Friday, November 11, 2011

Absent Comrades

Today is the day that most people either commemorate Veteran's Day or Remembrance Day, to honor the veterans of the armed forces and also to commemorate the end of the First World War, probably one of the more horrific wars that mankind has ever been involved in.  An entire generation of young men was virtually wiped out, and entire societies were dramatically changed by the events that transpired during the war or afterward.

It's not a real secret that the First World War is one of my primary interests in history.  The war marked the real end of the nineteenth century and shook Europe and the world out of the nineteenth century and brought everyone into the twentieth century.  Everything that we associate with the modern world has direct roots in the First World War, from the Berlin Wall to the troubles in the Middle East.  The world was forever changed and there was no turning back.

What really keeps my passion going is the fear that it will become a forgotten conflict.  In the United States, WWII and Vietnam are the two wars that have lasted in the public memory.  Korea has been relegated to a dustbin but has seen a resurgence in people pushing it back into the forefront, as evidenced by the presence of a Korean War memorial on the National Mall.  But the First World War has not seen the same treatment, save for a little known memorial tucked away in the woods lining the National Mall (which I had written about previously).

Go and visit it.

In this talk about the nations who commemorate this day, we forget about the other side, the other players in the war.  We forget about the Germans who faced the Allied Powers in those mucky trenches, who faced similar conditions and the same terrifying specter of a twentieth-century war death from a nineteenth-century mindset.  The soldiers on the front also deserve the same honor that those who came from the US, UK, France, Belgium (heck yeah Belgium), Italy, and elsewhere received from their home countries.

Sometimes all you need are wooden crosses and a field of poppies.

Which is why it troubled me to discover that those soldiers who did not have the opportunity to return home have been figuratively been buried in the collective memory of Germans.  They had the misfortune of being overshadowed by the only thing that could top the horror of the First World War: the Second World War, the Holocaust, and everything else that came afterward.  These are men with names and ages.  Men such as Martin Heidrich, a 20 year old musketeer, and August H├╝tten, a 37 year old lieutenant from Aachen.  Yet they live on in relative anonymity, most likely forgotten by whatever family survived them and most definitely forgotten by the nation as a whole.

Being forgotten is a terrible thing for anyone, but especially those who decided give it all.  I find it especially tragic that those German soldiers suffered the horrors of artillery bombardments, poor living conditions, and chemical warfare to only become buried in the mud of the trenches and the sands of time.  One can only hope that no one forgets any veterans from any war.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Je Me Souviens

As a child, I loved going to library and checking out the VHS copies of the Peanuts television specials.  Most of them were fairly light-hearted fare -- we are dealing with the adventures of perpetual elementary school students, a beagle, and his cadre of yellow bird friends.  However, there was one that, while amusing, definitely had a more poignant message than some of the others.  (I remember this because, unlike the other Peanuts specials, I only saw it once and I still recall the message.)  It is called What Have We Learned Today, Charlie Brown?


Beagles make interesting pilots, for one.


The special follows up on the gang's exploits following their student exchange experience in Paris.  (The most "foreign exchange" I ever encountered in elementary school was wondering if the school lunch pizza was made in China.)  On the way back to London, car malfunctions derail their journey and eventually they wind up camping on a beach in Normandy overnight.  Upon waking up, Linus realizes that it is Omaha Beach - one of the beaches stormed by Allied troops on 06 Jun 1944 (D-Day.)  After Linus recounts the story of the D-Day invasions, they wind up going to Ypres and the fields of red poppies.  Linus recites the famous poem "In Flanders Fields" written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a field physician at Ypres.  The group all realize the sacrifice the service members made and the mark the wars had on people.  Linus then turns and asks "What have we learned, Charlie Brown?"

On the anniversaries of September 11th, I always hear people saying and posting on Facebook/Twitter the phrase "never forget."  And we should never forget what happened and make sure future generations who were  not alive that day have a sense of what happened that day.  In order for that to happen, however, we must do more than simply "remember" or "never forget."  We must take lessons out of that day and the bad memories.  Understand how something like September 11th happened.  Understand the meaning the event has in shaping us as people.  Understand how remembering the people who perished fits in to the grand fabric.  Letting how you make sense of the events evolve and develop over time.  Use those memories to motivate you to do something to better your surroundings, with the hope that it does something to prevent a repeat of the events.  Just plain "remembering" and "not forgetting" is a travesty.


And so is listening to bad country music.



On this tenth anniversary, take some time to not only remember those who perished or those who were profoundly changed but to understand and to learn something, anything the events.  If you find yourself or someone else simply parroting "never forget," take some time to ask, "What have we learned today, Charlie Brown?"

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Hex

Professional baseball is pretty rife with superstition.  Wade Boggs reportedly ate chicken before every game.  And don't get me started on Turk Wendell and his "rituals."  


There are also the various curses that linger over teams.  The Boston Red Sox had the famed "Curse of the Bambino" from 1918 to some hazy point which I've blocked out of my memory.  The Chicago White Sox have long labored under the shadow left by the 1919 Black Sox.  The Cleveland Indians are apparently still under "The Curse of Rocky Colavito," and the Chicago Cubs are trying (mostly) everything goat-related to unhex themselves from the "Curse of the Billy Goat."


The Redskins are laboring under the curse of Dan Snyder's ownership.


Having witnessed the sadness that is the Baltimore Orioles for the last few years, this has gotten me thinking.  Are the Birds under some sort of mysterious slump?  Has some witch doctor thrown a hex their way?  Is Edgar Allen Poe not happy?  Well, after some conversing with this guy, I have come up with an answer: the Curse of Lou Gehrig.


Can't you just sense the dark energy?


Here's the theory: everyone knows in 1995 that Cal Ripken, Jr. decides to break the Lou "the Iron Horse" Gehrig's pretty crazy consecutive games streak of 2,130 games played.  (Think about that when you try to call out of work because of the "sniffles.")  My theory is that you probably do not want to anger the spirit of any one nicknamed "the Iron Horse" and especially if that person had to deal with Babe Ruth on a day-to-day basis for much of the year.  Cal Ripken decided to do that, and thus brought upon the Baltimore Orioles "The Curse of Lou Gehrig."


The evidence goes as such: 
1995 was the season that the record was broken by Cal Ripken, Jr.  That was the same season that the New York Yankees made it to the playoffs for the first time since their 1981 World Series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the first (and last) time that famed first baseman Don Mattingly, who played the same position as Lou Gehrig, would make the playoffs.  Also, 1995 was the same season that a young shortstop named Derek Jeter made his debut.  The same Derek Jeter who hit the "hand of God" home run in the 1996 American League Championship Series against...the Baltimore Orioles.  The Yankees would go on to win the World Series and experience relative success afterward, while the Orioles would make the playoffs once more and haven't made them since.  It is also worth noting that the year Cal Ripken, Jr. retired (2001) was the same year the Yankees lost the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Nonetheless, the Orioles have still toiled in much obscurity.  Their most promising glimmer of hope was in 2005, when they spent 62 days in first place but went on a losing streak, resulting in the firing of their manager, Lee Mazzili - a former Yankees first base coach.


Now considering that Babe Ruth's curse lasted about 80 some odd years, the idea of one of his teammates, who has an equally storied spot in Yankees lore, putting a hex on a team isn't a very comforting thought.  Also mind you that this is from the grave; the Babe's curse got its start when he was alive.  So who knows what extra caveats that might add?  And of course, the Orioles could just be naturally and perpetually terrible.  But who wants to believe that?


Also having to deal with the Babe on a pretty regular basis makes you a pretty tough sucker.


So if you're an Orioles fan (or one of the players reading this for some strange reason), I'd start eating chicken or something to break the hex.  Or just consider a different team.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Man Up Little Boy

Being a Washington DC sports fan must be probably one of the most depressing things ever.  And I know depressed sports fans, being that I still remember the glory days of the Knicks with Patrick Ewing and John Starks and that I have been to an Orioles game.  But DC...hoo-boy, you guys have it BAD.  Long saddled with the Washington Senators in the beginning of the 20th center and the quip "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League," sports in DC is a fairly depressing business, save for the occasional bright spots.

DC comforts itself by doing Independence Day right.

Not only that, but you have all these miscreant transplants (me being one of them) milling around your town and espousing loyalties to other teams not of the area.  Go to a Nationals game and you'll most likely see jerseys of the opposing team making up a large percentage of the spectators.  Hell, you can walk around the city and see quite a few Dallas Cowboys hats and jerseys.  This is akin to me parading around Boston in full New York Yankees gear, a crime which probably would earn me a drowning in a vat of Samuel Adams beer.

"Funny...it tastes like scotch and shame..."

So if you're going to be a GM or an owner of a major national sports team (sorry, lacrosse), you're going to expect a lot of crap from people who have come in from other places (who know how a sports team should function) that have adopted the local sports teams and long time fans in the area who are simply being fed up with being known as the breather team on the schedule.

Apparently the "Boy Wonder" Dan Snyder didn't get the memo.  In response to the Washington City Paper's article "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder," Snyder decided the brightest idea (outside of hiring Jim Zorn, of course) was to sue the Washington City Paper's parent company over the content of the article.  

Face of a genius.


Really?

You have to be honest, the team's gotten pretty cocked up, to put it gently, over the past few years.  Outside of the perennial genius of the Jim Zorn era, the more recent season exemplifies the hilarity of whatever strategy  he and his crack team of experts is implementing.  And when your team loses after watching your much hyped new coach falter and essentially pissing away two hundred million dollars, you're going to have to expect a hot ton of criticism piled on you.

I'm glad the money from my $10 beer went to a good cause.

Being a sports fan from the New York metropolitan area, I've been attuned to and "informed" about sports from probably one of the nastiest media arenas for sports you can think of.  Any loss inspires more analysis than I've seen this side of a Sunday morning political talk show.  Heaven forbid you turn in a playoff-less season or *gasp* a losing one.  Rarely does the media show you any mercy.  You more or less have to earn it.

Snyder should be damn thankful he isn't in that market.  If he sued one paper for giving him the business, he'd either go bankrupt paying lawyers suing pretty much every media outlet in New York City or wind up in the fetal position in his bathroom sucking him thumb and sobbing.

Toughen up or sell the team to someone who's got a plan or at least a tolerance for pointed criticism.  And don't clog up the judicial system with frivolous lawsuits.

Jack McCoy is not happy with you clogging up the judicial system.