What Hawaii Looked Like A Century Ago

The following video from the National Archives shows what Hawaii looked like in 1924, which was 100 years ago this year, and by way of coincidence was the same year that my grandfather arrived in Hawaii to begin his four-year tour of duty in Oahu with the U.S. Army. Hawaii was a radically different world back then; Queen Lili'uokalani and the Hawaiian monarchy had been overthrown within a single generation prior to this film's creation, and much of the hills and valleys were still overgrown with acres of vegetation that are sadly missing now.

PS - the following photo is of my grandfather, Abner Dechant, as a young, Army Private standing on the beach in Hawaii back in the late 1920s.

Abner Dechant - Hawaii 1929

Egypt Discarded the Rosetta Stone, Now Egypt Wants It Back

A pair of articles recently caught my eye: Egyptians call on British Museum to return the Rosetta stone (from PBS) and Act of plunder: Egyptians want the Rosetta Stone back (from Al Jazeera).

As a student of history, I have a difficult time accepting the demands of countries to have treasures like Rosetta Stone "returned" to their country of origin when that country never bothered to take care of these treasures in the past. While the Rosetta Stone was created in Egypt, it was also discarded by Egypt and lost to the world for literally 2,000 years. What's more, the Rosetta Stone's discovery was over two centuries ago, it's purpose was deciphered by archeologists and scholars from central Europe - not Egypt - and it has been on public display for the rest of the world to admire for two centuries.

Rosetta-Stone

The Rosetta Stone's fate thus far - e.g. safely kept in a museum - has been far better than if it had been taken as spoils of war by a military commander, and spent the past two centuries languishing in someone's private collection, which might easily have happened if others had discovered the Rosetta Stone. Or as we have seen with ISIS running rampant throughout the Middle East, the Rosetta Stone might just as easily have been destroyed due to the ignorance of its discoverers.

At what point is an item of antiquity no longer within the realm of "possession" by a country that cared so little for its significance that it was used as building material? Now that 200 years have passed and Egypt has finally realized the Rosetta Stone's worth - if nothing more than museum fodder for tourist money - why should the rest of the world heed the requests of a country that didn't care enough to preserve it in the first place?

Europeans didn't raid an Egyptian museum to steal the Rosetta Stone from it's "rightful owners." On the contrary, French soldiers found the Rosetta Stone discarded in the desert, and realizing its potential significance, the French treated the Rosetta Stone with far greater care than Egypt had demonstrated. Eventually France lost its battles with England, and the British took possession of the Rosetta Stone and placed it in a position of prestige at the British Museum. As I said earlier, the Rosetta Stone has fared far better in the hands of foreigners than it had had in its country of origin.

Enough said. Rant over. Please resume your regularly-scheduled Internet browsing.

Auschwitz and Contemporary Politics

A blogger who publishes his content using the moniker of The Catholic Traveler recently shared his observations on social media about his recent trip to the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. I visited the former concentration camp of Dachau when I was stationed in Germany back in the late 1980s, so I read his post with interest. After reading his post, I made an observation that I thought was worth sharing, but first - I have to put things in perspective. To do so, I will repost the full contents of his original blog, with full credit given to Mountain Butorac (aka "The Catholic Traveler") as its author.

I visited Auschwitz for the first time the other day. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's one of the most awful places in the world, yet they sell donuts at the snack bar.

Many people traveling with me posted things like "no words." That's how I felt at first too. It's why I often wait a while before commenting on things - to be sure I have the right words, rather than just emotions.

During our visit the sky was grey and there was a steady cold rain. We trudged through thick mud to get from barracks to gas chambers to crematoriums. Everything about the visit was uncomfortable, even the guide.

She spoke English with a heavy German accent and an even heavier lisp. She showed no emotion at all, even when saying...

"These people are being separated from their families. They are told they are going to shower after the long journey, but they are being sent to die. Their family will never see them again."

"Kids and the elderly couldn't work. They were stripped naked and sent to the gas chambers to die. Here's their hair."

"Pregnant women and twins were used in medical experiments. Their screams could be heard across this courtyard."

She was great, I would use her again, but it was all very creepy. As it should be, I suppose.

Two things that struck me...

How often the guide stressed the proof of what happened there. I've heard of Holocaust deniers, but assumed it was a small group of people like those who think Elvis is alive.

I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden.

In interviews with SS guards after the war, they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat.

When asked how they could do such horrid experiments on people, they responded that it was essential for improving their medical system. Doctors and nurses felt it was completely ethical to drown newborn babies and inject all sorts of things into people to further their science.

Just incredible. I'm still processing it.

I think it's a place you must visit. But don't get the donuts.

 

-- Copyright 2022 by The Catholic Traveler.

My personal experiences at Dachau evoked the same emotions that Butorac tried his best to explain, but words failed me as they did for him. When you are standing in a place where unspeakable evil was committed on a daily basis, it is hard to fathom how someone / anyone could allow themselves to torture and kill their fellow human beings without so much as a second thought.

And yet, as I considered recent political events in the United States and re-examined some of Butorac's statements after I removed his references to World War II, I was left with the following excerpt:

"I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden. In interviews ... they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat [to their way of life]."

The remaining verbiage that we are left with is just as incredible - and just as creepy - when compared to the arguments that I hear in sound bites on the daily news. The devaluation of innocent lives whom people regard as an inconvenience, or a burden, or a threat to the way of life to which they have grown accustomed has apparently not been limited to history or geography.

I Wonder If History Was Like This

I love studying history, and I must admit that the majority of books I typically read are on that subject. That said, I recently stumbled across the following video from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, which an amusing look at the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia. Even though I know this video is meant humorously, there are times when I wonder how historically accurate events like this might have been.

Winking smile

The Inevitable Demise of Dictators

Today is the 69th anniversary of Josef Stalin's long overdue demise, which means it's time to re-watch one of my favorite dark comedies: The Death Of Stalin. However, given recent events in Ukraine, it's nice to have a reminder that Russian dictators - like all dictators - will eventually wither and die and become nothing more than worm food.

The Death of Stalin Movie Poster

Facing the Horrors of War

Like many of my colleagues from the 511th MI Company, I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp during my tenure in Fulda, and it was a sobering experience. It is difficult for any rational individual to come to terms with the sheer magnitude of horrors that took place in that single camp. On that note, I just read the following article from HistoryNet, which describes the retributory actions of US soldiers during the liberation of Dachau:

I have to admit, I find it difficult to find fault with soldiers who retaliated against the guards that were still defending the camp when the US Army arrived. It is easy during a time of relative peace to passively judge the actions of soldiers who exacted vengeance upon unarmed guards several decades ago, and it is likewise easy during peacetime to believe that any of us might have behaved differently in a similar circumstance. Nevertheless, none of us trod the path those soldiers walked, and I am willing to bet that coming face to face with Dachau's camp guards - whom we now perceive as inhuman monsters - could alter anyone's sense of morality.

 


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES:

More information about the Dachau Concentration Camp and the reprisals that were taken by US soldiers is available in the following WikiPedia articles:

Reckless Behavior in Enemy Territory

Okay, It's Time to Come Clean. One evening, after the Fall of the Wall but long before German Reunification, I hopped in the car and drove into East Germany to spend some face-to-face time with some real, honest-to-goodness "Bad Guys."

I studied several of our official military maps beforehand, and I had planned out my route in detail. It was only a half-hour drive from Fulda to the border, then another half-hour to my destination. I pulled into town and parked my car somewhere inconspicuous, then I made my way through several neighborhoods on foot. I cut through people's backyards, and I hopped over fences... making sure that I was using a random pattern so I couldn't be followed.

I was dressed in civilian clothes that would pass for a native German, and as I approached my destination, I blended into a crowd of East German college students who were milling about. I was 25 years old at the time, so my youthful appearance and choice of attire matched the rest of the group.

A short time later, two Bad Guys in officer uniforms happened by. I left the group of students, and I approached the two Bad Guys. I greeted them with a thoroughly awful Bad Guy accent - which was by intention. I explained in a mixture of German and Bad Guy dialect that I had studied their language in school (which was true), and that I hoped to study more (which was also true). As I continued to speak their language badly, I was gambling on the notion that all I had to do to sell the illusion that I was an East German college student was to make sure that my grasp of the German language exceeded theirs.

My ruse paid off - the two Bad Guys dropped their guard, and they were more than willing to help out a poor college student who was butchering their language. Shortly after that, I was asking them questions about their uniforms, what they thought of Germany, where they were stationed, and... some other things. It's been years, so I don't really remember everything that I asked them. (Although, even if I did remember what I asked them, I'd still say that I didn't remember, so I'll leave it to you to decide whether I'm telling the truth.)

After several minutes, I decided that I needed to make my exit. I thanked the pair of Bad Guys for their time, then I joined another group of college students that were walking in the opposite direction of my car. After I had walked a sufficient distance, I broke from the group of students and headed down a narrow street, and then I began a long process of cutting through yards and hopping fences as I made my way back to where I had stashed my car. When I arrived, I made a quick inspection and decided that it hadn't been touched, then I climbed behind the wheel and headed out of town. I didn't head west, though - I headed north for a half-hour or so, then I headed west.

I had lots of details bouncing around in my head, but I was careful not to write anything down until after I had crossed the border back into West Germany.

I will admit, this short jaunt into enemy territory was... fun. And it produced a modicum of interesting information, but nothing that was earth-shattering. However, years later, I can put this entire experience in perspective: no one knew where I was. This wasn't anything that I was tasked to do. I wasn't working for anyone else. I was a member of the US Army, in civilian clothes, in a civilian vehicle, on foreign soil. If I'd been caught - or killed - there's a very good chance that no one in the West ever would have known what happened to me.

In other words, I was an idiot.


POSTSCRIPT:

My spouse would like me to remind everyone that even though 30 years have passed, she’s still angry about this.

Winking smile

Those Who Do Not Study History

In the 1980s, the Mujahedeen forces in Afghanistan beat the USSR by simply outlasting them. The USSR withdrew its forces in embarrassment after failing to achieve its military objectives despite a decade of fighting, and the USSR imploded a few years later.

32 years after the USSR's humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, the Taliban forces have beaten the USA by simply outlasting them. The USA is withdrawing its forces in embarrassment after failing to achieve its military objectives despite two decades of fighting, while the USA is slowly imploding for its own reasons...

Coloring Historical Photographs - February 13th, 2021, Edition

A year ago I made one of my first attempts a colorizing a photo, and the results were not very good. The photo in question was a boyhood photo of my father-in-law, Terry Wetmore, and the final outcome of my colorization efforts was so bad that I'd rather not share it publicly.

However, I've colorized a few dozen photos since then, and I've picked up a few skills along the way. With that in mind, I thought that I would take another pass at his photo to see if I could do a better job the second time around, and here are the results.

Terry-Wetmore-Boyhood-Photo-before-and-after

This image is certainly better than last year's attempt, but I still have lots of room for improvement. I think I'll try again after another year or so to see what the results are like.

Coloring Historical Photographs - January 16th Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, in this case it was the crew of the "Blue Dreams" B-17, which looks like they're celebrating after a successful mission.

B17-Blue-Dreams-Before-and-After

As I have done in the past, I tried to discover any information that I could about this photo or the aircraft. The best that I could do was to find a page that mentioned the ball turret gunner having completed 25 missions in this aircraft. In World War II, that usually meant the crew would rotate stateside, and for his sake I hope that happened.

That being said, I found another web page that mentioned the aircraft as having completed 29 missions before it crashed. The pilot noticed that the aircraft was leaking fuel after takeoff, and he set the aircraft down without lowering the landing gear. The aircraft was a total loss, but the crew was able to escape without harm. Still - that was a sad fate for a beautiful aircraft.