Friday, November 20, 2015

Lance and Chuck's Veterans Day Events

On Saturday, November 14, Lance and Chuck gave their reading with music of Flower of Iowa to an attentive and enthusiastic audience from the Silver Connections LGBT seniors group at The Loft in White Plains, New York. 

The Loft had held a very successful fundraiser the night before, and one of the items at the lunch that accompanied the Silver Connections meeting was a bag of limited-edition Rainbow Doritos that had fetched $200 at silent auction.

Western Massachusetts became the latest setting for a reading (with music) from Flower of Iowa on Tuesday, November 17, as Lance and Chuck traveled to Williamstown for a presentation to the Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County. 

The event, in conjunction with Veterans Day, featured a highly responsive audience from the new and fast-growing group, one of several such gatherings springing up in the scenic and lively Berkshires region.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Seldom-Told Stories: The Great War

The first place I started research on Flower of Iowa, back in the 1990s, was the huge public library on Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, New York, where I was then living. When I went to the card catalogue (younger readers may have to look up that term), to my surprise, all entries for “World War I” were redirected to “European War, 1914-1918.” 

In someone’s considered estimation, the seminal conflict of the 20th century was a localized European affair.

National World War I Museum and Memorial That jarring thought came back to me this past weekend, when I attended the 2015 Symposium at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.  Two days before this year’s Symposium, the museum had welcomed its second-largest one-day crowd since its 2006 reopening, thanks to its strategic location during the hometown Royals’ World Series victory celebration.

Presenter at the 2015 Symposium at the National World War I Museum and Memorial2015 Symposium at the National World War I Museum and MemorialThe Symposium presentations underscored how thoroughly the Great War was, in fact, a World War. Compelling presenters, focusing on 1915, offered all-too-seldom-told stories: of the Eastern Front, where far more territory exchanged hands in a year than on the Western Front in four – with one result being the mass migration of some 5 million civilian refugees (sound familiar?); of Japan’s involvement in the war, arguably the original “pivot to Asia”; of the impact of the little-known fighting in German East Africa (today’s Tanzania).

The Eastern Front WWI

The Eastern Front WWI

The Eastern Front WWI

Particular attention was given to the war in the Middle East in this, the centennial year of Gallipoli – a military fiasco that Flower of Iowa’s Aussie sergeant Jamie Colbeck gives a harrowing account of surviving. Chuck and I visited Gallipoli four years ago; I can still remember standing on the beach, looking up at the cliffs and marveling, “What were they thinking, landing troops here?”
WWI monument at Gallipoli

Gallipoli today is notable for a monument that bears the amazing words attributed to Mustafa Kemal, who led the Ottoman troops in repelling the Australian/New Zealander/British invasion in 1915 and, as Atatürk, president of Turkey, is quoted as saying nearly 20 years later:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.  Therefore rest in peace.  There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. ... You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.  After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
We rightly honor all American veterans on this day. But it is right, too, to remember Atatürk’s incredibly generous and eloquent words, which by extension pay tribute to those on all sides who died in the conflict that did, indeed, engulf the world. We pause to commemorate the official end of that war, on November 11, 1918 — 97 years ago today.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Liberty Memorial Reborn

I spent 21 years working on my novel Flower of Iowa before it reached the public last year.  My most intense research took place while living in Chicago in 1993-1994, a situation that allowed me to explore Tommy Flowers’s home state, including his hometown of Brooklyn. My journey also brought me to the Cantigny estate in suburban Chicago where the nation held its observance of the 75th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the Great War and the Indiana World War Memorial.

Although I was already traveling to Great War sites and museums in Britain, France and Belgium to research the novel, ironically I couldn't visit my own nation’s most prominent WWI memorial. That’s because Kansas City, Missouri’s Liberty Memorial had so deteriorated that it was closed for safety reasons in 1994. It seemed an ignominious fate for a celebrated monument whose groundbreaking in 1921 drew 100,000 people to watch Generals Ferdinand Foch and John J. Pershing and three other Allied commanders presented with flags by an obscure local WWI vet named Harry S. Truman. As I pursued writing a book about a war forgotten by so many Americans, the Liberty Memorial’s fate was particularly poignant to me.

But American lives are renowned for having second acts – and so can American monuments. After more than $100 million was raised, the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial reopened in 2006, now incorporating a modern museum. In 2013, I finally got to visit, and under auspicious circumstances: I was attending the inaugural Symposium, “The Coming of the Great War,” sponsored by the World War I Historical Association and the Museum itself. (I attend the 2015 Symposium this week, and will provide a report when I return.)

It’s hard to say which was more rewarding – touring the restored memorial and the new museum, or participating in the Symposium. The content of the programs was as wide-ranging and informative as one could want. While Europeans still live in the shadows of The Great War, it’s rare in the U.S. to spend two days with both experts and ordinary citizens who share an absorbing interest in the events of 1914-1918. These people care passionately about the First World War; it was hard not to feel like an interloper at times. (I refuse to call attendees World War I “buffs” or “aficionados” – words I consider insulting to both them and those who suffered through the conflict.)
The restored Memorial is an astonishing bit of 1920s Egyptian Revival architecture, with a soaring central tower that is topped at night by a Flame of Inspiration. It is flanked by Assyrian sphinxes and two halls, each of which contains part of an extraordinary French mural called the Panthéon de la Guerre, as well as bronze tablets bearing the names of 441 Kansas City residents who died in World War I.

By contrast, the Museum’s modern space combines contemporary audiovisual techniques and artifacts to rival the best Great War museums in Europe. Particularly effective is a film that evocatively uses period footage to re-create the mood – both innocence and menace – of a country marching into global conflict – and taking Tommy Flowers with it.

To download the acclaimed Great War novel Flower of Iowa, click here.