Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Soccer Game That Probably Wasn't

The Christmas Truce of 1914

Christmas vacation has started for most public schools and colleges. Finally there is time to relax and pick up the blog again. I also have the time to watch one of my favorite news magazine shows on television, CBS Sunday Morning. This morning there was a segment on the Christmas Truce of 1914 (since we're now at the 100 year anniversary of the events of WWI).

You can click the link to read the whole story, or watch the video below. But along with the interesting anecdote about an event that occurred during the First World War, the more interesting thing for me was the way in which people remember it.

Here's the gist: during this time of year, military history buffs like to bring out the Christmas Truce that occurred spontaneously between British and German troops in 1914. The story goes that both sides were singing Christmas carols in their respective trenches and one side put up a tree, etc. With a verbal promise of "if you don't shoot, I won't either," troops from both sides met in the middle of "no man's land" and traded Christmas greetings. Before long, by popular belief, a friendly soccer game was started between teams from the units that were shooting at each other just hours before. The story has become mythologized, spawning multiple books, as well as movies.

There are two issues with that story. First, it is not an isolated event. Many enemies in many wars made temporary truces for reasons that range from clearing dead and wounded off of the field to celebrating a holiday. And second, while the associated Wiki article tells us that soccer games were played, the CBS story says that there is no evidence of a game of football during the truce of 1914.

That's one of the things you have to love about popular history. While we struggle for the facts, the truth is what people create for themselves. I really take pleasure in the story part of history, and I admit that sometimes you just have to say, "well, if it ain't true, it outta be." Enjoy.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Day Trip: Mission San Juan Bautista

About a week ago my wife and I had a day off together (that doesn't happen as often as you might think), so we decided to take a little day trip to Mission San Juan Bautista. We had been there before about six years ago. It is one of those peaceful, beautiful places that you just want to go back to.

Mission San Juan Bautista was established on June 24, 1797 by Father Fermin de Lasuen, the successor to Father Juniper Serra. San Juan Bautista was the fifteenth of the twenty-one Spanish missions built in California between 1769 and 1833. Read more about Mission San Juan Bautista's history at the mission's website or at the Wikipedia entry for the mission.

San Juan Bautista, California, is located about 125 miles west of my home in Fresno, or approximately 33 miles northeast of Monterey. So it makes for a nice day trip. If you don't want to spend the whole day at the mission, there are other attractions nearby like the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, or the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Or you might just want to check out some of the small agricultural towns that have an interesting history all of their own like Hollister or Gilroy. On this particular day, we spent the morning checking out the mission and then visited Gilroy in the afternoon (more about Gilroy in a future post).

San Juan Bautista, like several of the other missions, is an operating Catholic church, even though the buildings are nearly 200 years old. For that reason it is not a playground but more of a place to quietly view. The mission opens daily at 9:30 am. We arrived about thirty minutes early and walked around the outside of the mission taking pictures. I always like to arrive early before the crowds. There is a small gift shop where you pay your entry fee ($4 for adults). From there you can tour the mission's museum, visit the church, and walk through the mission gardens.

The mission is operated by the Catholic Church, however, there are historic buildings that surround the mission that are part of San Juan Bautista State Historic Park and are managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. These buildings are worth walking through as well, particularly for viewing the stables and the collection of nineteenth century buggies and wagons. I know how geeky that sounds, but they really are pretty cool.

We brought our lunch with us and ate on a picnic table situated in a large grass area that was formerly the mission's plaza. Very relaxing. If you don't want to pack your own, the small town of San Juan Bautista has a grocery store and a deli so you can go buy a sandwich. I highly recommend it. Because that is one of the benefits of visiting a California mission: the quiet park-like atmosphere.

We have a bit of a dearth of historic buildings here in California, especially compared to some of the places we visited back east. The exception is the California Missions. If you are interested in visiting them all, then check out The California Missions Resource Center website for historical information before you travel. Happy wandering!


Monday, August 18, 2014

A Cure for Cultural Incompetence?

Okay, not to get too preachy here, or start a political debate or anything like that, but you have to admit that most of us Americans are horribly ethnocentric and pretty weak in cultural competence. Speaking of cultural competence, I had mentioned in a previous post that I was working on a masters in education and my teacher credential in social science. For educators, cultural competence has got to be part of their fundamental skill set. (For those interested, here is a link to a great Ted Talk video on the subject.)

I'll give you a personal example of the need for cultural competence. I have been substitute teaching since last January at a rural high school here in Fresno County, where (in this particular high school) about 77% of the students are Hispanic, and approximately 10% are Asian, which in this case that statistic means a large number of immigrants from India. Better than 14% of the students are designated as English Language Learners (ELL). Most are native Spanish speakers, but there are a variety of other primary languages like Punjabi or Hindi. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how to make American history interesting and relevant to these students. That is a subject for another post, but the point is that I came to realize that I know very little about the history of their native countries (like Mexico and India) and their relationship with the United States.

So of course being the way I am (obsessive about knowing things?), I have to set this right. We'll start with Mexico, as a majority of the students I encounter are of Mexican heritage. I want to begin with learning the language. I purchased and started working with Fluenz software which I highly recommend; it is not fluff, there is some serious workouts in this learning program. But of course that wasn't enough. Now we have to tackle the history and culture. My first go-to is the local library. I've got a list, but I'll share the first book with you here: "A Brief History of Mexico" by Lynn V. Foster.

Now, I knew that Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, but what the heck was a French army doing in Mexico? And who was this Maximilian guy? I knew about Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico. But what was the course of events in Mexico that brought that about? How about a little background on the Bracero program, and immigration to the United States? Wouldn't you like to know how NAFTA has affected Mexico? (Hint: it hurt their working class too.) This book will answer these questions and give you the bottom line in a very readable style. It's not a page turner, but it's not a dry textbook either.

Foster provides what I found to be an amazing statistic. That in 2002, one in every three adult Mexicans has been in the United States and twenty-one million people in the U.S. have family in Mexico and only half of those have been in the U.S. for over five years (p. 251). Another interesting tidbit, those with ties to Mexico are sending a lot of money home, in excess of $13 billion in 2002. This "Remittance" is the third largest source of foreign income after manufactured goods and oil exports (p. 259). Does it sound like we should be more familiar with Mexican history, politics, and current events? I certainly think so.

Can working with language programs and reading books cure a lack of cultural competency? Not completely, of course. We need to travel. We need to meet people and talk. But in lieu of that, head to your local library and invest in a few hours of personal/professional development. It is just amazing what you can learn.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Highway Patrol Turns 85

California Highway Patrol officers on the newly opened
Golden Gate Bridge, circa 1937
My dad often passes along his copy of the AAA magazine for the southern California area, Westways, for me to page through. I found a little historical tidbit in the latest issue that I thought was really interesting. It seems that this August the California Highway Patrol will turn 85 years old. This bit of trivia reminded me of watching the old reruns of the television series "Highway Patrol" with Broderick Crawford when I was a kid. (Here's an episode with a young Clint Eastwood appearing as a member of a motorcycle gang.)

The California Highway Patrol was created by an act of the California State Legislature on August 14, 1929. They were made responsible for enforcing traffic laws on county and state roads. The initial manpower was 280 officers. The CHP started out as a branch of the Division of Motor Vehicles in the Department of Public Works. By 1947 there were 730 uniformed personnel and the Highway Patrol was reorganized as their own department. In 1995 the CHP was merged with the California State Police and are now also responsible for protection of state property and state officials, including the Governor. Today the California Highway Patrol is the largest state agency in the United States. They have over 11,000 employees, 7500 of whom are uniformed officers.

The "Highway Patrol" used to be the name of AAA's
roadside assistance service.
One final bit of history trivia. The Automobile Association, or "Triple A," has the California Highway Patrol beat as far as age goes, having been formed in 1901. At the time the CHP was organized, the Auto Club had a roadside-assistance program they called the "Highway Patrol" that had been around since 1924. Since the AAA program had no law enforcement function, they gave up the name so there would be no confusion with the new Highway Patrol.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Of course I have to add my voice to all of those who are lamenting that we as an American society have forgotten (or really don't value) the real meaning of Memorial Day. I went for a bicycle ride this morning. There happened to be a group from a local church who were doing an organized walk down the bike trail to honor veterans. That's great. However, some of the folks had written inspirational messages in chalk on the path. That's fine too. But one of them said "Have a Happy Memorial Day." I always cringe when I hear that. As this video from the History Channel states that Memorial Day is our most solemn holiday. Now I'm no stick in the mud. Of course I realize that this weekend is the unofficial start of summer and that most people will be out at a barbecue. Heck, I took advantage of the holiday to take an extra long bicycle ride. But please folks, take a moment to think about our veterans, particularly those who have died and are still suffering from wounds. And then enjoy the weekend.

The History of Memorial Day:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book R & R: "Eighty Days" by Matthew Goodman

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around The World" by Matthew Goodman.

By the 1880s, the world was getting smaller. Communication was facilitated by the telegraph and soon the telephone would take over. Transportation was almost reliable with regular railroad and steamship schedules. We were on the verge of the the world we would know today, however, during this period mass media was comprised of newspapers and magazines. Daily newspapers competed with each other for the most readers and to beat the competition they needed the most sensational stories possible. If they couldn't find them, sometimes they created them.

In 1873 Jules Verne published his novel "Around the World in 80 days" and it was a hit worldwide. The story is still popular today, with a couple of noteworthy movie interpretations.  By 1889 there were those who thought that the record set by Verne's fictional adventurer, Phileas Fogg could be beaten. One of those was newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World. Pulitzer chose to send his only female feature reporter, Nellie Bly, on an around the world trip. The goal was to make it back to New York in 75 days.

Nellie Bly was a ground breaking investigative reporter. In a Victorian era in which society viewed women as not too bright, not too tough, and better off staying at home, Nellie Bly was one of the few female reporters who were not chained to the society column. She first gained notoriety by going undercover to expose corruption in an insane asylum. Pulitzer sent her on her trip heading east across the Atlantic on November 14, 1889.

Unknown to Bly, on the same day The Cosmopolitan magazine sent their own female traveler, a literary essayist by the name of Elizabeth Bisland. Thinking there would be an advantage, Bisland's editor sent her west. The race was on and the world couldn't read enough about it.

I admit that when I think about the 1880s, my mind immediately jumps to the wild west, or the Indian wars. I should never limit myself like that, and I wish I had read this book sooner. "Eighty Days" is an enjoyable read that will expose the reader to what life was like along the travelers' routes during this time of European powers (particularly Great Britain) controlling transportation and commerce around the world. You will learn about steamships and railroads, social class, and the mass media of the day. All this is most palatable as the background to the story of the race around the world. You might also come to realize as I did that this period of time, over 125 years ago, was both vastly different and eerily similar to our world today.

"Eighty Days" is women's history, it's social history, and it's just plain fun and interesting. I highly recommend it for your vacation reading list.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, to all! I've been remiss in posting for a couple of months. My only excuse is that I have been busy with my own school and work. I've entered a masters in education program this spring, the end result will also include earning my California teacher's credential in social studies. My desire is to teach high school history, economics, and political science. So, along with the usual articles, book reviews, historical site visits, and commentary on historical issues you might begin to see here some postings about education and teaching history in particular.

In the meantime, I ran across a nice 3-minute video from the History Channel about Easter that I thought was very well done. So much so that I thought I would share it with you here. It sums up the history of the Easter holiday so much better than I could. Enjoy!

If the player is not showing for you, here's a link:

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Book R & R: Verdun

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War" by Paul Jankowski.

We are quickly approaching the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. I think that, apart from military history aficionados, this benchmark will pass with little examination, even though veterans of WWI lived until just a few years ago. I'm afraid also that even less attention will be paid to the significant events of the "Great War" that occurred prior to the United States' entry into the war in April, 1917.

With the recent release of "Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War," American historian and writer Paul Jankowski has turned his focus to one of these key battles of the war that took place prior to American involvement. Verdun is in northeast France, where the battle between the French and Germans began on February 21, 1918. The ten month battle lasted until December 18, 1916. The battle kicked off with the German Fifth Army launching an offensive against the French Second Army in fixed defenses near the Meuse River. The stubbornness of French commander Marshal Joseph Joffre and German commander General Erich von Falkenhayn turned the extended battle into a war of attrition. One village in the area of operations changed hands sixteen times during the course of the battle. Verdun is noteworthy mostly for the number of casualties compared to the lack of results for either side. Estimates for combined casualties range from over 714,000 to 976,000. The French lost more men, but held their terrain. Verdun became known as one of the longest, and most costly battles in history.

Paul Jankowski is a professor of history at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Appropriately, he has devoted more attention in his book to the cultural and political ramifications of Verdun, rather than the nuances of combat operations. His writing is clear on concise, helping both the military historian and the lay reader to understand the battle, the results, and the influence (or lack there of) on the war as a whole.

Although the French are able to claim victory at Verdun, for the number of casualties and lack of net gains for either side the battle had little influence on the outcome of the First World War as a whole. However, Verdun is a good battle to study in that it speaks to the futility of the war and way it was fought with modern technology and outdated tactics. As Jankowski writes, "Verdun remains the epitome of senseless industrial warfare."

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Gingerbread Men in Ireland

American paratroopers prepare to load onto their planes, "somewhere in
England" or in Northern Ireland?  Dated 7 Oct 42.
One of the frustrations for those with an affinity for the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion and researching their service during WWII is the scarcity of official documentation. Since the unit had no immediate higher headquarters and was disbanded in the midst of combat, not many records made their way into the National Archives or other repositories. A great deal of the history of this unit has to be pieced together by a combination of veteran narratives and some work by a few "history detectives."

One of these dedicated individuals is Clive Moore from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Clive contacted me recently about some WWII photographs he has come across that depict American paratroopers loading onto planes. On the photos are written the usual Signal Corps description of "somewhere in England" and a date of 7 Oct 42. But several of the photos also have a label stuck on them that says "US Paratroopers in Northern Ireland."

Officers conferring over a map, L-R, RAF Air Vice Marshall J. Cole Hamilton,
U.S. Lieutenant Colonel "Roff" (who I believe is Edson Raff), and
RAF Group Captain S. Gray. Lough Neagh is visible on the map they are
holding. This photo is also dated 7 Oct 42.
Because of terrain features visible in some of the photos (particularly Lough Neagh, visible on a map in one of the photos), Clive is convinced that these pictures were taken at an airfield at St. Angelo, in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. In another photo, two RAF officers flank an American identified as a Lieutenant Colonel "Roff." I've included the photo in this post. If you have seen the pictures in "The Boldest Plan is the Best," you'll probably agree with me that "Roff" is a typo, and this is a picture of Edson Raff. Clive has identified the RAF officers as Air Vice Marshall J. Cole Hamilton, who was Air Officer Commanding (AOC) for Northern Ireland until November 1942, and a Group Captain S. Gray.

We know from veterans narratives that the Geronimos took part in an exercise in Ireland in September. Clive has also informed me that a training exercise, code named PUNCH, was held in Northern Ireland from September 21 to 29, 1942. The exercise involved the U.S. 1st Armored and 34th Infantry Divisions, along with the British 59th and 61st Infantry Divisions and the British 72nd Infantry Brigade. Signal Corps photos were often dated several days after they were taken as often the people developing them were not the ones who took them. These photos dated 7 Oct 42 could very well have been taken the last week of September. Although we don't have documentation, I think it's a safe bet that the 509th PIB is the airborne contingent that participated in this exercise.

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