Category Archives: Liberty

The von Dioszeghy Trilogy + 1

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I’ve just finished reading the von Dioszeghy trilogy; The first being “Bridging Two Worlds”.
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The second is “Postcards from Pannonia”.

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And I’ve just finished reading book three of the von Dioszeghy trilogy; “The Bridge Re-Crossed

Click on any of the book covers and it will take you to my reviews of these works. Click on any of the web links above,and you will be taken to where you can purchase them. Adam and Aliz would greatly appreciate that.

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Actually it’s a Quadrilogy, with the fourth being the visit Diana and I made to visit the von Dioszeghys last year in Hungary. You can read more of this visit by clicking on “von Dioszeghy” under CATEGORIES just to the right in this blog.

I’ve shared a great deal here about this man and his wife Aliz, and their remarkable story. Let me do a brief recap:

  • Adam’s story in his first book “Bridging …” tells his story beginning at age 7 in Budapest, as he and his mother hunker down during the Red Army siege of Budapest. Adam’s memories bring to life an epic episode that can only be told by veterans of such a time. He then tells of the communist years, and the tyranny that communism brought to his nation.
  • As a first year university student, Adam becomes involved in the nationwide revolution of 1956 against the tyrannical Soviet sponsored governing  regime of Hungary. He is twice wounded, forcing him and his mother to flee to Austria and then to the US as refugees.
  • The story continues as Adam attains a degree from Stanford University and then joins the US Navy as an officer on a destroyer. That’s where I first met him 50+ years ago. Adam deployed to the Vietnam war zone three times, and served his new nation with gratitude.
  • Following a post Navy Stanford law degree and a long career practicing law in Northern California,  Adam and his wife Aliz retire in 2000 and resettle to Hungary. The book concludes with stories of that resettlement.
  • The second book, “Postcards …” tells the compelling story of two immigrants to a new nation – Hungary. He born and raised there, but absent for many years, and her, a California born and raised woman never having lived anywhere else.  This is a very entertaining and dramatic story, with much humor interspersed.
  • And the third book “The Bridge Re-crossed.” This book takes us back to the place where so many Hungarians fled from communist tyranny to freedom in the West – Adam and his mother among them.  Adam recounts that visit in 2017, so many years later. But that’s not all: many vignettes, stories from his past that Adam brings to life in print. A humorous one is his account of him, as a young man in St. Louis, meeting and having pizza with Bill Haley and the Comets. Remember them?
  • A real highlight of this latest book is a section called Christmas Letters. Here is where Adam and Aliz write of their life in Hungary – year by year, both the Cosmopolitan Budapest, and in the country home several hours away from the city. Beginning in 2000 through 2017, Adam and Aliz let their hair down and speak from the heart. Many of these letters touch my heart, and I share just one with you below:

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CHRISTMAS 2015

FROM ALIZ:

A year that is best forgotten, perhaps. Or not. I’ve been mulling this over and I’ve decided that my initial (usual) feeling that I wouldn’t write a Christmas letter was maybe a little precipitous. My thought was that I would have nothing good to say and it was best to leave Adam to write a nice wrap-up of a dubious year. But…my muse kicked in and-once again–wouldn’t let me sleep. I tried to ignore it, but it simply would not have it… So here goes:

This year has been AWFUL. Sorry, but there is no other word to describe it Awful. Horrible. Not fun. Apart from the weather (dreadful), we have been having an upheaval here in Europe that is tearing things apart. People (and countries) are at each other’s throats and it’s caused a continual level of stress that is horrendous. My reaction was to just run from the whole thing and not write. You know, do yoga and read cozy mysteries. Not a bad idea, but there my Little Voice (a persistent little devil) said, “Yes, but what have you learned?” My answer was, “Yikes! Learned!? Nothing.” And on and on…but finally I just got up out of bed, turned on the light … and here I sit in front of the blasted keyboard…once again. Can I never just write a simple Christmas letter anymore??? How about a nice letter about crickets? Or storks? Storks would be good; why can’t I do that????

I’ve been turned inside-out over this crisis in Europe. I’ve been struggling with the whole situation, but this letter isn’t about that, actually-although it came out of my anguish over it. It’s about how I’ve realized that I’ve been defining myself by labels…by names that describe things that no person could be all the time. Liberal. Conservative. Scared. Compassionate. Practical…. Who are we and what makes us that way? I’ve struggled with this and I’ve come to realize that most of the labels we use to define ourselves are decided by other people: the media, the clergy, the government, our friends…and — God help us- Facebook.

After a while all this input kind of blends together in a sort of frenzy of what we’re supposed to believe and feel. While all of that is sometimes necessary and unavoidable (it makes us human and-to a degree-accountable), ultimately we must decide how we feel and what we believe. This is hard for me, and I’ve realized that I’ve defaulted much of what I think I believe, to simply be whatever I read on the internet and what I see on TV. Unfortunately, this is way too simple. Now I’ve got to sort things out on my own and it’s kind of like uncharted territory. Frankly, it’s somewhat daunting to be thinking for myself (to whatever degree we actually can, as we’re influenced constantly) and I often feel pretty shaky about it. Am I right? Am I deluded? Who knows … and in the end does it really matter? I can’t figure out if it does or not, actually. So here I sit in front of the keyboard, as befuddled as before. You can obviously see why 1 wasn’t sure if I should even write this letter…right?

Anyway, last year I wrote about packing up my problems and fears and putting them on the doorstep. Well, they pretty much stayed outside until about mid-August, when they not only insinuated themselves back inside, they started dancing the cha-cha-cha in the living room. The cheek of it! So I’ve once more roped them up and hustled them out. And now. I’ve not only put them on the doorstep. I’ve actually taken them to the dump; I’m just hoping they don’t know the way back. The bottom line is we all have garbage trying to get back in and we all are struggling with how we view ourselves. Life is awfully complicated. BUT, it occurred to me (and this is why I hauled my sorry ass out of bed to write this) I’ve actually learned a lot this year. I’ve learned I simply have to define myself by my feelings and beliefs and not allow myself to fall into the habit of labeling who I am based on what other people think or expect. And it’s up to me to decide what I believe to be true and how I view myself. I can’t default my self-image to other people I sometimes don’t even know.

So, even though this isn’t what I would call and uplifting Christmas letter, only in a fantasy world is everything always nice and neat Let’s face it: Life is damn messy. And-truth be told-I’m not always good about sorting through messy things as I tend to run and hide. This year has been truly hard for me-and I’ve had to face some unhappy truths about myself” but also I’ve found some really nice things, too, such as a feeling of loyalty and deep love for my new home (well, it’s now been over 15 years, so it’s not so new anymore), and-in spite of not always agreeing with all the decisions made by the government-realizing that I truly am AT HOME. This, in reality, was a wonderful gift. The way it came about was painful-and will no doubt continue to be that way-but hey, nobody ever promised me a @%#*%&@$ rose garden!

Have a wonderful, blessed Christmas! With love and patience (and a bit of booze) we can get through anything! I fully expect to be back next year…and let’s hope I have a cute little story to share-there might even be crickets in it – and no true confessions. God, how I hate true confessions. Oh well, no one’s perfect (see my comments above about rose gardens … ).

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Yearning for Liberty–A New Book and on Amazon

NOTE: I am transitioning some of my books to Amazon at amazon.com/author/donjohnsonbooks.  To get your copy of my books, click on the preceding link, or the book cover images to the left side of this blog. With Amazon I am able to continue to provide quality writing in paperback form as well as publishing to ebook readers – both at reduced cost to you, my reader.

Let me introduce you to my latest book

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In Yearning for Liberty, the author explores various facets of Liberty. Relying heavily on first person accounts, history and some of his own personal experiences and friendships, Johnson examines a broad sweep of time and geography beginning with the Biblical Exodus; through the American Revolution; the American Civil War and the aftermath of the long struggle in gaining liberty for the freed slaves. Then modern-day events and nations are examined such as the Normandy invasion of World War II; the 1956 Hungarian Revolution; the fall of South Vietnam to the communist North, and the subsequent mass evacuation from Saigon. The stunning contrast between the two Koreas is highlighted.

Combining first person accounts with plenty of pictures, Johnson weaves an eye-opening story of what having liberty looks like – its value, as well as the grim reality of what the lack of liberty brings to nations, individuals and the world at large – its cost.

These first-person accounts are taken from sources such as: memoirs and diaries of French citizens experiencing the brutal Nazi occupation and the liberation at Normandy France; the story of a personal friend and US Navy shipmate – a World War II veteran at age 7 followed by years of oppression under communism, a twice wounded freedom fighter from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, a refugee to the US, and a Navy Vietnam veteran; soldiers and marines regaining freedom for captive Europeans; the story of a small Navy warship rescuing tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees.

Click amazon.com/author/donjohnsonbooks to get your copy of this book.

Yearning for Liberty – My New Book

I’m pleased to announce a new book I’ve written and published. It’s the most ambitious project I’ve embarked on in my post retirement writing career.

Preview and buy at: https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B00C0AZUDK?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

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About the book:

“In Yearning for Liberty, the author explores various facets of Liberty. Relying heavily on first person accounts, history and some of his own personal experiences and friendships, Johnson examines a broad sweep of time and geography beginning with the Biblical Exodus through modern day events and nations such as the Normandy invasion of World War II, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the stunning contrast between the two Koreas. Combining first person accounts with plenty of pictures, Johnson tells an eye-opening story of what having liberty looks like – its value, as well as the grim reality of what the lack of liberty brings to nations, individuals and the world at large – its cost. “

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Having visited Paris and Normandy this past year, and walked in some of those places where tyranny was pushed back and liberty regained, I was greatly moved and inspired. This book is the result.

Also in this past year I tracked down and visited an old Navy shipmate who at the tender age of 7 was a World War II veteran during the siege of Budapest Hungary. Adam von Dioszeghy was also a freedom fighter during that 1956 Hungarian Revolution against communist oppression and tyranny. Adam and his wife Aliz now live in Budapest and are dear friends – the story of Adam von Dioszeghy is in the book, and I hope his story inspires you as well.

Don Johnson – February 2018

Are We Free to Discuss America’s Real Problems?

I am including in total this article from Imprimis, the monthly publication of Hillsdale College. 

As prelude, here is a response to President Trump’s State of the Union address by Joy Reid of MSNBC. The Reid comment and Professor Wax’s article  directly relate to one another, and to what many of us are experiencing in todays leftist culture of hateful smear in lieu of thoughtful discussion and dialogue. Can you relate to any of his?  Please feel free to comment on how this mode of “free speech” may have effected you.

Reid’s Tweet reads:
“Church … family … police … military … the national anthem … Trump trying to call on all the tropes of 1950s-era nationalism. The goal of this speech appears to be to force the normalization of Trump on the terms of the bygone era his supporters are nostalgic for.

Are We Free to Discuss America’s Real Problems?

imprimis.hillsdale.edu

Amy Wax
University of Pennsylvania Law School


Amy WaxAmy L. Wax is the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she has received the Harvey Levin Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence. She has a B.S. from Yale College, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. She is a former assistant to the United States Solicitor General, and her most recent book is Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century.


The following is adapted from a speech delivered on December 12, 2017, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., as part of the AWC Family Foundation Lecture Series.

There is a lot of abstract talk these days on American college campuses about free speech and the values of free inquiry, with plenty of lip service being paid to expansive notions of free expression and the marketplace of ideas. What I’ve learned through my recent experience of writing a controversial op-ed is that most of this talk is not worth much. It is only when people are confronted with speech they don’t like that we see whether these abstractions are real to them.

The op-ed, which I co-authored with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego Law School, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 9 under the title, “Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture.” It began by listing some of the ills afflicting American society:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.

We then discussed the “cultural script”—a list of behavioral norms—that was almost universally endorsed between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These norms defined a concept of adult responsibility that was, we wrote, “a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.” The fact that the “bourgeois culture” these norms embodied has broken down since the 1960s, we argued, largely explains today’s social pathologies—and re-embracing that culture would go a long way toward addressing those pathologies.

In what became perhaps the most controversial passage, we pointed out that cultures are not equal in terms of preparing people to be productive citizens in a modern technological society, and we gave some examples of cultures less suited to achieve this:

The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-‘acting white’ rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants.

The reactions to this piece raise the question of how unorthodox opinions should be dealt with in academia—and in American society at large.

It is well documented that American universities today, more than ever before, are dominated by academics on the left end of the political spectrum. How should these academics handle opinions that depart, even quite sharply, from their “politically correct” views? The proper response would be to engage in reasoned debate—to attempt to explain, using logic, evidence, facts, and substantive arguments, why those opinions are wrong. This kind of civil discourse is obviously important at law schools like mine, because law schools are dedicated to teaching students how to think about and argue all sides of a question. But academic institutions in general should also be places where people are free to think and reason about important questions that affect our society and our way of life—something not possible in today’s atmosphere of enforced orthodoxy.

What those of us in academia should certainly not do is engage in unreasoned speech: hurling slurs and epithets, name-calling, vilification, and mindless labeling. Likewise we should not reject the views of others without providing reasoned arguments. Yet these once common standards of practice have been violated repeatedly at my own and at other academic institutions in recent years—and we increasingly see this trend in society as well.

One might respond, of course, that unreasoned slurs and outright condemnations are also speech and must be defended. My recent experience has caused me to rethink this position. In debating others, we should have higher standards. Of course one has the right to hurl labels like “racist,” “sexist,” and “xenophobic” without good reason—but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Hurling such labels doesn’t enlighten, inform, edify, or educate. Indeed, it undermines these goals by discouraging or stifling dissent.

So what happened after our op-ed was published last August? A raft of letters, statements, and petitions from students and professors at my university and elsewhere condemned the piece as racist, white supremacist, hate speech, heteropatriarchial, xenophobic, etc. There were demands that I be removed from the classroom and from academic committees. None of these demands even purported to address our arguments in any serious or systematic way.

A response published in the Daily Pennsylvanian, our school newspaper, and signed by five of my Penn Law School colleagues, charged us with the sin of praising the 1950s—a decade when racial discrimination was openly practiced and opportunities for women were limited. I do not agree with the contention that because a past era is marked by benighted attitudes and practices—attitudes and practices we had acknowledged in our op-ed!—it has nothing to teach us. But at least this response attempted to make an argument.

Not so an open letter published in the Daily Pennsylvanian and signed by 33 of my colleagues. This letter quoted random passages from the op-ed and from a subsequent interview I gave to the school newspaper, condemned both, and categorically rejected all of my views. It then invited students, in effect, to monitor me and to report any “stereotyping and bias” they might experience or perceive. This letter contained no argument, no substance, no reasoning, no explanation whatsoever as to how our op-ed was in error.

We hear a lot of talk about role models—people to be emulated, who set a positive example for students and others. In my view, the 33 professors who signed this letter are anti-role models. To students and citizens alike I say: don’t emulate them in condemning people for their views without providing a reasoned argument. Reject their example. Not only are they failing to teach you the practice of civil discourse—the sine qua non of liberal education and of democracy—they are sending the message that civil discourse is unnecessary. As Jonathan Haidt of NYU wrote on September 2 on his website Heterodox Academy: “Every open letter you sign to condemn a colleague for his or her words brings us closer to a world in which academic disagreements are resolved by social force and political power, not by argumentation and persuasion.”

It is gratifying to note that the reader comments on the open letter were overwhelmingly critical. The letter has “no counterevidence,” one reader wrote, “no rebuttal to [Wax’s] arguments, just an assertion that she’s wrong. . . . This is embarrassing.” Another wrote: “This letter is an exercise in self-righteous virtue-signaling that utterly fails to deal with the argument so cogently presented by Wax and Alexander. . . . Note to parents, if you want your daughter or son to learn to address an argument, do not send them to Penn Law.”

Shortly after the op-ed appeared, I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen for a while and asked how his summer was going. He said he’d had a terrible summer, and in saying it he looked so serious I thought someone had died. He then explained that the reason his summer had been ruined was my op-ed, and he accused me of attacking and causing damage to the university, the students, and the faculty. One of my left-leaning friends at Yale Law School found this story funny—who would have guessed an op-ed could ruin someone’s summer? But beyond the absurdity, note the choice of words: “attack” and “damage” are words one uses with one’s enemies, not colleagues or fellow citizens. At the very least, they are not words that encourage the expression of unpopular ideas. They reflect a spirit hostile to such ideas—indeed, a spirit that might seek to punish the expression of such ideas.

I had a similar conversation with a deputy dean. She had been unable to sign the open letter because of her official position, but she defended it as having been necessary. It needed to be written to get my attention, she told me, so that I would rethink what I had written and understand the hurt I had inflicted and the damage I had done, so that I wouldn’t do it again. The message was clear: cease the heresy.

Only half of my colleagues in the law school signed the open letter. One who didn’t sent me a thoughtful and lawyerly email explaining how and why she disagreed with particular points in the op-ed. We had an amicable email exchange, from which I learned a lot—some of her points stick with me—and we remain cordial colleagues. That is how things should work.

Of the 33 who signed the letter, only one came to talk to me about it—and I am grateful for that. About three minutes into our conversation, he admitted that he didn’t categorically reject everything in the op-ed. Bourgeois values aren’t really so bad, he conceded, nor are all cultures equally worthy. Given that those were the main points of the op-ed, I asked him why he had signed the letter. His answer was that he didn’t like my saying, in my interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian, that the tendency of global migrants to flock to white European countries indicates the superiority of some cultures. This struck him as “code,” he said, for Nazism.

Well, let me state for the record that I don’t endorse Nazism!

Furthermore, the charge that a statement is “code” for something else, or a “dog whistle” of some kind—we frequently hear this charge leveled, even against people who are stating demonstrable facts—is unanswerable. It is like accusing a speaker of causing emotional injury or feelings of marginalization. Using this kind of language, which students have learned to do all too well, is intended to bring discussion and debate to a stop—to silence speech deemed unacceptable.

As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, we can make words mean whatever we want them to mean. And who decides what is code for something else or what qualifies as a dog whistle? Those in power, of course—which in academia means the Left.

My 33 colleagues might have believed they were protecting students from being injured by harmful opinions, but they were doing those students no favors. Students need the opposite of protection from diverse arguments and points of view. They need exposure to them. This exposure will teach them how to think. As John Stuart Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”

I have received more than 1,000 emails from around the country in the months since the op-ed was published—mostly supportive, some critical, and for the most part thoughtful and respectful. Many expressed the thought, “You said what we are thinking but are afraid to say”—a sad commentary on the state of civil discourse in our society. Many urged me not to back down, cower, or apologize. And I agree with them that dissenters apologize far too often.

Democracy thrives on talk and debate, and it is not for the faint of heart. I read things every day in the media and hear things every day at my job that I find exasperating and insulting, including falsehoods and half-truths about people who are my friends. Offense and upset go with the territory; they are part and parcel of an open society. We should be teaching our young people to get used to these things, but instead we are teaching them the opposite.

Disliking, avoiding, and shunning people who don’t share our politics is not good for our country. We live together, and we need to solve our problems together. It is also always possible that people we disagree with have something to offer, something to contribute, something to teach us. We ignore this at our peril. As Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review on August 29: “What if the progressive analysis of inequality is wrong . . . and a cultural analysis is closest to the truth? If confronting the need to change behavior is punishable ‘hate speech,’ then it is hard to see how the country can resolve its social problems.” In other words, we are at risk of being led astray by received opinion.

The American way is to conduct free and open debate in a civil manner. We should return to doing that on our college campuses and in our society at large.

The Koreas –

Note:   The following is an excerpt from a book I am currently working on and expect to publish in the coming months.
The theme of the book will be “the facets of liberty”
Keep an eye out for it.

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The Korean peninsula provides a dramatic and clear illustration of the consequences of tyranny, and the contrasts between liberty and tyranny. As the satellite photo above shows, nights in North Korea are probably cold and miserable for most North Korean citizens, especially amid very cold winters. Couple this with a severe shortage of food and a government that uses food shortage as a weapon, and you see the worst form of oppression.

This contrast is a recent phenomenon. Both nations arose out of World war II in roughly the same economic and cultural conditions, with the North becoming essentially a client of the Soviet Union (socialism), and the South becoming a client of the United States (free market capitalist). Both however were previously a colony of Imperial Japan.

Eventually, and following the very brutal Korean War from 1950-53, the South came out of years of autocratic rule and developed a constitutional government and a free market capitalist economy which today is a worldwide economic powerhouse. In the United States, we can walk through any typical parking lot, or just watch the cars on the streets and highways, and before long you will see the familiar Kia’s and Hyundai’s. We reach in our pocket to pull out our smart phone, and chances are it will be a Samsung or LG. Same with the appliances in our kitchens and laundry rooms – South Korean Samsung. Shipbuilding and steel are also mainstays of the South Korean economy.

In North Korea, military products, mining, metallurgy, textiles and food processing provide the bulk of the economic engine, what little there is of it — and it seems the North has trouble growing an ear of corn for its badly underfed population.

There are many chilling economic statistics that highlight the disparity between North and South Korea. Gross Domestic Product (per capita) shows the North at $1,800 while in the South it is $32,400.

But the cost in individual human lives shows up in the disparity of physical characteristics of the Korean citizens:

Several reports have attempted to provide evidence on this matter. Pak (2004a) compared the heights and weights of North Korean defectors with South Korean heights and found a height gap of 5·9 and 6·6 cm for male and female young adults, respectively. Moreover, 20to 50-year-old North Korean female refugees were found to weigh 51–55 kg (Pak, 2004b). The South Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 20- to 39-year-old North Korean refugees seem to be 7 cm shorter than the average South Korean (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2006). According to South Korean officials, North Korean children lag 10–15 cm behind their South Korean counterparts in terms of stature (Yonhapnews, 2006). However, all these reports are based on North Korean refugees measured in South Korea.

(reference: https://timemilitary.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/heightandweight.pdf)

The few reports from escaping North Koreans would seem to confirm these numbers. We see increasing reports of fishing boats drifting on to the shores of Japan – many with the dead bodies of North Korean fishermen. We read of the North Korean soldier who escaped to the south but was shot by the border guards of the North. And we read of his malnourished body and a digestive tract infested with parasitic worms.

Returning to the satellite image above, it is instructive to recall that in the early 1930s under Joseph Stalin, a pogrom of deliberate starvation of the Ukrainian populace resulted in the deaths of from 7 million to 10 million innocent lives. But with a lack of satellite surveillance back then it was impossible to even surmise what might have been happening there. With North Korea, we can more reliably connect the dots to a line of great tragedy.

Yes, there is a great cost associated with the lack of liberty – paid for by the weakest among us. And with the juxtaposition of these two nations, that for centuries were one and the same, we can see both the cost and the value sides of that coin called liberty.

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Holocaust survivor: I’m giving $1 million to help wounded American veterans, to express my thanks

At 83 years old, I am one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors – thanks to the American troops who rescued me in what seems like a lifetime ago. Since World War II, I’ve felt a deep connection to American troops for saving my life – a feeling that resurfaces every year on Veterans Day and throughout the holiday giving season.

And so this year I’m saying “thank you” to the American soldiers of the 1940s by donating $1 million to organizations serving wounded American veterans today.

My donation to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Services for Armed Forces program of the American Red Cross is my way of giving back, thanking previous generations of warriors for helping me. I hope this inspires others to give back as well.

Even though more than 70 years have passed since my rescue, it’s not too late to give back. That’s a lesson I hope the next generation recognizes, because it’s all too easy to let procrastination give way to inaction. But action is what brings hope to those who need it.

I have met many American people who I am lucky enough to call my friends. First, Americans saved us. Then decades later, they welcomed us.

As a child, I spent most of World War II hiding from Nazi invaders in my native France, where my parents moved after fleeing the pogroms in Poland. Unfortunately, with the German invasion in 1940, we were again at risk. On July 16, 1942, the French police led a big roundup of Jews in Paris. More than 13,000 Jews were detained before being deported to Nazi death camps.

 The police came to our apartment at 6 a.m. My parents managed to take me to my aunt’s home. She was married to a French soldier and was protected.

A few hours later, my mother was arrested as she and my brother were trying to get information about my father, who was hiding in a nearby grocery store. A concierge had pointed them out to the police. They ran, but my mother was not fast enough. She was detained and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She perished there – probably within three weeks.

I was 7, and for the next two years I lived on borrowed time, shielded by other families on the outskirts of Paris. The same was true for my future wife, who was also a child in hiding. If the war had continued much longer, we would not have survived.

I vividly remember the arrival of the hundreds of thousands of American troops who landed in Normandy to liberate us in June 1944. They were our saviors, doling out packets of sweets to half-starved, war-weary children who had almost given up hope for freedom.

The gratitude I feel to these men is beyond words. They freed our country and they saved our lives. Without American troops, my family and I simply would not have existed. I think of that every time I look at our family photos.

Since the end of the war, life has been good to me. I’ve had a successful career as co-owner of one of Europe’s largest home appliance retailers, working alongside my brothers. I’ve also enjoyed raising my family, celebrating extended family gatherings of 20 people.

My wife and I have a deep sense of gratitude for America. So in the early 1990s, freshly retired, we bought a home in South Florida. I travel with my wife each winter from our home in Paris to the warmth of Miami Beach. We still appreciate our second home there, where we now spend almost a third of our time.

I have met many American people who I am lucky enough to call my friends. First, Americans saved us. Then decades later, they welcomed us.

But as I watched news stories this fall of hurricanes, flooding and wildfires striking America, inflicting suffering among civilians and veterans alike, I realized that I still had an important task left to complete in my life. I had not yet given back to the American soldiers who saved my life nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

That is why I want to help modern American veterans today. They pursue the tradition of the young men who landed on the shores of Normandy in June 1944 and who I will never forget. In giving this donation, I want to thank Americans with all my heart for coming to rescue us in our hour of need.

But I also want to make a public stand in support of America. I hope that my donation can trigger a movement and lead others to take action. My story shows it’s never too late to give back, especially for a cause that’s close to your heart. If it wasn’t too late for this octogenarian, it’s not too late for you.

Bernard Darty is a Paris native and retired co-founder of Darty Group, an electrical retailer operating more than 340 stores in three European countries.

Liberty and the Honor of Respecting the Flag

I’ve always stood for the playing of the National Anthem and the presentation of the American flag. Image result for standing for the national anthem
Has it always been a mark of honor and respect? Or had it become somewhat of a rote habit?

The recent dustups in the NFL with professional athletes sitting or kneeling contrary to the custom of standing with an attitude and posture of respect, coupled with an extended stay in Paris have broadened and deepened my appreciation of this long standing flag etiquette. 

Thousands of American, British, Canadian and French soldiers, sailors and airmen died bringing liberty back to captive France in 1944. More than 18,000 French civilians also died in pushing out the evil of Nazism from France and restoring liberty. Many of the civilian deaths were due to the heavy allied bombings of the coastal Norman cities in places like Saint Lo and Caen.

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The reception of the “liberators” was mixed as could be expected – towns and homes were destroyed, and loved ones lost in the carnage.

But what I found some 73 years later were many memorials of much gratitude on the part of the French. And this gratitude seemed to extend from 1944 to the present day. For example, in driving to the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, I looked up at the second floor of an old building and saw three small and tattered flags – French, British and American. These flags, off the beaten tourist path showed me that someone still held a heart of gratitude.

And in researching further,  I found this story:

“ … Franck Maurouard and his family of Normandy, France, have not forgotten the sacrifices made by American soldiers trying to liberate France from German occupation during World War II.

Each Memorial Day for the past 10 years, Franck, his wife, Anne, and their children, Alexandre, 16, and Eloise, 14, have decorated the graves of two American Rangers who died in the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944.

They volunteered to care for the graves in Colleville sur Mer cemetery by applying to Les Fleurs de la Memoire, an organization that encourages French citizens to remember on Memorial Day the graves of Americans who gave their lives to liberate France and who remain forever in French soil. Les Fleurs de la Memoire (lesfleursdelamemoire.com) represents 132 French Fraternal Associations, 70 French towns and villages, and 3,677 French citizens who have adopted, in perpetuity, 10,451 graves.

Maurouard, who served in the French Navy for 17 years and is now a laboratory technician at the school where his wife teaches, requested to be assigned the grave of one Ranger from the 2nd Battalion and another from the 5th Battalion. But he has done far more than decorate the graves of Pvt. Joseph Trainor of Wisconsin and Pvt. Elmo Banning of Sedan, Kan.

He researched the details of their deaths and shortened lives and searched for their surviving relatives. He and his family developed a close relationship with Pvt. Banning’s family, now residing in California. … “    Read more  here and here.

I’ve walked the grounds of Colleville sur Mer, and yes, there are flowers at the foot of the grave markers – in 2017.

There are similar stories to be found from other places of liberation.

Why do so many in France still honor  their liberators from 1944?

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I believe it is because liberty has value. And because liberty has value, there is a cost for its purchase, and a cost for its restoration when lost. I believe the French, having lost and regained liberty, go to great lengths to honor that cost – a cost measured in the many lives lost in achieving liberty once more.   

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Fortunately we here in the United States have not experienced the traumatic loss of liberty as was experienced in France in the 1940s. Many of our military have witnessed that loss of liberty elsewhere, and have fought to purchase or restore liberty in hostile places far from home.  There is a yearning for liberty among the oppressed of the world – always has been and always will be.

Perhaps those professional athletes irreverently sitting before the flag are in ways they, or we,  may not fully understand – perhaps they are sitting in ways reflecting that yeaning for liberty they perceive as having been lost.

I respect that right of expression. In years past, and even today, many say “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” 

My wish is that our younger generations would be taught the lessons of places like 1944 France. My wish is that they would learn these lessons and honor those many who did “ … fight to the death for your right to say it.” 

Martin Luther King Jr. found another way to achieve huge change for the good in this nation. Would that the NFL athletes seek other avenues of change.

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Don Johnson – October 2017




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