NEW YEARS EVE

Wow, another year has gone by! That was fast. As we all know, the older we get, the more time seems to speed up.

Tonight, people around the world will celebrate New Year’s Eve. Although the specifics of the celebration may differ in various countries, it is generally a time of social gatherings, parties, eating, drinking, and merriment.

The Pacific island nations of Kiribati (aka Christmas Island), which is nothing more than a coral atoll in the Central Pacific, and Samoa, which is the western-most of the Samoan Islands, were already the first to celebrate; American Samoa, which includes seven tiny islands and atolls in the eastern part of the Samoan Islands, and Baker Island, which is an uninhabited atoll 3,100 km southwest of Honolulu, will be the last.

New Years Day has been celebrated on January 1 since 45 B. C. That year, Julius Caesar decreed that the Roman Calendar, under which the new year occurred in March, be replaced by the Julian calendar. It has been January 1 ever since.

Below please find a sampling of celebration customs in various countries:

1. In the US NYE is celebrated with parties with family and friends and other special events. For example, Chicago features a music show and fireworks over Lake Michigan; San Francisco features yoga parties and concerts; Atlanta boasts the (“Peach Drop”); Nashville has the (“Music Note Drop”); and New Orleans features live music, a “fleur-de-lis drop,” and parties centered around the French Quarter.”

However, by far the biggest and most significant celebration is in NYC. Since 1907 people have been gathering in Times Square to watch the “Ball Drop.” The “Ball Drop” has been held annually every year since, except for 1942 and 1943 when it was canceled due to the wartime blackout.

At precisely at 6:00 pm a hugh Waterford crystal ball was raised to the top of the pole at One Times Square  At 11:59 pm, a specially-designated “guest,” who has been chosen in recognition of his or her community service, will push a special “red button,” which will activate the ball. This ball, weighing some 12,000 pounds, will then begin its descent from the roof of One Times Square down a 141-foot high pole. Exactly one minute later, at midnight, the ball will reach the roof of the building, and huge lights will signal the start of the New Year.

The original “ball” was constructed from wood and iron and lit with 100 incandescent bulbs. Over the years, it has gone through various iterations. The current “ball” features a computerized LED lighting system.

Times Square has been the focal point of NYE celebrations in the US since 1904. That year, the first organized NYE celebration, consisting of an all-day street festival culminating in a huge fireworks display, was held there. It was reported that at midnight the celebratory noise could be heard as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, some 30 miles away.

The celebration was organized by the “New York Times” owner, Adolph Ochs, to commemorate the opening of the “Times” new headquarters located in the tiny triangle at the intersection 42nd Street, Broadway and 7th Avenue. The city renamed the area Times Square in honor of the venerable publication.

[Quiz questions: 1) What other historically significant event occurred in NYC in 1904? 2) What was Times Square’s name prior to 1904? See below for the answers. ]

Two years later the City banned the fireworks display. Ochs’ response was to replace it with the “Ball Drop.” The details of this “Ball Drop” have evolved over the years, especially technologically.

The celebration, itself, has also evolved over the years. Due to the world we now live in, security is tighter than the proverbial “drum.” For example, regarding the police and “alphabet agencies,” it is “all hands on deck.” Police will be omnipresent. Undercover officers will be imbedded in the crowd. Even drones will be used.

This year it is estimated that as many as two million people will cram into the area to witness the “Ball Drop.” Many of them will arrive early in the day in order to secure a prime viewing spot. They will be herded into viewing sections called “pens.” Nice terminology. Additionally, for security reasons, food, drinks, waste baskets, toilet facilities, knapsacks, large bags and pocketbooks, among other items, will be prohibited.

Best to arrive early, and if you have to leave for any reason, good luck returning. “Depends,” anyone?  It is estimated that in excess of one ton of confetti will be dropped at the stroke of midnight. Thankfully, I don’t have to clean it up.

Some 200 million other Americans and 1 billion persons worldwide will watch on tv and/or live streaming on their mobile devices.  TV viewers in NY will be treated  to a variety of entertainment options featuring artists such as Alanis Morissete and casts from Broadway shows, such as “Jagged Little Pill.”

Entertainment from various venues is also featured. The most famous and enduring entertainer was Guy Lombardo, who from 1928 to 1976 entertained from the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, first on the radio, then on TV. After his death in 1977 other programs became prominent, most notably “Dick Clark’s “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.” After his death, the mantle passed to Ryan Seacrest and others. Traditionally, NYE is the busiest day at Disneyland and Disney World, which feature Disney-character shows and fireworks.

2. In Canada the mode of celebrations vary by region. For example, in Toronto, Niagara Falls and other areas of Ontario, there are concerts, parties, fireworks and sporting events. On the other hand, in rural Quebec some people go ice fishing. Montreal features concerts and fireworks.

3. In Mexico, families decorate their homes in various colors, each of which symbolizes a particular wish for the upcoming year. For example, yellow would symbolize a wish for a better job, green, improved finances, white, improved health, and red, general improvement in lifestyle and love. At midnight, many Mexicans eat a grape with each chime of the clock and make a wish each time. Some people bake a sweet bread with a coin hidden inside. Whoever gets the piece with the coin will be blessed with good fortune in the coming year. Finally, some people make a list of all the bad events that occurred to them over the past year on a piece of paper and then burn the paper to symbolize a purging of all the bad luck.

4. As you might expect celebrations in England focus around Big Ben. People gather to observe fireworks and celebrate. In addition, many celebrate in pubs or at private parties.

At the stroke of midnight it is traditional to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I have always been curious as to the derivation of this song and why it is sung at New Year’s. The origin is murky, but it has generally been attributed to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. He wrote it in 1788, but it is likely that some of the words were derived from other Scottish poems and ballads. “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates into English as “long, long ago,” “old times,” or “days gone by.” Thus, at the stroke of midnight we bid farewell to the past year and, at the same time, wish to remember the good times. In some areas the song is also sung at funerals, graduations and any other event that marks a “farewell” or “ending.” Sometimes the singers gather in a circle and hold hands.

As usual, the weather will be a significant factor. This year, weathermen are predicting temperatures in the mid 40, which is normally as good as it gets in NY in January.  We will probably not approach the record of 58 degrees (1965-66 and 1972-73).

CONCLUSION

Whatever your NYE plans may be and however you may celebrate, I urge you to be careful and drive safely and defensively. Pay particular care to watch out for the “other guy.” This is one night where too many people celebrate excessively and drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. These people should not be on the road, but, nevertheless, they are, and they are dangerous both to you and themselves.  For this reason, Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s long-time side-kick on the “Tonight Show” and a noted party-goer, used to refer to New Year’s Eve derisively as “amateur night.” New Year’s Day is the second most deadly holiday for drivers. (Thanksgiving is #1.) Moreover, a whopping 42% of the driving fatalities on NYD are the result of DUI.

Answers to quiz questions: 1) The city’s first subway line opened in 1904. 2) Longacre Square.

DON IMUS

He was a unique person, an enigma, if you will, a living, breathing contradiction.  He was often called the ultimate “shock jock.”  To say he was controversial was an understatement; there was much good, but also some bad; he won many professional awards, but he was fired several times for various transgressions; he adopted an African American son, but he was accused, by some, of being a racist; he offended some with his biting, irreverent and sarcastic humor (which a lot of people took the wrong way), but he raised millions for charity and inspired tremendous loyalty among people who worked with him, such as longtime sidekick, Charles McCord.  But, above all, he was entertaining.  He entertained us for nearly 50 years as a radio personality, television show host, recording artist and author.

John Donald Imus, Jr. was born on July 23, 1940 in Riverside, CA.  His family was wealthy, but I don’t think he had a particularly happy childhood.  His parents, ran a 35,000 acre ranch in Arizona.  He had a younger brother, Fred, whom many fans will remember as a frequent caller to his radio show.  His parents divorced when he was 15, and his father died shortly thereafter.

Imus always admitted he “disliked” school and was generally a “horrible adolescent.”  He attended various private schools, which he later recalled as “hideous.” Eventually, he dropped out of school and joined the Marines.

After receiving an honorable discharge Imus worked at a succession of jobs, some of which can be charitably described as “unusual,” for example:

  1.  He was a window dresser for a department store until he was fired for entertaining passersby by “performing strip teases on the window mannequins.”
  2. He and Fred moved to Hollywood where they tried, unsuccessfully, to convince radio DJs to play songs they had written.  This failure left him homeless and broke.
  3. He tried college, but dropped out and went to work as a railroad brakeman.
  4. He worked in a uranium mine, where he suffered an accident that resulted in two broken legs and a collapsed lung, which was to have a long-term effect on his health.
  5. In 1966 he enrolled in the Don Martin School of Radio and Television Arts and Sciences in Hollywood.  He was kicked out for being “uncooperative,” but he managed to secure a broadcasting license.
  6. He worked as a singer/songwriter at a nightclub with mixed results.

Finally, in 1968 he secured a job as a radio DJ for a station in Palmdale, CA.  Two things were notable about this job. (1) He developed his first, and perhaps best, on-air character, the Reverend Billy Sol Hargis.  Hargis, an “evangelist” who was a combination of a real-life preacher named Billy James Hargis and a notorious businessman named Billie Sol Estes, was an instant “hit;” and (2) Imus’ show became the number one in his time slot and earned him a “Billboard” Award for Air Personality of the Year in a medium-sized market.  This success was followed by a failure in what was to become an all-too-familiar pattern.  He moved to a station in Stockton, CA from which he was fired for saying “hell” on the air and for running an “Eldridge Cleaver look-a-like” contest.

Imus’ next notable stop was Sacramento, CA. where he was fired for pranking a local McDonalds.  He called them and ordered 1,200 burgers for “the troops.”  Next came  Cleveland, OH where he won another “Billboard” Award, this time for a major market.

Finally, in 1971 he landed in the “Big Apple” at WNBC.  Great job, but on his second day he overslept and missed the entire show.  Who does something that bone-headed?  Are you sensing a pattern here?  Once again, “bad” follows “good.”

Imus was a huge success at WNBC and its successor station, WFAN, for over 40 years – number 1 in his time slot, stand-up performances, and albums of his radio segments.  But, once again, came the enigma.  Along with his success came uncontrollable drinking.  In 1973 he missed 100 days of work for various reasons.  He became unmanageable.  Even Imus characterized himself as a “jerk.”  In 1977 WNBC “re-formatted,” and Imus got the “boot” back to Cleveland.

That exile lasted two years.  In 1979 he returned to NY on WNBC where he was paired with his loyal and long-time sidekick, Charles McCord.  Once again, however, “bad” followed “good.”  Imus was still drinking excessively, but he had also become addicted to cocaine.  Predictably, his work began to suffer.  For example, his behavior became erratic; he took to sleeping on park benches and showing up for work without shoes; and he clashed with other personalities, notably Howard Stern, who joined the station in 1982.  Their long-running feud persisted up until Imus’ death.

In 1988 NBC shifted its format once again.  Bye-bye WNBC; hello WFAN.  The “FAN,” as it was called, was a new experiment, exclusively sports talk radio, the first of its kind.  There was nothing but sports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with one exception, “Imus in the Morning.”  Imus’ morning show was the lead-in for the FAN’s entire day’s programming.  It was a big responsibility.  Many people had predicted failure, but not only has the format succeeded, it has spawned countless imitators.  Today, sports talk is omnipresent on the airwaves; countless former athletes have moved seamlessly to the medium upon the conclusion of their careers.  Love him or hate him, one must admit that Imus, by carrying the FAN through its development years, played a large part in that.

More “good” and “bad.”  “Good:”

  1.  Imus has won countless awards and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.
  2. He has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for charities, such as “Tomorrow’s Children,” and the Center for the Intrepid, a Texas-based rehab facility for soldiers wounded in the Iraq War,
  3. He has visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital to boost their morale.
  4. He and his wide, Deidre, founded and operated the Imus Ranch for children with cancer.

The “bad:”

  1.  Probably, the one incident he most regretted in his long career involved the Rutgers  women’s basketball team.  Following their winning the 2007 NCAA championship Imus referred to them on the air as “nappy-headed hos.”  Moreover, he and his staff engaged in further derogatory frivolity at their expense, which I decline to repeat here.  Suffice to say, the comments precipitated a firestorm.  Imus was labeled a “racist;” others came forward to report racist comments; one of the Rutgers players filed a lawsuit; and many people wanted him fired.  Ultimately, Imus resolved the matter with a profuse apology to the players and anyone else whom he had offended and by offering a “mea culpa” on Al Sharpton’s show.
  2. He also made offensive comments against football player Adam “Pacman” Jones and Texas Congressman Joe Barton, which required further apologies.
  3. Some of his more notorious off-air comments: (a)  referring to Arabs as “ragheads, (b) Howard Stern as a “Jew bas***d, (c) black sports columnist, Bill Rhoden, as a “quota hire,” (d) using the “N” word to describe to certain African Americans, and (e) referring to Newt Gingrich as a “fat, repulsive pig.”

CONCLUSION

As I said at the outset, Imus was an enigmatic figure.  There was the “good,” and there was the “bad.”  However, there was no doubt he was supremely talented and entertaining.

Throughout his life Imus suffered from various health problems.  Some of them, such as alcoholism and cocaine addiction were self-inflicted.  Others resulted from accidents.  For example, in 2000 he fell off a horse, which resulted in severe injuries that led to chronic breathing problems, particularly at high altitudes, and according to McCord even during the shows, at times.  In 2009 Imus was diagnosed with Stage 2 prostate cancer.  His doctors advised treating it with radiation, but, on Deidre’s recommendation, he elected holistic treatments, which seem to have worked to a degree,

Finally, on December 24 he was hospitalized for the last time.  He passed away on December 27 at the age of 79.  Rest in peace Imus.  You were good and you were bad, but you were always entertaining, and you will be missed.

EXTREME BRAVERY AMID THE HORRORS OF THE HOLOCAUST

The basis for this blog was provided to me by my good friend and loyal reader, Rich, who spotted the story in the Associated Press.

As you know, the Holocaust ended 74 years ago with the Nazis’ defeat.  Yet, even now, every so often, we learn of another story of bravery that reminds us that amid the horrors of the Holocaust some ordinary citizens risked everything to help Jews.  Normally, these heroes are regular people who could have stood by and done nothing, like many others did, but, unlike those bystanders, they rose to the occasion.  The bravery they exhibited was remarkable.  All too often, we only learn of their heroics on the occasion of their death, but in this case, the heroine is receiving her recognition while she is still alive to appreciate it.

The heroine of this story is 92 year-old Melpomeni Dina.  During the war Dina was living in Veria, which is small town in northern Greece.  In 1943 that area was occupied by the Nazis, who systematically exterminated all “undesirables,” including, among others, Jews, within the space of only a few months.  According to the AP this level of brutality was one of the most extreme of the entire war, which says a lot.

The seven members of the Mordecai family were among the Jews living in Vernia.  All Jews were frantically scrambling around to avoid capture.  Some fled the area; others remained, acquired false identity cards and hid, hoping to ride out the war.

At first, the Mordecais hid in the attic of an abandoned Turkish mosque.  They remained there for the better part of one year.  During this time, they were forced to endure the sounds of their fellow Jews being rounded up and/or shot.  Eventually, the cramped, poorly-ventilated space began to affect the health of some of them, so they had to leave.  Also, around this time an informant disclosed their location to the Nazis.  Unfortunately, this was all too common for various reasons, such as a desire to curry favor with the Germans or simply hatred for the Jews.

This was when Dina and her two sisters “stepped up.”  They took the entire Mordecai family into their home.  According to the AP, at first, the entire group was cramped into the Dinas’ one-room apartment.  The Dinas had very little in the way of material goods, but they freely shared what they did have, such as food, clothing, medicine and, most importantly, shelter.   Later, they helped some of the Mordecais escape into the woods or the mountains.

Yossi Mor, now 77 but a mere infant at the time, remembers the “kindness” of the Dinas.  “They even washed our clothes.  She loved me very much.”  Sarah Yanai, 86, the oldest of the Mordecai siblings, told the AP reporter, “the risk they took upon themselves to take in an entire family knowing that it put them and everyone around them in danger” was incredible.

Incredibly, after the war ended the family was able to reunite, and emigrate to Israel where they thrived and raised the next generation.  This was miraculous in and of itself as most families that were split up did not succeed in reuniting for one reason or another.

Recently, the 40 descendants of the Mordecai family held a very special and emotional reunion with Dina, now 92.  One by one, each person embraced Dina and thanked her for rescuing the family from certain death.  As Dina greeted each one the tears flowed freely.  “Now, I can die quietly,” Dina told the AP reporter.

The number may not have been on the scale of Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg but it was a goodly amount nonetheless.  You may recall that Oskar Schindler, whose story was brought to life brilliantly by Stephen Spielberg in the 1993 Academy Award-winning movie, “Schindler’s List,”  was credited with saving some 1,000 Jews from the Nazis.  Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, was reputed to have saved some 20,000 Jews before he tragically disappeared.

Dina is one of some 27,000 non-Jews who have been designated as “Righteous Among the Nations,” which is the highest honor for non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.  Sadly, of that number, only some 350 are still alive today.

CONCLUSION

The touching and emotional reunion was sponsored by the organization “Righteous Among the Nations,” which brings groups of Holocaust survivors and their rescuers together every year.  In addition, it pays a monthly stipend to the rescuers, many of whom are in dire straits and need the money.  As part of the process, a special committee carefully and thoroughly vets every case beforehand.

Some 500 persons are approved every year as new stories come to light.  Unfortunately, many of them are recognized  posthumously.  Stanley Stahl, EVP of the “Jewish Foundation for the Righteous,” observed that these reunions will “probably” soon end “because of age and frailty.”  That would be a shame, because they serve as a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust and the bravery of those who sacrificed to do the right thing.

 

 

BOXING DAY

On Thursday, December 26, many countries, notably the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries that were formerly part of the British Empire, will celebrate a holiday known as Boxing Day.  Many of those who are unfamiliar with this traditional holiday erroneously assume it is associated with pugilism. That is not the case.
BD is considered a secular holiday, however, some countries celebrate a religious holiday on December 26.  For example, Germany, The Netherlands and Poland, celebrate the day as a “Second Christmas Day.”  In the Catalonia region of Spain the day is celebrated as “St. Stephen’s Day.”

BD’s origins are murky.  There are various theories.  Based on my research it appears that the holiday can be traced at least to medieval England where it was customary for the aristocracy to allow their servants to spend the day after Christmas with their families.  After all, the servants were obligated to serve their masters on Christmas Day rather than spend the holiday with their families.  Each servant would receive a “box” containing food, clothing, and/or other gifts to bring home to his or her family.

Over time, this practice was extended to tradesmen and others who performed services for the aristocrats.  Perhaps, this was a forerunner to the present-day custom in many parts of the US of giving Christmas gifts to various persons who perform services for us on a regular basis, such as mail carriers, doormen, manicurists, and hairstylists.

The earliest mention of the term “Christmas box” was in Samuel Pepys’ diary in 1663. (Pepys was a member of Parliament during the 17th century who was famous for keeping a diary.)  Others believe the day’s roots go back to Roman times when it was customary to place a metal box, aka the Alms Box, outside the church during the “Feast of St. Stephen” to collect donations for the poor.

BD celebrations vary from country to country.  For instance:

1. In the UK it is a bank holiday.  If it falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, it is celebrated on the following Monday or Tuesday, respectively.
2. In Ireland it is celebrated on December 26, regardless of which day of the week it falls on, as St. Stephens Day.
3. In Australia it is a federal holiday.  In the state of South Australia it is celebrated as “Proclamation Day,” which commemorates the establishment of South Australia as a British province in 1834.  Supposedly, the proclamation was promulgated at “The Old Gum Tree” in what is presently the suburb of Glenelg North in SA.  Originally, December 28 was designated as PD, but, at some point, it was changed to the first business day after Christmas (probably to accommodate those who wanted to create an extended holiday period).
4. In Canada and New Zealand BD is celebrated as a statutory holiday; that is, it is celebrated on December 26 regardless of the day of the week.
5. In Nigeria BD is celebrated on December 26 as a public holiday for workers and students.  If it falls on Saturday or Sunday, it is observed on the following Monday.
6. In some countries, notably Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand BD is a huge shopping day, akin to “Black Friday” in the US.  Retailers have extended hours and hold sales.  Shoppers line up early just like on “Black Friday.” Much like in the US, retailers have expanded the Christmas shopping season in order to generate additional revenue. Some retailers in those countries have expanded the period of observation to “Boxing Week.”
7. In addition, all of the aforementioned countries hold a variety of sporting events to mark the day (soccer, rugby, cricket, horse racing, ice hockey, even boxing).

CONCLUSION

Like many holidays, the original significance of BD has been lost and it has become commercialized excessively.  Such is the way of the modern world.

For most Americans, December 26 is merely a day to extend the Christmas holiday and, in some cases, to “recuperate” from it.  This year, with Christmas being on a Wednesday, many people will create a long weekend/minivacation, adding either Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday to the holiday, or, perhaps, the entire week.  However you choose to spend the day I hope you enjoy it.

IMPEACHMENT UPDATE. THE VOTE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

In my view, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is about to lead the House Dems off a political cliff.  For the better part of three years, Pelosi, who is generally recognized as a politically savvy leader, had insisted that impeachment should not go forward until and unless there were “bi-partisan support” for it.  That position made sense politically, morally and constitutionally.  Recently, however, she has changed her position, and commenced to support impeachment.  As most of you know, the decisive vote regarding impeachment is scheduled for tomorrow.

Why did she do it?  Why would such a politically savvy leader make such a blunder?  Blind hatred for President Trump?  Perhaps.  Did the recent telephone call between Messrs. Trump and Zelensky sway her even though the transcript of the call did not, in the eyes of most people, demonstrate any clearly impeachable activity?  Maybe.  Did she finally succumb to the far left coastal twitter wing of the party?  Possibly.  I think it was probably some combination of the three.

In any event, by following this path she will likely be sacrificing the political careers of the 31 moderate House Dems who won districts in 2018 that Mr. Trump had carried in 2016.  How?  By pressuring them to vote in favor of impeachment even though everyone knows there is ZERO chance of securing a conviction in the Senate.  ZERO, ZILTCH, NADA, NONE!   Polls show that most of those aforementioned voters are likely to return to Mr. Trump in 2020.

Folks, the House impeachment process is just for “show.”  It will not accomplish anything except to placate the Trump-haters.

In an interesting sidebar, one House Dem, Jeff Van Drew, is so opposed to impeachment that he has announced his intention to switch parties and vote against it.  Van Drew is one of the abovementioned 31 Dems.  He represents a “swing” district in southern NJ that is moderate to conservative.  His own statewide polling has indicated he is unpopular among his constituency and would face a tough primary fight, so switching parties makes sense politically.  He was one of two Dems who voted against the impeachment inquiry in October.

His action has been widely controversial.   The Dem Governor of NJ, Phil Murphey accused him of choosing “his political career over our Constitution.”  Moreover, several of his staff members have resigned in protest.  On the other hand,  President Trump supported his action, tweeting that it was “very smart.”  Furthermore, GOP National Committee spokeswoman, Mandi Merritt said Van Drew’s action illustrated the “political risk” of voting for impeachment.  She added, “even Dems know this entire impeachment witch hunt is a sham.  It is clear that in today’s rabid Dem Party, moderates need not apply.”

In my opinion, Van Drew is following his conscience, which I wish more Dems would do.  I don’t mean they should switch parties.  That is a drastic and unusual action.  Rather, if they truly oppose impeachment they should have the courage to vote against it.

CONCLUSION

As I have said in previous blogs following this impeachment process is like watching an automobile crash in slow motion.   You can see what will happen, but you are powerless to stop it.  One can only sit back and watch it happen.  Moderate Dems cannot be happy.  with the way this has played out; GOPers are ecstatic.

As this goes  on, it is becoming more likely not only that Mr. Trump will win re-election but that the GOP may very well recapture the House.  For your information, a “USA Today”/Suffolk University poll out just today became the first poll to report Mr. Trump beating every Dem candidate nationally, thus confirming a prediction that I and many others have been stating for months.  Keep it up, Dems.

 

DANNY AIELLO

He was one of the most versatile entertainers of his generation.  He appeared in over 90 movies from 1973 to 2019.  Many of them are classics with famous co-stars, such as “Bang the Drum Slowly” with Robert DeNiro (1973), “Godfather Part II” with Al Pacino and a host of other big-name stars (1974), “The Front” (1976) with Woody Allen, “Fort Apache, The Bronx” with Paul Newman (1981), “Moonstruck” with Cher (1987), and “Do the Right Thing” (1989) with Spike Lee, for which he earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor.   Interestingly, in the “Godfather” he played a hit-man.  While killing a rival gangster, Frank Pentangeli, he ad-libbed the line, which you may remember, “Michael Corleone says hello!”

In addition, he made several appearances on tv, winning a daytime Emmy for a guest appearance on an ABC “Afterschool Special” entitled “A Family of Strangers.”  Furthermore, he appeared in various theatre productions, both on and off Broadway.  Finally, he was an accomplished singer.  He released several big band recordings , such as “I Just Wanted to Hear the Words” (2004) and standards fused with rap, such as “Bridges” (2011).

Daniel Louis Aiello, Jr. came from very humble beginnings.  One might say his success fit that old cliché, “only in America.”  He was born on June 20, 1933 on the West Side of Manhattan, NYC, the fifth of six children.  When he was seven the family moved to the South Bronx,  He had a very tough childhood.  His mother was a seamstress, who eventually lost her eyesight and became legally blind.  His father was a common laborer who deserted the family.  Danny always resented his father.  Yes, humble beginnings, indeed.

At 16 Danny lied about his age and joined and the Army.  Upon his release he returned to NYC where he worked at various odd jobs.  For example, he served as president of NY  Local 1202 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represented Greyhound Bus workers, and he was a bouncer, and later emcee, at the “Improv,” a well-known NYC comedy club.

As mentioned above, in 1973 he broke into the movies.  According to his nephew, Yankees broadcaster and radio sports talk show host, Michael Kay, he did so without the benefit of any acting lessons.  He was just naturally talented.  As I said above, he enjoyed a very long career – nearly 50 years – and versatile – movies, tv, Broadway and music.

Danny leaves behind his wife, Sandy, to whom he was married for 64 years, and four children.  How many entertainers do you know of who were married to the same wife for 64 years?  Not too many.

Danny died suddenly on December 12 of an infection while hospitalized for an undisclosed illness.  Rest in peace, Danny.   You will be sorely missed.

 

LOVE STORY AMID THE HORRORS OF AUSCHWITZ

As you know, every day we are besieged with news stories that exhibit the worst human behavior – wanton violence and murder, accusations of racism and misogynism, animosity inflamed by an irresponsible media, and impeachment, which has divided the country, to name a few examples.  In the midst of all of the foregoing it is nice to report a feel-good story.

The following story is such an example.  It is a summary of a story that was reported in the “NY Times” on December 8, 2019 by Karen Blankfeld.  Many thanks to my friend and loyal reader, Larry, for bringing it to my attention.

This tale is so improbable that it would likely be rejected by Hollywood as too unrealistic to be made into a movie.  In the interest of time and space I will only present a summary of it.  You can read it in full detail on the NYT website, if you are so inclined.

It began in 1943 in Auschwitz, perhaps, the most notorious of all the Nazi-run concentration camps.  Upon arrival, seventeen year old David Wisnia had been assigned to the “corpse unit.”  His gruesome task was to collect the bodies of prisoners who had committed suicide by throwing themselves against one of the electrified fences surrounding the compound and drag them to a designated barracks where they would be hauled off by trucks for disposal.  Notice, I did not say “burial.”  That would imply a respectful ceremony.  Instead, these corpses were simply hauled off and dumped like so much garbage, which was exactly how the Nazis viewed the Jewish prisoners.

Wisnia had always dreamed of singing opera in NY.  He already had two aunts living in the Bronx.  As a boy, he had written a letter to President Roosevelt requesting a visa, but it was rejected.  Eventually, through a stroke of luck, the camp guards ascertained that Wisner was a gifted singer with an opera-quality voice.  Thereafter, he was transferred to the “Sauna.”  His new job was to disinfect the clothing of new arrivals, which were to be reused after the owners were murdered.  Ironically, the disinfecting agent used was the same Zykion B gas used in the gas chamber to murder the prisoners.  In addition, he was tasked with singing to the guards for their entertainment.

Helen Spitzer, 25, was a talented graphic designer.  She had come to Auschwitz in March of 1942 from Slovakia.  She had attended a technical college and had become the first woman in the area to complete an apprenticeship as a graphic artist.  Upon arrival she was assigned grueling demolition work at Birkenau, a sub-camp.  Like most prisoners, she became malnourished and suffered from various diseases, such as typhus, malaria and diarrhea.  Eventually, however, due to her graphic design skills, her ability to speak German and sheer happenstance she obtained an office job and became the camp’s graphic designer.

The benefits of this new job were considerable.  She worked in an office where she performed tasks such as registering new arrivals, maintaining records, and designing the prisoners’ uniforms.  She received extra food rations, was allowed to shower regularly, wore better clothes with no armband, and, most importantly, was allowed to venture outside the women’s section.

Despite all these benefits Spitzer was never a collaborator or even a dreaded kapo.  Rather, according to Konrad Kwiet, a professor at the University of Sydney and noted historian and Holocaust scholar,  through her access to camp records, she was able to manipulate to records to reassign prisoners to more favorable jobs, prevent or delay transports, and most significantly, provide information to resistance groups in the area.

As Blankfeld tells it, Spitzer had spotted Wisner at the “Sauna” and contrived to set up a meeting in a secluded spot.  Following the initial meeting they began to meet on a regular basis.  Their clandestine meetings were always abetted by other prisoners who Spitzer bribed to watch over them and warn them if a guard were approaching.  They became lovers, and even hatched a plan to meet up in Warsaw after the war (if they both survived).

To make a long story short, even though they both survived the war they never managed to meet as planned – for 72 years.  Their survival skills and, yes, luck, continued after they left Auschwitz.

In December 1944 Wisner was transferred to Dachau.  Later, he was part of the notorious Dachau “death march.”  In a vain effort to elude the American and Russian armies, some 7,000 prisoners were force-marched from Dachau to another camp, Tegernsee.  Any prisoners who could not keep up were summarily shot or bayonetted.  At one point, Wisnia obtained a hand shovel, which he used to kill a guard and escape.  The next day, while hiding in a barn he heard some troops approaching.  He ran to them not knowing if they were American (good) or Russian (bad).  Luckily for him, they were American (101st Airborne).

The troops took him with them and basically “adopted” him.  They fed him, clothed him, and taught him how to shoot a rifle.  Due to his knowledge of German he became their interpreter.  In a delicious irony he participated in interrogations of captured Germans, which often got contentious.  “Our boys were not so nice to the SS,” he remembered.

After the war, eventually Wisnia made his way to America.  He married, settled in the Philadelphia area, raised four children who gave him six grandchildren, and carved out a nice career as a cantor.  He never made it to Warsaw.

Years later, a fellow former prisoner told him Spitzer was alive and living in Manhattan.  This friend arranged a meeting.  Wisnia drove two hours from Levittown, PA, where he was living, to Manhattan to meet her.  She never showed up.  Perhaps, her reluctance was because she was married at the time.

Spitzer was one of the last prisoners to leave Auschwitz.  She was transferred first to Ravensbruck and then to Malchow.  Finally, she was forcibly evacuated in a “death march.”  She escaped by ingeniously removing the identifying red stripe from her clothing and blending in with the local population.  For a time, she helped smuggle Jewish refugees to Palestine.  Eventually, she ended up at a displaced persons’ camp in the American zone of Germany called Feldafing.  There she met Erwin Tichauer, the camp’s acting police chief and a UN security officer.  They married in September 1945.

Because of her husband’s status Spitzer was considered “top management.”  She distributed food  and other supplies to other displaced persons.  She even got to accompany Generals Eisenhower and Patton on a tour of the camp.

The Tichauers devoted many years to humanitarian causes throughout the world in such places as Peru, Bolivia, Indonesia and Australia. They never had any children.  Eventually, they emigrated to the US, settling first in Texas and then NYC where Dr. Tichauer taught at NYU.

As the years went by, Wisnia continued to keep tabs on Spitzer through his aforementioned friend.  Finally, in 2016 he decided to reach out again.  One of his sons arranged the meeting.  They met in Spitzer’s Manhattan apartment.  Spitzer’s husband had died.

It was a bitter-sweet reunion.   She was very ill, bed-bound, nearly deaf and blind.  At first, she didn’t recognize him, but when he leaned in really close, she did and they had a lovely reunion.  Spitzer revealed she had used her position to save Wisnia from transport five times.  In addition, she disclosed that she had indeed gone to their meeting place in Warsaw and waited for him, but he never came.  So sad.

That was their only meeting – 72 years too late.  Spitzer died soon after at the ripe old age of 100.

CONCLUSION

Wisner and Spitzer definitely beat the odds.  They each survived two years at Auschwitz, whereas most prisoners only made it for a few months.  Many were sent directly to the gas chambers upon arrival, no questions asked.  Some 1.1 million were murdered there.

Their improbable love story is extremely inspiring.  Somehow, they managed to find and sustain love among the horrors of Auschwitz.  Unfortunately, through twists of fate they were never able to meet and marry after the war until it was too late.

INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT – SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

The Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, has released his long-awaited report  to the public.   As an overview, in my opinion, it contains some conclusions that support both Dems and the GOP, both Trump haters and Trump supporters.  Huh, you say?  How can that be?  Read on, and you will see what I mean.

I have not read the full report, nor do I intend to wade through some 450 pages of gobbledygook and “lawyer-speak.”  After all, I am writing a 1,000 word blog, not a 1,000 page book.  But I have parsed through various news articles and cable news programs and opinions and have ascertained what I believe to be the salient points of the report.  Below please find the highlights (or lowlights).

  1. First, a brief background.  As far back as 2016, the  Trump campaign has been maintaining that the FBI was conducting an “improper” and “illegal” investigation of it motivated by political bias.  Mr. Trump has characterized it as a “witch hunt.” In March 2018, at the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and various GOP lawmakers, Horowitz launched his investigation of these allegations.  This Report is the culmination of the investigation.  It is an extensive and comprehensive document, the product of in excess of one million documents and 170 interviews.
  2. As reported in the “Washington Post,” “Politics USA,” “USA Today,” and elsewhere, the Report denoted that the FBI was justified from a legal point of view in initiating an inquiry into alleged Russian interference of the 2016 presidential election.   Horowitz characterized it as having a valid “legal purpose.”  Conversely, the Report cited several “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the FISA warrant applications the FBI filed to continue its probe.   Those sentences neatly summarize the situation, and give everyone something to “hang their hat” on.  Indeed, the Post reported that both Dems and Republicans “declared victory.”
  3. The FBI has received widespread criticism for its conduct, not only from the Report, itself, but also from others.  For example, as reported in “USA Today,” the report was particularly critical of the FBI’s handling of the surveillance of  Carter Page and its reliance on information supplied by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.  You may recall that it was Steele who authored the infamous “dossier” that, according to Rep Jim Jordan, was funded by the Clinton campaign and formed the key basis for the FISA warrants.  Rep. Mark Meadows labeled the Report “deeply disturbing.”  He added that “some former FBI and DOJ officials are about to have some serious explaining to do.”  Additionally, AG William Barr opined it was “clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a US presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”  Barr’s opinion is significant since he is overseeing a separate investigation, to be led by US Attorney John Durham, into the whole Russian matter.  This investigation will have a far wider purview than the IG Report.   For example, it will include foreign sources that the IG report was not authorized to tap..
  4. The Post, although declaring that the report “rebutted” assertions that  certain FBI officials were driven by “political bias,” opined that it disclosed “broad and serious performance failures requiring major changes.”
  5.  I am particularly concerned about the issue of the FISA warrants as should all private citizens.  They formed the justification for spying on Trump campaign officials and were the basis for all that followed – the investigation of Russian collusion, the Mueller investigation, impeachment hearings and the articles of impeachment, themselves.   The Report asserted the FBI’s applications, particularly the three renewals, which were signed by Jim Comey, were riddled with errors, omissions, and outright lies.  They contained “at least 17 significant inaccuracies and omissions” that misled the judges who signed off on the warrants.  US Attorney John Durham stated bluntly that “we [the DOJ] do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as predication and how the FBI case was opened.”  “USA Today” reported that the report described the FISA warrant process followed as “so dysfunctional as to call into question the protocol for taking such a crucial investigative step – wiretapping a campaign operative – in a case involving a presidential election.”   Despite the foregoing, “PBS News Hour ” stated the Report “does not claim that intentional misconduct occurred.”  Huh?  In my opinion, the blatant abuse of the FISA warrant process is the most serious problem disclosed as there is supposed to be a high legal standard for approving FISA warrants to wiretap US citizens.  Comey should be ashamed of himself.  Hopefully, he will face legal action.
  6. The Post reported that Horowitz has commenced a broader audit of FISA procedures.  He may find extensive abuses of power.
  7. Even those who hate Trump should be concerned as the next victim could be you.  Former Trump campaign official, Carter Page, was particularly victimized by these irregularities, or, perhaps, illegalities.  I believe he is now vindicated to the extent that he may pursue legal action against those individuals and media outlets responsible for perpetrating and/or publicizing these falsehoods.
  8. Horowitz placed culpability on various FBI officials including “senior officials in the chain of command.”
  9.  The IG recommended that, prospectively, highly sensitive investigations, such as those of major presidential campaigns, should be closely supervised by the Justice Department.  I agree.  In my view, there is a good chance that the FISA process is routinely abused, but that’s a subject for another blog on another day..
  10. FBI Director, Christopher Wray,  told the Post he feels the FBI’s “credibility and brand are central to fulfilling [its] mission.”   Therefore, he accepted the IG’s findings and has already commenced to review and update the FBI’s procedures.  He declared,  “I have already ordered more than 40 corrective steps to address the report’s recommendations.”  Uh huh.
  11. Some additional quotes:

a.  Ted Cruz – A “stunning abuse of power [by the FBI].”

b. ” USA Today” – “The FBI wiretap of Trump campaign aide was riddled with errors, but [the] Russia probe was legally justified and free from bias.”

c.  President Trump –  The IG Report was “an attempted overthrow” of the government and “a lot of people were in on it, and they got caught.”

d.  US Attorney John Durham – “We do not agree with some of the Report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”

CONCLUSION

In my opinion, the Report is but another step in the sordid post-2016 election affair.  The Post predicted that the report will not be “the last word.”  I concur.  To wit:

  1.  We still have the aforementioned Barr report to come.
  2. The House Dems are proceeding with impeachment.  Indeed, yesterday they announced they are drafting two articles of impeachment – for “abuse of power” and “obstruction.”  Those articles are so vague that they could apply to virtually any action taken by any president, but that is a topic for another blog on another day.  Apparently, they have decided to drop a third article for “bribery.”
  3.  Assuming the House succeeds in impeaching the president, we will likely go through a contentious, but futile, trial in the Senate where he will almost certainly be acquitted.
  4. The whole matter will certainly be a major issue in the 2020 election.
  5. If Mr. Trump were to win re-election this national nightmare will likely extend until 2024.

It appears that we are far from done with this.  And who are the ultimate losers?  Not the Dems.  Not Mr. Trump.  The American people.

 

IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS PART II

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  That appears to be the mantra of the House Dems.  The first impeachment hearings, conducted by the House (un)Intelligence Committee failed miserably.   They controlled the entire proceedings, such as which witnesses were allowed to testify and which questions they were allowed to be asked.  What did we find out?  In summary, a lot of opinion, but no firsthand accounts of impeachable offenses, no collusion, no obstruction, no smoking gun, and ultimately, no interest outside the Beltway and a few fake news cable outlets.

Still, the House Dems, undeterred, are determined to press on.  They continue to tilt at the big orange windmill (apologies to Cervantes and his fictional hero, Don Quixote).  If you thought Round 1 was a colossal waste of time and money, I predict Round 2, to be presided over by the House Judiciary Committee,  will be even worse.  It will be akin to watching a sequel to a bad movie hoping it will be better than the original, but knowing it likely will not.

Wouldn’t it have been more logical and efficient to have one combined impeachment hearing?   Probably, but, as the late comedian, John Belushi, might have said, “noooo!”  Why the public needs to be subjected to two separate impeachment hearings conducted by two separate committees, is anybody’s guess.  But, that is what we will have.  A cynic might conclude that these hearings will drone on indefinitely.

On Day 1 the Committee brought in four witnesses to testify.  Three of them were legal scholars with impressive resumes – Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard, Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina, and Pamela Karlan, a law professor at Stanford University.

Each of them opined that, essentially, President Trump had committed an impeachable offense by “pressuring” Ukraine’s president for “political gain.”   Gerhardt characterized it as “a horrifying abuse of power.”  Feldman stated “if we cannot impeach a president who uses his power for personal advantage, we no longer live in a democracy.”  Karlan added Mr. Trump “must be held to account.”

Their testimonies seemed to be damaging to Mr. Trump, but, once again, they were based on opinion, not firsthand accounts.  They were not “witnesses,” per se.  Moreover, various GOP representatives on the Committee pointed out that each of the three had a strong anti-Trump bias, which damaged their credibility.    For example, Gerhardt and Karlan had donated to Obama’s and Warren’s campaigns.  Also, Karlan had previously stated on tv that she despised Trump so much she could not even walk on the same side of the street as the White House.

Moreover, Karlan made a tasteless comment about Mr. Trump’s 13 year-old son, Barron.  She said: “The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility.  While the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.”  As Ms. Karlan should know, there is an unwritten law in politics that family members, particularly minors, are untouchable.  Ms. Karlan was roundly criticized for her comments, but not nearly as much as a GOPer would have been for criticizing, for example, Obama’s children.

The only witness who made any sense at all was the fourth one, Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University.  While agreeing that a quid pro quo would be an impeachable offense, he opined it has to be proven, and it has not as yet.  He characterized the evidence presented so far as “wafer thin,” … “woefully inadequate,” …  and “dangerous.”   In his opinion, stronger evidence is needed.  Furthermore, he contended that the current case would “collapse” in the Senate.

CONCLUSION

If these are the best witnesses the Committee will be calling these proceedings will be a colossal waste of time, and public support for impeachment will erode further.   Many people are questioning why the anti-Trumpers are pursuing a weak case for impeachment that has no chance in the Senate when there is an election in eleven months.  Those who dislike Mr. Trump can remove him then, legally and as the Constitution provides, by voting him out.  (Of course, they probably realize that they don’t have the votes, and Mr. Trump will likely be re-elected.)

As Josh Holmes, former Chief of Staff for Mitch McConnell, succinctly put it:  “The [House] Dems want to impeach Trump based on [a quid pro quo for] withholding foreign aid that was given in exchange for demanding an investigation that has not yet taken place.”

In summary, the first day of these hearings did not disclose anything new.  As has been the case for the past three years Trump-haters see impeachable offenses, while Trump supporters look at the same facts and see a witch hunt/vendetta/massive waste of time and money.

After all this time I don’t see any possibility of new evidence turning up, but I’m sure the House Dems will still try.  Meanwhile the real problems of the country are not being addressed.

Objective voters are not stupid .  They are not pleased with the “do nothing” Congress (to quote former President Harry Truman), and I expect they will vent their frustrations at the ballot box in November.

A DATE IN INFAMY

Saturday,  December 7, marks the 78th anniversary of one of the most heinous, despicable acts in modern history – Japan’s sneak attack at Pearl Harbor.  In 1994 Congress designated December 7 as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day as a way to remember and pay homage to the thousands of US military and civilian personnel who were killed and wounded in the attack.  The day is not a federal holiday, but flags are flown at half mast and many organizations hold special ceremonies, such the one at the memorial to the USS Arizona.

As President FDR forecast, December 7, 1941 is truly a date that has lived in infamy.  It is one of those dates we can never forget.  It is burned into our very souls.

Mention that date to a person of a certain age and their reaction will be akin to later generations’ reaction to November 22, 1963 or September 11, 2001.  Most any person over the age of five on those dates remembers where he was, what he was doing and how he felt when he heard the news.  Those are dates that had a profound effect on our lives both individually and collectively.

On December 6, 1941 America was still working its way out of the Great Depression, which began in 1929 with the stock market crash.  Unemployment was at 9.9%, not good, but a significant improvement from the peak of 25% in 1932.  Americans were not thinking about war.  After all, we had just fought the “Great War,” (aka, the “war to end wars”).  Sure, there was a war waging in Europe, but we were not involved directly.  We had no boots on the ground, and we had a vast ocean between us and them.  Most Americans were focused on their own lives, not on world events. America was in full isolationist mode.  All that was about to change suddenly, violently, tragically and irrevocably.

We all know what happened on December 7, 1941.  We know that the Japanese executed a devastating surprise attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor that precipitated our involvement in WWII.  Approximately, 3,500 lives were lost, civilian as well as military, along with most of our Pacific Fleet and airplanes.  America switched immediately from peacetime mode to wartime mode.  Patriotism and nationalism abounded.  The “greatest generation” was on the march.

As we all know, America recovered to win the war after four years of intense and costly fighting.  There is no need for me to rehash those events.  The Pacific War has been the subject of numerous books, movies, and tv productions.  The central theme of this blog will focus on the events that led up to the war with Japan.

Every war has its immediate cause and its underlying causes. The attack on Pearl Harbor was the immediate cause. But, what were the underlying causes? What would make Japan start a war that it had virtually no chance of winning? Glad you asked. Read on.

Many, if not most, historians maintain that the US actually provoked Japan into starting the war, although we did not intend for them to devastate our naval fleet in the fashion they did.  Over the course of the 1930’s we took various actions that, in reality, left Japan no choice, to wit:

1. The US was providing assistance to the Chinese who were at war with Japan.  This included providing airplane pilots, armaments and other supplies and materials. Japan had been at war with China since the 1930’s.  Its extreme brutality was exemplified by the Nanking Massacre, aka the Rape of Nanking, which began in December 1937.  In a six-week period over 300,000 Chinese civilians were murdered, and there was widespread raping and looting.  This shocking brutality was a portent of the Pacific War.

2. Along with the British and the Dutch the US military was actively planning prospective military operations against the Japanese in the Far East to counter its aggression.

3. Japan had few natural resources of its own; it needed to import raw materials, such as coal, iron, oil, rubber and bauxite, from the US and other countries in Southeast Asia to fuel its burgeoning industries.  In the late 1930’s the US began to severely limit its access to these materials by enforcing sanctions, limits and embargoes.  This aided the British and the Dutch, who were concerned about Japan’s aggressive behavior in the Far East, but it provoked the Japanese.

4. Thus, one can view the attack on Pearl Harbor, not as an isolated event, but rather, as the last act in a long line of connected ones.

Many historians believe that FDR provoked Japan intentionally, because he wanted to go to war against the Axis Powers, and the American people were decidedly against doing so. Before you scoff at that notion, consider that we have fought other wars following provocations that may or may not have been fabricated. For example:

1. The Spanish-American War in 1898 began when the battleship, “Maine” was blown up in Havana harbor under mysterious circumstances. 75% of her crew was killed. “Remember the Maine” became the signature battle cry of that war.  There is evidence that suggests that the “Maine” was not blown up by the Spanish, but may have blown up by accident or been sabotaged to provide a pretext for us to enter that war.

2. The legal basis for commencing the Vietnam War was the Gulf of Tonkin incidents of August 2 and 4, 1964. A US destroyer, the USS Maddox, exchanged fire with North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf, which is off the coast of Vietnam. As a result, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized President Johnson to assist any Southeast Asian country that was being jeopardized by “communist aggression.”  Johnson was only too eager to do so.  It was later determined that some key facts, such as who fired first, are in dispute.

3. President Bush, 43, “sold” the Iraq War to the American people by asserting there was “proof” that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” Such weapons have never been found.

So, if FDR did, in fact, goad Japan into attacking us so that we could enter the war against the Axis Powers, it would not have been the only time the US Government used that tactic. In the 1950’s the renowned historian Harry Elmer Barnes (who, ironically, later lost much of his credibility by becoming a vociferous denier of the Holocaust) published a series of essays describing the various ways in which the US Government goaded the Japanese into starting a war it could not win and manipulated American public opinion.  After the war, Secretary of War Henry Stimson admitted that “we needed the Japanese to commit the first overt act.”

Most historians agree that even the Japanese leadership in the 1930’s knew it could not win a prolonged war with the US. They realized that the US was vastly superior in terms of men, material and resources, and eventually, it would wear down the Japanese.  That, in fact, is precisely what happened.

In 1941 the die was cast when a more militant, nationalistic government came into power headed by Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.  They spent several months planning the pre-emptive strike. In his best selling book, “Killing the Rising Sun,” Bill O’Reilly denoted that the Japanese sought to imbed spies into the Hawaiian civilian population to gather intelligence.  O’Reilly quoted one senior officer who found out that his Japanese gardener was actually a colonel in the Japanese army.

Many historians believe that the Japanese hierarchy was emboldened, in part, by the successful surprise attack on the Russians in 1905 led by then-Admiral Tojo during the Russo-Japanese War. It had worked once; why not again? Their intention was to neutralize American naval power in the Pacific so that it would be unable to block Japan’s aggression in Southeast Asia. They determined that Sunday would be the best day of the week to attack. They also weighed the advantages and disadvantages of attacking the fleet in the harbor or at sea before settling on the attack in the harbor. Although the battleships were sitting ducks in the more shallow harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz denoted later that one crucial advantage to the US was that we were able to raze several of them later and return them to active duty.

Despite its years of provocations, the US was ill-prepared for an attack. In addition, we had failed to confront the Japanese directly earlier when they could have been dealt with more easily. So, instead of fighting a small war in the 1930s we ended up fighting a world war just a few years later.

One could argue that there are strong parallels between then and our more recent history with respect to various terrorist groups operating in the Middle East and elsewhere. Once again, we failed to deal with the problem when it was manageable (the beginnings of ISIS); once again most of the country was and is very reluctant to get involved in “other people’s problems (Syria and Iraq);” and, we are now embroiled in the more costly aftermath (conflicts, refugees, Russian and Iranian involvement).  History, when ignored, does tend to repeat itself.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, the Japanese underestimated the US. Their leaders knew we were in isolationist mode. They did not think we had the “stomach” to fight a prolonged, brutal war.  Also, they knew we would be fighting the Germans and Italians as well. Furthermore, they figured that with our Pacific Fleet decimated, if not destroyed, we would be unable or unwilling to counter their aggression in the Far East.  The Far East was their end game for reasons discussed above; they were not interested in attacking the US mainland, although much of the US civilian population feared that they would.

Obviously, the Japanese misjudged us.  They were not the first enemy to do so, and, in all likelihood, they will not be the last.