Monday 31 October 2016

Reuben James

Get ready, get the back-ground music playing, it will take as long as you do to read this blob.
Hmmm, it's a Bank Holiday here in Ireland. We set aside the last Monday in October, by having a day off work, to honour All Hallow's Eve, the day before All Saints Day.  As in America it is known here as Hallowe'en and it has become one of the great celebrations to recognise St Economia of Bankruptcy. The retail sector treats it as sort of prelude to the Feast of St Mammon at the end of December. Children are induced to buy tat [plastic scythes, pointy-horns masks, red capes, white sheets and pitch-forks] from the supermarkets and learn how to shake down their friends and neighbours for cash or candy.  It is tawdry, it promotes obesity and is super good fun for the kidders.

31st October is also the 75th anniversary of the sinking of DD-245 USS Reuben James which was torpedoed at dawn on this day in 1941; becoming the first US Navy sinking of WWII. See R for a post-hoc 1991 propaganda stamp. The perp was U-552 commanded by Erich Topp, who also sank the Lochkatrine containing my father-in-law Pat the Salt the following August.  Those of you with a sense of time-line will recognise that 31st October is a good bit before the date that will live in infamy 7th December 1941. Because the US was not at war with Germany at the time, the sinking generated a furious response from the US press and government. Which outrage was just the teensiest bit suspect because DD-245 was escorting a convoy loaded with munitions from the "Arsenal of Democracy" bound for Britain which was, for sure, at war with Germany.  On the small world front, you should note that U-552 was built in Blohm + Voss ship-yard where August Landmesser worked and famously refused to salute at a Nazi photo-shoot.  The U-552 was involved in a second, yet more controversial, incident in April 1942 (after war officially broke out) in which life-boats were strafed after the SS David H Atwater was sunk by gunfire. My own father was, at the same time, doing on the surface more or less what Topp was doing underwater.

I don't think there is much currency in demonising [appropriate metaphor for Hallowe'en?] The Other and by implication suggesting that Our Boys were or are squeaky clean. We might just, in a moment of silence [wait for Woodie Guthrie to finish?], remember the compassion in brutality of, say Wilfred Owen:
"None," said the other, "save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; . . .
For by my glee might many men have laughed, 
And of my weeping something had been left, 
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold, 
The pity of war, the pity war distilled. 
from Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen 

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