Friday, April 9, 1943

The Charlotte News

Friday, April 9, 1943

FOUR EDITORIALS

Site Ed. Note: The front page reports of the abandonment by Rommel, under pressure from General Montgomery's forces and the Western Desert Air Force, of Mahares along the Tunisian coast road, 50 miles northeast of Gabes and 22 miles southwest of the vital harbor facility at Sfax. As well, Axis troops were fleeing Mezzouna, southwest of Sfax and 52 miles northwest of Gabes. Both towns were way stations on the railway between Gafsa and the port facility north and east of it at Sfax.

Driving rain and thick, sticky mud inhibited operations in the northern sector by the First Army.

Some of Patton's Army II Corps east of El Guettar were reported to have endured three days the previous week under constant mortar fire and without food to take a hill successfully overlooking the Gabes Road, clearing the way thereby for the remainder of the forces to plunge through onto Rommel's flank, forcing his retreat northward, after taking 200 Italians prisoner.

A report by Associated Press reporter Don Whitehead tells of two critical errors made by Rommel which led to the fall of the Wadi El Akarit line which had behind it anti-tank ditches, now broken, bridged and crossed northward by the Eighth Army since Tuesday, inflicting such a stunning blow to Rommel that Churchill to Commons had announced the breakthrough. While Rommel sought to protect his flank from the American forces under Patton, he had failed to foresee that Montgomery would attack as quickly as he did and at Rommel's strongest point of concentration of forces along the line, at the two heights a mile apart, Roumana and Fatnassa, guarding the coastal plain from either side of the gap, and thus placed his own counter-thrust to the east of Roumana. The two heights in combination having formed the linchpins for protection of the line through the gap, and thus with the center no longer an issue for the nonce, the British were able to storm the heights and overtake, within seven and a half hours, the German and Italian defenders, opening the way for collapse of the entire line, sending Rommel hurling northward again, toward Sfax. Indian Gurkhas had stormed the heights at Fatnassa while picked British regulars had forged the offensive to take Roumana. As Churchill had explained Wednesday, the action was preceded by a thirty-minute barrage against Rommel's forces which had scarcely been seen since the opening of the hole at El Alamein to initiate the October offensive across North Africa from Egypt to Tunisia.

William King, Associated Press reporter with the First Army in the northern sector of Tunisia, tells in detail of a night action Wednesday by those forces, opening a full-scale offensive, pounding the German lines across the valleys of the Medjerda and Zarga rivers, amounting to the heaviest fire yet thrown in that sector, as the final objectives of Bizerte and Tunis lay closer than ever to the guns of the Allies.

We offer an extra page with a map of Norway, showing its strategic significance to Germany in menacing supply lanes between England and Russia, as well as possible invasion routes for the Allies, should they have determined it strategically advantageous first to eliminate the Norwegian coastal threat from the Kriegsmarine before invading the central Continent.

The map is juxtaposed to a report of the ingenious ways the Norwegians, Belgians, Danes, Dutch, and Czechs had found to emulate Gandhiís Satyagraha. In Denmark, for instance, whenever the Nazis would undertake some action of which they mandated press coverage, instead the newspapers would report on such stories as the death of an elk followed by letters to the editor arguing as to what to do with the corpse. Or, in concern for the future of Danish grammar and horse racing.

Call that one, we suppose, the Elk's Club boondoggle.

In Belgium, citizens ordered not to lay wreaths on the graves of World War I soldiers were aided and abetted in breaking the directive by a motorman who slowed his transport in front of the memorial, enabling passengers to toss the wreaths from the busís windows.

In Holland, the Dutch press published pictures of dogs every time Hitler and Mussolini met.

The breed was not provided, but perhaps one was a Bolognese while the other was a Saarlooswolfhond.

In Czechoslovakia, mothers, ordered to report for registration at Nazi labor offices, brought along their babies who caused such a racket that registration had to be postponed until the babies were removed.

In Norway, Nazis, having ordered shoes to be manufactured of paper and wool, had to cancel the orders when it was discovered that the paper being used for the cobbling was red, white, and blue.

In another Norwegian episode, offered as the champion anecdote, a farmer had been ordered in writing to provide a certain quota of eggs. He subsequently informed his Nazi masters that he had pinned the order to the henhouse wall and when the layers refused to lay for ten days, he ordered them shot for sabotage against the Wehrmacht. The farmer was arrested.

Apparently, however, the underground in Europe had its equivalents in America. There were problems, for instance, reported at the Ford plant in Detroit when an assembly line for making armored vehicles was shut down in protest of the breaking up of a dice game in the plantís lavatory.

Whether the workers there had been studying as example the report earlier by The News of the wayward course of Charlotte youth running a "casino" in the Central High bathroom, we don't know. But it seemed to be a pastime catching on across the land.

Perhaps, General Montgomery and future C.I.A. Director, General Walter Bedell Smith became aware of the fad, even way out there in Tunisia, and thus determined in a gambling gimbal the course of the war.

And, to suggest that which we have long suspected, that FDR might have been a regular reader of The News--perhaps a habit acquired during his many journeys along the rail route through Charlotte to Warm Springs and back--a report tells of his curious use of allusion to represent simply the ideal for coordination of price and wage ceilings, two of the four legs of a footstool. Said the President, the other two were rationing and savings with taxation. The trick was to adjust the length of each leg to rest the stool on the level.

Perhaps, it was a difficulty only to be surmounted by that of trying to use the Rockies as one's footstool. Nevertheless, entirely feasible, once properly visualized and understood in coordination with the overall planarity of the stool.

As we said, we, ourselves, used the Panhandle. That way, you can keep your piggies in a blanket as you eat your scrambled eggs with ceilings on the side, while making a burnt offering of toast to your News.

On the editorial page, Dorothy Thompson examines the wayward course of America's educational system, failing to teach college-bound students the basics of how to read, think, and learn, or how even to retain the basic information necessary to understand United States history, such that by the time students got to college, as found by The New York Times in a test, they were manifesting such malapropisms as Lincoln "emaciated" the slaves and Congress possesses power to "appease" the President for High Crimes and Misdemeanors. (Even computer spell-checkers today would not catch such misconceptualizations, which still plainly abound among us. Mrs. Malaprop can be funny, but, simultaneously, when posed in reality, as well may appear as a tragic figure in motion, when the outcome is fuzzy, educing maladaptive thinking translated sometimes even into fatal results for someone dependent on the source.)

Ms. Thompson suggests the root cause being the transmutation of teaching into a rote science whereby the whole method resembles a quiz show rather than stressing the art of learning and reading, nurturing thought in the process. Instead, the emphasis had shifted away from good books to memorization of data for regurgitation on tests, informing with enough verve and glue to stick with the student only so long as it took to cram and take the test the next morning.

She recommends, in remedy for part of the exiguity, spending time with such works as The Rise of American Civilization by Charles and Mary Beard and Epic of America by James Truslow Adams. (While we have not found the latter work online, we did find two others by Mr. Adams, America's Tragedy, an account of the Civil War, and The Founding of New England.)

It would appear, judging by that which we regularly read online, and occasionally hear spoken on tv, by ostensibly educated persons, that the observations of Ms. Thompson and The New York Times are even more apt today than in 1943. Witness, as we mentioned a few days ago our recent discovery, the October, 2007 press conference in which the deputy press secretary to the President, having been asked a question anent the validity of the Russian President's comparison of a current event to the Cuban Missile Crisis, admitted subsequently knowing nothing of the Cuban Missile Crisis, except that it had something to do with Cuba, perhaps the Bay of Pigs.

Our stress has for too long been on science and mathematics in the United States, an adjunct to the thrust in rocket science and other bomb-related technologies accompanying the Cold War, in a conscious effort to maintain pace with the disciplined societies of Communist China and the Soviet Union at the time. So inured to the custom did we become that we have not, with the end of the Cold War two decades ago, returned any stress to the art of thinking. When we lose that precious gift, which we are doing to the nines, we shall be lost as a society and as a world. The answers do not lie in the particle searching undertaken by the Nazis to find the ultimate secret of the universe and life itself--which led us on into the Cold War. It lies in the simple understanding of a poem, of a short story, of a novel, of a treatise well-written and instructing well its student, the reader.

Ideally, we all remain students all our lives. Should we as individuals for long fail in the pursuit of that concept, we cannot teach anyone, least of all ourselves. For we cannot think if all we do is watch movies and television and think thereby that, suddenly, we are geniuses because we make the false assumption that we have come to understand a concept that before we didn't. Try writing it out for yourself and see whether you really have internalized an understanding of the idea discussed on the tv, checked against a credible written account of the concept, or just watched some images and heard some verbiage fly by, half understood, on a topic requiring far more depth of study than afforded by a television program, which may do little more than scratch the surface of any subject worth understanding. It is not worthless, perhaps, but it is no substitute for learning and understanding topics by the slow process of reading and then writing out that which you imbibe from the gander of the print.

So, here is an exercise. Tomorrow, as it is a Saturday, take our two pages of old newsprint, before reading our summary and added editorial commentary, and try it for yourself. Then read ours and compare it to what you write. See if you believe that you beat the house. Your prize is the knowledge and understanding of a process.

Now, smarty pants, try it every day, six days per week for awhile. Then, you will understand.

If you cheat, remember, we have our hammers. Failing that, there is always the desert.

That all said, "False Alarm" finds the whole matter a tempest in a teapot, that with more universal education, it was bound to happen that there would be those who came out of the process still without sense of a goose, without the basic knowledge of history fit even to know who the President was during the Civil War (after all, in fairness, a bit of a trick question when you consider that there were two within the United States, depending on when you were calling it "United", now or then) or without basic mathematics skills. (We shall refrain from jest on Ms. Thompsonís piece which had a typographical error, rendering instead "matematics"--of which, it was said, many of the coeds of the day were becoming quite increasingly proficient, especially as a method by which to avoid conscription.)

Mr. Davis contests the dark forebodings of The Times, offering that it had always been the case that some in society were simply not adept at retention of knowledge and that increasing the availability of education meant inevitably that many would matriculate into college and even graduate from it without the demonstrated ability to think and to harbor learned intellectual skills or the basic information necessary to form a rudimentary foundation for acquisition of other knowledge. He concludes that the solution was not to throw the baby out with the bathwater by too much altering the system to try to accommodate those who had no real business being in college in the first instance.

Is this argument valid? Is it a bit supercilious to presuppose that some are incapable of retention of knowledge, even though possessed of sufficient intellectual skills to pass the tests necessary to gain admission to institutions of higher learning? The basic question posed is whether the fault was in the teaching methodologies or in the students unwilling or unable to partake of them in a studious, organized manner?

Does the same counter-argument apply today?

One of the basic prerequisites for learning anything is sufficient gray matter within the cortex to enable retention of data for sufficient periods to perform with that data mental skills of comparison and distinction, ultimately to form concepts and from those concepts create newly organized thoughts to establish a form of mastery of a given field of knowledge. Without the basic physiological requisites to perform such orderly analyses and then without the exercise of those analytic functions which one does acquire and hone over time, the processes of learning begin to winnow rather than fructify. Damaging those processing agents, the synapses which translate the data to form the bases for the thought, by means of artificial substances or through injuries to the head and brain or through insufficient rest on given days or for a long stretch of time or undue tension not properly dispelled, might each or in combination lead to diminution of capacity to learn and to apply that which one does learn through time to new contingent modalities. The teacher can only do so much. The method can only do so much. Ultimately, it is the student's individual responsibility to hone and maintain his or her learning skills to the greatest acuity enabled by the simple gifts provided at birth and nurtured in the first critical five years of development.

If you understand that which we just wrote, you are one of the blessed and count it so. If not, try again.

As we have before recommended, try some slow reading of philosophical thought, one subject as viewed by different philosophers, (real philosophers of the classical mold, not Lennon and McCartney, though we liked them, too, even as we studied philosophy in college), not so much for memorization or categorization or classification of those thoughts by the particular philosopher or philosophy as for understanding the process of thinking through a topic from different perspectives, as one would view a three-dimensional object in different degrees of alternate light and obfuscation and at different times and from different angles to achieve varied visual planes of perception, the difference being that the variations are intellectual, performed within your imagination, rather than within the physically extrinsic field of sensate data being communicated to your five senses, the empirical realm.

Our senior year in high school, we had a mathematics teacher in an advanced course in mathematics who told our advanced class that some people simply had no business going to college, that some were better suited to endeavors of trades and vocational skills. He, himself, we recall, repaired television sets, he told us, during his summer hiatuses. Aside from being a bit paranoid that he might have been looking our way peripherally as he made these remarks, we have always remembered that discussion, far more than we gleaned, through no fault of the energetic and excellent teacher, anything, very complex anyway, of lasting import to us from the course in higher mathematics--at least anything of which we are consciously aware, but neverthless allowing room for the hypothesis that, without it, we might not have the foundation pins for certain structured forms of thinking which receive aid, unconsciously, by analogy or even directly, from the higher mathematics.

In any event, the lecture to the class that day provided one reason why, the following year, we decided to fulfill our college mathematics requirement by taking two courses in symbolic logic, math without all the complexities rendered by the numbers, math accomplished by letters and symbols. There is a place, should you search for it enough, in any curriculum for your particular skills, we maintain. Sometimes, it is simply having the wherewithal to understand that simple initial concept at matriculation, that a student must know his or her limitations and seek to expand them, and then pursuing it to your wit's end, without getting out of the boat to look for mangoes.

At the time, mathematics at our school of higher learning was optional to foreign language. One could opt out of the foreign language requirement if one scored high enough on a foreign language test in any foreign language of one's choosing. We did so, in Latin, and so took symbolic logic in lieu of it all, and voila!

We did, however, take some history and English and a few other courses along the way, in addition to the philosophy and sociology in which we majored. But never underestimate the power of those latter disciplines to instruct thought through life--which is, after all, the very purpose of any education, we suggest. It isn't to learn to make a livin'. You can do that as well by the crawdad hole.

Samuel Grafton again examines the issue of the reactionary leaders of the French in North Africa, juxtaposing the State Departmentís separation of politics and war with the postponement by General Eisenhower of General De Gaulle's visit--stated on the ephemeral premise that the "military situation" made the timing disadvantageous for the nonce, even if he was heading to Algeria, not to Tunisia where the fighting raged and where Eisenhower, himself, had just visited. Mr. Grafton finds the exertion of will on De Gaulle to be a like exertion on Free France and its people, an expression that it was inconvenient of the moment to have Free France, in effect, invade reactionary France in North Africa. But, if continued, that false dissociation between war and politics, denying the while the axiom that war involves people and thus its body politick, he predicts, would play havoc ultimately with Franco-American and Franco-British relations when it came time to liberate France from the Nazis' grasp. His simple solution was to allow De Gaulle to determine for himself when he should visit North Africa.

Raymond Clapper, while at first lamenting the findings by The New York Times on the state of education in the country and thus wondering aloud whether it was worth the time to plunge into a topic such as the proposed International Stabilization Fund, nevertheless forges ahead to try to explain its proposed purpose, to stabilize post-war currencies in Europe through a return to the gold standard.

As explained earlier in the week, the International Monetary Fund became a reality in July, 1944. The World Bank, proposed by Britainís John Maynard Keynes, fulfilling the role which Mr. Clapper indicates the Fund was not designed to do, that of acting as a bank for depressed and war-torn nations, became a reality in 1945 out of the United Nations conferences.

The overall concept, consistent with the Four Freedoms, was to avoid the problems of the 1920's following World War I when depression struck Europe, and, eventually, in 1929 and onward, impacted the United States, leading to the climate in Europe which sought first Mussolini and then Hitler for panaceas via the martial mien and step to effect a cure to the base ill of want, leaving Great Britain, France, and the United States without financial means to muster enough resistance and hardware to stultify in its goosestepping tracks the resulting military build-up before it achieved its foothold.

"Too Placid" remarks of the failure of the American public yet to understand in its full horror the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazi Reich. Too many people, the piece opines, were convinced that tales of war crimes in World War I had proved themselves myths; and so, too, therefore, were those sordid stories of the Nazis' transgressions. They were not viewing with enough seriousness, it continues, the reports of the massacre of the entire town of Lidice, as the Nazis searched, in the wake of the killing of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in May, 1942, for the responsible agents. They were not viewing with enough seriousness the reports of atrocities in the Warsaw Ghetto, at the very time undergoing its final purge, to be completely emptied of its population and razed by April 18, the inhabitants behind these devastatingly segregated walls either murdered by machine-gun fire or sent to the camps to be used until no longer profitable to the Reich, at which point they were subjected to the Final Solution invented by the Fuehrer, enacted into policy at the Wannsee Conference by Heydrich in January, 1942, and finally enforced for the duration by Heinrich Himmler.

Was it not because they had not sufficiently studied, with properly dispassionate understanding of it, their history, when provided the opportunity to do so within the ministrations of the educational system? and thus could appeal to no analogue in history, even so recent as that afforded by the atrocities of the American Civil War, such as the horrors of Andersonville, to support the thesis that the anecdotal information being supplied to the press and to government agencies and the Red Cross were not, as proven by the post-war photographs of the camps, the discoveries of the burial pits, the least apocryphal.

"Two Sweeps" remarks on News reporter John Daly's vivid memory for detail as applied to the Carolina maneuvers of the Army undertaken during October and November 1941, concluding just a few days before Pearl Harbor. During the maneuvers, to which Mr. Daly obtained a front row seat as a reporter, there was an action in which General Thompson's Second Corps had swept north from York, S. C. through Charlotte on Sunday morning into Concord and then turned and conducted a surprise move down the Pee Dee River to capture General Hugh Drum's headquarters, embarrassing General Eisenhower. Mr. Daly--a friend and mentor of Cash at The News--thus wondered whether the lesson learned from the ploy was utilized, at the behest of General Eisenhower, in the similar maneuver accomplished by General Montgomery in his sending a flanking column around the western side of the Mareth Line to El Hamma, as his other forces simultaneously broke through the line at various points, trapping Rommel's forces in a pocket. If so, it offers, the resulting success was a "sort of revenge for embarrassment in Monroe".

Whether General Thompson had within his columns, incidentally, a dozen or so maladapts, really rotten eggs, who had effected the capture of General Drum's headquarters, Mr. Daly apparently did not elucidate.

"Life Saver" comments on the seeking by the President of the Jeffersonian leveling of the footstool.

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