December 07, 2015

“Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”

On December 7, 1941 — which President Franklin D. Roosevelt would memorably name “a date which will live in infamy” on the following day — hundreds of Japanese warplanes made a deadly surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

When the crew of the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans rushed on deck they saw devastation all around them.

Not far away, a huge cloud of smoke was rising from the battleship USS Arizona and it was sinking.

Beyond the Arizona, the USS Oklahoma was rolling over. Sailors were jumping from its sides.

Another nearby battleship, the USS West Virginia, was badly damaged and sagging amidships.

The New Orleans was docked for repairs when the attack occurred. As usual during repairs, the ship’s electricity was temporarily coming through a power cable from the shore.

Soon after they came on deck, the crew began firing the cruiser’s guns at Japanese planes.

But when they needed more ammunition they discovered that the power cable to shore had been cut, making the electric ammunition hoist inoperable.

Undeterred, the men formed lines and began carrying the heavy shells to the guns by hand. As they did, ship chaplain Lieutenant Howell M. Forgy walked along the deck encouraging them, shouting “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”

The Japanese pilots eventually flew away after sinking nine U.S. ships and damaging 21 others. Their attack killed 2,350 Americans, including 1,177 sailors on the USS Arizona.

The next day, America officially entered World War II.

In the months that followed, word spread about the memorable line shouted by a chaplain during the Pearl Harbor attack.

In some stories about the quote, the chaplain was unnamed.

In others, including a widely-read article in the

November 2, 1942 issue of LIFE magazine, he was identified as Captain W.A. Maguire — a senior Navy chaplain who outranked Forgy and was on a dock in Pearl Harbor that day.

According to the Life article, Maguire said he didn’t actually remember if he had shouted “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” But he didn’t deny it.

Stories about the incident inspired American songwriter Frank Loesser to write a patriotic song that used “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” as the title and chorus.

Loesser’s song was published in 1942, recorded by several artists and quickly became popular. The version by Kay Kyser and his band reached #1 on the pop singles chart in January 1943.

The LIFE article and the popularity of the song led the crew of the USS New Orleans to urge Chaplain Forgy to come forward and set the record straight about the fact that it was he — not Maguire — who said the now famous words.

At first, Forgy demurred, but eventually his shipmates persuaded him.

The officers of the USS New Orleans arranged a meeting with the press and the real story of this famous World War II quotation was finally revealed.

Chaplain Forgy made it through the war, returned to a civilian ministry and died in Glendora, California, in January 1972. His famous quote lives on.

In case you’ve never seen them, here are the lyrics of the song Forgy’s quote inspired, which opens with the chorus:

      Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
      Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
      Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
      And we'll all stay free

      Praise the Lord and swing into position
      Can't afford to be a politician
      Praise the Lord, we're all between perdition
      And the deep blue sea

      Yes, the sky pilot said it, you gotta give him credit
      For a son of a gun of a gunner was he

      Shouting, 'Praise the Lord, we're on a mighty mission
      All aboard, we ain't a-goin' fishin'
      Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
      And we'll all stay free'


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December 04, 2015

“Facts are stubborn things…”

In the years leading up to the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775, the rebel-rousing
Sons of Liberty used an engraving of what they called “The Boston Massacre” to encourage anti-British sentiments. 

The engraving, done by Paul Revere, shows a line of British soldiers coldly firing their bayoneted muskets into a crowd of Americans, several of which lay bleeding on the ground. 

A poem underneath that scene describes how the King’s men “With murderous Rancour stretch their bloody hands, Like fierce Barbarians grinning o'er their Prey.” 

It was good propaganda. But it did distort what happened at the “Boston Massacre” on the night of March 5, 1770. 

That night, a local resident got into an argument over a debt with a British soldier. Eight other British soldiers came out on the street to help their comrade. A group of Americans surrounded the soldiers. The Brits were soon being yelled at and pelted with snowballs, ice chunks and debris by the much larger, hostile crowd. 

The bloodletting appears to have started when a mulatto seaman named Crispus Attucks hit one of the soldiers with a piece of wood. The soldiers panicked. Somebody yelled “Fire!” and they shot into the crowd, killing Attucks and four other Americans. 

When the British soldiers were arrested and put on trial for murder, a Boston merchant asked local lawyer (and future president) John Adams to defend them. He agreed, knowing it would make him unpopular and could ruin his career.

Adams believed the soldiers deserved legal representation as a matter of principle. After looking into the incident, he also believed they were provoked and should not be executed for murder, as many Bostonians wanted. 
On December 4, 1770, the second day of the brief trial, Adams gave his summation to the jury. 

He argued that anyone might have reacted the same way the soldiers did in such a confusing and potentially life-threatening situation. He suggested Crispus Attucks was more to blame for “the dreadful carnage of that night” than the soldiers, because of his “mad behavior.”

Facts are stubborn things,” Adams said, uttering what became a famous quotation. “And whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact; if an assault was made to endanger their lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their own defence; if it was not so severe as to endanger their lives, yet if they were assaulted at all, struck and abused by blows of any sort, by snow-balls, oyster-shells, cinders, clubs, or sticks of any kind; this was a provocation, for which the law reduces the offence of killing, down to manslaughter.”
The jury was persuaded. Six of the soldiers were acquitted. Two were found guilty of manslaughter and punished by having their thumbs branded. 

Several years later, John Adams wrote in his diary that his defense of those British soldiers was “one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.” 

“Facts are stubborn things” became one of Adams' best known and oft-cited quotes. However, contrary to what I once thought, he didn't coin that line. 

As noted by quote mavens Garson O'Toole on his Quote Investigator site and Dr. Mardy Grothe in his Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations, it was already a saying in England and America and dates back to at least the early 1700s.

Two centuries later, President Ronald Reagan uttered the most famous modern use and perceived “misuse” of that quote. 
It came in his speech at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 15, 1988

Reagan was there to speak in support of the current Republican presidential candidate, his Vice President George H.W. Bush, who was running against Democrat Michael Dukakis.

In the speech, Reagan recounted what he viewed as the successes of his administration and the reasons why he felt voters should elect another Republican as president.

Reagan repeated John Adam’s facts quote several times in the address. It was a rhetorical device he used in the part that focused on the economic problems he blamed on his Democratic predecessor, President Jimmy Carter.

“Before we came to Washington,” Reagan said, “Americans had just suffered the two worst back-to-back years of inflation in 60 years. Those are the facts, and as John Adams said, ‘Facts are stubborn things.’ Interest rates had jumped to over 21 percent…Facts are stubborn things…The median family income fell 51/2 percent. Facts are stubborn things.
Then he made what became one of his most-cited gaffes, saying:
“Fuel costs jumped through the atmosphere, more than doubling. Then people waited in gas lines as well as unemployment lines. Facts are stupid things.”
Reagan immediately corrected himself, adding: “Stubborn things, I should say.” But once the word stupid came out of his mouth, that’s the version that was picked up and cited by his critics. 

Today, thousands of websites quote Reagan as saying “Facts are stupid things” as if it were somehow a significant quote — without noting that it came from a speech in which he said “stubborn things” several other times and quickly corrected his brief slip of the tongue.

Of course, thousands of others note that Reagan said “Facts are stubborn things” — without mentioning that he was quoting John Adams, thus creating the impression that Reagan coined the line.

When it comes to quotations on the Internet, facts are often slippery things.

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November 25, 2015

Queen Elizabeth’s “Annus Horribilis” and it’s ancestor, the “Annus Mirabilis”…

On November 24, 1992, Elizabeth II gave a speech in London to mark the 40th anniversary of her Accession as Queen of England and “the Commonwealth realms.”

The speech immediately became famous for her reference to the year 1992 as an “Annus Horribilis” — which means “horrible year” in Latin.

“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” the Queen said. “In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis.’ I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so.”

There’s no doubt that the year 1992 was an unusually unpleasant one for Elizabeth and England’s Royal Family.

In March, it was announced that the Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, would separate from his wife, Duchess Sarah Ferguson.

In April, her daughter Princess Anne divorced Captain Mark Phillips.

In May, the publication of the bombshell book Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words made it clear that the marriage between Elizabeth’s oldest son, Prince Charles, and Diana, “The People’s Princess,” was also on the rocks.

The book revealed that Charles had been having an affair with his old girlfriend, Camilla Parker-Bowles (who later became his second wife). It also disclosed how miserably unhappy Diana was with Charles and the way she had been treated by other members of the Royal Family.

In August, the Sun tabloid newspaper ran a story about the “Squidgygate” tapes — intimate conversations between Diana and former EastEnders actor James Gilbey (who called Diana by the affectionate nickname “Squidgy”).

Also in August, The Daily Mirror tabloid published photos of Duchess Sarah, topless, having her toes sucked by American financial tycoon John Bryan.

In September, the Sun revealed that Princess Diana may have had an affair with British Army officer James Hewitt.

In early November, The Daily Mirror revealed the “Camillagate” tapes: secretly recorded phone conversations between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles in which Charles said (among other embarrassing things) that he wanted to be Camilla’s tampon.

Then, on November 20, just four days before Queen Elizabeth’s speech, a fire broke out in Windsor Castle, the official Royal residence in London, destroying historic sections of the building.

Given all this, the Queen’s choice of the words “Annus Horribilis” is understandable. And, the fire at Windsor Castle made the phrase oddly ironic.

“Annus Horribilis” is a twist on an older phrase made famous by the British poet John Dryden.

In 1667, Dryden published a poem titled “Annus Mirabilis,” meaning “a year of miracles” (or marvels, or wonders) in Latin.

Dryden’s poem described several historic events that occurred in 1666.

First, it recounts a series of English victories in battles with the Dutch.

Then it talks about the Great Fire of London in September 1666. Although large areas of London were burned, the Great Fire was stopped before it destroyed the entire city.

Dryden took these events as signs that God had performed miracles to save England from destruction and looked fondly on the expansion of the British Empire — thus making 1666 an “Annus Mirabilis” in his view.

I don’t know if Queen Elizabeth’s description of 1992 as an “Annus Horribilis” a few days after the Windsor Castle fire was purposefully ironic. If so, I’d say she has a very dry sense of humor indeed.

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November 18, 2015

“Your eyes are full of hate, Forty-one.” ... In Ben-Hur, that's good.

Screenwriter, playwright and novelist Gore Vidal is linked to two famous quotations about whipping.

One is a funny quip about the old form of corporal punishment called “birching” (whipping someone with a bundle of birch tree rods):

       “I’m all for bringing back the birch, but only between consenting adults.”

This quote appears in many books of quotations and on many websites, generally without any source.

The Yale Book of Quotations has traced it to an article published in the UK Sunday Times Magazine on September 16, 1973.

The other quote about whipping Vidal is linked to is in the epic film Ben-Hur, which premiered in New York City on November 18, 1959.

Official credit for the screenplay of Ben-Hur was given to veteran screenwriter Karl Tunberg.

However, at the request of the film’s director, William Wyler, several other writers did extensive but uncredited rewriting, including Vidal and the famous playwrights Maxwell Anderson and Christopher Fry.

A quote in Ben-Hur that's often cited by movie buffs and books is from a scene in the galley of a Roman warship.

At this point in the film Judah Ben-Hur, played by Charlton Heston, is galley slave.

He's chained there with dozens of other sweating, near-naked men who row the ship.

The Roman naval commander Quintus Arrius, played by British actor Jack Hawkins, comes down into the galley to inspect the slaves.

He asks Heston, who he calls by his seat number – Forty-one – how long he’d been “in service.” 

Heston glares at Hawkins and says with a clear tone of hatred that he’d served a month less a day on the current ship and three years in others.

Hawkins seems to ignore Heston’s tone and walks on.

Suddenly, he turns around and lashes Heston on the back with the multi-stranded whip he’s carrying. (Called a flagrum in Latin.)

Heston rears up and looks menacingly at Hawkins. Hawkins looks down at him coolly and remarks: “You have the spirit to fight back, but the good sense to control it.”

Then he says:

“Your eyes are full of hate, Forty-one. That's good. Hate keeps a man alive. It gives him strength.”

It’s not certain that Gore Vidal was the writer who contributed those famous words to the script.

It could have been Tunberg, Anderson or Fry.

However, given Gore’s sexual preference (he was openly gay long before it was as acceptable as it is today), and given his oft-quoted quip about mutual birch lashings by consenting adults, Gore seems like he might have a special flair for writing a scene that included sweaty, scantily-clad men and a whip.

In fact, Gore claimed to have purposely put a homosexual subtext into the movie's script in its depiction of the relationship between Ben-Hur and Messala, played by Stephen Boyd.

Messala is a Roman. Ben-Hur is a Jew (who later becomes a Christian). They both grew up in Jerusalem in wealthy households and were close childhood friends. Messala left to pursue a career as a soldier. Years later he is sent back to Jerusalem as a commander of the Roman troops stationed in the city.

When Ben-Hur and Messala see each other again for the first time in years, it's a happy and warm reunion.

Gore recalled discussing the nature of their friendship with director William Wyler in an interview in the excellent 1996 documentary The Celluloid Closet.

“I said, ‘Well, look, let me try something. Let’s say that these two guys when they were 15 or 16...they had been lovers and now they’re meeting again and the Roman wants to start it up...Willie stared at me, face grey. And, I said, ‘I’ll never use the word; there will be nothing overt, but it will be perfectly clear that Messala is in love with Ben-Hur.’ Willie said, ‘Gore, this is Ben-Hur, A Tale of the Christ I think is the subtitle,’ he said, rather vaguely, looking around. And Willie finally said, ‘Well, it's certainly better than what we've got. We'll try it.’”

Wyler later denied this conversation with Gore ever took place.

Either way, once you know about the anecdote, it’s hard to not to think of it when you watch the scene in Ben-Hur when the two childhood friends see each other again after years apart and give each other a long, warm hug.

Of course, as the plot progresses Ben-Hur and Messala become arch enemies. They have their final showdown in the famed chariot race near the end of the movie. In that sequence of scenes, the whipping is done to the horses.

Most viewers of the movie may not give it any thought. But I see it as a reflection of mankind's age-old cruelty to animals, especially knowing that nearly 100 horses died during the shooting of the movie.

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November 11, 2015

How “God Bless America” created a musical duel between Woody Guthrie and Irving Berlin

In 1917, during World War I, American songwriter Irving Berlin was drafted into the U.S. Army.

He was already a successful songwriter at that point, known for huge hits like “Alexander's Ragtime Band” (1911) and “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” (1915).

Berlin was stationed at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York. Not long after he arrived, an officer asked if he’d be willing to write a musical show for the soldiers at the base to perform.

Berlin agreed and composed a set of songs for a musical he called Yip-Yip-Yaphank.

He wrote at least eight songs for the show. They included “Oh, How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning,” which later became a hugely popular hit, and several now-forgotten songs, like “Mandy” (a minstrel-style song performed by soldiers in drag and blackface).

One notable song Berlin wrote for Yip-Yip-Yaphank that didn’t make it into the show was titled “God Bless America.” 

Before the musical was performed in July 1918, Berlin decided “God Bless America” was “too solemn.” So, he cut it from the song list, stored his written copy away and forgot about it for twenty years.

Then, in 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to appease Adolf Hitler and prevent a second world war ended up bringing the song to light.

Irving Berlin happened to be in London when Chamberlain announced that he and Hitler had signed the “Anglo-German Pact of Friendship,” or “Munich Agreement.” That pact permitted Nazi Germany to annex the part of Czechoslovakia called Sudetenland in return for Hitler’s supposed promise to refrain from any further land grabs and remain at peace with other European countries.

Chamberlain optimistically proclaimed that the agreement had secured “peace for our time.”

Chamberlain’s remark inspired Berlin. He told a friend he wanted to write “a great peace song,” a patriotic song that celebrated America at peace.

After a couple of false starts, Berlin recalled his abandoned song from Yip-Yip-Yaphank. He made some edits to the lyrics and ended up with the song as we know it today. It starts with these familiar lines:

       “God bless America,
       Land that I love,
       Stand beside her and guide her
       Through the night with a light from above.
       From the mountains to the prairies,
       To the oceans white with foam,
       God bless America,
       My home sweet home.”

Berlin gave his patriotic “peace song” to renowned American singer Kate Smith for its initial unveiling.

She debuted it on her popular radio show on November 11, 1938 — the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, the commemoration of the peace agreement that ended World War I.

Ultimately (and infamously) Chamberlain’s attempt to appease Hitler failed to prevent World War II.

However, “God Bless America” quickly became a major hit, a signature song for Smith and the unofficial American national anthem.

It also rubbed activist-folksinger Woody Guthrie the wrong way.

Irving Berlin and Kate Smith were rich and famous celebrities.

Woody Guthrie was a vocal advocate for low-income Americans and was a poor man himself. He knew from first-hand experience that life in America wasn’t so sweet for most people in late 1930s — the height of the Great Depression.

He felt America needed an anthem for those common folk, instead of a mawkish one that seemed to just wave the flag and ignore the economic problems millions of Americans faced.

So, in 1940, Guthrie wrote a song responding to “God Bless America.” He originally titled it “God Blessed America.”

In the original lyrics, he ended each verse with the words “God blessed America for me.”

And the original last verse had a sardonic twist:

       “One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
       By the Relief Office I saw my people,
       As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering
       If God blessed America for me.”

Over the next few years, Guthrie reworked the lyrics of the song. It still reflected the viewpoint of working class Americans. But he gave it a more positive spin, changed the line used at the end of the verses and retitled it.

Guthrie recorded that version of the song in 1944. You’ll probably recognize it immediately from the first verse:

“This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”

That’s right. Woody Guthrie’s well-known song “This Land is Your Land” started out as “God Blessed America,” his musical answer to Irving Berlin. And, ironically, it is now almost as famous and iconic as Berlin’s song “God Bless America.”

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November 09, 2015

“Business as usual”

It’s not uncommon to see credible sources claim that the phrase “business as usual” was coined by Winston Churchill.

For example, a glossary of World War I words and phrases on the BBC website says: “Business as Usual: Phrase coined by Churchill to suggest how British society should react to the wartime situation.”

Even some history books, such as A History of the World from the 20th to the 21st Century by J.A.S. Grenville, make that claim.

The truth is, Churchill helped popularize the phrase but he didn’t coin it.

It began appearing in newspapers and books as far back as the mid-1700s (as shown by this search using Google Ngram, a research tool that shows the appearance of words or phrases in thousands of digitized books).

The original use was literal. When a store reopened after some unusual event, like a fire, the owner would put up a sign saying “Open for business as usual.” Or, on some unofficial holiday, newspapers might report that banks would be open for business as usual.

Churchill’s use came early in World War I. On August 4, 1914, Great Britain officially that bloody fray by declaring war on Germany. At the time, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, a top position in the British Navy.

He and other British military leaders, politicians and businessmen initially assumed that Germany could be defeated quickly with Britain’s existing naval and army forces. Thus, they felt there was no need for a mass recruitment of volunteers or other actions that would disrupt the country’s labor force and economy. Indeed, they argued against any such government “interference” on the home front.

On the day war was declared, British Cabinet Minister David Lloyd George met with a group of bankers and assured them that the policy of the British government was “to enable the traders of this country to carry on business as usual.”

Many prominent businessmen heartily endorsed that policy and began repeating “business as usual” as a slogan.

For example, Henry E.  Morgan, who worked as both an executive for the W.H. Smith publishing company and as an advertising consultant to retail store magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge, used it in a letter to the editor published in the Daily Chronicle on August 11, 1914. Some sources have wrongly credited Morgan with coining the phrase.

Around that time, Selfridge adopted “business as usual” as his catchphrase and he is often credited with coining it. Meanwhile, Harrods department store chain also began using the phrase in newspaper advertisements, leading some sources to credit Harrods with launching the phrase. Soon, other stores and shops began displaying “Business As Usual” signs to show their support for the government’s “non-interference” policy.

Winston Churchill further popularized the phrase by using it a speech he gave on November 9, 1914. As noted by many books of quotations, Churchill said in that speech:

“The British people have taken for themselves this motto – ‘Business carried on as usual during alterations on the map of Europe.’”

This “non-interference” policy was fully embraced by the British government under Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, as David Lloyd George told the bankers in August. Unfortunately, it turned out to be far too optimistic.

By 1915, the UK was forced to recruit hundreds of thousands of volunteers and in 1916 imposed a draft on single men aged 18 to 41. This soon led to serious labor shortages and other disruptions of the economy.

Churchill’s use of “business as usual” during World War I was remembered and repurposed during World War II, when he served as Prime Minister and lead Great Britain in it’s fight against Nazi Germany.

The famed speeches Churchill made during those years are known for their combination of defiance and hope.

In the early 1940s, when German planes were making devastating nightly bombing raids on London, store owners put up homemade notices and signs on their bombed shops that said “Business As Usual.” Like the speeches Churchill gave during World War II, they were a message of both defiance and hope.

In the decades following World War II, the phrase has been used to mean maintaining the status quo, sometimes in a matter of fact way but often with a negative connotation.

For example, in 1962, the famed “Port Huron Statement” adopted by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) condemned the typical college campus as “a place of commitment to business-as-usual.”

The following year, the phrase was used in a similar negative way by civil rights leader, Martin Luther King.

In his moving “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963 in Washington D.C., King said of the race riots that had recently swept America’s urban areas:

“Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.”

Today, “business as usual” continues to be used in both a positive and negative sense and as sarcasm, making it an unusually flexible idiomatic expression.

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