Archive for the October 2006 Category

ON FEAR AND DUTY

When it comes to fear, this might be the first essay you will ever read which does not make an allusion to Franklin Roosevelt’s thought that we have “nothing to fear but fear itself.” In this essay, I propose to comment on three kinds of fear that are prevalent today.

Under ordinary circumstances, I avoid entering a cage full of hungry Bengal tigers out of the fear that they will eat me alive. Fear for one’s personal safety is paramount in every human being.

There is a second kind of fear which is practiced by preachers and by politicians. The preachers tell us that unless you submit to their ministrations, you will be bound for an eternal life in a place called hell. The fact is that nobody knows anything about eternal life. Nor does anybody know where this place called hell is supposed to be located. Enlightened observers give no credence to eternal life or to the existence of hell.

The politicians tell us, as is the case today, that only they can protect us from horrible harm such as the World Trade Center disaster. Condoleezza Rice has said, “Who could imagine anyone flying an airplane into a building?” I might remind Madame Rice that the Japanese perfected that art during World War II. They were called kamikaze pilots. Some night when they are alone together, Harry Livermore, who commanded the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, might enlighten Ms. Rice on this particular subject.

There is a third kind of fear which we are now experiencing. This primarily is the fear of what the most intellectually challenged politicians refer to when they call Muslims, “Islamo Fascists.” But let me take you back a step or two to explain this particular fear and its ramifications.

My last job with AT&T was Director of Correspondent Relations. Simply put, this job entailed dealing with all the other countries of the world on telecommunications matters.

It was my custom to personally visit the other authorities around the world to discuss and solve telecommunications matters. If there were no problems to solve, the meetings were to promote good relations with AT&T. In all cases it was my duty, as I saw it, to maintain harmonious relations with people all around the world. Some were Christians, some were Buddhists, some were Jews or Hindus, some were Muslims, and some were atheists. I met with all of them on their own turf.

Some of the places we visited were welcoming and some were forbidding. And some had a nightlife and others had none. Some had excellent restaurants and some had none. Witness most of the Arab cities that were on our travel itinerary.

At the end of 1981, I believe, I found myself together with two of my staff members in a meeting in Algiers, Algeria. Clearly the Algerians regarded this as an important meeting. They had only recently thrown off the French yoke and were eager to establish themselves as a significant nation on the world stage.

As the meeting convened, a gentleman walked into the room who seemed to have authority over the other Algerians. It is my belief that he was the new Foreign Minister for all of Algeria.

After introductions were made, I took it upon myself to thank this important figure for what the Algerians had done. The Algerians had persuaded the Iranians to release our prisoners after 444 days of their captivity by the Iranians. I told him that I could not speak for the American government, but that I spoke for the American people. I told him that we were very appreciative and that the Algerians had the thanks of every American.

The Algerian Foreign Minister said simply, “Mr. Carr, it was our duty to do that.” In other words, the Algerians, a Muslim nation, felt a duty to intervene with another Muslim nation to free American prisoners from our embassy in Tehran. As a matter of interest, the American prisoners being freed were in all likelihood Christians and Jews. The foreign minister knew that as well as I knew it. It was an extraordinary gesture by the Algerians, a Muslim nation.

I knew a good bit about Algiers because, at that time it was my custom to arrive early in the city where the meeting was to be held and to either walk or take a taxi to the place where we were to convene. I had no intention of becoming lost on the way to the meeting the following morning. It was my aim to nail down where the meeting was to take place and to see a bit of the city.

This practice led me to walk extensively around cities of all kinds, particularly Arab ones. In Arab cities there is virtually no nightlife to speak of. There might be a restaurant or two here and there, but the place to take your meals in an Arab city is usually at the hotel.

In walking around places like Algiers, Rabat, Tunis, Cairo, and Amman, Jordan I felt no fear whatsoever. But remember, this was in 1981.

I have only been entertained in one Arab home. That was in Bahrain. Yet in the meetings I have had with the Arabs, when they have taken us to dinner, it was apparent to me that they meant us no harm whatsoever. The Arabs take great pride in providing their guests with hospitality. They were interested in better relations between the two countries and between the telecommunications authorities in those countries.

Those good feelings today are probably gone. It would take a man much braver than I am to walk unescorted down the streets of Rabat, Algiers, Aleppo, Oran and Damascus, day or night. I’d leave out Cairo as I suspect that it is still a fairly safe place to visit but I would not rule out the occasional religious zealot who would take a shot at an American.

Identifying an American traveler in any city absurdly easy to do. Upon checking into a hotel, the clerk, without exception, will ask for your passport, which will be returned in an hour or two. In that hour or two, the clerk, if he is so inclined, could conceivably identify the American to member of his religious or tribal sect. Under those circumstances, the American would be easy to find and would be easy for one of those “Islamo Fascists” to deal with.

The point here is twofold. The United States government has identified the so called “Islamo Fascists” as our enemies. The Arabs have every reason to believe that we are hanging the Fascist tag on all of them. In instances such as this, the foreign governments would have no duty or obligation whatsoever to be of any help. If the current situation had existed back in 1981 when I met with the Algerians, they would not have lifted a finger to free the American captives.

Secondly, an American visiting an Arab country would no longer be free to enjoy himself because of fear of being injured or killed. This is nothing more than a byproduct of the Bush administration’s view toward Muslims. The Muslims conclude that if the American government dislikes Arabs so vigorously, and is joined by the Vatican from time to time, it would be logical to harm the American visitor because they could be viewed as the enemy of the Arabs.

I regret that the movers and shakers in the current administration have created this atmosphere. From the Muslim point of view, I can fully understand why they, in turn, have hostility toward Americans. And furthermore, with the increasing immigration of Muslims into Europe, it would not be surprising to find an American killed by one of those alleged Islamo Fascists in a place such as Rome or Paris.

So this is a new fear that must be endured by Americans going abroad. It is an unhappy circumstance that should never have happened. But as long as we “stay the course” in Iraq, this will be our fate. And as long as we support unequivocally Israel when it punishes Lebanon and the citizens of Gaza, we can expect only hostility from the Muslim nations. America can do better than that. I look forward to the day when I can walk unescorted and unafraid through the streets of Algiers and the other Arab cities. We have a long way to go to make that happen.

E. E. CARR
October 14, 2006
Essay 211
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Well I guess these years, the strategy was just to hope that the Arabs would be the bigger men in these types of situations. Turns out to have been a relatively safe gamble. I remember being relieved though when the administration changed, and one of the reasons was that I hoped our international reputation would start to improve. I believe it has, though maybe not as quickly as I would have liked.

COMPASSION BEYOND ALL REASON

This is an essay that was run over by the events of this week. For two or three weeks, it had been my intention to write an essay having to do with civility. I had thought that the title of the proposed essay might be, “Civility, Decency, and Compassion Toward Others.” But as I said, the events of this week left that essay pretty much flat on the ground.

In the proposed essay of a week or so ago, I had thought about commenting on the absence of civility in today’s society. And I had thought also that in Washington there is an air of questioning the loyalty and patriotism of people who do not agree with a particular political point of view. Those thoughts had to take second place in view of the events this week in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Civility is the mark of intelligent men and women in the daily course of their affairs. In the last few years, I have been struck by the absence of civility in politics as well as in the conduct of people I had observed. For example, Bob Herbert, the New York Times columnist, commented on the lack of civility among members of his own race. Herbert pointed out that in the lyrics of the songs sung by the screamers who claim that they are producing music, the lyrics contain several obscenities. Other black people are referred to in these lyrics as “niggas.” Women are commonly called whores. Bob Herbert deplored this trend in the music of black people. I was aware of those lyrics. I was aware of those lyrics, and I too deplore them. They simply are not civil and the alleged music is also clearly uncivilized.

There is a child of 12 years who lives across the street from us who obviously is a problem child. He is an only child and he is given to ringing doorbells and disappearing. The game is called “ding, dong, ditch.” His loud mouth when he is playing near the street is disturbing. But that is not the full reason why I wanted to include him in this essay on civility. On two occasions, we have heard him refer to his mother as a “bitch.” If that boy were my child he would be shredded.

The incivility has also taken a major foothold in the federal government. As events in Iraq begin to move in the direction of an all out civil war, politicians and shrill commentators on radio have departed from decency in that they accuse others of treachery and lack of patriotism if they do not agree with the views of the current administration. Rush Limbaugh, a convicted drug offender, leads the charge in this respect. People in the Bush administration disparage the patriotism of anyone who questions the absolutely dubious value of their judgment in the pursuit of the Iraqi war. Tony Snow, the right-wing political hack who is now the spokesman for George Bush, leads the charge from the White House.

When George Bush and Richard Cheney accuse others of lack of patriotism, it causes most citizens to shake their heads. During the Vietnam conflict, Bush fled to the National Guard and was never involved in military service. Cheney took five deferments and, like Bush, he had no part to play in the military. Cheney claimed that he had “other priorities” at the time. For those two men to question the patriotism of anyone, particularly those of us who served, is astonishing.

So we see that civility these days runs at a high premium. It took a shooting by a deranged person in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to bring it all back into focus. The shooter was a man named Charles Carl Roberts, IV, who took several guns and 600 rounds of ammunition to a one room Amish schoolhouse. Judging from notes he had written to his wife, he planned for a long armed standoff. In the end, Roberts killed as many as six or seven small girls by gunfire. These children ranged in age from seven to thirteen years. In my estimation, I cannot imagine a more horrible crime being committed. My life has been blessed by having two daughters. If anyone had threatened them in any way, it would be my intention to deal with him very sternly, including killing him. I suspect that every father feels about his daughters as I do. Simply put, you don’t fool with any child free of penalty.

Today is Friday, October 6, 2006. Funerals for several of the children were held late this week. It is reported that the children were buried in plain pine boxes wearing new white dresses which their mothers had sewn for their interment. It is also reported that one funeral took place in a barn and another Amish funeral took place in the basement of a house. Obviously, the Amish are plain people.

When word of the shootings was announced, condolences and contributions poured in. People around the country offered their prayers for the dead and injured Amish children and also contributed something approaching $600,000 for the Amish families. The Amish grievers who had lost their children stayed true to their belief in simplicity and generosity. They informed those who wished to pray for the departed children that their prayers should also include Charles Robert’s widow and his children. And next, they seem determined now to give some of the donated money to the children and to the widow of Charles Roberts as a means of sharing.

I am largely flabbergasted at their gesture. It reflects a generosity of civility that goes beyond all reason. My respect for the Amish as a people knows no bounds. They have no electricity in their homes. They drive horses and buggies rather than automobiles. They live a starkly simple life. Yet when it comes to showing civility, decency and generosity, there is no one to match them.

On the days when the little girls were being buried, there seemed to be no sympathy coming from the White House. The Commander in Chief of this country’s armed forces said nothing, but instead, devoted himself to Republican fund raisers in California and other places. The First Lady spent the day in Buffalo, New York, campaigning for a congressman whose chief of staff had quit that day in the Mark Foley matter. I suppose it gives testimony to the fact that generosity and civility often have no place in the American political system.

I grieve for the Amish for the loss of their little girls. I stand at attention and salute them for their civility, decency and generosity in a time of great strife. The Amish are not strange creatures at all. They are brave and decent people in all respects.

So I hope you see what I mean when I told you at the outset that my plans to write an essay on civility were clearly run over by events on the ground. When the funeral for the shooter, Charles Roberts, was held, 75 mourners attended the service. Half of the mourners were Amish. I suspect that the Amish represent civility and decency at its best.

E. E. CARR
October 6, 2006
Essay 209
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: That was an incredibly decent thing for them to do as a community. I don’t remember this event well — mass shootings are far more common than they should be in this country — but damn, giving money to the shooter’s family is a lot to ask.

BE A MAN

William Meredith Carr must have had a terrible hangover on October 10, 1881, because he named his newly born son Ezra Edgar. That mistake was compounded when in 1922, that Ezra passed that name on to me. It has always been my belief that only the Holy Ghost or Moqtada al Sadr has a more regrettable name.

The original Ezra made a point in 1934 or 1935 which bears examination as we are looking for a way to end our involvement in the Iraqi war. On a Sunday afternoon, I was sweeping out the garage while of my father tried to adjust the doors so that they would close more tightly. As my father worked, a young man approached and presented him with a problem. I could overhear the young man saying that he had a difficult situation that he did not know how to resolve. But my father, the one with the second grade education, listened to the young man intently. When it was my father’s turn to speak, he said simply, “Boy, you must be a man. You must take responsibility and be a man.” I was only a few feet away and I could hear this exchange and the advice that was offered.

Now as we are floundering in our attempt to extricate ourselves from the Iraqi war, it seems to me that the idea of being a man has wonderful merit. The person who could now be a man is our Commander-in-Chief, Chief Executive and Chief Decider. That, of course, is George W. Bush.

We undertook the invasion of Iraq, a sovereign nation, under the auspices of the president of this country. The rest of the world and most of us in the United States now refer to this conflict as “Bush’s war.”

At the moment, one week before the midterm elections, Bush is preparing the way to blame the Iraqis for the future of their country. We invaded Iraq, destroyed the infra-structure, imprisoned thousands of people, installed several governments and created general turmoil. Now as the citizens of the United States grow impatient, George Bush is saying in effect, “It’s not my problem; the problem belongs to those Iraqis.”

The application of my father’s rule of “Being a man” starts with George Bush saying that the war was his idea, it was a whopping mistake, and that he is assuming full responsibility for it. Bush should grant that it is not the Iraqis problem to solve, but his to deal with.

Next, Bush should say that this is a thoroughly unwinnable war. His father and Brent Scowcroft tried to tell him this in a book that they wrote in the early ‘90’s. Bush said that he did not listen to his own father, but rather relied upon a “higher father.” It must be assumed that Bush was in a dialogue with the Holy Trinity.

When Bush assumes responsibility for starting the war and for ending it, he will then be fulfilling my father’s wish of, “being a man.” Unfortunately, Bush’s track record of being a man is virtually nonexistent. When the Vietnam War came, Bush used his family connections to jump 500 other candidates to get into the Texas Air National Guard. Before long, he copped out on the National Guard and in effect, never served one day in military service. He left that to people like John Kerry.

When George Bush is confronted by strength, he folds. About three years back, Bush, for example, threatened to put import duties on European steel. When the Europeans threatened to put a similar tariff on fruits and vegetables imported from places like Florida, Bush folded. Bush is only a strong man when he sends other people into battle to get killed.

After Bush says that he will be a man and assume responsibility for starting the war, he then will have another responsibility for ending it. This again is another opportunity to be a man.

When men make a wrong turn in their automobiles, they tend to compound the mistake by driving faster in the hope of seeing a familiar landmark. Women, on the other hand, will recognize their mistake and will stop and turn around. What we need here is for Bush to say that this war was his idea, it is an unwinnable war, and that our troops should be withdrawn immediately.

The point that is obvious here is that our presence in Iraq as an occupation force is the major cause of this conflict. If we were to withdraw, the major irritant in this war would be removed. This point is backed by many generals in the British and the American armies.

Obviously, I am aware that a civil war could very well follow. On the other hand, what we have now in Iraq is a smoldering civil war. A full-fledged conflagration is soon to follow whether we stay or leave. My belief is that sooner or later the Sunnis and the Shias will either work out an accommodation between them or there will be a civil war to settle matters. Whether we stay or leave, merely means postponing that settlement or that war. The Sunnis and Shias have been in a murderous dispute for more than 1400 years over who is the rightful successor to the Prophet Mohammed. At this late date, our occupation is simply another irritant in this dispute between two religious groups.

George Bush and the British have never had an inclination to learn from history. For more than 800 years, for example, the English nation occupied Ireland. For all of those 800 years, the Irish nation fought back. Finally in 1922, the British withdrew from Ireland under a peace treaty which left six counties under British domination. While the rest of Ireland is peaceful, the six counties in Ulster remain a hotbed of conflict. George Bush and Tony Blair should have learned about the fundamental failures of occupation as they attended those elite universities. But apparently, they neglected to do so.

Once our troops are at home, I am well aware that other nations may try to fill the vacuum. That is precisely the price that we must pay for such a foolhardy adventure in Iraq. We must accept the beating that we will probably take from the oil producing nations and we must accept the responsibility for rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq that we have ruined. This is another opportunity for Bush to be a man and to step up and say that we will assume the responsibility, however heavy the cost.

Once our troops are at home and we no longer give the no-bid contracts to companies such as Halliburton, we may be able to deal with the poverty in this country. We may also be able to redeem some of the U.S. debts that the Chinese and Japanese now hold. The best estimates are that indebtedness to those two Asian countries will cost us $300 billion in interest per year for years to come. That is a tough nut to crack.

Now we get to the heart of the proposal of being a man. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman designated certain czars to get things done. For example, there was a czar who presided over the aircraft industry. Under that arrangement, Henry Ford, who operated the enormous Ford plant at River Rouge in Dearborn, Michigan, turned it into a plant to manufacture B-24 bombers. Thousands of bombers came out of that plant and others throughout World War II. There was a will at the presidential level and America responded. In this war, there is no will and no response. Bush contends that we can go on having tax cuts and that there is no need for this generation to redeem our indebtedness. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff.

Now we must make a start to reduce or eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. If we were to name a czar for the oil industry who does not respond to direction from Cheney or Bush, we would be sending the first signal to all of those “Islamic fascist” countries who now hold us hostage. Once we became non-dependent upon Arab or Muslim oil, those countries would lose their stick over us and would recede to 17th or 18th or 19th century levels. It is not easy to do but in fact, Brazil has done just that thing. Brazil is not dependent upon Arab or Venezuelan oil. I suspect that we can achieve the same result if we have the will and the leadership to do it.

When we announce to the world that the United States is not going to be held hostage by the oil producing countries, we can then move to appoint another czar having to do with motor vehicle production. There is no need whatsoever for this country to have automobiles with 400 hp engines to move them. Those automobiles should be very heavily taxed on the order of $25-$30,000 each. There should be a premium on production of automobiles such as the Toyota Prius. Of course there will be screaming but the need is great for us to declare independence of the oil producing countries.

To set an example, Bush should stay at home and not fly Air Force One all around the country. That plane, like all planes of its size, consumes enormous amounts of aviation fuel. He should, for example, avoid taking a trip from his often used vacation home in Crawford, Texas to Washington just to sign a piece of legislation having to do with Terri Schiavo. That trip probably cost the American taxpayers about $500,000. On top of that, it was enormously wasteful of our resources.

After setting an example by putting Air Force One partially in the hangar, Bush might also be a real man and tell the owners of stock car racing they will have to curb their ways. Stock car racing consumes a monumental amount of fuel. It involves one high-powered car chasing another one around an oval circuit endlessly. The sport, as it is often called, is very popular in the South which is where much of Bush’s electoral support comes from. If he wishes to be a man, Bush can put an end to stock car racing until this country becomes oil independent of the Arab nations.

Well there you have it. The idea is to assume responsibility for getting this country into a war that has been judged a colossal mistake. Many observers contend that taking this country into Iraq was the most colossal mistake in the history of the American enterprise. Once responsibility for that war is assumed under the “be a man” doctrine, we can save the cost of our exorbitant occupation in Iraq. Once our troops are home, we can devote our energies to becoming oil independent. Until that day comes, Arab countries will always have our foreign policy in the palm of their hands.

And while we are at it, we might set an example for the rest of the world by returning Guantanamo Bay to the government of Cuba. GITMO has a thoroughly despicable in the rest of civilized society brought on by the torture of prisoners and by their indefinite confinement without trial. Perhaps it was Shakespeare who said it best. “Out damned spot” which is what we should do for Guantanamo.

Again, after we assume the responsibility for what we have done to Iraq, we can concentrate on settling or attempting to settle the dispute between the Israelis and the Arab nations. Slogans won’t do it. What we need is to show the Arab countries that we intend to treat the Arabs and the Israelis much more evenhandedly than we have done in the past. We can no longer stand by and do nothing while the Israelis reduce the infrastructure of Lebanon to ashes. We can no longer stand by and watch the Israelis capture and imprison as many as 40 members of the Palestinian government. And we cannot remain silent while the Israelis hold several thousand people in Gaza under starving conditions while we have no comment on it. Clearly there must be an expression from the president of this country that it is our intention to treat the Arabs and the Israelis more evenhandedly. That is what “being a man” is all about.

Well there you have an outline for bringing peace to Iraq as well as to the United States. It will cut our outgoing expenses enormously and it will reduce the loss of life on both sides. When Bush was told that the loss in Iraqi lives involved as many as 600,000 people, he replied, “That has no credibility.” The fact of the matter is that George Bush has no credibility. That estimate of Iraqi lives lost comes from American, not Iraqi, sources. So let us hope that Bush either becomes a man or that he is replaced by someone who will assume that responsibility.

I realize that there is very little hope that the plan of “being a man” will be adopted under this administration. The Bush plan seems to be to “stay the course” regardless of the lives that are lost on both sides and the money that is just dribbled away. While there is not much hope that the plan will be adopted any time soon, we avoid it at our own peril. Whether we adopt this plan now or later is only a matter of time. Before we are finished, it is obvious that we will have to end the occupation of Iraq and that we must undertake the enormous effort to become independent of oil producing nations. Anything that does not embrace these two points may well cause the bankruptcy of this country within the foreseeable future.

So you see, all of this flows from my father saying to a young man that he should “Be a Man.” When I enlisted in the American Army in 1942, some 15 to 18 months ahead of my date with the draft board, my father called me aside on the Sunday before I left. He gave me a silver dollar with the date of his birth on it. That was, of course, 1881. He said, “Carry this and you will never be broke.” I carried that silver dollar until December 8, 1943 when it was taken from me by the German prison officials at Rimini, Italy. By joining the American Army well ahead of my date with the draft board, my father was saying to me, “You are doing what a man should do.” I took that as the highest praise that my inarticulate father could offer.

When I returned it to the United States in 1945, I arranged to get another 1881 Silver Dollar to replace the one that had been lost to the German prison authorities. I carried that silver dollar in my pocket for so many years that it was hard to see the eagle on the coin. It now rests in a place of honor in my dresser drawer and when I hold it, I am always reminded of the original Ezra saying, “Be a Man.”

E. E. CARR
October 29, 2006
Essay 213
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: This is how one should criticize a government and a leader. I’m not saying I agree with everything in here, and I’m not sure that a trip in the Air Force One costs half a million dollars, but I’m saying this sort of critique is a million times more useful to everyone than the sorts of slams that you generally run into when you hear people criticize, for example, Obama. It examines policy decisions and their implications. It evaluates the economic landscape of the time and attempts to offer solutions, even if they are a little outlandish like the vehicle tax. It’s absolutely a breath of fresh air when put next to everyone who hates Obama because he’s a God-Damned Socialist without a birth certificate, or whatever nonsense is being spouted lately.

In other news I now have this stuck in my head. Thanks, Pop!

TRUE CONFESSION OF A MARRIED MAN

Preachers of all sorts generally contend that confession is good for the soul. I have never paid much attention to those preachers on confessions or on any other subject. On the other hand, the Commander-in-Chief and the Chief Decider of the United States seems to pay considerable attention to what preachers have to say.

The Chief Decider and the preachers contend that men have souls much as they have tonsils and appendices. When the Chief Decider took office, he met with Vladimir Putin, the head man of Russia. Bush, who has no training as an ophthalmologist, looked into Putin’s eyes and pronounced his soul to be in heavenly shape. No other mortal human being can understand how this determination was made. Since Bush looked into Putin’s soul, the chief executive of Russia has taken it upon himself to undo the democratization of Russia. Bush must have seen Putin’s soul dressed in its Sunday best.

Recently the Chief Decider of the United States went to Iraq and stared into the eyes of the new Prime Minister there, Mr. Maliki. He announced that by looking into Maliki’s eyes, he could determine that he was a fine and brave fellow. At the moment that this essay is being written, the Bush administration is trying to figure out how to chase Maliki out of office because he has not quelled the insurrection in Baghdad. So much for Bush as an ophthalmologist. And so much for Bush as a reader of men’s souls.

I think it is fair to conclude that the Chief Decider of the United States has not had a base hit in six years in office. If he keeps staring into people’s eyes as he has done so far, he may complete his term without ever getting a scratch infield single.

No one has ever looked into my eyes and seen my soul because I haven’t the faintest idea where it might reside. Nonetheless, if confession is good for the soul, I intend to unload a mea culpa that I have carried for the better part of 80 years. The fact that I am happily married to a lovely women really makes no difference. I confess that for all of my life, I have had a separate love affair. This love affair involves another party, specifically with trains. If Bush had looked into my eyes and soul, perhaps he could have divined my errant behavior because on occasion, my eyes and soul sing the Wabash Cannonball, a powerful train song.

Perhaps it dates back to my birth on the Lilac Roost Farm in Clayton, Missouri. Lilac Roost was situated on a small hill overlooking a valley where the railroad tracks crossed North and South Road. You see, in Missouri, we are not given to fancy names. The full name of that highway was North and South Road. It simply ran in those two directions. But here lately, some enterprising politicians have attempted to call it Brentwood Boulevard. As long as I live, the road will be called North and South Road, which includes an aptly named passage known as “dead man’s curve.”

The tracks that ran in the valley below the Lilac Roost Farm served freight trains. For reasons unknown to me, the engineers always blew the train whistle as they approached the trestle over North and South Road. I suppose they did that while Lillie Carr was delivering her seventh child into the hands of Dr. Leon, the family obstetrician. So the lonesome sound of the train whistle has been in my ears from the first instant of my life. If life begins at conception, as some people believe, my life may have been affected by that sound before my birth.

At about the age of four or five, I could walk to a place on the hill and watch the trains pass. Mainly, the tracks were used by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. In common parlance, that road was known as the MOPAC.

I can remember being thrilled when the engineers, leaning out of their cabs, would wave at me or pretend to shoot me with their fingers. Sometimes the fireman or other trainmen would wave to me as well. So you see, my love affair started early, and it was strong. It remains today with great strength.

As I grew older, my father occasionally told me of his life as a fireman on the Illinois Central Railroad. Basically, the Illinois Central runs from Chicago to New Orleans, some 900 miles away. In those days, as the last of the 1800’s disappeared and were replaced by the 1900’s, the trains ordinarily were powered by steam engines. In back of the engine was a coal tender. The fireman’s job was to scoop up a shovel full of coal from the tender and throw into the firebox under the boiler. If this sounds like back breaking work, it was.

My father stayed only a little more than a year with the Illinois Central, because he determined that he would be shoveling coal or doing some other kind of train work for more than 15 years before he had an opportunity to become an engineer. He only had a second grade education, but he concluded that was a bad deal.

My father worked out of a division point on the Illinois Central called Kankakee, Illinois. For those of you interested in trivia, there is a song of recent vintage called, “The City of New Orleans” made popular by Arlo Guthrie and later Willie Nelson. The Illinois Central named its trains after the towns it served between Chicago and New Orleans. In the song, “The City of New Orleans,” Steve Goodman, who wrote the music and the lyrics, rhymed “Kankakee” with “odyssey.” I am no song writer, but that is a remarkable achievement. I could never have figured out a rhyme for Kankakee.

It was not my father spinning tales of life on the railroad that involved my love of trains. He considered that life a dreary one of shoveling one shovel of coal after another into the firebox of the steam engine and, from time to time, peering out the other window opposite the engineer, to read signals. If anything, my father tended to put a damper on my enthusiasm for trains.

While my love of trains was not encouraged by my father, he was a collector of phonograph recordings having mainly to do with well-known train wrecks. In the era of steam engines, many of those wrecks seemed to end with the engineer being scalded to death by the steam. That is what happened to the most famous engineer of the time, Casey Jones. He is remembered in the song of the same name:

“Casey Jones, mounted to the cabin,
Casey Jones, with his orders in his hand,
Casey Jones, mounted to the cabin,
And he was going to take a trip to the promised land.”

Pretty macabre lyrics.

In our living room was a windup Victrola. Between 1915 and 1925, my father bought about a dozen phonograph records having to do with trains. Unfortunately, all of them had to do with train wrecks with titles like “Wreck of the Old ΄97,” and “The Wreck of the Shenandoah Express.” One of the verses sticks in my mind even today. It says:

“There is just one more message
From the engineer, I guess.
Tell my wife I’ll meet her in heaven,
Don’t wait for the Fast Express.”

In this case, the engineer was hurrying home to tend to his dying wife. He rounded a curve and the train left the tracks, and killed him. Sad news all around.

Those records must have been popular at the time, because they propelled the singer, Vernon Dalhart, into national prominence. My father was not a macabre sort of person; I believe that in buying those records he was attempting to pay tribute to the train crews that were lost. Those records are still in my possession today.

As I grew older, I got a job as a draftsman with AT&T in its St. Louis Division headquarters. One of the bosses sat where I could hear his voice because he was largely deaf. Donald Wass would summon his secretary and tell her to get him a room on the Pennsylvania Railroad train that would depart from St. Louis at 5:00PM and would arrive in New York City around 9:00AM the following morning. For better or worse, I thought that was a romantic way to live. Mr. Wass would show up at Union Station in St. Louis, he would board the train and order a drink. After a time, he would sit at a table with a starched white table cloth and be served by attentive waiters. After dinner, he could retire to his room, undress, put on his pajamas, and sleep until he approached New York City. For a young 19-year-old like myself, that seemed like a wonderful way to live.

It is my memory that the dining cars and sleeping cars were staffed by the Brotherhood of Pullman Car Porters. In the middle of the last century, A. Phillip Randolph, the president of that union, became a very important figure in the American Federation of Labor. Mr. Randolph’s union was the only complete Afro-American union in the AFofL.

In 1941, the United States went to war with Japan and Germany. Like so many others that age, I was drawn into that war through an enlistment in the United States Army. The Army shared my love of trains.

First there was a trip from St. Louis to Las Vegas, New Mexico for basic training, followed by a long rail journey to Coral Gables, Florida. The Embry Riddle School of Aeronautics was entrusted to make 100 of us aerial engineers. Upon completion of that training, the Army sent us back to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where we wasted two weeks before being sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to board ships to take us to the North African theatre of war.

The Army dictated that much of this cross-country train travel should be accomplished with drawn window shades. It was also marked by two stops at Hutchinson, Kansas, late at night, where we found women volunteers boarding the trains to offer us apples and cookies. Because of the hour of the night and the fact that soldiers in those days had no pajamas, the refreshments were received by the soldiers in their skivvies. No one seemed offended.

Railroads were an important means of transportation of passengers and freight in Europe. It is for this reason that the air forces of the United States spent much of their time in bombing railroad marshalling points behind enemy lines. My airplane was shot down on December 8, 1943, in such a raid on the marshalling point south of Ancona, Italy. After my rescue by the Italian Partisans, I returned to duty.

In December 1944, I was picked to be the aerial engineer on the crew that brought the oldest plane in the European theatre from Italy back to the place where it was manufactured in San Bernardino, California. The plane was a C-47, known in civilian life as the DC-3. It was manufactured in 1935 by the Douglas Corporation.

Getting from San Bernardino to my home in St. Louis, where I was permitted to take a five-day furlough seemed to take forever, but in the end, the railroads got me there. So, as you can see, trains played an important part in my military enlistment.

Many years passed between my discharge from the Army, my return to AT&T, and the arrival of the AT&T job that took me to many countries around world. The rest of the civilized world depends heavily on rail transportation even today. In Europe, if a train is scheduled to arrive at 5:42, the engineer is expected to pull that train into that station at 5:42. If he is a minute late, or a minute early, there will be comments. In Europe and in Japan and even now in China, trains run on time and are thoroughly dependable and their train technology is far ahead of our own. They are clean and they are a decent place to eat.

Contrast that situation with what we find in the United States. The people in Congress seem not to understand the importance of railroads. This administration, for example, had set out to gut the rails. There are few resources for development of new railroad technology. For the years since World War II, the railroads have been largely on there own. To survive, they have had to merge, and the names we have known over the years such as MOPAC, Pennsylvania Railroad, and Illinois Central have long since disappeared. This is a tragedy of immense proportions. In a war time situation such as World War II, there is no way that we could have moved people and freight from one place to another without the railroads. Gutting the railroad budgets is a totally short-sighted and disastrous policy.

Given a choice on trips of 500 miles or less, I would always prefer to take that trip on a railroad. The pressures of time and the pressure to meet schedules dictated that air travel was the way to go. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to board the New York express train at 5:00PM in St. Louis as Don Wass did, order a drink, have a delicious meal, and then retire to my bedroom to be rocked to sleep by the gentle swaying of the train, all attended to by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

My commuting around here for many years was on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. The trains were old but they generally ran on time. In bygone days, the DL&W had a poem produced about it:

“Said Phoebe Snow, about to go,
Upon a trip to Buffalo,
My gown of white will be alright,
Upon the road of anthracite.”

From that poem, the Lackawanna railroad was know as the “Route of the Phoebe Snow.” For many years, I sat on those trains and pretended that I was on the way to San Francisco or New Orleans or some other exotic location. I rode the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (C&NW) in Chicago and after moving to New York, it was my fate to ride the Lackawanna and the Lackawanna Ferry. Unfortunately, commuter trains don’t take you to exotic places. They take you to Hoboken, New Jersey. But riding the commuter trains failed to dampen by love for railroads. In fact, it made it stronger. And so you see, the Confessions of a Married Man has to do with his love of railroad travel. If there is a more melodic sound in this world than the strains of a train whistle going through a valley late at night, I am at a loss as to what it might be.

Where we live now in New Jersey, we don’t hear the lonesome sound of the train whistle much anymore. We have to settle for the engineer ringing the bell as he pulls into and out of every commuter station on what is now known as the New Jersey Transit System. That title certainly does not carry the cache of its predecessor, the Lackawanna. I would prefer the train whistle but ringing the train bell is an acceptable substitute.

And so you see, now that I have made my confession, my soul actually feels 64% better. I wish I had done it earlier.

We told you about the engineers, the firemen, the trainmen and the Pullman porters. Now it is time to meet a most important personage on train travel, the conductor. And the conductor says…..

All Aboard!

A-l-l-l-l A-b-o-r-a-rd !

E. E. CARR
October 23, 2006
Essay 212
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Turns out The City of New Orleans is a nice song! Definitely worth listening to.

Now I’m pretty sure that Judy is not too bothered but Pop’s confessions but perhaps she’ll weigh in. Maybe she likes trains too, forming some sort of love triangle. Who knows.

I’m riding plenty of trains these days a subway every work day, and a bina-fide, choo-choo style train every time I go visit my girlfriend in the south bay area. That train is of course called the Caltrain and departs on time reliably from San Francisco. If only it were as reliable at arriving to and departing from every other stop on its line.

Finally, I’d say that Putin’s recent actions toward the Ukraine put Bush’s eye-to-soul reading prowess at a solid 0%.