Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Injections in Both Arms--So Army!

This week I went to my family doctor to get two injections.  One was a tetanus booster so the woman giving me the shot asked me to stand up and let my arm hang loose.  Usually at civilian doctors, I get shots or blood drawn sitting down.  Standing with my arm loose is just what they told me to do in basic training in 1972 when they used the air injectors like the one in the picture above.

As the line moved slowly between the medics with the injector guns, the drill sergeant told us to be sure and stand still because if we flinched the air gun would rip our arm open.  I never saw that happen, but we all believed it.  The real story of terror was the Square Needle in The Left Nut on the 10th Training Day.  That was scary.  I wrote about that shortly after re-enlisting.

Forty-four years later, the needles are thinner, the technicians are older and I had no ill effects in either arm, just the memory of waiting for the air gun.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Surprising Follow Up with a MEDEVAC Pilot

I do not have a photo of MEDEVAC Pilot Suzy Danielson
But this poster covers her attitude towards life

Yesterday I posted a story on the DUSTOFF Facebook page I wrote about a MEDEVAC pilot I served with in Iraq.  The story is here.  She was a pilot in the Gulf War in 1991, left the Army in 1993 and forgot she was still a reserve officer.  In 2009, the Army reminded her with a FEDEX package telling her to report for duty.  She was 44 when she returned to active service and deployed to Iraq.  

After I posted the story, I sent Suzy an email, not knowing if she was still using that address.  At midnight, I got an email back from Suzy.  She is in Afghanistan!  Apparently she liked returning to the Blackhawk helicopter cockpit.  I asked her to follow up with me when she returns.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Cold War Draft Army: Best Army I Served In

Since my first enlistment in 1972, I served in three different armies.  I first enlisted during the draft near the end of the Vietnam War and the height of the Cold War. When I re-enlisted in 1975, I was in the new Volunteer Army, VOLAR was the acronym at the time.  After eleven years of active duty and reserve service ending in 1984, I re-enlisted in 2007 in the Post 9-11 Army National Guard.

When I climbed into my bunk in basic training in 1972, the other 39 soldiers sharing my room were men between 18 and 20 years old.  None of us were married.  We were from nearly 30 states, from both coasts, mostly from the American South and West, but "Jersey"and I were actually from the Northeast--very rare in the active military.

No one planned to make a career of the military.  We were all going to "do our time" and get out.  Half of us were planning to use the Vietnam War GI Bill to pay for college, although the reality then and now is fewer than one in ten actually would use their education benefits.  At our active duty stations, we all referred to anyone who re-enlisted as a LIFER: Lazy Inefficient Fuckup Expecting Retirement.  More than 80% of draft-era soldiers served one enlistment and left the military.  We shined our shoes, ironed our starched uniforms, told extravagant lies, and had a common enemy in the sergeants in charge of us.

Five years later in 1977, I was a tank commander in Germany.  The draft effectively ended in 1973, and formally ended in 1975, ushering in the era of the Volunteer Army.  In 1973, new soldiers joining a unit were 19-year-old single males on short enlistments, usually 2 or 3 years.

From 1975 on, when a new soldier joined our tank unit, that soldier was between 19 and 21 years old.  He was married, had one child and his wife was pregnant again.  That was the reason many of these guys had enlisted.  Most had enlisted for four years because the longer enlistment in Combat Arms had a $2,500 bonus.  So my new crewman was married, poor and a father.

The great increase in the number of married soldiers between the early and late 70s meant a lot of soldiers were living off base in poverty in Germany because Base Housing went by rank.  And if their young wives were not in country for their two-year tour, there would eventually be a night when the soldier received a Dear John letter.  Later he would be blind drunk on 80-cent per bottle Mad Dog, MD 20-20.  (Actually the MD stood for Mogen David.  MD 20-20 was the cheapest drunk possible and it always made me smile that the mostly southern boys swilling the stuff were getting drunk on Jewish wine.)

By this time I was a sergeant, I had re-enlisted so I was a LIFER.  They still called us LIFERS, but with more married soldiers, more of them were re-enlisting.  By the late 70s, LIFER had little of the sting it had during the Vietnam War.  The Army was a job.  The Vietnam War was over and until the Gulf War, the military was a pretty safe job.

Then I re-enlisted into yet another Army in 2007.  No one made fun of LIFERs.  I could not find anyone under 40 who had ever heard the acronym.  In 2007 I enlisted in the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard.  The unit had more than 100 pilots and several hundred mechanics and flight crew.  More than half of the 2,000 soldiers in the brigade were at least considering a career in the Army, if they were not already committed to Army life.

The current Army, including active, reserve and National Guard, is a professional army.  The Army of World War II really represented a huge cross-section of America. Every family either had a soldier in their family or a soldier next door.  After World War II, for the first time in U.S. history, the wartime Army was not demobilized.  Most of the soldiers went home, but the draft continued and a sizable force remained ready for war as well as occupying the countries of former enemies.

By the time the draft ended almost 30 years later, the Army represented the south and west much more than the northeast.  But it was still not a professional Army. When I re-enlisted in 2007, I was the only soldier that many of my co-workers actually knew.  The museum where I worked had a staff of 55 and had been in business for more than a quarter century.  I was the third veteran who had ever worked there.  When I deployed they had to write a policy for National Guard service.  They never had a serving guardsman before.  My co-workers, to use the southern expression, had more degrees than a thermometer: more than two degrees per person on average including the maintenance staff.  People from cities in the northeast mostly don't even think about military service.

The result is an Army that does not represent America.  It is an Army that is easier to send to war because the people who make the decisions never served and the soldiers who go to war will not come from every city, town, village and neighborhood.

A draft Army is much tougher for politicians to send to war, and the soldiers want to go home when the war is over.  That, to me, is a better Army for the soldiers and for the nation.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

MEDEVAC Story from Iraq I Never Posted: Brett Feddersen, Pilot

Today I was looking for another story and realized I never posted a story I wrote in Iraq about my direct supervisor and MEDEVAC pilot, Brett Feddersen.  At the time he was an intelligence officer, so I said I would wait till we got back to the states to post it.  That should have been January 2010.  So 6-1/2 years later, here is the story I wrote.

            Major Brett Feddersen sits alone in the ready room next to the Medevac hangar at 11pm hunched over his personal computer editing a document for a meeting the next day.  “I’ve got to get some sleep in case we get a 2am call,” he says mostly to the air.  The rest of his crew is asleep or resting, waiting for the call.
            Feddersen is a senior staff officer with 2-104th General Services Aviation Battalion, but two to four days every week he is a Medevac pilot on a 48-hour rotation with Alaska-based Charlie Company, 1st Battalion 52nd Aviation, an active Army unit attached to 2-104th for the current deployment.  His shift will be over at 9am the following morning, but he had a long flight in the afternoon and a long day of meetings either side of the flight.  “I have to stay balanced, I have to stay rested, I have to complete the mission,” he said. 
            It’s a challenge he faces both in civilian life and on deployment.  Senior Trooper Feddersen has served with the Pennsylvania State Police since 1995, most recently flying Aviation Patrol Unit One in the southeastern area of the Commonwealth.  Adding Medevac pilot to his staff duties makes life hectic, but Feddersen lives to fly.  He arranges his life to complete the staff tasks to the best of his ability, making the time necessary to fly Medevac Blackhawks every week.  He is serious and professional when discussing staff duties, but is all smiles and broad hand and arm gestures describing a favorite Medevac mission.  Even crawling on top of the Blackhawk underneath the rotors for pre-flight checks before starting the engines, he is clearly enjoying himself whether under, at the controls, or on top of a Blackhawk helicopter.
            Feddersen said flying Medevac in Iraq has many similarities with flying for his civilian job.  “Flying for the state police is always on an emergency basis,” he said.  “The mission can be a lost child, lost hikers or hunters, or a bad guy pursuit.  We get the call.  We go.” 
            Medevac is the same.  On the first 24 hours of his 48 hours shift, Feddersen and his crew are “second up,” the backup team that goes if a call comes in and “first up” is already on a mission.  During the first day, the crew must be ready to take off within a half hour and can travel a short distance from the ready hangar.  On the second day the crew moves to “first up.”  The Army standard said they must to fly within fifteen minutes of receipt of the Medevac call.  In Charlie Company, the standard is eight minutes. 
            Whether at Ali Air Base or in Pennsylvania’s Twin Valley the emergency response mission gives Feddersen a real sense of accomplishment, “We make a difference here.  When a soldier is down we do everything we can to get them care and get them home.  At home we find the lost child, get the bad guy, it’s a great feeling.” 
            “One big difference here is we have to be more vigilant when landing at a point of injury,” Feddersen said.  Scanning for mines, IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), and the enemy who just came in contact with an injured soldier are part of every mission in Iraq. 

            Feddersen will turn 37 on this deployment.  He served as an enlisted military policeman for the first 5 of his 17 years of service and also attended college.  He went to Officer Candidate School in 1997 followed by Army Aviation School.  Feddersen is married and the father of two boys.  His current deployment is his second.  He was deployed to the Balkans with the Pennsylvania National Guard in 2005.

Friday, September 23, 2016

MEDEVAC Training at Fort AP Hill

These photos are from MEDEVAC Training at Fort AP Hill at Annual Training in 2013 for 28th Combat Aviation Brigade. SFC Jeff Kwiecien is supervising the training.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Flight Medic Training Soldiers in Combat Medicine

These photos are from Annual Training 2014 for the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.  Flight Medic Staff Sergeant Pamela Leggore is training medics to work under combat conditions.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

One More Medal Reminds Me of Stuff That Doesn't Get Awards

On Sunday, September 11th, I received what is very likely the last medal I will get from the military. My unit gave me the Pennsylvania Meritorious Service Medal.  The citation talks about all the things I did for the unit.  It was about writing stories, taking pictures and re-enlisting after a quarter century as a civilian.

In other words, it talks about the kinds of things I did which got praise at the time I did them.  So the 200 words of praise in Army prose was about the stuff I did right and made someone higher in the chain of command happy.

The things I did in the military that were the most difficult and that I was most proud of were not the kind of things that people get medals for.

In 1973 when I got blinded in a missile explosion, I got no award.  Since the explosion happened on a test range in Utah, it was not a combat injury.  I recovered my sight and the use of two fingers that were bent and broken in the blast.  I will always be thankful for the surgeons who got the wire and other bits of shrapnel out of my eyes, but they had to operate six times to get all the metal out.  Facing he next surgery and that feeling of a wire being pulled from my eye was one of the more difficult moments of my life.  As was the night after the blast when I overheard a nurse say I would be permanently blind.

There was a moment in Iraq when I got aboard a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq in a brownout sandstorm so bad we could only occasionally see the other Blackhawk we were flying with.  At that moment, I thought about the big turbine engines on the roof of the Blackhawk just above the passenger area and about the big gear box between the engines that drive the big rotor blades.  In the crash I imagined, my guts were squeezed like toothpaste out of my Kevlar vest when all that machinery on top of the helicopter crushed everyone inside.  The flight was fine.  The weather cleared on the way back, and I got the pictures the commander wanted.

I am grateful for the award, but every award reminds of the actual best and worst moments I had in the military, not the ones for which I got the medal.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

15th Anniversary of September 11, 2001

Fifteen years ago, I saw this image on the computers of the dot-com where I was working at the time.  I knew a dozen people who worked within blocks of the World Trade Center.  I called them.  I know that when you are inside a disaster, you can lose the larger perspective. I wanted to be just a bit of  perspective from outside New York City for Joe Chang, Helga Tilton, Esther D'Amico, Rob Westervelt, Rick Mullin and Andrew Wood among many others.  Those I was able to reach reacted like the New York journalists they are, calm and ridiculously confident that all would be well.

In 2009, in Iraq, I spoke about September 11, 2001, and my long road to Iraq from the day Islamic Terrorists attacked America.  In Iraq, I spoke about Helga Tilton.  She walked home from south of Ground Zero to the northern end of Manhattan in heels.  She was born in Germany in 1943 in Frankfurt, one of the most heavily bombed of the Germany cities.  Helga grew up in rubble, and now in 2001, at nearly 60 years old in her adopted country of America, she walked through that rubble to go home.  Helga died in November of 2007, not long after I re-enlisted. I still wonder if the dust of her birthplace and the dust of Ground Zero contributed to her death.

Friday, September 9, 2016

This Weekend: Visiting Travis, Ed, Dennis...No More Rank

In the late 1990s when I was a bearded civilian, I worked for Millennium Inorganic Chemicals, a billion-dollar global maker of white pigment.  I traveled overseas every month for three years to company plants and offices and meeting sites on five continents with thousands of employees in Sao Paulo, Perth, Paris, and a plethora of other places.

Several times I traveled with our CEO, Robert E. Lee.  No kidding, that was his name.  I could have been introducing Robert E. Lee at an event in Stuttgart or Stockholm or Singapore or Shanghai, but he was Bob.  Just Bob.  Not Mr. Lee.  The director I worked for was Jean, just Jean.  Everyone had last names, but no one used them.  I was Neil.  I was only Mr. Gussman when I checked into a hotel.

And so it was with every company I worked for since I left the Army the first time in 1980.  I worked for Dennis, Chuck, Karyn, Bill, Kent, Arnold, Shelley, and Carsten.  Never Mr. ---- or Ms. ------.

Then I re-enlisted.  I was back in a real hierarchy.  I was Gussman or Sgt. Gussman, depending on who I was talking to and their place in the hierarchy.  I addressed senior sergeants as Sergeant ----.  Warrant officers were Mr. ----- or Ms. ------.  Officers were Captain or Major or Colonel or Sir.  Lieutenants could be just LT.

But since May 3, I have made a point of using only the first name of all the soldiers I am in contact with.  I am just a discharged soldier, not retired, so I am as much a civilian as 25-year-old who served his full six years and is completely out of the military.  Tonight when I called 1st Lieutenant Travis Mueller about an article about a medic, I called him Travis.  This weekend I will be picking up a medal that was delayed.  If I see my former commander and sergeant major, they will be Dennis and Dell.  The Colonel in charge of public affairs for the base is Ed.

Of course, the other odd thing about using rank and title was that I was older than everyone I served with.  I am almost 40 years older than Travis and older than the generals I know personally.

From 2007 until May of this year, I switched back and forth from first names at work to rank and last name on duty with the Army. Now there are no more titles in my life.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Combat Medics and MEDEVAC: Soldiers who save other soldier's lives

MEDEVAC Blackhawk helicopter landing at Al Kut, Iraq.

From the time I deployed to Iraq until now, I have written many posts about MEDEVAC and the medics, pilots and doctors who deliver Army medicine in the field.

Here are some of them:

Pamela Leggore, flight medic.

Sara Christensen, pilot.

David Doud, flight surgeon.

Kevin Scott, flight surgeon.

Jeff Kwiecien, flight medic.

All-Female MEDEVAC Crew in Iraq.

Cynthia Dalton, flight medic.

Quincy Northern, flight medic.

Dunker Training for MEDEVAC flight crews.

MEDEVAC Response time almost cut in half, Peter Huggins, pilot.

Anthony Meador, pilot.

Matt Stevenson, pilot.

Suzy Danielson, pilot.

MEDEVAC Chase Bird Crew.

MEDEVAC Pictures from Iraq.

Quincy Northern, flight medic.

All-Female MEDEVAC Crew

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Retirement, or Not, Update

Earlier this week I spoke to two staffers in the offices of Senator Pat Toomey in Allentown and Philadelphia. Both of the men I spoke to were enthusiastic and helpful. They asked questions about my status and said they hoped they could help.  

If enthusiasm can get me back in the Army to serve my last year and retire, the guys I spoke to in Toomey's office will make it happen.

Today I got a letter from a staffer of President Barack Obama.  She said the White House referred my case to National Guard Bureau in Washington, which referred the matter to the Pennsylvania National Guard in Harrisburg.  They already said No, so I am not looking good there.

My first appeal letter was to my Congressman, Joe Pitts.  His staff sent my case to National Guard Bureau in Washington, which referred the matter to the Pennsylvania National Guard in Harrisburg.  They said No. Case closed with the Congressman.

Of the three, I have no hope with Pitts, little hope with Obama and some hope with Toomey.

That's my Labor Day Weekend Update.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

After 1,500 Posts the Top Ten Topics? Not Helicopters!

Command Sergeant Major of the Army National Guard Christopher Kepner

Today marks 1,500 posts on this blog since August of 2007 when I re-enlisted after 23 years as a civilian.  Last night I wrote to the soldiers who are the subjects of the most popular and the 11th most popular posts on my blog: Christopher Kepner and Pamela Leggore.  In between my stories about the current Command Sergeant Major of the Army National Guard and a flight medic who just returned from her second tour in Iraq, are stories Army life, but not about helicopters.

Pamela Leggore, Flight Medic

After Kepner, the most popular story I wrote was about CHUs, our homes on base in Iraq.  These sun-baked metal boxes were Home Sweet Trailer Home for most deployed soldiers and a lot of people wanted to know how we lived. 

                                            A Containerized Housing Unit in Iraq

After the CHU comes a post comparing Soviet and American Armor in the 1973 Arab-Israel War.  The tenth most popular post is also about tanks--a drunk German driver crashing into one of the tanks in my unit near the East-West German border:  Spoiler alert, the tank was undamaged.

Also popular was about about firing machine guns, about barracks liars in the Facebook Army, about "Military Privilege," a Tough Mudder competition, and one about the use of war language outside of war called War Metaphor.  

I posted a lot of helicopter pictures, but those posts were never as popular as the posts about soldiers' life and about soldiers, which makes perfect sense.  

My favorite post to write was "Shit as a Pronoun."  

Thanks for reading.  And thanks for sharing my 1,500th anniversary!!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Tanks of the World Spreadsheet

Here is the link to a Google Doc spreadsheet with my list of all the tanks in service in the world according to Wikipedia.


I just found a source that said France has just 200 LeClerc main battle tanks and 206 in storage as of 2015.

If anyone has sources and is interested in helping to update the spreadsheet, the link should be open to updates.  Once I have the best current info, I will update the Wikipedia page.

Contact me if you have questions:  ngussman@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My Love-Hate Relationship with Russia and Ukraine

A Map of the Former Soviet Union. 
Ukraine is the yellow country on the far west.

The kind of person we are inside shows itself both in what we do and how we react.  I had a soul-revealing moment when I heard the news in 2014 of Russia invading Eastern Ukraine and taking Crimea. The summary of the thought that raced through my mind:  “You Go Vladimir (Putin)!”

Cheering for Russia in a military dispute with Ukraine is like cheering for the New York Yankees against a high school team.  Nevertheless I had a vivid moment, not of loving Russia, but hating Ukraine.

The face that came into my mind was my grandmother.  She and my grandfather escaped Ukraine, then part of Russia, at the turn of the 20th century when more than a million Jews were slaughtered in Ukraine in a series of attacks called pogroms. My grandparents had the double good fortune of making it all the way to America.  Many other Russian Jews fled to Eastern Europe.  Those who fled to Eastern Europe and their children were killed by the Nazis 40 years later.

The Holocaust in Ukraine

My grandparents would have described themselves as Russian Jews, not Ukrainian Jews.  For the last thousand years Ukraine has been Russia a lot more than it has been an independent country.  Mark Schauss covers the sad history of Ukraine and Russia in The Russian Rulers History Podcast, available on iTunes. 

While Russia, Poland and much of Eastern Europe has a long history of hating Jews, Ukraine is the most anti-semitic country in a very nasty region. 

Next August, when I ride across what my grandparents called Russia, my trip will begin in Odessa, Ukraine. I won’t be in Ukraine long, but I expect to have the same experience arriving in Odessa that I had when I first set foot in Germany:  “Can this beautiful place really be home to those who slaughtered so many of my people?”

I am re-reading Vassily Grossman’s “Life and Fate,” a haunting book that is “War and Peace” set in World War II, particularly in Stalingrad.  Currently I am reading the letter a Jewish mother in Ukraine is writing to her son in the Russian Army.  The Germans just took over her town.  The Jews are being rounded up, robbed and will soon be killed.  Most of the neighbors are happy and cheer the Germans on, taking the possessions and houses of the Jews.  The mother writing the letter describes women who were friendly for 50 years suddenly turning on her with venom. The neighbor thinks the Jews are getting what they deserve. 

My love-hate relationship with Ukraine and Russia extends through my whole life.  My first military job was live-fire testing of the US Air Force missile inventory, everything from the Sidewinder wing rocket to the Minuteman multi-stage nuclear missile, the main weapon delivery system in the US Cold War arsenal.  Then I was a tank commander on the East-West German Border waiting for World War III to start. 

When I went to college after the Army, the literature of Russia and the literature of Florence, Italy, became lifelong passions.  Chekov, Dostoevsky, Lermontov, Pushkin, Tolstoy and later Solzhenitsyn wrote the books I loved most, along with C.S. Lewis, Dante and Machiavelli.  Now I am studying the Russian language so I can read the authors I love most in their language.  Russia is currently home to many brilliant authors, but who knows when they will be forced underground. 

From my grandparents persecution, to my Cold War childhood and military life, through finding the beauty of Russian literature in college, to my current plans to travel across Russia and neighboring countries, I continue to intensify my love-hate relationship with Russia and all of its sad and brilliant history.  At this age, my love-hate relationship with Russia and Ukraine is a permanent part of my life.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Who Fights Our Wars? Flight Medic Returns from Another Deployment

Staff Sergeant Pamela Leggore on her second deployment to Iraq

When Task Force Diablo first deployed to Iraq in May of 2009 most of the unit was setting up facilities and operations after a last-minute base change.  We were slated to be at Balad Air Base, we were switched to Camp Adder, also know as Tallil Ali Air Base.

While the transport and maintenance operations moved into new facilities, the MEDEVAC unit was on site and in full operation.  Charlie Company, 1-52 Aviation, an active Army MEDEVAC unit, was already on site and in operation at Tallil.  Pennsylvania pilots and medics joined Charlie Company operations.

Dust storms grounded many flights during the summer at Tallil, making the daytime sky a so thick with dust, it was hard to see the next truck in a ground convoy, let alone fly.

Soon after we arrived, Leggore was on a MEDEVAC mission to rescue soldiers badly injured in an attack on their convoy.  The mission was successful and it was a very fast start to what has become a long career in Army medicine.  In the years since 2010 when she returned from deployment, Leggore has earned a nursing degree and has recently returned from another deployment to Iraq.

Between deployments she trains other medics with the skills she learned in combat and through advanced education in the Army and as a civilian.

Staff Sergeant Pamela Leggore training medics 
under simulated combat conditions at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

George Orwell: Brave Soldier, Great Writer, So Wrong Predicting Post-War Politics

Last week on vacation I read "Why I Write," four essays by George Orwell.  I read the book for the first essay, from which the book gets its title, to remind myself why anyone would want to write a book.  Orwell says the four reasons are Vanity, Love of Language, Historical Impulse and Political Purpose.  I have all four. Orwell says that after fighting in the Spanish Civil War against the Nazi-supported Franco government, he was primarily writing to bring about political change.

As a political writer, Orwell has few equals.  The last essay in this book is his most famous "Politics and the English Language." This lucid essay describes the how bad thinking leads to bad use of language and how bad language leads to bad thinking.

The third essay, "A Hanging" is a devastating comment on "justice" dispensed by Colonial masters.

The second essay, "The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius" is 2/3rds of the book, 84 of its 120 pages. It was written in the middle of World War II.  The essay asserts that by war's end or shortly after England will become a socialist nation. Orwell sees this as inevitable, fully nationalized industries and all.  Orwell is wonderful at describing politics, nowhere better than in his 1945 book "Animal Farm."  But as a predictor of political future, he is no better than Dick Morris predicting a Mitt Romney landslide in 2012.

I read the entire essay to remind myself that an insightful, brilliant person who wants a specific political result can use his considerable writing skills to build a mound of rubbish.

Friday, August 12, 2016

War Books About Before and After Wars: Three Books by Kazuo Ishiguro

This summer I have read three more books by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I have just two books to go to read all of his seven novels and a collection of short stories.

The first novel I read, and still my favorite, is "The Remains of the Day." Like the novels I will talk about below, it is about life in the years before and after World War II.  We see the world change and we see the effects when great men make great mistakes in all of these novels.

In the three novels I read recently, World War II is in the background, but we see very little fighting.  We see lives changed, relationships made and ruined and the horror of war lurking somewhere just beyond the page.

Ishiguro's first novel,"A Pale View of Hills," is set in Nagasaki just after the War.  The narrator is Etsuko, a young woman who has a troubled friend who is a single mother.  The narrator eventually marries, has children, divorces and moves to England.  The single mother, Sachiko, is erratic and Sachiko's daughter, Mariko, is very strange.

Occasionally characters in the story mention that some part of Nagasaki is looking more lovely than ever.  No one says Nuclear Blast Site, but the park or garden they praise not so long before was the site of the single biggest bomb blast in World War II.  The people of Nagasaki are trying to restore their lives under American occupation and with an invisible hazard no one really understands.

Was the troubled child a radiation victim? Did the narrator's daughter eventually commit suicide as an adult because of being born in Nagasaki just after the war?  Losing the War, the Bomb, and American Occupation haunt the narrative and deepen the tragedy of this beautifully told story.

The second novel is "An Artist of the Floating World" The first-person narrator is an aging artist named Masuji Ono. The story is set in post-war Japan in an unnamed city.  We hear the story of Ono's life in his memories and through conversations he has with old colleagues and with his family, especially his daughters.

Ono started as a commercial artist churning out paintings for sale to tourists.  He eventually finds a "master" and spends several years with an artist who paints the pleasure world of Imperial Japan--Geishas and the places they work.  As the war nears, Ono becomes political and is rejected by his master.  Before and during the war, Ono's propaganda paintings have a wide audience, but in the Japan of democracy and US Occupation, Ono hides his paintings and his past.  Again, the war is not at the center but hovers everywhere in the background.  The "Floating World" of the title is the euphemism for the pleasure zones where men gathered for drink and games and women.  

The third book is "When We Were Orphans," is a detective novel set in Shanghai in the years before and after World War II.  We follow the narrator, Christopher Banks, from his childhood in Shanghai in the 1920s through the 1950s and the resolution of the mystery.

Christopher is the child of English expatriates working and living in Shanghai. His best friend is a Japanese boy, Akira, whose family is also in the expatriate community in pre-war Shanghai.  When Christopher is nine, his parents disappear, first his father, then his mother.  Christopher goes to England to live with relatives and grows up to become a great detective.  On the eve of World War II, Christopher returns to Shanghai to solve the mystery of his parents disappearances.

Through Christopher Banks we see China torn by the communists and the nationalists and the horrible atrocities committed by both.  We also see the beginnings of the Japanese invasion. The return of Akira to the story was the most implausible moment of an otherwise brilliant book.

As with "The Remains of the Day" each of these books present the atmosphere of the period before and following World War II from a very different perspective.  For people like me who are interested in war and its effect on history, these books show how profoundly wars change the lives of those who survive the war, especially those on the losing side.  

Monday, August 8, 2016

Video Comparing Russian and US Army Field Rations: Beef Stew from Both Countries

Earlier this year, I ordered Russian Army field rations (Индивидуальный рацион питания/ИРП) from eBay.  This video compares the Russian ration rations with US Army MREs.  I compare the contents and have my kids compare the taste.  

Thanks to Teb Locke of Franklin and Marshall College for filming the taste test in the studios at F&M.