6 June 1944: D-Day

It is certainly proper that we take a moment in our busy schedules to remember the momentous event of 69 years ago today.

The 20th century, like any other, was fully provided with great and terrible moments, and instances that have changed the course of history. Nevertheless, if there be one day – one isolated day – that can truly be called the single most important day in the last century, then surely D-Day must be that day.

It was on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 that I began periodically sending these historical notes. I must mark this anniversary, especially as there has recently been something of a distressing trend to minimize or denigrate the significance of D-Day. I feel a personal connection to this crucial historic event because my late father, Bill Rawson, Senior, flew his first bombing missions, co-piloting a lead bomber at the age of 19, in support of the invasion.

Sixty-nine years ago, Tuesday 6 June 1944, the leaders of the forces allied against Hitler’s terrible Reich gambled men and materièl on a scale the likes of which the world had never seen (and which we may ardently hope it never will see again!) At 0630 on 6 June, the first waves of what was to become a force 156,000 strong hit the beaches of Normandy to establish an allied toehold on the continent of Europe and to effect the beginning of the end for Hitler’s ghastly regime.

We know, live with, and daily benefit from the results of this day, but we may easily forget the risks that were then associated with the invasion and we rarely explore the dire consequences that a failure would have brought. It is easy to ignore the possibility of failure in the light of 69 years of hindsight, and we often tend to see that which has happened as inevitable. But to those involved at the time, the risks were real and the possibility of failure was keenly sensed; General Eisenhower carefully prepared his official statement in the event of failure. As it turned out, the invasion was successful beyond the most optimistic projections of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces.

Planners’ predictions of the day’s casualties ranged from a low of 12% to a high of 60%; the actual results were far, far better despite the terrible fighting on “Bloody Omaha.” Recently, extensive archival research has been conducted to provide an accurate and precise total for the day’s actual casualties. Historically, the total allied casualties for that day were reported as fewer than 6,000, about 4% of the 156,000 troops landed that day, with about 2,400 of these being fatalities. The recent research, as reported at the British D-Day Museum website, gives revised totals standing at nearly 10,000 total casualties and almost 4,000 fatalities. The final human cost was enormous, but even adjusted to the newer 6% figure, it was far below what had been expected. And for a historical perspective, These losses were about the same as those which Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia incurred in a single day at Gettysburg.

The invasion inescapably wrought death and destruction on the population of Normandy. The towns, villages, and farms of Normandy suffered under allied bombing and Nazi shelling, and from the ground battles that were fought across the Norman countryside. A 2009 article in the New York Times estimates that there were nearly 20,000 French civilian casualties as a result of the 10-weeks of fighting that followed the invasion. Allied tanks and armor bulldozed great swathes through the ancient hedgerows of the picturesque Norman farms. Driving through Normandy in early July of 1977, I noted that it was still easy to identify the route that the tanks had taken, because the relative newness of the hedgerows that had regrown was plainly visible, even 33 years after the invasion.

Within a few hours of the start of the invasion, it became clear that the allied forces could hold their beachheads. It took weeks for the armies to break out of Normandy, and it was almost a year before Germany capitulated, yet the outcome plainly hinged upon this daring gamble. The gamble succeeded for many, many reasons, of course. But today we should remember and be grateful to the soldiers of Free France, Canada, Great Britain, and The United States of America, as well as those of smaller contingents from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Poland, whose courage and determination made the victory a reality, and who allowed us to live and grow in a world where the open brutality and blunt terrorism of nations is less common, and the horrors of war less frequent than in the first half of the 20th century, albeit such horror is undeniably still far too frequent.

And we should remember that there are hundreds of thousands of men and women serving us around the world today. Some are directly in harm’s way, others well-removed from the front. But all serve. These people, too, deserve our thanks. So as we remember and honor the men and women of what Tom Brokaw has aptly styled “The Greatest Generation,” we should also say thank you to those who today rise to the challenge and serve a great nation even unto their last full measure.

My thanks to all who have served and who do serve in any capacity. I am deeply grateful for your sacrifices. Thank you. It cannot be said too frequently. Thank you.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

In war, resolution;
in defeat, defiance;
in victory magnanimity;
in peace, goodwill.

— Winston Churchill

FURTHER READING:

Online Resources:


The Portsmouth British D-Day Museum Website:

http://www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/

The U.S. National D-Day Museum Website:

http://www.ddaymuseum.org/

New York Times Article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/21iht-letter.html

Books:

For D-Day, there are, I feel, three essential books. First and foremost is Cornelius Ryan’s classic The Longest Day. First published in 1951, Ryan’s work was the first comprehensive distillation of the massive official documentation of D-Day (from both the archives of the allies and the Third Reich) supplemented with extensive personal interviews. Ryan was a journalist, and the style of The Longest Day reflects that background, but his work is a landmark of contemporary history. An excellent and highly readable work, The Longest Day is an excellent starting point from which to learn more about D-Day.

The Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D-Day, Cornelius Ryan; Simon & Schuster, 1994: ISBN: 0671890913

John Keegan, sometimes called “the Dean of Military History” was inspired by his childhood memories of watching the preparations leading up to D-Day in rural England. He became a historian and specialized in military history, bursting onto the mainstream literary scene in 1976 with his outstanding The Face of Battle, a study of three famous battles, comparing and contrasting them. In 1982, Keegan published Six Armies In Normandy, an account of D-Day that goes further that Ryan’s by following the invasion up to the Liberation of Paris two months later. Keegan is a wonderfully engaging writer who never forgets that history should be as interesting to read as the best fiction, while maintaining impeccable academic standards.

Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris, John Keegan; Penguin, 1994: ISBN: 0140235426

Stephen Ambrose completed D-Day as a tribute to the 50th anniversary 19 years ago. This book was one of Ambrose’s most successful efforts to reach beyond the academic world and into the mainstream. And in this book Ambrose managed to crossover into popular publishing without compromising academic rigorousness or integrity. (Later, his popular success led to unfortunate carelessness which resulted in accusations of plagiarism, but this book predates that time.) D-Day is scrupulously well-researched and includes material from thousands of interviews which Ambrose conducted. The book reads so breathtakingly that you find yourself almost anxious to learn the outcome! This is among Ambrose’s best, and a must-read to learn more about D-Day. Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers is an excellent supplement, containing extensive material from interviews with participants from D-Day through to The Bulge.

D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, Stephen E. Ambrose; Simon & Schuster, 1995: ISBN: 068480137X.

A Milestone Along The Information Superhighway

It was on this day, 8 June 1887, that Herman Hollerith filed for United States Patent 395,781 – his second – for an electro-mechanical tabulating machine which used punch cards to record and store data. Though punched cards had been used for more than a century to control looms and to program music boxes, clock organs, and the like, Hollerith was the first to use them to tabulate data electronically. As such, this patent represents a major milestone in the evolution of the Information Age and of the computers which are so completely ubiquitous in our daily lives. Hollerith’s original tabulators were not programmable, and were built to perform specific tasks, but later modifications permitted limited, dynamic repurposing of the tabulators, a precursor of true programmability.

Hollerith’s tabulators were first used by the U.S. Census Bureau to tabulate the data on the 1890 Census. Previous census data had taken many years to produce; the first reports of the 1890 Census were available in late 1891. Such an impressive result led to an immediate interest in the machines and their potential business applications. Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company in 1896. This corporation later merged with two competitors to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Company, which in 1924 under the leadership of Thomas J. Watson was rechristened the International Business Machines Company, better known as IBM.

There are numerous sources about Hollerith and his patents, but the definitive material resides with The United States Patent and Trademark Office. These days, one can use that child of Hollerith’s heritage, “The Web,” to access the USPTO database. Search for Hollerith, and you will find a wealth of data, including drawings of his machines. Take a look at:

http://www.uspto.gov/patents/resources/methods/afmdpm/examples/395781.jsp

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The newest computer can merely compound, at speed,
the oldest problem in the relations between human beings,
and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem,
of what to say and how to say it.

— Edward R. Murrow

Sixty-Eight Years Ago: D-Day, The Invasion Of Europe

It is certainly proper that we take a moment in our busy schedules to remember the momentous event of 68 years ago today.

The 20th century, like any other, was fully provided with great and terrible moments, and instances that have changed the course of history. Nevertheless, if there be one day — one isolated day — that can truly be called the single most important day in the last century, then surely D-Day must be that day.

It was on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 that I began periodically sending these historical notes. I must mark this anniversary, especially as there has recently been something of a distressing trend to minimize or denigrate the significance of D-Day. I feel a personal connection to this crucial historic event because my late father, Bill Rawson, Senior, flew his first bombing missions, co-piloting a lead bomber at the age of 19, in support of the invasion.

Sixty-seven years ago, Tuesday 6 June 1944, the leaders of the forces allied against Hitler’s terrible Reich gambled men and materièl on a scale the likes of which the world had never seen (and which we may ardently hope it never will see again!) At 0630 on 6 June, the first waves of what was to become a force 156,000 strong hit the beaches of Normandy to establish an allied toehold on the continent of Europe and to effect the beginning of the end for Hitler’s ghastly regime.

We know, live with, and daily benefit from the results of this day, but we may easily forget the risks that were then associated with the invasion and we rarely explore the dire consequences that a failure would have brought. It is easy to ignore the possibility of failure in the light of 68 years of hindsight, and we often tend to see that which has happened as inevitable. But to those involved at the time, the risks were real and the possibility of failure was keenly sensed; General Eisenhower carefully prepared his official statement in the event of failure. As it turned out, the invasion was successful beyond the most optimistic projections of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces.

Planners’ predictions of the day’s casualties ranged from a low of 12% to a high of 60%; the actual results were far, far better despite the terrible fighting on “Bloody Omaha.” Recently, extensive archival research has been conducted to provide an accurate and precise total for the day’s actual casualties. Historically, the total allied casualties for that day were reported as fewer than 6,000, about 4% of the 156,000 troops landed that day, with about 2,400 of these being fatalities. The recent research, as reported at the British D-Day Museum website, gives revised totals standing at nearly 10,000 total casualties and almost 4,000 fatalities. The final human cost was enormous, but even adjusted to the newer 6% figure, it was far below what had been expected. And for a historical perspective, These losses were about the same as those which Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia incurred in a single day at Gettysburg.

The invasion inescapably wrought death and destruction on the population of Normandy. The towns, villages, and farms of Normandy suffered under allied bombing and Nazi shelling, and from the ground battles that were fought across the Norman countryside. A 2009 article in the New York Times estimated that there were nearly 20,000 French civilian casualties as a result of the 10-weeks of fighting that followed the invasion. Allied tanks and armor bulldozed great swathes through the ancient hedgerows of the picturesque Norman farms. Driving through Normandy in early July of 1977, I noted that it was still easy to identify the route that the tanks had taken, because the relative newness of the hedgerows that had regrown was plainly visible, even 33 years after the invasion.

Within a few hours of the start of the invasion, it became clear that the allied forces could hold their beachheads. It took weeks for the armies to break out of Normandy, and it was almost a year before Germany capitulated, yet the outcome plainly hinged upon this daring gamble. The gamble succeeded for many, many reasons, of course. But today we should remember and be grateful to the soldiers of Free France, Canada, Great Britain, and The United States of America, as well as those of smaller contingents from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Poland, whose courage and determination made the victory a reality, and who allowed us to live and grow in a world where the open brutality and blunt terrorism of nations is less common, and the horrors of war less frequent than in the first half of the 20th century, albeit such horror is undeniably still far too frequent.

And we should remember that there are hundreds of thousands of men and women serving us around the world today. Some are directly in harm’s way, others well-removed from the front. But all serve. These people, too, deserve our thanks. So as we remember and honor the men and women of what Tom Brokaw has aptly styled “The Greatest Generation,” we should also say thank you to those who today rise to the challenge and serve a great nation even unto their last full measure.

My thanks to all who have served and who do serve in any capacity. I am deeply grateful for your sacrifices. Thank you. It cannot be said too frequently. Thank you.

Jamie Rawson

Flower Mound, Texas

In war, resolution;
in defeat, defiance;
in victory magnanimity;
in peace, goodwill.

— Winston Churchill

FURTHER READING:

Online Resources:

The Portsmouth British D-Day Museum Website:

http://www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/

The U.S. National D-Day Museum Website:

http://www.ddaymuseum.org/

New York Times Article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/21iht-letter.html

Books:

For D-Day, there are, I feel, three essential books. First and foremost is Cornelius Ryan’s classic The Longest Day. First published in 1951, Ryan’s work was the first comprehensive distillation of the massive official documentation of D-Day (from both the archives of the allies and the Third Reich) supplemented with extensive personal interviews. Ryan was a journalist, and the style of The Longest Day reflects that background, but his work is a landmark of contemporary history. An excellent and highly readable work, The Longest Day is an excellent starting point from which to learn more about D-Day.

The Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D-Day, Cornelius Ryan; Simon & Schuster, 1994: ISBN: 0671890913

John Keegan, sometimes called “the Dean of Military History” was inspired by his childhood memories of watching the preparations leading up to D-Day in rural England. He became a historian and specialized in military history, bursting onto the mainstream literary scene in 1976 with his outstanding The Face of Battle, a study of three famous battles, comparing and contrasting them. In 1982, Keegan published Six Armies In Normandy, an account of D-Day that goes further that Ryan’s by following the invasion up to the Liberation of Paris two months later. Keegan is a wonderfully engaging writer who never forgets that history should be as interesting to read as the best fiction, while maintaining impeccable academic standards.

Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris, John Keegan; Penguin, 1994: ISBN: 0140235426

Stephen Ambrose completed D-Day as a tribute to the 50th anniversary 17 years ago. This book was one of Ambrose’s most successful efforts to reach beyond the academic world and into the mainstream. And in this book Ambrose managed to crossover into popular publishing without compromising academic rigorousness or integrity. (Later, his popular success led to unfortunate carelessness which resulted in accusations of plagiarism, but this book predates that time.) D-Day is scrupulously well-researched and includes material from thousands of interviews which Ambrose conducted. The book reads so breathtakingly that you find yourself almost anxious to learn the outcome! This is among Ambrose’s best, and a must-read to learn more about D-Day. Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers is an excellent supplement, containing extensive material from interviews with participants from D-Day through to The Bulge.

D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, Stephen E. Ambrose; Simon & Schuster, 1995: ISBN: 068480137X.

The Golden Gate Bridge Turns Seventy Five

Yesterday, San Francisco celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was on May 27, 1937 (a Thursday, interestingly enough) that the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge opened to the public. Schools and businesses were closed, and the city of San Francisco declared a holiday to celebrate the event. That first day, the bridge was open for pedestrian traffic only. Five years in the making, the bridge fulfilled a vision that had been nurtured for sixty years or more before construction finally started in 1932. Engineer Joseph Strauss was the moving force behind the undertaking, and his initial design of 1927 was the focal point for the effort persuade the politicians and the people that the bridge was not merely possible, but necessary.

It is almost inconceivable that construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was begun even as the country was in the depth of the Great Depression. To add to this astonishing fact, consider that the massive Bay Bridge was being built at the same time! What great courage and confidence, and far-sighted vision it took to do so much at such a period in our history. New construction techniques were developed to address the unique challenges of the project. Unprecedented cooperation among state, county, and city governments was pioneered. And a new “Wonder of the World” was created.

Strauss’ original design was much modified by the time construction began; the famed Art Deco appearance was the work of associate architect Irving Morrow. Strauss made the final selection of “International Orange” for the paint scheme of the bridge, feeling that the bright color would help provide navigational safety for ships and planes. Though the color was chosen for imminently practical reasons, it has proven to be a fortunate choice for the beauty of the bridge as well. Situated in a naturally beautiful setting, the bridge somehow compliments the scene.

Twenty-five years ago, on Sunday, May 24, 1987, my brother Bill, my friend Michelle Gluck, and I braved the crowds to take part in the Fiftieth Anniversary Bridge Walk. Unlike on the opening day in 1937 when foot traffic was permitted all day long, in 1987 the plan was to allow pedestrian access for only two hours in the morning. This relatively short time for pedestrian access was the result of a compromise: Marin County had insisted that bridge not be closed to vehicle traffic at all, while pretty much the rest of the world wanted it closed all day so people could really enjoy the pedestrian experience. Marin County, then-current sentiment held, was just being a spoil-sport (I have always assumed, personally, that the county government was simply showing how powerful it could be, exercising its sovereign authority despite almost universal sentiment to the contrary; the urge to exert power has always been a common governmental trait.) The planners in 1987 had forecast a crowd of between 150,000 and 200,000 people with perhaps 50,000 expected to make the walk across the bridge. They were in for a shock!

Well over a million people converged on San Francisco that day, and some 750,000 or more were determined to avail themselves of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to walk across the main roadway of the bridge. (actually there were a surprising number of old-timers planning to do this a second time!) More than a quarter of a million folks actually made it onto the bridge that Sunday morning in 1987 (counts range from SFPD’s low of 250,000 to the bridge’s official engineering report’s high of 800,000!) Bill, Michelle and I had reached into the middle of the span when everything came to a crushing halt. People had poured onto the bridge from the Marin side (which was not planned) and others had decided to turn back. But there were hundreds of thousands still coming in from San Francisco. It was a situation that could have invited panic or worse: there was almost no room to move for well over an hour as officials began to turn people away at the access points, and to clear people off of the bridge from the ends. The two-hour limit had stretched to almost six hours by the time all were cleared out. As things returned to normal, photographs showed that the weight of the massive crowd had actually flattened the gentle arc of the bridge deck by a full ten feet!

I will always be impressed though, that despite the tension of the situation, (no pun intended!) there was no panic, no riot, no calamity. Around our little group, folks began introducing themselves, talking about why they had decided to take the walk, telling jokes, and — with a little sense of gallows humor as we all heard eerie metallic groans and pings emanating from the bridge — making jokes about hurling into the water when the cables started snapping! One young man nearby decided we should all sing, just to keep things calm, and we all joined in on Sweet Chariot and other soothing, mellow tunes. The whole experience was likely an “only-in-San-Francisco” sort of occasion.

The Golden Gate Bridge held the title of the longest span in the world when it opened in 1937 and retained that status for 27 years until the Verrazano Narrows bridge was opened. It is still an inspiring monument to vision, ingenuity, determination, and the can-do spirit. Functional and lovely, it seems to me that no better monument could have been built.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Golden Gate Bridge 16 April 2012

Golden Gate Bridge 16 April 2012

A Day Of Bridges

Today is an anniversary of bridges, both the literal and the metaphorical. I think the both sorts of bridge very naturally command our attention and interest, for these crucial connectors are both immensely practical, and intensely inspirational. Add to that this: physical bridges are often works of surpassing beauty, even when they are at their most elemental and unadorned; metaphorical bridges are works of human genius or human passion and compassion – endlessly fascinating.

It was on this day in 1883 that the renowned Brooklyn Bridge was first opened to the public, with pomp and ceremony the like of which New York had not seen in two generations, since the opening of the Erie Canal fifty-eight years earlier. Fourteen years in the making, the Brooklyn Bridge was the outstanding engineering feat of its day. It was the longest and largest span the world had seen up to that time, and it embodied the very most modern of technological advances.

The bridge was the brainchild of German-born John A. Roebling, a gifted civil engineer who designed many smaller suspension bridges before he proposed the audacious span across New York’s East River. Roebling also introduced the manufacturing of wire rope (or cable) to the United States, and his wire rope company prospered as more and more suspension bridges were built across the nation. Roebling believed that the capabilities of wire rope were far greater than had been realized; he foresaw that suspension bridges could be built where other bridge designs would be impossible due to site limitations or navigational concerns. The East River between New York and Brooklyn was too important a commercial waterway to constrict with a tradition wooden or stone bridge, and the site was unsuitable for such traditional bridge designs as well, with the channel being unusually deep. Roebling realized that this was the ideal location to test his vision.

In the course of the Brooklyn Bridge’s construction, twenty-seven men died. Considering the often brutal working conditions for construction laborers in that era, this is a relatively small number. Such was the concern for the health and safety of the bridge workers that one contemporary newspaper accused Roebling of coddling his crew! Yet injuries were many. Workers were killed when cables snapped and when an archway collapsed, but many succumbed to a hideous and previously unknown malady called “Caisson disease.” Today we know this affliction as “The Bends.” When the massive stone towers of the bridge were being built, workers labored deep under water in gigantic, highly pressurized caissons – imagine inverting a bucket in a pool of water: the trapped air will become compressed and pressurized as you push the bucket deeper into the water, but it will be a pocket of breathable air under water. Air was pumped into these caissons to ensure that water would not intrude. But the high pressure created a situation similar to that encountered by deep divers: rapid decompression caused nitrogen bubbles to form in the bloodstream of victims, causing excruciating pain, paralysis, and even death.

It is worth noting that among the casualties of the Bridge was John A. Roebling, who had the vision and the ability to conceive and undertake the project, and who personally oversaw it inception and continuation. John Roebling was injured during an inspection of the Bridge site in mid 1869, two years into the tremendous undertaking. The injury seemed almost slight: his right foot had been caught between the dock and the boat he was boarding. The injury, however, led to the amputation of his toes, and developed into a life-threatening infection. Less than a month after the accident, he was dead.

Roebling’s son Washington next took the helm of the Bridge project. Washington Roebling would live to see the Bridge completed, and far beyond. He observed, shortly before his death in 1926, that few seemed to be able to separate his identity from that of his father: “Many people think I died in 1869.” Washington Roebling was himself a victim of the Bridge: working to control a fire in the Brooklyn caisson he developed a severe, debilitating case of The Bends. Though he later made a partial recovery, Washington Roebling was permanently crippled by the injury. He moved into a house which overlooked the construction site, and his wife Emily assumed the active duties of managing and supervising construction.

The Brooklyn Bridge was a marvel of engineering, of materials science, and of shear courage: the courage to commence the undertaking, and the courage to see it through to completion despite setbacks and personal tragedy. The Bridge so closely connected the cities of New York and Brooklyn, that less than fifteen years after the Bridge opened, the cities merged into Greater New York. And it served as an inspiration to countless other bridge projects which employed the suspension design. Other bridges have long since exceeded the dimensions of the Brooklyn Bridge, but few have ever had its impact.

There is so much to say about the creation of this “Wonder of the World.” The astounding engineering feats that made it possible to build the huge masonry towers deep under water are worth a book of their own. To delve deeper, consider a couple of resources: filmmaker Ken Burns made a wonderful documentary about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge that periodically airs on PBS. It is also available on DVD, and is well worth a look. For a definitive and wonderfully enjoyable history of the Bridge, read David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. (Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1972: ISBN: 067145711X) This comprehensive book (577 pages) never fails to hold one’s attention, and McCullough’s engaging writing and energetic narrative style make the text more entertaining than many a fictional novel.

As for the metaphorical bridge associated with this day, it was on this day in 1844 that Samuel F. B. Morse publically demonstrated a practical telegraph, transmitting a message from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland, and receiving the same message in reply. While in today’s world the distance between Baltimore and Washington is trivial indeed, in 1844, it still took a fast courier half a day to carry a message between the two cities. Telegraphc, instant communication created, in effect, a communication bridge between the two cities, and later this “bridge” spanned the globe, connecting New York to London and beyond, Hong Kong to San Francisco, Sydney to Capetown.

Morse was not the originator of the notion of using electrical signals to communicate over great distances; the idea had been around for more than three decades when Morse made his demonstration. Morse, however, was the first to build a practical, commercially viable implementation of this idea. Still, because the notion was so novel, and practical applications of electricity were all but unknown, Morse had difficulty attracting investors to his plans. He was finally able to interest the United States Congress in the potential of the telegraph, and Congress voted the funding for the construction of the world’s first data-com network between Washington and Baltimore. (DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and ARPA, The Advanced Research Projects Agency, the forebears of the Internet we know today, therefore descend from a long and fruitful tradition!) Morse also developed his Morse Code, which made rapid transmission of information possible, despite the inherent limitations of the day’s technology.

Morse Code, a series of “dots” and “dashes” used to represent alphabetic characters, numerals, and punctuation, would prove to be the most enduring remote communication standard the world has yet seen. The simplicity of the code, and its suitability for a broad range of media — electric telegraph, flashing light, most any audible percussive method, and even the human voice, (as “di-dah-dah-dit”) as well as print and other visual representations — made the code widely useful. Though the code underwent several modifications between Morse’s famous first demonstration and its designation as an official international standard in 1865, it remained in official use internationally until it was formally superseded for navigational purposes by the International adoption of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System on 1 February 1999. Thus this first “network protocol” endured for more than 150 years. And it remains in wide use today, especially among amateur radio enthusiasts.

Morse’s demonstration was a success, and the commercial telecom business was born. Within a decade, more than 24,000 miles of telegraph line crisscrossed the nation, utterly transforming society. The telegraph was a natural companion to the rapidly expanding railroad network. This pairing opened the vast spaces of North America to settlement, and permitted a vast swath of the continent to be truly and effectively integrated into a functioning nation.

In April of 1844, information moved at the rate of the fastest horse, the swiftest ship; by late 1858, information could be transmitted from New York to London in seconds! The world was forever changed, and pace of life increased with the speed of information. It is therefore fitting that the choice of the first text to be sent over the telegraph seemed to presage this impact: “What hath God wrought?”

-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-
Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

We can communicate an idea around the world in seventy seconds,
but it sometimes takes years for an idea to get through
a quarter-inch of human skull.

— Charles F. Kettering

The Assassination Of Lincoln

In the hustle and bustle of today, it is fitting to take a moment to recall one of the greatest men who ever served as President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. A moment of recollection and reflection is fitting today because it was on yesterday’s date, 14 April 1865 — Good Friday — that Lincoln was felled by an assassin’s bullet as he and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln watched the popular comedy Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

Moments after the shot rang out in the theater, John Wilkes Booth, a noted actor of the day, leapt from the President’s box onto the stage, shouting “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” (“Death to Tyrants”; the motto of Virginia.) Booth broke his leg in the fall, but managed to crawl off the stage and escape in the ensuing confusion.

Lincoln was taken from the theater to a house across the street to lie abed as his physicians debated what could or should be done. Before surgery could be attempted, Lincoln died in the early morning of April 15. Secretary of War Stanton observed: “Now he belongs to the Ages.”

In one brief note, I cannot hope to sum up Lincoln’s life and his utterly crucial importance to the nation we have today, but I can note that he is almost always ranked at the top of the list of most important Presidents. And it is worth noting that the tales we learned in Childhood about Lincoln’s great public character and deep personal honesty and intergrity are well upheld under close scrutiny of the existing facts.

The world would be a different place had Lincoln not been killed in that fine early April of 1865; the world would likely be a worse place had he never lived.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. — Abraham Lincoln, 1864

Fifty Years Ago This Day: Remembering Dr. King

It was on this day in 1968, now fifty years ago, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The killing touched off a wave of urban violence on a scale and of a scope far exceeding anything like it before. The nation reeled under the twin shocks of assassination and widespread rioting.

Those of us over a certain age will remember the day: it stands out as one of a trio of assassinations which seemed to define the 1960s, the first being John F. Kennedy four-and-a-half years before, and the third being Robert F. Kennedy just two months later. It was late afternoon on that warm Thursday in Southern California where I then lived. My brother Rob and I had been to an after-school birthday party for a friend a few houses from our own. My older brother Chris had walked over to take us home. When we came to the door, Chris informed us that “Martin Luther King had been shot.”

I doubt that then, at the age of nine, I had a very full understanding of what Dr. King had accomplished, yet he had been a major figure throughout my conscious life up to that day. When I was quite young, my family had lived in Montgomery, Alabama at a time when that city was still grappling with the revolutionary impact of the Bus Boycott of a few years before; Dr. King was, of course, a prominent figure in that struggle. We had lived outside Washington, D.C. when Dr. King had delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech in August of 1963. My mother felt we should watch the television news reports when Birmingham, Alabama Police Chief Bull Connor ordered police and firemen to set dogs on peaceful demonstrators, and to turn fire hoses on the women and small children. We watched on TV as Dr. King and his followers marched peacefully from Selma to Montgomery only to be met with violence. Dr. King was a figure nearly as familiar as President Johnson – and to a nine year old, he was infinitely more dramatic and interesting.

What a shock, then, to hear he had been shot. It was so unreal. And when we returned home to watch the news, we watched more trauma unfold as city after city erupted in violence in reaction to the devastating news. Dr. King would never have approved of the violence and destruction of course. It was horrific in the extreme to hear that in Washington, D.C., firemen had been shot at as they responded to the emergency. It was frightening to see the skyline of Washington with the glow of fires illuminating it. Who could approve of senseless destruction, but especially in light of the character of Dr. King? Yet one also understood that the feeling of rage was too overwhelming to be contained. Dr. King’s program of non-violent action had ultimately resulted in a most violent death for himself, with so much of his work unfinished. No, one could not approve of the violence, but one could understand the rage.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a human being, so it is not surprising that in recent years some of his foibles have been brought to light. If he was flawed, however, these were minor flaws, for he remained focussed on his goal, and he remained true to his principles. When he was met with violence, he offered peaceful response. Dr. King never hesitated to speak out, but he continually forebore to strike out. And though he could march 25,000 people from Selma to Montgomery to present their demands to Governor Wallace, he did not use that great crowd to extort or coerce. At a time of uncertainty and unrest, Dr. King strove to effect maximal change with minimal upheaval.

Dr. King was also one of America’s greatest orators, possessed of an entrancing speaking voice, a dramatic delivery style, and a great gift of rhetorical brilliance. Few people can hear a recording of a speech by King and remain unmoved. His, “I Have a Dream” speech surely ranks among the very foremost of American speeches, and it represents a landmark in the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century. In one of the most often quoted passages in any American speech, Dr. King proclaimed:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

It is clear that Dr. King’s work is not yet completed, even today. But it is also clear that his dream did not die with him. He was just 38 years old when he was killed; shortly before his death he was heard to wonder if he had accomplished anything at all in the previous dozen years: there was still so very much yet to be done. The work which Dr. King undertook remains to this day unfinished, but he did not strive in vain. The world we live in today is one far removed from that of 1955 or even 1968. It is today unthinkable that dogs and fire hoses would be used against peaceful demonstrators. It is unimaginable that a state government would seriously assert its right to disenfranchise and to discriminate against a large portion of its citizens. It seems medieval that a state would deny anyone employment, or legal rights, or even so basic a human institution as marriage, based upon race. Yet in one form or another, issues of these types still face us; the terrible scourge of racism has seen an appalling rebirth in recent years, encouraged in part by pretended “populist” politicians who flagrantly fan old fears to further their ambitions.

The work is not yet done. But it was well begun. And it must be rekindled by those of us today who understand the need.

Dr. King earned a goodly share of the credit for getting this work underway. It seems fitting, that we pause for a moment on this sad anniversary to remember a great leader. And to recall his great work, a work in progress.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Oh, the worst of tragedies is not to die young, but to live until I am seventy-five and yet not ever truly to have lived.

— Martin Luther King Jr.