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Clio's Temple

History, Research, Writing, Fiction


On April 29, 1944, my uncle's plane was blown out of the skies over Berlin. After surviving a near-lynching by German civilians, he joined my father in POW camp in eastern Germany. Exactly one year later, tanks from the U.S. 14th Armored Division rolled through the front gate of the POW compound in Moosburg, Bavaria, liberating both brothers and thousands of other American and British prisoners.

At about the same time, my future father-in-law's unit liberated another camp, this one with a name still infamous - Dachau.

Brute memorization

Both on the way to and from Greenwood today, I heard readings of the Gettysburg Address. The first was delivered by NPR journalists. The second was delivered by a variety of persons from different fields; all 5 living presidents participated.

This put me in mind of Mrs. Harrell's 4th Grade class.  She was a great one for making us memorize and recite in class. I suppose there will always be differences of opinion about this. Some progressive educators pooh-pooh requiring students to commit speeches or poetry to memory, arguing that this doesn't build the higher-order learning they think is important.

Random connections for the trivia-minded

This is a fruitful time of year for those interested in European history in the 20th  century.  What triggered that thought is that I heard a birthday announcement for Billy Graham the other day; he's reached 95. My mind went looking for connections and settled on the fact that he was born exactly one year after the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, thus ushering in the rule of Lenin and Trotsky.

Just a brief stroll down memory lane reveals more temporal connections.

Parthian Shot

A young Prussian officer faces a mortal confrontation with an unforgiving father, whose brutish behavior is fed by the acquiescence of his younger sons.

Thus begins my novel-in-progressThe Vials of Wrath. This will be ready for electronic publication late next year or in 2015. It's one of a series of novels about the extraordinary upheavals of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of ordinary people. It's a reminder to all of us that we, as free men and women, bear the responsibility for our own words and actions.

An inconvenient heroine

On this day in 1920, Joan of Arc was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, thus belatedly undoing the nefarious role of Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, in her condemnation. "Justice delayed is justice denied," one anonymous commentator has noted. It was certainly delayed in her case; she was burned in 1431. In fact, the church had already semi-officially recognized her position of particular honor in France, when it approved the placement of her statue (along with St. Louis) over the entrance to the Sacré Coeur.

The horrors we didn't see

On this day in 1945, U.S. troops liberated the oldest of the Nazi concentration camps - Dachau, located just outside Munich. My father-in-law was one of those GIs. Here, the historic past joins hands with the personal past. In 1962, when he was again stationed in Munich, my mother-in-law and my wife got the chance to take a tour of Dachau, albeit in a much cleaned-up form. Maj. Lea refused to go with him, saying something to the effect that he'd already seen it.

My father, who was a POW in Germany for twenty-one months, always lists this day as his personal liberation day.

Unspoken fears

On this date thirteen years ago, something unprecedented happened: Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin as President of the Russian Federation. In the bleak annals of power in that part of the world, a peaceful act of succession was a milestone. Nowadays, though, we're not sure where the road leads.

Yeltsin, despite his Communist past, was a man hard to dislike: big-framed, rather like the fabled Russian bear. His struggles with the bottle only made him seem human. When he stood up against the anti-Gorbachev coup of August, 1991, he became a hero to many who had never given much thought to what was happening as the Soviet Union crumbled.

Unsung heroes

On this day in 1687, the Sieur de La Salle, noted as "the first European to navigate the length of the Mississippi River" was murdered by his own men when exploring near the cost of what is today Texas. It was an ironic end for a man who had already defied death by exploring a river noted for its many treacherous bends, shallows, and bayous.

One of my former bosses was fond of noting that, in any endeavor, one can tell who the pioneers are by the fact that they are often found lying face down, with arrows in the back.

Ash Wednesday

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." These familiar words, coming at the moment the priest makes the cross on one's forehead in the ashes of last year's palms, should cause us to spend a few moments in reflection. Alas, in our all-too-hurried lives, that seldom happens.

There is a backhanded comfort at having reached my early sixties. I'm getting comfortable with the idea that the end of my race is in sight. Do I try to finish with a sprint or simply hobble gamely up to the finish line?

Corpus delicti

No doubt you've already heard that British forensic scientists have positively identified the bones of Richard III, whose unquiet rest in a church crypt was disrupted by the march of progress (or construction of a parking lot; whatever). By coincidence, TCM is showingAnne of the Thousand Daysthis week. I hadn't seen it in a long time and found it to be a refreshing contrast to the less-than-fastidious treatment of history by the cinema.

Richard Burton's portrayal of Henry VIII was (to my mind) far superior than Robert Shaw's in
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