Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Memorial 2017


Today in the United States of America we celebrate Memorial Day, a day devoted to honor and remember America’s veterans, especially those who gave their lives in the call of duty. Two years ago I did a Memorial Day post about my wife’s uncle, Silvio Gardella, who served for three years on a submarine during World War II. I repeat it here today and include a brief video in memory of those who have served.

The post was based on Admiral I. J. Galantin’s book, “Take Her Deep! A Submarine against Japan in World War II.”  The book is primarily an account of the exploits of the U.S.S. Halibut from 1942 to the end of 1944. I was drawn to the book because Silvio Gardella served on the Halibut throughout those three years.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, twenty-five year old Silvio decided to enlist in the Navy because he did not want to be drafted into the Army. He wound up in the submarine service because one day an officer told him and some others to “volunteer.” Silvio protested that he didn’t know how to swim, but was told that swimming would not be necessary in the submarine service.

He first served on U.S.S. Sculpin under then Captain Galantin who was making his final test run before getting his own ship. The Captain must have taken a liking to Silvio because at the completion of that training mission, he chose fireman second class Silvio and another seaman to join him on his new sub, the Halibut. Silvio was an extremely lucky man because on its next voyage, the Sculpin was lost.

There might have been times during his tour of duty that Silvio thought that his luck had run out. Admiral Galantin’s account of the Halibut’s missions off the coast of Japan shows how difficult and dangerous those missions were. Contrary to popular perceptions, the Halibut and other WWII submarines had to spend most of their time on the surface where their powerful diesel engines could attain 20 knots. But below the surface they normally could only reach two or three knots. On occasion, they could reach six knots but at that speed they would quickly drain their batteries.

To avoid detection from enemy ships and planes the Halibut would usually go at periscope depth during the day looking for Japanese shipping to destroy. But practically every night it would have to resurface to recharge its batteries. Even at night the moon could betray their location to enemy lookouts. Still, much of its hunting was done at night when its greater surface speed gave it an advantage.

These long night watches when the Halibut’s lookouts strained their eyes to detect enemy shipping and their dangerous escorts were a constant source of strain on the crew. In a very poignant passage Admiral Galantin describes how the different seamen dealt with the constant threat of danger.

Often as their eyes adjusted to the blackness, the torpedoman’s mate, machinist’s mate, or electrician’s mate—men like Perkins, Kelly, Black, Gardella—would find me already pacing the short space abaft the periscope shears. Five thousand miles from our own shores, talking in hushed voices as though the enemy coast had ears, how rewarding were the frank, midnight conferences, as the gulf between captain and crewman disappeared in the night. 
In the strange, unnatural life we led, in the tensions of submarine warfare deep within enemy waters, each man sought his private, personal assurance of safety and survival. What differing faith the voices in the night revealed. Some put their trust in materiel—in the fantastic equipment we had, or in the stoutness of our hull….
Bob Black, from Brooklyn, was certain that our fine crew, our careful training, were more than equal to every challenge.
Still others sought assurance in the negative, in damning the enemy and denying his capabilities….
Silvio Gardella, from White Plains, New York, he of a family of sixteen children, was convinced that I knew all the tricks of our trade and would certainly outwit any Jap C. O. “Skipper, a good Italian boy like me don’t have to like it, but I can take it.”
Captain Galantin must have been moved by Silvio’s trust but he was aware of his own limitations. He concluded his nighttime reflection with these words.

I could give confidence in our ship and in each other, but my own support came from the Ninety-first Psalm….From frequent readings I knew it by heart.

I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in whom I trust. For he will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler And from the deadly pestilence He will cover thee with his pinions. And under his wings shalt thou take refuge: His truth is a shield and a buckler.

Obviously, the Halibut completed all of its missions including a final one where the ship was almost destroyed as victory in the Pacific seemed imminent. It was detected by new Japanese equipment and subjected to a massive depth charge attack that almost ripped the ship apart 400 feet below water. Miraculously, the Halibut survived although it was so damaged that it could only limp back home with the help of another sub. When it finally got back to Pearl Harbor, the damage was so great that the ship would never dive again.

The end of the Halibut was not the end for Captain Galantin who went on to a distinguished career in the Navy. But it was the end for Silvio Gardella. His tour of duty was over and he was discharged from the Navy when he returned to New York. Within days he married his sweetheart, Iole. They raised a family and he went on to be a successful businessman. But he never forgot Captain Galatin, the Halibut, and his years in the submarine service. Like many others who served with their comrades in war, it would not be far from the truth to say that those years were the best of their lives.

Here is link to a brief video, "I Fought for You", that serves as a tribute to all who have served. Or, watch the video below.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

President Trump in Saudi Arabia

A long-time friend recently told me that I ought to be “sick to my stomach” at Trump’s behavior. I replied that my stomach is fine, but I asked him to please list a couple of things that Trump has done as President that he finds objectionable. He declined to provide anything except to say that it was Trump’s personality and behavior that disgusted him. Like many he played the amateur psychologist and claimed that Trump was “narcissistically self-aggrandizing.” In other words, he doesn’t like the President and it won’t matter what he does.

I suspect that this attitude is shared by most of those who were shocked and dismayed by Trump’s election. They vehemently dislike the man and everything about him including his family. As a result, they will not rest until he leaves office either by resignation or impeachment.
In a post written after the President’s speech to Congress I wrote that “the true test of the Trump administration will be on how much it can deliver. If President Trump can just deliver on a third of his promises, it will be a successful Presidency. Batting .333 is good in any league. I hope commentators will begin to focus on what the Trump administration is actually doing, and not on what they feat he will do.”

Unfortunately, relentless hatred against Trump has meant that few have bothered to discuss or assess what he has actually done in office so far. There has been a steady flow of vitriolic venom directed against every word or even gesture but no real discussion or evaluation of his public policies or actions. Even though actions are supposed to speak louder than words, words travel faster and fake news travels even faster.

The ship of state is like a giant aircraft carrier that takes time to turn. Even after the captain orders a change of direction, momentum will still carry the ship forward for a while. A huge ship cannot turn on a dime. It is the same with government. So what has Trump done so far?

I’m not going to spend much time discussing his various appointments, none of which seem to be those of some psychopath. Also, health care and tax reform are working their way through Congress in a much more open and constitutional fashion than in the previous administration.

It would appear that this week President Trump began the slow process of changing the course of American foreign policy. Interestingly, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, John Bolton, a foreign affairs guru, argued that so far Trump has followed the same basic course as his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush. However, Just this week President Trump began his first overseas visits with stops at the seats of the three great Western religious faiths.

To me the recently concluded visit to Saudi Arabia marked a real turning point. It is obvious that the visit had been well planned.  No one makes a $400 billion arms deal on the spur of the moment. Yesterday, my local Connecticut newspaper, a virulent opponent of Trump, featured an article indicating that the Saudi deal would provide much needed jobs at Sikorsky Aircraft, one of the country’s leading helicopter manufacturers.

But it was not just the trade deal. Despite his alleged Islamophobia, Trump received a royal welcome from the Saudis who were obviously happy to see him. The visit itself as well as the well- crafted speech that Trump gave on Sunday marked a real change over the policies of Obama and Bush. Trump announced that he was there to repair the relationship with Saudi Arabia that had been so damaged during the Obama administration. He declared his full support of Saudi Arabia not only in the fight against terrorism but also against Iran.

We don’t need Saudi oil anymore but we do need them as an economic and military partner. Trump also appealed to the Saudi leadership by stating that the era of nation building and outside interference was over. He expressed no desire to call for democracy or civil rights reforms in Saudi Arabia. He will not mess with their internal affairs or their religious doctrines and culture.

This marks a real change in policy. The policy of supporting and arming rebels in places like Libya, Egypt and Syria would appear to be over. Ivanka Trump might want to work for women’s rights in the Moslem world but her father and his advisors seem to understand that the greatest attacks on civil and women’s rights have come in countries where we have intervened to bring down autocratic rulers.

Saudi Arabia is a royal despotism where women have to cover their faces and bodies in public. But we just have to compare it to its neighbors where the breakdown of authority has led to the total denial of civil rights. In neighboring countries women are routinely kidnapped, beaten, raped, forced to flee their homes, and murdered.

In many ways Saudi Arabia is a business more than a country. Trump intends to do business with them but leave the running of their own business to them. Time will tell whether this strategy will work or not but it is worth a try. It has worked in many times and places. Discussion of this strategy should be based on its merits and not on the personality of President Trump. It is not the strategy of a psychopathic narcissist.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day 2017

Gong Li in To Live

My mother died when I was only eleven, after a debilitating illness that lasted over a year. Back in 1950 her doctors could hardly come up with a diagnosis much less a cure. She was only in her early thirties. I have only the fondest memories of my mother even if they have been dimmed by the passing years. I don’t think it is just sentimentality on my part. In old black and white photographs, she is usually wearing a simple housedress, the uniform of a young mother of three back in those days. She is always smiling. I don’t recall that anyone ever had a bad word to say about her.

When I think of her, I think of the words that the apostle Paul wrote to the young Christian community in Corinth almost 2000 years ago. (First Corinthians, 13: 4-9)

Charity is patient, is kind; charity does not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, is not self-seeking, is not provoked; thinks no evil, does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never fails…

My bible commentary calls these words “a portrait of fraternal” love but it seems to me that the words are more a portrait of maternal love. I don’t want to sound sexist but I think that the characteristics of charity or love that Paul described are more to be found in women than in men. My opinion is based primarily on personal experience.

After my mother died my two younger brothers and I moved in with our grandmother who lived next door. For us the loss of a mother was largely made up by the charity or love of this incredibly caring woman. At the age of 62 she became a mother to three young boys. Thank heaven she was assisted by her daughter, Nan, a married woman who could have no children of her own. For the rest of her life, our Aunt Nan also became a surrogate mother to us. My brothers and I were extremely fortunate to find two such loving women in our lives.

My experience of maternal love did not stop there. In subsequent years I have found this caring love in countless women including my own wife, daughters, and daughters-in-law. Selfless love can be found in women with no children of their own who have taken upon themselves the task of caring for others.

I wonder how the Apostle Paul came to know about charity or love. Many years ago I attended a lecture about St. Paul and his writings by a prominent biblical scholar who was also a nun with feminist leanings. In her talk she was critical about some of the things that Paul had said about women. You know, things like obeying your husbands, and being quiet in church. In the question and answer that followed I asked her if there was anything in all the literature she had read on the biblical period that resembled the words about charity in First Corinthians. She replied that she couldn’t think of any that matched the lofty spiritual truth contained in that brief passage.

In other words, despite his seeming misogyny, Paul had somehow arrived at a lofty spiritual concept of love. He might have gotten it from his deep study of Hebrew scripture and tradition but that didn’t stop him from persecuting Christians like so many do today. He might have gotten it in his encounter on the road to Damascus with the risen Jesus, and with his subsequent involvement with the early Christians.

But I like to think that Paul’s first encounter with love was with his own mother.

One of the best depictions of motherly love is in the Chinese film epic, "To Live." It is an incredibly powerful and emotional depiction of a family trying to stay together during the turmoil of the Maoist revolution in China. I originally saw it in a theater in 1994 and was blown away. Since then I have seen it a number of times with the same effect. Here is a link to the trailer or just click on the video below. The complete film is available on YouTube.