Splendid Little War

1374687_orig.jpg

Precise beginnings to distinct endings, that is how wars are remembered. ‘The Shot Heard Round the World’ to Yorktown, Fort Sumter to Appomattox, Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima; all in explicit order from the opening salvos, to the tense calm of ceasefire. And this arrangement has worked well for classrooms, historical fiction, television documentaries, and films. Still this practice has its limits, failing to consider intricate causes, and lingering effects that set the table for the next war. Here is an obscure example from the past that isn’t fully understood—The Spanish American War (1898).

Cuba was in revolt. Through the 1890’s freedom fighters such as Jose Marti and Maximo Gomez struggled against 400 years of Spanish occupation. Alleging atrocities at the hands of their colonial oppressors, of burning villages and starving civilians, rebels captured headlines across America. Enterprising publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst took action dispatching droves of reporters to the war-torn island. Reporters filed even more sensational stories and readership mushroomed. Hearst illustrator, Frederick Remington, dispatched to Havana, cabled his boss reporting he found no war. Hearst famously, and tersely replied, “you furnish the pictures, I’ll provide the war.” A flood of salacious, skewed stories gave birth to the “Yellow Press,” of tabloid journalism. Facts didn’t bother these editors, they were busy raking in profits. Questionable newspaperman found help too, from the Cuban rebels themselves. To make sure America would intervene, insurgents torched acres of American-owned sugar cane fields. Absentee American sugar planters, losing their investments railed for war, pressing McKinley to act. 

As the last US President to have fought in the Civil War, William McKinley hesitated to draw America into armed conflict. But, in the face of fiery Cuba, the pressure grew fierce. A noisy, war-hungry faction of the GOP called “Jingoists” clamored as well for war against Spain. Young Republicans, like Theodore Roosevelt, impatient to flex American muscle, demanded action. Still McKinley held fast, understanding, what the young could not, the real cost of war in morality, blood and treasure. But following the sinking of the US gunboat “Maine,” moored in Havana harbor, the President relented, and the Spanish American War began. In the years that followed, the President’s worst fears were more than realized.

Characterized as a “Splendid Little War,” the Spanish American War reaped huge rewards for mainland business interests. Annexing former Spanish-held islands from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, to Guam and the Philippine Islands in the Pacific, the US gained ready access to resources and markets for American-made goods. To many this step into world affairs proved worth every penny and every drop of American blood. The ability of American businesses to produce goods far outstripped purchasing power stateside. Overseas markets quickly absorbed stockpiled goods, and demanded more. Besides, it was argued at the time, if America didn’t shake a leg Great Britain, Russia, Japan, or France would gladly take over.

Unexpectedly, policy makers encountered a moral and legal dilemma. Were the people living in these newly-controlled possessions protected by Constitutional law? Should the US government follow custom and promise eventual statehood for these far flung islands? Prior Indian policy shed no light on the situation, these populations were the majority, not small, isolated pockets of nomadic people. 

The Supreme Court soon obliged and settled this legal quandary. In a series of Supreme Court opinions beginning in 1901, the Insular Cases established a principle that despite America’s governing authority over island possessions, the people could expect no civic protections. Essentially the Court ruled that “Rights don’t follow the Flag.” 

Consequently Pacific and Caribbean islands became US territories, but Cuba did not. After ‘liberating’ the island from Spain, optics prevented an out and out American takeover. Still, the embattled island could not be permitted full independence, Cuba was too valuable to the US. In 1898 the Teller Amendment established a military installation at Guantanamo, followed in 1901 with the Platt Amendment codifying continued American oversight.

Further, the McKinley administration opted to annex the Philippine Islands in 1900, rather than granting expected Filipino independence. This decision triggered a bloody, colonial uprising that resulted in the death of thousands. American Marines battled determined guerrilla insurgents in sweltering jungles; both sides committing horrific atrocities (six decades before a similar war in Vietnam). Businessmen salivated for nearby Chinese markets, and the Philippines offered deep natural harbors for passing American Vessels. 

But that’s not all the unexpected outcomes springing from the “Splendid Little War.” The US plunged into a world-wide race to carve up China. American business interests demanded a fair share of the Open Door to Chinese markets. By 1899 this multi national intrusion exploded in the bloody Boxer Rebellion. Young Chinese nationalists outraged by naked exploitation; the trade in opium, the depletion of gold to pay for the opium, the national bane of addiction, and overbearing western missionaries who insisted on ‘saving’ the Chinese from their pagan beliefs. Approximately 100,000 Chinese civilians died in the fighting that lasted three years.

In the end, there was no end. The frenzy for colonies quickened into a global mania. An arms race ensued, naval building reaching breakneck speed, nations vying to outstrip their rivals for dominance. Countries with few colonies jumped into the fray scooping up whatever lands remained open for the taking. Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Italy, relatively late on the imperial scene, headed into the Balkans and Africa. By 1914 the strain of fierce rivalry reached critical mass, engulfing, first Europe, and then America into the horror of the First World War.

Beginnings and ends work in delineating historic events, but with war there are no such limits.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two part memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight. Available at http://www.river-of-january.com and on Amazon.com.

 

Happy Tidings

 

Image41MhW6BOdRL._SY400_

An extraordinary event has come our way. River of January, then River of January:Figure Eight are to become feature films. We have signed an option agreement with Falls Park Entertainment of Greenville, South Carolina to bring Helen & Chum’s story to the silver screen. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Books are available at http://www.river-of-january.com, and at Amazon.com

History of an Era

airclip0001

October, 1933

 

By luck or accident the review below popped up on the internet. It’s nearly a year old, and a bit of a nice surprise. Thank you Connie Daugherty wherever you are.

Recommended Reading: River Of January

Posted By: idahosrind

by CONNIE DAUGHERTY

River of January by Gail Chumbley; 2014

Mont “Chum” Chumbley is a pilot. He’s a natural, and he lives to fly. Helen Thompson is a dancer. She’s a natural, and she lives to dance. They come from different worlds and have nothing in common. Yet they are very much alike and destined to be together.

In her 2014 award-winning biography, River of January, Gail Chumbley follows the lives of her husband’s parents from 1927 through 1936. Using their letters, shared stories, and interviews, along with her own storytelling skills, Chumbly has created an informative and entertaining book that reads more like a novel than a biography. It details the struggles of not only the individual characters, but of the world through the Great Depression and events leading to WWII.

River of January includes historical details of the entertainment business from the decline of vaudeville to the emergence of talkies (motion pictures with sound). As well, the book reveals how developments in aviation also moved quickly in the 1930s. Chumbly adeptly follows those drastic historical changes.

Having both come from humble beginnings, Helena and Chum each choose career paths eventually lead them to their first meeting.

 

At 18, Chum joins the Navy with the hopes of becoming a pilot. He works his way through the military bureaucracy, getting assignments everywhere, it seems, other than at flight school. His lack of education holds him back, but he’s determined to fly.

He has something to prove to his family, to himself. So, when an opportunity presents itself Chum accepts it.

“A nervous and sleep-deprived Mont Chumbley reported for flight elimination exercises.” Everyone expects him to wash out; after all, he has failed the entrance exams more than once. But Chum knows all he needs is a chance to prove himself.

Meanwhile, Helen has her own struggles. While confident and self-assured on stage, off stage she is a pawn of her controlling mother’s insecurities and personal dreams. The only way Helen seems able to escape—while keeping her mother at least somewhat satisfied—is to accept jobs that take her away from her New York home. She finds herself traveling with dance troops throughout Europe.

This need to escape home and family in order to discover and develop their true potential is one thing Helen and Chum have in common, though the way they deal with it is very different.

Eventually, the stock market crash throws the whole world into economic turmoil, which leads to political turmoil, and Helen and Chum are caught up in it all as the entertainment business and the technology of aviation transform.

Chum finds himself, restless and bored, with a job in West Palm Beach, Fla. He jumps at an opportunity to demonstrate Waco Aircraft Company’s new fighter plane for the Brazilian government down in Brazil.

Meanwhile, Helen is back in New York as 1934 slides into 1935, working in a three–person act under her mother’s watchful and domineering presence. Helen, too, is getting restless and ready for change. “She also knew her time had come to move on from their partnership. She hoped her mother would see it the same way.”

Helen flees New York on a ship to Brazil and lands a gig dancing in a club regularly frequented by Americans. “Three young men seated near the dance floor caught her eye, clearly American by their dress and relaxed posture.” One of those young men is Chum, and he catches her attention immediately.

“This new girl, this sparking, compelling blonde on the stage, radiated a magnetism that surprised him.” In a moment, as their eyes meet, the pilot and the dancer connect. And although they try to be together as much as possible, they each have careers and obligations that take them in different directions.

Eventually, Chum proposes, and Helen accepts. They plan to live in Rio de Janerio, but it isn’t that simple.

Between Helen’s mother, who disapproves of their union, and the war, the young couple’s letter transcripts reveal their struggle against seemingly unmovable objects to continue their love and establish a life together.

In 2016, Chumbley published River of January: Figure Eight, picking up where the award-winning River of January dramatically left off. In the sequel, she tells the story of their continued courtship, marriage, and struggle to keep their love intact, despite the challenges of WWII and the unrelenting interference of Helen’s mother. It is the realism of the story—the struggles and successes, the bad times and the good, as well as the author’s narrative—that keeps readers enthralled and turning pages. These two books are more than a family biography. In telling the story of these two intriguing and imperfect people, Chumbley has captured and preserved the history of an era.

Chumbley is a retired history teacher. In 2005, she received the Outstanding Teacher of American History from National Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington DC. A native of the Pacific Northwest, the author was born and raised in Spokane, Wash., and earned a history degree from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. Chumbley and her husband currently live near Boise, Idaho. She received the 2016 Idaho Author’s Award for Memoirs and Biography for River of January.

https://idahoseniorindependent.com/recommended-reading-river-january/

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir River of January and River of January: Figure Eight.

Also available on Amazon.com

Aftermath

20120923-171949-pic-224799225_s1646x2048 2.jpg

The Constitution was slightly over twelve years old. The rules on presidential elections read precisely on paper, and in 1800 the front runner, Thomas Jefferson looked to enter the White House with ease. However, though designed by the best minds of that era, the flaws built into the Electoral College failed to deliver Jefferson his expected victory. Something had gone terribly awry triggering America’s first electoral crisis. 

New York Republican, Aaron Burr was chosen as Jefferson’s running mate. The thinking was to balance the ticket with a Virginian at the top, and a New Yorker in the second spot drawing Northern votes. Thus the stage was set for a painless triumph over the faltering Federalist Party. However, when the electoral votes were tallied as prescribed by Article 2, the running mates unexpectedly tied for the top spot.

The fault lay in the statute itself, by failing to anticipate such a scenario. Jefferson soon grew furious as Burr passively declined to concede the office, and the tie was forced to the House of Representatives for resolution. In the end the stalemate broke when Alexander Hamilton intervened, persuading the hold-over Federalist majority to choose Jefferson as the lesser of the two evils. (One of the grievances leading to the later duel with Burr). But why?

This was personal. New Yorkers both, Hamilton and Burr had come to detest one another, Though no political friend of Jefferson, Hamilton recognized a fellow patriot, despite deeply held differences. Burr, however was only interested in Burr. Hamilton’s intent was to protect the new nation, and block a scoundrel from assuming the highest office in the land.

Jefferson was sworn into office, and later, in 1804, the Constitution was modified with the Twelfth Amendment, rectifying the design flaws in the original document. 

Twenty years later, in 1824, another impasse materialized that touched off national outrage for decades. The shifting winds of political change found a champion in the person of General Andrew Jackson, the victor of the Battle of New Orleans. Old Hickory had built his reputation as a ruthless Indian fighter, slave holder, and conqueror of Spanish Florida. His feats were celebrated throughout the growing nation, and Jackson’s prospects for election seemed assured. But again, events proved otherwise.

When the Electoral Vote was counted Andrew Jackson had received 99 votes. New England’s John Quincy Adams, son of the Second President, had secured 84 electoral votes. William Crawford of Georgia, though quite ill, earned 41 votes, and lastly, the former Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, 37. The magic number in 1824 to claim victory was 130 votes, so the race was once more, referred to the House of Representatives. Still, Jackson clearly had been the choice of the people.

When John Quincy Adams was unexpectedly named President the public outcry was deafening. In defiance of the people, Henry Clay, the former Speaker used his considerable influence to place Quincy Adams in the White House. When Clay became Adams nominee for Secretary of State, cries of “Corrupt Bargain” blazed across the nation. A furious Andrew Jackson at once began his bid for the presidency in 1828.

Quincy and Clay were stunned. They took actions they believed were best for the nation. They saw the capricious Jackson as a danger to democracy, a man who demonstrated the tendencies of a despot. Still Adams was politically wounded, and the Administration did little of substance in the four years left to them. As for Henry Clay, he never fully restored his reputation.

Other questionable elections repeated through the years. In 1876 with the election of Ruther”fraud” B Hayes, and again in 2000 with the Bush V Gore “hanging chad” debacle.

Today America is dealing with another administration struggling for legitimacy. The Election of 2016 has left the American public uncertain that  their votes actually count. Russian interference, through social media, and electronic hacking was an exculpatory factor in the outcome. Sinister and new in electoral history, cyber espionage has given America a Chief Executive markedly sensitive to the dark subversion undermining his victory. 

Losing the popular vote by over 3 million ballots, the new president claims those votes were cast illegally, and demanded voting rolls from the states be turned over to a government committee for analysis. Nothing significant came of that effort, and questions continue to swirl around this fishy election cycle. 

Somewhere in the chaos the Russian government has reaped what it apparently wanted: domestic turmoil. A long-standing enemy of the United States, the former Soviet Union aims to re-elevate its international stature. What better way could objectives be met, than by hijacking an American election, causing enough confusion to find a sort of sweet revenge.

Deals have been brokered since the beginning of the Republic, but the players have been competing American interests. We may squabble our political beliefs among ourselves, but that is the messy nature of freedom. Now the arrangements appear to be negotiated by foreign players. This foreign interference cannot be repeated, we have future American generations to protect. 

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight.

Everybody’s Dad

IMG_0822

September, 1974.

When my dad said we were getting up at 5am, he wasn’t kidding. His morning schedule demanded we jump out of bed and climb into the truck, the back flanked with high wood racks. Two or three chainsaws were stored in the truck bed, along with cans of gasoline, rusty chains, a yard stick, chalk, and a cooler. This equipment was secured under a green canvas tarp that effused a pine scent from previous visits to the woods. 

Dad took the wheel in his 1968 white Chevy pickup, my friend, Mary sat in the passenger seat. I was wedged in the middle, straddling the stick shift, trying to sip coffee as we made our way out of town. The morning was chilly and new, the traffic quite light. Getting up that early on a Saturday rendered us among the few who had places to go. 

Eventually clearing out the cobwebs of sleep from my brain, the morning grew electric. We were motoring to the woods north of Spokane, to some secret locale my father had discovered the previous spring. He had a constant eye for suitable timber, especially if the trees were already down and dry, insuring a superior burn. After an hour or so, Dad turns off on a mountain road, bumping along deep into the timber. The terrain is steep, and he assures us we’re close to his remembered spot. The coffee is long gone, and we need to stop soon and wander into the trees for relief.

The truck rumbles to a halt on a lone logging trace. We’re out of the cab stretching our legs breathing in the morning warmth. My dad has already dropped the tailgate and is tending to the gas and oil in his Stihl chainsaw. We help haul out the rest of the equipment, and donning leather gloves follow him to the downed trees, lying right where he scouted them, above the road. I go first, chalking the cut-length with the yard stick, measuring out the entire tree. His chainsaw roars to life and my dad follows me, slicing tree rounds to fit the wood stove. Mary is rolling the sections to the flat, and righting each round for further splitting with an axe.

The day has grown quite hot. We toss our flannel shirts into the cab, drink some water from a canteen, and go back to it.

By 11:00am the trees are no more. Where they had rested for a season, only skiffs of sawdust remain, the wood secured onto the truck. It’s now that Dad opens the cooler and we dine on bologna sandwiches and warm Shasta cola. Somehow the white bread tastes surprisingly good, though only lunchmeat and butter. We had worked up powerful appetites. 

My father is relaxed now that the job is complete, and the truck loaded with over a cord of firewood. We roost on the tailgate, chitchat and laugh, sweaty and smelling of pinesap. 

That he loves the woods is clear by his smile and satisfaction. And there we socialized, two teenaged girls and our genial guide resting our backs against neatly stacked rows of wood.

July, 2018

My father is in the hospital. The ravages of Parkinson’s Disease, chronic blood clots and advanced age has faded his once vibrant presence. We don’t know how much time he has left, as he grows weaker by the hour. And perhaps this isn’t the best way to inform friends and acquaintances of his failing condition. Still, we can choose to remember him, as I have, during his halcyon days when he was everybody’s dad.