Pith Helmet


Hatful of Hollowpoints
May 30, 2007, 2:19 am
Filed under: Firearms

A number of years ago, the National Rifle Association did a series of magazine ads featuring luminaries from various fields of human endeavor holding a firearm, proclaiming, “I’m the NRA.” The advertisements included everyone from WW2 fighter jock and Medal of Honor winner Joe Foss to NBA great Karl Malone. There was even one of Magnum, P.I. himself, Tom Selleck — an appearance that contributed to one of Rosie O’Donnell’s first televised meltdowns.

Here’s one you probably didn’t see:

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Speaking of advertisements and firearms, Saturday, while the family was doing our pre-Memorial Day cookout shopping, I decided to flip through Shotgun News. On the back page below and to the left of ads depicting semi-automatic weapons was an ad for absinthe.

Now, I’ve always concurred with the old joke that “ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms) should be a convenience store, not a government agency,” but I thought the mix pretty strange. After all, the Green Fairy and Eddie Eagle probably shouldn’t be sharing the same airspace.

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In Memory of A Conscientious Objector
May 28, 2007, 11:42 am
Filed under: Movies

The Conscientious Objector is a 2004 documentary by Terry Benedict. It is the story of Corporal Desmond T. Doss, one of the only two conscientious objectors to ever receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The film follows Doss’ story from his simple Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, through the trials he faced at the hands of his own Army as he struggled to live his faith, to the assault on Okinawa, the battle in which he earned our nation’s highest military decoration, and his eventual return to the States, permanently disabled as a result of his service.

The film is much better made than what has become the standard chopshop documentary one sees on the History Channel these days. The film conveys its message relying heavily on picturesque cinematography and interviews with Doss and other veterans, interspersed with combat footage, still photographs, and excerpts from the comic book story “Hero without A Gun.” The beautiful pastoral images the audience is given of the veterans, their homes, and modern-day Okinawa (thanks to Benedict’s use of high-def camera work) is starkly contrasted by the bleak black-and-white footage of the assault on the killing field known simply as “The Escarpment.”

Much of the focus is on the conflict between Doss and the American Army, both the officers above him and those in the rifle company to which he is assigned. Each time he is offered the opportunity to take the easy path, to shirk his faith to make doing his duty easier, he chooses his faith.

Critics have blasted this documentary as “Seventh Day Adventist propaganda.” Steve Schneider of Orlando Weekly claimed the movie demonizes the Jewish company commander who condemns Doss for observing a Sabbath that the officer himself is supposed to be observing. He even compared Benedict to the bugbear that always gets summoned when claims of anti-Semitism start to fly: Mel Gibson. Schneider also slammed Benedict for not leaving on the cutting room floor clips of veterans who, in the midst of dredging up decades-old memories, use the word “Jap.” Apparently, Mr. Schneider has never seen an American newspaper headline from December 1941.

If Benedict’s film is propaganda, it is masterfully-done propaganda. However, after watching the film, people are not going to be inspired to go out and transfer their letters of membership to the Seventh Day Adventists. What they will walk away with is a sense that one does not have to abandon one’s faith in order to serve one’s country. At a time when torture is not only embraced by, but, in many circles, celebrated, in the name of “homeland security” and pragmatism, the story of Doss needs to be told. Not as a celebration of pacifism, but as a celebration of sticking to the tenets of one’s faith in the name of an idol known as Pragmatism.

TBN (that’s the Trinity Broadcasting Network, for those of you outside the Bible Belt) is showing The Conscientious Objector today at 5:00 p.m. EST. This Memorial Day, I’d recommend even the most bellicose among us to forego that nineteenth viewing of Patton on TBS to see the story of a simple American hero.

DOSS, DESMOND T.

Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, 29 April-21 May 1945.
Entered service at: Lynchburg, Va.
Birth: Lynchburg, Va. G.O. No.: 97, 1 November 1945.
Citation: He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 1 by 1 to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On 5 May, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On 21 May, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.

[ source: U.S. Army ]



Dioramas Gone Wild: A Review of “Night at The Museum”
May 26, 2007, 11:40 am
Filed under: Movies

Teddy Roosevelt pines for Sacagawea and helps a night watchman fend off Attila the Hun and a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Nope, it’s not the latest Rozerem commercial. It’s Night at The Museum.

Having secured some rare mid-day babysitting services last Sunday, the Mrs. and I decided to rent some movies that we had missed out on as a result of all of our movie money going to Pixar these days. She chose Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia. I chose Children of Men, and we also got Night at The Museum for a bit of comic relief.

The cast of Night at The Museum includes Ann Meara, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, and Robin Williams. With that cast, what else could you call the movie but “Night at The Museum”? Ben Stiller stars as a divorced dad trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his son as the son’s mom is being courted by a new richer, but squarer, beau. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it follows the same formula as Liar, Liar and probably a half dozen or so other movies that have been churned out of Hollywood in the last several years.

In this incarnation, the divorced dad takes a McJob as a security guard at the American Museum of Natural History where he finds that an ancient Egyptian artifact animates all of the exhibits at nighttime. His job: to insure that the exhibits stay in the museum without wrecking the place.

Night at The Museum is not great film, but it is great fun. While I’m sure it has made a number of scholarly historians cringe, I’m sure it’s made quite a few history buffs grin. Anyone who’s ever flipped through the pages of an Osprey or two could probably point out plenty of farbish elements, so I would not recommend this movie to historical nitpickers. It’s more for those of us who walk into a museum and wish we could step behind the glass. Those who can gaze endlessly at a diorama of the Siege of St. Augustine in 1740. This movie makes history look fun and captures the “wouldn’t it be cool if…” spirit of childhood.

In addition to plenty of clean laughs (am I sounding enough like Ned Flanders/Michael Medved yet?), Night at The Museum has plenty of action. This movie is worth seeing, if for no other reason, to watch Mickey Rooney opening a can of smackdown on Ben Stiller.

At a time when the “family-movie” market is dominated by PG-rated odes to eructation like Shrek and bloated CG videos using recycled dance hits and celebrity voice-overs like Happy Feet, I was surprised to find this simple little gem that the whole family could enjoy.



World War 2D
May 20, 2007, 12:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Long before I got stiffed on a set of “Star Wars Blueprints” at the age of eleven, the folks at E. Joseph Cossman & Co. taught me my very first lesson in caveat emptor.

Back in my day, comic books used to have ads in them. You could order anything from x-ray specs to a mini-submarine; however, the only thing that I was ever enticed to buy were the toy soldier sets. The toy soldiers in the comic book ads looked much better than the plain old toy soldiers you could buy in a plastic bag down at your local Grant City, and they had more accessories. Not just some crappy cannon or jeep, these sets had accessories like pillboxes and exploding tanks! The ads for them were usually quite well-done. The artwork was on-par with the art you found in the comic book itself. In fact, the ads had more craftsmanship and detail than the actual toys they were marketing.

My first foray into the world of mail-order was the “100 pc. toy soldier set made of durable plastic, each with its own base” for $1.25. After I mailed off my mom’s check, I waited with anticipation for my “footlocker” full of martial fun to arrive. When it finally arrived and I ripped the parcel open, my spirit went flat. Literally. Sure, the pasteboard “footlocker” was filled with lean, green, plactic fighting machines. But they were too lean! In fact, every soldier, sailor, WAC, and WAVE was only two-dimensional. They all looked as if they had been run over by one of the 2D tanks with which they shared footlocker space.

In spite of my disappointment and filled with boyish resilience, I later sent off two-bucks-and-a-quarter for the Helen of Toy, Co.’s “Task Force.” This time everything was in 3D, but everything was tiny. My pillboxes were no bigger than pills.

After those two experiences, I learned my lesson. In spite of the tempting ad for “Cannonball,” the “game dedicated to fighting heroes of Chickamauga,” I learned that whenever I wished to conscript plastic soldiers, I needed to do it at a local retailer, not through some back-alley New York press gang.

[ image source: Comic Book Toy Soldiers!
A Web Site Dedicated to the Classic Mail-Order Toy Soldier Sets
Found in Comic Book Ads from the 1950’s – 1980’s
]



South of The Border, Down Panama Way
May 19, 2007, 6:49 pm
Filed under: music

In the George Washington University National Security Archive is a document entitled U.S. SOUTHCOM Public Affairs After Action Report Supplement, “Operation Just Cause ” Dec. 20, 1989 – Jan. 31, 1990. The supplement lists music from SCN (Southern Command Network) radio’s playlist during the Invasion of Panama. In addition to providing entertainment to the troops, this music was played over loudspeakers as part of the efforts to shake Pineapple Face from the Nunciature he was using as his hidey-hole.

I find it interesting because my short military career had ended just a few months before “Operation Just Cause” began and many of the tunes I heard while I was stationed at Fort Benning (especially the tunes that bands covered at the local Columbus, Georgia heavy metal club called “The Rock”) eventually found their way to Noreiga’s tympanic membrane.

Most of the songs, in addition to being barracks-room boom-box standards, were quite appropos for the situation: Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Welcome to The Jungle,” Iron Maiden’s “Run To The Hills,” Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell,” etc. There were a few tunes that I’d have been surprised to hear come out of any the headphone’s of any infantryman’s Walkman: Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and NKOTB’s “Hangin’ Tough.” What really surprised me was that there was no Metallica listed. In 1989, it seemed to me that half the United States Army owned Metallica t-shirts.

[ source: U.S. SOUTHCOM Public Affairs After Action Report Supplement, “Operation Just Cause ” Dec. 20, 1989 – Jan. 31, 1990 ]



Where There’s “Stroke,” There’s Bound To Be Fire
May 19, 2007, 1:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

One of my co-workers today told me that U2 front-man Bono was involved in a squabble with eighties rocker Billy Squier. Both Bono and Squier reside at the San Remo, a posh twin-towered building that overlooks Central Park West. The source of the squabble: smoke that billows up from flats like Squier’s into penthouses like Bono’s.

I told him that I figured that the only way that Billy Squier could be living in the neighborhood as Bono, much less the same apt. building, is if Billy Squier was now working as the super.

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Apparently, Squier saved a bit more royalties from “The Stroke” single than I’d thought.

[ source: New York Times ]



It’s The End of The World As We Know It (and It’s Brought To You By CNN)
May 13, 2007, 5:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Most of last week I spent making sure that those employed in the ironically-named “health-care” system did not do further damage to my father during his stay at the local hospital. While there, in addition to reading a good bit of China Mieville’s The Scar, playing Ice Age 2 and Black Hawk Down on my cel-phone, and being awoken every two hours by nursing techs, I watched a lot of CNN Headline News. I was treated to a virtual Moebius strip of Paris Hilton’s jail sentence, the high school guerillas in Boulder, the Fort Dix suicide assault team, Al Sharpton’s Morman-bashing (or Chris Hitchens-bashing), floods, hurricanes, and fires.

Perhaps it’s the lifelong Bible-belt resident in me, but as I watched hour-after-hour of this deluge of misfortune, I imagined that if some Quran-banging Madhist tucked away in some safe-house had CNN on the tellie, it would be very easy for him to form the idea that Allah was bringing the war to the Great Shaitan firsthand. Especially when I saw the fire that was raging near the Griffith Observatory. It reminded me of illustrations I had seen for an Armageddon-based roleplaying game I used to be involved in.

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