Thursday, July 24, 2014

Boys in (Black and) Blue

Dear Readers,

The Half A$$ Historian was once a police officer.  And a damn good one, though some traffic violators referred to me as a jackass.  I took that as a compliment, after all, that is what they called Andrew Jackson.  I only left the profession because my body (specifically my back) gave up on me.  Otherwise, I'd still be doing it.  Sure, it has left me with scars both physical and mental, but there are a lot of happy memories too.  Now all this means that I have an interest in the history of law enforcement in the United States since it was a way for me to merge the two things I love the most. (Other than redheads, but that goes without saying.)  So let's jump in our trusty time machine and travel back to New York City.  Tuesday, June 16, 1857.

To set the scene, New York City had a rather corrupt mayor by the name of Fernando Wood.  He tapped in to the masses of Irish immigrants who had arrived steadily over the past ten years to build a political machine like few others.  Jobs with his Municipal Police Department were awarded in exchange for votes.  Officers could, and did, take bribes from merchants to provide extra protection.  The city administration was so corrupt that the New York State Legislature passed a law dissolving the Municipal Police and creating a new agency, the Metropolitan Police.  Hilarity would ensue.

Wood refused to cooperate and when the new city Street Commissioner arrived at City Hall, Wood had him tossed out of the building.  Mr. Devlin, the Street Commissioner, had an arrest warrant sworn out for Mayor Wood.  A captain from the newly created Metropolitan Police Department went to City Hall to serve the warrant.  He met with Mayor Wood and told him that he had a warrant for his arrest.  The Mayor refused to accompany him.  The Captain attempted to forcibly remove him from his office and this is where things went to hell in hand basket.

A couple of hundred Municipal Officers were stationed at City Hall.  They grabbed the Metropolitan Captain and literally threw him out the door and into the street.  In the meantime, a fifty man detachment of reinforcements arrived to help serve the warrant.  When they watched the Metropolitans approach, the Municipals charged out of the building, nightsticks in hand!  A person walking down the street would have seen quite a site.  Hundreds of uniformed police officers beating the crap out of each other on the steps of City Hall!  

Numbers carried the day for the Municipals and the Metropolitan Police were forced to retreat.  53 officers were injured.  The newspapers had a field day with the coverage, as you can well imagine.  Though is took a little more time, the Metropolitan Police eventually took control of the policing.  But the rivalry left us with one of the more interesting anecdotes in the history of law enforcement.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who did have occasion to use his ASP baton, but not on a fellow police officer!

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Living Canvas

Dear Readers,

Growing up I was always told that the body was the temple of the Lord.  Given how my body looks these days, I thought that the temple needed a little decoration.  I have three tattoos.  The first one I got in 2006.  The next two I got this year; one in March on my anniversary and one yesterday.  I have a few more on my list of what I want to get before the decorating is done.  Now if I could only hire an interior decorator to fix up my spinal issues then I'd be all set!  Tattoos are much more common now than they have ever been before.  According to the FDA, 45 million Americans have gotten ink done.  The most common age group to have tattoos is the 30-39 year old age bracket, one which I fit comfortably in.  What surprised me is the fact that statistically, more women have tattoos than men in the United States, at least according to one poll.  What I'd like to look at today is a brief history of the art form we call tattooing.  I do mean a brief look since to do it full justice I would have to write a book.

The first person that we know of that has a tattoo is Otzi the Iceman who dates from 4,000-5,000 B.C.  I'm not sure what drove him to do it.  I doubt it was purely cosmetic reasons like a lot of people do today.  Who knows.  Celtic tribes enjoyed tattoos as did the Germans.  Tattoos were often common in the Pacific Islands as well as Egypt and even China.  Many arguments against getting tattoos are religious in nature.  The Old Testament makes a reference to tattoos when it says "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:28) I find it amusing that the next verse says "Do not prostitute thy daughter and cause her to become a whore."  I wonder if that is why so many of the super religious people think that way about women with tattoos?  Those who use religion to criticize people with tattoos often fail to apply about 300 other verses to thinks that they are doing wrong in their own lives.  I believe we call that hypocrisy.  To be fair, the New Testament doesn't mention tattoos at all.  Now I doubt Jesus would have gotten one, but I'm pretty sure he'd still love someone who had them.  Just saying.

Here in the United States, tattoos were long seen as something that sailors, criminals, or women of ill repute did.  The regular guy or gal on the street stayed away from the needle.  American sailors were issued formal papers as a means to avoid impressment into the Royal Navy.  As there were no photographs or birth certificates back then, they listed birthmarks, scars, height, weight, and, you guessed it, tattoos!  We can probably take this to mean that sailors, even back then, liked the tattoos.  Tattoo historians have identified a German immigrant named Martin Hildebrandt as the first professional tattoo artist in the United States.  He operated during the Civil War era and did a lot of work on soldiers.  Some prostitutes in the Old West also sported some ink.  I wonder if they charged extra for the added.........scenery.

They still were not common place among the general public until much later though.  In 1902, the US Navy issued a new regulation that said that no sailor or recruit could sport a tattoo of a naked lady.  For a regulation to be issued, you know it had to be a problem!  Tattoos slowly began to hit the mainstream after World War 2.  Plenty of the 16 million servicemen and women during the war came home with some ink.  Finally by the 1970s, it became socially acceptable (albeit only slightly) for people to begin to have some body art.  But forty years removed from that, and people with tattoos are still subjected to death glares by some members of society.  TV shows such as Miami Ink, LA Ink, NY Ink, London Ink (you get the idea) have spread their popularity and also have made tattoos so common that a lot of people don't bat an eye any more when they see one.  The funny thing is that a lot of people are surprised to know that I have any.  I guess they think it doesn't fit my personality.  I happen to think it suits me just fine.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half Tattooed Historian who will make a deal with people who don't like tattoos.  If you don't tell me what to do with my body, I won't tell you what to do with yours.  Sounds fair to me!  I happen to like girls with tattoos as I am partial to the pin-up girl/burlesque look.  Especially if she has red hair!

(And please, no anti-tattoo comments.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

When September Ends

Chief Sitting Bull

Dear Readers,

Today I take a break from my recent run of posts concerning the Great War to discuss something of a different nature.  Today I considered the end of the American Frontier.  In the 1890s, an enterprising young historian named Frederick Jackson Turner wrote an article entitled "The Significance of the Frontier in American History."  It was first presented to a special meeting of the American Historical Association which met at the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. This just happened to be where the country's first identified serial killer also stalked the fairgrounds!  Later that year, what came to be known as the Turner Thesis was published and reached a wider audience.

Simply put, Turner argues that the existence of the frontier shaped American life and culture and thus ensured that American followed a different pattern of development than the rest of Europe.  I am inclined to agree with what much of Turner said.  I think Europe might also agree.  When Europeans think of Texas, they often think of the Wild West which hasn't been wild in over a hundred years.  The legacy still exists.

For a different group of people though, the end of the frontier meant the end of a way of life.  Plains Tribes were slowly pushed out of their own territory and onto reservations by the end of the 19th Century.  The "Battle" of Wounded Knee (really more of a massacre than a battle) is considered to be the last real "battle" of the Indian Wars.  It took place in 1890, just three short years before the debut of the Turner Thesis.

Discussing Native Americans is a controversial topic because it doesn't fit with our nationalistic view of American History.  We don't like to acknowledge the fact that our government committed genocide against our Native Populations.  The English did it before we won independence and the Spanish also did it in their possessions.  I doubt anyone reading this article today has ever murdered a Native American, so I have a hard time understanding the hesitance to accept that what our government did to them was wrong.  (This is similar to the English view that nothing they ever did to the Irish was wrong.)

When I talk about the Indian Wars in class, I show a You Tube video that someone put together which has images from The Sand Creek Massacre, The Battle of Little Big Horn, and the Wounded Knee Massacre.  The song that plays in the background is Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day.  It is a fabulous song and an appropriate one for this topic as the song deals with a loss that cannot be regained.  Native Americans lost their way of life once the Europeans.  Now, tribes try desperately to keep the language and culture alive.  I hope they do.  We need a constant reminder of the price that comes with progress.

As my memory rests
and never forgets what I lost
wake me up when September ends

Summer has come and passed
the innocent can never last
wake me up when September ends

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who has been a Green Day fan since high school!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hurrah For the Next Man That Dies


I have long been fascinated with vintage military aircraft.  When I was in Junior High I could quote you detailed information about the turning radius, top speed, climbing speed, maximum altitude, and armaments of just about every World War One and World War Two aircraft.  I don't know where this fascination came from though it probably was more of a borderline obsession than fascination.  I didn't let my school get in the way of what I was really interested in and thus my grades suffered accordingly.  Maybe I flew one in a past life.  I don't know.  But what I can say is that I've forgotten most of the trivial information as time and age have taken a toll on me.  My love of the aircraft remains as strong as ever though.

I think I was probably 12 or 13 when I first saw the movie Dawn Patrol, the 1938 version with the great Errol Flynn.  Flynn was a great actor (when he wasn't busy seducing underage girls....allegedly) and I do have a certain kinship with him.  I am not a swashbuckling pirate or fighter pilot, roles he played so well.  Flynn suffered from degenerative disc disease in his lower back, as do I, and spent the later years of his life in considerable pain because of it.  When I watched the movie I remember being mesmerized when the pilots gathered in the bar after their flights and sang a song which appears a few times in the movie.  It has many different titles and even different sets of lyrics.  One of the titles it goes by is the title of this blog post. The tune and the words have rattled around in my head ever since.

The director did an very good job with the areal combat scenes given the limitations of the time period.  Some of them were lifted straight from the original 1930 version of the film directed by Howard Hawks. (Even back then Hollywood remade things like they do today!)  I was absolutely enthralled with the spinning dodging aircraft, engines belching black smoke, machine guns chattering.  It was a different era and the movie drew me into it and made me feel a part of what was taking place.

Pilots arrived at the front with as few as 8 hours of solo time.  The average life expectancy for a RAF pilot on the Western Front in April of 1917 was about five days.  They called it Bloody April for a reason!  The pilots were young, often 18 or 19 years old.  They lived fast and unfortunately many of them died young.  I think the movie did a bang up job representing their lives.  These men lived in an enormous pressure cooker.  New men arrived and died before anyone learned their names.  The survivors fueled themselves with alcohol and song after missions in a simple celebration of survival.  And the anthem they sang in the song, which was popular among pilots during the War was as follows (partially):

Cut off from the land that bore us
Betrayed by the land that we find
The good men have gone before us
And only the dull left behind

So stand to your glasses steady
This world is a world of lies
Here's a toast to the dead already
Hurrah for the next man that dies

I will conclude by giving a "shout out" to my dear friend and fellow blogger, Christy Putnam.  We share a love of teaching, reading, and classic films.  She posted something on my Facebook page the other day about World War One films given that we are now at the 100th Anniversary of the start of the war.  It gave me the idea of revisiting some of my favorite films and writing about them on my blog.  If you share our love of classic cinema, please check out her work here.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who, despite my love of vintage warplanes, is terrified of flying.  It is quite the paradox to be sure.  Perhaps I should as a therapist about it some day.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Greatest War Film Ever Made


I am commemorating the 100th Centennial of the start of the Great War by watching All Quiet on the Western Front today.  I'm talking about the original 1930 version, not the stupid remake they did in 1979.  Seriously, has Hollywood had an original thought since 1970?  Rumor has it that they are going to remake it again as it is allegedly in pre-production.  All they make today is remakes of old classics and usually crappy ones at that, but I digress.

Of course, the novel upon which the film is based is a masterpiece.  Remarque was a veteran of the war and he truly captured the horror of the First World War in a way that few other writers have done since.  It was first published in serial form in a magazine in 1928 and then in novel form in 1929.  It sold 2.5 million copies in the first 18 months alone!  That is amazing given the time period.  They didn't have Amazon back then.  It is the best war novel and the best anti-war novel at the same time.  A lot of people don't know this, but Remarque wrote two sequels to it, The Road Back and Three Comrades.  The Nazis had no use for Remarque as his novels were critical of war.  They much preferred Ernst Junger.  Once the Nazis came to power, Remarque moved to Switzerland.  His sister was executed by the Nazis in 1943 for "undermining morale."  Allegedly the judge said "Your brother is beyond our reach but you, however, will not escape us."  The judge was later killed in an Allied bombing raid on Berlin.  We call that karma.  Remarque was married a couple of times but his third and final wife was the actress Paulette Goddard.  She is one of my favorites.  She was a redhead and also incredibly hot, but those two usually go together don't they?

The film is just as remarkable as the book.  Novels do not always translate well to film but this is an exception.  It is just as moving today as it was when it was released.  The themes are universal and appeal to people across the world.  I first saw this movie when I was a young man, probably elementary school aged if my memory serves me correctly.  The depictions of the horrors of trench warfare defy any attempt to explain it.  I read the book when I was in elementary school as well.  (I was already reading on a high school level by the time I was in 4th grade.)

This fall I will begin using the novel in my US History Since 1877 course.  I am going to work in several different assignments with it that connect with both World War 1 and World War 2.  All of this is in an attempt to make my courses a little different and perhaps more rewarding for my students.  I think there is a lot that they can take away from reading this novel.  At least I hope there is.

Allow me to quote from it briefly.  "This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession. and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure for those who stand face to face with it.  It will simply try to tell of a generation of men who, though they may have escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war."

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who is grateful this book caught my eye on the shelf at the B. Dalton bookstore at the mall sometime around 1988.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Playing for Keeps


Today Germany takes on France at the World Cup.  One hundred years ago this summer, Germany and France would face each other on a very different field.  This time, victory would not be decided by the question of goals but rather by the lives of young men of the same age that we see on the playing field in Brazil.  The world looked on that summer of 1914 as events unfolded in Europe in much the same manner as the world looks on and awaits the outcome of this game.  The outcome of the contest in 1914 would change the world though, unlike the outcome of this soccer game will.

The two countries (as did all the major players in Europe) eagerly embraced the coming war.  French soldiers marched to the front clad in gaudy uniforms of blue coats and red pants.  The Germans had their spiked helmets.  Throngs of citizens cheered them and tossed flowers to the soldiers as the marched through Berlin, Paris, and London.  If they had only known what was in store for the soldiers, for Europe, and for the world.  

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian.  My little German redhead will be cheering for Germany in the soccer game and so will I.  (In my case, it is more of a matter of self preservation than anything else!)