Quote of the moment, 70th anniversary: Eisenhower’s astonishing D-Day leadership example, “Blame . . . is mine alone”

June 6, 2014

It is a model of leadership, an example more leaders should follow — though few do. It’s one more example of the high caliber leadership Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated throughout his life. In it’s imperfections, handwritten, it should take your breath away.

So again, today, on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, we remember.

Eisenhower's unused statement on the failure of D-Day

Eisenhower’s contingency statement, in case D-Day failed – image from the National Archives

This quote actually isn’t a quote. It was never said by the man who wrote it down to say it. It carries a powerful lesson because of what it is.

In preparing for the D-Day invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower carefully contemplated what would happen if the invasion failed.  What if the Germans repulsed the Allies, and no foothold was established to re-take the main body of Europe from the Germans?

Ike’s answer is a model of leadership:  He would take the blame.  Regardless what happened, Ike took full responsibility for the failure, giving credit to the soldiers who would have sacrificed in vain, perhaps their lives.

The Bathtub recently posted Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “order of the day” to the troops about to conduct the Allied invasion of Normandy — D-Day — to establish the toehold in Europe the Allies needed to march to Berlin, and to end World War II in Europe. As a charge to the troops, it was okay — Eisenhower-style words, not Churchill-style, but effective enough. One measure of its effectiveness was the success of the invasion, which established the toe-hold from which the assaults on the Third Reich were made.

eisenhower-with-paratrooper-eve-of-d-day.jpg

Photo shows Eisenhower meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, on the eve of the invasion. It was these men whose courage he lauded.

When Eisenhower wrote his words of encouragement to the troops, and especially after he visited with some of the troops, he worried about the success of the operation. It was a great gamble. Many of the things the Allies needed to go right — like weather — had gone wrong. Victory was not assured. Defeat strode the beaches of Normandy waiting to drive the Allies back into the water, to die.

Eisenhower wrote a second statement, a shorter one. This one was directed to the world. It assumed the assault had failed. In a few short sentences, Eisenhower commended the courage and commitment of the troops who, he wrote, had done all they could. The invasion was a chance, a good chance based on the best intelligence the Allies had, Eisenhower wrote. But it had failed.

The failure, Eisenhower wrote, was not the fault of the troops, but was entirely Eisenhower’s.

He didn’t blame the weather, though he could have. He didn’t blame fatigue of the troops, though they were tired, some simply from drilling, many from war. He didn’t blame the superior field position of the Germans, though the Germans clearly had the upper hand. He didn’t blame the almost-bizarre attempts to use technology that look almost clownish in retrospect — the gliders that carried troops behind the lines, sometimes too far, sometimes killing the pilots when the gliders’ cargo shifted on landing;  the flotation devices that were supposed to float tanks to the beaches to provide cover for the troops (but which failed, drowning the tank crews and leaving the foot soldiers on their own); the bombing of the forts and pillboxes on the beaches, which failed because the bombers could not see their targets through the clouds.

There may have been a plan B, but in the event of failure, Eisenhower was prepared to establish who was accountable, whose head should roll if anyone’s should.

Eisenhower took full responsibility.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air [force] and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.

Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?  Who else in history would have written such a thing?  Is there any indication that Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, or any other commander of a great army in  a world-turning invasion, considered how to save and perhaps salve the reputation of his troops, though they had failed?

Leadership is more than just positive thinking.

  • The message may also be viewed here. Yes, it’s incorrectly dated July 5 — should have been June 5.  In history, little is perfect.  We can excuse his slip of the pen, considering what else he had on his mind.

 

More:

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

Another  angle of the meeting with the troops:  General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944.  Wikipedia image

This is mostly an encore post.


Quote of the moment: Eisenhower’s astonishing D-Day leadership example, “Blame . . . is mine alone”

June 6, 2013

Eisenhower's unused statement on the failure of D-Day

Eisenhower’s contingency statement, in case D-Day failed – image from the National Archives

This quote actually isn’t a quote. It was never said by the man who wrote it down to say it. It carries a powerful lesson because of what it is.

In preparing for the D-Day invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower carefully contemplated what would happen if the invasion failed.  What if the Germans repulsed the Allies, and no foothold was established to re-take the main body of Europe from the Germans?

Ike’s answer is a model of leadership:  He would take the blame.  Regardless what happened, Ike took full responsibility for the failure, giving credit to the soldiers who would have sacrificed in vain, perhaps their lives.

The Bathtub recently posted Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “order of the day” to the troops about to conduct the Allied invasion of Normandy — D-Day — to establish the toehold in Europe the Allies needed to march to Berlin, and to end World War II in Europe. As a charge to the troops, it was okay — Eisenhower-style words, not Churchill-style, but effective enough. One measure of its effectiveness was the success of the invasion, which established the toe-hold from which the assaults on the Third Reich were made.

eisenhower-with-paratrooper-eve-of-d-day.jpg

Photo shows Eisenhower meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, on the eve of the invasion. It was these men whose courage he lauded.

When Eisenhower wrote his words of encouragement to the troops, and especially after he visited with some of the troops, he worried about the success of the operation. It was a great gamble. Many of the things the Allies needed to go right — like weather — had gone wrong. Victory was not assured. Defeat strode the beaches of Normandy waiting to drive the Allies back into the water, to die.

Eisenhower wrote a second statement, a shorter one. This one was directed to the world. It assumed the assault had failed. In a few short sentences, Eisenhower commended the courage and commitment of the troops who, he wrote, had done all they could. The invasion was a chance, a good chance based on the best intelligence the Allies had, Eisenhower wrote. But it had failed.

The failure, Eisenhower wrote, was not the fault of the troops, but was entirely Eisenhower’s.

He didn’t blame the weather, though he could have. He didn’t blame fatigue of the troops, though they were tired, some simply from drilling, many from war. He didn’t blame the superior field position of the Germans, though the Germans clearly had the upper hand. He didn’t blame the almost-bizarre attempts to use technology that look almost clownish in retrospect — the gliders that carried troops behind the lines, sometimes too far, sometimes killing the pilots when the gliders’ cargo shifted on landing;  the flotation devices that were supposed to float tanks to the beaches to provide cover for the troops (but which failed, drowning the tank crews and leaving the foot soldiers on their own); the bombing of the forts and pillboxes on the beaches, which failed because the bombers could not see their targets through the clouds.

There may have been a plan B, but in the event of failure, Eisenhower was prepared to establish who was accountable, whose head should roll if anyone’s should.

Eisenhower took full responsibility.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air [force] and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.

Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?  Who else in history would have written such a thing?  Is there any indication that Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, or any other commander of a great army in  a world-turning invasion, considered how to save and perhaps salve the reputation of his troops, though they had failed?

Leadership is more than just positive thinking.

  • The message may also be viewed here. Yes, it’s incorrectly dated July 5 — should have been June 5.  In history, little is perfect.  We can excuse his slip of the pen, considering what he had on his mind.

This is much of an encore post.

More:

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

Another  angle of the meeting with the troops:  General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944.  Wikipedia image


Millard Fillmore’s links to March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P.

March 8, 2013

I awoke from a particularly hard sleep after a night celebrating ten Cub Scouts’ earning their Arrow of Light awards and advancing into Boy Scout troops, to a missive from Carl Cannon (RealClear Politics) wondering why I’m asleep at the switch.

Millard Fillmore died on March 8, 1874, and he expected to see some note of that here at the Bathtub.  This blog is not the chronicler of all things Millard Fillmore, but can’t we at least get the major dates right?

Carl is right.  Alas, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub is avocation, and at times like these an avocation that should be far down the list of avocations.

To mark the date, here is a post out of the past that notes two key events on March 8 that Fillmore had a hand in, the second being his death.  Work continues on several fronts, and more may splash out of the tub today, even about Fillmore.  Stay tuned.

Fillmore died on March 8, 1874; exactly 20 years earlier, Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed in Japan, in the process of what may be the greatest and most overlooked legacy of Millard Fillmore’s presidency, the opening of Japan to the world.  Here’s that post:

Commodore Matthew C. Perrys squadron in Japan, 1854 - CSSVirginia.org image

The Black Ships — Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s squadron in Japan, 1854 – CSSVirginia.org image from Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, Boston, May 15, 1852 (also, see BaxleyStamps.com); obviously the drawing was published prior to the expedition’s sailing.

On March 8, 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed for the second time in Japan, having been sent on a mission a year earlier by President Millard Fillmore.  On this trip, within 30 days he concluded a treaty with Japan which opened Japan to trade with the U.S. (the Convention of Kanagawa), and which began a cascade of events that opened Japan to trade with the world.

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Within 50 years Japan would come to dominate the seas of the the Western Pacific, and would become a major world power.

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: The characters located across the top read from right to left, A North American Figure and Portrait of Perry. According to the Peabody Essex Museum, this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perrys western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).  But compare with photo above, right.  Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: “The characters located across the top read from right to left, ‘A North American Figure’ and ‘Portrait of Perry.’ According to the Peabody Essex Museum, ‘this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perry’s western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).’” But compare with photo above, right. Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Then, 20 years later, on March 8, 1874, Millard Fillmore died in Buffalo, New York.

The Perry expedition to Japan was the most famous, and perhaps the greatest recognized achievement of Fillmore’s presidency.  Fillmore had started the U.S. on a course of imperialistic exploitation and exploration of the world, with other expeditions of much less success to Africa and South America, according to the story of his death in The New York Times.

The general policy of his Administration was wise and liberal, and he left the country at peace with all the world and enjoying a high degree of prosperity. His Administration was distinguished by the Lopez fillibustering expeditions to Cuba, which were discountenanced by the Government, and by several important expeditions to distant lands. The expedition to Japan under Commodore Perry resulted in a favorable treaty with that country, but that dispatched under Lieut. Lynch, in search of gold in the interior of Africa, failed of its object. Exploring expeditions were also sent to the Chinese seas, and to the Valley of the Amazon.

More:


Happy Origin of Species Day! (November 24)

November 23, 2012

Tomorrow, November 24, 2012, marks the 153rd anniversary of a day that quietly changed all of science, should have changed much of theology, and brought much of the world into the future, though many people don’t know it yet.

It’s a Saturday this year — so let’s be a day early, to get informed and involved the people who don’t check their calendars on the weekends.

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s book was published, On the Origin of Species.

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin's Origin of Species - University of Sydney/Wikimedia image

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species – image from the University of Sydney via Wikimedia image

How to celebrate?  You could read a summary of Ernst Mayr’s shorthand version of Darwin’s theory, and understand it really for the first time  (I hope not the first time, but there are a lot of people who really don’t understand what Darwin said — especially among critics of evolution):

Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on key facts and the inferences drawn from them, which biologist Ernst Mayr summarised as follows:[3]

  • Every species is fertile enough that if all offspring survived to reproduce the population would grow (fact).
  • Despite periodic fluctuations, populations remain roughly the same size (fact).
  • Resources such as food are limited and are relatively stable over time (fact).
  • A struggle for survival ensues (inference).
  • Individuals in a population vary significantly from one another (fact).
  • Much of this variation is inheritable (fact).
  • Individuals less suited to the environment are less likely to survive and less likely to reproduce; individuals more suited to the environment are more likely to survive and more likely to reproduce and leave their inheritable traits to future generations, which produces the process of natural selection (inference).
  • This slowly effected process results in populations changing to adapt to their environments, and ultimately, these variations accumulate over time to form new species (inference).
Darwin's original sketch of a "tree of life," from Darwin's journals

Charles Darwin’s 1837 sketch, his first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his First Notebook on Transmutation of Species (1837) on view at the the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Interpretation of handwriting: “I think case must be that one generation should have as many living as now. To do this and to have as many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction . Thus between A + B the immense gap of relation. C + B the finest gradation. B+D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. Bearing relation” (next page begins) “to ancient types with several extinct forms.”  Wikimedia image

This is mostly an encore post — hey, it’s a history blog — with tips of the old scrub brush justified to Larry Moran and P. Z. Myers, and especially Eugenie Scott and the National Center for Science Education.

More:

 


El Grito de Dolores, September 16 (2012 edition)

September 16, 2012

An encore post, repeated:

No, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s “Independence Day.”

It’s amazing what is not available on video for use in the classroom.

Texas kids have to study the “Grito de Dolores” in the 7th grade – the “Cry from Dolores” in one translation, or the “Cry of Pain” in another (puns in Spanish! Do kids get it?). Father Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo made the speech on September 16, 1810, upon the news that Spanish authorities had learned of his conspiracy to revolt for independence. The revolution had been planned for December 8, but Hidalgo decided it had to start early.

This date is celebrated in Mexico as Independence Day. Traditionally the President of Mexico issues an update on the Grito, after the original bell that Father Hidalgo used is rung, near midnight.

Hidalgo himself was captured by the Spanish in 1811, and executed.

Father Hidalgo issues the Grito

Statue of Father Hidalgo in Dolores, Mexico.

It’s a great story. It’s a good speech, what little we have of it (Hidalgo used no text, and we work from remembered versions).
It’s important to Texas history, too — it’s difficult to imagine Tejians getting independence from Spain in quite the same way they won it from Mexico.

Why isn’t there a good 10- to 15-minute video on the thing for classroom use? Get a good actor to do the speech, it could be a hit. Where is the video when we need it?

Update from 2008: Glimmerings of hope on the video front:  Amateur videos on YouTube provide some of the sense of what goes on in modern celebrations.

And, see this re-enactment from Monterrey:

Update from 2009: The Library of Congress’s Wise Guide for September features the history of the day:

The Grito de Dolores (“Cry of/from Dolores”) was the battle cry of the Mexican War of Independence, uttered on September 16, 1810, by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato, Mexico.

“My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today…Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen 300 years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once.”

Although many mistakenly attribute the Cinco de Mayo holiday as the celebration of Mexican independence, Sept. 16 was the day the enthusiastic Indian and mestizo congregation of Hidalgo’s small Dolores parish church took up arms and began their fight for freedom against Spain.

Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920” has a rich collection of photographs of Mexico. To view these pictures, search the collection on “Mexico.”

Portals to the World contains selective links providing authoritative, in-depth information about the nations and other areas of the world. Resources on Mexico include information on the country’s history, religion, culture and society to name a few.

September is also a notable month for Hispanic culture with the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month Sept 15 – Oct. 15. Sept. 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition to Mexico’s independence day on Sept. 16, Chile recognizes its independence day Sept.18. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12, falls within this 30-day period.

The theme for the 2009 Hispanic Heritage Month was “Embracing the Fierce Urgency of Now!” To coincide with the celebration, the Library and several partners present a website honoring Hispanic culture and people. [Nice idea, calling it "Heritage Month" instead of "History Month;" maybe we can change February to "Black Heritage Month," and study Hispanic and black history every day.]

Viva la república! Viva el Cura Hidalgo! Una página de Gloria, TITLE TRANSLATION: Long live the republic! Long live Father Hidalgo! A page of glory. Between 1890 and 1913. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-USZ62-98851 (b&w film copy neg.), LC-DIG-ppmsc-04595 (digital file from original, recto), LC-DIG-ppmsc-04596 (digital file from original, verso); Call No.: PGA - Vanegas, no. 123 (C size) [P&P] Catalog Record: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.04595A street in Guanajuato, Mexico. Between 1880 and 1897. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-D418-8481 (b&w glass neg.); Call No.: LC-D418-8481 <P&P>[P&P] Catalog Record: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a27131

Specifically on the Grito de Dolores, see the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project:

Cry of Dolores

My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today…Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once.Cry of Dolores, attributed to Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, September 16, 1810.

The Palace from the Cathedral, city of Mexico
The [National] Palace from the Cathedral, city of Mexico,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
between 1880 and 1897.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

Early on the morning of September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla summoned the largely Indian and mestizo congregation of his small Dolores parish church and urged them to take up arms and fight for Mexico’s independence from Spain. His El Grito de Dolores, or Cry of Dolores, which was spoken—not written—is commemorated on September 16 as Mexican Independence Day.

Father Hidalgo was born into a moderately wealthy family in the city of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City, in 1753. He attended the Jesuit College of San Francisco Javier, received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mexico in 1774, and was ordained into the priesthood in 1778. He soon earned the enmity of the authorities, however, by openly challenging both church doctrine and aspects of Spanish rule by developing Mexican agriculture and industry.

In 1803, Hidalgo accepted the curacy of the small parish of Dolores, not far from his native city of Guanajuato. Between 1803 and 1810, he directed most of his energy to improving the economic prospects of his parishioners. He also joined the Academia Literaria, a committee seeking Mexico’s independence from Spain.

Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuato, Mexico,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
between 1880 and 1897.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

In September 1810, Spanish authorities learned of the group’s plot to incite a rebellion. On September 13, they searched the home of Emeterio González in the city of Queretaro where they found a large supply of weapons and ammunition. Warned of his impending arrest, Hidalgo preempted authorities by issuing the El Grito de Dolores on the morning of September 16. Attracting enthusiastic support from the Indian and mestizo population, he and his band of supporters moved toward the town of San Miguel.

The rebel army encountered its first serious resistance at Guanajuato. After a fierce battle that took the lives of more than 500 Spaniards and 2,200 Indians, the rebels won the city. By October, the rebel army, now 80,000 strong, was close to taking Mexico City. Hidalgo, fearful of unleashing the army on the capital city, hesitated, then retreated to the north. He was captured in Texas, then still a part of the Spanish empire, and executed by firing squad on July 31, 1811. After ten more years of fighting, a weakened and divided Mexico finally won independence from Spain with the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba on August 24, 1821.

Learn more about Mexico:

Resources, other material:

Even More (2012):

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Silent Spring’s 50th anniversary: Birds sing, air is cleaner, water is cleaner

June 16, 2012

Fifty years ago today New Yorker published the first of four parts of Rachel Carson‘s epic research book, Silent Spring.

Cover of New Yorker Magazine, June 16, 1962 -- the issue which carried the first of four parts of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Cover of New Yorker Magazine, June 16, 1962 — the issue which carried the first of four parts of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

What a difference five decades make!

People outside of it claim claim Carson started the entire environmental movement .  Historians, politicians and people inside the movement don’t forget the contributions of John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Moran, John Wesley Powell, Laurance Rockefeller, John Muir, Thomas Meagher, Gifford Pinchot, William H. Jackson, Frederick Law Olmsted, and dozens of others of more or lesser fame and prominence.  Carson’s book still stands tall among the contributions of those giants, for its literary achievement, its voice, and its scientific foundations.

Contrary to the history of history-turning books, the controversy over Silent Spring grows stronger in the last decade.  Upton Sinclair‘s fictional works on Chicago meat packing company misdeeds gets lionized in high school history courses.  Thomas Malthus‘s work on population growth crops up in economics texts.  Adam Smith shows up on ties.  Few read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but no one defends slavery nor calls Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s book inaccurate even though it was a work of fiction.

In contrast, the attacks on Carson and Silent Spring grow more shrill — today’s Google searches find many more listings for scathing and wildly inaccurate critiques of the book than there are tributes to either.

Carson and her book deserve the praise most often denied, and they deserve little if any of the criticism.  Fifty years on Silent Spring’s influence is almost universally positive.

  1. Carson forced the public, and scientists, to look at the wild as an integrated whole, including the plants and animals and mineral, land and ater resources, and also including the towns speckled among wild lands, and especially the farms sprawling in verdant production across most of America.  Carson, almost as much as Darwin, forced scientists to see their science as part of a larger whole — study of ecosystems became important, perhaps more important that the study of individual species or locations.
  2. Silent Spring alerted humans that all actions in the wild have consequences in the wild, and that the tyranny of numbers affects the entire out-of-doors as much as smaller parcels.  Human effects were seen as world-wide.
  3. Carson’s writing found firm footing in science and showed literary flair, with more than 50 pages of careful and thorough footnotes including precise citations to science research publications.  This demonstrated what Richard Feynman later brilliantly described, that a knowledgeable, scientific view of nature makes it more beautiful, and more charming.  This near-refutation of Mark Twain‘s philosophy of learning from Life on the Mississippi opened a new genre of literature that is non-fictional and floridly descriptive, but readable and persuasive because of its scientific accuracy.
  4. Silent Spring made it clear that local actions can make big environmental effects.  The bird-killing, spring-silencing actions that could cause the silent spring fable in the books introduction was not a massive federal project, but was instead the result of actions of small towns and cities, county governments, and even individual farmers.  Planet-saving action could be started at home, next door, in the block in the neighborhood, in the county — and did not require first approval from a national government.
  5. Silent Spring unabashedly pointed a finger at all of us as the culprit of the damage, and not some “other” as a bad guy.  While this troubles many today, it carries with it the explicit realization that our own actions can start our own salvation.  Personal responsibility becomes real in Silent Spring.
  6. Silent Spring made nature appear accessible to anyone with a yard, or a patch of grass nearby.  This gave rebirth to the parks movement, and it encouraged countless thousands to recreation in the outdoors, and to careers outdoors as farmers, ranchers, scientists, forest and park rangers, land managers and gardeners.
  7. Carson specifically addressed the trade-offs required to stop pollution.  DDT was a key part of the campaign to eradicate malaria from the planet, she noted.  But overuse or abuse of DDT would surely lead to insect resistance to the stuff, she documented with research already a decade old that showed exactly that.  If DDT overuse were allowed to continue, she said, DDT would stop being effective in the fight against malaria.  The book was published in 1962.  In 1965 the World Health Organization stopped its campaign against malaria in Central and Subsaharan Africa that relied on DDT.  Getting support from the not-strong national governments in the region had delayed implementation (80% of all households must be treated with DDT in this program and medical care must be improved to cure malaria in human carriers to make it work).  Worse, in areas yet untouched by the WHO campaign, mosquitoes were already resistant and immune to DDT due to overuse in agriculture and other fields.  Within 18 months after her 1964 death, Rachel Carson had been revealed as a reluctant prophet.
  8. Carson alerted the world to alternatives to technological fixes, especially those that carry high costs.  Carson worried about the effects on the fight against malaria if DDT was to be rendered ineffective by overuse.  Few planned for that eventuality, but it happened.  Happily, she also pointed to other solutions.  At peak DDT use, 500 million malaria infections annually killed 4 million people worldwide.  Today, mostly without DDT but instead with wiser policies of medical treatment and the use of bednets, malaria infections have been cut in half, to about 250 million annually, and malaria deaths have been reduced by 75%, to under 1 million annually.  This is more impressive when one realizes the total world population more than doubled in the same time, and the area where malaria is endemic also increased.  Carson told us it was possible to defeat a disease without poisoning our selves and our environment, and we have done it, to a great degree, with malaria.
  9. Birds still sing in the spring, the bald eagle is off the Endangered Species List, America’s air is cleaner, America’s water is cleaner, and more land is set aside for the regeneration of America’s renewable resources and our national, collective psyche in recreation.  Much of this can be attributed to actions by people inspired by Rachel Carson’s book.
Rachel Carson in New Yorker, 2007, illustration by Tom Bachtell

Rachel Carson in New Yorker, 2007, illustration by Tom Bachtell

Rachel was right.  Careful research, care in writing forged by years of research and writing about research, gave Carson the voice and the research chops to write a readable, scientifically accurate call to action.

That call still sounds today, even if one must strain to hear it over the chorus of ill-informed or ill-intentioned hecklers.

More, resources and related articles:


A century of IBM

June 23, 2011

IBM turned 100 years old last week, on June 16.

IBM logo, 100th anniversary plus the Selectric typewriter

An "element" from an IBM Selectric typewriter, incorporated into a logo celebrating IBM's 100th year

In our studies of the effects of technology in the 20th century, do we give enough information and deference about IBM?  The company surely is not familiar to high school students — seniors for the class of 2012 having been born circa 1994, long after the heyday of the IBM System 360, the once-ubiquitous data punch cards, and the astonishingly advanced Selectric typewriters.  IBM retired the Selectric in 1986, a year before our older son was born, nearly a decade before today’s high school seniors bounced into the world.  The IBM punch cards, introduced in 1928, became difficult to find by the time I was coaching debate at the University of Arizona (we used the cards for debate evidence because they were larger and lighter than index cards, as did many other people in other walks of life).  Computing power of the S/360 paled in comparison to minicomputers available by 1985, and especially in comparison to the desktop microcomputers that dominate our working world today.

I wonder what today’s high school students really understand of the computer revolution?  Do they understand the fundamental roles IBM played in inventing the 21st century?

IBM System 360 at NASA, circa 1969

Caption from IBM: "IBM System/360 at NASA The System/360 Model 75 processed data for the first lunar landing 240,000 miles away from the moon, at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas. It was one of five System/360 machines used by NASA for the Apollo 11 mission and the same computer that later calculated liftoff data needed by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin for the flight back to Earth."

IBM occupies a particular fond spot in my heart.  Through the National Merit Scholarship program, I had my college paid for in great measure by a four-year grant from IBM, a Thomas J. Watson, Jr., Scholarship.  As I recall it was for about $5,000, much more than adequate for tuition and fees at the University of Utah at under $400/quarter.  Coupled with a more modest scholarship from Utah and my 40 hours/week job in a laboratory, my undergraduate years were financially easy compared to our sons’ studies today.

As a sort of thank-you, I was expected to make an annual trek to the IBM offices in Salt Lake City to report on my progress.  IBMers at the time were still very much on the white-shirt/blue-shirt plan, and the contrast between campus and the IBM office could scarcely have been more stark.  Despite their sponsoring my education, I could not convince IBM to give me a price break on my first IBM Correcting Selectric II; it was a major scrape to come up with the $740, full list price of the beast.

But what a great investment!  My apartment became term-paper central.  At the end of the quarter, I could go without  paying for a meal for two or three weeks.  I did have one apartment manager complain about women spending the night in my apartment, and I don’t think he believed me when I said they were working on term papers.  I had not expected the academic benefits of the machine:  My grades in broadcast classes rose with scripts submitted in easy-to-read Orator typeface; I’m convinced the lack of pencil-corrected errors added a full half-grade to other papers, too.

That typewriter finally succumbed to my unwillingness to pay for the annual servicing from IBM.  I think Kathryn donated it to the Salvation Army sometime after we got to Texas, after two decades of service.  I found another at a garage sale in about 2000, for $10, with six elements and a slew of ribbons and correctapes.  It also succumbed to a lack of service, though, and joined its predecessor at the Salvation Army five years ago.  I’d love to have a good working version today, still, though I can do almost everything it could do with a wordprocessor and a laser printer.

IBM System 360 coming to Japan - IBM image

Caption from IBM: "The System/360 Model 75 processed data for the first lunar landing 240,000 miles away from the moon, at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas. It was one of five System/360 machines used by NASA for the Apollo 11 mission and the same computer that later calculated liftoff data needed by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin for the flight back to Earth. Two men standing on truck w/System/360 logo magnifying-glass IBM System/360 in Japan At Tokai Bank in Japan, all operations were performed manually, forcing employees to run calculations on abacuses into the late hours of the night. The arrival of the System/360 enabled the company to do away with abacuses and, in doing so, send employees home to spend more time with their families, drastically improving morale. Meanwhile, more work was completed in a shorter time frame, and customer satisfaction soared."

IBM’s leadership as a company runs much deeper than simply as an innovator in technology.  IBM for years had the best corporate training available — at American Airlines we benchmarked our training against IBM, when benchmarking was a tool of corporate improvement.  IBM’s people had the good sense to sit us down and explain they had benchmarked their own training against American’s pilot training, which they explained was the model for outstanding training:  Hire people who already know how to do the job, have a lot of experience, and love the work; train them intensively in the company ways and systems, and especially the machines they will use; use simulators to offer much more practice than can safely be had on the job; provide a mentor to monitor closely that the student (pilot) is doing the job right; require extensive refresher courses at least once a year.

At one point IBM had 20% growth in revenues for 20 consecutive years. IBM even figures in one of the great urban legends of the 20th century.  For the film of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, 2001:  A Space Odyssey, director Stanley Kubrick used a  computer as a central character.  The computer becomes the bad guy in the movie, however; the urban legend is that the company refused to let Kubrick use their logo.  So, the legend claims, Kubrick simply backed up one letter in the alphabet for each letter, and the nefarious HAL computer was born. Both Kubrick and Clarke denied that was the case, noting that HAL was a form of acronym for “Heuristic Algorithmic.”  They also note that IBM computers are pictured in the movie.  The story merely adds to the understanding that IBM was everywhere that technology or good management was found on the planet.

Despite having been eclipsed by its two partners in micro computers, Microsoft and Intel, IBM today offers yet another reinvention of itself, larger than it was when its fortunes were said to have collapsed, a few years before our high school students were born.

CBS Sunday Morning offered a short version of the company’s history on June 12 — fortunately, one of the items CBS posted on YouTube (they don’t put enough of the Sunday Morning stuff there, if you ask me).

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