TUSKEGEE AIRMEN

Since February has been designated as Black History month, I thought it appropriate to publish a series of blogs featuring outstanding contributions by African Americans. This blog features the Tuskegee Airmen.

AAs have fought with distinction in every war beginning with the Revolutionary War. In fact, the first colonist to be killed in battle is generally acknowledged to have been an AA, Crispus Attucks, who was slain during the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. Ironically, during the RW AAs fought side-by-side with whites, so technically the American Army was integrated before it was segregated. Moreover, although some AAs fought on the side of the British due to promises of freedom most of them resisted that siren song and remained loyal to the colonies.

At the advent of WWII the military, like much of Americana, was segregated. Racial discrimination was a way of life. It may be incomprehensible to us now, especially the younger among us, but AAs were generally perceived by white America as inferior and not suitable for serving in certain capacities, such as piloting airplanes. This view was fostered and supported by a study by the Army War College in 1925. Moreover, AAs were required to live, train and fight separately from whites, and their units were under the command of white officers. (Ironically, although AAs were required to sit in a separate area in the back of a bus they were required to sit in the front passenger section of trains. The reason was that the steam locomotives of the day belched copious amounts of soot and ash, which made riding uncomfortable in the forward seating areas, particularly during the warm weather when windows were open.)

In spite of the foregoing, a group of AAs had the desire to pilot airplanes. Between 1941 and 1946 some 3,000 of them trained at the Tuskegee Institute, which was located in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen became the first AAs to qualify as pilots. Up to then there had not been any AA pilots in the US. Their ambitious goal was to qualify as pilots and fight for their country. They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The program was initiated and supported by the FDR Administration, which reasoned that with the likelihood of a war the country would require the services of ALL Americans. About 1,000 of that original group survived the rigorous training program and ultimately graduated. By the time the program was concluded some 14,000 pilots and support personnel had been trained. In addition to the rigorous training, they had to endure the aforementioned discrimination and preconceptions of inferiority among Army personnel.

The program received a significant public relations boost from the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1941 she famously flew with an AA flight instructor, C. Alfred Anderson. Upon landing safely she proclaimed to him “well, you can fly, all right.”

Initially, Tuskegee graduates were afforded very little respect by the powers-that-be. Typically, they were deployed to North Africa rather than Europe and designated to fly the more obsolete equipment. Later, they were permitted to fly the more advanced fighters, such as P51 Mustangs. At first, they were tasked with escorting bombers, which was generally perceived to be less risky than flying sorties. Whether by accident or design, most of the bombing crews were unaware that they were being protected by AA crews. There were some losses, but Army records disclosed that their “protection rate” was as good as that of white pilots. The TAs became known as “Red Tails” owing to their habit of painting the tail sections of their planes red.

The Army carefully restricted where the TAs were assigned and what they were permitted to do. For instance, as I said, at first, they were discouraged from directly engaging the enemy in “dogfights,” but eventually they did so and with distinction. Tuskegee Airmen recorded 112 confirmed kills. Eighty-four TAs were killed in battle, and 30 others were captured. In addition, they were permitted to bomb the Japanese but not white Europeans. Apparently, the Army was more concerned with offending the sensibilities of the Nazis and fascists than with its own people.

CONCLUSION

The TA pilots served with distinction, and, as a result, paved the way for all people of color who would follow. Many historians credit them, in part, for the US’s integrating the Armed Services, which President Truman mandated by Executive Order in 1948.

Some of their accomplishment were:

  1. Flying 1,578 combat missions.
  2. Flying 179 bomber escort missions.
  3. Destroying 112 enemy aircraft.
  4. Earning various medals, including one Silver Star, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars , 744 Air Medals and eight Purple Hearts.
  5. Collectively, being awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
  6. Four have become generals, and many others have gone on to be successful in other endeavors.

Despite this stellar record of accomplishments old habits die hard, and the TAs continued to bear the brunt of racism and discrimination for years afterward. Today, many consider the US military to be the ultimate meritocracy. I believe that is due, in no small part, to the achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen.

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BIDEN’S COVID RELIEF BILL AND OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS

President Biden has been in office for approximately one month. At this point, I think it is fair to evaluate his performance to date. Up to now, I have restrained myself and refrained from commenting on Biden’s performance, but at this point I can no longer do so. What follows is strictly my opinion. Some of you will agree; others of you will not. That’s okay. It’s a free country and all of us are entitled to our own opinions (at least I think that is still the case).

Below please find a list of his positive accomplishments:

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You will note the space is blank. That is not an oversight. That is not a typing or software glitch. Rather, in my opinion he has had no positive accomplishments. I challenge you to tell me I’m wrong. Give me one positive accomplishment. One that will benefit the country, not special interests, and not foreign countries. Just one.

Now, for the negative ones. There have been many, but time and space only allow me to list the most egregious ones.

  1. Wasting weeks on another impeachment and trial of former President Trump. We can argue whether or not Trump incited an insurrection or violated any other impeachable laws, but most legal scholars agree that the Constitution does not give Congress the authority to impeach and remove a president who is no longer in office. Legalities aside, it’s nonsensical, a contradiction in terms. Ball game over on that one. Moreover, I’m sure Congress had other more pressing matters it could have been addressing, such as, for instance, dealing with COVID and the economy.
  2. Halting the Keystone Pipeline. Not only did this eliminate thousands of good paying jobs that are irreplaceable, it, once again, makes us dependent on other countries for our energy, and it will raise energy costs for all Americans. We can see evidence of this at the pumps already.
  3. Rejoining the Paris peace accords. We could debate the pros and cons of that, but in my view it benefits “energy wasters” and “environmental polluters,” such as China and India, not us.
  4. He has presented a “soft” approach to Iran and its nuclear aspirations. Does anyone REALLY believe Iran will live up to its end of the deal? If you do, I have a bridge I can sell you.
  5. He has signaled that our southern border is once again, open. It’s “come one, come all,” no waiting, no restrictions, qualify for a path to amnesty, get free healthcare and other benefits, and in the midst of a pandemic, no less.

These are bad enough, but the “topper” is the proposed COVID relief bill. The bill contains a minimal amount for COVID-related relief, such as small stimulus checks and some relief for small businesses. Fine. But, on the other hand, it is loaded with “pork” for special interests, primarily Biden supporters. In a recent news conference Biden defended the bill challenging reporters with “what would you have me eliminate [from the bill]!?” His implication was that there was nothing. Everything in the bill was essential.

Okay Joe I’m going to do you a favor. Here is a list of what you can eliminate. I provide this to you free of charge. A gift from me to you. Again, I challenge you, the reader, to defend any of these as beneficial to any but a particular special interest group.

  1. Billions and billions for education, such as preparing schools to reopen. Keep in mind that public schools in many states have been open; private schools have been open, and schools in many other countries have been open, all with few, if any, cases of COVID. Most everyone knows that the teachers’ unions’ hardline refusal to go back to work is uncalled for and does a disservice to the children. The Biden administration’s refusal to pressure the teachers’ unions is nothing more than a payback for their campaign contributions.
  2. $270 million for “arts and endowments.”
  3. $200 million for museums and libraries.
  4. $100 million for silicon valley transit (whatever that is).
  5. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
  6. A bridge from NY to Canada (pork for Schumer).
  7. And my favorite, a “Blue States Bailout.” The fiscally-responsible states will be paying for the financial misdeeds of the profligate states.

CONCLUSION

Some of the foregoing may have some merit. Those items can and should be debated. But, they do not belong in a COVID relief bill. It’s just a cheap Dem trick to conflate the special interest pork with the legitimate COVID relief to force the GOP to vote for it. This is why the Dems delayed this bill until after the election in the hopes that they would win the presidency and have a majority in Congress.

Anyone who objects to the bill will doubtless be branded by the Dems and the media as callous toward the needy. Keep in mind that some $1.4 billion approved in previous COVID-relief bills remains unspent.

In my opinion, this bill, as written, is excessive and inflationary. We cannot continue to print money ad infinitum without consequences. The prudent and fiscally responsible course of action would be to pass the portions truly earmarked for COVID relief and table the other areas to a later date. Unfortunately, “prudent” and “fiscally responsible” will never be found in the same sentence with Congress.

Biden’s foregoing actions should not have come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention for the past year. Unfortunately, many voters were getting their news from the “fake news” media outlets. For them, this has been a rude awakening. Unfortunately there will likely be additional bombshells prospectively.

RUSH LIMBAUGH

To his supporters, people like Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Mark Levin and Newt Gingrich, he was an idol, a demigod of talk radio. For 30 some years he hosted a nationally syndicated talk radio show, The Rush Limbaugh Show. In addition, from 1992 to 1996 he hosted a tv talk show. In 2019 Talkers Magazine reported that his radio program was the most popular show in the country, reaching an audience of approximately 15.5 million persons.

Many of his supporters listened to his show religiously to ascertain his opinion on political events. They considered him to be the bellwether of conservatism and conservative views. Whenever serious or controversial issues arose their initial reaction was “what does Rush think?” To them, his opinions were “gospel.” On the other hand, to his detractors he was a bombastic, acerbic, derisive, sarcastic, sardonic, opinionated bigot, public enemy number one, if you will. He was a lightning rod for criticism, which bothered him not in the least. In his opinion, it was a badge of honor. It came with the territory. It was a consequence of being the primary conservative voice in a field dominated by liberals.

You could love him; you could hate him. But, one thing you could NOT do was ignore him. As I said, for over 30 years he was the number one voice on political talk radio. Heck, he virtually invented the genre. In 1988 when his show began there were only 200 or so talk radio programs in the entire country; now there are in excess of 4,000. That development was not entirely due to Limbaugh, but there is no denying he was a major factor.

Rush Hudson Limbaugh, III was born on January 12, 1951 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. His father was a lawyer who had served as a fighter pilot in the South Pacific during WWII. The Limbaughs were a distinguished family in Missouri. Several of Limbaugh’s relatives were also lawyers, including a few federal judges. Limbaugh’s unusual first name was originally bestowed upon his grandfather to honor the maiden name of a relative, and it was passed down to his father and him.

In high school Rush was a decent, though not outstanding, student. He played football, but his primary interest was working in radio. Upon graduation he briefly attended Southeast Missouri State University mainly to placate his parents, but he dropped out after just two semesters to pursue his true love. According to his mother Rush “flunked everything…. he just didn’t seem interested in anything except radio.”

Based on my research I would characterize Rush’s early career as aimless and a study in failure to accept authority. He bounced from job to job in radio. In every case, he left after a short time due to a “personality conflict” or a “difference of opinion” with his supervisor. For example:

  1. His first job after dropping out of college was as a DJ at a station in McKeesport, PA. He used an “airname” of “Bachelor Jeff Christie.” He was fired after 18 months due to a “personality conflict” with the program director. Perhaps, a clue as to the nature of the conflict could be explained by the station manager’s characterization of his style as “early Imus.” Those of you who are familiar with Don Imus’ early career and shenanigans will understand.
  2. Rush landed a job as host of a morning weekend public affairs talk program. That, also, was short-lived.
  3. He took a job hosting an evening talk show in Kansas City. That lasted but a few weeks due to “disagreements with management.”
  4. Next, he decided to abandon radio and transition into sales. He landed a job in group sales with the Kansas City Royals Baseball Team. This job had two significant occurrences. He became friends with future Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, and his extensive business trips to other countries honed his conservative values and views.
  5. Shortly thereafter he returned to radio, still in KC. Again, he was fired in short order.
  6. He moved to Sacramento for another talk radio gig. Finally, he met with some success.
  7. The turning point in Rush’s career came in July 1988 when he moved to NY and started his talk radio show on WABC. In 2014 he moved his show to WOR, also in NY. Thus, began his meteoric rise and the development of the Rush Limbaugh style with which we are all familiar.

In short order his show was being carried by over 650 radio stations. In 1990 NY Times journalist Lewis Grossberger wrote that Rush has “more listeners than any other talk show host.” Rush’s show aired for three hours each and every day nationally on both AM and FM radio as well as worldwide on the Armed Forces radio. Think of the amount of influence he would have wielded with that extensive an audience. Furthermore, imagine the challenge of talking for three hours a day, day after day and still managing to hold the interest of a national audience. Any host will tell you it is not easy. Rush succeeded beyond all expectations. Furthermore, his success paved the way for generations of conservative talk show hosts to follow, such as Bill O’Reilly and the aforementioned Messrs. Beck, Hannity and Levin as they freely admit. In 2007 Talkers Magazine recognized Rush’s success by including him in its “Heavy Hundred” list of most significant talk show hosts. In 2018 Rush was recognized as the second highest paid talk show host. Can you guess who was #1? See answer below.

Rush was not afraid of expressing his opinions freely. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. He seemed to relish the controversy he regularly created. Some highlights (or perhaps rather lowlights):

  1. He was an ardent supporter of the Gulf War. He criticized peace advocates relentlessly.
  2. He was sharply critical of President Bill Clinton’s policies and First Lady, Hillary.
  3. He attacked Dem policies relentlessly, and many credit him with helping the GOP regain control of Congress in 1994.
  4. He once quipped that “all newspaper composite pictures of wanted criminals resembled Jesse Jackson.”
  5. He compared NFL football games to a “contest between the Crips and the Bloods (two LA street gangs) without weapons.”
  6. He sharply and frequently criticized liberal politicians’ positions on immigration.
  7. He was an ardent critic of President Obama’s policies and resented that those who criticized him or his policies were accused of racism. He was one of those who advanced the “birther” issue.
  8. He was an early and ardent supporter of Donald Trump.
  9. He was a severe critic of lenient treatment of drug dealers and users (which was ironic due to his later issues with oxy).
  10. He was a strong critic of the Green New Deal and its advocates.
  11. He mocked the actor Michael J. Fox’s struggles with Parkinson’s disease, accusing him of exaggerating its effects while recording a political commercial.
  12. He was slow to recognize the existential danger of the coronavirus, likening it to the “common cold” (although, in fairness, he was not the only one to underestimate the disease early on).

CONCLUSION

Rush’s personal life was not without controversy.

  1. He was married four times and thrice divorced.
  2. As I mentioned above he became addicted to oxycodone and hydrocodone, which he admitted on air and for which he sought treatment.
  3. When returning from a trip to the Dominican Republic he was caught at the airport with copious amounts of Viagra (and no valid prescription).
  4. He became, in his words, “100%, totally deaf,” which necessitated cochlear implant surgery.

Rush was the recipient of numerous awards, too many to list them all here. I have already mentioned some of them. Perhaps, the highlight was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was presented to him by First Lady, Melania Trump at the 2020 State of the Union address. The PMF is the highest civilian award. In addition, he appeared in the 1995 movie, Forget Paris, with Billy Crystal, was a frequent guest on tv shows, such as the Late Show with David Letterman, and the author of several books.

In short, Rush was a complicated and controversial man. However, in my view, his status as the premier conservative voice of his time cannot be denied. Moreover, many consider him to have been the father of talk radio as we know it today.

In the last year or so of his life Rush’s public battle with lung cancer was heart-wrenching to follow. He fought bravely and continued to work, but he finally succumbed on February 17. His fourth wife, Kathryn, was at his side at the end.

Rest in peace Rush. You had your faults (like all of us) and you had your detractors, (like most of us) but the significance of your contributions to society cannot be denied. Your name will live on, and you will be sorely missed.

Quiz answer: Howard Stern

BLACK HISTORY MONTH

It is impossible to discuss Black history without discussing the slave trade. Since February has been designated as Black History Month,  I thought it appropriate to publish a blog on the topic discussing not only the sordid history of slavery, but also the many significant accomplishments of AAs.

Slave trading is as old as recorded history.  Ancient peoples, such as the Egyptians, Arabs and Romans, among others, were active practitioners.  Before the industrial revolution took hold, slaves were essential to do the back-breaking physical labor required, such as, for example, building the pyramids, tilling the fields, and rowing the huge warships. Basically, if you lost a war you were either killed or enslaved.  Slaves were not viewed as people.  They were perceived as property to be bought, sold, raped, beaten, or otherwise mistreated.

Most present-day African-Americans (AAs) are the descendants of slaves that were transported from the west coast areas of Africa to the Americas from the late 16th century through 1865.  Most of these slaves were captured in raids conducted by white slave traders, however, it was not uncommon for African chiefs, (for example, those located in Benin and Mali), to sell black prisoners of war to these “slavers.”

The slaves’ passage from Africa to America, which normally took six months, was beyond brutal. Without going into too much graphic detail, the trip, itself, was probably worse than what awaited them at the end.  First of all, the slaves were separated by gender.  Men were generally put in the ship’s hold where they were so crowded that often they had no space to lie down.  Starvation and disease were rampant.  Many slaves died en route and were dumped unceremoniously overboard.  Women were kept closer to the crew.  Rape was common.  Occasionally there would be a rebellion, but these were quickly and brutally suppressed.  All in all, some 12 million AAs were transported to America in this manner, but countless others never made it.

The first slaves arrived in present-day US in 1619 at the ironically-named Point Comfort near present-day Hampton, VA.  This was some 30 miles from Jamestown, which, as some of you will recall, was the first permanent English settlement in the New World.  The English settlers treated these early arrivals as indentured servants, rather than slaves, and released them after they had completed their period of indenture.  However, before long, this practice was replaced by outright slavery.  It is estimated that only about 5% of the slaves were transported to the American colonies.  The vast majority were shipped to the West Indies, or even South America, where the working conditions were significantly more brutal (harder work and inferior food and medical care) and the death rates substantially higher.

Quiz question: What was the first American colony to legalize slavery? Answer below.

In early America, owning slaves was common.  Many, if not most, of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. For example, Thomas Jefferson owned some 200.  Before you condemn them for that, however, consider that slave ownership was a symptom of the times in which they lived, and I do not believe it is appropriate to judge them by today’s standards as many are wont to do. It has been documented that even some free blacks owned slaves.

By the early 19th century slavery had become more commonplace in the South than the North. Without going into excessive detail, slaves were an economic necessity to work the vast plantations that produced cotton and other crops on which the South’s economy depended. Meanwhile, the North had become more industrialized and less reliant on slave labor. The two regions were on a collision course that ultimately resulted in the Civil War, followed by Reconstruction, “Jim Crow” laws, and segregation that lasted well into the 20th century.

AAs have distinguished themselves in every war. For example, the first person to give his life for freedom during the Revolutionary War was an AA, Crispus Attucks, who perished at the Boston Massacre in 1775.  Some 5,000 AAs fought in the Continental Army, side by side with whites. Therefore, technically, the US Army was integrated before it was segregated.  Even after the British and their loyalist supporters offered to free any slave who joined their side, many AAs stayed loyal to the Revolution.

During the Civil War approximately 200,000 free blacks and former slaves fought with the Union Army both before and after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.  During WWI the armed forces were still segregated, and most AA units were relegated to support roles.  Even so, a few units, such as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” did see combat. That unit ended up serving on the front lines for six months, longer than any other unit, and 171 of its members were awarded the Legion of Merit. Moreover, Corporal Freddie Stowers of another unit was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously.  Sadly, somehow, the Army (intentionally or not) “misplaced” his paperwork at the time, but his surviving sisters received it on his behalf from President Bush 41 in 1991.

Nearly 2 million AAs served in the US military during WWII, once again, in segregated units. Many of them, such as the famed Tuskegee Airmen, did so with distinction.  Over 700 AAs were killed, and many more were wounded.  Undoubtedly, their bravery and patriotism was one of the factors that led President Harry Truman to order the integration of the armed services after the War.  AAs have continued to serve with distinction in every war since.

CONCLUSION

Presently, most people would say the US is divided racially (as well as politically, economically, socially and geographically).  That is problematic, but, I maintain we have made significant strides as a society.  Critics should try to put things in perspective.  We’re not perfect by any means, and we should strive to improve, but name me a country that is better.

AAs have made innumerable contributions to society in all fields of endeavor.  Below please find a brief list.  Most of these names will be very familiar to you.  Some of them are not, but should be.  Due to space limitations I am sure I have omitted some very important people.  Feel free to make additional suggestions to the list.

Civil Rights

1. Martin Luther King – In my opinion, the most influential American civil rights leader ever. His espousal of non-violent protest won over many whites as well as blacks. His assassination was a tragedy for the civil rights movement.
2. Rosa Parks – The simple act of refusing to give up her seat on a bus was a landmark event in black civil rights history.
3. Frederick Douglas – Escaped slave who became one of the leading abolitionists of the 19th century.
4. Harriet Tubman – Escaped slave who was an integral “conductor” of the “underground railroad” in the 19th century.  She made in excess of a dozen trips and rescued an estimated 70 slaves without losing any of them.
5. Jesse Jackson – Renowned and influential civil rights leader for over 40 years. Ran for President in 1984 and 1988.
6. Sojourner Truth – Influential 19th century abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. Fought for equal rights for women as well as blacks.
7. Ida Wells – Civil rights activist, journalist and newspaper editor. Relentlessly investigated and exposed lynchings, which were all too commonplace in the South at the time.

Politics

1. Barack Obama – Served two terms as President of the US. Regardless of your opinion of his political philosophy, he was the first AA president.

2. Kamala Harris – First female vice president.
3. Shirley Chisholm – First AA congresswoman (1968-1983). Ran for President in 1972.
4 Douglas Wilder – In 1989 became the first AA to be elected governor (Virginia).
5. Carol Moseley-Braun – First AA senator (Illinois).

Presently, there are thousands of AAs holding elected office at the federal, state and local levels and dozens who hold or have held significant government positions, such as Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell, and NSA Head Condoleezza Rice.    Others will likely follow.

Sports and Entertainment –

There are a plethora of examples in this field, but, to my mind, these stand out.

1. Jesse Owens – “Stuck it” to the Nazis by winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 demonstrating that AAs were not inferior as many thought at the time.
2. Jackie Robinson – Broke the “color barrier” in major league baseball in 1947, paving the way for thousands who have followed and will follow, prospectively.
3. Muhammed Ali – World champion boxer and an inspiration to blacks worldwide.  His renown and influence superseded boxing and sports, in general.
4. Oprah Winfrey – Strong media personality and role model to AAs and women, in general.

5. Billy Porter – Grammy and Emmy Award winner, Golden Globe nominee; first openly-gay AA to win Primetime Emmy in lead acting category; one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2020.

As I said, America is not a perfect society with respect to race relations (or anything else), but we have come a long way, and we are far ahead of any other country.  This is not merely my opinion; it is supported by historical and contemporary FACTS and the empirical evidence of thousands vying to come hear by any means possible – legally and illegally.

Answer to quiz question: Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery in 1641. Kudos to you if you got it right.