Political posturing, emotional rants won’t help refugees

Syrian refugees, fleeing the violence in their country, cross the border into the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq

It’s difficult to say if the world we live in is any more polarized than that of the past, or if social media has simply magnified the chasms that exist, leaving the appearance of a stark black and white realm when reality has always been varying shades of gray.

Take the Syrian refugee crisis. While many US governors practically tumbled over each other in the race to demand that no Syrian refugees be allowed to settle in their states, some on the other side were insistent that any denial of US asylum was outright racism.

Both are unfortunate and ill-considered stands. The first I attribute to political posturing. Certainly, it’s not possible or wise to allow a mass influx of immigrants from any nation without proper vetting. That doesn’t mean you shut your borders, however. You certainly don’t rope off your borders to individuals from a specific country because of the actions of one or a few, or because the majority of the individuals in that country are of a specific religion.

Humanitarian crises demand extraordinary responses, and the US and other Western nations should step up efforts to aid those in need while ensuring the safety of all concerned. Simply slamming the door shut on those either forced from their country or who have left out of fear is not an appropriate response.

On the other hand, we have those who misrepresent the past to manipulate individuals’ feelings in a bid to push an agenda.

Consider this headline from a distasteful story that attacks those in the US for failing to open its arms to all Syrian refugees, no questions asked: “Anne Frank Literally Died Because of America’s Anti-Refugee Stance”.

John Prager, writing for the online publication Addicting Info, states that Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, was denied a visa by the United States, preventing he and his family from escaping the Nazi noose that was tightening around Jews in Europe.

The Franks were captured by the Nazis in Amsterdam in 1944 and Anne and most her family perished, with Anne and her sister Margot dying at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the spring of 1945. Because the US didn’t give the Franks a visa, it is responsible for the family’s death, Prager asserts.

While I find repugnant the attitude of politicians who flat-out refuse to take Syrian refugees, I also despise the above one-dimensional thinking that, in effect, calls today’s conservative US politicians “bigoted and hateful anti-Semit(es),” according to Prager’s article. (As Prager condescendingly points out, “Yes, conservatives, Arabs are Semitic people.)

The fact is, Anne Frank “literally” died because of the Nazis’ policy of exterminating Jews. American anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in other countries, and a general unwillingness to open US borders to the tens of millions of other individuals who were displaced or endangered by the Nazis (and Soviets) is a sad reality of the 1930s and ’40s, and one hopes that today’s generation will not repeat the same mistakes.

But the US, for all its many flaws, was not “literally” responsible for the death of Anne Frank or other Jews who perished between 1933 and 1945.

We could have done more, much more, but we didn’t deploy Einsatzgruppen to kill hundreds of thousands throughout the Baltics and Eastern Europe, we didn’t set up concentration camps and death camps, and we didn’t transport millions in cattle cars from Nazi-created ghettos to those camps, where they were gassed or otherwise killed.

Ultimately, it was the US and other Allied nations that stopped the Nazi death machine.

Prager’s appeal to emotion doesn’t stand up under scrutiny, and it doesn’t help us solve the problem at hand.

(Top: Syrian refugees, fleeing violence in their country, cross the border into the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq two years ago.)

Russian billboard pays homage to Nazi bomber crew


Those who adhere to the axiom that there’s no such thing as bad publicity will find at least one Russian politician who likely believes differently.

Sergei Gridnev, mayor of Ivanteyevka, outside Moscow, has apologized after billboards celebrating the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II victory, set for May 9, appeared around town featuring a German air force crew.

Not surprising given that the Soviet Union bore the lion’s share of Hitler’s wrath between 1941-45, suffering at least 25 million dead, the image of a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 bomber crew rather than that of Soviet soldiers didn’t sit particularly well with locals.

Area news portal Ivanteyevka Today has since owned up to the blunder, according to the BBC.

It commissioned 20 banners to mark the end of the conflict, but confessed to “negligence” in choosing the photo, which had the unfortunate tagline “They fought for the Motherland.”

Also not helping matters: The brutal Battle of Moscow, fought from October 1941 to January 1942 and an integral aspect of the Nazi assault on the Soviet Union, code named Operation Barbarossa, claimed 1.5 million lives.

Attempts to point out that the photo dated from 1940, the year before Germany invaded the Soviet Union, when the two nations were actually allies, did little to alleviate heartburn.

Gridnev says local people, war veterans and the whole of Russia can rest assured that “he’ll punish those responsible for the ‘appalling incident,” the state news agency Tass reported.

“The local branch of the pro-Putin All-Russia People’s Front says it spotted the billboard and demanded its removal, and 12 hours after it went up the offending image came right back down again,” according to the BBC.

On the bright side for Gridnev and everyone at Ivanteyevka Today, if this had happened when Stalin was in power, everyone involved with this gaffe would have already been tortured in Lubyanka Prison and then lined up and shot.

(Top: Billboard in Ivanteyevka, Russia, celebrating the upcoming 70th anniversary of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany with image of Nazi bomber crew and words “They fought for the Motherland.”

Italian author, survivor of Russian Front, dies

italian prisoners of war on the eastern front

From the standpoint of the average soldier, there have been some pretty miserable military alliances over the past century.

The Australians and New Zealanders who ended up at Gallipoli in World War I at the behest of the British; Newfoundlanders cut down at the Somme, also fighting for the British; and most Arab soldiers who found themselves going up against Israelis between 1948 and 1973, would all have likely wondered what their nations had got them into.

But probably no group of Allies was more poorly served in the 20th century than those of Nazi Germany.

Hitler, who was only too happy to feed his own divisions into the seemingly endless maw of death that was World War II in his attempt to take over Europe, had absolutely no compunctions about frittering away the troops of collaborating nations.

Hundreds of thousands of Italian, Hungarian and Romanian soldiers, for example, perished in miserable conditions on the Eastern Front alongside their German partners.

One of the more striking accounts of this lesser-known aspect of the war was written by Eugenio Corti, an Italian officer who died earlier this month at 93.

Corti is best known for The Red Horse, a 1,000-page novel based on his experience during and after World War II. First published in 1983, it has gone through 25 editions.

But in his 1947 work Few Returned: Twenty-Eight Days on the Russian Front, Winter 1943-1943, Corti vividly described the utter hopeless of a soldier’s life on the Russian Front during the war.

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Author says UK has invaded all but 22 nations

Here’s a curious fact to trot out the next time a UK official accuses someone else of being militaristic: of the nearly 200 countries in the world today, only 22 have never experienced an invasion by the British.

That’s according to a new book, All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To, which asserts that Britain (or its predecessor, England) have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe during its history.

Among the select group never attacked, occupied or annexed by the United Kingdom are far-flung locales such as Kyrgyzstan, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Marshall Islands.

However, closer to home, the British have left unmolested Luxembourg and tiny Andorra, situated in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, as well.

Author Stuart Laycock worked his way around the globe through each country alphabetically, researching its history to establish whether, at any point, they have experienced an incursion by Britain, according to The Telegraph.

“Only a comparatively small proportion of the total in Mr. Laycock’s list of invaded states actually formed an official part of the empire,” according to the publication. “The remainder have been included because the British were found to have achieved some sort of military presence in the territory – however transitory – either through force, the threat of force, negotiation or payment.”

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Jumonville Glen and the genesis of America


It’s doubtful that one in a 100 Americans recognizes the geographic locale of Jumonville Glen, but 255 years ago this week it was the site of a small but crucial event that helped lead to the creation of the United States of America.

On May 28, 1754, George Washington, then a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia, was on his way through the Pennsylvania frontier to reinforce a British fort when he learned that a French force had been spotted in the area.

He and about 40 men went on a reconnaissance mission and came upon the sleeping French camp shortly after dawn. What happened next is still mired in controversy: The French maintained that their diplomatic party had been ambushed, while Washington reported that he had been fired on first.

When the smoke cleared, the entire French force appeared to have been killed, wounded or captured. The dead included the French commander, the Ensign Jumonville, who had been slain by Half King, an Indian ally of the British.

Called the Battle of Jumonville Glen, the event was the opening battle of the French and Indian War. The conflict not only ultimately gave Great Britain control of Canada and much of North America, but it laid the groundwork for the American Revolution.

“The goal was for the British to remove the French from North America , which they did,” Thomas Markwadt, public relations director at Fort Necessity, told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in May 2008. “It left the British with a large empire, which created the need for more revenue, which resulted in higher taxes for the colonists.”

As the colonists took on more of a role in their own defense, they began to assert their own identity.

“Because the colonists were no longer threatened by the French, the colonists no longer needed British protection,” Markwadt said. “They wanted to handle their own affairs. It set the stage for the American Revolution.”

Washington was just 22 years old at the time of Jumonville Glen and the battle marked his first test under fire. Although the Battle of Jumonville Glen was a victory for Washington, he lost the campaign when his troops were surrounded by French and Indian enemies a month later.

Cinco de Mayo: Sticking it to the French


Given that many Americans don’t know their own country’s history, it’s hardly surprising that many in the US have a misconception about the meaning of Cinco de Mayo.

Contrary to what the typical half-cocked hipster downing Corona light will spout off tonight, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, but rather commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over superior French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

At that time, France’s army had gone nearly five decades without being defeated, and Mexico was actually occupied by France at the time, and would be for another five years.

Cinco de Mayo has limited significance nationwide in Mexico, but the date is observed in the United States and other locations around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage, according to Wikipedia.

Mexican Independence Day is actually Sept. 16, marking the date in 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, declared Mexico’s independence from Spain in the town of Dolores.

Medal of Honor winner dies at age 89


US Army veteran Russell Dunham, awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in France during World War II, died Monday in Illinois at age 89.

On Jan. 8, 1945, near Kayserberg, France, Dunham single-handedly knocked out three enemy machine guns with his platoon behind him.

Despite being shot, Dunham killed nine Germans, wounded seven and captured two, firing about 175 rounds of carbine ammunition and throwing 11 grenades, thereby spearheading a successful diversionary attack.

According to Wikipedia, Dunham was a platoon leader in his unit, which became pinned down at the base of snow-covered Hill 616, a steep hill in Alsace-Lorraine:

“Using a white mattress cover as a camouflage aid against the backdrop of the snow, Dunham began moving up the hill. He carried with him a dozen hand grenades and a dozen magazines for his M1 Carbine.

“Dunham began crawling more than 100 yards to the first machine gun nest under fire from two machine guns and supporting riflemen. When 10 yards from the nest, he jumped up to assault the nest and was hit by a bullet which caused him to tumble 15 yards downhill. He got back up and charged the nest firing his carbine as he went, and kicked aside an egg grenade that had landed at his feet. Prior to reaching the nest, he tossed a hand grenade into the nest. When he got to the nest, he killed the machine gunner and his assistant. His carbine then jammed, and he jumped into the machine gun emplacement. He threw a third German in the nest down the hill who was later captured by his unit.

“With his carbine jammed, he picked up another carbine from a wounded soldier and advanced on the second nest, 50 yards away. As he came within 25 yards of the nest, he lobbed two hand grenades into the nest, wiping it out. He followed this up by firing down fox holes used in support of the nest. He then began his slow advance on the third nest, 65 yards up the hill. He made his advance on the third nest under heavy automatic fire and grenades. As he came within 15 yards of the nest, he tossed more grenades and wiped out the last nest, barely being missed at point blank range by a German rifleman.”

During the action, nearly 30 other Germans were captured. Dunham’s actions saved the lives of more than 150 American soldiers that day.

After he recovered from his injuries at Kayserberg, he returned to the line. On Jan. 22, 1945, he and most of his unit were captured, according to a story in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But only a day or two later, Dunham used a hidden handgun to kill a guard and escape. He walked three days in temperatures sometimes below zero to get back to U.S. lines.

Japan certifies first double-atomic bomb survivor


Proving that bureaucracy is a worldwide phenomenon, a 93-year-old man has become the first person to be officially recognized by Japan as a survivor of both atomic bombs dropped on the country by the US at the end of World War II.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi had already been a certified survivor of the Aug. 9, 1945, atomic bombing in Nagasaki, but Japanese officials have now confirmed that he also survived the attack on Hiroshima three days earlier, according to a story in The Telegraph.

There was no explanation on why it took the Japanese government more than six decades to confirm Yamaguchi’s status as a survivor of both atomic bomb blasts, however.

Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip on Aug. 6, 1945, when a US B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on the city. He then returned to his home in Nagasaki just in time for the second attack, according to The Telegraph.

Certification qualifies survivors for government compensation – including monthly allowances, free medical checkups and funeral costs – but Yamaguchi’s compensation will not increase, according to Toshiro Miyamoto, a Nagasaki city official.

The Hiroshima attack killed approximately 140,000 and the Nagasaki attack approximately 70,000. Among the dead were at least a dozen Americans, killed while being held as prisoners of war.

Free enterprise thawing hearts of former foes


How bad is the global economic crisis? Business leaders in the Adriatic coastal city of Dubrovnik are trying to attract Serbian tourists for the first time since Serb forces besieged the area in 1991.

While many in Dubrovnik still recall with horror the bitter war which began when Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991 and claimed thousands of lives, financial doldrums are forcing former foes to turn to one another in an attempt to weather the economic storm, according to a story in the International Herald Tribune.

“After the war, thousands of Serbian refugees fled Croatia, and many sold their homes,” according to the story. “But tourism officials say Serbs, who vacationed in droves on the Croatian coast when the area was still part of Yugoslavia, are slowly beginning to return. Last year, some 90,000 Serbian tourists came to Croatia.

“Tomislav Popovic, a Croatian tourism official from the Istrian peninsula in the north, who went to the tourism fair last month in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, said he was optimistic that the promise of an idyllic coastal holiday would increase Serbian tourism this summer by more than 50 percent,” the paper added.

Yes, while governments are notoriously poor at forcing people to get along with one another, it’s good old free-market economics that often proves much more effective at thawing relations between former enemies.

‘I tried very hard to forget, but I cannot’


The Times profiles Henry Allingham, the 112-year-old World War I veteran, one of Britain’s last two Great War survivors, who was  appointed Monday Officer of the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest order.

Mr. Allingham saw action in the air, on land and at sea. His first taste of action was as an observer and gunner searching for U-boats, Zeppelins and mines in the North Sea during 1915, according to The Times.

He witnessed the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval engagement of the First World War, and is believed to be the only witness of the battle alive today.

Mr. Allingham joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 1917 and flew over the trenches as part of the Allied offensives at Ypres and the Battle of the Somme, where more than 1.5 million men died.

“I will never forget,” he told The Times. “I tried very, very hard to forget it, but I cannot.”

Henry Patch, 110, the only other surviving British veteran of the First World War, was awarded the same honor last week.