cyndigo (cynthiabarnes) Mon 28 Jul 08 11:20
My impression is that the bomber pilots got the tickertape and the welcome home beers and the adoring lipsticked hordes. Digging roads in a place no one had heard of, not so much. Brendan, how did you decide what factoids to put in notes and what to include in the body of the text?
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Mon 28 Jul 08 13:41
Yeah, I think there was a sense among the Ledo Road's builders that they never got their due. That's largely because the China-Burma-India Theater as a whole was largely off the public's radar on the homefront--the media fixated on the drives toward Berlin and Tokyo, not obscure construction projects in the Burmese sticks. It was difficult for even the GIs themselves to grok why they'd been assigned to the Road; imagine the shoulder-shrugging reaction from folks back home. I wish I could say there was a science to my footnoting, but it was really a gut-instinct deal. If I felt like adding an explanatory clause broke up the flow of the writing, I'd just stick it at the bottom. The first draft probably had about 50 percent more footnotes, mostly of the random-trivia variety. My editor wisely pressed me to ditch the most frivolous of these; several of them ended up as addendums to endnotes in the back. I wanted to add that I really meant for the endnotes to be read--not only by professional historians, but also casual readers. I tried to pepper them with lots of interesting facts--perhaps with mixed success, but hopefully the effort shines through.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 28 Jul 08 15:35
I think you're right that the anti-lynching bill was more symbolic than substantive, but it was exactly the sort of symbolism southern Democrats did not want. They believed in white supremacy first, last and always and wanted absolutely not even the vaguest symbolic gesture that questioned the validity of the system. When you look at it logically, it doesn't make any sense, but... Reading about the battles between Stilwell and Chennault I get this funny sense (which I think is basically correct) that one way to look at the war is as office politics with mass slaughter.
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Mon 28 Jul 08 17:05
The southern politicians of that era wielded disproportionate influence, at least in the Senate. The body's longest-serving senators were mostly southern Democrats (the majority party), so they headed all of the most important committees. With that in mind, I can understand the bind that FDR was in--the southerners (Mississippi's Sen. Bilbo in particular) were steadfast against the anti-lynching bills as infringements on "states rights." FDR had to pick and choose his battles, I guess. But I still think it's valid to question whether he caved on the lynching issue. Love your line about office politics--how true, how true. Chennault didn't strike me as much of a strategic genius, but he had the good fortune to have dedicated his life to an emerging technology (aviation). Stilwell didn't understand air power--he viewed it as almost effete. He was wedded to this notion that planes were best used as support for ground troops, and that airlifts could never replace highways. Wrong on both counts, I'd say. Speaking of effeteness, Stilwell's contempt for air power was matched by his contempt for the British. He particularly disdained Mountbatten, who he dismissed as a pretty boy with "nice eyelashes." As I note in the book, Stilwell generally considered the British commanders to be "treacherous pantywaists who'd rather look spiffy in their dinner jackets than actually kill anyone." I bet part of that hostility stemmed from the fact that the British recognized early on that the Ledo Road was a gross miscalculation. Churchill himself put it best when he termed the Road "an immense, laborious task, unlikely to be finished before the need for it has passed." A tragically true prognostication, as it turned out.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 29 Jul 08 03:37
Brendan, the chronicles of WWII still gathering dust in obscure libraries and fading memories must be stuffed with tales like Perry's -- perhaps not as dramatic (there can be only one "greatest manhunt," after all), but nevertheless compelling and in some ways revealing of still-contemporary issues. (Eastern Europe comes to mind.) Have you thought about following "Now the Hell Will Start" with another book on the war?
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 29 Jul 08 05:27
Meanwhile, interesting and relevant news story in today's NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/29/us/29execute.html?th&emc=th
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Tue 29 Jul 08 08:10
Steve, you read my mind. Book Number Two will, indeed, be largely set during World War II. I can't reveal too much, as I've barely started cracking on the research, but suffice to say that I got the idea while working on "Now the Hell Will Start." I came across it while looking at microfilm at the Library of Congress, and (as in Perry's case) I couldn't believe that no one had ever written about it before. My initial plan was to start working on the project in the late spring, but fatherhood prevented that. To my great amazement, alas, babies require a shocking amount of personal attention. Hopefully I'll be able to carve out some research time this fall. I noticed that piece about Pvt. Gray, too. The kicker to the story really struck me: "Among the issues, Mr. Fidell said, was the fact that Congress has since required capital cases to be considered by a 12-member jury, not the smaller ones that previously decided cases." I discuss this in "Now the Hell Will Start"--the fact that current military law requires that 12 jurors consider capital cases, rather than the six who decided Herman Perry's fate. But I find it curious that this is an issue in Pvt. Gray's case--from what I understood, the 12-juror requirement kicked in during the Korean War. I'd like to learn more about the procedures used in Pvt. Gray's court-martial--is it possible that the Army bent the rules, given that he'd already been convicted in a civilian court?
David Wilson (dlwilson) Tue 29 Jul 08 11:40
re: <56> I read the article and was struck immediately by the photo of a black man. Is it the demographics of the military or a penchent for executing blacks? Look at who is pushing the button. Less than 6 months to go and he wants to be known as the president who went the distance.
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Tue 29 Jul 08 12:43
Excellent observation, David. During World War II, there was a clear and enormous racial disparity in terms of how the death penalty was applied. Check out the following passage from "Now the Hell Will Start": "The Army would eventually execute seventy of its own soldiers in Europe, primarily for murder, rape, or a combination of the two. Of those seventy, fifty-five were black, despite the fact that African American troops made up less than 9 percent of the Army. And of the twenty-one executions ordered by General Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific, eighteen involved black soldiers." The most celebrated examination of this troubling phenomenon was published in a 1996 issue of a journal called "Crime & Delinquency." (The exact citation is in my book's notes section.) The author, a criminologist named J. Robert Lilly, convincingly argues that if a black and white GI committed the same violent offense, the former soldier was far more likely to receive to be executed. Today's NYT article mentions that there are six soldiers on Fort Leavenworth's death row. I'd be curious to know how many of them (not including Pvt. Gray) are black. As a side note, it seems that the number of black Army recruits has fallen quite a bit in recent years--from c. 24 percent of raw recruits in 2000 to around 15 percent today. Perhaps there is some correlation between those tumbling numbers and a sense that African-Americans have a harder time ascending the Army's hierarchy--see here: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/07/23/america/Blacks-in-the-Military.php
cyndigo (cynthiabarnes) Wed 30 Jul 08 09:49
From the obits topic in the news conference: Samuel Snow, 83. seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/372373_snow28.html During World War II, the black soldiers at Fort Lawton were housed in segregated barracks near the Italian prisoners of war. After a scuffle between a black American soldier and one of the POWs on the night of August 14, 1944, a riot broke out, injuring dozens. The next morning, one of the Italians was found hanged at the bottom of a bluff. Forty-three black soldiers were charged with rioting, three of whom also were charged with the murder. Only two attorneys were assigned to the case and given two weeks to prepare. They were never shown an Army investigation criticizing its own handling of the riot. [Yesterday,] The wrongly accused men were publicly exonerated at a tribute held in a meadow of Discovery Park Saturday near the former Fort Lawton chapel and parade grounds. They were given honorable discharges, their convictions set aside and their families awarded back pay for the time they served in jail. On Saturday, the U.S. Army awarded Snow an honorable discharge and apology. He and other black soldiers were falsely court-martialed for rioting and lynching an Italian prisoner of war at Seattle's Fort Lawton in 1944. Snow died this morning [Sunday], at 12:43 AM.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 30 Jul 08 10:29
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 30 Jul 08 11:46
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Wed 30 Jul 08 15:41
I've been following the Fort Lawton story for quite some time, and this is a heartbreaking coda. It's worth noting that Mr. McDermott would never have received an apology without the efforts of Jack Hamann, the author of "On American Soil." Much respect to Mr. Hamann for his efforts on behalf of these wronged soldiers. It's all-too-rare that a journalist's efforts lead to real change, especially when the events in question happened so very long ago. I am in awe.
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Wed 30 Jul 08 15:43
Pardon me, typo in my response--I meant Mr. Snow, not Mr. McDermott. Apologies for the error. (It's been one of those days...) On a related, totally self-promotional note, I'll be on The Colbert Report tomorrow night. Alas, they're not bringing me on to discuss "Now the Hell Will Start," but rather to talk about environmental science. (Until just a few weeks ago, I wrote the "Green Lantern" column for Slate.) I'll do my best to mention Herman Perry's tale, however.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 30 Jul 08 15:54
> on The Colbert Report tomorrow night I want to know how or if he and his team coach guests about playing with his in-character point of view! A full report afterwards, please?
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 30 Jul 08 17:07
Yes! In the meantime, we will be watching! We also want a full report on the Green Room and swag. And about Jimmy.
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Wed 30 Jul 08 19:38
Will offer a full report--promise! The taping is at 7 EDT, and I'll hurry home afterwards to offer my first-hand account--though, granted, I may stop for a post-show pint or two before.
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 30 Jul 08 22:11
The pre-post post-show pint! Looking forward to seeing the show.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 31 Jul 08 16:25
I finally finished the book. I ended up staying up much of the night reading it. And congrats -- a few times a year I end up awake all night reading, but 98% of the time it's because I'm reading a suspense novel of some sort. Historical non-fiction, much as I love it, does not generally find me reading until the sky is turning gray in the east. I recycle a lot of my books via the local library's donation bin, but I'm holding on to this one, partly because I may want to read it again and partly in case I ever decide to write general non-fiction myself. I've pretty much confined myself to technical/science writing up to this point, but if I ever decide to branch out, I want to read this again and see if I can figure out how you managed it. You really did an amazing job. For what it's worth, I ended up feeling fairly sympathetic to Perry. Clearly, what he did was wrong, but just as clearly, he was caught in a very unfortunate situation and I can see how he felt backed into a corner. It takes quite a leap of imagination to think of myself as a Black soldier in WW II, but I could see myself doing what Perry did. I'm not saying I definitely would have done it, but let's just say I can relate. I also thought it was fascinating (in a grim way) that the vast majority of soldiers executed during WW II were Black. One of my favorite musicians of all time is the jazz saxophonist Lester Young, who served in the Army during WW II and came back a broken man who died quite prematurely. Reading "Now the Hell Will Start" gave me some insight into what he might have faced during his service. And I have to say that I love the story of the wealthy Englishwoman who lived with the Nagas and described their way of life as being superior to that of Europeans. God bless people like that, and I suspect I'd really enjoy reading her book. I also enjoyed finding out that much of the country of the Nagas is still fairly wild and beyond the firm grasp of nation states. I have always taken an interest in India (partly because I love cooking Indian food), and as I read the last chapter of the book, I realized that I've read a bunch of brief news stories over the years about the area -- about how there are wild hill-country tribal areas above Assam and that, as the expression goes, the natives are restless. And finally, I'll make a random recommendation. If you're interested in the early/mid 20th century history and culture of India, you should definitely try one of the books of Jim Corbett (now out in nice affordable paperback editions by Oxford). Corbett was a Anglo-Indian who made a fascinating career out of hunting down tigers and leopards who had discovered that humans are pretty easy prey. In his later years, he became a surprise best-selling author, but is now a mostly forgotten figure. His books are still incredible adventure stories, and really give you a sense of what India was like early in the 20th century.
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Thu 31 Jul 08 18:14
So I just returned from The Colbert Report to find your excellent post, Mark. Thanks so much for making it, and I promise to respond in full tomorrow. A lot of points to address, and time's short tonight--plus, to be honest, I'm completely knackered from the day. As far as Colbert goes, I was blown away by the kindness and thoughtfulness of the show's staff. Just an incredible group of folks, and I hope I did right by them in my appearance. It airs tonight--lemme know what y'all think. It's about environmental issues, not the book, but Colbert was kind enough to give "Now the Hell Will Start" a shout-out at the very end. He didn't have to do that, so I'm really grateful. I met Colbert briefly backstage, and gave him a signed copy of the book. It was a little weird to meet him when he was out-of-character--he basically just said, "I do the show in character, my character is an idiot and you're the person who's supposed to set me right." Beyond that, there was really no guidance. The swag was pretty nice, and mostly food-oriented--a coffee cake(!), a huge tin of Cafe Bustelo, Altoids, etc. The real keepsake is the tote bag. Mark, I'm only going to address your first point tonight--the one we've discussed here previously, about whether or not Perry is a sympathetic character. It sounds as if you and I share a very similar viewpoint on the matter, as well as a similar approach to arriving at the conclusion. I also tried to imagine myself in Perry's shoes, but it was a real challenge--just such different life experiences. But those mental exercises did help me realize how the disorientation of the Ledo Road experience must have wreaked havoc on Perry's psyche. I mean, here's a 20-year-old kid shipped to the far side of the globe, for reasons he can't fathom. And when he gets there, he's thrust into this alien, brutal regimen in which he was treated as less than fully human. Does that excuse Perry's crime? Of course not. But as you point out--and as Col. Cullum did, too, in his 1994 letter to Perry's half-brother--any of us might break if cast into similar circumstances. Anyway, more tomorrow, and thanks for the Jim Corbett rec. Off to have a well-deserved glass of wine. (The post-show, pre-post pints thing didn't work out, alas.)
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 1 Aug 08 07:44
Brendan, in the book you write a comment about Major Cullum that I thought was very interesting: "When Cullum passed away at age eighty-nine, he did so believing that he'd made peace with the Perrys. But [Celestine] Thompson [a niece of Rev. Henry Johnson, Herman Perry's half-brother] was upset to learn that Cullum had mistaken her interest in the case for an offer of forgiveness. Herman's death still stings the Perrys, who feel the Army has never satisfactorily explained exactly what happened in the Indo-Burmese wilderness." I wondered if the forgiveness was Cullum's own deep desire or if his apparent misunderstanding about it results from a fundamental difference in perception of certain issues by white and black Americans (think of the OJ verdict) or a little of both.
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Fri 1 Aug 08 09:44
Mark, I'll be addressing your thoughtful post later today. But I first wanted to tackle Steve's question about the passage he cites. That's one of the paragraphs I wrote over and over and over again, trying to strike exactly the right tone. It was tricky because Cullum wasn't around to explain what he'd written regarding the meeting. I interviewed his daughter, Kaye, who was present, as well as Ms. Thompson. But when it came to Cullum's innermost thoughts, I could really only go on the account of the meeting that he'd typed up in early 2001. In that account he stated clearly that the Perrys harbored no bitterness about what happened to Herman. (I'd have to dig up the primary source to get the exact wording, but I know that "bitterness" was one of the words he used.) I wish I could have followed up with Cullum and gotten a better sense of why it was important for him to make peace with the Perrys. My gut tells me that your latter guess is the correct one. There's a real Rashomon Effect at work throughout the book--the prime example being how the Ledo Road's black and white soldiers viewed Perry in very different lights. I think that effect continues to color the perceptions of people intimately connected to Perry's tale--though I should hasten to add that everyone I spoke with was supportive of moving Perry's remains back to Washington D.C., in order to provide some measure of healing to his sister. Given who he was--an FBI agent to the core--I don't think Cullum ever had any regrets about delivering Perry to the gallows. But I got the impression--primarily from the letter he wrote to Perry's half-brother--that Cullum was more deeply affected by the case than he normally let on. As he said time and again, he felt a real kinship with Perry, and that was because he recognized that any man might have broken under similar circumstances. Cullum clearly recognized that accident of birth played a huge role in shaping his and Perry's divergent fates. As such, I have to say I really admire Cullum--he may have exuded a very straitlaced, law-and-order persona, but he was obviously a very deep thinker who understood the complexities of morality. I lament the fact that he wasn't around to participate in "Now the Hell Will Start."
cyndigo (cynthiabarnes) Fri 1 Aug 08 11:16
Brendan, I just want to say that I'm honored to be able to participate in this ... it's truly an incredible story and, as you've said, a real labor of love to see it told.
Brendan I. Koerner (brendankoerner) Fri 1 Aug 08 15:58
Cyn, thanks a million for having me. Having a ball here. So, finally on to my reply to the remainder of Mark's post from last night. Apologies again for the delay--was too exhausted to deal last night, and it's been one of those crazy days. I wasn't familiar with Lester Young's experience in the Army, but I'll look into it. As I've mentioned before, I think disillusionment with the military helped radicalize many young African-American during the 1940s, and eventually contributed to the rise of the Civil Rights Movement over a decade later. I'd be interested in learning more about that connection; for the moment, though, it's clear to me that the hypocrisy of the Great Cause was apparent to hundreds of thousands of black draftees during World War II. In a nutshell, how could they expected to fight for the freedom of others while they were being treated so disrespectfully back home? I recommend Ursula Graham Bower's "Naga Path" if you'd like to hear more about her tale. I remain fascinated by North-East India and would very much like to visit again--particularly the more southerly regions that I didn't have a chance to traverse. There is actually quite a bit of racial tension between the Assamese and the so-called tribals of the border provinces (such as Arunachal Pradesh). During my trip, for example, we were unable to cross back from A.P. into Assam due to a violent bandh, or road blockade, orchestrated to protest the movement of tribals into Assam. At the same time, the border provinces (as well as part of northwest Burma) provide shelter to insurgencies such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which is basically a criminal enterprise that conducts bombings and extortion in the Brahmaputra Plains. Crazy stuff, even to most Indians--when I told people in Delhi I was heading for Assam (never mind A.P.), I was universally urged not to go. A lot of Indians are strangely prejudiced against their countrymen to the northeast, and thus believe that the region is much more dangerous than it really is. Still, I would advise caution to anyone interested in visiting the area. It's a fascinating place, but be sure to plan ahead. Mark, I can't thank you enough for your kind words about my labor of love. I'm thrilled that "Now the Hell Will Start" has earned a place on your permanent bookshelf, and I hope you'll help spread the good word.
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 1 Aug 08 16:56
Thank you for the report, Brendan! I loved seeing you on the show; I thought you were great.
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