July 22, 2005
Mike's on vacation
Even Mike Pride takes a vacation. So enjoy the summer - Mike's blogging will resume upon his return.
July 13, 2005
It came as no surprise here that U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg won mention the other day as a possible Supreme Court nominee. He has been loyal to President Bush from the beginning. He is a lawyer. He is capable and experienced. He is conservative.
Well, when the words Judd Gregg and Supreme Court appeared in the same news headlines, longtime New Hampshire political observers surely flashed back to 1989, Gregg's first year as governor.
At that time, the state’s 1848 abortion statutes were in effect. If Roe vs. Wade were ever overturned, the state would revert to these archaic laws, which made abortion a crime. To fix this potential problem, the staunchly Republican Legislature passed a bill striking the 1848 statutes from the books.
Gregg had said nothing about this issue during the campaign. When the bill came to his desk, he vetoed it. He gave little in the way of explanation.
Moderate Republicans reacted to this bolt from the blue with surprise and disappointment. They had thought Gregg was one of them. It took eight years and the election of Democratic governor Jeanne Shaheen to get the laws off the books.
There is no gleaning from this morsel of state history how Gregg might vote on abortion cases if he were a member of the Supreme Court, but it’s a good guess he wouldn’t be a home run for pro-choicers.
Of course, the chances we’ll ever find out how Justice Gregg might rule on Roe are slim and none. Not that he isn’t qualified and not that he isn’t a Bush favorite, but he’s already got a big job chairing the Senate Budget Committee. And if Gregg did rise to the court, New Hampshire has a Democratic governor who would just love to appoint Gregg’s successor to the Senate. Neither Bush not Gregg will let that happen.
It was Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, who suggested Gregg as a possible Supreme Court justice. As much as Reid might yearn for another Democrat in his Senate minority, he ought to be careful what he wishes for.
July 12, 2005
Bloggers won praise from some quarters during last year's presidential campaign, especially for breaking the story that sank Dan Rather. The story behind that story, of course, was President Bush's Air National Guard service.
Journalist Corey Pein, who investigated the Bush-Rather story for Columbia Journalism Review, has written an interesting perspective on blogs. Blogs is the title, and Pein's commentary was published in the lastest issue of Global Journalist, the magazine of the International Press Institute.
Wait till next year
Fireworks on the editorial page, more than a week after the Fourth of July: Who would have guessed it?
The fireworks at Memorial Field have long been one of the city’s great social events. Families relax on blankets and in lawn chairs, Nevers’ band plays Sousa, friends greet old friends, the darkness gathers, booms echo in the night, and a fog of gunpowder falls over the fields. The fireworks are a show of patriotism, yes, but also a show of community.
This year’s fireworks disappointed many. Today’s Monitor editorial makes the case for doing it better next year. Three more letter writers also weigh in on the issue.
It might seem odd that the paper, like city hall itself, gets as much reaction to a low-impact fireworks display as it does to a fat tax increase. But what matters to residents is what they see and experience. Keep the roads smooth and clear and make sure the trash is picked up and you’ll be re-elected mayor or retained as city manager. Don’t and you won’t.
The fireworks display might not seem quite so central to the city’s life as these basic services, but clearly residents think it is. Like anything worth doing, fireworks are worth doing well. The bet here is that next Fourth of July will be one to remember at Memorial Field.
July 11, 2005
A soldier's memory
Among other things, Hillary Nelson’s column in Saturday’s Concord Monitor touched on whether soldiers during the Vietnam era were actually spat upon and vilified as baby-killers. The conclusion you draw from her column is that this is mostly myth, that few incidents of spitting and name-calling can be verified.
Nevertheless, the column reminded me of a memorable day in my life.
I never went to Vietnam, but I served four years in the Army, 1966 through 1970. Two of those years I spent in West Germany, where my job was to gather and analyze information about Soviet military activity in East Germany. I returned to the United States in February 1970, landing at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.
I was disillusioned about my country. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated while I was gone. Urban rioting and racial unrest were rampant. It seemed like the Vietnam War, which I had always opposed, would never end. And I had grown fond of Europe, where I met my wife and got to know new cultures.
Gone two years, I had no preconceptions about how my fellow citizens might see me.
We returning soldiers were loaded into buses at McGuire and driven to the Philadelphia airport, where we were to make our way to our next assignments. It was about 9 a.m. I was in uniform, of course.
As I walked through the airport, I could see disgust toward me in the expressions of many people I passed. When I sat to wait for my flight, people stared at me so hard they seemed to be looking right through me. Some averted their eyes, but seldom without a hint of scorn.
These people were not hippies or protesters. They were middle-class citizens in polyester leisure suits with loud ties. They were mothers of three and men with briefcases.
Although I heard more than one person mutter under his breath that morning, no one spat on me or called me a baby killer, at least not to my face. I think it is true that these exact things happened to very few men in uniform during the Vietnam war. But I also believe what I felt that day in the Philadelphia airport was a common experience for returning soldiers.
It was as though my uniform stood for everything that had gone wrong. It was as though I was the problem personified.
July 08, 2005
The stuff of history
A few weeks ago, my Monitor colleague Mark Travis and I drove up to Lancaster to visit Faith Kent. Mark and I spent much of the 1990s researching My Brave Boys, our history of the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers under Col. Edward E. Cross, the state’s best known Civil War hero. Faith was the granddaughter of Cross’s best friend, Henry O. Kent. For our book, she let us use a stack of letters Cross had written to her grandfather.
The book came out four years ago, but I stayed in touch with Faith. Each time I wrote her, I asked if she was ready to part with the letters. She had told me she wanted to give them to the New Hampshire Historical Society someday, and I pestered her about whether someday had arrived.
Now it had. On our visit last month she handed me three manila envelopes containing some 70 letters Cross wrote to Henry Kent. Today, after making sure my own Xerox file of the correspondence was complete, I delivered the letters to David Smolen, the special collections librarian at the Historical Society.
The letters begin in 1850 and end in 1862, several months before Cross’s death at Gettysburg. Cross was in his teens when he took off across the country as a printer, journalist, explorer and militiaman. Often in a breathless voice, his letters tell Kent, the young friend who stayed at home, about the marvels of an expanding country. I’m hoping that one of my retirement projects will be to edit and annotate the prewar letters for publication (the wartime correspondence has already been published).
For now, though, I’m so grateful to Faith Kent for following through on her good impulse to donate the letters to a public archive. Of such material our state’s, and our country’s, history is made – but only when it is available to historians.
July 07, 2005
Trinity and beyond
I’ve been researching and writing a story on Victor Kumin, who worked on the Manhattan Project and witnessed – from a distance – the flash of the first atomic bomb. The story will be in the Sunday Monitor.
Victor lives in Warner with his wife, the poet Maxine Kumin. It was at her 80th birthday party in Concord last month that I learned of Victor’s brush with history. With the 60th anniversary of the Trinity bomb test coming up on July 16, the story seemed timely.
My research prompted me to re-examine my thinking about the atomic bomb. As you’ll see from the story, Victor hasn’t changed his mind about the subject in six decades. And as I worked on the story, I realized I hadn’t either.
Victor and I are on the same page about the Manhattan Project: Considering the times, it was necessary and right to make the bomb and to use it. I don’t know if the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives, but the United States was in a brutal world war and our leaders were obliged to pursue any weapon that might shorten it. The bombs shortened it. As for the theories about warning the Japanese or allowing them to witness a test, the facts of the situation refute them.
I arrived at these conclusions at least in part because of my own circumstances. I wasn’t even alive in 1945, but my father was an Army lieutenant in Manila that year. It seems likely he would have been part of the invasion force if it had been necessary to take Japan by conventional military means. I’ve read his letters to my mom from those days, including one that welcomes the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. I’ve talked to him about the bomb as well.
I listened carefully during the Cold War to arguments against dropping the bomb. While researching the Victor Kumin story, I read several web sites that made impassioned moral cases condemning the bombs, especially the second one, which was dropped on Nagasaki. (It was the detonation method for that bomb on which Victor worked.)
In the end, I think these arguments make the mistake of presentism – applying today’s ideals to the past without giving enough weight to the context in which historical events occur.
My story on Victor is a news feature, so I’ve kept my opinion out of it. But I don’t mind expressing it here, along with my appreciation to Victor for both his service to our country and his willingness to share his story with Sunday Monitor readers.
July 01, 2005
The 9th Commandment
Here is the first of what may be several entries stolen from Luckiest Man, Jonathan Eig's excellent new biography of Lou Gehrig.
Joe McCarthy became the Yankee manager for the 1931 season. He brought his 10 commandments along with him. Here's No. 9:
"Do not fight too much with the umpires. You cannot expect them to be as perfect as you are."
Happy Fourth of July!