Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Reflections on September 2nd

At 9:00 A.M., local time, on September 2, 1945, on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri, an event took place which marked a seminal turning point in human history--namely, the end of  World War II.  It was a war which had been marked by more death and carnage, more loss and injury, more misery and suffering, than had ever occurred before in all of human history.  The death and destruction had been capped by the use of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both of which had unleashed forces and energies such as mankind had never before experienced.  Even General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, the newly-appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, who, as he would later state, knew war as few men then living knew it, had been deeply shocked and greatly sobered by what he had seen in the aftermath of the first two uses of nuclear weapons in all of recorded history.

It was in this spirit that MacArthur, to the admiration of even his harshest critics and detractors, planned and executed the Surrender Ceremonies in a manner that, to this day, stands as a shining example of grace, dignity, compassion, and magnanimity.  So it was that at 9:00 in the morning, on that fateful September 2nd, 1945, General MacArthur stepped up to a microphone and made the following statement:

"We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored.

The issues involving divergent ideals and ideologies have been determined on the battlefields of the world, and hence are not for our discussion or debate.

Nor is it for us here to meet, representing as we do a majority of the peoples of the earth, in a spirit of distrust, malice, or hatred.

But rather it is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone befits the sacred purposes we are about to serve, committing all of our peoples unreservedly to faithful compliance with the undertakings they are here formally to assume. It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past -- a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice. The terms and conditions upon which surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces is here to be given and accepted are contained in the Instrument of Surrender now before you.

As Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, I announce it my firm purpose, in the tradition of the countries I represent, to proceed in the discharge of my responsibilities with justice and tolerance, while taking all necessary dispositions to insure that the terms of surrender are fully, promptly, and faithfully complied with.

I now invite the representatives of the Emperor of Japan and the Japanese government and the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters to sign the Instrument of Surrender at the places indicated."

In just over 15 minutes, the surrender documents were signed by all of the representatives of the warring powers.  Moments later, General MacArthur concluded the ceremony with these words:

"Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed."

After the Japanese officials had left, General MacArthur stepped up to a different microphone than the one he had used earlier and broadcast a statement whose salient points remain just as applicable today as they were on that eventful day in 1945:

“My fellow countrymen:  Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won. The skies no longer rain death. The seas bear only commerce. Men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world is quietly at peace. The holy mission has been completed. And, in reporting this to you, the people, I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles, and the beaches, and in the deep waters of the Pacific, which marked the way. I speak for the unnamed brave millions homeward bound to take up the challenge of that future which they did so much to salvage from the brink of disaster.

As I look back on the long, tortuous trail from those grim days of Bataan and Corregidor, when an entire world lived in fear, when democracy was on the defensive everywhere, when modern civilization trembled in the balance, I thank a merciful God that He has given us the faith, the courage and the power from which to mold victory. We have known the bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no turning back. We must go forward to preserve in peace what we won in war.

A new era is upon us. Even the lesson of victory itself brings with it profound concern, both for our future security and the survival of civilization. The destructiveness of the war potential, through progressive advances in scientific discovery, has in fact now reached a point which revises the traditional concepts of war.

Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start, workable methods were found insofar as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blots out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we do not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.

We stand in Tokyo today reminiscent of our countryman, Commodore Perry, ninety-two years ago. His purpose was to bring to Japan an era of enlightenment and progress, by lifting the veil of isolation to the friendship, trade, and commerce of the world. But, alas, the knowledge thereby gained of western science was forged into an instrument of oppression and human enslavement. Freedom of expression, freedom of action, even freedom of thought, were denied through suppression of liberal education, through appeal to superstition, and through the application of force. We are committed by the Potsdam Declaration of Principles to see that the Japanese people are liberated from this condition of slavery. It is my purpose to implement this commitment just as rapidly as the armed forces are demobilized and other essential steps taken to neutralize the war potential.

The energy of the Japanese race, if properly directed, will enable expansion vertically rather than horizontally. If the talents of the race are turned into constructive channels, the county can lift itself from its present deplorable state into a position of dignity.

To the Pacific basin has come the vista of a new, emancipated world. Today, freedom is on the offensive, democracy is on the march. Today, in Asia as well as in Europe, unshackled peoples are tasting the full sweetness of liberty, the relief from fear.

In the Philippines, America has evolved a model for this new free world of Asia. In the Philippines, America has demonstrated that peoples of the East and peoples of the West may walk side by side in mutual respect and with mutual benefit. The history of our sovereignty there has now the full confidence of the East.

And so, my fellow countrymen, today I report to you that your sons and daughters have served you well and faithfully, with the calm, deliberate, determined fighting spirit of the American soldier and sailor, based upon a tradition of historical truth, as against the fanaticism of an enemy supported only by mythological fiction. Their spiritual strength and power has brought us through to victory. They are homeward bound—take care of them.”

It is a matter of record, as reported by numerous radio correspondents who were present at the time, that as the surrender ceremonies came to a close, the dark, depressing, forbidding layer of clouds which had hung over Tokyo Bay throughout the morning suddenly broke open, and bright shafts and beams of sunlight came streaming through the skies.  As at least one radio correspondent commented at that moment, it was as if God Himself were expressing His approval, and His relief that the single most destructive conflict mankind had ever inflicted upon itself had finally come to an end.

At this moment in history, the United States was at the very peak of its national power, just as Britain had been at the peak of its national power at the end of the First World War in 1918.  Sadly, since that time, both nations have been in a state of inexorable decline, due to their abandoning the moral and spiritual principles on which both of their governments were founded.  Scripture foretells that, unless our two peoples return to those same principles, our nations will suffer the greatest national punishment that any peoples have ever been required to undergo.  In this ever more turbulent and volatile period of mankind's existence, it is more important--nay, more essential--than ever before, that the Anglo-American family of nations heed that most eloquent warning which was sounded in 1903 by the Spanish philosopher and historian, Georges Santayana:  "THOSE WHO FAIL TO LEARN THE LESSONS OF HISTORY ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT THEM!"  May a just yet merciful God help our peoples to do just that!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The frustrations of writing online for pay

For the past several months, I have been on government disability due to a combination of Aspergers Syndrome (a form of autism) and attention deficit disorder (no hyperactivity), along with other health-related issues.  To make a long story short, I have determined, with the concurrence of friends and family members who know me well, that some sort of freelance writing would be a good means of supplementing my disability income.

As it happens, I have done freelance writing in the past.  Indeed, during the 1980's, I had over a dozen articles nationally published in a small publication known as "Link-Up."  My particular specialty was in the area of personal computer communications, computer bulletin board systems, etc.  (This was several years prior to the advent of the Internet as we know it today.)  Unfortunately, pressure from family members at that time compelled me to abandon freelance writing for a number of years.  They did not understand that it takes time to build up the kind of momentum needed to build a steady, livable income.

Now that I am on disability, and therefore have some financial stability to rely on, I have once more begun sallying out into the world of freelance technical writing.  I knew, of course, that the marketplace has changed somewhat over the years.  What I did not anticipate, however, was how radically that market had changed.

When, a few days ago, I stumbled on an ad from a firm called Demand Studios, offering $25 per article, I immediately submitted an application, which was approved a few days later.  I looked through a list of  possible titles for an article and selected one.  I had already gone through their introductory material, and thought I understood the kind of material that they needed.

It was not until I had already completed a first draft of an article, however, and prepared to submit it for review, that I found out how wrong I was.  Their submission process required a series of short segments of 400 to 500 words apiece, which had to be written into an online template in an almost "on-the-fly" style.  Nothing in the introductory material I had perused had given me any reason to expect this.

This was a kind of writing that I did not, and still do not, feel that I could perform to their satisfaction, or, for that matter, to my own.  I was so shocked and jarred, in fact, that I immediately emailed Demand Studios, asking them to immediately cancel my account, and deleted the article I had written from my hard drive.

As I thought over the experience, I realized that I had made a serious blunder.  I had blindly assumed that this firm wanted the kind of writing with which I was familiar.  In retrospect, I should have done more research about the company.  Then, too, I feel that their introductory material should have gone into more detail regarding the length of the articles they wanted, and the actual mechanics of their submission process.  Had they done so, I would have instantly realized that my writing style, which is more along traditional lines, was not, and most probably never would be, compatible with what Demand Studios wanted, and would not have taken up their valuable time and energy (or my own, for that matter!).

To say that I am frustrated over this experience is putting it mildly, and all the more so in view of the fact the primary blame lies solely with me.  Mind you, I'm not giving up on freelance writing--not at all.  It is clear, however, that I will have to do some research as to the current requirements of the freelance writing industry.  To that end, I will most likely be purchasing the current edition of "Writer's Market," and will peruse some current books on freelance writing, in an attempt to get more up to speed, before I sally out into this field again.  Any readers of this blog who can offer specific advice or suggestions in this regard are welcome to email me at Wideleg168@gmail.com.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Book Review: "Nashville Streets & Their Stories"

Like many Americans, having reached the age of 60, I find myself becoming more and more interested in history in general, and the history of Nashville, Tennessee (my home town) in particular.  Having grown up in what is still often referred to as "the Highlands of Belle Meade," a district in the southwest area of Nashville, I have wondered more than once how some of the streets and roads in my old stomping grounds came to be located where they are, and have the names that they do.

Happily, within the last year, Ridley Wills II, one of Nashville's best-known and most respected historians, has answered many of my questions on this subject in his latest book, "Nashville Streets & Their Stories."  Some five hundred of Nashville's streets and public roads have their history explained in this work, written in a relaxed and entertaining style.

To be sure, there ARE some faults in this work.  For example, there are a number of glaring typo's (i.e., "Inquirer" instead of "ENquirer," and the year that Cheekwood was donated to the State of Tennessee is listed as "1969," when in fact it was "1959"!).  And, unfortunately, there are a number of omissions (e.g., West Tyne Boulevard and Nichol Lane; the latter, I believe, was named after my paternal grandfather, who resided in a house at the corner of West Tyne and Belle Meade Boulevards for a number of years), some of which are mentioned in passing in other listings, but are not given listings of their own!  In the case of a lesser writer, such mistakes would be considered inexcusable.  On the other hand, when one is writing a ground-breaking work such as this, some such miscues are all but inevitable.  And not all of Nashville's streets have historical information  about them as readily available as others.  Hopefully, at some future date, an updated version of this volume can be prepared and published.

Overall, in spite of the minor flaws I have just detailed, "Nashville Streets & Their Stories" would be an invaluable addition to the library of anyone who calls Nashville home, and is interested in the colorful and eventful history of Music City, USA.

"Nashville Streets & Their Stories," by Ridley Wills II.  (Franklin, Tennessee:  Plumbline Media, LLC, 2012.)  $18.95 (paperback).  ISBN:  978-1-937824-01-3.  Available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and at local bookstores and gift shops.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: "Storm Kings" by Lee Sandlin

I have been a SKYWARN volunteer storm spotter for the National Weather Service since 2009.  As such, I am constantly striving to learn more about severe weather, and especially tornadoes.  Until recently, however, I was largely ignorant of the history of severe weather forecasting--not just the academic side, but the human side as well.  Although there have been other books that have gone into specific severe weather outbreaks, there have been few if any books that would provide a broad and readable overview of this important subject.

The recently-released book, "Storm Kings," by Chicago-based author and essayist Lee Sandlin, steps in to fill this gap.  From the first recorded severe weather outbreaks of the 1600's to the Joplin, Missouri disaster of 2011, Mr. Sandlin does an excellent job of bringing the human side of severe weather forecasting, and especially tornado forecasting, home to the general reader.  Ignoring the temptation to veer off into an abstract study of the complex mathematics and computer models that are so prevalent in today's weather forecasting, Sandlin wisely chooses to emphasize the human, practical side of meteorology.

Perhaps nowhere in the entire book is this made as clear as in the story of Ernest J. Fawbush and, especially, Robert C. Miller, the team who made the first successful tornado forecast in March of 1948 at Tinker Air Force Base, near Oklahoma City.  Another example is that of the late Ted Fujita, of the University of Chicago.  None of these men put any real stock in theory, nor in computers, when it came to severe weather forecasting.  Yet the work that they carried out has long been considered to be of fundamental importance in providing severe weather information that has helped save countless human lives, prevented innumerable injuries, and reduced or even prevented property damage down through the years.

By far the saddest part of this book is the repeated exposure of the darker side of human nature which Sandlin furnishes in "Storm Kings."  Yet, in order to put the subject matter into proper perspective, Mr. Sandlin frankly, and rightly, exposes the numerous instances of arrogance, infighting, backbiting, and politicking on both sides during the long history of weather forecasting in general, and severe weather forecasting in particular.  The display of mutual disdain, arrogance, and outright snobbery between the military and civilian weather services during the time when Messrs. Fawbush and Miller were doing their groundbreaking work is especially disgusting to this reviewer.  Yet, in order to fully understand and appreciate their accomplishments, their flaws, as well as their virtues, simply have to be made clear to the reader, and Mr. Sandlin has done just that, without hesitation or apology of any kind.

Overall, "Storm Kings" should be one of the first books that the prospective storm spotter, or storm chaser, should add to their library.   Even those who just want a general understanding of severe weather, and those who deal with it on a daily basis, will find this book well worth the investment.

"Storm Kings:  The Untold History of America's First Tornado Chasers," by Lee Sandlin.  (New York: Pantheon Books, 2013.)  ISBN:  978-0-307-37852-1.  $26.95 hardback.  Also available in Kindle and Audible Audio formats from www.amazon.com.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fritz Borum: An Unsung Pioneer

The year 2013 marks the 65th anniversary of the operational tornado forecast. It is not so well known, however, that it also marks the 65th anniversary of the first successful implementation of a large-scale tornado safety plan, particularly at a government facility. While the two men responsible for the actual forecast, Robert Miller and Ernest Fawbush, have been justly celebrated and memorialized for their work, another individual played a part in this dramatic sequence, which, while much less celebrated, was just as important in reducing property damage and injuries, and, especially, saving human lives. The purpose of this article is to remedy this injustice, and give this individual the acclaim that this writer feels is his rightful due. His name: Major General Fred Sydney Borum, better known to his friends as “Fritz” Borum.

The events in question took place at Tinker Air Force Base, not far from what is now Will Rogers World Airport, near Oklahoma City, in March of 1948. At 10 P.M. on the evening of March 20, a large, ferocious tornado funnel began a 7-minute trip across the base, damaging or destroying some 100 aircraft. One such plane, a B-29 bomber, weighing in excess of 68 tons, was picked up by the twister and flung more than 100 yards away. A C-54 was flipped on its back as if it had been made of paper. Winds speeds on the ground as high as 78 miles an hour were recorded before the base’s weather instruments broke. (Local weathermen later projected wind speeds in excess of 100 MPH.) Heavy hail, torrential rains, and continuous lightning only served to make matters even worse. Although only 6 persons were reported as having been injured, Miller (in an unpublished manuscript entitled “The Unfriendly Sky”) bluntly stated that, “The control tower personnel were badly cut [by flying glass and debris].”

It was at this point that Fritz Borum came into the picture. A respected expert in the field of air materiel management, Borum had been in command of Tinker AFB since July 1945. He had only recently returned from a 3-month assignment in which he had organized and supervised the care and maintenance of the aircraft involved in the Berlin Airlift. He had grown up in Oklahoma, and was actually more familiar with Oklahoma's violent weather patterns than Miller and Fawbush, both of whom had been assigned to Tinker's weather station only weeks before. An avid amateur weather buff in his own right, Borum was a radar expert as well. Miller, in fact, stated: “He was very interested and most knowledgeable when it came to weather. He was highly proficient in the operation of our local radar and loved to watch the scope during thunderstorm outbreaks.”

With such a background as this, it was not surprising that, at a formal inquiry the next day, General Borum thoroughly grilled Miller and Fawbush as to why they had not in fact forecast a tornado. When he was told that forecasting tornadoes was impossible, and that the U.S. Weather Bureau had expressly forbidden even the use of the word “tornado” in any official weather statement since the 1870's, Borum all but went up in smoke. He forcefully rejected any and all such notions, and specifically directed Miller and Fawbush to begin research into the subject without delay.

While the two forecasters were conducting their research, in compliance with the formal directive of the board of inquiry, Borum got together with his staff to prepare a Base Tornado Safety Plan to help reduce or minimize injuries and property damage in the event of any future tornado or other severe weather outbreaks. Within three days, the new plan was complete and ready to put into effect.

As it turned out, Borum and his staff completed their work none too soon, for on the morning of March 25th, Miller and Fawbush reported that developing weather patterns in the central Oklahoma basin were becoming frighteningly similar to those that had existed only five days before. Borum immediately went to the Tinker weather station to discuss the situation with the two men. After looking at the images on the radar scope, Borum's initial response was to direct Miller and Fawbush to issue what today would be called a Severe Thunderstorm Watch. In conjunction with this forecast, the initial phases of the Base Tornado Safety Plan were implemented. The General then returned home, asking to be informed of further developments.

Those developments were not long in coming, for by 2 o'clock in the afternoon, a squall line had developed, and became increasingly dangerous and intense. Borum was notified, and immediately returned to the weather station. He spent ten long minutes watching the scope and discussing the squall line's movement and intensity. Then, suddenly, Borum shot to his feet, looked the two forecasters in the eye, and asked, “Are you going to issue a tornado forecast?”

Fawbush and Miller, realizing that their careers could well be on the line, made a desperate attempt to back out. They pointed out that the odds against a second tornado hitting the base in such a short period of time were less than 1 in 20 million. Borum, however, was in no mood to accept such hemming and hawing. His face turning brick red with anger, his vocabulary liberally seasoned with military expletives, Borum yelled at the top of his lungs, “ARE WE GOING TO HAVE ANOTHER TORNADO OR NOT? YES OR NO?”

Swallowing hard, the two men took a deep breath and answered, “Yes, sir, we believe we are.” Borum thereupon ordered them to prepare a tornado forecast for immediate dissemination throughout the base. As they began doing so, they timidly pointed that no one had ever prepared a tornado forecast such as this before. “Fine!” Borum snapped. “You are about to set a precedent!”

Realizing that further arguments would be worse than useless, Fawbush composed the world's first operational tornado forecast—what would be called a Tornado Watch today—and handed it over to Miller, who typed it up and took it to the Base Operations office for immediate distribution. Meanwhile, Borum got on the phone and directed his staff to put all remaining phases of the new Tornado Safety Plan into immediate execution.

Despite its bureaucratic detail, Borum's Tornado Safety Plan can be boiled down into five basic steps, all of which have long since become accepted practice in severe weather safety. First, as many planes as possible were moved into hangars on the Base, the doors and windows of which were then shut. Secondly, all remaining planes on the Base were tied down as securely as possible. Third, all loose objects and equipment were moved indoors and secured. Fourth, all incoming air traffic was diverted away from the Base until further notice. Fifth, and most importantly, all personnel were evacuated to basement shelters and to the lowest floor interior areas of thick, solid, sturdy buildings.

Shortly after his shift ended at 4:45 P.M., Miller left and drove home. Both he and Fawbush felt certain that their careers as weather forecasters were about to go down the drain. So much so, in fact, that Miller later wrote that he actually wondered if he could make a living as a civilian elevator operator!

As it turned out, they needn't have worried, for just before 6 P.M., another tornado formed, striking in almost the exact same place, and following almost exactly the same path, as its predecessor from five days earlier. From his back porch, Borum watched what he later described as a radish-shaped, dirty yellow colored funnel tear through his base like a gigantic buzz-saw, only to dissipate five minutes later.

When all was said and done, the final damage estimate was an additional $6 million on top of the $10 million in damage from 5 days before. 84 aircraft, primarily B-29's and P-47's, were hit by the twister, 35 of them damaged beyond repair. Hundreds of yards of steel planking, used as a parking surface for the aircraft, were ripped off the ground and crumpled. Winds on the ground at the edge of the storm were measured at approximately 80 miles per hour, accompanied by “moderate” hail.

Despite all of this carnage, there was, in fact, considerable good news to report. For one thing, the final damage total was an incredible 40% LESS than the damage total from only five days previous. Even more important was the fact that only one minor injury was reported—a stark testament to the wisdom of General Borum's Tornado Safety Plan, which had now officially passed its baptism of fire.

As was characteristic of him, Fritz Borum receded into the background, allowing Fawbush and Miller to receive the glory they rightly deserved. To the end of their lives, however, both men, and Miller especially, repeatedly stated that they felt that Borum should have received as much credit as they had. After all, they pointed out to anyone who would listen, it was Borum who had pushed the two men into making the historic tornado prediction in the first place. Even more important than that was the fact that it was Borum and his staff who had devised the Tornado Safety Plan for Tinker Air Force Base, which, in turn, had produced such a spectacular reduction in property damage, and, especially, in injuries to base personnel. Thus, Borum had played just as vital a role in the development of severe weather safety practices and procedures as Fawbush and Miller had in developing techniques for predicting severe weather.

Fritz Borum retired from the Air Force in June of 1954, at the age of 62. He spent his last years as a vice president of Liberty National Bank and Trust Company in Oklahoma City, and played a major role in the development of what is now Will Rogers World Airport. He died of bone cancer on October 25, 1978, in Cocoa Beach, and was buried, with appropriate honors, at the Florida Memorial Gardens in Cocoa, Florida.