Monday, March 31, 2014

The Air War


Imagine flying in a steel tube.  The cold air outside penetrates every part of your body, despite the extra clothing you are wearing.  Black clouds of flak fill the air and bits of shrapnel clang off of your airplane.  Some of them come a little bit too close for comfort.  And then there are the German fighters.  They appear and spray cannon fire and machine gun rounds.  You try to manhandle your .50 caliber machine gun from the waist hatch but they appear and disapper so quickly that you have a hard time finding a target.  And you do this for hours on end.  Statistically, you are more likely to be killed, wounded, or captured than you are to survive your tour and return home.  There are a lot of ways to die in the skies over Europe during the Second World War, none of them pleasant.   

I have always been fascinated with military aircraft.  Ever since I can remember, I've always studied planes and the men who flew them.  This past week I finished reading Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germay.  It is a very well written account of the growth of the American bomber force in England and their tragidies and triumphs.  Donald Miller relies heavily on first hand accounts of the fighting and his paints on a broad canvas.  The book touches on every aspect of life in a bomber squadron.  From combat stress to going to London on a three day pass, no stone is left unturned.  I cannot recommend this book enough to those of you who have an interest, not just in the air war over Europe, but also in World War Two in general.  However, the book does focus on the 8th Air Force and so others in Europe might feel a little left out.

This has led me to wonder, Dear Readers, if any of you have a favorite aircraft?  Obviously the B-17s are quite popular, and rightfully so.  Any others?

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian.

USAF Photo

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Reflections on Reenacting


I spent close to 15 years of my life as a reenactor.  I attended my first event when I was 18 years old.  I attended my last even at 33.  Though I am only 35 now, my back issues no longer allow me to do all of the fun stuff I did in my youth.  I can't even sit down without pain now and have to work standing up.  I have portrayed a Confederate infantryman, a Union infantryman, and Confederate sailor, a Union sailor, a Union surgeon, and a French Foreign Legion soldier from World War 2.  I was starting to put together a German and a Russian World War 2 kit so that I could do some Eastern Front reenacting when all of my back troubles began.  I traveled across the country going to events and met some really cool people who are devoted to their impressions and our past.

Here are just a few of my favorite memories.  At Oak Alley, Louisiana in 1998, I experienced "The Great Moon" when soldiers from the Louisiana Tigers marched over to the 13th US Infantry camp and mooned them while in formation.  That was a very cheeky thing to do!  I've had a lot of fun memories associated with Liendo Plantation in Hempstead, Texas.  I spent the third weekend of every November there.  It usually rained for at least part of the time, but the rest of it was great!  Since it is only about an hour and ten minutes or so away from my college, I had students show up (for extra credit of course) and they got to learn a little about the Civil War and also eat some really good fried food!  In 2009, my brother and I were sharing a tent and an awful storm blew threw that Saturday night.  It was literally sucking the tents off of people.  There were funnel clouds reported in the area too.  Good times!

In May of 2004, one of my buddies and I drove threw the night to reach Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island in Mobile Bay.  It was a great event, but hot!  We landed Marine reenactors on the beach and stormed the Rebs inside the fort.  They got the better of us that day.  I met some really cool naval reenactors from the Pensacola area.  If my memory is correct, Mobile Bay had a visit from a guy named Hurricane Ivan the following summer and he did a number on the local area though the fort survived.

And while we are talking hurricanes, I also attended an event at Old Fort Jackson way down in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana before Katrina.  I still think of all of the folks I met down there and I hope that they are okay.  That Parish got hammered by Katrina and they are STILL recovering.  The event ended up getting rained out and so my traveling partner and I headed home around mid day on Saturday.  We stopped off at a Kroger in Belle Chasse which was just up the road a ways.  I wisely took my brogans off before going inside.  My partner did not.  As we rounded the corner near the frozen food section, he went airborne.  I'm talking body three feet in the air horizontal to the ground kind of airborne.  To this day we call it "The Belle Chasse Ballet".  We stopped off in New Orleans and visited the Camp Street museum.  Mind you, we were still in uniform.  Tourists outside were stopping to take their pictures with us!

Yes friends, I have a lot of memories.  Too many to share, really.  But I think back on those years fondly.  If I were physically capable, I'd still be out there.  So to my fellow reenactors, I'd like to say "Carry on without me.  I'm with you in spirit."  Perhaps I should develop a new Civil War impression as a member of the Invalid Corps?

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian!

Performing a Medical Inspection on new recruits!
Teacher Field Day, Conroe, Texas 2011
(That's me walking towards the camera.)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

An Inconvenient Truth


I want you to imagine a surprise invasion of the United States.  Enemy tanks, aircraft, and infantry invade our country along a front that stretches from Boston to Miami.  They penetrate our country up to a depth of 1,000 miles.  Though eventually we are able to successfully repel this invasion, it is done at a great cost.  Around 25 million of our fellow countrymen are dead by the time it is over.  Whole cities are obliterated.  Orphans roam the streets.  Entire regions are depopulated.  What would that do to our country?  To our nation?  Now I want you to imagine that in this conflict we had an ally who's country was not damaged at all during the war.  They fought against a small portion of the enemy's army.  Now imagine that after the war, that country, our wartime ally, refused to acknowledge that the United States played any role at all in the victory.  They raised generations of children who didn't even realize that we had been part of the war.

Sucks, doesn't it?  Now you know how the Russians feel.  This is a controversial topic, though it really shouldn't be.  The Russian experience on the Eastern Front during the Second World War is something that we here in the United States know little about.  For decades after the war, it was understandable given the fact that the Soviet Union was a closed society and not much was available here detailing their experiences.  There is no excuse for it now.  Professors who teach about World War Two without even mentioning the Russians very much other than to say that the Germans invaded do exist.  Our textbooks even leave out hardly any mention of them.  And that doesn't even take into account our high school curriculum.

Why do I have students who know nothing about the fighting between two giant totalitarian powerhouses?  Why isn't this covered at all in the curriculum at any level?  Yes, I get the fact that they were communist and we don't like communists in this country.  But they took on roughly 80 percent of the German Army during the war and beat them!  They also inflicted about an equal percentage of the casualties suffered by the German military.  We would NOT have won the war had it not been for our Soviet allies.  That, my friends, is a fact.  Yes, we furnished them with vital supplies via Lend Lease, but they suffered the kind of casualties that our country would not have accepted in order to defeat the forces of Fascism.  We could not have incurred those kind of losses.

Oddly enough, we also don't mention the atrocities committed by our Soviet allies against the civilian populations in Germany and also in the countries that they "liberated".  It is kind of a paradox.  Now I know that this is a controversial topic.  However, acknowledging the sacrifices that our Soviet allies made during the War is in no way endorsing their system of government nor is it taking anything away from the sacrifices made by our fighting men during the war in Europe.  We bore the brunt of the fighting in the Pacific and the Soviets did in Europe.  That's just how it goes.

Yet many traditional academic historians still refuse to accept this reality and thus contribute to a society that doesn't know these facts either.  But what do I know?  I'm just a half a$$ historian.

My name is Lee Hutch and though I may be a half a$$ historian, at least I know about the Eastern Front!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Der Fuehrer's Face


I can remember a funny occasion that happened when I was around 13 years old.  I was over at my grandparent's house and had staked claim to the television to watch my grandfather's collection of World War 2 movies.  (He had quite a stash!)  I can't remember what movie it was, but during one of the scenes the men were singing "Bless Em All".  Granddaddy just happened to be walking by the television at that exact moment.  He stopped for a minute and listened intently and then he started to laugh.  This shocked me as Granddaddy did not laugh that often.  Even in his 80s, he still maintained his military bearing from the War.  I asked him what was so funny.  He told me that he remembered that song very well, but that wasn't how they sang it at the time.  I asked him what he meant.  My grandfather, a devoutly religious man, then launched into the real version of the song which was actually called "F--k Em All".  Oddly enough, it makes more sense that way.  He told me that it was sanitized for release on the radio during the war but that wasn't how he remembered singing it.  I've read that the same is true for the World War 1 classic, Mademoiselle from Armentiers.  The soldiers sang a much more bawdy version than that which was recorded for posterity!

I've always been a fan of music and I use it as a teaching tool.  I try to play as many songs from the time period that we are covering as I can.  I call it teaching.  My students may call it torture.  Yesterday we listened to The Battle of New Orleans in my 1301 course.  I know it isn't technically from the time period, but it is about the battle and is hilarious.  Today, I taught/tortured my 1302 students with songs from the Second World War.  I also showed them the Donald Duck cartoon "Der Fuehrer's Face".  They thought that it was the funniest thing that they have ever seen.  I would assume that it wouldn't be much different from kids who watched it when it debuted.  I hope that at least gave them some connection with those of a previous generation.

Music that is popular during wartime can range from patriotic to sentimental to downright obscene!  My grandfather was particularly fond of "I'll Be Seeing You".  I remember him humming it from time to time while he was working around the house.  If you were to ask me to name what my favorite period song would be, I would have a very hard time.  The best I could do would be to break it down in the following way:

Civil War: Lorena
World War 1: tie between It's A Long Way to Tipperary and Mademoiselle from Armentiers
World War 2: F--k Em All, We'll Meet Again, Lili Marlene (German version)

So, Dear Readers, I leave you with this question.  What is your favorite song from the Civil War through World War 2?  Can you pick just one?  I sure can't.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a half a$$ historian!

Vera amazing WW2 singer!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Few


Tomorrow I am lecturing about World War 2.  We'll start with the Munich Pact and end with the Battle of Britain if all goes according to plan.  One of the items that I try to stress with my students is that many of the British pilots who flew during the battle were in the 18-22 age range, the same as them.  They often flew as many as 6 sorties day.  There are accounts of pilots returning from missions and being so exhausted that they couldn't even climb out of their cockpits without assistance.  They came from all over the British Empire and also Europe.  A handful of Americans joined in as well.

They stood alone against Hitler.  Now, I'm no fan of the British Empire being a staunch Irish-American, but you have to give the devil his due.  It is difficult for me to really make my students understand exactly how important the Battle of Britain was for the future.  I know that I can say it, but simply saying something in class and getting your students to fully appreciate it are two entirely different things.  That just about sums up my daily struggle.  I would imagine that any history teacher could say the same thing.  I call myself a teacher rather than a professor because I teach.  I do not profess!

We can debate whether or not Hitler could have successfully invaded England even if the Luftwaffe had won the Battle of Britain.  There are plenty of arguments that could go either way.  One thing that cannot be debated however is the fact that England holding out during the Summer and Fall of 1940 was vastly important to the future of Europe and by extension the United States.  Had England surrendered, there really isn't any doubt that Hitler would not have invaded the United States.  However, he have used his position as the master of Europe to dominate us economically.  Truth is, we'd be forced to trade with him.  Especially if he had successfully pulled off Operation Barbarossa.

So just as the English people owe a debt of gratitude to "the few" who turned back the Luftwaffe in 1940, so too do those of us living in the United States.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian.


Dear Readers,

Many of you may be familiar with my work on the Civil War Addict blog and the Great War Addict blog.  Writing two blogs and teaching 9 courses between three schools got to be a bit much.  Add to that, the never ending back pain that I suffer on a daily basis, and as you can see, I had to scale back on a lot of things.  Alas, the blogs fell by the wayside.  I tried briefly to resurrect them after Christmas, but that proved to be short lived as soon as the semester started.  So I have decided to take things in a different direction.

This blog will be a bit more broad in scope, encompassing things that fit into either of the other two blogs as well as other items of historical interest.  Also, as someone who teaches history, I'll also include my thoughts about history as an academic discipline and the direction which I think it is (unfortunately) going.  I hope my loyal readers don't mind the format change or the addition of a different blog that combines elements of the other two.  Since I have the best readers in the world, I'm sure you won't.

So what's with the name?  The longer I teach the more upset I get about many, if not most, historians out there.  The truth of the matter is that the historical profession and the oldest profession are more similar than we would like to admit.  We both make our livings off of other people.  These days, it seems like in order to get a PhD in history you have to specialize in race, class, or gender.  That's it.  Just take a look at the new dissertation titles and you will see what I mean.  If you are a military historian like I am, forget it.  It is true, I don't have a PhD in history, but I was accepted into a very good university and offered funding in order to pay for it, but I chose not to attend.  I am increasingly dismayed that many professors out there seem to want students to leave their classes feeling bad about their country.  Yes, the United States has done some despicable things in our history.  But would you rather live in Stalin's Soviet Union?  Nazi Germany?  All countries have skeletons in their closet.  We must acknowledge ours in order to move forward.  But when that is all that a US History survey course focuses on, there is a problem.

I approach my classes in a different manner.  I let the participants in the events speak for themselves.  I give facts and very few opinions.  The students can make up their own minds.  All groups are mentioned in my class.  But at the same time, I have come to realize that students want to know more about the individuals who were people just like them than hear a recitation on some obscure topic.  They just want to hear a good story, that's all.  I don't consider myself a historian.  I am a teacher first and a storyteller second.  At best I am decent at both, but not great at either.  That, dear readers, is why I call myself a half-a$$ historian.  I apologize if you are offended by the language.  In fact, my mother will probably refuse to read the blog because of it!

PLEASE, PLEASE click on the Facebook link on the top right of the page.  This blog has its own Facebook page titled "The Historian" (lest the FB Nazi's remove it for using profanity!).  PLEASE take a second to "like" it.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am proud to be a Half A$$ Historian.