It's publishing time in the Acts of Hope family this week.
On New Year's Eve, my father wrote us (his children and grandchildren and some cousins) a moving letter about his dreams of World War II and, more succinctly, his hope and wish --his daytime dream-- for peace.
Father of Acts of Hope is a World War II veteran, a Purple Heart with a ten percent disability who saw what is euphemistically called "action" in the Pacific Theater, in the Marshall Islands. He is now 90 years old, a gentle man --as he was when he signed up for the Marines in late 1942-- who loves and advocates for peace, and like most veterans, he still has nightmares. Not all the time, but they have never left him. He says you never forget the smell of death.
I wished at the time that I could share his letter with readers here, but since it was a family letter I didn't even want to ask. (Also, truth be told, my parents think I spend too much time blogging.)
Meanwhile, Brother of Acts of Hope, who was equally impressed and moved by the letter, was working on one of his columns for the Turkish Daily News (which has just merged with another Turkish paper) and he asked our Dad for permission to reprint his letter in the column.
So here, published two days ago in Istanbul for English-language readership, is our beloved and respected father's letter, embedded in a short essay by Brother of Acts of Hope.
It is called "Nightmares of my father and reading history wrong." (by Dennis Redmont)
There is no live link yet because the newspaper's website is partly in revamp mode, so the archive is still catching up. But I'm reprinting the entire piece here.
We enter 2009 already as the Year We Want to Forget.
Yet it is only a few days old!
We try to examine history for answers — or ask the Young Generation “Y” for future clues.
But when we do read history, the conclusions are often wrong or incomplete. Or we don’t learn our lesson.
Let's take the meltdown of the Financial World in 2008: Exactly 20 years ago, Michael Lewis wrote his classic "Liar's Poker," warning readers that Wall Street didn't know what it was doing. “It’s laissez faire until you get into deep sh..,’’ one high flyer tells Lewis. When things go wrong at Wall Street investment banks, the risks become the problem of the U.S. government.
Instead of a wakeup call two decades ago, the book turned into a business school best seller and thousands of young people deluged Lewis with letters asking his advice on how to make money fast — not how to get out of the roulette-rolling of the stock market. Read the magazine Portfolio’s “End of the Wall Street Boom” by Lewis this month for lessons not learned.
Now, let's take the Great Depression: It has been revisited this year in a bestseller by Amity Shlaes called "The Forgotten Man.” It punctures the ideas we had about the great reforms of the Roosevelt era and the masterful way the United States navigated out of the Depression. Actually two successive Depressions. That's maybe because history books are written by professors rather than entrepreneurs.
Closer to the truth might have been that economic ignorance among policy makers was much worse than we realized, and that government intervention helped make the Depression Great. And that Hoover and Roosevelt misstepped in a number of ways, Shlaes explains.
"Hoover ordered wages up when they wanted to go down... Roosevelt’s errors were equally devastating... he created regulatory aid and relief agencies, based on the premise that recovery could only be achieved through a large military style effort," Shlaes writes. Again a misreading — or better, a need to constantly reread and revisit history...
Finally a third example, from the Greatest Generation, the generation of Americans who grew up during the deprivation of theGreat Depression, and then went on to fight World War II. Those who survived went on to build and rebuild U.S. industries, and created the Baby Boomers, that is us, whose social values did not quite match that generation’s social values.
What were the lessons learned on a real, down-to-earth human scale?
As it turns out, the results were unexpected... or were they?
Seeking some acquired wisdom, I listened to some nightmares from my journalist father, Bernard Redmont, who reached the venerable age of 90 in 2008, after a life of reporting around the world for CBS and many other media titles...
Again, it seems we didn't quite read or reread history correctly nor learn our lessons.
Listen to him in his "DREAMS FROM YOUR FATHER:”
"I have a dream. It recurs. Sometimes in the guise of a nightmare. Dreams of my encounters with wars. And hopes, or reveries, of peace.
On the eve of the new year 2009, I dreamed again of Roi and Namur, the coral islands where I was almost killed.
War veterans often make pilgrimages to the scenes of their battles with life and death, like those you've seen on TV, on the beaches of Normandy in World War II. My own visions become a "virtual" pilgrimage, in memories and dreams, because I can't actually go to Roi and Namur, in Kwajalein Atoll, the Marshall Islands, in the south central Pacific, 2,100 miles southwest of Hawaii.
I told most of the story of Operation Flintlock in my book, "Risks Worth Taking." That was where, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 12, 1944, as a "gung ho" marine, I earned my Purple Heart and many weeks of restful recuperation in hospitals.
But what of now? In my dreams, and on the Internet, I, and you, can go on a "virtual battlefield tour" of the two northern islets of the world's largest coral atoll.
We thought we were liberating that first of the Japanese-held territories in the war, looking forward to peace and no more wars.
Today, Roi and Namur stand nominally as part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
They are, nevertheless, the multi-billion dollar lethal scene of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, run by the Pentagon.
Here, where 3,500 bunkered and entrenched Japanese soldiers fought us, and barely 51 of them survived, and where thousands of American Marines became casualties too, it is not quite peaceful.
You can take a "virtual battlefield tour" on the Internet, but you won't see the missile sites or naval port, or hear the deafening blasts, or the constant drone of American military planes arriving and departing from the once Japanese, now Dyess US airfield which we captured.
You will see the Japanese concrete pillboxes and bunkers, some four feet thick, still standing despite their "pulverization" by cannon and naval gunfire. You can't actually visit all this now, without special military clearance, or see the former Japanese submarine base.
But you can see the torpedo bunker, still standing, where our fellow marines dropped in a satchel charge of demolition explosives, and 20 of them died from the blow back blast.
You can also see an undemolished Japanese five-inch gun on a concrete emplacement, and a plaque commemorating the Japanese dead, some scattered American graves and a brass plate labeling the place a "National Historic Site."
For those cleared to visit, the authorities offer beautiful palm trees, a small golf course, a scuba diving club and trips to wrecks of Japanese warships, planes and even a heavy cruiser.
So ends the spiel of your 'virtual tour guide.'
Alas, wars rage all over our world. Yes, we yearn for peace on earth, good will to all.”
Dennis Redmont, an executive at the Council for the United States and Italy, is an American journalist and consultant who divides his time between Rome and Istanbul.