Category Archives: Culture

France: A Place of History and Remembrance of That History

My first and most prominent impression of France after spending 5 weeks in Paris, including two trips to Normandie, was one of history and remembrance of that history.

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And this remembrance goes back many years — to this statue of Julius Caesar.  Caesar invaded and conquered what is now France and added this territory to the Roman Empire.  Rome was a brutal empire, and most likely many of the defeated in this conquest were made slaves. And yet, here is this statue of a Roman general, soon to be Emperor/dictator in a prominent place in a garden just outside the old Royal Palace, now the Louvre, a world famous museum.

Very early in our stay in Paris, I began to see the many monuments and remembrances of the long standing relationship between France and America.

This monument and rue (street) honoring Benjamin Franklin is a short walk from our apartment. Also in this area is a plaque honoring the French soldiers killed while fighting at the battle of Yorktown, the final battle of the American Revolution.

Further on we see this large statue of General George Washington, placed on Avenue President Wilson.

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And along the River Seine, we find Avenue President Kennedy and Avenue New York. We also saw this scene while on the river.

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And at the foot of one of the many bridges we find this statue of Thomas Jefferson.

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And here’s George Washington with Marquis_de_Lafayette Lafayette, , an important French ally —

A place that was bristling with French history is the Pantheon. As you can see from these few pictures below, it is a place that displays history in the form of large paintings and statuary, including the French Revolution which was quite brutal and savage. I wish I could have understood the French language so as to more fully appreciate  what was being said.

Returning to the modern times of World War II, we see many memorials of a different sort — not the elegant buildings, paintings and statuary, but nonetheless, gripping in their impact.

The small village of Sainte-Mère-Église was the first village liberated by the allied invasion of Normandy. It is here you find these memorials —

On the road to this village I looked up at the wall of a very old building and saw three small, old and tattered flags: French British and American —  not in a prominent place, but an important place of remembrance for some French citizens who remember with gratitude.

The welling up of emotion continues here with this small town which was the first liberated following the Normandy landings.  The emotions are those of pride … pride of those that came before me and who sacrificed so much for the cause of liberty, and the rejection of those forces that would snuff it out.
The sculpture below is what we saw as we entered the town square of this small French town so close to the liberating armies landing beaches. Looking closely we can see profound symbolism — the parachute descending from above … two hands reaching up to that parachute … broken chains falling away from the hands … the church … and a defunct and obsolete symbol of war – the machine gun. And at the base we see the cliffs which US Army Rangers scaled in order to silence the German heavy artillery positioned to shell the landing beaches and the ships offshore. Note also the rope ladder those Rangers used to scale the cliffs.

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Then there is the small ‘ghost’ town of Oradour-sur-Glane where Nazi soldiers murdered 642 civilians including 205 children. The men were separated out and sent to barns where they were executed. The women and children were locked in a church which was then burned down. This ‘ghost’ town has been left as it was after the atrocities committed there in 1944 — a remembrance of a great evil.

 

In conclusion, I would advise America to be wise  and careful in this season of unrest and the many attempts to cleanse American history from anything and anyone that might offend.  Can we learn from the French?

See more  of my remembrances of Normandie at: https://travelswithdonanddianaparis2017.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/normandie/ as well as other places we visited in Paris.

 

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TEAR DOWN THE OFFENDING REMINDERS

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When I first visited Rome on business in the late 1980s, I visited the old historical sites such as the Roman Forum pictured above.

One of the odd things I noticed along a long park like area was the rows of statues on both sides of the park. The odd thing to me at the time was the missing heads, arms, noses, ears on most of the statues.

It was later I discovered this was vandalism at the hands of the invaders that eventually sacked and conquered Rome.

The German Nazi regime of the 1930-40s also sought to vandalize the antiquities of France among other places. They attempted this by stealing much art work from the many museums of Paris.

For centuries and continuing to the present, we see Muslim leaders and governments actively destroying, hiding or placing off-limits to ‘infidels’ places and artifacts that tie Jewish history and culture to Jerusalem and other areas of the middle east under Muslim control.      

Moving forward to Afghanistan in the late 1990s we see the Taliban destroying centuries old Buddhist statues from the mountain sides.

And now to today, 2017. We see ill-liberal leftists doing the same thing. They are wanting to, and are actually tearing down those monuments they find offensive, in particular, and at least for now, those statues commemorating Confederate  heroes such as Robert E. Lee.  The picture just below shows one such destruction in North Carolina just this past week, with promises of more, both government sanctioned as well as rouge actions.

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Why has this happened? Why is it happening today in the United States of America?

The answer, I believe, is not complicated. The perpetrators of such deeds are attempting to destroy the cultures and history of those areas under siege. In the case of the Nazis and France for example, Hitler and the Nazi leadership had set out to destroy Judaea/Christian Western civilization and replace it with the Nazi doctrine of Aryan White supremacy – the Master Race.

And it’s happening here in the USA.  

With the ascendancy of an ill-liberal monster in it’s many headed manifestations, we see little by little, a destruction of the American version of Judaea/Christian Western Civilization.

This political correctness monster has been fed by many decades of the dumbing down of education, in particular that of history education. 

Serious times indeed.

Don Johnson August 2017

“I First Visited Hungary”

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The following is an excerpt from a book – Postcards from Pannonia – co-authored by our Hungarian-American friend Aliz von Dioszeghy.

“When I first visited Hungary in 1989, right before the change in political systems, the people I saw on the street looked down-trodden. Clerks in shops were surly and unhelpful, service in restaurants was non-existent, and there were no flowers in window boxes, such as I saw in Austria and Germany, I really didn’t like it very much.  By 2000, however, things were hopping. People were smiling and hopeful, buildings were being cleaned and repaired, clerks were nicer, and waiters were a little more willing to work for their tip. There were even window boxes! Once the promise of spring arrived, the windows started to be filled with red geraniums. Back then, only red geraniums were available. Happily, now you can get every type and color of geranium, but in 2000 red was still the only color. I don’t know why, although I suspect that people simply didn’t think about other possibilities. After years of shortages under the communist regime, they were accustomed to making do with what was available, and the shops didn’t offer a choice. Now that there is a little more money around, the shops have started to display not only different colors, but many different varietals of the common germanium. I would even say that here in Hungary there seems to be more of a choice in flowers than I would find in California! Hungarians have traditionally loved flowers and plants, and now that the possibilities seem to be endless, they are filling window boxes with colorful blooms.”

This short synopsis captures very vividly the destructive effects of “statism” on the average person living under the thumb of totalitarian rule.  We have seen such contrasts ourselves as Diana and I have traveled through Europe and into the former captive states of the Soviet Union just a few years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In a single day of driving on the autobahn from Berlin in the old East Germany, through the countryside of old East Germany and through West Germany to Hamburg, we saw what Aliz describes about Hungary. We saw countless examples, in the city and the country-side, of the grey colorless landscape of communism.  We also saw, in that same day of driving, the beautiful homes, gardens, farms and flowers of the free West Germany.

The message? “It’s not mine – I don’t care!”

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“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free“
                                                    Ronald Reagan

 

Note: Aliz von Dioszeghy was born and raised in Californian and lived much of her adult life in the San Francisco Bay area until she and her husband Adam retired and moved to Adam’s native land of Hungary. Adam fled Hungary in 1956 as a result of the revolution against communist rule.

Don Johnson – July 2017

The Blessings Of Hearing

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I have been generally blessed over the years (73) with good health. But like all of us, on occasion parts of my body complain and spread frustration or worse in areas where such complaints have no business being. These complaints  often spread outwards and seek to spoil relationships with those around us … family, friends and others.

Hearing loss is one such complaint, and mine has been in a state of decay for quite some time now, and plays a part in the deterioration of my ability to participate in conversation.

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Further to these thoughts, let me now shift to a more academic/scientific vein and share my joy and the marvel of the hearing experience.  

A year or so back I wrote an article I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face at https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/ive-grown-accustomed-to-your-face/ Here is an excerpt from that article:

“ … We walk into a crowded and noisy room full of mostly strangers and unfamiliar heads bobbing up and down. Then off to the side and slightly behind we hear and recognize a familiar voice … we turn our head searching for that old friend we know is there, and after a short search … there she is, head slightly turned away from our view, but recognizable none-the-less. We are surprised and pleased to meet our old friend once more after some number of years and begin renewing the friendship.

The recognition of the voce and face is instinctive and very quick; and we take it for granted with no thoughts of anything unusual other than the mere co-incidence of the meeting. … “

The article deals with the pattern recognition capability designed and  embedded in each of us by our Creator (yes, there is one.)

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Then just the other day I ran across another interesting article, again from the Discovery Institute, titled Mammals Compute Sound Timing in the Microsecond Range at https://evolutionnews.org/2017/06/mammals-compute-sound-timing-in-the-microsecond-range/.

This article deals with the incredible sophistication and design associated with animals being able to determine, with great precision, the direction of incoming sounds.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

“ … Our brief look into the complexity of auditory localization in mammals provides a good example of not only Behe’s irreducible complexity, but also what Douglas Axe calls functional coherence, “the hierarchical arrangement of parts needed for anything to produce high-level function — each part contributing in a coordinated way to the whole” (Undeniable, p. 144). None of these parts (MSO, myelin, synapses) perform sound localization individually, but collectively, they do.

We could explore the hierarchy further by looking more closely at how molecular machines within the neuron cells participate in the “functional whole” of sound localization. Taking the wide-angle view, we see how all the lower levels in the hierarchy contribute to the bat’s amazing ability to catch food on the wing. Functional coherence is not just beyond the reach of chance (Axe, p. 160), it provides positive evidence for intelligent design. In all our uniform human experience, only minds are capable of engineering complex, hierarchical systems exhibiting functional coherence. The complexity of this one circuit — sound localization — makes that loud and clear. … “

So here we have it, in two scientific articles, studies and descriptions of how we can accurately determine the location of that familiar voice in a crowded room,  and associate that sound with a memory from the past.

But better yet, hear it sung by the great Dean Martin at https://youtu.be/yhaho1aAraM 

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Design in life and nature is a wonderful thing.  My hope is that you will seek this designer, this Creator.

 

Don Johnson – June 2017   

 

Presumption of Innocence vs. Assertion of Ownership

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I find a strong parallel between the issues of past US slavery advocacy and modern day abortion advocacy.

The parallel I see is that slaves were considered to be legal property of the slave owner rather than unique human individuals – the assertion of ownership. The property  –the slave — was treated kindly or viciously at the whim of the owner of that piece of property. 

Likewise, in todays world, we see this assertion of ownership invoked by proponents of abortion, particularly the mothers of those unborn humans. The language is along the lines of “keep your religion off my body” as if the unborn were the mother’s property rather than a developing and unique human child. 

At the same time, the American legal system provides protection of  an accused criminal by the legal principle of “presumption of innocence” whereby the accused must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of peers. 

The accused is treated not as property, but rather as a unique human being with protected Constitutional rights.

Not so the unborn child. The unborn are asserted by law – by a perversion of the Constitution in Row vs. Wade – to be the property of the mother and can be either kept or disposed of solely at the discretion of the owner of the property.

Further, in criminal cases there is a prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment – the Eighth Amendment. The unborn, being property, is denied this protection and we are now in a world where modern science and medicine shows a well developed nervous system in the unborn that can feel pain and suffering in the first three months of development. 

My plea to expectant mothers tempted to avail themselves  of their “Constitutionally protected right of abortion” is to carefully weigh their choice between presumption of innocence vs. the assertion of ownership – only the mother can make such a choice.

My plea here is not to impose my morals or religion onto the woman’s body, but rather to advocate for basic Constitutional rights  for those unique unborn human beings who are considered property and have no voice nor rights.

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The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads (emphasis mine):

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution (in part) reads (emphasis mine)::

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

 

Don Johnson – April 2017

What’s Become of the American Dream?

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Peggy Noonan writes a wonderful piece in the Wall Street Journal. Click  “What’s Become of the American Dream?” to read the article.

Much in Noonan’s piece brought me back to the memoirs of Sam Jankovich which I have just finished editing and publishing.

A couple of excerpts from Noonan …

“ … The American dream is the belief, held by generation after generation since our beginning and reanimated over the decades by waves of immigrants, that here you can start from anywhere and become anything. In America you can rise to the heights no matter where and in what circumstances you began. You can go from the bottom to the top.  … “

The picture at the top is the last page of the memoir, and shows one such person who has gone “from the bottom to the top” in the literal sense of from a mile deep mine shaft to presenting a national championship game ball to the President of the United States.

Noonan further writes:

“ … The American dream was about aspiration and the possibility that, with dedication and focus, it could be fulfilled. But the American dream was not about material things—houses, cars, a guarantee of future increase. That’s the construction we put on it now. It’s wrong. A big house could be the product of the dream, if that’s what you wanted, but the house itself was not the dream. You could, acting on your vision of the dream, read, learn, hold a modest job and rent a home, but at town council meetings you could stand, lead with wisdom and knowledge, and become a figure of local respect. Maybe the respect was your dream.  … “

Click on the book cover below and take a look at Sam’s story.

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          (Click on the cover above)

As Noonan further writes:

“ … You can give a dozen examples, and perhaps you are one, of Americans who turned a brilliant system into a lived-out triumph. … “

And I do know of a number other examples.

 

Don Johnson – April 2017

Make Your Bed!

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(Click above to read the review)

I’ve been making our bed almost daily since somewhere near when Adm. McRaven first gave his speech back in 2014. I like to remember that I started this habit shortly before that now famous speech, but am willing to admit that the Admiral was most likely my motivator. After all, he is the admiral and me a lowly enlisted guy.

In any case, read this review, and better yet read the book. Who knows, perhaps you will start making your bed as well.

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From the Wall Street Journal review of the book … 

Reset Your Life in an Hour

www.wsj.com |

Never give up. Always maintain optimism. We’ve all heard these lessons before—but not from the man who led the bin Laden mission. John Nagl reviews “Make Your Bed” by William H. McRaven.

Navy Seal trainees lock arms in the Pacific during Hell Week. Photo: Getty Images

By

John Nagl

April 3, 2017

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald was completely wrong when he suggested “there are no second acts in American lives.” If America stands for anything, it is reinvention, renewal and second chances. Take the Navy SEAL who oversaw the most important manhunt in history and rose to command all of U.S. Special Operations Forces. What did he do for an encore? Only give the most successful college graduation speech in history—at his alma mater, the University of Texas, wearing Navy dress whites.

In “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . and Maybe the World,” retired Adm. William H. McRaven admits that he was nervous before the address in May 2014. He was afraid that contemporary college students wouldn’t welcome a military man, even one who had once been, just like them, a slightly hung-over Austin senior eager to graduate and get on with life. They loved his speech, and word spread. It has been viewed more than 10 million times online, and Mr. McRaven has expanded the talk into a little book that should be read by every leader in America.

The motto of the University of Texas is “What starts here changes the world.” Mr. McRaven’s book provides instruction on doing 10 little things that aren’t little at all. His first suggestion is to make your bed every morning, because when you accomplish one thing early in the day, you’ll be motivated to achieve more—even if you aren’t having the quality of your work tested by a Navy chief petty officer with a quarter.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle, he goes on, because you can’t accomplish much on your own. And always measure a person by the size of his heart, not by his physical size, skin color, creed or anything else. Tommy Norris, the last SEAL to earn the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, was nearly booted out of SEAL training for being “too small, too thin, and not strong enough.” He proved a giant among men when he infiltrated deep behind enemy lines on successive nights to rescue downed airmen.

Some of the lessons won’t make perfect sense at first. “If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.” A sugar cookie is a wet SEAL trainee who has rolled himself in sand as punishment for some infraction of the rules—or for no reason at all, purely at the whim of the instructor. Life isn’t fair is Mr. McRaven’s point, and that’s no reason to cry. Keep going, even if there’s sand in every crevice of your body.

Embrace your failures, because every life has them, and what you learn will make you stronger. Dare greatly, because life is a struggle, and without challenges you’ll never know the limits of the possible. Stand up to the bullies, whether they are sharks circling you as you swim (sharks literally circle you in SEAL training during the deep-water swims) or Saddam Hussein. The latter was detained under Mr. McRaven’s watch for 30 days after his capture, and the SEAL firmly broke the deposed dictator’s self-confidence. Dig deep and rise to the occasion when all seems lost, whether working underwater in absolute darkness or responding to the deaths of those you lead in combat.

Mr. McRaven believes that good leaders are optimists even in the darkest times and make their teams believe in a brighter day. This is one of the best lessons of the book, illustrated by a story about Marine Gen. John Kelly, the current secretary of Homeland Security. Mr. Kelly’s son Robert was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010, and when a Special Forces helicopter was shot down killing 38 in Afghanistan in 2011, he was the right man to comfort the families. “More than any other visitor that day,” writes Mr. McRaven, “Kelly’s words resonated with every parent, every wife, every brother and sister, and every friend.” He had lived their pain and could give them hope.

Make Your Bed

By William H. McRaven
Grand Central, 130 pages, $18

Finally, never, ever quit. One hundred and fifty SEAL candidates began Basic Underwater Demolition School with Mr. McRaven in 1978; 33 graduated. As tough as these survivors were, even stronger was an Army Ranger named Adam Bates, who lost both of his legs to a land mine in Afghanistan but a year later was standing tall in his dress uniform on prosthetic legs and challenging his Ranger buddies to a pull-up contest. If Ranger Bates wouldn’t quit, which of us has an excuse?

These are not complicated lessons; we’ve all heard them before. But we haven’t heard them from the man who led the bin Laden mission. And we haven’t had them illustrated so memorably with stories from SEAL training, universally regarded as the most difficult course in the U.S. armed forces, or from a 35-year career leading men in combat.

Eight months after giving the talk that spurred this book, Mr. McRaven became the chancellor of the University of Texas System, overseeing 14 institutions with more than 200,000 students. There he has continued to demonstrate the courage, wisdom and spirit of service that he extols in “Make Your Bed.” In January, he released a statement decrying President Trump’s executive order on immigration, stating “that the talent, energy, and ideas flowing into the United States of America . . . from countries around the world are among our greatest strengths. The men and women who show up at our shores and our doors—ready to study, work, and participate—make us stronger, smarter, more competitive.” Reading that statement makes one hope for a third act in Mr. McRaven’s life, one that would affect the largest number of Americans.

“Make Your Bed” is a book you can read in an hour. It is a book to inspire your children and grandchildren to become everything that they can. It is a book to discuss with your executive leadership team as a spur to meeting shared goals. Most of all, it is a book that will leave you with tears in your eyes as you ask yourself: How does this nation find men and women like Tommy Norris and Adam Bates and William McRaven, who willingly risk their lives and their limbs to keep us safe and to protect our way of life?

Follow their example. Dare greatly. Don’t ever give up. And make your bed!

Mr. Nagl is the headmaster of the Haverford School. A retired Army officer, he is the author of “Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War.”

Appeared in the Apr. 04, 2017, print edition as ‘Reset Your Life In an Hour.’