Thursday, July 24, 2008

MacArthur, Krulak and God

When my father, John Mitchell, was working on his PhD at the University of Missouri in the 1950s, he knew another graduate student named John Mitchell who had worked as part of General Douglas MacArthur’s security detail in Japan during the occupation. MacArthur was the only non-Japanese shogun the Japanese ever had.

The other John Mitchell told this story: The security detail's codeword for MacArthur was 'God'. This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with that man’s reputation as an egomaniac of monumental proportions. His son, Arthur MacArthur (named after the General's father ) was known as 'Jesus'.

Many years later, when I was in Bethel, Alaska, I got to be friends with a retired Marine Sergeant Major who told me he had served with General Victor Krulak, who retired as the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. Sergeant Major Bowles told me that when Krulak was serving as Battalion Commander in the Pacific during WWII, he developed an outstanding reputation with his men, not just as a very brave man, but as a meticulous planner who left nothing to chance. Time after time, his unit achieved their objectives with minimal casualties. It did not take long for Krulak's men to figure out that they had an extraordinary CO. After a while, the Marines in that unit nicknamed 'God'. As in: “God will provide. God will protect us. God will get us out of this.”

I find it ironic that two officers would have exactly the same nickname, with such completely different meanings.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Good Enough for Barbara???

I suppose everybody has a dear friend who has one quality that you find a bit exasperating. One of my dearest friends is an extraordinarily sweet lady named Barbara who is a great wife, mother, friend and day care operator. (What do you call a woman who has three grown kids at home and takes care of six preschoolers? She gets my vote for *Supermom*.)

Barbara seems to have absolutely no interest in history, which is a source of some consternation to yours truly. Her husband is a total history buff and her dear old mom was a high-school history teacher. Mention anything touching upon history, she’ll get a look on her lovely face like a kid who finds a double portion of broccoli on their dinner plate.

However, I recently read a story so intriguing I wonder...

Once upon a time in the 1760s, there was an African girl about seven years old. (Her birthdate is unknown, but when she was found, she was so young she didn’t have her adult front teeth.) She had the extraordinary bad fortune to end up on a slave ship headed for America. However, for someone undergoing such a hellish experience, she got two extremely lucky breaks. First, the slave ship, the Phyllis, docked in Boston. Second, a family named Wheatley purchased her. They named her Phyllis after the ship. It wasn’t long before they recognized that she was a brilliant child and they gave her a first-class education. (This was legal in Boston.) By the time she was in her late teens, she showed an extraordinary talent for writing poetry. This resulted in her being the first female African-American poet published in America. The Wheatleys set her free when she was in her 20s.

A few years after her book of poems was published, the American War for Independence broke out and Phyllis wrote a poem about George Washington, praising him as 'a true son of the goddess of Freedom.' When Washington got word of the poem, he was so impressed that he invited Phyllis Wheatley to a formal reception in March, 1776 while the Continental Army was besieging Boston.

Down in Virginia, future President Thomas Jefferson thought it was unbecoming for Washington to formally receive a slave. Washington ignored him. After that reception, Phyllis Wheatley wrote to Washington a number of times to take an abolitionist stance toward slavery. Sad to say, Phyllis Wheatley died quite young and only met with Washington that once.

We will never know for sure the extent to which Phyllis Wheatley’s poetry affected George Washington’s worldview. Ironically enough, while he was one of the biggest slaveholders in the colonies, before the end of the Revolutionary War, Washington had become what might be called a lukewarm abolitionist. In his will, he provided that none of his slaves were to be sold for any reason whatsoever, and, upon the death of his widow Martha, all his slaves would have the option of receiving their freedom or being provided for while living at Mount Vernon until they died. Washington’s estate was making payments to his former slaves 30 years after his death. Washington had a far better retirement plan for his slaves than most modern companies have for their workers.

I wonder if that story is good enough to hold the interest for my very dear (albeit slightly history-phobic) friend Barbara Wheatley. :)