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be glad you did.

THE WORLD WAR ONE CHRISTMAS TRUCE – 1914 – Marilyn Armstrong

The Christmas truce (German: Waffenstillstand; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front during the Christmas season of 1914. During the days leading to Christmas day, German and British soldiers left their trenches to exchange greetings. To talk man-to-man, exchange personal information, share food and drink.

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches"

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”

World War I had been raging for only four months. Soldiers on both sides were trapped in trenches and extremely wary of sniper fire. On battlefields mired in mud, frozen with snow and ice, soldiers emerged from their holes in a rare, spontaneous outbreak of peace.

Both sides — most notably in the southern portion of the Ypres Salient — combatants briefly laid down their weapons and met in No Man’s Land.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they mingled. Exchanged food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. Several meetings ended in carol-singing.

The high command on both sides issued warnings to all soldiers that such fraternization would make participating soldiers subject to charges of treason. Not surprisingly, there were far fewer spontaneous truces the following year and virtually none by 1916.

A sad commentary on human “civilization” when peace, however temporary, is called treason.

THUS QUOTH THE RAVENMASTER – By ELLIN CURLEY

In this work, there are some unusual professions. Many of them exist within the British Royal Household, like Keeper of the Queen’s Stamps, Grand Carver, and Royal Clock Winder. However, the one that caught my eye was written about on October 21, 2018, in the Washington Post: Ravenmaster.

The Ravenmaster cares for the seven ravens who reside at the Tower of London, the 11th-century fortress that is one of Britain’s most popular tourist sites. It was a prison and an execution site for many nobles — Anne Boleyn being a primary example.

The Tower holds numerous lurid stories throughout its long and brutal history, though it was originally built as a tower for the earliest royal family (post-Norman invasion).

Christopher Skaife in his regular Ravenmaster uniform

Ravens seem to have started living at the Tower in the Victorian era when the Gothic Revival was in full swing. Charles Dickens kept a raven as a pet.

The Tower birds are now celebrities in their own right and they receive loving and meticulous care from the current Ravenmaster, Christopher Skaife. He gives them treats of dog biscuits soaked in blood and he has had to climb parts of the Tower to retrieve rogue ravens.

Treats for the ravens

Mr. Skaife was a machine gunner in the British Army for 24 years and then became a Yeoman Warder, one of 37 élite guards who are keepers of tradition and tour guides. He now lives at the Tower with his family. It must be fun for his kids to bring friends ‘home’ for playdates!

The Tower ravens come from bird breeders. They are wild, though acclimated to humans. They roam free during the day. At night, Skaife has to round them up and put them in airy enclosures to protect them from foxes, who ate two ravens in 2013.

Night enclosures

In the morning, Skaife releases the birds in careful order, from least dominant to the most dominant. The birds apparently have a very strict hierarchy which the Ravenmaster must respect. They have also divided the tower into individual territories according to that hierarchy.

Ceremonial Ravenmaster uniform

The birds are scavengers and like to rummage through the trash cans. They are particularly fond of potato chips but they don’t like the flavored kind, like cheddar or onion. So they wash the flavored chips in puddles to get rid of the extra flavoring, which is very clever! Ravens are surprisingly bright compared to other birds, probably on par with parrots.

They are also known to steal sandwiches from children.

Ravens at Tower

Ravens can fly but not too far or too often. They can fly to the roof or the ramparts, but that’s about it. Previous caregivers would trim their feathers so they couldn’t fly at all. But one bird, on Skaife’s watch, climbed up some scaffolding and leaped off it. He died in Skaife’s arms so Skaife will no longer limit the ravens’ flight.

Once one raven did manage to escape the Tower and flew down the Thames River. She was captured by a local birdwatcher who recognized the bracelet on her leg as belonging to the Tower flock. The Good Samaritan put the raven in her gym bag and returned her to her home.

Raven at the Tower

I love all animals so this job caught my imagination. While not the cutest or friendliest of birds, it must be gratifying to preserve a long-held tradition at a historically famous site. Caring for a ‘conspiracy’ or an ‘unkindness’ of ravens, the words for a group of ravens is clearly not a job for everyone.

After eleven years, Christopher Skaife is still going strong at his job. He’s even written an autobiography. Who knew that being a Ravenmaster could be the route to becoming a published author!

A LOVELY WAR: A WORLD WAR I MEMORIAL – Marilyn Armstrong

Happy Birthday, Great War. It’s 105 years since the day you officially started. World War I (WWI), also known as the First World War, was a nearly global war. It officially began on July 28, 1914, though its real beginnings were rooted in events beginning decades, even centuries earlier.

It was an ugly, devastating war. Four years of slaughter that — technically — ended on November 11, 1918.

The official number of military casualties is 22,477,500 killed, wounded, or missing in action. The combined number of military and civilian casualties is more than 37 million. If, as I do, you consider World War II as chapter two of the same conflict, the number of dead becomes even more incomprehensible.

For the past couple of weeks, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been “celebrating” the centennial of the first world war, inviting historians and military people to do the introductions and closing comments on the films. General Wesley Clark has been doing TCM’s intros and outros, the last of which was for Oh! What a Lovely War.

He referred to the movie as a musical comedy. While it has amusing moments, calling it a musical comedy doesn’t really cut it. If comedy can be dark, this is one dark comedy.

It’s also surprisingly informative. I can date my interest in World War I and modern American history to seeing this movie when it was released in 1969.

In his closing comments following the movie, General Clark said he hoped we had learned our lesson from this and all the other wars of the past century. I turned to Garry and said, “And what lesson, exactly, might that be?”

“Obviously,” said my husband, making a sour face, “We have learned nothing.”

I agree. Well, I guess we did learn a few things. We learned to build more efficient weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. We can kill more people faster — but no deader — than we did 100 years ago. Much of our military technology emerged during and post-WWI.

I don’t see this as progress. If you want to know why I’m so cynical, why I have trouble believing in a benign deity, look at the casualty figures from the collective wars of the past century.

I love this movie. Not only because of its historical veracity — it’s accurate — but because the music is wonderful. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British cinema at the time — Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson and more, all having a great time.

I’ve seen this many times and I guess so has Garry since we can both know the words to all the songs.

Catchy. Very catchy.


OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I — in song, dance, and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain.

The songs are those sung by the troop during that long war. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen during the 1960s. The credits were a veritable whos-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do or will. Its causes are rooted in old-world grudges that make no sense to Americans.

So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918 (it didn’t really end — WWII was the second chapter of the same war), the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered; the death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to the loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease or starvation. It paved the way for major political upheaval throughout the world.

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could be called an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder a generation of men. They did a good job.

The statements of the historical characters — all lodged a safe distance from the fighting — are ludicrous. General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really said: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? He said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans and their takeover of the endless war — bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to save — is a great cinematic moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would Europe exist or would it all be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs mixed with pithy comments from generals, kings, Kaisers, and soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and what those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny, catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and love great movies, grab one.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and informative, this movie is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I haven’t forgotten it.


From Amazon.com:

Richard Attenborough’s directorial début was this musical satire that deftly skewers the events of World War I — including the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a Christmastime encounter between German and British forces, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles — by portraying them as absurd amusement park attractions. The all-star cast includes Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson; look quickly for Jane Seymour in her screen début.


144 min. Widescreen (Enhanced); English Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English; audio commentary by Attenborough; “making of” documentary.

CATSKILL COMEDIANS IN THOSE GOOD OLD DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe you remember the old Jewish Catskill comics. Some of them went back to the old days of Vaudeville. Others are more recent. A fair number are alive and well, and a surprisingly large number are still working. Except, the center of the action today is Las Vegas.

Maybe the Catskills will rise again. Probably not. It has gotten too built up. Meanwhile, ghost hotels are still there. Empty, but packed with memories.

Red Buttons, Totie Fields, Joey Bishop,  Milton Berle, Jan Murray, Danny Kaye, Henny Youngman,  Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar, Groucho Marx, Jackie Mason, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, George Burns, Allan Sherman, Jerry Lewis (mostly at Brown’s Hotel),  Carl Reiner, Shelley Berman, Gene Wilder, George Jessel, Alan King, Mel Brooks, Phil Silvers, Jack Carter, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Mel Brooks, Mansel Rubenstein and so many others … they were all there.

Grossinger’s in the early 1970s, the end of the good old days

There was not a single swear word in the ” family” routines, but on the road, these guys were (are) as blue as any other comics. Also, when the punchline was in Yiddish, you knew it was too blue for English.

I always tried to get my mother to translate for me, but she said the lines were “earthy” in Yiddish, but disgusting in English. So mostly, I never heard the punchline.


 For your enjoyment, a few oldies but goodies:

I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport.

I’ve been in love with the same woman for 49 years! If my wife ever finds out, she’ll kill me!

What are three words a woman never wants to hear when she’s making love? “Honey, I’m home!”

Someone stole all my credit cards but I won’t be reporting it. The thief spends less than my wife did.

We always hold hands. If I let go, she shops.

My wife and I went back to the hotel where we spent our wedding night; only this time, I stayed in the bathroom and cried.

My wife and I went to a hotel where we got a water-bed. My wife called it the Dead Sea .

She was at the beauty shop for two hours. That was only for the estimate. She got a mudpack and looked great for two days. Then the mud fell off.

The Doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn’t pay his bill so the doctor gave him another six months.

The Doctor called Mrs. Cohen saying, “Mrs. Cohen, your check came back. ”  Mrs. Cohen answered, “So did my arthritis!”

Doctor: “You’ll live to be 60!” Patient: “I am 60!” Doctor: “See! What did I tell you?”

Patient: “I have a ringing in my ears.”
Doctor: “Don’t answer!”

A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says, “You’ve been brought here for drinking.”
The drunk says “Okay, let’s get started.”

The Harvard School of Medicine did a study of why Jewish women like Chinese food so much. The study revealed that this is because Won Ton spelled backward is Not Now.

There is a big controversy on the Jewish view of when life begins. In Jewish tradition, the fetus is not considered viable until it graduates from medical school.

Q: Why don’t Jewish mothers drink? A: Alcohol interferes with their suffering.

A man called his mother in Florida, “Mom, how are you?”
“Not too good,” said the mother. “I’ve been very weak.”
The son said, “Why are you so weak?”
She said, “Because I haven’t eaten in 38 days.”
The son said, “That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten in 38 days?”
The mother answered, “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”

A Jewish boy comes home from school and tells his mother he has a part in the play. She asks, “What part is it?”
The boy says, “I play the part of the Jewish husband.”
The mother scowls and says, “Go back and tell the teacher you want a speaking part.”

Question: How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: (Sigh) “Don’t bother. I’ll sit in the dark. I don’t want to be a nuisance to anybody.”

A short summary of every Jewish holiday — They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

Did you hear about the bum who walked up to a Jewish mother on the street and said, “Lady, I haven’t eaten in three days.”  “Force yourself,” she replied.

Q: What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Jewish mother?
A: Eventually, the Rottweiler lets go.

Grossinger’s – 2008

WOODCLEFT CANAL, FREEPORT, LONG ISLAND – Marilyn Armstrong

Freeport, Long Island. It’s in Nassau Country, the closest county on Long Island to New York.

I grew up in the city. In Queens, which is a borough of New York. Each of New York’s boroughs has its own character and in many ways, is a city in its own right. Certainly, people who grow up in Brooklyn identify themselves as Brooklyn-ites and if you come from the Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx, you will always identify that as your “home ground” rather than just “New York.”

Maybe it’s because New York is so big. Each neighborhood is like a city unto itself. Boston is like that, too. Maybe most big cities are.

Colorized postcard of Woodcleft canal with houses visible on the right side of the photo. Postmark: “” Merrick, N.Y, September 3, 1907″ Addressee and Address: “M.A. Hansen, 791 59th Street, Brooklyn” Message [on the front]: “” Sept. 1, 07. Have a good time. May” – From the Freeport Historical Society Postcard Collection

Between the picture postcard and our visit lay almost exactly a century.

People from Manhattan have a strong sense of superiority because they come from The City. For reasons that are hard to explain, but perfectly obvious to anyone who has lived there or even visited for any length of time, Manhattan is the heart of New York in ways that cannot be simply explained. It’s not just because it’s the center of business. In fact, that really has little to do with it. It just is what it is. Even when I was a kid growing up in Queens, when we said we were going “into the city,” we meant New York. Manhattan.

If we were going anywhere else in the five boroughs, we said we were going to Brooklyn or the Bronx or some specific neighborhood … but the city was Manhattan and no doubt still is.

I moved to Long Island in 1963 when I was 16 and had just started college. I never moved back to the city, though for many years, we went there for shows, museums, etc. And of course, work.

A few years of my childhood, before I was 5 and moved to Holliswood, we lived in an apartment house — really, a tenement — on Rose Street in Freeport, near Woodcleft Canal.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the area near the canal was decrepit. Living “near the docks” was not a good thing, certainly nothing to brag about. My family was going through hard times and it was the best we could afford.

My mother hated it. It was the middle of nowhere and she didn’t drive. For her, born in Manhattan, a lifelong resident of New York, what was Freeport? Long Island? That was farm country where you went to buy vegetables at farm stands. My mother, an urbanite to her core, understood poverty but being poor in the country was her version of Hell.

My memories are limited but I see in my mind a big white stucco building with no architectural features. A large white box that didn’t fit into the neighborhood. Even by the less stringent standards of 60-years ago, it was an eyesore. It hasn’t lost that quality. It is still an ugly building, but I expect the rent is higher.

We drove down Rose Street to look at it. I was curious if I would recognize it, but I did. Instantly. I think early memories are deeply embedded in our psyches. Then, having satisfied curiosity, we found out to the canal.

Reflections in the canal.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the canal lined with marinas and yachts. The road along the canal has the usual expensive restaurants featuring faux nautical decor. It was a trifle weird.

There were many huge Victorian houses in Freeport back in the 1970s that you could buy for almost nothing. A great deal if you had a lot of money with which to fix one of them up. Those grand old houses … there are still a few around there and here too, but restoring one is big bucks and maintaining them, even if you can afford the initial restoration, out of the range of most people. I’m glad that some have survived. They are magnificent, though even thinking about the cost of heating one is frightening.

Everything changes.

You can’t go back in time except in your memory. Sometimes, if you treasure the way it was, how you remember it, it’s better not to revisit places. Keep your memories intact because then, the places you remember will always be the way they were.

AMERICA FIRST IS RACISM FROM OUR PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

This post is primarily composed of quotes from HuffPost and other sources. “America First” has a rather long and ugly history … and it started long before Donald Trump.

If anyone thinks what Trump is doing is new, it isn’t. This is Fascism on the rise. It’s easy to suddenly discover that “free” now means “people who agree with The Leader.” We are far too close to that now. I’d hate to see what a second term would accomplish.

Democracy is a slippery slope. Ours is covered in ice.

Dr. Seuss Cartoon from 1941 on antisemitism. The old story, just updated with a red hat.


Trump Was Not First To Use The “America First” Slogan. It has a long history.

In his Inaugural Address, President Donald Trump repeated a theme from his Presidential Campaign, telling the world: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” Many Trump critics point to the fact that this was a watchword for those who opposed U.S. intervention in WWll before the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. Actually, the phrase has a longer history.

President Woodrow Wilson, a hardened internationalist, ironically coined the term today associated with Nationalism. In 1916, Wilson was running for re-election by promising to remain neutral in WWl. His campaign slogan was: “He kept us out of War,  America First.” Once Wilson was safely re-elected, he ordered troops into what was, at the time, called “The Great War.” My mother who had the “luck” to live through both world wars always called it “The Great War.”

Once the U.S. was enveloped in the war, newspaper Publisher William Randolph Hearst, a vociferous critic of Wilson, used the slogan against the President.

Hearst was sympathetic to Germany and warned the U.S. not to aid the allies in the fight against Germany. Hearst exclaimed: “Keep every dollar and every man and every weapon and all our supplies and stores at home, for the defense of our own land, our own people, our own freedom, until that defense has been made absolutely secure. After that, we can think of other nations’ troubles. But until then, America first!”

This slogan soon became an imprimatur for non-interventionists in both major political parties. Once WWl ended, the Americans became wary of foreign intervention. Wilson failed in his efforts to garner the requisite two-thirds majority needed in the U.S. Senator to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which included allowing the U.S. to join a collective security alliance called “The League of Nations.”

Some Senators would have supported the agreement if the President agreed to certain reservations. However, the bi-partisan group that steadfastly opposed the treaty came to be known as “the irreconcilables.”

Complete post: TRUMP WAS NOT THE FIRST TO USE AMERICA FIRST” – Huffpost 

MY TRIP TO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently took a trip to New York City with my visiting daughter, to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We only visited one part of the museum, the American Wing. We focused on the furniture and decorative arts section. My daughter is studying Interior Design so this was her dream day in the city.

I took lots of photos of items that captured my imagination and I want to share them with you. I’ll start with the numerous Tiffany items that I particularly liked.

Tiffany stained glass landscape

Detail of the Tiffany landscape

Another Tiffany stained glass panel

An unusual Tiffany mosaic that was originally on a seafood restaurant facade!

Some Tiffany glass desk chatchkis

A Tiffany picture frame – one of my favorite pieces of the day.

Here’s a piece of Tiffany jewelry – an amazing brooch

A gorgeous grapevine themed Tiffany necklace that reminds me of the grapevine stained glass panel.

Another favorite piece – a Tiffany lamp.

Magnificent, large Tiffany vase

Here are some non Tiffany glass pieces.

Beautiful glass work

Some more elegant glass pieces

Two very cool decorative glass pieces!

Simple but beautiful lines.

AMERICAN MYTHOLOGY – Marilyn Armstrong

Every nation revises history. They leave out the bad bits  — slaughters of the innocent, unjust wars against minorities and civilians. They invent heroes, turn defeats into victories.

Landing of Negroes at Jamestown from a Dutch Man-of-war, 1619. In this image, the Dutch sailors, who have captured slaves from a Spanish ship, are negotiating a trade with the Jamestown settlers for food. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

American history is no different. It’s relatively easy to make our history match our myths when such a large percentage of U.S. citizens haven’t learned any history since third grade. There’s some question about how well third-grade lessons were absorbed. Recent studies show a troubling pattern of ignorance in which even the basics of history are unknown to most of our natural-born citizens. Ironically, naturalized citizens are far better educated. They had to pass a test to become citizens. The rest of us got a free pass.

Battle of Lexington & Concord

College students don’t know when we fought the Revolution, much less why. They can’t name our first president (George Washington, just in case you aren’t sure). Many aren’t clear about what happened on 9/11.  I’ve been asked which came first, World Wars I or II — indicating more than ignorance. More like deep stupidity.

All over Facebook, morons gather to impress each other with the vigor of their uninformed opinions. They proclaim we fought the Revolution to not pay taxes and keep our guns. Saying that’s not how it happened is insufficient. I lack the words to say how untrue that is.

Why did we have a Revolution? How come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a deal?

The Tea Party wharf

Yes, it would have been easier to make a deal and we tried. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible. We fought a revolution when we exhausted every peaceful option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying, even after shots had been fired and independence declared.

We didn’t want a war with England. There were lots of excellent reasons:

      • Our economy was entirely dependent on trade with England. Through English merchants, we could trade with the rest of the world. Without them, we were stuck with no trading partners or ships
      • We were ill-equipped to fight a war
      • We had no navy, no commanders. No trained army. We barely had guns
      • Our population was too small to sustain an army
      • We had no factories, mills or shipyards
      • We relied on England for finished goods other than those we could make in our own homes, including furniture, guns, clothing, cutlery, dishes, porcelain
      • We needed Britain to supply us with anything we ate or drank (think tea) unless we could grow it in North America.

All luxury goods and many necessities came from or through England. We had some nascent industries, but they were not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until 1789 we built our first cotton-spinning mill — made possible by an Englishman named Slater who immigrated from England and showed us how to do it.

Our American colonies didn’t want to be Americans. First of all, there was no America to be part of … and secondly, we wanted to be British. We wanted the right to vote in parliamentary elections as equals with other British citizens. The cry “no taxation without representation” (remember that?) didn’t mean we weren’t willing to pay taxes. It meant we wanted the right to vote on which taxes we paid. And how much.

We wanted to be heard, to participate in government. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was not at issue. Everyone pays taxes. We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship.

King George was a Royal asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make a deal with the colonists. Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. If the British king had been a more flexible, savvy or intelligent monarch, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. A bone-headed monarch thought a war was better than compromise. He was a fool, but it worked out okay.

British surrender at Yorktown

We declared war which many folks here and abroad thought was folly. We almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for two critical things:

      • British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively
      • French ships and European mercenaries.

Without French assistance and hired mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British who were better armed, better trained. They had battleships with guns and trained seamen to man them.

We didn’t.

Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than in England, British soldiers and commanders were not overly eager to slaughter people they considered fellow Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the deadly determination they could have … and if they had? Who knows how it would have worked out?

Did we really win because the British were inept and couldn’t beat an untrained ragtag rabble army? That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

I side with those who think that the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom a short time before they had been friends and with whom they hoped to be friends again. Many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, not unlike a civil war.

Many British citizens sympathized with the colonists including a goodly percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of the British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. So they did as they were ordered but without enthusiasm.

Getting the people excited enough to take up arms is hard work.

Then there was a huge miscalculation. The British did not expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought and the British went home. Had they pursued the war with vigor from the start, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our butts.

The mythology surrounding the American Revolution is natural. Every nation needs heroes and myths and we are no exception. But as grown-ups, we can apply a bit of healthy skepticism, read a couple of books. Learn there’s more to the story than the stuff we learned when we were eight. Like, the second part of the Revolutionary war known as “The War of 1812.” Part two of the Revolution which we lost fair and square when the British burned Washington D.C.

We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.

Revolutionary tea party crate-dumping

This is why our current government is more than a mere miscalculation, a bad election. It’s not something we’ll “pull out of” after which everything will go back to normal. I’m not sure we have a normal to go back to.

It’s not only how the evil underbelly of America has been exposed for all to see. It’s also that the planet is under attack. Americans — and everyone else — need to fix it if we want to continue to live here.

We need to be very careful about how we move “forward.” We have to tread carefully. We have to work with our allies and our non-allies because everyone needs to put their shoulders to the wheel to keep our world livable.

World War 2 tank

We used to have the good fortune to live in a nation of laws but I’m not sure this is a nation of laws anymore. I’m not sure what we are. I’m not sure what the world is or whether there will be a world in another 100 years. Or for that matter, in another thirty.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom. And our current government is the enemy of education, learning, and truth.

QUOTES ABOUT FREEDOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I really hate that we fought this war for civil rights before and it has come back. But more than that, I hate how easy it was for one detestable human being to make it happen. It took less than three years. I never imagined our freedom could be chipped away so fast … and I hate it!


“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public.” ― Theodore  Roosevelt

“Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.” ― Neil Gaiman

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell

LIVING WITH ANTI-SEMITISM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I am Jewish. My parents were both born in America but my grandparents were all born in Russia/Ukraine. I grew up on stories from my maternal grandmother about living in a Shtetl, where murderous, anti-semitic rampages by the Kossacks were commonplace. Jews were not allowed to integrate freely with the gentile population, let alone socialize or intermarry. My great grandfather was a respected Rabbi and one of the rare Jews who was allowed to do business with the Gentiles in the big town of Minsk.

In addition to these stories, I heard a lot about the plight of the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe as the Nazis came to power. As a child, I used to think about what I would take with me if that ‘knock on the door’ came one night to take me away from my home and my life. I often wondered if I would be the kind of person in a Concentration Camp who shared my bread and tried to help others, or if I would do whatever I had to do to protect myself.

Nazi Concentration Camp inmates

I am terrified when I read some of the anti-semitic stereotypes and accusations that are used today. They sound just like the propaganda used against Jews, not just in the ’30s and ’40s but all the way back to the Middle Ages in Europe. Romans probably also used similar rhetoric against Jews even before they started hating Christians as well.

Anti-Semitic propaganda from the Middle Ages in Europe

Overt and virulent anti-semitism has been relatively dormant in America for decades. Jews seemed to have assimilated into the mainstream to the point of almost becoming invisible. Or so I thought. Anti-semitism has clearly not been socially acceptable for a while. So it wasn’t expressed openly that much and I didn’t have to think about it or experience it.

American Anti-Semitic propaganda from the 1930s

I always knew that it was still ‘out there’. But I assumed it was less prevalent, less vicious and less relevant. Now I have to face the fact large numbers of Americans, in fact, do still nurse the same hatred and stereotypes that have plagued Jews for literally centuries. Americans are more tolerant and enlightened overall today, but some things just won’t die out.

I never thought that I would have to sit and watch a Nazi rally in an American city, complete with swastikas, arm salutes, and anti-semitic chants. Charlottesville was a wake-up call for many American Jews.

Charlottesville, NC Rally

For now, it’s ‘just words’. But my family is a testament to the fact that words can turn into acceptable attitudes than actions and finally into social norms and policies. I don’t think we are poised to become a Nazi state. I don’t think that anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican or anti-semitic language or behavior will be tolerated by the majority of Americans.

Anti-Anti Semitism

But it is still uncomfortable for me to deal with the hatred that I know is there for me because of my lineage and/or the religion I don’t even practice. I liked it better when all the haters had to hide under a rock somewhere and were afraid to come out in the open. I hope we can send them back to that place where they are afraid of us instead of us having to be afraid of them.

WE KNEW WHO WE’D BE – Marilyn Armstrong

It has been pointed out to me that there’s a lot we don’t know about the people who came before us.

How — why — they dressed and spoke and related to each other as people in their society. We are fuzzy about a lot of cultural material and mostly, we take our best guess as to what they were thinking as they lived from one day to the next in whatever capacity they lived it.

We have no clue about how our great-grandfather confessed his love for great-grandma. We don’t know what words he used, or his tone of voice. We don’t know if they had a moment of passion because they left no evidence for us. They spoke differently, yet surely they held the same emotions we do.  We base our fiction on that assumption.

We could be entirely wrong. It’s guesswork based on some facts.

The United States Slave Trade

On the other hand, we know precisely — anyone could know this because it’s easy information to find. The people who drew up our Constitution understood how deeply wrong slavery was. They knew failing to remove this horror would cause a war. A big war.

Many expressed gratitude they would not live to see it.


They knew right from wrong.

They spent agonizing hours, weeks, months and years writing about it. Discussing it. Keeping notes about what they said and what others said. They didn’t for a minute think building a nation on slavery was “okay.” Abigail Adams, for one, didn’t want to live in the White House — not merely because it wasn’t finished, but because slaves built it. Yet without the compromise of making slaves three-fifths of a person – a person who would never vote or have anything to say about his or her own life – there would not have been a Constitution or a country.

I used to think it was the right decision, but I’ve changed my mind. We should have fought to do the right thing.


When you start doing what you know is evil, righteousness
does not follow.

Getting the country to be a country was, ultimately, what mattered. Under this devil’s decision lay the future in which we are now living.


We didn’t get here by accident. It wasn’t a bad election or even a few. It was not a couple of unfortunate choices. The path on which we are walking was being laid out for us before our nation existed. The issues we now face have always been there. Waiting. 

The northerner’s objections to slavery didn’t mean there were no slaves in New England or New York. Southern plantations bought slaves, but New England sea captains brought them here.

The first port of call for southern slave owners were the slave markets of New York and New England. Until the Constitution when northern slavery was formally abolished, there were plenty of slaves up north, too.

About those Native Americans from whom we grabbed this land and who we slaughtered to keep it? We knew it was wrong.

Maybe not every unread slob understood it, but anyone with a trace of education got it. We still know it, even if we have tried our best to tuck the information as far from “common knowledge” as we can. We don’t want to think about what we did to get this place — and what we are still doing.

Did our ancestors understand this? Yes.

But they wanted this country. They wanted it beyond any moral compunctions. If that meant slaughtering entire tribes — see Andrew Jackson for more on that — so be it. Why should “those savages” get this rich and beautiful country?

They didn’t deserve it. It should be ours. To make this officially righteous, we made up a bunch of crap about white being better than not white, but we didn’t get that from anyone’s religion. We quite simply made it up because we needed to believe it.

So, as has happened throughout history, we did what we wanted. We took everything, killed anyone who got in our way.

We have pretty much continued to do that ever since. Was it the first or last time an invading group of foreigners stole a nation from its native inhabitants? Obviously not.


I do not buy any concept which says “we didn’t understand what we were doing.” We knew. Our ancestors might not have talked the way we do, but they were better at acknowledging good and evil. 

Again: How do we know this? Let me reiterate.

They wrote about it. At great length. In documents, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books. We don’t have to guess: they told us.

What a great job we’ve done with the place!

The reason the Trump White House can do what it is doing is that there’s so much hatred in this country. All he needed to do was play to the haters and leave the windows open.

We don’t know what our so-called “leaders” believe, but we know who and what they hate. I don’t care how many other countries are pursuing the same ugly scene. That doesn’t justify it happening here. If the whole world needs to clean up its act? So be it.


The majority is not necessarily right.

For my entire life, I believed my country was improving and becoming more of what it said it wanted to be. We were struggling but trying to become a moral light in the world.

I’m not seeing that today.

Are there many individuals still fighting the good fight? Yes. But as a nation, that isn’t what I see. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply disturbing I find this. How is your conscience doing these days? Having a bit of a rough patch?

HARD TIMES ARE GOOD IF YOU LIVE THROUGH THEM – Marilyn Armstrong

Easy times, good times are not always the best times, at least not for creating a better world. When the world is running smoothly and turning sweetly on its axis, we are not building solutions to important cultural issues. Problems force solutions. Difficulties change society.

In the earliest years of what would later be called “The Renaissance,” the death of 25-million people resolved into a serious push to make the world a better place. Which is why I was sitting here thinking about the 1400s.

Not everybody thinks about the 1400s, but I do. Not only was it the time of the black death, it was a time when bands of terrorists roamed through Europe killing anyone they met. Inflation made money worthless. There was little of what we call “central government.” No congress, no government to address. Also, no roads, bridges, or books. And a whole lot of dying going on.

You know how Dickens said at the beginning of “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or something to that effect? This was the worst of times.

Beginning in the early part of the 1300s with the importation of the Bubonic Plague-carrying rats, Europe became a horror show. Unless you lived in Warsaw which for some reason was spared.

The bubonic plague hit the continent in the 1340s, arriving on ships from (probably) Constantinople. The Black Death swept Europe like a hot blade cutting through butter.

Beginning in 1346 and through 1353, the number of deaths is unparalleled in human history. Ultimately, the Black Death killed more than 25 million people in Europe. Remember too that the world was much smaller. 25-million people were the largest part of the human race.

More than half the population of Europe died in the plague and in some towns, it was 100%. In other words, everybody died. The forest grew back over lands that had been sown. Murderous gangs that had formerly been remnants of disbanded armies roamed throughout the continent. When most of the peasants died, everyone starved. No one remained to grow new crops.

A burst of invention occurred. The peasantry, always been the least valuable members of European society, suddenly achieved importance. So few people remained who were able to grow crops, it was not unusual for peasants to go from castle to castle to see where they could get the best deal for their labor.

The middle class grew too, while more than half the nobility disappeared. Between death by plague and war, and the abject poverty the Crusades produced throughout Europe, many families slid from the bottom of nobility to the center of poverty. By the 1600s, many former nobles were tilling their own lands.

The Wars of the Roses consumed England. The printing press arrived. Europeans took to movable type with enthusiasm. The press was created sometime between 1400 and 1455. Movable type swept the scribes away.

I’m sure someone was telling everyone that this whole “printing thing” would never last. It was probably someone running a school for scribes.

The 1400s saw the invention of:

      • The golf ball (1400) Hey, for some folks this is a big deal
      • The piano/spinet (1400)
      • The trigger/matchlock (1411) The handgun arrived in 1364. Before the trigger, it was ignited with an ember or another form of portable fire.
      • Oil painting (1420) The paint was invented long before this in China, but oil painting techniques (Rembrandt, et al) were 15th-century.
      • Hoisting gear (1421)
      • Spectacles/eyeglasses (1450) Possibly earlier.
      • Printing Press (1450-55) Johannes Gutenberg
      • Engravings (dry) (1465)
      • Muzzle-loaded rifle (1475)
      • Parachute (1485) Leonardo Da Vinci
      • The copyright (1486)
      • Bell chimes (1487)
      • The map globe (1492) This is also when Leonardo was pondering flight because he had a parachute, so you ought to be able to fly, right?
      • Whiskey (1494)

Sometime during this period, the moldboard plow was invented, turning agriculture on its ear. Deep plowing allowed real farming in areas that had previously been non-tillable.

Historians are still arguing exactly when the moldboard plow was invented, but it was sometime between 1350 and 1475. There was no official “inventor,” so it’s hard to set the date. It was more of a development by farmers until finally, someone got it right.

This might not sound like a lot to you, but the invention of the printing press was a bigger deal than the mobile phone or the computer or, for that matter, electricity and diesel power. It overturned the world. Made knowledge available to the many rather than the élite few.

Back when eyeglasses were really expensive, though they aren’t exactly cheap now!

Everybody drank whiskey.

The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s, only nominally better in the 1400s, yet by the 1500s, the world began to flower.
These terrible old days gave the world a kick in the butt and triggered the arrival of central governments. It elevated both the peasants and the middle classes. It advanced banking, industry, and art. Towns expanded and grew into cities. The building industry changed and expanded. Bridges were redesigned to enable better roads and better roads made it easier for people to take goods to market.

Everything changed, including religion because this also was the birth of Protestantism, though it was not called that until later.

Hard times create a new world. Our two world wars were what pushed Europe into modern socialism and the caring world that they now (or used to) embrace. I think a lot of people have forgotten that before the first world war, it wasn’t the post-war caring, sharing Europe. It was a bunch of rich nobles doing whatever they felt like to anything and anyone.

The world doesn’t advance when times are easy. When all is well, we get lazy. Comfort doesn’t force change.


I want to believe the current awfulness of our world will force us into great creative change and will ultimately improve this world. I don’t know if it is true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the future.

All I can do is hope for the best.

HOLLIDAY, EARP, AND MASTERSON – Marilyn Armstrong

Everyone knows the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the OK Corral. It’s possibly the most iconic story out of the “wild west.” But there are many more stories yet untold. I’ve been following the trail of this one for a while. Doc Holliday. Wyatt Earp. Bat Masterson.

Afternoon walk - Tombstone

Where did they meet? How did Doc Holliday — legitimately a D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) and apparently a good one — wound up best friends with Wyatt Earp and his brothers? How did this polite, educated gentleman become a gunfighter and a gambler? When did Bat Masterson get into the mix?

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

The “Dodge City Peace Commission”, June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) became a gambler and gunman out of necessity.

Not quite the killer his reputation made him out to be, Doc’s reputation was part truth, mixed with a lot of rumor and publicity. Often credited with killing people he never met, the rumors were fueled by Holliday’s own publicity.

He wasn’t fond of killing people. Being a notorious gunman made it less likely he’d be challenged. He was famous for shooting opponents in the hand or foot, thus ending a duel without killing anyone.

Stagecoach in Tombstone

Doc Holliday was otherwise known as a mild-mannered, well-bred southerner who would have rather been a dentist. Except for being tubercular. Tuberculosis is a career-ender for a dentist.

Exactly how he met the Earp brothers and with which of the many Earps did he connect first? Lots of speculation, but no evidence that can stand up to scrutiny. When and where did Bat Masterson come into the mix?

Bat Masterson is a great character. He pops in and out of the story, shows up in the nick of time to pull someone’s iron out of the fire, then disappears back to his own story. Sounds like a supporting actor Oscar to me.

copy-75-vintage-tombstonenk-005.jpg

The OK Corral has been done to death. Can I convince someone to write this story? No zombies, no werewolves, no vampires. Let’s keep it all human, in the just-before-the-turn-of-the-century west.


Interesting Factoid: Doc Holliday was a cousin by marriage to Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind.”

There is a history for which the facts are known, but we don’t know who said what or when, What we know are the players, dates, and locations. Documentation exists about that, but not about what they really did. Or how they behaved together. Whether they were really friends, or lovers … or casual friends when they happened to meet.

You might as well print the legend.

On the other hand, once you realize the facts don’t form a solid story, you can pick your favorite version of the tale. Or write your own. At some point, when you get into Western mythology, your version might be as good (and as true) as any other.

YOU CAN’T BUILD A FUTURE ON HATE – Marilyn Armstrong

When I moved to Israel in 1979, I thought I knew something. After all, I read books, I knew the history.

After I had lived there for 9 years, I realized I knew nothing at all. There is SO much right and wrong on BOTH sides and everyone had a good reason for whatever they’ve done.

It’s about the past and ironically, not about the ancient past but about the past since the 1920s or thereabouts. Because in more ancient times, Jews and Arabs got along well — FAR better than Jews and Christians or Muslims and Christians. Christians only got along with their own KIND of Christians. They didn’t even get along with each other if they were slightly different sects. In fact, they still don’t.

The British got this mess started. It gave them a reason to plant their flag in the soil and say “We have to stay here to keep the peace” when the absence of peace was of their own making.

This is why I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again.


THE ONLY WAY THERE WILL EVER BE PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST IS FOR EVERYONE — JEW AND ARAB OF EVERY KIND — TO LET GO OF THE PAST.


Terrible things happened and who did the more terrible thing? Does it really MATTER? They can’t go back and fix what broke. What happened, happened. What they need to understand is if they stay frozen in the past, they will NEVER find a future. Hatred breeds hatred from generation to generation and no one’s life is made better as a result. NO ONE has a better life because they hate.

I remember once sitting up in the Banias talking about how hopeless it seemed and realizing that as long as everyone believed that their version of the past was the only one which counted, there would be no progress now or ever. It’s the main reason I left and came back here. Who knew the same evil would follow me home?

According to Terry Pratchett

I’m sure these people have said hateful things and they should take them back. Hate is not the same as disagreement. You know it, I know it. Everyone knows it. We all have to stop hating and recognize that people — all people everywhere — have more in common than differences.

The irony is that most Israelis are NOT religious. Most Arabs are not orthodox, either. We could get along. Our kids get along until some adult tells them they can’t.

Jews need a homeland. They have nowhere else to go. Arabs have a lot of homelands and despite rumors to the contrary, many Arabs live in Israel and build a life there. Maybe imperfect, but my life isn’t perfect either. Israel may be a “newbie” in these centuries, but not always a newbie. And many of the Arab countries were created from existing nations.

On some level, most countries are “new” at some point. The world didn’t come into existence with national-lines drawn with various placenames so we could live nearby and fight all the time.

Hitler managed to do a pretty good job killing off most of the Jews in Europe and many Jew-hating countries helped finish the job even after WW2 was over. Israel is a tiny piece of land. No oil, no aquifer, not rich. Maybe two peoples could share it? Why not give it a try? There’s little to lose and much to gain.


Donald Trump believes in hate. It’s his thing. He really must have had a terrible childhood to be so totally centered on hate. Does he have any love in him? That he has worked so hard to fill the United States with people who hate others without a single reason — except they had the misfortune to listen to their so-called president. 

Hate never makes the world better. Never in history has hatred spawned a better world, neighborhood, nation, or faith. Never does hate make better, only uglier and eviler.

That Trump has managed to take his hatred and spread it around is appalling. If you know anything about the 20th century, this is how we got the world wars into gear. World War 1 was a tinderbox, waiting for the first match to blow it up into the biggest butcher bill our world ever saw. The next butcher bill could conceivably be worse.

It could be total annihilation.

I keep thinking we are better than this. All of us. Humankind is better than this. Why do we let the worst of us force the march? What’s the matter with us?

I’ve been blogging for seven years. More than seven years if you want to count the little blogs that preceded this one and I’ve been a writer since I was old enough to grab a pencil and form letters. These days, I’m tired. My heart and I are not doing well and I’m not looking at a long road ahead.

I desperately want to see a better world while I’m still alive. In the United States. And in the U.K, Israel, Russia, China, Korea … everywhere where hate appears to be winning and the rest of us are being flattened by racism and despair.

We cannot hate our way to a better world. I am living in a world I never wanted, surrounded by people I thought knew better. Was my life a total waste? Was yours?

You can’t build a future on hate, but you can build an end. Hate will not make America great. It will tear it to shreds.

“They Hate All Jews” – Fandango

FOWC with Fandango — Newbie

NOT THE NEST – Marilyn Armstrong

The Jonestown Massacre 41st Anniversary –
FOWC with Fandango — Not the Nest

I usually post this story every year on its anniversary. It has two anniversaries: the anniversary of the predicted apocalypse (July 17th)  and the actual apocalypse (November 18th), but somehow, I forgot this year’s July date.

These days, I often feel as if we are living in our own pre-apocalyptic Jonestown and are merely awaiting our own massacre.

This is a true story and I remember when it happened. If you were alive and old enough to understand any kind of news, this was about as scary as it gets. It’s even more chilling now for worse reasons.


He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.” –
Old English proverb, 14th century.

Something wicked this way comes …
November 18, 1978


Jonestown_entrance_welcome

The story of the Jonestown Massacre is true. From it grew a saying everyone uses. “Drink the Kool-Aid” or “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I wonder how many people who say it so casually, referring to products, buying into a corporate culture, or political philosophy, realize to what they are referring?

I’ve written this before, but this is a major revision and it bears repeating. It’s true. It happened. We need to make sure it never happens again.

DRINK (OR DON’T DRINK) THE KOOL-AID

The popular expression “drink the Kool-Aid” has become a common verbal shorthand in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow or accept a set of beliefs.” At work, it means you endorse what your bosses tell you. In politics, it means you fully buy into the platform.

It carries a negative connotation, but not as negative as it ought.

Kool-Aid was the drink for children on summer afternoons in the 1950s. The saying is now just bland rhetoric, stripped of its context and thus the horror it ought to evoke.

THE PEOPLES TEMPLE

Jim Jones, cult leader, and mass murderer was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name supposedly refers to “the people of the world.” Jones called it a church, but it was a twisted version of a Marxist commune. At first, it combined with miscellaneous Christian references Jones used in his diatribes, er, sermons.

jim_jones

It was not a church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult requiring total personal commitment, financial support, and absolute obedience. The characteristics which define a cult.

Jones was the leader. A homicidal maniac, but he had positive qualities. Jones and his wife, Marceline, favored racial integration. They adopted kids from varying racial backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. They also adopted 3 Korean children, a Native American child, and a handful of white kids. They had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed, note that this climaxed in murdering these children.

The Peoples Temple expanded through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned Marxism. His preaching increasingly focused on an impending nuclear apocalypse. He specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California. Before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went, Jones abandoned his pretense of Christianity and he revealed himself as a madman using religion to lend legitimacy to his views. He announced, “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones was a drug addict.

As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — with good reason.

Jonestown aerial view

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation. He took them out of the United States and resettled everyone in Guyana, a poor South American nation. He modestly named it “Jonestown.”

It was a bleak, inhospitable place. On 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water, it was too small for the number of people it had to support. Jones optimistically figured “his” people could farm the new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown but didn’t share it with his followers. He barely used any of the money at all and lived in a small, bare-bones shack.

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Jonestown headline Milwaukee

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media representatives including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. During his visit, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low (there were more than 900 people in Jonestown), but the congressional party was unable to talk to most of the “fellowship.” It’s impossible to know how many might have wanted to leave.

Ryan began processing paperwork to repatriate Temple members to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan. Eventually, the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave.

Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade,” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, 3 members of the media, and wounding 11 others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He “invited” all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown. He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled by the play-acting.

Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders, or they could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the Guyana jungles. Finally, they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions, Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment and gave them cups of liquid they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.

Jonestown Koolaid

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

(DON’T) DRINK THE KOOL-AID

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored powdered drink mix similar to Kool-Aid.

jonestown_massacre

Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer he would accept. Death. Lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is as creepy as you’d expect.

30-years-jonestown

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which the followers followed. I will never understand why. Probably it means I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed too, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered outside where eventually more than 900 corpses lay including more than 300 children. Only a handful survived — primarily residents who happened to be away on errands when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a bullet to the head. It’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so. He may have preferred a gun to cyanide, having seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

WHY KOOL-AID?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind (or not-so-blind) obedience. Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without argument or objection. Various accounts say the beverage used at Jonestown was mostly Flavor Aid, sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”). It doesn’t matter, does it?

Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid. It was introduced in 1927 in powdered form, so when Americans thought of a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” sprang to mind.

Jonestown-Tomb-Flower

Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were at Jonestown, but the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” is popular lingo. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Does it help sell Kool-Aid?

I never touch the stuff.