Friday, May 27, 2016

We Have Met the Enemy and It is Us


Please forgive me for not writing a history blog today, I feel that the events with not just college football but athletics as a whole deserve their own blog post. Let me preface this by saying that I am and always will be a football fan, but damn, it is getting hard to still spend time and money on it. The country and sportswriters are reacting with righteous indignation at the revelations released yesterday by a certain institution in Waco (ironically enough, a Baptist one). But should we really be surprised? There are a myriad of causes which reach far beyond the borders of this particular college and indict not just the individuals involved in the latest scandal, but also the culture the media and sports fans have helped create. Please allow me to elaborate:

The Media

Once upon a time, journalists published hard hitting stories that helped, I don't know, bring down a president. Now, too many sportswriters are really nothing more than sports fans who can write. They support their local teams and are hesitant to dig into matters involving them or even ask tough questions. Consider how the local media in Houston soft peddles around the Texans and acts as their greatest cheerleaders. While some journalists have asked tough questions, too many are content with basking in the celebrity status of the athletes they cover. Yet now they act shocked that such things happened at a certain school. It has been happening at many schools and when word gets out, they won't cover it! Consider the allegations against JW at Florida school. Or CN. Or JM. The media tap dances around these issues because God forbid anyone say anything that might lead to a star player getting in trouble! I don't know how much of this is the NCAA quashing stories as that is something the NFL is good at.

Now, to be fair, writers for newspapers in small towns that happen to have major universities have a tough job. If they do ask tough questions of the university athletic department or dig too deeply into reports of wrongdoing, they risk having their access pulled. This effectively means they can't do their job. Of course, they also risk alienating readers which is something no newspaper wants especially in these days of internet browsing. So I admit it is a tough place to be. But for God's sake, when you engage in hero worship of athletes and teams rather than be journalists, you are part of the problem.

The Fans

Fans want their teams to win. We help create the win at all costs mindset which allows such wanton disregard for the law and for basic decency to happen in the first place. Fans are giddy with delight when rival schools get busted (see the reactions of fans from a certain school in Fort Worth and how they have reacted to the incidents in Waco) but they excuse any misconduct when it happens on their own campuses. Consider the NFL as well. When the Cowboys brought in a known domestic abuser, the response from many of their fans was "well, he can help us win and he needs a second chance." Playing sports is a privilege. Men who abuse women or sexually assault them have no business ever stepping on the playing field again be it in high school, college, or the pros. So when we fans accept known abusers on our teams because they help us win, yes, we are part of the problem. And don't be so quick to point fingers at other schools or other teams as I'm sure many of them have their own skeletons in the closet, though perhaps not on the scale of what we've seen this week.

And this cuts across gender lines as well. It is an absolute travesty that the starting goalkeeper on the US Women's National team, a domestic abuser, was never disciplined by US Soccer and allowed to play in the World Cup. And now, she's advocating for equal pay. How about equal treatment with male domestic abusers? She gets a pass because she's female and the face of women's soccer in this country.

"The Brand"

Administrators at universities want to protect the image of their university at all cost. This leads to the burying of all sorts of information, sexual assaults being one of them. Colleges operate more now as business than as institutions of higher learning. Whenever any serious incident happens on campus, the first instinct of the administrators is not to protect the victims but to protect the institution. Keep it out of the media and hope it blows over. Now, when you through big time college football money on top of it, the situation only magnifies. Recruiting for both athletes and non-athletes can be effected by crime statistics, etc. So if you don't want "the brand" to suffer, never let those things see the light of day. University police departments which answer to university administrators are just as complicit in this at times. Even the local police are sometimes complicit as well. Image sells.

The NFL also acts to protect its image at all costs, be it by covering up concussion research or domestic violence. Do you REALLY think the league never saw the Ray Rice video until it leaked online? Plus, they admitted they conducted their own investigation which means they at the very least should have known one existed. Willful ignorance is not a defense. Oddly enough the commissioner himself when punishing the Saints head coach for the bountygate scandal said that although there was no evidence the coach knew about what was happening, ignorance was no defense. Except when it is his ignorance protecting an important player from domestic violence. Just like universities, the NFL circles the wagons to protect its own image and its brand.

The Entitlement Culture

These things all combine to create a culture in which athletes see themselves as above the rules that apply to the rest of society. I saw it in the kids I coached at the junior high and my wife's high school athletes. It starts here, not in college. From day one, athletes who are essential pieces of their team are allowed to operate outside the boundaries which apply to regular students. Some are passed when they should have failed. Their conduct does not result in the same punishment which a regular student receives. While the vast majority of athletes do not engage in any misconduct, those they do come to feel they are special and that the world owes them something. They always get what they want. In high school, it may be a grade they don't deserve. In college, it may be a girl that doesn't want their attention. If it is a star player, some schools are willing to turn a blind eye to their actions. Or actively cover them up. This culture exists because we allow it to exist.

The Individual

Ultimately, of course, the individual is responsible for his or her own conduct. But as people don't really hold themselves accountable, it is up to society, the leagues, or the schools to do it. And this is where we are failing.


This issue is one that is systemic and epidemic without our society. Athletes have been allowed to operate outside the rules. Colleges put revenue and championships ahead of basic human decency. We fans excuse misconduct by players on our team as long as they help us win. The media doesn't ask tough questions. College police departments (and in some cases local ones) don't fully investigate certain matters. This is not something that is specific to one university as I guarantee you that it has gone on and is currently going on at other places as well. This will not get any better until WE as a society makes it get better. Unless we, the ones with the spending money, stand up for what deep down we have to know is morally correct, we don't have the high ground to react with moral outrage. We have to change things ourselves because the institutions won't, absent a lot of pressure both public and political. That part is up to us. The ball is in our court now.

What will we do with it?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

One Picture: One Thousand Words

Dear Readers,

There are a few things I love; books, cats, redheads, and more redheads. That said, I also enjoy poring over old photographs and also old maps. You can learn a lot from looking at pictures. When I see pictures such as the one above, I'm drawn first to the eyes. I've always heard that the eyes are the window to the soul and I think you can tell a lot about the young men in the above picture simply by the eyes. I also like the aviator sunglasses the one on the left is wearing. Maybe he is about to apply for Top Gun school. Photographs can be very important primary sources as they give us a glimpse into how things looked, however care must be taken as photos from the 40s could be staged just as some people today use Photoshop. (Back then you had to work a little harder to fake a photo.) Both the Germans and the Russians faked photos of atrocities committed by the other side as a way to stir up anger and resentment against the enemy. Given how barbaric the war between them was, I'd have to say it worked.

One thing that I struggle with is getting students to make certain connections. Sure, I can stand in front of the class and beat my gums for an hour or so about just about any historical topic, but it doesn't seem real to me or them. Simply saying "27 million Soviet citizens died during World War 2 isn't a good enough way to get the point across. The numbers are such that it is too hard to wrap the mind around. Perhaps a simple photo could do the same? 

This young Russian soldier is saying goodbye to his mother and what I assume to be his sister, based on the similar appearance, though I guess it could be a wife or girlfriend. The grief in their faces is real as it depicts their understanding that they most likely will never see him again. Is this simple, candid photo enough to accurately stand as a symbol for the 8 million military and 19 million civilian lives lost in the Soviet Union? Maybe it is. 

I've always said before that I think one of the biggest impediments to studying history is that we do not view the people we read or talk about as being "real". I try to stress, badly I'm sure, that these past figures were just like us. They loved. They hated. They felt joy. They felt sorrow. Some may have toiled away in obscurity, but others did not. We of the current generations do not have a monopoly on human emotion. Yes, our grandparents had sex and listened to music and danced (unless they were Baptist). I spent a lot of time around my grandfathers, both World War Two veterans, and I always tried to remember that they were young once, just like me. Thankfully because they were willing to spend their late teens and early twenties fighting to rid the world of fascism, I was able to enjoy my life when I was that age.

Part of the reason I like photographs so much is that it forces me to think. Take the above photo. Obviously the attractive girl caught my eye. Beyond that though, I wonder what happened to all the people in it. The soldier in the foreground has dirt smeared on his face and has no doubt been in the field or in action recently. The soldier in the background has the hardened eyes of a young man who has seen too much. The young lady appears to be happy to be receiving the attentions of the lads in uniform while the young man in the background looks on. Given the statistics, it is likely that these soldiers died during the war. The young lady may not have fared much better either. Thinking of things like that always brings the images to life a bit more.

Maybe I should use more photographs in class. I don't know. Requiring students to analyze photographs may be of some use to them in their future endeavors. I try to change things up from year to year just so I don't get too comfortable and some type of photographic assignment might be just the trick. 

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who spends too much time looking at old pictures. (And pictures of cats. And redheads.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Death in the Winter

Dear Readers,

I’ve been doing a lot of research into a particular topic and as a result, I suffered a very vivid and graphic dream two nights ago. It has happened to me before when I am heavily digging into a topic to write about it. This is the dream as best I can remember and it will serve as the opening scene of the future project.. It takes place in East Prussia in January 1945. In the dream, my vantage point was that of Karl. I was seeing things from his point of view. And when I say vivid, I mean I could smell and hear everything. When I woke up my ears were tingling, I was covered in a cold sweat, and my hands were shaking. You might say that I really get into history. As a bit of a preview, my project involves the experiences of a German soldier, a Russian soldier, a female German refugee, and a female Russian soldier. All of them have their own stories.  

Warning: This depicts graphic wartime violence. Do not read any further if you are squeamish about death. You have been warned!

A long line of refuges trudged across the snow. They clutched suitcases and the hands of loved ones as the bitter wind tore into their bones. The lucky ones rode in wagons pulled by horses, but most walked. A few chanced a quick glance behind them as they walked. Behind them they left a world they would never see again. Women carried babies. Mothers held the hands of their children. Elderly men and women hobbled along with legs weakened by age, hunger, and cold. The sound of crying babies drifted across the snow covered landscape.

Karl stood at the edge of a crop of trees which bisected the road. As the refugees drew nearer, his heart began to beat a bit faster. Was she among them? For weeks he’d sought information as his ad hoc unit moved from location to location but none of his inquiries were successful. It was as if she had disappeared. Maybe, just maybe, he might catch at least a glimpse of her now. A curse from behind him caused him to turn. One of his teenage soldiers sat with his head in his hands as he rocked back and forth. Thomas, the only other veteran among the 20 men dug into snow in the tree line, stood over the young soldier and slapped him across the helmet.

”You fucking coward,” Thomas swore. “Get over there and dig. Or I’ll shoot you in the leg and leave you here as a present for Ivan. You know what they do to captured soldiers? Eh? Want to find out?”

“Enough, Thomas,” Karl said. “Leave him alone.”

“But sir,” Thomas protested, “we need all these kids to be ready.”

He approached Karl and continued to speak in a whisper. “Panic is contagious and we are going to have enough trouble getting these bettnässer to shoot their guns.”

“I know,” Karl replied.

The hastily assembled unit consisted of eighteen teenage soldiers, most of them culled from the groups of refuges over the past few weeks. Thomas, a veteran sergeant whose service stretched from France to Russia and back, gave them rudimentary training which consisted of how to operate a few weapons without endangering themselves. Karl, once a sergeant himself, commanded the unit officer. The boys wore uniforms too large for their frames, made small by the poor wartime diet. A few could not wear their helmets as they obscured their eyes. Weapons were almost nonexistent. A few carried rifles and Thomas managed to obtain an MG42 machine gun. Panzerfausts were the main weapons in their meagre arsenal. To work, they would have to let the tanks get close, and Karl doubted if the children he commanded could withstand what he knew was coming.

The sound of engines drew Karl’s attention back to the refuge column. He scanned the horizon and saw nothing. Some of the refuges heard it too and increased their pace. Four specs appeared on the horizon as they grew closer, Karl’s stomach twisted into a tight knot. Aircraft. Russian aircraft.

“Move!” he yelled at the refuges. “Get down. Airplanes! Hurry!”

He gestured helplessly at the sky but the column of people was too far away to hear him. The planes winged over and dove on the column. Machine gun rounds kicked up spurts of snow. Some of the civilians ran for cover while others dove onto the ground and burrowed into the snow. A few stood in shock or defiance. Karl watched in horror as a man stood with his arms folded across his chest as bullets marched towards him. The back of his head exploded in a fountain of blood when one of the bullets found its mark. Each plane released a bomb and the ground shook with four explosions in quick succession. The blasts tossed bits of wagons, horses, and bodies into the air. Karl watched in horror as a woman’s body, lifted by the bombs, split apart in midair. The lower half fell towards the ground as intestines trailed along behind. The planes made one more pass and then disappeared. Silence descended upon the column. No one screamed. No one cried. They simply gathered their belongings and their loved ones who survived the attack and moved on. Karl swallowed hard and suppressed the urge to vomit.

“Bastards,” Thomas said. “Fucking bastards.”

“Just like we did in Poland and France,” Karl replied. “I never thought I’d happen to see it here though.”

“Listen,” Thomas said as he grabbed Karl’s arm.

In the distance, a new sound drifted across the snow covered field. It was a faint rumble which grew louder by the minute. Thomas looked at Karl who nodded. There was no need to speak. Thomas directed his attention to the child soldiers under his charge. Most buried themselves into their shallow fighting positions when the aircraft appeared and were spared the spectacle of the attack on the refuge column, but now they would have to stand against Russian tanks.

“Quick,” Thomas ordered. “Get ready.”

The eyes of the young soldiers grew wide with fear. Their hands shook as they clutched their weapons. A few started to cry. One began to pray.

“Enough of that,” Thomas growled.

When the first tanks appeared, dark objects against the snow, the first screams came from the refuges. They began to run towards the woods as the tanks opened fire with their machine guns and then their main guns. Explosions tossed bodies into the air like rag dolls. As the tanks reached the spot where the column had been when the aircraft attacked, the tankers simply drove through the carnage with little regard for the bodies of those who lay there. One wounded woman, little more than a girl, clutched at the snow with her hands as she tried to drag herself out of the way of the lead tank, with her shattered legs leaving streaks of blood in the snow. She screamed as the tank driver adjusted his course and ran over her. Karl watched as bullets cut down an elderly man with a cane and then a small child who ran in circles calling for his mother.

And then Karl saw her. She ran towards the woods with her blonde hair trailing behind her. Thomas shouted a warning as Karl dashed out of the woods and ran towards her.

“Lotta!” he shouted. “Lotta, look out! Over here!”

Lotta’s face registered shock as Karl appeared a few meters in front of her. She began to run towards him. As the distance between them closed, so too did the bullets. A round tugged at Karl’s coat while another one kicked up snow between his feet. And then she was in front of him. Karl held out his arms and she slumped forward into his chest.

“I thought I’d never see you again,” Karl said as he forgot, for the briefest second, the predicament which faced him. “Lotta?”

She did not lift her head. He placed his hand under her chin and lifted it so that he could see her face. A faint smile appeared as a trickle of blood ran from the corner of her mouth. Karl heard Thomas shout at him from the woods. Karl picked Lotta up and moved as fast as his legs allowed back to the questionable safety of the trees. Thomas ran out and met him halfway and helped carry Lotta. Once they reached the edge of the woods, Karl placed Lotta on her back and patted her cheek. Her eyes focus on him for a moment and her lips moved.

“What?” he asked. “What is it liebchen?”

Karl placed his ear over her mouth but the words no longer came. He looked back into her eyes and noticed the same vacant gaze he’d seen in the eyes of hundreds of soldiers and civilians alike over the past four years. A hand squeezed his shoulder and he looked up. Thomas stood over him.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Karl nodded and stood. The tanks shifted their focus onto the woods and rounds exploded in the tops of the trees sending shards of deadly branches down onto the men. Some of the soldiers began to scream. The one whom Thomas had chastised early stood and threw off his helmet. His eyes darted from left to right, and then he turned and ran. Karl sighed, pulled his pistol from his shoulder, and shot the teenager between the shoulder blades. His body moved a few more steps before his legs gave out.

“We’ll fight here. And we’ll die here,” he yelled. “Understand?”  

And there you have it, Dear Readers. I wouldn’t call this a dream so much as I would a nightmare and I’m not sure why I had it to begin with other than it fits what I have been researching. Perhaps I should spend more time watching fail videos on YouTube. The above is a first draft and thus is a rough cut. I have not done any polishing to the narrative, so it may be okay or it may totally suck. I have never been a good judge of writing, my own or others.

Oh, and just a reminder that this is my intellectual property and as such, it cannot be copied, reproduced, or duplicated. In other words, it is protected under copyright laws. Just so you know.

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Some Other Beginning's End

Dear Readers,

Another school year is drawing to a close. Though typically professors may break things up by semester rather than year, for the past three years I've been teaching dual credit courses at a local high school though I am a college employee and do not work for the school district. For that reason, I'm in a unique position to get to know my classes over the course of a year rather than a semester. It is always a bittersweet time of year for many reasons, but this year seems more so. My students are remarkable and I've had some of my favorite classes ever, which is saying a lot because I don't get attached to anyone or anything easily. But I fear it may all be coming to a close.

The continued complications from my back injury are not getting any easier to live with. Quite the opposite. It is constantly two steps forward and three steps back. In some ways, I'm more limited than I was two years ago, as odd as that may sound. Add to that, the mystery illness which I've suffered from since at least June (probably longer) which was finally diagnosed in February. I'm not going to go into graphic detail, but it is an incurable auto-immune disease in which my body attacks itself. This means that I am am the only person strong enough to kick my ass. It is not fatal, but long term it can cause organ damage which can be. The list of symptoms are very long and I suffer from quite a few which causes issues for me in the classroom from time to time.

I'm frustrated and for the first time I am seriously considering leaving the classroom for good, though in my broken down state I don't think I'd get very far. I'll stick it out for another year if I can and then see what things look like. Part of it is due to concerns over my health and the other part of it is I'm tired of being "just an adjunct". I know I'm not full time faculty material. I'm too outspoken and I don't do politics. That alone rules me out. I don't have a PhD and, honestly, I'm not a "scholarly" person whatever the hell that means. I'm just a guy who likes to talk about history. Nothing more. Nothing less. I'm not a great teacher and I'm probably not even a very good one, especially not this year. I do think, though, that I'm an okay storyteller. 

As much as I try to shield my kids from my day to day aches and pains, I fear that for the first time I let my health intrude into my classroom this year. This makes me feel really bad for my students. While I only missed once because of having a procedure done, there were days when I felt like being anywhere but in the classroom. The chronic fatigue which comes with my disease means that even moving is hard sometimes. But I'm still here and I'm still fighting. I'm Irish and we just don't know when we are beat.

So as I walk out of the classroom here in a few weeks, I don't know what my future will hold. It may very well be that I'll be back in the same spot next year. I may be teaching at a different college. Or I may not be teaching at all. I'll just keep taking it one day and a time and hoping that things will work out for me eventually. Lord knows I'm due for some good luck but as I bear the Hutchison Curse, I don't see it happening any time soon. 

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How Can Man Die Better: Death on Culloden Moor

Dear Readers,

Saturday marks the 270th Anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, one of the most significant battles in British History. In a way, it is significant for American History as well. It followed at the end of the Jacobite Rebellion which began in 1745. The Rebellion itself was an attempt to restore the Catholic Stuart line to the throne of England. In particular, Bonnie Prince Charlie was the man of the hour. I do not pretend to know all of the nuances of the Jacobite Cause or the details of British succession. This said, I do believe in the cause my Jacobite ancestors fought for. Why? Because some of them paid with their lives and others with their fortunes and I rather doubt they would have done that were they not convinced of the justness of their cause. 

My grandmother was a Cameron and thus I am related to many of the Camerons who stood on the moor that day under their leader, the Gentle Lochiel. And when I say this, I am not saying it simply because the last name is the same. I've done the research and know specifics. In fact, Clan Cameron is partially responsible for the rebellion. When Prince Charlie landed in Scotland, he had but a small force of men. He was not sure how he would be able to raise troops. Then he heard the sound of bagpipes and 800 Cameron men came matching over the hill to join him. Other clans flocked to his cause as well. After initial successes, infighting and incompetence plagued the cause and thus on that April morning in 1746, the Jacobite Army stood on the moor cold, hungry, and tired. 

The battle was more of a slaughter. The bravery of the Clans was no match for the rifles and artillery of the Duke of Cumberland's force. The Camerons stood under a withering fire before they were ordered to charge. One English officer said the charge of the Cameron men was the bravest thing he'd ever witnessed. The Lochiel got close enough to discharge his pistol before grapeshot shattered both ankles. He was carried from the field and managed to escape to France where he lived out the rest of his days. Dr. Archibald Cameron, the Jacobite medical officer, had a reputation for kind treatment of the wounded of both sides. He too escaped the field with his life only to be captured and executed by the English for treason a few years later. Yet he was only a doctor who made a point to provide equal treatment to the wounded of both armies. That, Dear Friends, is English justice. Clan Cameron suffered heavy losses that day and many of her dead lie under the above stone marker in a mass grave.

Following the battle, British troops ran rampant through the Highlands pursuing escaping Jacobites and raping and looting their way across the countryside. Women were outraged, to use a period term, by groups of soldiers. Children were ripped from their mother's arms and killed. Men were shot or bayoneted on sight. On the field itself on the day after the battle, British soldiers were ordered to move through the masses of wounded Jacobites and dispatch them with bullets, bayonets, or rifle butts. Over time, the British would "clear" the Highlands and thousands were forcibly deported to the colonies, including the veteran of Culloden who would begin my family line here. One of my Irish relatives, Fitzgerald of the Hussar Cavalry, was captured after the battle and died in prison before he could be executed or transported. What the British did to the Highlands was no less than ethnic cleansing. 

What is interesting from an American standpoint, is the impact this would have on the colonies. I find it amusing that so many people who claim to be "part Irish" on Saint Patrick's Day are actually Scots-Irish. However, many people who identify as Scots-Irish are actually Scottish who were transported following the Highland Clearances. The American Revolution began 30 years later and the children of these expelled Jacobites would fill the ranks of the Continental Army as a means to fight back against the hated English and their Army. In a way, the ethnic cleansing which took place after the Battle of Culloden backfired on John Bull. The Scottish (and Scots-Irish) brought with them their combativeness, their fierce loyalty, their mournful ballads (that gave rise to country music), and a wanderlust which pushed the boundaries of our growing nation further westward. In short, they were an important immigrant group in our early history.

More than just men died that day on Culloden Moor. It marked the end of the Clan system. The British made war not just on the Clans, but on their language, their culture, and their way of life. In large part, the British succeeded. Of course, they did the same in Ireland where they were not quite as successful. Families saw loved ones slaughtered in front of them. Families were ripped apart by forcible transportation to the colonies. Starvation and fear became constant companions. It is all so tragically sad. And yet today the British government is remarkably unapologetic for their acts of imperialism and oppression around the world. But I guess that doesn't matter anymore. 

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who is a Jacobite at heart for the simple reason that if it was a worthy cause for family members to die for, then it must a good one. 


Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Bonds of Time

Dear Readers,

I've been thinking of something quite a bit of late. Why is it that some people feel stronger ancestral connections than others? Why do some have a stronger connection with the past than others? I had an eerie experience just a couple of hours ago. I was watching a documentary on the Battle of Culloden (of which the 270th Anniversary is fast approaching.....stay tuned for a special post). You can watch the documentary here. It is EXCELLENT! While I was watching the documentary, it talked specifically about Clan Cameron. I got goosebumps and my hands began to shake. Rather odd, I'd say. My grandmother was a Cameron and I am related to Camerons who were on the field that day. I also have relatives who were present in the Irish Detachment. I'm related to the Stuart royalty through blood and marriage (because they intermarried with the Fitzgeralds in Ireland). I don't know much about the lines of succession, but I tend to side with the Jacobites. My family was willing to die to put a Catholic King back on the throne and I rather think they wouldn't have done that if they were not convinced in the rightness of their cause. Besides, who wouldn't want to follow someone named Bonnie Prince Charlie!

I am not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination. I do not like the idea of having a king or a queen. However, if other countries choose to have one, that's certainly their right. I get a chuckle out of the obsession some Americans have for the British Royal Family. We fought two wars so we wouldn't have to give a damn about the royal baby. But that's just me. I have a modest title of my own, though it is feudal and not noble. As much as I'd like to have my students call me Lord Hutch, I don't. I am related to a few people in Ireland and Scotland who hold real life Downton Abby kind of titles too, but so what? A title doesn't make you a better man (or woman). Your actions make you great, not your words. Would you treat me any different because I had a title? If so, I don't think I'd want to be your friend. But I digress.

I make no apologies for having the blood of Irish rebels (like the Lord Edward Fitzgerald above) and Scottish Jacobites pumping through my veins. I am what I am and I won't apologize for that. Not that I need to. Everyone wants to be Irish one day a year after all. Perhaps this is why I've always had a rebellious streak and am as stubborn as a deaf mule. Or so I've been told. I've identified with my family's past from an early age and this could explain why, today, I sort of live in the past. When I visit historical sights where my ancestors fought and died, I need only close my eyes and I can see it happening all over again in my mind. I've had students tell me that when I describe a battle, it is almost like I am recalling it from memory. In a way I guess I am. I did not choose to study the past. The past chose me to study it. That's how I've always felt. Then again, I could just be crazy.

I do not think I could be very effective as a history teacher if I did not feel this way. Others can be great teachers without feeling this way, so I am speaking only for myself. I do think that our ancestors call to us from beyond. By researching one's own origins, you can find out all sorts of interesting, tragic, or perhaps embarrassing items. (I have a family member who murdered his entire family with an ax.) But it can also help you discover who you are. Certain things are encoded in our DNA and cross the boundaries of time to touch us in the present. This is why I urge people to find out as much as they can about their origins while there is still time to do so. Consider that growing up, I was surrounded by World War Two veterans. Now, they are hard to come by and the current generation will grow up without ever having talked to one. That is tragic. This is why we need such stories preserved.

Stay tuned next week for my special Battle of Culloden post, though you'll probably see a few more from me between now and then. In the meantime, here is the beautiful, talented, and did I mention beautiful Amy MacDonald singing Flower of Scotland. She's very pretty for a non-redhead. And now.....for a special announcement. 

I have finished my second Master's degree! This one in Criminal Justice. So thank you Saint Leo University! I started working on it in June of 2014. In the past two years, I've taught 6-9 courses a semester while taking two graduate classes. I've dealt with complications from my back injury. And a few months ago I was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome. But through it all I've managed to persevere and here I am today. Done. I worked much harder for this one than I did my MA in History, that's for damn sure. I could not have done it without the support of my beautiful wife (aka: The Redhead), pictured above. Our wedding vows said richer or poorer. We've been poorer. It said sickness and health. But all I've known is sickness. We celebrated 8 years of marriage last March. I don't know what I'd do without her. I certainly would not have been able to complete my degree had it not been for her help and support. My cats have also "helped" in their own way. I have also had the support of friends, faculty members, critique partners, and my own students who pestered me about my progress on occasion. This degree belongs to all of us, even though my name will be on it. So thank you all. Sincerely. And from the bottom of the block of ice that is my heart.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who is now also a Half A$$ Criminal Justice-ian. Whatever the hell that is.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Slings and Arrows of the Past

Tallyho Dear Readers!

Wow. Time has flown. This is my 100th blog post. I'd have hit this number a long time ago had life and fate not intervened. Thankfully, I am finishing my CJ Master's this week and will submit my final paper to be judged by a panel of three and hopefully passed, lest I have to wallow in the mire of graduate education for another semester. I'm pretty sure I'll be okay. In fact, I really should be finishing said paper now but why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? If anything, my BA, MA, and soon to be MS degrees have taught me that procastination is an art, worthy of Picasso or that dude who cut his ear off and mailed it to a prostitute. But I digress.

The subject of today's meager offering is similar to that of my very first post. They are two bookends, if you will, though my blog will, like the show, go on. I am elbow, or perhaps arse, deep in research at the moment concerning the Battle of Britain and the pilots and ground crews who took part. In a way, my whole life has been research about it as my personal World War Two library, while not as expansive as the one pictured above, consists of several hundred volumes of which a large number touch on the air campaigns. Though I did not know it until after we got married, The Redhead's grandfather was waist gunner on the B-17 Luscious Lucy and made the first daylight raid over Berlin with the 100th Bomb Group. (Keep an eye out for the next HBO/Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg production which will involve The Bloody Hundredth!) Since there are so many other wonderful volumes written about the Battle of Britain, I do not see a need to add to them, at least not in the traditional sense. No, Dear Reader, I am involved in research for a novel. 

I am interested in the Irish pilots who left the Republic (though it was still the Free State at the time) to battle the foe in the skies over England. I've seen the number listed as 10 but also as 13. Rather than deal with an actual person, I've decided to add an extra fictitious pilot to that gallant band and his story will be representative of the rest as best I can make it. While I'd love to delve into matters of plot and characterization with you, as this is an open blog page, I feel it best to keep that close to my vest lest someone more talented than I take the idea and run with it. But I assure you that you'll be the first to know when I am ready to discuss it. The targeted completion date is 30 June 2016.

Czech Pilots of 310 Squadron

I have long been interested in the process in which writers research and write their books, but especially how authors of historical fiction engage in that delicate dance between balancing the actual events with the story itself. With my work, I decided to make up a squadron that never existed as that gave me a tad bit more freedom, but I also drew from numerous sources about other squadrons in the area to make them as realistic as I could. What strikes me the most, and always has, about pilots in the Battle of Britain was how young they were. Though the movies often depict them as in their late 20s or 30s, the truth is many of them were teenagers or barely in their 20s. This is something I have to keep in mind as I write. As I was a teenage boy once who got into all sorts of mischief, I can't imagine what I would have done in an airplane! 

I don't go for the bodice ripping sort of historical fiction because, at heart, I'm something of a prude. I was listening to an audiobook in the car one day. I had the windows rolled down and was at a red light. The book was a historical one, and not a romance novel. Then some totally random sex scene took place and there I was, windows down, broadcasting it to various and sundry folks in nearby cars. So there is and will be none of that in my book, sorry to disappoint. I prefer to let the reader use their imagination rather than describe in graphic detail various acts that are probably illegal in ten states and five countries. 

My own schedule involves writing 1500 words a day, though I'll allow myself to do more if I feel like it. Sometimes I get it down in an hour. Other times it takes me 8 hours. I'm easily distracted and given my physical limitations, I have to type standing up because sitting down is too painful. Though I use a computer, I sort of wish I had an old manual typewriter. I think that would be great fun though it would probably drive my cats and The Redhead crazy. And speaking of The Redhead, I let her read each chapter as it is done so that she can point out everything I did wrong in it and make notes for me to correct when the joyous time known as editing begins. I'd rather run backwards, naked through a cornfield than edit, but it must be done. Just not yet.

The Redhead and I.
I "may" have my hand on her posterior in this photo.
How cheeky of me!!!!

So, Dear Reader, if you have any tips or advice on the art of writing historical fiction, I'd be happy to hear it. Furthermore, if there is anything you love or hate in historical fiction, I'd be happy to hear that too. Though writing a book may seem like a solitary task, in fact, it involves many people. Each in their own way. Who knows, one of you may have been my inspiration for an evil villain. I jest.....partially.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who rather likes his wife's a$$. So until next time, check your six and don't prang your kite or you'll catch a rocket from your supervisor. He can be a right bastard. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Lawman's Untold Tale


I don't know much about the man seated second from the left in this photo. His name was John M. Cameron and he served as a Texas Ranger, first in Company E of the Frontier Battalion and later as a Special Ranger. His service stretched from 1891 until around 1902. He was my great-grandfather's brother. As he and I were the only two lawmen in the family, I decided to set out to find what I could about him. It isn't much, but I found something. This week I received a nice, thick packet of information courtesy of the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco. I visited many, many years ago and I think it would be nice to go back sometime. Anyway, they dug out thirty pages of records and sent copies my way.

I can now tell you that Uncle Cameron was tall, like me. His enlistment records state that he was 6 feet tall which, in the 1890s, was very tall. He had black hair, brown eyes, and a dark complexion. Like me, he was temperate in his habits. Or at least he said he was on his application. His birthplace was Jackson County, Alabama. His father, a piece of information I already knew, served in the 4th Alabama Cavalry during the Civil War. Uncle Cameron enlisted in Company E of the Frontier Battalion in 1891 at the age of 20. For his service, he received 30 dollars a month which is the equivalent of $800 a month today. He had to supply his own horse and weapon too. Most of the paperwork I received dealt with pay and muster rolls. But there were some other interesting bits too. In 1895, he applied to become (and did) a Special Ranger. They served without pay but still had Ranger authority. There is an interesting supporting document from his company commander as to why such an appointment was necessary. 

The above is his commission. Unlike what you may see in the older westerns, Frontier Battalion Rangers did not carry badges. They above piece of paper had to be kept on their person at all times and served as proof of office and authority.

Above is his application to become a Special Ranger, along with his signed and notarized Oath of Office. The wording of his oath of office is not all that different than that which peace officers in Texas take today.  What follows is the document that his company commander wrote in support of it.

The affidavit reads as follows "The appointment is asked for that Mr. John Cameron may have this much protection being an important state's witness in a murder case and the defendants in said case being enemies of his might seek to take his life in order to get revenge as well as to do away with his testimony in said case. J.H. Rogers, Capt, Commdg, Co. E, F.B." The application was successful and he did serve as a Special Ranger for several years afterwards. One can assume that the men involved in the murder either got sent to prison or to the gallows. If they were found not guilty or the charges were dropped, in any case they did not get revenge.

This is a copy of a report that he wrote in which he describes arresting a man for drunk and disorderly conduct and also a group of men for horse theft. What is also interesting is that contrary to what some may think, the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers did not have quite the same authority that you might think. When they were established after Reconstruction, their main job was to protect settlements from Comanche raids and to deal with groups of bandits that preyed on man and beast alike. They enlisted for short stints of time, sometimes only a month, and served at the leisure of both their captain and the state government. They were really more of a military arm of the state than peace officers, quite unlike the modern day Texas Rangers.

I'm happy to have learned what I could about him, even if it is a little limited. His service to the State of Texas should not go unnoticed and I hope he's happy that I learned more about it. Uncle Cameron and I have a few things in common, including bad handwriting. It is nice when old documents like these make you feel a little closer to long dead relatives that you never knew. 

I may not have been a Texas Ranger, and my trusty steed may have been a Chevy Silverado, but at least I got to wear a cowboy hat. My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian.

Friday, January 8, 2016

How the West Was Fun?

Co. E, Frontier Battalion, Texas Rangers
Alice, Texas 1892
John Cameron (seated second from left) is my great-great uncle
Dear Readers,
I confess. I enjoy a good western, be it a novel or a movie. Maybe it is because when I was a lad, I watched a lot of John Wayne movies with my father.......most of them, I think. El Dorado and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon are my favorites. I'll be the first to admit that westerns do not present a true depiction of life on the frontier. The women characters tend to be very poorly written with minor roles. In real life, women on the west had a bit more freedom than they did in the East which is why, by the time the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, women already had the right to vote (in state and local elections) in every state west of the Mississippi. When you watch cowboy movies, notice you see very few black or Hispanic cowboys. Again, this is contrary to history. Some have estimated that one out of every four Texas cowboys was black. Naturally, the Native American characters are rarely portrayed in a positive light. Instead, they are either warriors, drunkards, or the Wise Indian stereotype. All that being said, I still enjoy watching a good western.
The genre has fallen out of favor over the past several decades, with a few exceptions such as the success of the movie Tombstone which, despite being an excellent movie, is also a bit short on historical accuracy. But I can quote every Doc Holliday line in the film! (I'm your huckleberry.) I'm not sure why I like them so much. As far as the novels go, westerns are rarely great literature but they are pretty good reads. Many of them are sort of like a male romance novel. There is a main character, who is quick with a gun and very cool. The ladies all flock to him. And he kills bad guys. They actually have a lot in common with the thriller genre too (think Steve Berry's Cotton Malone series). Fun reads, if somewhat empty of any substance.
My dream job!
Older western movies are morality plays. There are clear cut good guys (in white hats) and bad guys (in black hats). In the end, good triumphs over evil. Perhaps part of their appeal is because in real life that doesn't always happen. The bad guys win sometimes. But people don't want to pay money to see that. Movies of any genre rarely depict life as it really is but rather as some idealized version of life. Such is true with the western. Life in the west sucked. It was a rough, violent place that created hard people to deal with it. Prostitutes in these movies are usually very attractive. This is a far cry from the gonorrhea ridden ladies of the town which existed in frontier settlements. But again, we don't want to see that on film. The movies show the west as being a simpler time, and perhaps, as our world gets more complex, that is why people like watching them.
As someone who worked as a lawman in Texas myself, there is a certain bit of the west that still colors the job here. Having the title of "Deputy Marshal" was very cool, in addition to being historic. Unlike the movie marshal's who tended to smote bad guys on Main Street twice a day, I went to work each day hoping I wouldn't have to use to my gun. Then again, I didn't have to deal with armed bandidos sweeping into town to shoot up the streets. Or as the guy said in the Three Amigos "rape the horses and ride off on the women." My trusty steed was a Chevy Silverado, then a Ford Expedition, then a Dodge Charger, and then another Ford Expedition. I never rode at the head of a posse to apprehend horse thieves, but I did get to arrest some bad people nonetheless.
Sure, I know that the western genre, particularly the ones from the 30s-60s, are not politically correct by our standards. But many of them are classics and I like them anyway. I'll keep watching them because I enjoy them, not because I think it in any way reflects how life in the west really was. For me, it is good, mindless entertainment. I don't apologize for my love of these books and novels, because, in the words of Captain Brittles (John Wayne) "Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness." Maybe that is why Wayne was married three times? I never rode off into the sunset on my horse with a redheaded saloon girl in tow like I wanted. But I did marry a redhead. She's not a saloon girl though. Much worse. She's from Missouri.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian. My aforementioned great-great uncle and I are the only two people in the family to have been in law enforcement. He died in the line of duty in 1902. And I got hurt and can't work in law enforcement anymore. Maybe it isn't the right occupation for people in my family.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I'm Back With a Great Book Suggestion!

Dear Friends,
I apologize for my long break from the world of blogging. I don't have a good excuse, so I won't waste your time by giving you a bad one. Just kidding. I actually do have a good excuse. In the past, I've been slaving away as an adjunct teaching 8-9 courses a semester while taking 2 graduate classes of my own as I try to finish my MS in Criminal Justice. This past semester, I reduced my teaching load to six classes and this spring I will finish my Criminal Justice degree (finally!). So there you have it. I do not know if I will be as prolific in the upcoming weeks and months as I have been in the past, but I suppose something is better than nothing. Now on to the subject of today's post!
I don't know how I missed these books when they came out. I mean, I heard of them, but I did not read them. I can only surmise that it is for the same reasons given above for not blogging very much over the past months. As I am now making an effort to set aside more time for reading and less time for watching TV, over the Christmas break I was able to obtain the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson. The actual book titles are An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, and The Guns at Last Light. If you do the kindle thing, which I finally started doing in May after I ran out of room for any additions to my 2,000 book collection, you can get the three volumes together in a set for a very reasonable price, around $23. So about a week ago, I got my copies and dove in.
It is somewhat embarrassing for me to admit that despite having a lifelong interest in World War Two, my knowledge of the campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy are more general than specific. I can speak at length and with authority on the Eastern Front, the air war over Europe, and the campaign in northwest Europe from D-Day to the Fall of Berlin. I cannot do that as it relates to Operations Torch, Avalanche, or Husky. Compounding my shame is that my own grandfather commanded an infantry platoon in North Africa and Sicily! (Despite having been in the Army since June of 1940, it was until 1943 that the Army decided an officer who was fluent in French and German might be of more use to the war effort as an intelligence officer rather than an infantry officer.) Thankfully, this wonderful series of books has remedied my lack of knowledge!
Mr. Atkinson is a journalist. I say this because it means he knows how to tell a story. While plenty of analysis exists in the pages of his books, it is at its core, a narrative history. When it comes to writing this kind of book, journalists have an edge of academic historians. Academics get bogged down in arguing their thesis and storytelling takes a back seat, if it is even in the car at all. Journalists just make better storytellers, in my opinion. This is quite evident in the Liberation Trilogy. His books move from the halls of Washington to Eisenhower's Headquarters, to those of various generals, and finally, to the soldiers in the foxholes, the sailors in their ships, and the aircrew in the planes. This movement is seamless and the transitions excellent. At no point does it appear disjointed or choppy.
What I also appreciate about these books is that the author does not follow what I call the Brokaw/Ambrose school of World War Two history which goes something like this: American soldiers in Europe were all wonderful people who were fighting for freedom and liberty for all and did no wrong. And, of course, they won the war all by themselves. Atkinson covers the war warts and all. He mentions cases of American soldiers murdering prisoners, of various misdeeds both minor and serious, and also of serious command lapses, including on Eisenhower's part. He gives full attention to our allies in the West and covers British, Canadian, and even French contributions too. As his volumes cover the fighting in the West, the books do not fully explore the contributions of our Soviet allies, but this was not necessary for these volumes as it was not the point of the books. I did watch a C-SPAN interview with the author and he did talk about the importance of the Soviet contribution. This, of course, flies in the face of contemporary American history which ignores the Soviet war effort and also the fact that the Soviets took on around 80% of the German Army and caused around 90% of their casualties. Given the Russo-phobia that still exists in this country, this is not surprising.
I found his analysis of the various commanders to be spot on as well. With all the political infighting that went on, it is surprising that our combined forces were able to accomplish anything! His account of the 36th Infantry Division (Texas National Guard) and their ill fated attempt to cross the Rapido River was exceptionally moving. My grandfather enlisted in the Texas National Guard in June of 1940. He remained part of that unit until January of 1942 when he went to OCS and was, upon graduation, reassigned to a different unit. And this is just one of the many stories told in these marvelous volumes.
My grandfather was in the Army from June of 1940 until July of 1946. He rose from the rank of buck private to Captain. He talked a lot about his time in London, or Paris, or Berlin.....where he was part of the first group of Americans to arrive in the city. Granddaddy did not talk a lot about his time in North Africa or Sicily other than to mention some of his soldiers. Though I knew why he was close mouthed about his time in combat, these books help put it into focus a little better. Sadly, my grandfather passed away on Easter Sunday in 2009 at the age of 88. I'm sure he would have enjoyed these books too.
Mr. Atkinson's website says he is now working on a trilogy on the American Revolution which sounds quite promising. Given the fact that he spent 15 years researching and writing the Liberation Trilogy, I sure hope the Revolutionary War books don't take that long! Part of me wishes he would turn his attention to the Pacific Theater, but I'm sure that whatever he writes will be good. I'll certainly be looking forward to it.
So, Dear Readers, you should make haste to acquire these books if this is a subject which interests you. I promise that you won't be sorry.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half Ass Historian.