August 30, 2020

The origins of the Cold War term “hot line” and the mythical “red phones”…

Many books and websites note that the famed “hot line” communication link between the Pentagon and the Kremlin was established on August 30, 1963.

Press reports about this new tool, intended to provide a possible way to avoid a nuclear war between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), soon cemented the term hot line into our language.

It also added a new plot device and the image of the red phones into movies and TV shows.

Two of my favorite examples were in movies released not long after the new link was established: Fail-Safe (1964) and Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

The term hot line (sometimes given as the single word hotline) had actually been used previously in other contexts, but not in the sense of the international hot line established in 1963.

That use is generally credited to Jess Gorkin (1936-1985).

Gorkin was the respected and influential editor of Parade Magazine, the widely-circulated Sunday newspaper insert. 

In the March 20, 1960 issue of Parade, Gorkin published an open letter to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Soviet Union’s Premier Nikita Khrushchev, titled “RE: ACCIDENTAL WAR.”

In it, he urged them to consider: “the establishment of a direct telephone line between prevent the possibility of an accidental war.”

He ended his letter with the rhetorical question: “Must a world be lost for want of a telephone call?”

Gorkin didn’t use the term hot line in that open letter, but he did use it in a subsequent series editorials in Parade in 1960, promoting the idea to presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

According to language maven William Safire’s great Political Dictionary, Gorkin’s editorial in the October 30, 1960 issue of Parade mentioned an internal “hot line” that the US Strategic Air Command (SAC) maintained for emergency communications.

Gorkin suggested that SAC’s “red telephone” system was a model for the communication link he believed the US and USSR should establish.

After Kennedy was elected President, Gorkin ran more editorials pushing the hot line idea.

And, after the US and USSR came to the brink of nuclear Armageddon in October 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy and Khrushchev decided it was indeed a pretty good idea.

On April 23, 1963, Kennedy sent a personal letter of thanks to Gorkin for promoting the concept, calling it “an excellent example of the most constructive aspects of our free press.” 

Gorkin proudly published the letter in Parade.

On June 20, 1963, in Geneva, President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev signed an agreement to create the crisis communication system Gorkin had suggested. The Washington-Kremlin hot line officially went live on August 30, 1963.

However, despite what we’ve seen in movies and TV shows, there never were red phones in the offices of the President of the United States and the Premier of Russia.

The hot line was actually a secure teletype connection between the offices of the Pentagon and the Kremlin. No phones, red or otherwise, were involved.

Sorry, movie fans.

As I was researching this post, I noticed there’s a fairly recent book titled Hotline that gives the term a whole new meaning. It’s a racy novel described with this memorable blurb: “A sex worker and a trust fund brat…It’s like Romeo and Juliet, but with less stabbing and slightly fewer dick jokes.” I haven’t read it, but if you do, let me know how it is.

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August 20, 2020

“Love me, love my dog.”

In the Catholic religion, August 20 is the Feast Day of
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval French monk who died on that date in 1153 A.D.

I’m not a Catholic. But as a dog lover and a quote lover, I’m a big fan of St. Bernard, because he’s the guy who immortalized a saying that’s now best known in the modernized form “Love me, love my dog.”

The older versions of this saying, cited by many books and websites, are “Who loves me, loves my dog” and “He who loves me, also loves my dog.”

Those are the more traditional and more grammatically correct translations of something Bernard said in a sermon he once gave on another Catholic feast day — the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, celebrated annually on September 29.

St. Bernard’s famous dog quote from that sermon was originally recorded in Latin as “Qui me amat, amat et canem meum.” (Back then, it was common for monks to use Latin for their written records and to deliver sermons in Latin to other monks.) 

The full sentence this quote comes from is “Dicitur certe vulgari proverbio: Qui me amat, amat et canem meum” which translates as “It is said truly in a common proverb: who loves me, also loves my dog.”

This makes it clear that Bernard was quoting an existing proverb. He didn’t actually coin it himself. But his use became famous and helped popularize the saying.

Contrary to what some people assume, St. Bernard of Clairvaux is not the Catholic saint associated with Saint Bernard dogs.

They were named after Saint Bernard of Menthon (a.k.a. Bernard of Montjoux), a different Catholic monk who died in 1008 A.D.

That St. Bernard established a monastery and hospice high up in the Alps. Over the centuries, the monks who lived there became famous for their efforts to rescue lost and injured travelers and for the large herding dogs they bred and trained to assist in their search and rescue missions. Since the 1700s, those dogs have been called Saint Bernards.

It’s not clear whether St. Bernard of Menthon or St. Bernard of Clairvaux were especially fond of dogs themselves.

St. Bernard of Menthon is the patron saint of skiing, not dogs or dog lovers. And, the breed of dogs named in his honor was developed by his followers after his death.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux is the patron saint of bees, beekeepers and candle-makers, apparently because Pope Pius VIII nicknamed him the “Honey-Sweet Doctor” for his honey-sweet style of preaching and writing.

And, for the record, the topic of the sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux that includes the words now paraphrased as “Love me, love my dog” wasn’t actually about canines. It was about angels and their love for humanity.

Bernard’s brief reference to dogs in the sermon was part of a metaphorical point he was making.

If you read (or use an online translator to decipher) the Latin transcription of his sermon, you find that he was comparing the relationship between dogs and people to the relationship between humans and Jesus.

“The holy us, in fact, because Jesus Christ loved us,” Bernard said in Paragraph 3 of the sermon. “It is said truly in a common proverb: who loves me, also loves my dog...We are the little dogs of the Lord...yes, like small dogs that want to feed on the crumbs that fall from the table of our masters.”

In case you’re wondering, there is a Catholic patron saint of dogs. His name is Saint Roch and his feast day is August 16.

According to legend, in the 13th century, Roch became gravely ill after ministering to plague victims and went off into the woods to die.

His life was saved by a dog from a nearby home. The dog accidentally found Roch, then brought him food to eat every day and licked his sores until he recovered.

I particularly like that legend because it fits my view that the creatures appropriately called “man’s best friend” are among the true saints of this world.

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