“Let There Be Light” (1946)

2 September 2014

The man behind such classic Hollywood films like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, and The Misfits, also directed a documentary about the emotional and psychological traumas of war. During World War II, John Huston served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. During that time he was commissioned by the Army to direct three films. One of which was called Let There Be Light. The documentary follows soldiers suffering from – what we now know as – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Let There Be Light was very much ahead of its time. When ‘shell shock’ was still the term quickly used for PTSD and, just as quickly, swept under the rug, Let There Be Light shed light on the seriousness of it. “Twenty percent of our army casualties”, the narrator says, “suffered psychoneurotic symptoms: a sense of impending disaster, hopelessness, fear, and isolation.” Huston used unscripted interviews – something that was not standard for another ten years in documentaries. Additionally, he used real soldiers with different racial backgrounds – showing that it does not matter the background, upbringing or social standing of an individual, PTSD is non-discriminating. Their exact life experiences varied. Their common denominator was war.

Huston captured 375,000 feet of film or 70 continuous hours in all at Edgewood State Hospital in Deer Park, Long Island. After editing, he turned over a film that was only a little under an hour in length. However, all of Huston’s hard work and the groundbreaking insight into PTSD did not get the release it thought it would. Let There Be Light was suppose to premiere at the Museum of Modern Art but it never did. The government, after viewing the documentary, censored and refused to air it. In the end, they created a replacement documentary that consisted of all white actors with scripted roles in which PTSD was not caused by the war but, instead, by the soldiers’ upbringings.

Why did the government censor Let There Be Light? Huston later talked about the censorship and what the film meant to the soldiers involved.

The reason given was that it violated the privacy of the patients involved. I don’t think that was the real reason. The men who were in the picture—the patients whose recoveries we had witnessed—were proud of what they saw of themselves on the screen. As a matter of form, we had asked them to sign releases, and they were happy to do so. We pointed this out to the War Department, but when asked to produce these releases, we discovered that they had mysteriously disappeared. One day they were in the files at Astoria, and the next day they were gone. We then pointed out that, though the film indeed represented a deeply personal investigation into the innermost lives of these men, nothing was disclosed which might cause them to be ashamed. We proposed asking them individually to write letters of clearance, but the War Department said no. The authorities had made up their minds.

Some speculated that the main reason behind the censorship was that, by shedding light on war trauma, it would have negative impacts on recruitment. Regardless of the actual reason(s), the government locked the film away. In 1980, some notable people called for the film’s release. Among those supporters were producer Ray Stark, Vice President Walter Mondale and President of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, who stated that “I flew 51 combat missions and I know something about fear. This film is something I would want my son to see.” Their efforts played off. In December 1980, Let There Be Light was publicly seen for the first time.

The documentary’s message was clear and concise. The effects of war can ravish a person. It can leave them psychologically, emotionally and physically scarred but, with effective treatment and therapy, they can regain their life and employment. That, in essence, there can be light again.

Sources
Canby, Vincent. “‘Let There Be Light,’ John Huston vs. The Army.” New York Times, January 16, 1981.
Simmon, Scott. “Let There Be Light (1946) and Its Restoration,” Film Preservation, 2012.
Vogel, Steve. “John Huston film about WW II soldiers that Army suppressed is restored,” The Washington Post, May 24, 2012
National Archives

Child Labor Demonstration, 1909

1 September 2014

Children in child labor demonstration in a New York Labor Day parade in 1909.

Departing to Manila, 1898

31 August 2014

Alice Burr took this photograph of California and Oregon volunteer infantries departing to Manila on May 23, 1898.

Aerial Photographer, ca. 1917-18

29 August 2014
An aerial photographer with a Graflex camera, ca. 1917-18.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army

An aerial photographer with a Graflex camera, ca. 1917-18.

Dumping Illegal Booze, 1932

28 August 2014

Orange County Sheriff’s deputies dumping illegal booze in Santa Ana, March 31, 1932.

In Their Words: Werner Herzog

27 August 2014

Werner Herzog

William Penn Hose Company, 1865

26 August 2014

William Penn Hose Company steam engine and fire fighters in front of the company fire station on Frankford Road near Franklin Avenue, Philadelphia. Organized in August 1832, the company is still in operation and is comprised of 100% volunteers.

‘Iolani Palace – Only Royal Palace

25 August 2014
'Iolani Palace, in the capitol district of downtown Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

‘Iolani Palace, in the capitol district of downtown Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

The ‘Iolani Palace is the only royal palace that is now a part of the United States. Located in downtown Honolulu, the cornerstone was laid on Decemeber 31, 1879 and was completed by August 1882. The ‘Iolani Palace was used by two monarchs – King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani.

When Queen Liliuokalani attempted to strengthen the monarchy by proposing a new constitution. Hawaiian residents of American and European descent felt threatened. They organized an overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani. It was successful on January 17, 1893. Two years later, royalist tried to restore the queen back her power but were unsuccessful. Queen Liliuokalani was arrested, later convicted, of having knowledge of this plan. Fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years of hard labor, Queen Liliuokalani’s sentence was commuted to imprisonment in a bedroom upstairs in the ‘Iolani Palace.

The ‘Iolani Palace was used as the capitol building for the government (Provisional, Republic, Territory, and then the State of Hawaii) until 1969. It is now a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. The ‘Iolani Palace has been restored and is a museum.

Odd Ads: Admiral Radio, 1944

22 August 2014

For those of you who find bathing your babies a tiresome chore, I’m sorry to inform you that your Admiral Radio will be of little help. In this World War II advertisement by Admiral Radio, the company tries to calm the rumors or false misconceptions about the advancement of radios in post-war United States.

“NO . . . YOUR POST-WAR ADMIRAL RADIO won’t bathe the Baby!” the 1944 advertisement in Collier’s exclaims before explaining to consumers that, while a machine may not be able to bathe a child, war inventions will translate nicely into peacetime innovations:

Many extravagant claims have been made for the wonders to be performed by radio after the war. But, in spite of vast progress made, many of these are more fantasy than fact. But you can be sure that all refinements and improvements, made practical by the needs of war, will be found in your new and better peacetime.

If anything, this somewhat creepy advertisement indicates that in the midst of World War II, people were not only looking forward to peacetime but, also, to an age of consumerism.

 

Giveaway: “The First Eagles” By Gavin Mortimer

21 August 2014

The First Eagles
Great news history lovers! Zenith Press has been kind enough to offer 2 copies of Gavin Mortimer’s The First Eagles: The Fearless American Aces Who Flew with the RAF in World War I. It’s a fantastic read for anyone interested in World War I, early aviation history or, like me, you just can’t get enough of history! [My review of Mortimer's book can be found here.]

If you are lucky enough to snag one of the two copies, please let us know your thoughts. Also, think about leaving a review on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, etc…Enter the giveaway below. If you’re chosen as a winner, email me your address and I will send it to Zenith Press. They will ship out the books. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents and will end Tuesday night (August 26 at midnight).

You can tweet (Twitter), pin (Pinterest) or share (Tumblr) this giveaway everyday for extra entries!

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Book Review: The First Eagles

21 August 2014

The First Eagles: The Fearless American Aces Who Flew with the RAF in World War I
GAVIN MORTIMER
Minneapolis, MN: Zenith Press
240 pp. $30.00/Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-7603-4639-6

the first eaglesIn a 2008 Common Core survey, 60 percent of U.S. students did not know the years in which World War I took place. When polled in 2012, two-thirds of British students did not know that the war ended in 1918. It was dubbed “The Great War” for a reason. Never before had so many nations, around the globe, picked up weapons and fought. Trench warfare and the use of chemical weapons left physical and psychological scars on those ‘lucky’ enough to survive.

By the time the war ended, four empires collapsed while large parts of France, Belgium and Russia became battlefield road maps filled with crater holes and desolate cities. However, one of the biggest impacts of World War I was the technological advances and battlefield tactics that forever changed the face of modern warfare – especially aerial warfare.

When thinking of airplanes and World War I, one automatically thinks of dogfights, aces (usually those who have downed five or more enemy planes), the Red Baron and Eddie Rickenbacker. Some, thanks to Hollywood, are even familiar with the Lafayette Escadrille, the French squadron comprised of mostly American volunteer pilots. On the other hand, the over 240 who volunteered for the Royal Air Force are often overlooked. The First Eagles: The Fearless American Aces Who Flew with the RAF in World War I tells their stories.

The First Eagles

Author Gavin Mortimer dissects the role of American airmen who volunteered to fight the Central Powers with the RAF in The First Eagles. Around the start of the war, the United States government and military were extremely skeptical of airplanes. They believed it was both unreliable and overly dangerous. Using airplanes in war would not, in their opinion, be a feasible option. The Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was created, albeit under pressure, in July 1914. For the majority of the war, military aviation was an unstructured mess and had many issues. Because of that, pilots went through Canada to volunteer for service in the RAF. Mortimer retraces their career steps from volunteering to engaging in aerial warfare.

Just how dangerous was being an airman during this time? In April 1917 – also dubbed “Bloody April” – Mortimer states that “in the space of thirty days Britain’s air service had lost 151 aircraft and 316 crew.” (p. 43) Their fellow British counterparts were shocked and grateful for these eager recruits though they thought these Americans had some sort of death wish. Even knowing the risks involved,  American airmen voluntarily signed up for the RAF. In doing so, they helped change aerial warfare and aviation history.

Book Structure & Content

Broken down into twenty chapters, The First Eagles is a relatively easy and short read at 240 total pages. Once you become acquainted with the laundry list of people (there are many) and airplanes (again, there are many), the book progresses in an orderly, concise fashion. Before the introduction, Mortimer included a list of the flyers, their date and place of birth, training location and shipping date, and assigned squadron.

There are two appendices. Appendix I is titled “The Fate of the Few” which details the lives of the airmen postwar. The second appendix focuses on the German and Allied aircraft. This is very helpful as multiple airplanes are mentioned throughout the book. Readers can cross reference with Appendix II to learn more about the planes.

Mortimer placed photos within each chapter. Since I’m someone who loves a good photo, I always think inserting images adds to the understanding of any subject. Additionally, by putting a name to a face, it helps to personalize the story. I really appreciate the photographs of the various airplanes. Having little background knowledge of World War I aviation, I only knew what a couple of them looked like before reading The First Eagles. The shear number of different makes and models shocked me.

With that said, I wished that photographs were included in the description of the planes in Appendix II. It would be easier to cross reference planes in one place instead of having to flip through the previous pages to find the image. There are also a lot of people talked about in the book. I would recommend either reading the book in one or two sittings or brushing up on the flyers list in the beginning of the book before picking up where you left off. While I do not think either of these two issues take away from the book as a whole, it is something to be aware of when starting.

Overall Impression

The First Eagles: The Fearless American Aces Who Flew with the RAF in World War I was a fascinating read. My previous knowledge of World War I aviation was close to non-existent. It is an area that is far more complex than I realized. For example, I did not know that there were such a thing as aerial observers. A crucial role for certain planes, an aerial observer acted as a spotter and manned the gun for the pilot. There were no harnesses or parachutes, so if a pilot took an unexpected turn or dip, the aerial observer could literally fall out of the aircraft. The First Eagles stays true to its purpose – telling the tale of those Americans who volunteered knowing the risks of early aerial warfare. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in World War I, aviation history or general United States history.

Where to find The First Eagles: The Fearless American Aces Who Flew with the RAF in World War I

Quarto Publishing Group
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

In Their Words: George Washington

20 August 2014

George Washington

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” & WWI

19 August 2014

The Road Not Taken

Edward Thomas in 1905

Edward Thomas in 1905

In 1912, Frost moved his family to England to try and salvage his stalled literary career. While there, Frost met many poets – one being Edward Thomas. Frost and Thomas would often go for walk while exchanging literary and personal thoughts. They became fast friends. When World War I broke out, Frost returned to the United States with his family while Thomas, born and raised in London, debated his place in the war.  Should he go into the military even though he was an anti-Nationalist?

According to Frost, Thomas always suffered with indecision. This inspired Frost’s famous “The Road Not Taken” poem which finishes with the following lines: “I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence:/Two roads diverge in a wood, and I -/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.” He was jokingly mocking Thomas’ inability to make decisions.

After reading the poem and taking other reasons into consideration, Thomas enlisted. He wrote to Frost about his decision. “Last week I had screwed myself up to the point of believing I should come out to America & lecture if anyone wanted me to. But I have altered my mind. I am going to enlist on Wednesday if the doctor will pass me.”

Thomas enlisted in the Artists Rifles - a special forces regiment of the British Army Reserve – in July 1915. This move both surprised and worried Frost. “I forgot to mention the war in this letter,” Frost wrote in a correspondence to Lascelles Abercrombie, a mutual friend of the two poets. “And I ought to mention it, if only to remark that I think it has made some sort of new man and a poet out of Edward Thomas.” From August 1914 to April 1917, Thomas wrote 150 poems. Under the pen name of Edward Eastaway, the majority of them were written during his time in boot camp.

In a letter from Helen Thomas – Edward’s wife – to Frost in March 1917, she tells him that Edward is stationed in Arras. Her letter goes on to say the following:

At first after we’d said ‘Goodbye’ & we knew what suffering was, & what we meant to each other, I did not live really, but just somehow or other did my work, but with my ears strained all the time for his step or his coo-ee in case he came back. But the one can only wait & hope & not let panic take a hold of one, his happy letters & the knowledge that all is so well between us, are making life life again, & the Spring helps too & the feeling that the end is near-must come soon, & that that end will be-if it is at all-a beginning again for us with such knowledge of each other as nothing can ever obliterate, nothing can ever, that is what we know & what makes life possible now.

Robert Frost's WWI Draft Registration Card

Robert Frost’s WWI Draft Card which has his occupation listed as Professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Photo Credit: National Archives

Frost and Thomas exchanged letters, although not as many as they use to send each other. As Thomas’ poems became more known, Frost was happy for his friend but also wary of how he would be perceived as a admirer or critic by both Thomas and the literature world. Basically, Frost was worried that if he confessed his admiration of Thomas’ work, people would think it was solely because they were friends. If, on the other hand, he was a critical of his friend’s work, Frost was unsure of how that would impact their friendship. As events transpired, all of Frost’s worrying turned out to be premature.

From April 9 to May 16, 1917, the Battle of Arras waged near the French city of Arras. On the first day of battle, also Easter Monday, Thomas was alone on sentry duty. Near dawn, as he stood to light his pipe, he was struck and killed by a stray German bullet. He had only been in France for a little more than two months.

In the months after Thomas’ death, Frost deeply mourned his friend. He found solace in his writing. Months after Thomas’ death, Frost wrote of 1914 – the year they met – as “our year.” “The Road Not Taken” was included in Frost’s 1916 collection Mountain Interval. The poem was Frost’s attempt at making light of a person’s inability to make a decision. Audiences in Frost’s time (such as Thomas himself) and in the present interpret the poem far more seriously and personally than was Frost’s intention. Of Thomas’ influence on him, Frost later said of his friend, “He gave me standing as a poet, he more than anyone else.”

Sources
Paul M. Cubeta, “Robert Frost and Edward Thomas: Two Soldier Poets,” The New England Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 2 (Jun., 1979).
William R. Evans, “Robert Frost and Helen Thomas: Five Revealing Letters,” Dartmouth College Library Bulletin.
Matthew Hollis, “Edward Thomas, Robert Frost and the road to war,” The Guardian, July 29, 2011.

Flag Raised Over Shuri Castle, 1945

18 August 2014
US Flag raised over Shuri castle on Okinawa

Photo Credit: National Archives

Braving Japanese sniper fire, Lt. Col. Richard P. Ross, Jr., commander of 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, places on American flag on a parapet of Shuri castle on May 29, 1945. The castle is a former enemy stronghold in southern Okinawa in the Ryukyu (Loochoo chain), situated 375 miles from Japan. This flag was first raised over Cape Gloucester and then Peleliu.

Abraham Lincoln: Bartender

16 August 2014

Abraham_Lincoln

Before he was president, Abraham Lincoln was a licensed bartender. During his time in New Salem, Illinois, Lincoln was co-owner of the Berry-Lincoln Store, a general store/drinking establishment, with William Berry.

According to Northern Illinois University:

Some of the items that Lincoln and Berry sold were lard, bacon, firearms, beeswax, and honey. In addition to these items, they also sold liquor, as most of the stores of the day did. Every store could sell liquor in quantities larger than a quart without having to get a license, as long as it was not consumed at the store. . . .  Only when one was licensed would one be engaging in the occupation of grocery-keeping as a tavern. Lincoln and Berry decided to keep a tavern in addition to their general store, to try to make some more money. Berry issued a license to Lincoln and himself in 1833. Neither of the signatures was in Lincoln’s handwriting, however. Lincoln denied that he ever kept a grocery [tavern], and said that he never liked liquor or its effects. One historian claimed that “local tradition maintained that disagreement over the sale of liquor caused the dissolution of the Lincoln-Berry partnership soon after they obtained the liquor license.”

It was his time as a store clerk that earned Lincoln the nickname “Honest Abe” since he was fair in his dealings. During the first of seven famous debates with Stephen A. Douglas in 1958 for a Illinois Senate seat, Lincoln had to dodge his bartender/tavern past. On August 21, 1858 in front of 10,000 to 12,000 spectators, Douglas recounted that he had known Lincoln for twenty-five years. “I was a school teacher in the town of Winchester, and he was  a flourishing grocery-keeper in the town of Salem,” Douglas attested. The room broke out in applause and laughter. “He was more successful in his occupation than I was in mine, and hence more fortunate in this world’s goods.” Douglas continued, “Lincoln is one of those peculiar men who perform with admirable skill everything which they undertake.”

In response, after the reported laughter died down, Lincoln refused to acknowledge his past. Part of it could have been his stance against alcohol. While another part of him believed that Berry was the main proponent of adding liquor to the store, thus placing no responsibility on Lincoln. “The Judge [Douglas] is wofully at fault about his early friend Lincoln being a grocery keeper,” Lincoln response incited laughter among the crowd as he referred to himself in the third-person. “I don’t know as it would be a great sin, if I had been; but he is mistaken. Lincoln never kept a grocery anywhere in the world. It is true that Lincoln did work the latter part of one winter in a little still house, up at the head of a hollow,” Lincoln concluded. The still house he referred to is commonly believed to be the ill-fated Berry-Lincoln Store.

First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858.

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