Friday, August 18, 2017

Mickey Marcus

I found less than I expected and more than I hoped for

Imagine if your life were defined by your tendency boldly to leap into unknown circumstances and do the best you could do with as little as possible.  Now imagine that you're pretty good at it.  In a capsule, that's the story of Mickey Marcus.

Not too long ago, I was at the Thayer Hotel in West Point on a brutally hot evening, even the hotel's air conditioning couldn't take it and had broken down, waiting for a very slow elevator that was similarly challenged by the heat.

As I had time to kill, I was walking up and down the hallway reading the plaques near the rooms dedicated to graduates of the United States Military Academy [West Point's real name] who exemplified the best of the corps of cadets.  I was staying in the Buzz Aldrin room and, as it was July 20th, the anniversary of his moon walk, I was appreciating the weight of history and accomplishment in that promenade.

There were a few others in the hallway, each listing the accomplishments, medals, and citations earned by the honoree.  On the other end of the hallway was a room dedicated to Mickey Marcus.  Not a well known name, which is a pity.  As I began to read of his story, I became so engrossed that I missed the sluggish elevator.

David Daniel Marcus, known as "Mickey" in his Hester Street neighborhood in New York's Lower East Side, was born in 1901 to parents who had fled oppression in Romania.  He was a scrappy kid who excelled in both sports and academics to the extent that he was appointed to West Point.  While it is common for first generation Americans to be patriotically committed to their new country, it was not common in the early part of the 20th century to find Jews among the officer class.

This may have been his first jump into unknown circumstances.  It would by no means be his last.

Marcus graduated in 1924 and satisfied his required service, remained in the Army reserve while graduating from Brooklyn Law School, and became one of the assistant United States attorneys for New York.  In that role, he participated in some high-profile prosecutions, such as that of the gangster, Charles "Lucky" Luciano.  He eventually became a staff member of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's, serving as the mayor's Commissioner of the Department of Correction and the judge advocate for New York's National Guard division.

These, alone, are achievements worthy of a lifetime, but his finest service was yet to come.

Upon the attack on Pearl Harbor, New York's National Guard was activated as a standard unit of the Army and, along with Marcus, sent to Hawaii.  Being as he was a graduate of West Point assigned only the petty legal matters associated with a divisional office, the bored Marcus heard of the new Ranger battalion that was being formed in the European Theater of Operations and gained permission to organize a similar group in the Pacific, becoming the commander of Fort Shafter's Ranger Combat Training School.

Hopeful of gaining an infantry, rather than legal, command, Marcus had his hopes dashed when he was transferred to Washington D.C. to help prepare the documents for the various conferences between the heads of state during the war, including participating in the drafting of the surrender treaty with Italy in 1943.

The scrappy kid from Hester Street was then transferred to England to help with continuing developments in military diplomacy while seated behind a desk in London.  This would not do.  As it was May of 1944, and everyone knew that the invasion of France was imminent, Marcus prevailed upon one of his West Point classmates, who was now the commanding general of an airborne division, to be included in Operation Overlord.

Here's where he jumps, again; this time with particular drama.

If you haven't had the experience, let me describe a small portion of what it's like to commit to a combat parachute jump.  Remember now, this isn't skydiving with an instructor Velcroed to one's backside.  This is stepping out of a plane into the remarkable propeller wash that blows grit into your eyes and teeth, loaded with fifty pounds of supplies, a rifle, one hundred rounds of military ammo, and a hand grenade or two.  If lucky, no one is shooting at you on the way down.

Now imagine you're doing so with the 101st Airborne Division.  You know, the "Band of Brothers".  Further imagine that it is D-Day in the first wave of the invasion and you're 43-years-old and have never been trained to para-jump!

Upon his thudding, but successful, landing in France, Marcus gathered a collection of soldiers who had been separated from their various units and formed them into an informal group that aided the disorganized Allied forces for the remainder of that week.

Col. Marcus, West Point '24, finally had his first infantry command.  It would also be his last for the U.S. Army.  Upon discovery of what he had been doing, the general staff wagged their collective finger at him and sent him back to a desk in the United States to help aid in the repatriation of those displaced in Europe and organize and otherwise prepare for the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes tribunals. 

During Nuremberg, Marcus was sent to Germany to ensure the proper documentation of the Nazi atrocities.  This new assignment included a mandatory tour of Dachau.  Marcus' Judaism, dormant during his days of legal and actual warfare, began to deepen in response to what he saw of the death camp and what he heard in the Nuremberg trials.  Suffice it to note, he was no longer blase or secular in his religious practice from that time forward.

Tired of war and shocked by the gross inhumanity of the Holocaust, and despite the offer of a promotion to brigadier [or "one-star"] general, Marcus left the Army and returned to his private, and lucrative, civilian law practice.  It was time for peace and prosperity.  Well, at least in the United States.

The post-war world was disrupted, certainly, at this time, with new governments, new political boundaries, and very old animosities once again animated.  Given their experience, the Jews in Palestine now began to build their own state, a process that was proving inflammatory to their neighboring populations.  With the influx of refugees from Europe, the early days of modern Israel were dire.  If they were to solidify their borders, or merely survive, they were going to need to have a proper army.  However, a proper army needs proper leadership, and despite the surplus of experienced battlefield commanders in Europe, none were willing to help the Jews.

So, the leaders of Israel turned to the United States, asking Mickey Marcus to find for them Jewish officers who would be willing to come to Israel to organize an army.  Marcus approached them all; none were willing.  So, it was time for Marcus, settled Manhattan attorney and political hopeful, whose spiritual sense had been awakened during a tour of a death camp, to once again jump into a battlefield.

In January of 1948, Col. David Marcus boarded a ship in New York City and disappeared.  A few weeks later, "Michael Stone", private citizen, arrived in Jerusalem and enlisted in the Haganah, which is to the modern Israeli army what the Minutemen were to our U.S. Army Special Forces.  Shortly after his arrival, when Israel was surrounded by the Arab Legion, he was appointed the general [not "a general"] of the Israeli army, the first since Judas Maccabees in the 2nd century B.C.

There were sieges and battles, and more sieges and more battles, in which Marcus adapted everything he had learned and experienced into enabling a small, un-trained, and under-armed force to resist and, eventually, prevail against their enemies.  The modern reputation enjoyed by the Israeli Defense Forces in our era can be traced to Marcus' efforts.

Finally, once it appeared that Israel was not going to be destroyed, the United Nations, itself a new organization, organized a cease fire.  General Marcus had succeeded.  However, there is this reality known to any combat soldier as "the fog of war".  Battlefields are messy and unclear, with battle lines changing from moment to moment and victory or defeat resting on a razor's edge.  Sometimes, soldiers can find themselves unwittingly fighting against their own colleagues.  Sometimes, this can lead to horrific accidents.

Shortly after the cease fire, General Marcus was killed by one of his own sentries, apparently mistaken for an enemy attempting to sneak into the base.

There is a cemetery in West Point that is worth a visit for anyone interested in American history.  In it are interred the remains of George Custer, Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., Winfield Scott, and Ed White, the first astronaut to walk in space.  There are others, too, of course, lesser known but of similar courage.  But of them all, there is only one who died while in the service of a military other than that of the United States'.

Marcus' gravestone proclaims him "A Soldier for All Humanity".  Had I had anything to do with it, a simple quote from the Book of the Maccabees would have served:

“As for Judas Maccabeus, he hath been mighty and strong, even from his youth up: let him be your captain, and fight the battle of the people.” - 1 Maccabees 2:66

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Along With Everything Else, Yes

Have Bestsellers Become Dumber?

Complete with Venn Diagram

CAMBRIDGE, MA—A study performed by researchers at Harvard University found a strong link between supporting the idea of communism and never once having even briefly opened a history book, sources confirmed Tuesday.

Dear Colleagues,

You should really read this before you issue a press release.

The Atlantic: The Rise of the Violent Left

If we are to exist in the public square, the church cannot take the side of one mob against another.  We rightly condemn the remarkable racism on display by the "alt-right", but we also need to address the increasing violence of the "antifa" rioters, too.  One side flies the Nazi flag, the other that of Communism.  Neither respects or supports Christianity or Christian public witness.  Both are, to boringly repeat myself, locked in a co-dependent cycle of violence that will continue to escalate until there are more deaths.

We cannot depend on politicians and the media to address this.  Politicians use social division to shore up their voting blocks; the media highlight abherrent social behavior so as to create "clicks" to their websites and advertisers.  CEO's of corporations issue statements on public morality that are in service of retaining those who purchase their goods.  None of these groups is interested in anything so obtuse as the public good.

That leaves us.  The easy route is to dust off another pastoral letter and fill in the blanks with contemporary information; the proper route is to address the moral horror that is being perpetuated upon us by both extreme ideologies.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Query

After all of the offensive statues have been destroyed, what's next?  Historically, mobs are never satisfied with just one impulse of destruction.

So That's Where I Left That Thing

Removal of Westerly mystery object scrubbed, rough surf to blame

There's a Lot of That Going Around

“It’s a universal law — intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education.” - Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The Post-Christian World

Iceland is Using Abortion to Eliminate Down's Syndrome

Well, well, well.  It looks like the Nazis took Iceland, after all.  Yay, eugenics.

My cousin, Maureen, had Down's Syndrome.  She was loving and fun and I can't imagine life without her.   This creeps me out more than mobs tearing down statues and millionaire footballers who sit for the National Anthem being treated like MLK, Jr. at Selma.

What Happens When Authors Are Afraid to Stand Alone

Writing as an individual pursuit has been replaced by “community”—and literature is the worse for it

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Finally, Some Really Good News

Grand Central Terminal’s Swankiest Bar Reopens As the Campbell

I mean, look at this place:

St. Mary the Virgin

[This was originally written in the summer of 1998; I can't recall if it was for a parish newsletter or some other publication.  Anyway, it's a good day to get in the water, regardless of weather or temperature.]

It arrives every summer.  It's a package that is usually mailed from Ocean City, a barrier island in southern New Jersey.  It's a heavy package.  I always forget that it's coming, although I'm not sure why, since it is an annual event.  In the package is a container (it's different every year; sometimes it's a used soda bottle, sometimes an inexpensive thermos) filled with seawater. 

It is, as anyone would agree, a strange gift to receive.  Certainly my wife felt that way the first summer of our marriage when she got to the mail before I did.  "Your mother sent us some...water, I think."  Seawater doesn't travel well in the summer heat.  It grows things during transit.  Maybe that's the point.  The reason that she sends it to me, and has done so for as long as I've lived away from home, is because of August 15th.  Actually, that's the secular date.  On the church calendar, it’s the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary the Virgin.  On that day, all of the seawater in the world is considered holy water.  It is an old European custom and, as my father jokingly reminds me, my mother is an old European.  Once a year, she travels to the ocean, steps into the water, fills containers for my sibling, my nieces, my nephew, and me.  We get them right before the beginning of the school year (as I’m from a family of educators, the new year begins in September) as reminders of…something.

The connection between water and holiness is ancient and complicated.  As is water with our physical being, God is the key element of our spiritual being.  God is necessary for our life and present with us in a multiplicity of forms.  As with water, so with God; things grow in the relationship.  To this day, in seashore areas around the continent of Europe, families make their pilgrimage to the Atlantic or the Mediterranean.  While others run into the water in recreation, Christians do so on the Feast of the Assumption as part of their spiritual re-creation.  They seek to be reminded of the ways in which we are borne by God; immersed in the great, deep, and liberating mystery.  They find themselves, as we all do, afloat on grace; ever present, ever abiding, and all surrounding.  Perhaps the relationship between humans and the sea was best captured by the author Joseph Conrad who, before he became one of the greatest writers in the English language, was a commercial ship’s captain.  He once wrote "...the sea is a mystery, deep and impenetrable.  We are borne on it, knowing it as impassive yet passionate.  We can never completely know it as we cannot completely know the Almighty."

Last year it was a soda bottle sealed with duct tape.  In a filtered state, it will be part of the holy water that I use in baptisms and at the Great Vigil of Easter.  I do this to honor the feast day and because there are occasions when I need to be reminded of the unfolding mystery that surrounds us and the grace that supports us.

It’s also because, as I am reminded every year at this time, things grow in it.

Okay, Things are too Heavy. Here's Some Levity.

Pineapples banned by Popular Music Festivals

Unpopular Thoughts

I don't care what the rationale, mobs tearing down statues is a sign of societal disintegration.  It will take a long time, as it did with Rome, but any nation that denies its history, however difficult that history may be, is doomed.

Speaking of which, anyone who grants me their un-solicited political opinion while quoting from Teen Vogue magazine has a misplaced sense of our relationship.

I could find no commentary about the Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer who shot a U.S. congressman in any of the official statements from the powers-that-be of the Episcopal Church. I've found a lot about some lunatic who drove his car into protesters.  The former was just a nutter, it has been explained to me by colleagues, and the latter a member of a dangerous social movement.  The church has avoided dealing with the escalating violence of the leftist "antifa" folks, too, I suspect because they are more closely aligned with the politics of Episcopal Church clergy.  This is ill-advised.

I will repeat myself and note that the two extremes from the right and the left are locked in a codependent spiral of violence. If the Church is going to take sides in this, it is failing its purpose in the public square.

More "Hillbilly" Shaming

Judgey about the way people dress? You’re killing America.
A little twang in speech or that habit of ending sentences in a prepositional phrase does not mean West Virginians cannot speak English. It just means they are part of a region that still clings to the Scots Irish speech pattern of their ancestors.

Fifteen years ago, as social media started connecting us in ways we never imagined, America looked up and across at the other America; as they looked back at each other, neither side was terribly pleased.

As long as the coastal elites look down their noses at the middle of the country, we’re going to be a divided country.

Hillbilly Shaming is Unbecoming

J.D. Vance is the author of the New York Times non-fiction bestseller, Hillbilly Elegy, which details his life from his birth in a rural portion of Ohio through the Marine Corps and the Ivy League.  His compelling story is familiar to me.

I appreciate socially-addled people like the NYT's Rich assume those of us from the less glamorous portions of the U.S. are not evolved, intellectually or morally, but the reality is the members of both the "alt-right" and the leftist "antifa" are more like Rich's neighbors than my cousins and childhood friends.

Really, these are hillbillies to you, Frank?

Tiki torches from Home Depot?  Polo shirts?

On the other end of the spectrum, here's an "anti-fascist" protester sporting a Schott Perfecto:

I wanted one of these, back when I had a bike, but couldn't afford it as it cost more than my motorcycle. 

Monday, August 14, 2017


I admit that I agree with all of this:
It's becoming so clear now why the war of words between SJWs and the new white nationalists is so intense. It isn't because they have huge ideological differences -- it's because they have so much in common. Both are obsessed with race, SJWs demanding white shame, the alt-right responding with white pride. Both view everyday life and culture through a highly racialised filter. SJWs can't even watch a movie without counting how many lines the black actor has in comparison with the white actor so that they can rush home and tumblr about the injustice of it all. Both have a seemingly boundless capacity for self-pity. Both are convinced they're under siege, whether by patriarchy, transphobia and the Daily Mail (SJWs) or by pinkos and blacks (white nationalists). Both have a deep censorious strain. And both crave recognition of their victimhood and flattery of their feelings. This is really what they're fighting over -- not principles or visions but who should get the coveted title of the most hard-done-by identity. They're auditioning for social pity. "My life matters! My pain matters! I matter!" The increasing bitterness and even violence of their feud is not evidence of its substance, but the opposite: it's the narcissism of small differences. - Brendan O'Neill
For those blissfully unaware of our common societal dysfunction, SJW stands for "social justice warrior", those most commonly associated with dressing in black and smashing shop windows in the name of...anti-fascism.  The alt-right are the latest form of a "white identity" group.

While much of the media is fixated on "right wing extremism", it is part and parcel with the equivalent on the left wing, an aspect that the media seems to studiously avoid.

Clearly, the "alt-right" and "antifa" are in a codependent spiral of violence.  So far, a leftist has shot a congressman and some others, and a rightest has committed vehicular homicide.  It is going to get worse unless we admit that this is happening on both sides of the ideological divide.  Such are the wages of a post-Christian age.

On the Bright Side, It Probably Worked

Residents Who Lost Home In Fire Were Trying To Ward Off Evil Spirits

Yes, There are Surf Gangs, Even in the US

Insiders of the notorious surf gang the Bra Boys have slammed a new generation of thugs who are claiming affiliation to the group.

It's not all Frankie and Annette, is it?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Word from Coop

"I call it treason against rock 'n' roll because rock is the antithesis of politics. Rock should never be in bed with politics. ... When I was a kid and my parents started talking about politics, I'd run to my room and put on the Rolling Stones as loud as I could. So when I see all these rock stars up there talking politics, it makes me sick. .... If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are. Why are we rock stars? Because we're morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal.” - Alice Cooper

Politics is the New Religion

Hillary Clinton's pastor compared her election loss to Jesus' death and resurrection

Methodists.  Honestly.