Thursday, May 29, 2014

The War Within


This summer we will begin to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of World War One.  I would assume that this will be a much bigger deal in Europe than it is here as Americans, other than those who like history, are not very well informed about that war.  Didn't we enter it when the Japanese sank the Titanic?  Anyway, one thing that came out of the war was the beginning of a true medical study of something which they called "Shell Shock".  It goes by a slightly different name today.  We know it as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It has existed ever since man first made war on his fellow man.  And contrary to what many, many people think, one doesn't have to serve in combat to get it.  ANY traumatic event can trigger it.  Samuel Pepys, the noted English diarist who survived the Great Fire of London wrote of his inability to sleep due to vivid nightmares and paranoia in the aftermath of the fire.  Charles Dickens survived a horrendous train accident at Staplehurst in 1865.  In the moments following the accident Dickens helped rescue trapped survivors.  Some of them died with Dickens at their side.  In the months to follow, Dickens wrote of feeling "unwell".  Later he wrote "I am not quite right within."  He had no words to describe how he felt because the medical profession really didn't either.  Dickens died five years to the day he survived the accident.  Those that knew him said that he was never the same again.

During the Civil War it was called "nostalgia" and in the aftermath of the conflict, those who exhibited symptoms such as anger, withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, etc, were said to have "A Soldier's Heart".  This is not a disease of the heart, however.  It is a disease of the mind.  Of course, I know it really isn't a disease in the true sense of the word but it can be just as deadly as cancer as it slowly grows inside your head.

Thanks to World War One, shell shock received more notice by the psychiatric community though their treatments ranged from simple to barbaric.  During World War Two, doctor's called it "battle fatigue".  Though it isn't really discussed all that much today, or admitted, it was a big, big problem.  The military tried its best to grapple with it but such a thing is tough to get a grip on.  My Uncle Forrest (actually my great-uncle) survived a vicious night of fighting on Guadalcanal.  As Japanese troops slipped through the American lines he was forced to lay under the dead bodies of some of his friends and feign death in order to survive.  He came home after the war but was never the same.  He attempted suicide on at least one occasion.  Sadly for him there was nothing done for World War Two veterans who had a hard time readjusting.  They had to learn to cope on their own.  Uncle Forrest was an American hero but he was never treated as one.

After Vietnam the medical community had to sit up and take notice.  They finally got their act together and came up with a diagnosis from which they could base treatment.  The problem before that was the lack of clear guidelines as to what this disorder actually was.  Now we know, or at least we think we know.

But what do I know about it?  I'm just a history professor, right?  Wrong.  I was a firefighter and a cop before I was a mild mannered history professor.  PTSD is rampant in the law enforcement community and NOTHING is said or done about it.  More current or retired officers commit suicide every year than die in the line of duty.  Furthermore, as a police officer you are THREE TIMES as likely to, as we so eloquently refer to it in the business, eat a Glock sandwich, as you are to have someone else shoot you.  Think about that!  Why is no one talking about this?  Simple.  If PTSD is considered a job related disability then it opens the door for widows of officers who commit suicide to receive line of duty death benefits.  The government and the agency brass don't want that to happen.  Think I'm kidding?  Watch this video.  Seriously, watch it.  The public is grossly uninformed about the issue of PTSD as it relates to firefighters, police officers, and EMS personnel.

Statistics say that as many as 1 in 4 active officers and half of retired officers suffer from symptoms of PTSD.  I am one of them.  I have always had calls that stuck with me in the days, weeks, months, and even years that followed.  I handed in my badge for good in August due to a back condition that prevents me from doing that job anymore.  I was fine for about a month.  Then it began.  It started innocently enough.  I'd have a nightmare every couple of nights.  Then they got more vivid.  In my dreams I was experiencing the call all over again and acting it out in my sleep.  I lost my appetite.  I stopped sleeping all together.  I couldn't concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes.  Reading which once brought me great pleasure proved to be impossible.  I began to withdraw from my family and push people away.  And then there were the flashbacks.  I felt void of any emotion other than anger.  I'd snap at the slightest thing.  I didn't know what to do.  Police officers really don't have anywhere to turn for help since this is something that is not talked about in law enforcement circles.  It isn't "manly" to admit you have a problem.  Thankfully I have a dear friend with whom I teach who gave me the name of someone.  I knew I had to seek help and I did.

It helped for a while, but this is something that cannot be cured.  You have to learn to cope with it.  Some days it just gets to you and there is nothing you can do but sit back and let it wash over you like a wave.  It destroys everything it touches.  I've put my beautiful redheaded wife through hell since not only do I suffer from this, I always suffer from a chronic back condition that prevents me from doing just about anything around the house.  She has to work full time and also play nurse to me in the evenings.  I wouldn't blame her if she left me.  I've told her as much myself but she has made the decision to stick by me no matter what.  My own family is either afraid or ashamed of me, I'm not really sure which.  I don't blame them.  I'm not a fun person to be around.  I wouldn't want to hang out with me either if I had a choice.  They don't understand what I'm going through.  I can't really explain it either.  No one can understand it unless you are going through it and I hope you aren't.  I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.  PTSD kills a little piece of you each day.  You can see it when you look at your face in the mirror.  Some days you feel strong enough to fight back and some you don't.  

Please, for the sake of everyone who has suffered from this debilitating disease since the beginning of time, don't treat us like we are garbage.  Don't be afraid of us.  Don't push us away.  We are human beings who got this way through no fault of our own.  Though I may have a mental condition, I don't consider myself mentally ill.  I just saw things that overwhelmed my body's coping mechanisms.  PTSD is NOT about what is wrong with us.  It IS about what happened to us.  See the difference?

Please take 4 minutes to view the video I made about PTSD.  You may find it here.  Hurry before You Tube pulls it.  I think I can speak for all of my fellow PTSD survivors when I say "I wish my mind would forget what my eyes have seen."  I WILL NOT LOSE THIS WAR WITH PTSD.  I AM STRONG ENOUGH TO BEAT IT.

So as we approach this World War One Centennial, let us remember those who came home in body but not in mind.  They are the War's forgotten victims.

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

True Adjunct Tales


My brother, who is my mother's favorite child, told me about these videos on You Tube quite some time back.  I'm just now getting around to watching them.  For those who slave away in the nether regions of academia with little pay, no perks, no health insurance, and no chance of full time employment, these are the videos for you.  The blog is called True Adjunct Tales.  You can find it here.  Or you may prefer to watch the videos on You Tube.  Anyone who has been working as an adjunct for more than about a year can identify with most of the scenarios presented therein.  I know I can.  For the sake of not losing my job, I cannot describe some of the things that I've experienced in detail, but let's just say that I know what it is like to bust my a$$ every single day for a college that doesn't give me near the loyalty that I give them.  I pour my blood, sweat, and tears into what I do and it is frustrating when your employer doesn't care.  It makes no difference how good a teacher I am.  Sure, I could go in and half a$$ it in the classroom and just collect a paycheck, but my sense of honor won't let me.  I don't work for the college.  I work for my students.  I owe them the best I can give.  I am reminded of what General Patton said, well, what George C. Scott said in the Patton movie, "I'd lead you wonderful guys into battle any time and any where."  That's how I feel about my "kids".  When you watch True Adjunct Tales, I think you will see why it is so frustrating because most of what is presented in these short videos is true.

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Where Has All The Fashion Gone


Americans don't know how to dress anymore.  Maybe I think that because I am too old fashioned at 35.  When I look at college students today, these are some of the things I observe on a daily basis.  Short shorts with fur boots.  Seriously?  If your legs are cold wear pants!  Spandex pants with t-shirts are now appropriate classroom attire.  Gone are the days where students dress appropriately for class.  And don't get me started on faculty.  It is not appropriate for a college professor to wear jeans and a t-shirt unless they are administering a final exam. (I give everyone a fashion pass that week!)  I've even seen professors wear shorts.  It makes my head explode.  Dress for success people!

I am a shirt and tie person myself.  I like three piece suits and fedoras.  I inherited what I can only describe as a hat fetish from my late grandfather who had a collection of well over one hundred baseball caps.  Most of them had statements on them that just about anyone would consider offensive.  My favorite had a bill that was twelve inches long.  The hat said "Mine's Longer Than Yours."  My papaw was quite the character!

The 1940s are my favorite decade when it comes to fashion.  I think the movie stars of that era are way classier and much better dressed than those we have today.  Thank God for Mod Cloth!  I've bought my wife quite a few dresses from them.  She looks good in 40s clothing.....well, any clothing, but especially 40s clothing.  There is something about a well dressed woman from that era that make me go weak in the knees.

Thankfully a lot of the youth today have rediscovered 1920s fashion thanks to the recent Great Gatsby movie.  I hope they keep that interest alive.  Not only can they learn a little bit about history but they can also dress the part.  What more can you ask for?

I guess my question is where did we go wrong as a county?  Why are we so casual in our attire, even in the workplace?  What happened?  I wish I knew.

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

6 years, 20 pounds, and a lifetime ago.
This was my standard detective wardrobe.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Special Memorial Day Tribute


On this Memorial Day, I would like to pay tribute to veterans of a long ago conflict.  My family were driven from their homes in Ireland in the 1840s due to starvation and oppression at the hands of the English.  The trip to America was not an easy one as they were crammed into the holds of the coffin ships.  Estimates say that 15% to 20% of them died on the trip across the Atlantic.  When they set foot in this country, the nation did not welcome them with open arms.  My family landed in New Orleans rather than the better known ports of Boston and New York.  In fact, New Orleans received the third largest number of Irish Immigrants during the "famine".  A few short years later, the Civil War began.  My family enlisted along with everyone else, eager to show their loyalty to their adopted country.  They served with honor and integrity for a cause that was perhaps doomed from the start.  A few died but most came back and lived long productive lives.  There are still some immigrants and the children of immigrants serving in our Armed Forces today.  They have quite a bit in common with my ancestors.

I often think about the quote from Sgt. Kilrain in Gettysburg when he mentions the Irish fighting on both sides of the Civil War. "We came over here in the same boat only to end up killing each other in the land of the free."  So today I'd like to remember my Irish immigrant veterans who fought valiantly for a cause that was not truly theirs to begin with and with their blood purchased the acceptance of their people in this country.

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


Friday, May 23, 2014

Happy Memorial Day


Writing a Memorial Day post is tough.  If I talk about veterans of one war, I feel as though I have left out veterans from other wars as well as veterans who did not serve during wartime.  If I mention some of my family's veterans then I might leave out others.  I would never do that intentionally, of course, but it would still happen nonetheless.  So let me first start by saying thank you to all veterans living and dead who have served throughout our nation's history right up to our present day conflicts.  You have the thanks of a grateful nation. And if there may be some in the nation who are not grateful, which is their right after all, feel free to kick them in the unmentionables.

When it comes to remembrance, I have two favorite things.  One is the song "Green Fields of France" which was originally composed by Eric Bogle.  To truly appreciate the song, you must listen to the version of it recorded by the Dropkick Murphys.  Whereas I am the Half A$$ Historian, they are the most bada$$ or bands!  Here is a really cool video of the song with images from World War One.  Please take five minutes out of your Memorial Day Weekend to watch it.  Also, I am fond of the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor serving in World War 1.  Who can forget the image created by the phrase "In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row"?  McCrae died of pneumonia in January 1918 and never knew how popular his poem would become or the fact that in Europe poppies are used as a way to commemorate World War 1.

So take time out of your busy weekend to thank a veteran if you know one and if you don't, ask around and I'm sure you'll find one to thank.  I have a soft spot in my heart for our nation's Vietnam vets because of how they were treated.  I'd like to extend a particular thanks to them.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who salutes our nation's veterans on Memorial Day.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Legio Patria Nostra


A couple of weeks ago I had a doctor's appointment.  This one particular doctor that I go to has a nearby attraction that I love to visit.  Half Price Books!  Despite the name and the reasonably price books, I can't seem to get out of there without spending $50!  Buying books is one my vices.  Normally people may not consider that a vice but when you live in a 900 square foot house and have around 1800 books it can get to be a problem.  Add to that the fact that I typically add around 80 books a year to the collection and you can see the issue.  

Anyway, I found this gem while browsing the history section.  Half Price Books is on my poo poo list because they have the Irish History books under the United Kingdom section.  They don't appreciate the fact that I point out to them that Ireland is a Republic and not part of the UK and that the English occupation of Northern Ireland is a remnant of imperialism.  While standing there trying to decide if I should mention that to them again, this book caught my eye.

I admit a certain fondness for the Foreign Legion.  They have been romanticized over the years by movies like Beau Geste and from having the likes of Alan Seeger in their ranks.  The fact that he did, in fact, have a rendezvous with death gets left out.  As a kid I always thought it would be fun to march through the desert with my kepi blanc singing Le Boudin.  But my life didn't work out that way in the end.

This is an excellent book that delves into their history from the beginnings right up to the present.  We often forget that units of the Foreign Legion serve all over the world.  They maintain a strong presence in sub Saharan Africa and prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they soldiers of the Legion were perhaps the most combat seasoned troops in the world.  The book is really good and I think it is better than the one written by Douglas Porch though some may disagree.

So if you are looking for action and adventure without having to survive the Foreign Legion's rigorous selection and training process, pick up a copy of the book.  You won't regret it.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who would rather read about marching through the desert wearing a kepi blanc than actually doing it.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Don't Fire Till You See the Whites of Their Eyes!


I admit a certain interest in great quotes from bygone days.  Who among you can read the account of Captain John Parker telling the Minutemen on the green at Lexington "Don't fire unless fired upon but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!" without getting goose bumps.  Or of someone (the accounts vary as to who) at the Battle of Bunker Hill giving the brave American defenders the command "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!"  Reading those quotes makes me want to jump up and fight redcoats or sign a Declaration of Independence.  Sadly, perhaps, my only relatives fighting in the American Revolution did so on the other side as they were Irishmen who "took the King's Shilling."  One of them is famous!  His name is Lord Edward Fitzgerald and he served in the British Army until he resigned after the Revolution and worked to free Ireland just as the Americans managed to do for themselves.  That eventually cost him his life.

History is full of famous quotes.  Nowadays, historians like to go back and say that no one really said those things or that someone other than the person it was attributed to said it.  You know how the revisionist historians are.  I think they should leave the quotes alone and just let us remember them as they are, even if they may be a little off.  So here are a few of my favorite quotes from history:

"Double canister and give them hell, Bragg!"  General Taylor to Captain Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican War.  Too bad for the Confederacy that Bragg didn't do more of that during the Civil War!

"I was not defeated, but only foiled in my intentions." General Earl Van Dorn following the Battle of Pea Ridge.  Too bad for Van Dorn that in 1863 his other intention, having an affair with Mrs. Peters, would be fatally foiled by her husband!

"If this be treason, then make the most of it!" Patrick Henry, May 29, 1765.  I actually like this one more than Give me liberty or give me death.

"Take your damned regiment back to Ohio!  There is no enemy nearer than Corinth!" said General Sherman the night before the Confederates launched their surprise attack that started the Battle of Shiloh.  After the war, Sherman would claim in his memoirs that he was not surprised at Shiloh!  Sure Uncle Billy....

"They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace!" Patrick Pearse's oration at the funeral for O'Donovan Rossa.  I am a proud descendant of some of those very Fenians of whom he spoke.

"Nuts!" General Anthony McAuliffe's response to the German demand that he surrender his men and the town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.  I'm wondering how exactly they translated that into German!

These are only a few of my favorite quotes from the past.  What are yours?  Feel free to share them!

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who has no great quotes associated with me, other than the time I had a student ask me how many enlisted sailors left the US Navy and went to the Confederate Navy and I said "Only a handful of seamen."  Not my finest hour to be sure!

"If they mean to have a war, let it begin here!"

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Great Jackasses of History


Are there any historical folks that you just can't stand?  One of these days I plan on writing a book called Great Jackasses of History in which I will write about some of the ones that I despise.  However, I see no reason why not to give a brief preview of my thoughts on the matter here.  I do know that one man's jackass is another man's hero and so I'm sure this post might offend some and make others very happy.  Spare me the hate mail.  This is just my opinion.  You are welcome to start your own blog devoted to worshiping the people that I think are jackasses if you are so inclined.  Seriously.  Go ahead.  Blogger is waiting for you as are legions of adoring fans.  Well, maybe.

I believe I should first give you the criteria that I have used.  This is not a list of evil people.  Hitler, Stalin, Himmler are not jackasses.  I have another term for them but I do not use that term in mixed company.  This is a list of stubborn, arrogant, contemptible, or otherwise unlikable people.  

Shall we begin?  I'll list them in reverse order with the biggest jackass (who will grace the cover of my book) last on the list.  No cheating and skipping ahead!  If you do, you'll end up having to work for a jackass or have one as your history professor.

5.  Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery

I can already hear an angry chorus of voices (with English accents) raised in protest over his inclusion on the list.  I do not seek to take away anything from his military accomplishments.  However, Montgomery was arrogant and a Machiavellian schemer.  Not to mention, in his memoirs he attacked many of his former comrades, including General Eisenhower.  The Operation Market Garden fiasco was his idea.  He convinced Eisenhower to adopt his plan and then the British went ahead with it despite evidence that there were German tanks in Arnhem.  So yes, General Montgomery was a jackass.

4.  Alexander Hamilton

Today, I think you would be hard pressed to find an American who would support revoking the Bill of Rights.  Not so for Mr. Hamilton.  This is what he had to say on the topic in The Federalist 84.  "I go further, and affirm, that Bills of Rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous."  The Bill of Rights is dangerous?  Say it ain't so, Mr. Hamilton!  This is the same guy who argued with James Madison over the concept of a National Bank and insisted that it was an implied power.  Madison, the Father of the Constitution, said it wasn't.  Hamilton said "I know what you meant when you wrote it, Little Jimmy."  Or something to that effect.

And for added jackassery, we have the affair.  Hamilton, who was married, had a three year long affair with Maria Reynolds, also married.  When her husband found out about it, he approached Hamilton and told him that he would allow Hamilton to continue the affair if he paid a certain amount of money each month.  Hamilton did.  So just to be clear on this, he paid a guy so that he could sleep with the guy's wife.  That, dear friends, is the mark of a jackass.  When Maria Reynolds finally filed for divorce, her attorney was none other than Aaron Burr!  Burr would later ensure that Dick Cheney was not the first Vice President to shoot someone.

3.  General Benjamin F. Butler

Maybe it isn't really his fault.  After all, Lincoln made him a general for political reasons, not because Butler had any real military background.  When he landed in New Orleans, he immediately grew unpopular with the citizens.  One of their favorite pastimes was to empty their chamber pots from a second story window onto the heads of unsuspecting Yankees.  All is fair in love, war, and fecal matter, after all.  In response, Butler issued General Order Number 28 which stated that any female inhabitant of New Orleans who in any way insulted the United States or any Union soldier or sailor would be treated "as a woman of the town plying her avocation."  In other words, she would be treated as a prostitute.  This drew outrage from near and far, including in Europe.  To further his war on freedom of speech, Butler also shut down newspapers and had a man hanged for tearing down a United States flag.  Historians have speculated that the fortune that Butler acquired during the war came from his conducting an illegal cotton trade in New Orleans because no other source for it is known.  Rumor has it that he also stole silver spoons from wealthy mansions in the city giving rise to his nickname, "Spoons" Butler.

His time as the military commander in New Orleans was immortalized by the citizens of that fair city when they started making chamber pots with his likeness in them.  What better way to show your......affection......for General Butler!  I'd really like to get an original one.  That would be quite the conversation piece to have on the bookshelf.  I wouldn't use it, of course.  Well, probably not.

2.  Oliver Cromwell

I don't consider Cromwell a jackass for anything that he did in England.  But a lot of people don't realize what he did in Ireland.  After sacking the town of Drogheda, Cromwell called it "the righteous judgment of God on these barbarous wretches."  He instituted a policy in Ireland of forced evictions.  Irish men, women, and children were sold into slavery in the West Indies, giving rise to the phrase "To Hell or to Barbados."  Those who refused to adopt English instead of, you know, their own language, were driven into the west of Ireland.  Whole parts of the country were depopulated.  Actually, I should say the Catholic areas were depopulated.  Of course, Cromwell has his fanboys who claim that since he wasn't physically present during some of the atrocities that he wasn't responsible for them.  Well, those armies would not have been in Ireland in the first place had he not led them there.  Others justify it by saying that Catholics had attack Protestants in Ulster before Cromwell's arrival.  That is also true.  But why were the Protestants there in the first place?  They were sent over by Elizabeth to drive the Catholics out of the North.  When the Irish fought back, Cromwell used that as justification to invade the country and attempt to eradicate the Irish people from the face of the earth.  Up yours, Cromwell.  We are still here.

And let us not forget the Irish curse: mallacht Chromail ort.  The curse of Cromwell upon you!

And last, but certainly not least as history is full of jackasses:

1.  General George Armstrong Custer

Why do I consider Custer to be my number one jackass?  His arrogance.  I do not suffer arrogant people gladly.  It is a bad habit, but one I find difficult to break.  I HATE arrogant people.  Be confident in your abilities.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Do not cross the line into arrogance.  Unfortunately, the world is full of arrogant people, many without reason to be.

There are some who consider Custer to be the greatest cavalry commander of the 19th Century.  They are wrong.  Lets us consider the finer points of his jackassery.  First, he abandoned his troops in the field as they were operating against hostile Indians to go and visit his wife.  For this he was court martialed and relieved of duty for one year.  I don't care if you are married to the most beautiful redhead in the world, it is inexcusable for a commander to abandon his troops while they are on combat operations to go and visit her.  That alone should have gotten him kicked out of the army had it not been for friends of his in Congress.  Second, he publicly criticized President Grant's Indian policies while still on active service.  The President is the Commander-in-Chief.  He makes the policy.  The army's job is to follow it.  That doesn't mean that Custer could not have an opinion.  Of course he could.  But don't criticize your boss in public and then go crying to your General when the President won't let you command an expedition, which is exactly what Custer did.

And what then can we say about the Battle of Little Big Horn?  Do you believe in Kama?  I do!  It caught up with Custer eventually.  You know, when your scout Mitch Boyer who spent his life on the plains tells you "I've never seen this many Indians in one place", then perhaps attacking them without support might not be a good idea?  Maybe?  Custer launched his attack at Little Big Horn because he wanted all of the glory for himself and he did not want to share with the rest of the column.  Let us also consider the fact that he was told to wait for the entire column to come up before attacking and he didn't.  We call that disobeying orders.  Custer was pretty good at that.  Sometimes it worked and well sometimes it didn't.  General/President Grant had this to say about the battle: "I regard Custer's Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary--wholly unnecessary."  

I have a framed print of the Edgar Paxson Last Stand painting hanging in my living room.  Any day that starts off with seeing Custer's demise is bound to be a good one.

These are my great jackasses of history.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a half a$$ (not a jackass) historian.  

And PLEASE if you haven't already, take a moment to like my Facebook page that goes along with the blog.  You can find it here.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Where in the World is.........Everything?


History enthusiasts aside, most Muricans can't find anything on a map.  We can't figure out exactly where our own fifty states are, much less other continents.  And those continents have countries too!  Plus, if you had the added benefit of living through the end of the Cold War, then you had to learn all new names for countries.  What had been Yugoslavia is now several different countries.  Some African countries change their names more often than some people I know change their underwear.  In a way, I can't blame Americans for royally sucking when it comes to geography.

I was fortunate, as was my brother.  We both had the best damn Honors World Geography teacher in the State of Texas.  I took her class during the 92-93 school year and I think my brother did during the 96-97 school year.  Not only did I learn a lot of cool stuff about other cultures, but when I finished the class I could name the capitol city of every country in the world and all of the states that make up Mexico.  I have since forgotten most of the capitols, but I do know the countries......more or less.  So Mrs. Potter, if you read this, I owe you a debt of gratitude.  I don't know what you did that made your class so good, other than it was a lot of fun and you were a very energetic teacher.  It was in your class that I first started considering majoring in history in college.  So in a way, not only do I owe my geographical knowledge to you, I also owe my career to you as well.

I think that in some small way I fail my students by not working in a map quiz or something so that I can make sure they know where things are.  I do show a lot of maps in class on my power points, since I like maps.  (Especially battlefield maps!)  But I don't know how much of that sinks in.  Perhaps that is something that I can do a little better in the future.  Since it is US History, I don't mean they need to know every single country in the world.  But knowing some of our major geographic features in the US and where some of the European countries are wouldn't be a bad idea.

The American view of the world!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Time Well Spent

Christmas 1940: Five young people make a promise to meet again in the same location the following year.  What follows is one of the best war movies I have ever seen.

I literally just finished watching this film.  It is a German movie originally called "Our Mothers.  Our Fathers." Generation War is the American title.  This is a three part series that runs almost five hours in length but it is worth every single second.  I have never felt more emotionally invested in a movie in my life.  I found myself angry with the filmmakers for bringing it to a close after a scant five hours.  The drama reaches out and grabs you.  My stomach twisted into knots at some of the more vivid scenes.  Not many movies can do that to me.  In the DVD insert, the director said that he wanted this film to be an homage to the memory of his parents' generation.  One of the characters is based on his father.

I am not going to give away any of the plot because I really think that you need to see this one for yourself.  However, it concerns five young friends, caught up in the events of World War Two.  It is from the German perspective and I know that a lot of people have an issue with films shown from their point of view.  However, I think it does an excellent job of depicting how people can be caught up in events much larger than themselves.  All of the characters have to make difficult choices, some for the better and some for the worse.  You can't help but feel yourself hoping that all of the characters survive to fulfill their promise.

The battle scenes are just as good, if not better, than Saving Private Ryan.  And probably more numerous too as the bulk of the film takes place on the Russian Front.  Fair warning: some of the scenes on the battlefield and in the hospitals are graphic.  The makeup folks do a good job transforming the characters from fresh faced eager young people into hollow eyed survivors by the end of the film.  The story line is also top notch.

Most World War 2 movies that focus on the German side only have three types of characters.  Fanatic Nazis.  Heroic Resisters.  Tragic Victims.  There is none of that here.  Like reality, the film shows that the lines that distinguish right from wrong and good from evil can become blurred at times.  In Europe, some criticized the film for not talking enough about the Holocaust.  However, that is not what the film is about.  I know that when it was released, some Brits and Canadians criticized Saving Private Ryan for not talking about their own countries during the Normandy Invasion.  Just as with Generation War, that wasn't what Saving Private Ryan was about.  The movie does show the brutal nature of the war between Soviet and Polish partisans and the German Army and it does show German soldiers committing horrible acts against the Russian people.  So rest assured, they do tackle the issue of the German Army's involvement in war crimes in a way that a lot of films don't.  Generation War also shows some of the Red Army's war crimes too. (killing wounded German soldiers, rape, etc)  

All told, this is an excellent film and one that every World War 2 enthusiast should own.  It was released here in the States on May 6th.  I pre-ordered my copy and so I got it on the release date.  I waited until today so that I could watch the whole thing uninterrupted.  I advise those of you who watch it to set aside five hours so that you can do the same.  Trust me, you won't be sorry.  If anything, this film will prompt discussion among the current generation of Germans as to what the actions of their grandparents mean in today's world.

P.S. The additional benefit of watching a German movie is German girls!  I am fond of German women.  Especially the little redheaded one that I married.

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

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Remember the......What Was That Again?


Yesterday I led one of what has become a bi-annual walking tour of the battlefield at San Jacinto State Park in La Porte, Texas.  Each semester (fall and spring) I do it as part of my course, though attendance is not required as it is on a Saturday.  This time around I had my largest group yet, over 60 people.  The majority of them were students and the rest were family members and also some of the other faculty from one of the colleges where I teach.  It give my students the chance to interact with me in a non-traditional educational environment.  They get to meet my wife and sometimes my son when he decides to grace us with his presence.  Over the years I've met the wives, girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends, parents, and children of my students through doing these tours.  We usually have a good time.  Even when it rains.

(At the site of Santa Anna's tent)

I've always thought that it was important for my students to see me as a person first and a professor second. I know that more than a few colleagues would disagree with me.  In fact, a few years back I was standing in the hallway talking to a couple of former students of mine about the weekend's NFL scores.  I don't know who it was, but a faculty member complained on me and said that it was "not professional" to discuss anything other than class with my students.  I never found out who the person was and that is probably a good thing.  I'm sorry, but in my view, if my students are not comfortable talking about the Saint's lack of defense (which is truly historic), then they won't feel comfortable talking to me about the class.  Lines of communication don't open by themselves.

(My wife.....not one of my students!)

What amuses me is how many people grow up in the shadow of the San Jacinto Monument, which is larger than the Washington Monument, and never go there to visit.  It is also the home of the Battleship Texas which just turned 100 and is the only surviving dreadnought class battleship to serve in both World Wars.  Unfortunately, the State of Texas spends less money on the state park system than Iran does and I don't even know if Iran has states, much less state parks.  It is a travesty but it has been that way for a long time.  I think everyone in Texas probably knows about the Alamo.  Independence was won at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836 and perhaps that makes it a wee bit more important than the Alamo!

My students learn far more by spending two hours with me wandering over the battlefield than they do listening to me talk about it in a classroom.  History is best learned by visiting the sights themselves.  Pictures don't always do it justice.  You can't fully appreciate a battle unless you've had a chance to put eyes on the terrain and see it the way the commanders saw it.  If I were an independently wealthy adjunct professor (and those terms are mutually exclusive by the way), I would take my students around the country and visit as many battlefields as I could.  We'd bounce from battlefield to historic site to battlefield again across the country in 1301 and then the world in 1302.  I'm sure my classes would be more popular then than they are now.  And they are already pretty popular.  

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