August 2, 2021

A View from My Porch: Epic Poems of Folk and Rock Part 3 — The Rock and Roll War

Editor’s Note: This is the third column by Tom Gotowka under the heading, ‘Epic Poems of Folk and Rock.’ Find Part I  at this link and Part II at this one.

I continue the “epic poems” theme in this essay, but shift to the epic works of conflict; focusing on the rock and roll genre, as influenced by the Vietnam War.

In review, Part 1 presented several works of folk music that, I felt, were the natural successors of the epic poems of antiquity. In Part 2, I considered how America became entangled in the Vietnam War, as a prerequisite for this review of the music of that war.

Epics of the Vietnam War Era:

As noted last time, Stars and Stripes” called Vietnam “the first rock and roll war”. I present, in the following, some of the music that supports that contention. I provide some context for each song, and include a sample of the lyrics, trying to ensure that the sample still conveys the original message.

Some of the lyrics are a little gritty, and the context may be troubling, but they’re included to fully illustrate the era, not to offend the reader. So, here’s the war in six songs.

“Fortunate Son”: Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)

Photograph of Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968). L-R: Tom Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, and John Fogerty.

When John Fogerty wrote the song, draft deferments were undoubtedly on every teenaged American boy’s mind. His lyrics support the men who served in Vietnam, but condemn the “children of privilege” (i.e., “millionaire’s son”), who used that privilege to “dodge” the draft.

Pulitzer Prize winning Vietnam War correspondent, David Halberstam, reported that the ways in which draft-age men received deferments favored those who were wealthier and more educated. For example, able both to remain in college full-time, and then pursue advanced degrees after graduation; and thus, qualifying for student deferments. 

In addition, those same young men could obtain deferments for physical problems, even untreated bone spurs, more easily than could poor or working-class men; and, “rather than trying to convince a draft board that they were physically unable to serve in the military, they could just get a note from their family doctors”. 

“Some folks are born, made to wave the flag;
they’re red, white and blue.
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”,
they point the cannon at you, Lord!
Some folks are born, silver spoon in hand;
Lord, don’t they help themselves?
But when the taxman comes to the door,
the house looks like a rummage sale.
It ain’t me, it ain’t me;
I ain’t no millionaire’s son.
I ain’t no fortunate one”.

“Feel Like I’m Fixing’ To Die Rag”: Country Joe McDonald ​(1965)

In this dark parody of the war, Country Joe (and the Fish) demonstrate the hopelessness that many Americans felt toward the War. The artist touches on, albeit, sarcastically, several important war themes in the full seven verses: the government notion that going to war was in the country’s best economic interest; and, consequently, the support from Wall Street, weapons manufacturers, and an “overly aggressive” Pentagon. 

The song also has the distinction of having been performed twice at Woodstock, and I have corroboration from a very reliable eye witness, my wife, Christina, who was present at those “3 Days of Peace & Music” in the Catskills, in 1969.

“Well, come on all of you big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself in a terrible jam, way down yonder in Vietnam.
So put down your books, and pick up a gun,
we’re going to have a whole lot of fun.
And come on mothers throughout this land, pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on pops, don’t hesitate, send them off before it’s too late.
And then, it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn.
Next stop is Vietnam!
And it’s five, six, seven,
open up the pearly gates.
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all going to die.”

“Revolution”: The Beatles (1968)

Trade ad for Beatles’ 1964 Grammys. Public Domain.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the song to demonstrate their strong objection to the increasingly violent protests that had occurred in response to the war.

To illustrate, in April, 1965, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), held its first national protest march in Washington, DC. Co-sponsored by Women’s Strike for Peace, 25,000 attended.  After this peaceful protest march, SDS grew increasingly militant, and their tactics then included the occupation of college administration buildings on campuses across the country. The 1968 violence at Columbia University is covered in “The Strawberry Statement”, by James Kunen (both book and movie).

On Oct. 21, 1967, over 100,000 protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial; and later that same night, over 35,000 of the group marched on to the Pentagon for a second rally, where they sparked a violent confrontation with the soldiers and U.S. Marshals protecting the Pentagon complex. Nearly 700 demonstrators were arrested. 

Notably, the demonstrations produced the famous “flower power” photograph of a protester placing a flower in a paratrooper’s M14 rifle barrel. 

On March 17, 1968, 10,000 protesters demonstrated in Trafalgar Square against American action and British support in Vietnam. This was followed by 8,000 protesters marching to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square; where a fierce battle with riot police and mounted officers ensued.

In August 1968, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, bore witness to a series of riots, involving tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters, both during and before the convention. Eight protest leaders were tried on charges of criminal conspiracy and incitement to riot. 

The eight eventually became the “Chicago Seven”, after convictions were overturned because of procedural errors and Judge Hoffman’s “overt hostility to the defendants”.

Tragically, on May 4, 1970, just four days after President Nixon announced the escalation of the war into Cambodia, four students at Kent State were shot by National Guardsmen during a protest.

“You say you want a revolution.
Well, we all want to change the world.

You say you got a real solution.
Well, we’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution.
Well, we’re all doing what we can; but, 

if you want money for people with minds that hate;
all I can tell you is, brother, you have to wait.
When you talk about destruction,
don’t you know that you can count me out?
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao;
you aren’t going to make it with anyone, anyhow.”

“Ballad of the Green Berets”: Barry Sadler (1965)

The United States Army Special Forces, the “Green Berets”, are the Army’s special operations group, whose mission extends well beyond conventional warfare. 

In May 2004, a plaque was dedicated at Fort Campbell, honoring the 695 Green Berets killed in action, and the 79 missing in action during Vietnam.  Of the MIA, only three soldiers have been recovered. 

“Ballad” is a patriotic tribute to our soldiers in Special Forces, and one of the few popular songs of the Vietnam War era that portrays the military in a positive manner. 

Sadler served as a medic with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and his song, written to boost morale among our troops in Vietnam, also served as the inspiration for the John Wayne movie, “The Green Berets”.

“Fighting soldiers from the sky, fearless men who jump and die.
Men who mean just what they say; the brave men of the Green Beret.
Silver wings upon their chest; these are men, America’s best.
One hundred men we’ll test today, but only three win the Green Beret.
Trained to live off nature’s land; trained in combat, hand-to-hand.
Men who fight by night and day, courage peak from the Green Beret.”

“I Ain’t Marching Anymore”: Phil Ochs (1965)

Ochs was the “iron man” of “protest” singers; and, in his career, performed, as a “regular” at anti-war, civil rights, organized labor, and women’s rights events. 

I believe that this is his best; or at least his best- known anti-Vietnam War song; and it became an “anthem” at rallies and protests. 

The song is really a treatise on the entirety of American conflict, and he casts himself as a tired soldier, who has fought in each American war, beginning with the battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. And on through both world wars.

He performed the song in August 1968, during the violent protests outside the Chicago Democratic National Convention, and, it is claimed, inspired hundreds of young men to burn their draft cards (really). He later described it as the highlight of his career.

“Oh, I marched to the battle of New Orleans,
at the end of the early British wars;
the young land started growing, and
the young blood started flowing,
but, I ain’t marching anymore.

I’ve killed my share of Indians, in a thousand different fights.
I was there at the Little Big Horn;
I heard many men lying, I saw many more dying;
but, I ain’t marching anymore.

Chorus: It’s always the old who lead us to war;
it’s always the young to fall.
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun.
Tell me, is it worth it all?

I stole California from the Mexican land,
and fought in the bloody Civil War.
I even killed my brothers, and so many others;
but, I ain’t marching anymore.

I marched to the battles of the German trench,
in a war that was bound to end all wars. 

I must have killed a million men, and now they want me back again;
but, I ain’t marching anymore.

I flew the final mission in the Japanese skies, and
set off the mighty mushroom roar.
I saw the cities burning, and 

I knew that I was learning;
that I ain’t marching anymore

Call it peace or call it treason,
call it love or call it reason;
but I ain’t marching anymore.”

“Born in the USA”: Bruce Springsteen (1984)

Bruce Springsteen performing at Roskilde Festival 2012. Photo credit: Bill Ebbesen. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

I present “Born” as the anchor of the song list because Springsteen’s focus is on America’s poor treatment of returning Vietnam War veterans. The lyrics are an account of the disrespect those veterans faced on their return home to a society that was largely opposed to the war. 

This song may be one of the most misinterpreted songs in rock and roll history. Since its release, the song’s chorus has been omnipresent at political rallies; and heard as a celebration of American life. The anti–war message is rooted in the verses, and may have been lost early on, because the song was released about a decade after the war ended.

The song is consistent with what I noted last time in “Working-Class War”, by Christian Appy; who observed that the typical U.S. soldier in Vietnam was from a poor or working-class family; a large portion were from the inner cities and factory towns. 

In the first verse, Springsteen introduced the story of a young man, born into a failing American town, who was apparently abused by his family. In some trouble, he is ordered by the courts to enlist rather than serve time. His brother, or close friend, is killed in action. 

He returns home after the war, can’t find a job, and is treated with indifference by the V.A. The final verse describes his progression into despair.

“Born down in a dead man’s town; the first kick I took was when I hit the ground.
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much,
until you spend half your life just covering up.
Got in a little hometown jam; so, they put a rifle in my hand.
Sent me off to a foreign land; to go and kill the yellow man.
I had a brother at Khe Sanh, fighting off the Viet Cong.
They’re still there, he’s all gone.
I came back home to the refinery; hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”.
I went down to see my V.A. man; he said “Son, what don’t you understand”?
In the shadow of the penitentiary; out by the gas fires of the refinery.
Nowhere to run, and nowhere to go.”

Author’s Notes:

Unlike Bruce Springsteen, I am not certain whether the courts can, or ever did, require enlistment in lieu of serving time for a criminal infraction.  If so, I can’t imagine that these individuals would be considered high value recruits. A large portion of the opposition to the war was the onus of the draft. I was not able to find reliable data on the portion of draftees, versus voluntary enlistees, in Vietnam, as opposed to prior, or subsequent (e.g., Afghanistan) wars.

I only included works that I could directly attribute to the writer’s reaction to the war. Clearly, there was a wealth of additional music that was popular at the time and was probably listened to regularly by soldiers in Vietnam.   For example, I included nothing by the Rolling Stones; and did not consider “We Gotta Get out of this Place”, by the British group, The Animals, although the song has been part of the sound tracks of many productions about the war. 

If you want to explore a very realistic production, I recommend “Hamburger Hill”, which is a highly accurate 1987 movie about the 1969 assault by the Army’s “Screaming Eagles” Battalion on a well-fortified enemy mountain position. The editors dramatically incorporated the music of the day into their soundtrack.

I was a “fortunate one” — the United States Navy and the military provided financial support and enabled deferments for over 10 years of advanced education. I had agreed, up front, to repay that support in service, which I’ve previously said was at a Naval Hospital.

My next “View” will be of the remarkable changes that have occurred in CT’s hospital and healthcare landscape I think that hospital advertisements on local newscasts now exceed those for replacement windows. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View From My Porch: Epic Poems of Folk and Rock Part 2 

In my previous essay, I discussed a few contemporary works of folk music, that, in my opinion, are natural successors to the epic poems of antiquity. I continue the “epic poems” theme in this essay, but shift to the epic works of conflict; focusing on the rock and roll genre, as influenced by the Vietnam War, which remains in my memory as a chaotic and tragic period of American foreign policy history. 

However, discussions regarding ending the war in Afghanistan, America’s longest war, are again underway; and so, it may be a good time to revisit how we ended what will, consequently, become “America’s Second Longest War”. 

Returning to the original theme, songs that were inspired by past conflicts include “Yankee Doodle” (mid-1700s); “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” (1863); “Over There” (1917); “We’ll Meet Again” (1939); and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (1941).

In advance of reviewing the songbook of the Vietnam War, I provide, in the following, an overview of how the United States became entangled in Vietnam. 

However, my goal is to present the War at the “boots on the ground” level; i.e., from the perspective of the “grunts and jarheads”. Note that these are not insulting terms. In Vietnam, ‘grunts’ were U.S. Army and Marine Corps infantrymen, or foot soldiers. ‘Jarheads’, on the other hand, are USMC personnel of any rank; and the term is an homage to the high and tight haircuts worn by Marines.

I don’t feel that you can appreciate the music without understanding the war.

Vietnam: The War formerly known as “America’s Longest” (1954 to 1975)

The war in Vietnam was extraordinarily unpopular with Americans. There was no “Pearl Harbor” or “Nine-Eleven” at its beginning; and most Americans probably had only limited knowledge of that part of Asia. Vietnam was the first truly televised war. Camera crews were on-site almost continually; and journalists often recorded their coverage right in the field. Thus, Americans had a very realistic view of the devastation and violence of the War. 

The Threat of Falling Dominoes:

This map shows the partition of French Indochina after partition under the 1954 Geneva Conference. This file by SnowFire is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 license.

After armed forces led by communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, defeated French colonial forces in 1954, and ended nearly 75 years of French colonial rule, world and regional leaders passed the Geneva Accords, which divided Vietnam into the communist North and a more democratic South. 

President Eisenhower warned that the situation in Vietnam was like, “a falling domino, whose loss would lead to rapid and widespread communist victories in neighboring countries.”

Ho Chi Minh then sought to unify the two Vietnams under his communist regime; and precipitated the conflict that placed North Vietnam, with its Viet Cong allies in the South, against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. 

The United States provided funding, armaments, and training to South Vietnam’s government and its military. Unfortunately, tensions rapidly escalated into widespread armed conflict, and President Kennedy expanded our military aid and committed to deploy soldiers to the region.

In his 1961 inaugural address, Kennedy had stated his belief that “U.S. security may be lost piece to piece, country by country, as the result of the domino effect”.

After Kennedy’s death in 1963, his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, continued down the same path, and further increased troop deployments. 

“Domino” was then used by successive administrations to justify continued escalation of our involvement in Vietnam. Note that Congress never declared war, and never formally gave the President the authority to escalate our presence in Vietnam until early 1964; and only after the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident”, during which the North Vietnamese fired on two American ships in international waters. 

At the same time, the Soviet Union and China were pouring weapons and supplies into the North; and providing combat troops for North Vietnam’s campaign against the South. 

By 1969, more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in Vietnam, and the bulging costs and casualties of the war finally proved too much for Americans to endure, and a poorly-conceived peace agreement was negotiated by the Nixon Administration’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, in 1972.

The Paris Peace Accords resulted in the withdrawal of all U.S. and allied forces, the release of Americans who were prisoners of war, and a very loose cease fire, which was almost immediately violated.

The end of the Vietnam War actually occurred on April 30, 1975, after the Saigon government surrendered to the North. Over the next 12 months, North and South were formally united under the control of North Vietnam’s communist government, becoming the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Vietnam has estimated that nearly 2 million civilians (i.e., both North and South) perished; and over a million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters were killed. The U.S. military estimates that nearly 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war.

The American Soldier in Vietnam:

Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military drafted 2.2 million American men from an eligible pool of about 27 million. Historian, Christian Appy, observes, in “Working-Class War”, that the average U.S. soldier was 19-years-old, and from a poor or working-class family, and had not attended college.

A large portion of U.S. troops were African-American men from the inner cities, boys from farming communities, and the sons of immigrants from factory towns. Many of these men enlisted or were drafted right out of high school. 

These young soldiers found themselves in a land of intense heat and humidity, flooded fields, and dense jungles. It could rain nonstop for days at a time during monsoon season. 

They were not welcomed by the local farmers and villagers, but viewed with distrust or hostility. To the Vietnamese, this was the “Resistance War Against America”. 

The fighting conditions in Vietnam were “dreadful” and strained our military tacticians. Unlike past conflicts, Vietnam combat was not “conventional”; rather, it was guerrilla warfare; and the jungles made this form of attack very effective. Tactics included ambushes, sabotage, “hit-and-run” raids on our supply operations, and booby traps. Some civilians, including women and children, actively assisted the Viet Cong guerillas.

A US “tunnel rat” soldier prepares to enter a Viet Cong tunnel. Public domain.

An additional problem was the extensive underground system of tunnels, which was used by the Viet Cong; and “tunnel rat” became an unofficial specialty for those who cleared and destroyed enemy tunnel complexes.

The final Vietnam War tally was 58,148 killed and 75,000 severely disabled. Of those killed, nearly two-thirds were younger than 21-years-old; and the Marines accounted for a third of all American casualties.

Many of our servicemen were exposed to the chemical defoliant, Agent Orange; and hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans have died from their exposure to dioxin, the deadly toxin in Agent Orange. Dioxin can cause multiple cancers, peripheral neuropathy, and has also been linked to an elevated risk for Parkinson’s Disease. 

Epics of the Vietnam War Era:

“Stars and Stripes”, the daily independent news source for the military, named Vietnam “the first rock and roll war”. It was the Sixties, these were young men, and the songbook was immense. 

In the next essay, I will review a series of songs from that era that provide some insight into how many Americans responded to the War and expressed their opposition. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Author’s Notes: On April 25, 2021 the New York Times reported 571,753 COVID deaths in the United States; nearly a ten-fold increase over our Vietnam War combat deaths. I recall how intense our response was to Vietnam casualty reports, which were eventually updated almost daily on the then still-trusted evening news. I don’t believe that we’ve ever mourned COVID deaths with that same passion.

Anti-Vietnam War protests increased remarkably in the United States through the 1960s, and the draft became the focus of organized resistance. Despite our technological advantages, larger forces, and better weapons, the Viet Cong were able to hold us off and prevent the United States from achieving any sort of victory in Vietnam from winning.

The public was never really in support of the war.

Tragically, our returning soldiers were often treated with contempt. These servicemen usually did a one-year tour of duty. Men came back from Vietnam by themselves rather than with their units; and, as one soldier shipped out, another returned home.

I served during the Vietnam War era, but the entirety of my active duty was at the Naval Hospital at NAS Pax River, MD. My patients were primarily Naval Aviators, and their ground or flight deck support, returning from or going to the war zone.

At the very least, in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., inscribed with the names of 57,939 members of U.S. armed forces, who had died or were missing as a result of the war.

My close childhood friend was killed in action, and his name, Gary John Shea, is engraved on Panel 61E Line 2 of the Memorial. I have seen the engraving.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View From My Porch: Epic Poems of Folk and Rock, Part I

In this essay, I posit that many works of contemporary folk and rock music are the natural successors of the epic poems of antiquity. In support of that hypothesis, I begin with a brief review of the epic genre; and then, discuss a few contemporary works that I feel meet the epic standard. 

The Epic Poem:

An epic is a long, narrative poem that chronicles the extraordinary deeds and adventures of courageous men and women. The earliest epic poems generally had no discernible author, and were probably developed in the pre-literate era. Those epics were conveyed orally, usually in brief episodes, either to an audience, or to another storyteller. However, epics were also created by a clearly-identified author. 

At the Mindszenty School, where I was a college prep student many years ago, we studied epic works of both sorts. 

First page of Beowulf in Cotton Vitellius A. xv. Public domain.

“Beowulf” was written anonymously in old English, and set in the 6th century in what is now Denmark and Sweden. The hero, Beowulf, came to the aid of the Danish monarch, whose kingdom had been terrorized by the monster Grendel, who was notable as a descendent of Cain.

Although losing some of his warriors to Grendel, who then drank their blood; Beowulf finally slays the monster in a bloody encounter, and hangs the monster’s arm and claw over the rafters of the king’s great hall as proof of its death.

In a final act of heroism, Beowulf also kills Grendel’s avenging mother, though requiring a magic sword. 

The “Odyssey,” which is a sequel to Homer’s “Iliad,” is a Greek epic poem, written near the end of the eighth century BC.  The poem relates the activities of Odysseus, the hero, during the final year of the siege of Troy, and his 10-year, and epically perilous, journey home to Ithaca, after Troy’s fall.

We also considered Milton’s 17th Century “Paradise Lost,” but, absent a monster, and temptations from three sirens, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden drew only limited interest. 

Clearly, the most noteworthy characteristic of an epic poem is its length. The “Odyssey” has 15,000 lines., “Paradise” over 10,000. Further, the epic hero (or heroine) is a great warrior, and willing to engage in intense combat.   

In the following compositions, the title is followed by the author’s name and the publication date. A second name, when included, is, in my opinion, the best cover artist. A single name and date indicate that the author also performed the work. 

I provide context for each work, and include abridged lyrics. I took care in my abridgement to ensure that the song’s sense and message remained clear. The original lyrics, in their entirety, are available on the internet.

I’ve included a song by Woodie Guthrie (see number III below), who is considered one of the most influential figures in American folk music. School children are often introduced to Woodie with his song, “This Land is your Land”.

1. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” — Gordon Lightfoot (1976)

Album cover of ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ by Gordon Lightfoot. This image qualifies as fair use under the copyright law of the United States.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American freighter that, when launched in 1958, was the largest ship on the Great Lakes, nearly 800 ft. long and  weighing more than 13,000 tons without cargo. She hauled iron ore from mines in Minnesota to iron works in ports on the Great Lakes.

The skipper, Captain Ernest McSorley, was very experienced, and well-respected by his contemporaries and his crew. The ship sank on Nov. 10, 1975 in a storm on Lake Superior, with the loss of the entire crew of 29 men. The bodies were not recovered. 

In true epic poem style, one of the prevailing theories regarding its sinking is that it was hit by a series of three consecutive “rogue” waves, a phenomenon called “Three Sisters” on Lake Superior. Their tendency to occur without warning, and with huge force makes them especially dangerous. 

Gordon Lightfoot’s lyrics are a “play-by-play” of the disaster. Be sure to note the cook’s role in the progression of events. 

Abridged Lyrics:

The legend lives on, from the Chippewa on down; of the big lake they call ‘Gitchee Gumee’.
Superior, it’s said, never gives up her dead, when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore, twenty-six thousand tons more,
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That good ship and crew, was a bone to be chewed,
when the gales of November came early.
The ship was the pride of the American side,
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait,
when the gales of November came slashing.
When suppertime came, the cook came up top;
saying, ‘fellas, it’s too rough to feed you’.
At seven p.m., a main hatchway caved in;
and he said, ‘fellas, it’s been good to know you’.
The captain wired shore that ‘he had water coming in;
and the good ship and crew were in peril’.
Later that night, when her lights went out of sight,
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
And a church bell chimed, until it rang twenty-nine times;
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

2. “Charlie and the MTA” — Steiner and Hawes, (1949) / The Kingston Trio

A formal publicity shot of the original line-up of the Kingston Trio (l-r) Dave Guard, Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds. Image published under under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

The song was originally composed for a “left-wing” mayoral campaign in Boston’s 1949 election, to protest the five-cent fare increase by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).  Fighting the fare increase was an important plank of the Progressive Party candidate, Walter A. O’Brien Jr.’s platform. He had also advocated the removal of the complicated entry/exit fare structure, and opposed the tax-funded bailout of the system’s previous operator. 

O’Brien’s campaign had no funds for radio advertising, so he commissioned campaign songs from local folk artists, covering his themes; and played recordings from a loudspeaker on a truck driven throughout Boston.

The 1949 mayoral election was a raucous affair, with five candidates, including the amazingly popular, and notoriously corrupt incumbent, James Michael Curley, whose campaign song began, “Vote early and often for Curley”.

O’Brien finished last; and was routed by John B. Hynes, who then remained Mayor of Boston until 1960. Bostonians also approved a change in the structure of future mayoral contests (i.e., select two final candidates in advance of each general election).

Abridged Lyrics: 

Well, let me tell you the story of a man named Charlie, who on a tragic and fateful day;
put ten cents in his pocket, kissed his wife and family, and went to ride on the MTA.

Well, did he ever return? No, he never returned; and his fate is still unknown.
He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston; he’s the man who never returned.

Charlie handed in his dime at the Kendall Square Station,
and he changed for Jamaica Plain.

When he got there, the conductor said, ‘one more nickel’;
Charlie couldn’t get off of that train.

Now, all night long Charlie rides through the stations, crying, ‘what will become of me’?
‘How can I afford to see my sister in Chelsea or my cousin in Roxbury?’

Charlie’s wife goes down to the Sculley Square Station every day at quarter past two,
And through the open window she hands Charlie a sandwich as the train comes rumbling through.

The Kingston Trio’s original version of the song began with a spoken introduction: “The people of Boston have rallied bravely whenever the rights of men have been threatened. Today, the MTA, is attempting to levy a burdensome tax. Citizens, hear me out! This could happen to you.”

In 2004, the “Charlie Card” was introduced as the payment method for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

3. “Deportee — Woody Guthrie (1948) / Joan Baez 

Woody Guthrie in 1943. World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller. Public domain.

Guthrie said that the inspiration for “Deportee” was the radio and newspaper coverage of the Los Gatos Canyon plane crash, which provided the names of the flight crew and the security guard, but not the farm workers, who were also on the flight; referring to them only as “deportees.”

The crash resulted in the deaths of 28 migrant farm workers, who were being transported back to Mexico at the end of their braceros contract. The bodies of the migrants were placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, Calif. The grave was marked only, “Mexican Nationals.”

The Bracero Agreement:

During World War II, the United States negotiated a series of treaties with the Mexican government to recruit Mexican seasonal workers, all men and without their families, to work on short-term contracts on farms and in other war industries (braceros.)

The program was developed because of severe labor shortages caused by the war. The labor contractors were expected to provide transportation to and from the Mexican border.

The first Mexican bracero workers were admitted in September, 1942, and by the program’s end in 1964, nearly 4.6 million Mexican citizens had been hired to work in the United States, mainly on farms in Texas, Calif., and the Pacific Northwest.

Abridged Lyrics: 

The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting;
the oranges are piled in their creosote dumps.
They’re flying you back to the Mexico border,
to pay all your money to wade back again. 

Some of us illegal, and others not wanted,
our work contract’s out and we have to move on.

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita;
adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
you won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane;
all they will call you will be ‘deportees’.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon;
a fireball of lightning, that shook all our hills.
Who are these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, ‘They are just deportees.’

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?

Author’s Notes: First, I want to acknowledge the persistence of Messrs. Jakubowski and Corsi, English faculty at the Mindszenty School, who never assigned required readings that were also available in “Classics Illustrated” comics.

It is ironic that the United States has not yet addressed, in a bipartisan and humanitarian manner, immigration from Mexico, especially because we welcomed millions as migrant workers during and after World War II, (described above in “The Bracero Agreement”). 

Our policy seems to remain: “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves,” which is also a Guthrie lyric.

Even American television recognized braceros. You may recall a late 1950s, and early ‘60s television series, “The Real McCoys”, which included a character, Pepino, who, I now realize, was a bracero worker on the McCoy farm in the San Fernando Valley. 

We all first heard the Ojibwe term: “Gitchee Gumee” in Longfellow’s 1855 epic poemThe Song of Hiawatha”. 

If Madame Editor agrees, I will continue this “epic poems” theme in the next essay, where I consider contemporary epic poems of conflict.

Editor’s Note to Mr. Gotowka: She agrees.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch:  Is it Time for Americans to Acknowledge Climate Change?

Last April, published a “Primer on Global Warming and Climate Change

Since that time, there has been a change in Presidential leadership; and, in January, the United States transitioned from a science-averse, to a science-centric Executive Branch, which may have an impact on how the Country views climate change. 

This essay is a “refresh” of the April essay, and reviews a few recent weather events, in light of the consequences predicted by climate scientists; and lays out the climate priorities proposed by the Biden Administration. My goal in this essay is logically and concisely to present the issue of climate change for the reader’s consideration. 

The Fundamentals:

Global warming is one symptom of the overarching phenomenon of climate change. The “side effects” of that warming include some significant shifts in weather patterns, and an increase in the frequency of abnormal and severe weather events. 

The Paris Carousel:

In 2015, representatives of 196 nations negotiated the Paris Climate Agreement under the auspices of the United Nation’s Convention on Climate Change. The goal, when signed in 2016, was to strengthen the international response to climate change mitigation. 

The Obama Administration pledged that, by 2025, the United States would cut carbon emissions by 26 percent below 2005 levels. He hailed our leadership in developing this Agreement as one of his major accomplishments.

His successor, Donald Trump, announced, in mid-2017, that the United States would terminate all participation in the Paris Agreement. He stated, “The climate deal was less about the climate, and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore.” 

As the first and only country formally to pull out of the Agreement, his decision stunned our allies. He also then went on to roll back or loosen many of America’s key environmental policies and regulations.

President Biden signed an Executive Order soon after his inauguration that initiated the process for the United States to reenter the Paris Agreement. In February, Secretary of State Tony Blinken called it, “A good day in our fight against the climate crisis,” and promised that the United States would, “Waste no time in engaging our partners around the world to build our global resilience.”

The Focus on Fossil Fuels:

Burning carbon-rich fossil fuels produces water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), and trace gases like methane and nitrous oxide, which are collectively referred to as “greenhouse” gases, Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash.

Since the mid-20th century, human activities have had an extraordinary impact on the Earth’s climate; and scientists have concluded that burning carbon-rich fossil fuels, like oil, coal, and natural gas, is the largest driver of that impact.

When they burn, fossil fuels produce water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), and trace gases like methane and nitrous oxide, which are collectively referred to as “greenhouse” gases.

Their accumulation in the atmosphere is responsible for the “greenhouse effect”, which is the warming that occurs when these gases trap heat in the lower atmosphere; i.e., in a manner that’s similar to the heat-trapping glass on a greenhouse.

The most important of these gases is CO2. Although it absorbs less heat per molecule than methane or nitrous oxide, it is remarkably more abundant and remains in the atmosphere much longer. 

Data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory show that we now add about 40 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere every year, mostly by burning fossil fuels. Scientists estimate that this increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance that is causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.

In 2019, coal accounted for 40 percent of global CO2 emissions, oil for 34 percent, and natural gas, 20 percent. Note that, worldwide, China and the United States rank first and second, respectively, in annual volume of CO2 emissions. 

Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in recorded history. According to Princeton University-led research published in the journal “Nature Climate Change,” even if we immediately stop all new CO2 emissions, the carbon dioxide that is already in the Earth’s atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years. 

It’s been well said by Theodor Geisel: “How did it get so late so soon?”

Recent Unusual Weather Events:

I have selected a few events to illustrate the outcomes predicted by climate scientists.

You might argue that these examples do not really reflect climate change, but are more akin to changes observed by, and often attributed to, Mark Twain: “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

The Lefthand Canyon fire, pictured above, started on Oct. 18, 2020. The fire burned 460 acres of brush and timber approximately one mile west of the town of Ward in the area of Lefthand Canyon and Spring Gulch in Boulder County, Colorado.

Last year, five of the six largest fires in California history, and three of the four largest in Colorado history, all burned.

By the end of the year, more than four percent of California’s landmass had been consumed by fire, making 2020 the worst wildfire season in California’s modern history. The U.S. Forest Service observed that California’s mean air temperatures have risen since 1980, resulting in increased evaporation, drier brush, and, with concomitant reductions in rainfall through recent decades, had generated one of the worst “megadroughts” in California history. 

A “perfect storm” of weather events, which included a prolonged heat wave followed by a remarkable and unprecedented lightning siege of over 10,000 strikes over several days, finally precipitated the conflagration. 

Earlier this year, the Texas “deep freeze” brought the coldest temperatures in over a quarter century to the state. Most of the state was covered with snow, a freak event, and their under-prepared and poorly-designed power grid was brought down for almost 4.5 million Texans, many of whom were forced to remain in poorly insulated, freezing homes for more than a week.

At least one elected official decided to flee to Mexico.

Extreme weather events have also been on the increase in the northeastern United States. Major winter storms impacted the region in both December 2020 and February 2021; and a study recently published in the journal, “Nature Climate Change”, reported that the 27 major Northeast winter storms that occurred in the decade spanning the winter of 2008-9 through 2017-18, were three to four times the totals for each of the previous five decades. 

The Administration’s Climate Agenda:

President Joe Biden

In January, President Biden said, “We’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis, we can’t wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes. We know it in our bones, and it’s time to act,” (Come on, Jack!)

He ordered a pause on new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters, setting a goal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and ocean waters over the next 10 years. He also added new regulations targeted at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and directed federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

He reiterated his daunting climate goals. I’ve listed the highlights of his $2 trillion plan in the following:

  1. Achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. (i.e., we can still produce some emissions, as long as they are offset by activities that reduce greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere (e.g., planting new forests.)
  2. Make the electricity sector free of carbon pollution by 2035.
  3. Make all new U.S.-made buses zero-emissions by 2030.
  4. Create jobs for construction workers, scientists, and engineers to build electricity-producing sources from wind and solar. 
  5. Develop an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard for utilities and grid operators.
  6. Create a climate research agency that works to make nuclear reactors safer and more efficient.

Final Thoughts:

The issue of mitigating climate change will be very contentious, and it appears that Republicans are already digging in against the President’s plans. 

For example, Wyoming’s Senator John Barrasso (R) has said, “I’m not going to sit idly by, or my colleagues, if this administration enforces policies that threaten my State’s economy …” As a point of reference, Wyoming produced 102.1 million barrels of crude oil in 2019, up from 87.9 million barrels in 2018.”

In contrast, the President insists that a shift to clean energy will create better paying jobs, saying, “We can put millions of Americans to work modernizing our water systems, transportation, and our energy infrastructure.” 

I just don’t know, after more than a year of dealing with COVID, whether a divided United States will have the mettle for climate. The biggest hurdle I see is transportation. Americans are buying more cars and driving more miles. We’ll soon be flying more. Prior to the pandemic, air travel had been up 5 percent a year over the past few years. 

Electric cars are becoming increasingly popular, but there is no equivalent for air travel. Photo by Ernest Ojeh on Unsplash.

Unlike the promise of electric cars, there is no electrical alternative for long distance air travel. 

Further, in Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future, the authors observe, “Many Americans view the findings of climate science through a partisan or ideological lens. For those who reject the scientific consensus, their views are based more on emotional reactions than rational responses. It is of course also true that some people who accept the consensus are doing so for reasons that are not exclusively rational.”

I mentioned “planting new forests” above. I realize that climate mitigation efforts like planting trees may be a long-term and certainly idealistic solution, but there is also the option of slowing down or putting a halt to deforestation. We should probably do both.

In closing, my next essay considers the epic poems of folk and rock music.

In starting the transition, I wonder how Dylan would revise the lyrics of Subterranean Homesick Blues to reflect climate change. Would he still say, “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows”?

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: The Marquis, Groucho, Sam … and Me

There are several events in American history for which I will always recall where I was, and what I was doing, on those dates. I just added the Jan. 6, 2021 violent attack on the Capitol by domestic terrorists, provoked by a defeated president at the end of his term, to my personal list of infamous events.

Given the above, I decided to reconfirm my values; and so I am looking inward in this essay, which is a tribute to a unique small town. Please bear with me as I share my nostalgia. 

I grew up in Fredonia, N.Y., a college town that sits in the midst of New York’ s western lakes district (my own geographic description). My hometown is less than an hour from three lakes, each of which contributed to my developing world view and sense of history.

Three Lakes

Chautauqua Lake, N.Y. Photo from the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau website.

The first, Chautauqua Lake gave rise, late in the 19th century, to the “Chautauqua Movement”, which became a national forum for discussion of public issues, international relations, literature, and science. William Jennings Bryan, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, and Amelia Earhart have all spoken there. 

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his historic “I hate war” speech at Chautauqua on Aug. 14, 1936: “I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war”.

The second, Cassadaga Lake, was home to the Lily Dale Assembly, which was a camp and meeting place for Spiritualists and “Freethinkers”. The purpose of the Assembly was to further the science, philosophy, and religion of Spiritualism.

Finally, the third, Lake Erie, produced a generation of environmentalists and ecologists. My experience on its shores began with kayaks, small sailboats, and water skiing. However, in my last summers before leaving for University, the lake was declared “dead” and inaccessible for recreational use. 

Erie was surrounded by agriculture and dairy herds. Its waters became overloaded with nutrients from fertilizer runoff, cattle manure, and poorly managed waste water. Its warm waters became a breeding ground for bacteria that contaminated drinking water and created oxygen-deprived “dead zones” that destroyed the fresh water fishing industry. 

This disaster, coupled with several other similar disasters across the United States, like the June, 1969 oil slick fire on the surface of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River; and the hyper-polluted Charles River in Boston, (featured in the hit song, “Dirty Water”, by the Standells); finally ended with the creation of the EPA in 1970, and the passage of the Clean Water Act, and the joint Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada, in 1972; all of which resulted in strict regulations on pollutants, sewage treatment, and fertilizer.

These laws also led to eliminating phosphates in laundry detergents and phosphorous in fertilizers.

There has since been some discernible improvement in Lake Erie’s water quality, but, unfortunately, full recovery to a less-spoiled state will still require decades of careful management.

The Marquis:  

The Marquis de Lafayette by Gilbert du Motier. Public Domain.

One could not be a regular patron of Fredonia’s public library without gaining an appreciation for the Marquis de Lafayette’s role in our War of Independence, which included command of American troops at the battle of Yorktown. 

In 1824, at the invitation of President Monroe, he began a farewell tour of the then 24 states, of the United States, travelling by horse-drawn coach and steamboat. 

He arrived in Fredonia on June 4, 1825 to a hero’s welcome.  On his arrival, the Leverett Barker mansion, which eventually became the community’s library, was lighted with several candles at each window. A window sash was scorched. Never repaired or re-painted, a brass marker still commemorates Lafayette’s visit. Ironically, the visit coincided with the ceremonial re-lighting of a gaslight connected to America’s first natural gas well. 

The restored house remains much as it was in 1825, and the library has expanded via a large attached contemporary wing. 

From Fredonia, Lafayette proceeded to Buffalo, via a steamboat on Lake Erie, and he was greeted by a large crowd in the public square that now bears his name; and then, to Boston, where he participated in the 50th anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill.


The Marx Brothers made the movie ″Duck Soup″ in 1933, which was set in the mythical kingdom of Freedonia (note the spelling); and the then Fredonia Mayor, Harry B. Hickey, complained to Paramount Pictures: “it is my duty as mayor to question your intentions in using the name of our city in your picture”. 

Groucho Marx in ‘Copacabana (1947).’ Public Domain.

The Marx Brothers quickly and eloquently replied: ″Our advice is that you change the name of your town. It is hurting our picture. What makes you think you are mayor of Fredonia? Do you wear a black moustache, play the harp, speak with an Italian accent or chase girls, like Harpo? We are certain you do not. Therefore, we must be the mayor of Fredonia, not you″. Thus, an historic connection was formed between them and my home town. 

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini also had concerns with the movie, and banned the film in Italy.  Indeed, the Brothers had intended the film to be a farcical representation of fascist regimes, like Mussolini’s.

In 1987, the annual “Freedonia Marxonia: Marx Brothers Film Festival and Symposium” began at The State University of New York at Fredonia.  Each year, in the fall, and near Groucho’s October 2nd birthday, activities are held to honor the Marx Brothers and their relationship to local, national, and film history. The two-day event includes presentations by film historians, “re-interpretation” of movie scenes and locally produced short films by members of the performing arts departments; and the movie themselves, in the restored 1891 Fredonia Opera House. Freedonia Marxonia 2020 was a virtual event.


Mark Twain by AF Bradley. Public Domain.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) was part owner and editor of the “Buffalo Express” newspaper from 1869 to 1871. Twain fell in love with Fredonia as an invited speaker in January,1870 at the Normal School. After that lecture, he initiated a move to Fredonia for his mother, sister and niece.

He told his sister “I went in there by night and was out by night, so I saw none of it, but I had an intelligent, attractive audience” for my lecture, “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands”; and so, his decision to move his family was based entirely on how that audience had responded to his lecture. 

His family moved to Fredonia in the spring of 1870, and Twain and his wife were frequent visitors. Twain’s sister, Pamelia was one of the first women to join the Woman’s Christian Association in Fredonia, and worked to open the WCA Home for Aged women in 1892. Today, the home still operates as an assisted living facility

Unfortunately, Twain’s memories of life in Fredonia weren’t all positive. Charles L. Webster, of Fredonia, was his business manager, and was eventually named the head of Twain’s publishing company, Charles L. Webster and Co. of New York. It was with Webster and the bankrupting of their shared publishing company that his relationship with Fredonia went awry. 

Scholars believe that the village became the setting for Twain’s novella, “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg”, which was written in 1898. “Hadleyburg enjoys the reputation of being an “incorruptible” town known for its responsible, honest people that are trained to avoid temptation. However, at some point the people of Hadleyburg manage to offend a passing stranger, and he vows to get his revenge by corrupting the town”.

Author’s Closing Thoughts:

My sources for this essay were The Darwin R. Barker Library and Historical Museum, and the archives of the Dunkirk Evening Observer, where, as a twelve-year-old, working in distribution, my interest in journalism first began to develop. If I was maudlin in the above, you can also review another treatise on the subject at John Mellencamp – Small Town Lyrics – Bing

And now, returning to reality, it is my opinion that “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” can no longer hold claim to that distinction. Sadly, some members of Congress have been censured for “voting their conscience.” And finally, there are others, who need to search their souls, and then determine whether they helped fuel this siege on the Capitol by perpetuating the notion of a fraudulent election.

God save the United States of America.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: Thoughts on the Occasion of the Inauguration

The White House on Inauguration Day. All photos by Erin O’Donnell.

At noon on this past Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, President-elect Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated in a ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol. This was the culminating event in what has been a hostile transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to President Biden. 

The Environment:

The then President Trump had claimed, repeatedly and without evidence, that the election result was fraudulent and “stolen” from him. Regrettably, many of his supporters have yet to acknowledge that this claim was untrue.

Consequently, there was a violent and dystopian siege on the Capitol by domestic terrorists, incited by his “Big Lie,” just two weeks before the Inauguration.

Unexpectedly, on Tuesday night, the then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell affirmed that “… the president and other powerful people,” had provoked the violent attacks on the Capitol building. I am uncertain how firm he is in his conviction.

Fortunately, amidst all that turmoil, the Inauguration proceeded forward, albeit with immense security and what was  described officially as a “show of force” in place well in advance of the 20th. 

My outlet, in such chaotic and troubling times, has always been reviewing historic accounts of great men and women. I am a fan of the spoken word. A masterful presentation always stirs me. 

Motorcycles lead the parade up Pennsylvania Avenue following the Inauguration.

I’m going to reflect on the Inauguration in this essay; but, first, I’ll share a few written works and speeches that buoyed me during this chaotic period.

In 2005, a self-described “skinny Kid with a funny name” asserted to the American Library Association’s Annual Conference assembly that “the moment we persuade a child to cross the threshold into a library, we’ve changed their lives forever, and for the better.” The then-Senator Obama also said that “librarians are the ones who’ve been on the frontlines of the fight for privacy and freedom. Libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.” 

Likewise, Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library Director Katie Huffman has noted, “Libraries have long served as stewards of free speech, and we are proud and passionate to be a part of that tradition.”

One of my family’s most enduring favorites is “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame; in which he recounts the adventures of four friends, Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and the irascible Toad; on the river and in the wild woods. 

A particularly memorable passage, which is slightly abridged here, occurs when Rat convinces land-bound Mole to step into his boat and enjoy a day on the river.

Rat says, “Believe me, my young friend; there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In them, or out of them, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter; that’s the charm of it. Whether you arrive at your destination, or you reach somewhere else; or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy.”

Memorable Commencement Speeches:

In his 2014 commencement address at the University of Texas, Austin, retired Four-Star Admiral, William McRaven, provided this advice to the graduates: “If you want to change the world, start off each day by making your bed.”

He added, “You will have completed the first task of the day. That little sense of pride and achievement will encourage you to complete another task; and another, and another. And that will reinforce the fact that even the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things well, you won’t do the big things well.” 

Prior to appointment as Chancellor of The University of Texas System, his career included service as Head of the U.S. Special Operations Command; where he is known for orchestrating the mission, and leading the Navy SEAL team that conducted the successful 2011 raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

An international celebrity, and another amphibian, gave the 1996 commencement address at Long Island University’s Southampton College School of Environmental Science. After acknowledging the importance of the environmental sciences in preserving the world’s ecosystems, Kermit the Frog (yes, really!) advised the graduates, “Never lose sight of the fact that you are not just saving the environment; you are saving the homes and lives of so many of my relatives.” He closed his address with the challenge, “You are no longer tadpoles. The time has come for you to drop your tails and leave this swamp.”

President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden walk up Pennsylvania Ave. after the Inauguration on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

Reflections on the Inauguration:

There were several points in this two-day event at which I felt tears welling in my eyes. Thank you, Mr. President, and Madame Vice President. We needed that. 

I have been impressed with President Biden’s religious piety, and his pride in his family’s working-class background. He has experienced great loss in his past. His ability to convert that loss into honest and sincere empathy was demonstrated in his words on Tuesday evening, as the 400 lights around the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool were lit to remember and honor the 400,000 Americans, who have died from COVID-19.

“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said. His predecessor, in contrast, never really acknowledged the tragic loss of life. 

In addition, a magnificent illuminated display of 200,000 American flags stood in the National Mall, to honor the COVID deaths. They were also in recognition of those thousands and thousands of people unable to attend the Inauguration in person amid the pandemic, and due to the intense security put in place after the violent attack on the Capitol.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff (third from left) and Vice President Kamala Harris (fourth from left) and their families walk up Pennsylvania Avenue after the Jan. 20 Inauguration.

President Biden was joined on the Capitol platform by former President(s) Barack Obama, George W. Bush, William Clinton, and former Vice President Mike Pence along with the former First (or Second) Ladies. President Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who are age 96 and 93, respectively, were unable to attend the Inauguration, but had called then-President Elect Biden the night before.

President Trump refused to attend the Inauguration and bear witness to the ceremonial transfer of power, thus becoming the first outgoing president in over 150 years to leave the city before his successor had been sworn in. 

In his inaugural address, President Biden recognized the attempted insurrection, but asserted, “Democracy has prevailed.” He called for Americans to unite and confront the perilous challenges before them:- a deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil and divisions over American leadership.

The then-President-elect had told supporters as he departed from Delaware on Tuesday for Washington and the Inauguration, “These are dark times, but there’s always light.”

Marine One flies over Washington DC carrying former President and First Lady Donald and Melania Trump for the last time.

My hopes for this new Administration:

The President has promised to use the Defense Production Act and redouble the federal government’s support of COVID testing, vaccine production, and vaccine distribution.

He has also promised that the COVID-relief package passed at the end of 2020 was only a down-payment and that greater relief would be on the way. Keep your eye on the ball, Mr. President.

I hope this Administration will move beyond governance by Executive Order and actually pass some legislation.  

Finally, it is time to restore America’s greatness, its dignity, and its world leadership.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: A Primer on Vaccines, Part 2.5: Where Are We With Vaccines? CT’s Distribution Plan, Immunity Questions & More

Editor’s Note: This is a previously unplanned third of three parts of a highly topical essay titled, “A Primer on Vaccines,” by Thomas D. Gotowka. Part 2.5 reviews Connecticut’s readiness to distribute the vaccine, identifies some of the side effects that may be experienced, and considers the acquisition of individual immunity. Read the previous parts of the essay at these links:
A View from My Porch: A Primer on Vaccines: Part 1; “Still Running to Daylight”

A View from My Porch — A Primer on Vaccines: Part 2; “Approaching Daylight”

When Part 2 of this series was published in mid-December, only the Pfizer vaccine had received emergency use authorization (EUA); the FDA then granted Moderna’s EUA on Dec. 18. As a result, we are now in the earliest stages of a massive vaccination campaign that will span the United States; and millions of Americans will reach the vaccination on-deck circle in 2021. 

The COVID “playbook” is still evolving; and guidance will change as the scientific and medical communities discover more about this virus and its reaction to the vaccines. That’s a good thing. 

The COVID Data Remain Troubling:

The first autopsy-confirmed COVID-related death in the United States occurred on Feb. 6, 2020 in Santa Clara County, Calif. Just 10 months later, i.e., by year’s end, over 345,000 Americans had been killed by the virus; and, incredibly, we surpassed 20 million cases, with an increase of more than a million cases in the last week of the year.

Unfortunately, this trend will continue through this dark winter; and, by this morning, Jan. 7, we’ve reached nearly 364,000 American fatalities. Finally, COVID hospitalizations are increasing in Connecticut, and may be evidence of another post-holiday spike.

New Vaccines:

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash.

Last week, Great Britain became the first country to authorize the use of Astra Zeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, a promising vaccine candidate from Johnson & Johnson is proceeding through clinical trials. However, for the foreseeable future, Americans will receive the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines, both of which require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively.

Poorly Executed Federal Vaccine Rollout:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that Operation Warp Speed’s promise to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December fell remarkably short of goal; and only about 2.8 million people were provided the vaccine — primarily front-line health care workers, and nursing home residents.

Earlier in December, General Gustave Perna, COO of Operation Warp Speed, apologized for a “planning error” that caused dozens of states to receive substantially fewer vaccine doses than were originally promised.

Predictably, the outgoing Administration then announced that, like testing, vaccine distribution will now be the responsibility of the individual states. Transition to the states occurred rapidly, and with only limited assistance and oversight.  There is no plan for logistical support.

They essentially told the states that “this is now your responsibility, figure it out.” Many states will have significant difficulty in meeting this challenge. However, the Coronovirus Relief Bill, which was reluctantly signed into law by the outgoing president at the end of December, includes some financial assistance for the states’ vaccination rollout.  

Vaccine Distribution in CT:

Connecticut began preparing for vaccine distribution well before the candidate vaccines were on the threshold of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization. 

Governor Lamont had appointed a broad-based Vaccine Advisory Group, who worked with the state’s Department of Health (CT DPH), the local health departments, CDC, and a group of providers and healthcare institutions to develop a phase-based program, which the Governor presented last October. The Governor also stated, at that time, that the state’s goal was to have everyone in the state “who wants a dose” to be vaccinated by early fall of 2021.

You can review the details of CT’s vaccination plan at Phases (

At present, Connecticut is vaccinating people who meet Phase 1a eligibility, which includes front-line healthcare workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. CVS Pharmacy teams began to administer the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Connecticut skilled nursing facilities on Dec. 21. 

By the end of that month, they had administered more than 50,000 vaccine doses. The role of CVS in Connecticut’s vaccination program is reviewed in: A View from My Porch — A Primer on Vaccines: Part 2; “Approaching Daylight” (

By the end of December 2021, more than 50,000 vaccine doses of Coronavirus vaccine had been administered. Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash.

Phase 1b:

The Governor has confirmed that Connecticut remains on track to complete Phase 1a by the end of January; and the CDC recently reported that Connecticut is ahead of most states in vaccine distribution. Phase 1b is expected to begin immediately after completing Phase 1a objectives, and will probably extend into June. 

The Governor’s Vaccine Advisory Group has just recommended that Phase 1b target frontline essential workers, residents of congregate settings and those aged 75 and older. This will include teachers, grocery store workers, police officers, food service workers and sanitation workers. 

Congregate settings include homeless shelters, prisons, psychiatric facilities and group homes. The Advisory Group has not yet decided whether this next phase will also include residents, who are under the age of 75, but have underlying health conditions that place them at high-risk of serious illness from COVID-19. It appears that heathy people, ages 65 to 74 years old, may, otherwise, be deferred to Phase 1c.

Side Effects:

The most common side effects for both vaccines include pain and swelling in the arm where you received the injection; fever, chills, fatigue, and headaches, and muscle and joint pain. There was some early concern regarding a few claims of “Bell’s Palsy” following receipt of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in the clinical trials. (“Bells” is a condition that causes temporary and mild weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles).

This was not considered significant, however, because the incidence rate of the condition in the clinical trial was very comparable to the incidence of Bell’s Palsy in the general population.

Note that the CDC and FDA are monitoring adverse reactions, using a national data collection system. Healthcare professionals are required to report certain adverse events; and vaccine manufacturers are required to report all adverse events that come to their attention. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) (

Even you have received the first shot of vaccine, keep wearing your mask until one to two weeks after your second dose.  Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash.

Immunity ETA:

As noted above, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively. Based on the current literature, you will have some protection about 12 days after the first dose. 

However, you will not receive the strongest immunity until after the second dose — at least seven days after the second for the Pfizer vaccine; but at least 14 days after the second for the Moderna vaccine. Therefore, it is important that you continue wearing a face mask, practice social distancing until one to two weeks after your second dose.

Questions (Always) Remain:

There is still a need for continuing study. We do not yet know how long vaccines will confer immunity. Although the vaccine may be more than 90 percent effective in blocking the symptoms of COVID-19 at the individual level; it is still unclear whether it will reduce transmission and stop the symptomless spread that accounts for a large portion of cases

Some Final Thoughts:

Vaccinations for the general public are not expected to begin until late-summer but, by then, vaccines will be available in a wide range of healthcare sites: physician’s offices, hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers, and other locations that would normally administer influenza vaccines. Note that Connecticut is not mandating vaccination.  So, it’s an extremely important public health program that requires we “rely on the kindness of strangers.”

As I write this, I am distracted by the televised play-by-play of a violent attack on the Capitol by a group of domestic terrorists, which was apparently instigated and applauded by the outgoing Executive Branch. 

All that said, I believe that Connecticut is well-prepared to carry out this massive vaccination program. Other states are woefully unprepared. For example, Florida has what appears to be a poorly organized, “first come, first served” program.

We must make certain, however — and especially as other states reach readiness — that the vaccine supply line is continually sufficient to meet immediate requirements. 

I’ll close by paraphrasing Queen Elizabeth II: 2020 was without question an “annus horribilis.” Let’s not allow its ‘horrible-ness‘ to spill over any further into 2021.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch — A Primer on Vaccines: Part 2; “Approaching Daylight”

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two parts of a highly topical essay titled, “A Primer on Vaccines,” by Thomas D. Gotowka. Part 2 considers the complexities of reaching vaccine distribution. The author’s goal is that the reader obtains a fundamental understanding of the vaccine approval process, and recognizes that Americans will be provided a vaccine that is safe and effective. Read the first part of the essay at this link.

The Good News First:

On Dec. 10, an independent Advisory Panel to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), comprised of scientists and medical experts, voted overwhelmingly to endorse Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) request. This brings the US to the threshold of a massive vaccination effort against a virus that has now killed over 300,000 Americans.

The Panel concluded that the vaccine appears safe and effective for emergency use in adults, and teenagers, 16 years, and older. Specifically, the Panel ruled that the vaccine’s potential benefits outweigh its risks. 

A day later, FDA staff scientists, as expected, corroborated the Panel’s endorsement, and “greenlighted” use of the Pfizer vaccine.

UPS and FedEx trucks left Pfizer’s Michigan facility at Kalamazoo Sunday morning (Dec. 13), and began delivering the vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the United States; the states began receiving the vaccine early this week. Moderna’s EUA request will be considered on Dec. 17. 

The Panel’s endorsement came, despite allergic reactions observed in two individuals who received the vaccine after Britain launched their emergency vaccination program. A Panel member, Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “There are still some unknowns, but in an emergency, the question is whether you know enough.”

Pfizer has said they have seen no signs of allergic reactions in their trial.

The President-elect called the FDA decision, “A

bright light in a needlessly dark time.”

Distribution Factors:
i) Cold Storage

Although all three of the leading vaccine candidates (i.e., Pfizer, Moderna, and Astra Zeneca) must be kept at low temperatures. Pfizer’s vaccine presents some challenges; and must be kept at minus 94 degrees F, or lower. 

ii) Quantity of Vaccines Available/Number of Doses Required

Both the Pfizer and the prospective Moderna vaccines require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively.

Because the results from clinical trials were so favorable, both Pfizer and Moderna began production and warehousing of their vaccines in advance of FDA approval. Pfizer has said it will have about 25 million doses of the two-shot vaccine for the U.S. by the end of December.

Initial supplies will be limited and reserved primarily for health care workers and nursing home residents, with other vulnerable groups next in line until the vaccine becomes more widely available, which will probably not happen until the spring. Moderna will have 20 million doses available. These have been very fluid predictions. 

Distribution Plans:

Last September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), released a plan for distribution of vaccines across the United States. HHS has contracted with about a dozen pharmacy chains to administer the vaccination programs. 

CVS and Walgreens will be involved in the early stages of the rollout to help vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities. Other participating pharmacies are expected to start later, when more doses become available. Working with pharmacies, most of which already have local patient relationships, will facilitate community-based vaccination programs. 

As in mitigation, the states will have a very large role in vaccination. Governor Lamont presented CT’s plan for distribution of the vaccine on October 3rd. CT’s goal is to have everyone in the state “who wants a dose” to be vaccinated by early fall of 2021. The plan was developed by his Vaccine Advisory Group, with oversight from CT DPH. CT DPH has also been actively working with local health departments to organize CT’s distribution and vaccination plan. 

Preparing to vaccinate. Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash.

From Here to Immunity:

The World Health Organization has indicated that 70 percent of the population of the United States must be immunized to reach “herd immunity; but because the vaccines are not effective all of the time, the threshold would likely need to be nearly 80 percent, in order to reach a 70 percent rate of successful vaccination.

However, we also know that, even assuming full participation, and full compliance with the two- dose regimen, it will not be until the end of 2021, or early 2022, before we have been able to vaccinate that much of the U. S. population. 

During that extended period, Americans will continue to die unless we stop the spread by simply observing the behaviors that our medical and public health experts have stressed for nearly a year: wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, disinfect common surfaces, avoid crowds, especially indoors, and keep a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your own household.

I believe that individuals can assume that immunity will occur about two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine. 

Pfizer has said it will have about 25 million doses of the two-shot vaccine for the U.S. by the end of December. Initial supplies will be limited and reserved primarily for health care workers and nursing home residents, with other groups next in line after the vaccine becomes more widely available, which will probably not happen until the spring.

Unanswered Questions:

We do not yet know how long vaccines will confer immunity. The Panel stressed that, although the vaccine’s efficacy is very high, and may be more than 90 percent effective in blocking the symptoms of COVID-19 at the individual level; it is still unclear whether it will reduce transmission and stop the symptomless spread that accounts for a large portion of cases.

The vaccine trials excluded pregnant or breastfeeding women; and largely excluded children under 12 years old.  Consequently, it is not yet clear when the immunizations would be safely available for them. 

Pfizer will provide six months’ follow-up data about safety and side effects as it pursues full approval. “Americans want us to do a scientific review, but I think they also want us to make sure we’re not wasting time on paperwork, in lieu of moving forward to the decision,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said before the Pfizer EUA review meetings.

Was it Too Fast?  

This was not “miraculous.” Rather, “the speed is a reflection of years of work that went before,” stated Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Long before COVID-19 was even on the radar, the groundwork was laid in large part by two different streams of research, one at the NIH, and the other at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, scientists had already learned a great deal about other coronaviruses from prior SARS and MERS outbreaks. 

“Science and data guided the FDA’s decision,” Commissioner Hahn recently said. “We worked quickly, only because of the urgency of this pandemic, not because of any unwarranted external pressure.” (see below.)

What Happens Now?

The FDA and CDC will monitor the use of the vaccine long after its release, and conduct “active surveillance” of the health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities who were early recipients of the vaccine. The purpose of this monitoring is to identify the rare side effects and adverse reactions that were not seen, even in the very large clinical trials conducted by Pfizer. 

Further, because the trials excluded some groups who might have different types of side effects (above), monitoring enables an additional review of those excluded trial groups who actually then received the vaccine as distribution expanded, presumably with medical advice.

Some Final Thoughts:

America’s systems worked. Teams of scientists and medical experts made vaccine development their highest priority early in this pandemic; and America’s highly respected public health agencies, which include NIH, FDA, and CDC, also stepped up, and acted as though we were in the midst of this century’s greatest threat to the nation’s health. 

This was “deep state”, with all its expertise, moving ahead at optimum speed, despite an Executive Branch throwing brickbats, and unable to acknowledge the growing number of dead Americans. 

Again, we need to develop education and communication strategies to overcome “vaccine hesitancy” (sometimes called anti-vaccination or anti-vax”), if we are ever to reach the threshold required for “herd immunity”.

There has been some concern that vaccine approval was accelerated to fulfill a political goal; and, unfortunately, the outgoing Administration did make threats regarding the timing of the approval.

The Commissioner had already stated “Let me be clear; our career scientists have to make the decision, and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call”.

After the Panel’s endorsement was announced, The President-elect said “I want to make it clear to the public: You should have confidence in this. There is no political influence. These are first-rate scientists, taking their time, looking at all of the elements that need to be looked at,” Biden told reporters Friday at an event introducing several members of his Cabinet and White House staff.

I am concerned that maskless states like South Dakota, who was content with last week’s 47 percent test positivity rate, will make no effort to educate and encourage vaccination.

The new Administration will also need to deal with the availability of therapeutics for Americans. Some of these experimental drugs, which have been occasionally used on political celebrities, are in such short supply, that some states have set up lotteries to determine which patients would receive a dose.

In closing, we should acknowledge the tens of thousands of volunteers who participated in clinical trials. Pfizer had 44,000; Moderna, 30,000; and Astra Zeneca, 23,000.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: A Primer on Vaccines: Part 1; “Still Running to Daylight”

When will the first COVID-19 vaccine be given in the US? Great Britain began their vaccination program, Tuesday, Dec. 8. Photo by CDC on Unsplash.

This essay begins an examination of the development and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.

Part 1 reviews the key terminology that one may encounter in the media; and the intense evaluation and approval process that is required for these vaccines before they can be used on Americans. I also identify the important developers and discuss their progress.  

My goal is that, after these two essays, the reader has a basic understanding of the vaccine development process, and recognizes that Americans will be provided vaccines that are safe and effective. Part 2 will cover the complexities of distribution.

The Current Environment:

At the end of November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its national “ensemble forecast”, which predicted that COVID deaths in the United States will surge to between 294,000 and 321,000 deaths by Christmas. Further, CDC Director Robert R. Redfield stated that “this winter could be ‘the nation’s most difficult time in our public health history.” 

Nevertheless, there is some very good news ahead. Teams of scientists and medical experts in the United States and Europe made vaccine development their highest priority early in this pandemic and vaccines are on the near horizon. Note that the speed at which these teams progressed from the first cases identified in the United States to vaccine delivery, a little less than a year, is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, recently estimated that the first American vaccinations may occur before the end of December, and then continue through the end of 2021. 

The CDC’s advisory panel of medical experts has drafted recommendations regarding groups considered high priority for vaccination. Clearly, there’s more to come on this, but expect that higher priority will be given to those who face the greatest risk: first responders and frontline healthcare workers first; then, residents of long-term care facilities, the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions; and finally, those involved in essential and critical industries.

Admiral Brett Giroir of the U.S. Public Health Service, stated, “We have to immunize for impact; the rest of America will get it in the second, or third quarter of 2021, but we can maximize our impact right now.” 

Some Important Terminology:

An “ensemble forecast” (above) is a sophisticated analytic technique that combines several independently-developed forecasts into one single, aggregate prediction; which increases the forecast’s reliability and statistical power.  It is similar to a “meta-analysis,” which also combines results from several independent studies to determine overall trends. Note that these both are widely-accepted methods of analysis, and not “smoke and mirrors.”

A “vaccine” stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies in a manner that’s similar to being naturally exposed to the disease; and so, immunity to that disease develops. Vaccines may contain the same causal agents that produce the disease; but in either weakened or dead form (e.g., measles vaccine contains the measles virus.) Some vaccines may contain only a part of the microorganism’s genetic or physical structure. 

“Immunity” is simply protection from an infectious disease. If you are immune to a disease, you are able to resist it, and can be exposed without becoming infected. 

Vaccine “efficacy” is a measure of how well a vaccine works to prevent disease among vaccinated persons, as compared to those who were not vaccinated, but in well-controlled clinical trials.  A 95 percent efficacy means that 95 out of 100 people who received the vaccine in that clinical trial were protected. Another important measure is “effectiveness”, or how well the vaccine actually achieved protection in the real world, with all its vagaries. This may be a lower number.

“Clinical trials” are studies performed by scientists with human subjects, and are aimed at assessing a medical, surgical, or behavioral intervention.

Achieving “herd immunity” is the goal of these vaccine programs; and will occur when a “significant” portion of the population (the “herd”) has been vaccinated. 

Vaccine experts say that the threshold at which enough people have been vaccinated or naturally infected by the virus to reach a herd immunity, won’t be achieved if only 40 or 50 percent of the population receives the vaccine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), herd immunity against measles requires that 95 percent of the population be vaccinated; for polio, the threshold is closer to 80 percent. They have also stated that 70 percent of the population will need to be immunized to reach “herd immunity” for COVID-19. 

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER):

The CDER is the nation’s primary watchdog for vaccine development. 

Before a drug or a vaccine can be tested in people, the pharmaceutical company must perform laboratory and animal tests to determine how the proposed vaccine works, and whether it’s likely to be safe and work well in humans. If those results show promise, CDER will then authorize a series of tests in people.

Once the test vaccine has been cleared for human tests, at least three additional phases of clinical trials are conducted on volunteers to test vaccine efficacy, determine appropriate dosage, and to assess adverse side effects, etc. The last phase may involve a test group comprising thousands of human volunteers. Note that the Center doesn’t actually test drugs or vaccines itself.

An expert team of physicians, statisticians, chemists, pharmacologists, and other scientists reviews the company’s data; and if this independent review establishes that the vaccine’s health benefits outweigh its risks, the vaccine is approved for use. 

After approval, the FDA will continue to closely monitor the vaccine; and may review batches of the vaccine through the production process, and evaluate the facilities for safety. The FDA will also continue to track vaccine reactions and side effects.

COVID-19 Vaccine Developers:

There are currently three leading candidates competing for FDA approval. The front runners include:

  1. Pfizer, and its German collaborator, BioNTech, whose (BNT162b2) vaccine has an efficacy of 95 percent.
  2. Moderna, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology company, whose (mRNA-1273) vaccine also reports an efficacy of 95 percent.
  3. AstraZeneca, collaborating with Oxford University in England, whose (ChAdOx1) vaccine has reported an efficacy of 90 percent, based on “interim results” from trials in the UK and Brazil.

The above three are among nearly a dozen companies that had the opportunity to receive some financial support from United States taxpayer dollars for vaccine development as part of “Operation Warp Speed” (OWS). Government financial support was available both to subsidize research and development, or to subsidize production of the vaccine. It has been reported that Moderna received some funding for R&D whereas Pfizer did not.

Current Status:

Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) from the FDA for their respective vaccines; which, although short of a full-scale approval, is an accelerated review process that would allow them to distribute their vaccines during this public health emergency. The FDA is scheduled to convene on December 10th to consider this the Pfizer request, and a week later for Moderna. 

EUAs are temporary; and the process to receive full FDA approval continues, irrespective of the EUA. 

Some experts had initially expressed concern about using an EUA for a vaccine that would be given to millions of people; but their fear has become more muted as the pandemic continues to kill thousands of Americans. 

The United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has just approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use and is expected to quickly initiate their vaccination program in Great Britain. See the Editor’s Note below for latest news on the British vaccination program.

Some Final Thoughts:

This past week, COVID-19 surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death in United States; and today, Johns Hopkins University reported 285,564 Americans dead from the virus. Despite the calendar, we have been in the midst of what Dr. Fauci referred as a “bleak, dark winter”. 

The courage exhibited by many State governors must be acknowledged. Many implemented those inconvenient mitigation behaviors, while the Executive Branch, in apparent public denial, was sending out conflicting messages that actually endangered State officials. There was no doubt that “the buck stopped there,” right in the State House. 

We will also need to develop strategies to overcome “vaccine hesitancy”, which is sometimes called anti-vaccination or “anti-vax”. This reluctance, or refusal to be vaccinated, or to have one’s children vaccinated against contagious diseases, was identified in 2019 by the WHO as one of the top 10 global health threats. 

To set the record straight:

  • Pfizer did not alter its development schedule and hold their announcement until after the Nov. 3 election.
  • The FDA has not lengthened their review process to postpone vaccine distribution until after the inauguration.

Stephen Hahn, FDA Commissioner, stated unequivocally, “Let me be clear; our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision”.

Finally, in the best of all possible Americas, the outgoing president should re-focus his energy through the remainder of his transition out of the White House towards informing us all that we should prepare to receive the vaccine, even if it occurs during the next Administration. 

As always, God save the United States of America.

Editor’s Note: Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old British grandmother, became the first person in the world to receive a fully-tested COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. She was given the Pfizer/BioNTech shot and that event marked the start of the biggest vaccination campaign in the history of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service ever to be undertaken. 

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: The ‘Aristocrat of the Silent Screen’, the ‘Bee & Thistle’ … and Other Thoughts

Plans have been announced for the former ‘Bee and Thistle Inn’ to become the new home of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center. But do you know how this gracious residence ever came to be an inn?  If not, read on …

The recent announcement that the Connecticut Audubon Society had reached an agreement to purchase the Bee & Thistle Inn, and plans to renovate it as the future headquarters for the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, piqued my curiosity regarding the Inn’s history.

This essay briefly reviews the life of an individual who was fairly instrumental in its founding, the talented and infamous Elsie Ferguson. Note that I had originally written “notorious,” but I believe only one woman in our recent history is deserving of that descriptor. My goal with this essay is to provide readers with something light, given the dismal news regarding the COVID crisis, but please read to the end as I feel obliged to return to that topic there.

Known as “The Aristocrat of the Silent Screen,” this (Public Domain) photo shows Elsie Ferguson in 1913. Image by Herman Mishkin – The Theatre, Vol. 18, July 1913.

Ms. Ferguson was considered by many as the leading Broadway and silent screen actress for much of the first half of the 20th century. She made her debut as a chorus girl in 1900 at the Madison Square Theatre in the musical comedy “The Belle of New York.”

She then starred, or was a cast member, in a remarkable number of productions on Broadway and in London, becoming known as one of the most beautiful and talented women ever to appear on the American stage. She became “the aristocrat of the silent screen”, partly because so many of her roles were elegant society women, and also for her utterly arrogant attitude. 

During the first world war, several Broadway stars organized a campaign to sell Liberty Bonds, both before performances and at events occurring at important New York City venues. Ms. Ferguson once sold $85,000 in bonds in less than an hour, which is about a million and a half today!

After appearing in “The Merchant of Venice” in 1916, she signed her first movie contract with Paramount Pictures, and in a 1917 release, made her silent screen debut in “Barbary Sheep.” After some 25 films made between 1917 and 1929, she made her first and only “talkie”, “Scarlet Pages”, in 1930. 

She was definitely “divaesque” and working with her was difficult. She actually dabbled in socialism in the 1920s, and once stated in an interview, that “… people are struggling and fretting their lives away over questions of food and education. When a man has accumulated more than, say, a million, the moneys made should revert back to those who have contributed to the amassment.” This was ironic, because she was very well-compensated for her work, and had “amassed” a large fortune.

Her personal life was marked with some turmoil; and she was even involved, albeit on the periphery, in events that triggered the murder of architect Stanford White, an utter scoundrel; the news of those events contributed to the novel and eventual Broadway musical, “Ragtime”.


In 1934, the then 51-year-old Elsie Ferguson married her fourth husband, the wealthy Irish “sportsman” Victor Egan. They bought a farm in Connecticut that same year. They also maintained a home on the French Riviera, splitting their time between the two. 

The Ferguson Farm:

A “Profile” of Ms. Ferguson, published in 2013 by the Florence Griswold Museum, tracked her life to some “welcome seclusion” on that scenic 100-acre estate in East Lyme, “White Gate Farms.” She told a reporter from “The Milwaukee Journal” that she sold 150 of her farm’s eggs each day to the Government. The reporter described the surroundings as “bucolic and luxurious.” During her tenure at White Gate, she was known only as Mrs. Victor Egan. 

When the World War II theater blackout on Broadway lifted in 1943, she made her final appearance, at the age of 60, in “Outrageous Fortune”, which was written by an East Lyme neighbor, Rose Franken. She told the reporter covering her return to the theater that “once people [in Connecticut] recognized her, she would have to be very careful about how she looked; hair and all that sort of thing.”

Victor Egan died in France in 1956, and ‘Widow Ferguson’ spent her remaining years in Connecticut.

The Bee and Thistle Inn:

Her friend and contemporary, Henrietta Greenleaf Lindsay, a Hartford designer, had opened a shop in Old Lyme, and lived nearby in a large home just north of what is now the Florence Griswold Museum. She was also a widow, and rented a few extra bedrooms to guests. Ms. Ferguson suggested that Ms. Lindsay formalize her guest room business and convert her gracious home wholly to a hotel. 

Ms. Lindsay followed that advice, and opened an Inn to the public. In recognition of her friend’s encouragement, the Ferguson Clan’s crest, which included a bee on a thistle, gave the inn its name.”

Elsie Ferguson died in November, 1961, aged 78, at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London with no surviving heirs. Her will directed that her $1.5 to $2 million estate be divided primarily amongst several animal welfare organizations, including NYC’s Animal Medical Center, Bide-A-Wee Home, the ASPCA, and Orphans of the Storm.

She is interred in Old Lyme’s Duck River Cemetery and her grave marker includes the first few lines of Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty.”

Some Final Thoughts

I began this piece on Nov. 19, when we had just passed the one-quarter million mark of Americans dead from COVID-19; and were looking forward to a very “low-touch” Thanksgiving. 

My next essay, “A Primer on Vaccines and Vaccination,” will be the first, in a series focusing on our response to COVID-19; and each successive column will be a thoughtful analysis of the implications of the data published in LymeLine and other media and as such will be the “color commentary.”

We have a massive public health problem, and it’s worsening daily. As I complete this essay on Monday, Nov. 23, We’ve reached 260,402 dead Americans; and yesterday, there were 142,732 new confirmed cases. The seven-day rolling average of 170,856 new cases per day grew nearly 50 percent from two weeks ago. The prediction of a “dark winter” is playing out.  

We are fortunate, however, because vaccines are approaching distribution; but unfortunately, the still-current president remains unwilling to even acknowledge this crisis and model behaviors in front of his constituency that will assist in curbing the further spread of the disease. 

There’s finally some good news regarding the election. Despite the unrelenting and outrageous interference, the states have all certified the election results, and the recalcitrant GSA Administrator has finally checked her math and enabled the formal transition. So, the President-elect finally really is the President-elect.

John Cleese couldn’t have scripted a more ridiculous theater of the absurd than the “The Bad Loser’s Guide to A Peaceful Transition,” which has been shown nearly constantly in primetime before and since the election. 

I pray that Americans’ trust in the election process has not been irrevocably damaged, and that there has been no damage done to the new administration.

As always, God save the United States of America.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: A Letter to President-Elect Biden

An Open Letter to President-Elect Biden:

Why do you even want this job?

To the best of my knowledge, you don’t play golf or enjoy tooling around in a golf cart. I feel that, if you did play, you would probably walk the course, anyways. I doubt that you even anticipate weekends and evenings off. 

When you communicate with us, please use the spoken word, which appears to be one of your strengths; many Americans don’t tweet. I know that, given your family’s sacrifice, the words “suckers and losers” would never, ever come from your mouth. Further, always be truthful with us; let’s reassign some “fact checkers” to productive research. 

Your White House transition doesn’t seem to be moving as fast as it should at this point.

I remember President Obama’s welcome to the then incoming electee just about four years ago. You need to build your team and come up to speed on security issues. 

This is a critical time, and if the current president continues to undermine the election result, it could be a dangerous time. 

I feel that the current president’s post-loss dystopian behaviors and attempts to discredit voters are embarrassing to the United States.

You have identified that getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control is your highest priority; and you’ve already announced that team. As you certainly know, we recently experienced a pandemic-high 126,000 new COVID cases in a single day, nation-wide. We have surpassed 240,000 dead Americans, and well over 10 million infected. Those numbers are increasing across the country as I write this letter.

You will need to rally the many thousands of recalcitrant and selfish Americans, who have been encouraged by the Executive Branch to ignore the recommendations of scientists, and many governors on how to best control the spread of this disease. Fortunately, there are vaccines on the horizon.

You may be presented, if both the current president and some of your former colleagues in the Senate are successful in invalidating the ACA, with the loss of health insurance by millions of Americans — without any replacement plan.

You need to convince our governing bodies that their zero-sum posturing. (i.e., if you gain, I lose) is destructive to the United States. Of course, you have promised that you will be President for all Americans. 

I know that you recall that Majority Leader McConnell demanded in 2010 that Congressional Republicans unite by stifling President Obama on everything, even things Republicans support, saying, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Kind of ironic.

Perhaps his attitude will change after your inauguration. Can we expect agreement on anything? Or at least agree that a hierarchy of governance should be, “What’s good for America,” first and foremost; not, “What’s good for the Party,” and never, “What’s good for me.”

Isn’t he also majority leader for all Americans?  

I am comforted that you have been raised with a strong faith and a strong moral code; and that you can rely on those values and your family in times of difficult decision- making.

I am even comforted that Champ and Major will accompany you and the First Lady to the White House. 

We are counting on you and your team to return America to its former greatness; to regain our status as a world leader, and as a country that stands by its promises and agreements. 

God save the United States of America.


Thomas D. Gotowka,
Old Lyme.

P.S. The Associated Press (AP) just reported that, after hearing two hours of oral arguments yesterday (Tuesday, Nov. 10), the Supreme Court seemed highly likely to leave the Affordable Care Act including protections for preexisting health conditions and subsidized insurance premiums largely intact.

Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who sit among the Court’s conservative justices, were again unwilling to strike down the entire law a Republican goal repeatedly failing in Congress and the courts. This is regardless of the original Law’s now weakened individual mandate, or statutory requirement to purchase health insurance.

The AP estimated that the Law affects 23 million Americans.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View From My Porch: Make America Safe Again, A Primer on Herd Immunity 

Is herd immunity the answer to the current pandemic crisis? Photo by David Todd McCarty on Unsplash.

A lot of people recently started saying, “Herd immunity.”

So, to get up to speed, I reviewed some of my old textbooks and learned (again) that “herd immunity” occurs when a substantial portion of the population (i.e., the “herd”) has, at least in our contemporary medical era, been vaccinated (e.g., MMR.)

This eventually provides protection for vulnerable individuals because, as the number of vaccinated (and presumably immune) persons grows, the likelihood that a susceptible person will come into contact with an infectious person drops; and the chain of infection is broken. 

In the last few weeks, it has been reported (e.g., NYT, WAPO) that the White House has apparently embraced a strategy of enabling deliberate infection of Americans to achieve herd immunity. Campaign rallies?

This approach was proposed in early October in “The Great Barrington Declaration” by a group of “pseudo-scientists”, who argued that government authorities should allow the virus to spread among young, healthy people, while, “in some way”, protecting the elderly and the vulnerable.

So, only people who are at high risk of dying from the disease would be, “somehow”, protected from infection. In other words, achieve a state of “herd immunity” via massive infection, rather than a vaccine. 

The “Declaration” states that those at lower risk of death from infection can, and should, resume normal activities, socialize in crowded bars and restaurants, and gather at sports and other events; and thus, facilitate a rebound of the economy. There is no mention of masks, physical distancing, testing, or tracing.

The “Declaration” was sponsored by the American Institute for Economic Research, whose past work has denied climate change, denied the importance of face masks during this pandemic, and supported personal freedom and limited government. 

Note that, as I write this, the COVID test positivity rate is 38 percent in South Dakota, where personal freedom appears to reign over community safety.  

The White Huse may be aligning itself with this particular “herd immunity” strategy because it supports their false portrayal of mainstream public health experts as supportive of very harsh restrictions, and argues against any and all COVID-related limits on Americans, including face masks. 

Public health and medical professionals do not support this strategy. Dr. Anthony Fauci emerged from exile and called the concept “total nonsense”. 

Others, including the World Health Organization, have stated that the strategy is especially dangerous because it would be nearly impossible to shield those who are medically vulnerable. 

In a letter recently published in The Lancet, 80 scientists stated that “the idea that the public can infect its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence”. They acknowledged that pandemic restrictions have led to demoralization, but stress that controlling community spread of the virus is the best way to protect the population and the economy until vaccines and treatments are developed.

The scientists continue, “Any pandemic management strategy relying upon ‘immunity from natural infections’ for COVID-19 is flawed.” They add, “Such a strategy would not lead to the end of COVID-19, but result in recurrent epidemics, as was the case with numerous infectious diseases before the advent of vaccination.”

Both the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet have published editorials highly critical of the White House’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. This was unprecedented for these two prestigious, peer-reviewed medical journals.

COVID-19 cases are increasing in several Connecticut hot spots, and deaths are rising at near-apocalyptic levels across much of the United States, with new cases frequently exceeding 50,000 per day. Public health experts have been warning for months that fall and winter could lead to a spike in cases, and the United States remains unprepared and without a common national strategy. 

Let’s put the idea of natural and uncontrolled infection-based herd immunity behind us.

I believe that safe and well-tested vaccines are on the horizon, maybe by early to mid-2021.  There is also significant activity in the development of therapeutics that could be available for widespread and economical use across the population.

Until then our primary public health strategy remains one of mitigation — slowing the spread now that the virus is so firmly established within the population. 

Continuing restrictions will probably be required in the short term. These non-pharmaceutical methods are simple … you already know them!

Wear a mask and observe physical distancing protocols.

Wash your hands frequently and disinfect work surfaces.

Avoid densely packed crowds, especially indoors.

Expect that some capacity restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

And for goodness sake, get your information from reputable public health sources. 

And finally, God save the United States of America.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: Great Leaders, Great Speeches; The Finale: Collapse of the Soviet Union.

Editor’s Note: This the sixth and final part of Thomas Gotowka’s series titled “Great Leaders and Great Speeches.’ The previous four parts can be found at these links:

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 1: Washington’s Farewell through Theodore Roosevelt

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 2: Nazi Aggression through “A Rain of Ruin from the Air” on Hiroshima

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 3: The Cold War 

A View from My Porch: Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 4: The Cold War Heats Up

A View From My Porch: Great Leaders and Great Speeches. Part 5: Cold War “Visual Aids” 

I will wrap up my Cold War treatise with a review of the events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and apparent end of the Cold War.

I think that Madam Editor is cooling on Cold War nostalgia, and my wife, Christina’s, “Sounds great!” is less enthusiastic. So, I am going to lay this out as an annotated timeline of many of the key events that track the Soviet Union’s progression towards its dissolution and get right to a conclusion. 

I change focus in the next column to works by or about the denizens of our waters.

On Nov. 4, 1956, Soviet tanks and troops invaded Budapest to crush a national protest that began a few weeks before. The protesters had demanded a more democratic political system and freedom from Soviet oppression. 

Prime Minister Nagy was arrested and executed two years later. The Soviets put Communist leader, János Kádár, into the “vacated” position, where he remained for 32 years. Nearly 3000 Hungarians were killed or wounded, and 200,000 fled as refugees. 

The West was shocked by these actions. Earlier that year, Nikita Khrushchev had pledged a retreat from the Stalinist policies and repression of the past. 

In August,1961, the German Democratic Republic (i.e., Soviet-occupied East Germany) erected the Berlin Wall to keep “Western fascists from undermining the socialist state.” The wall mainly served to prevent mass emigration from East to West. Note that the Wall was not funded by West Berlin.

In October, 1962, as noted in an earlier essay, the Soviet Union was compelled by President Kennedy and United Nations outrage to remove their missiles and offensive weapons from Cuba. They then began a massive nuclear arms and military buildup to reach parity with the United States. 

On June 26, 1963, JFK spoke in West Berlin in support of West Germany. His “Ich Bin ein Berliner” address is widely regarded as one of the most powerful anti-communist speeches of that Cold War period. “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in; to prevent them from leaving us”. 

“While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, we take no satisfaction in it; for it is, an offense, not only against history, but against humanity.” 

“All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin; and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’”

On Oct. 15th, 1964, Nikita Krushchev left office, and was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev, who remained as general secretary for 18 years. In 1968, he introduced a new foreign policy, the “Brezhnev Doctrine,” which asserted that “any threat to socialist rule in any state of the Soviet Bloc was a threat to all, and justifies military intervention.”

During the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning tank in Prague. Public domain photo from “CIA Analysis of the Warsaw Pact Forces: The Importance of Clandestine Reporting” For more information, visit the CIA’s Historical Collections page.

On Aug. 20th 1968, Soviet-controlled Warsaw Pact military forces invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress the “Prague Spring” political reforms initiated by Alexander Dubcek, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He was arrested, and then resigned. The invasion force included 200,000 ground troops and 5,000 tanks. Warsaw Pact troops seized control of television and radio stations.

Journalists at Radio Prague refused to surrender, and more than 20 were killed before it was finally shut down. Some stations went “underground” and succeeded in broadcasting for several days before their locations were discovered and brutally shut down. Much of Czechoslovakia’s intellectual and business elite fled to the West.

On Sept. 7,1978, the Western world witnessed another tool that has been used frequently since then by Soviet successors to stop resistance. 

Georgi Markov was a dissident novelist and playwright in Bulgaria. He had defected to the UK in 1968, and worked as a broadcaster and journalist for the BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe, and “Deutsche Welle.” He used those media to criticize the Bulgarian Communist regime. 

In an incident worthy of a spy thriller, Markov stood waiting for a bus on Waterloo Bridge in central London, on his way to the BBC. He was stabbed in the back of the leg by a man wielding an umbrella with a sharpened tip, who then ran off. Markov became very sick and was rushed to a hospital, where he died a few days later; the autopsy revealed that the cause of death was poisoning from a tiny pellet filled with ricin, an extremely potent toxin. 

Just recently, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was released from a Berlin hospital, where he was being treated for Novichok nerve agent poisoning. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had facilitated Navalny’s transfer to a Berlin hospital for treatment, and stressed, “In view of the findings and his prominent role in the political opposition in Russia, I urgently call upon authorities to investigate this crime in full transparency.” The G-7 countries condemned Navalny’s attack.

Note that this was the same agent used to poison ex-Russian spy (and “double agent”) Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK in March 2018. Amazingly, both ultimately survived after extended hospital stays. That attack was actually developed into a BBC thriller “The Salisbury Poisonings.”

On Dec. 24th 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan to preserve the collapsing Communist government that had been established there in the early 1970s. 

Soviet Intelligence remarkably under-estimated the fierce resistance they would face from the mujahideen warriors who defended their country.  

The Soviets were ineffective in their use of conventional tactics against the well-trained and highly-motivated Afghan guerillas.  The tide of the war turned against the Soviets when American shoulder-launched infrared-homing missiles were introduced. The Stinger missiles enabled the mujahideen to shoot down Soviet planes and helicopters almost at will. The invasion evolved into a war of bloody Soviet attrition, although their military remained there for 10 years.

The United States and many allies boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics in July, 1980 in protest against the Soviet invasion. Some countries, including Great Britain, participated under the Olympic flag rather than their own national flags.

On March 8, 1983, President Reagan, speaking to a religious convention in Orlando, Fla., referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and “the focus of evil in the modern world.” He had already alluded to that theme the year before in a speech at the British House of Commons, where he also declared that, “The Soviets must be made to understand that “We will never compromise our principles and standards.” The term “evil empire” was inspired by the movie, “Star Wars”. 

In July, 1984, the Soviets and 13 allied countries retaliated by boycotting the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, which was, of course, in President Reagan’s home state.

Mikhail Gorbachev. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

On March 11th 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union, and began a withdrawal from Afghanistan, which then continued through early 1989. More than 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed, and about 35,000 wounded. Two million Afghan civilians were killed in that decade-long conflict.

Note that the war also created a breeding-ground for terrorism and the rise of Osama bin Laden, who founded Al Qaeda in 1988.

On April 26th 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine resulted in the worst nuclear disaster in history. Scientists have indicated that the disaster was the product of a flawed reactor design that, against Western standards, was both poorly staffed and maintained. 

Almost 80,000 square miles were contaminated; including some 8,000 square miles of Europe. Although Soviet officials initially put the number of fatalities at just 31, the United Nations estimated that several million people were ultimately affected. 

The Chernobyl disaster had other consequences: The disaster has been estimated to have then cost some $235 billion in damages. The economic and political toll hastened the end of the USSR and fueled a global anti-nuclear movement. 

In June, 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev announced his intention to follow a policy of glasnost – openness, transparency, and freedom of speech; and perestroika, the restructuring of the government and economy. He also advocated free elections and ending the arms race. That same month, President Reagan had called for Gorbachev to open the Berlin Wall: “If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Gorbachev’s policies relaxed centralized control of much of the Soviet economy, and farmers and manufacturers could now determine what and how much to produce; and what to charge for products. Although Gorbachev had instituted these reforms to accelerate a sluggish economy, they had the opposite effect. Market prices soared to unaffordable levels, Government spending and Soviet debt skyrocketed, and worker demands for higher wages led to dangerously high inflation. 

In 1988, he announced to the United Nations that Soviet troop levels would be reduced, and that the USSR would no longer interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries. 

The Collapse: The Soviet Union was increasingly viewed as a rogue nation by the West. Their economy could not sustain the huge costs of their nuclear weapons buildup, the Afghan Occupation, over 30 years of distant warfare that began in the early 1950s, and Chernobyl. 

President Reagan had actually refused to provide Gorbachev with Marshall Plan-type economic support (similar to the aid provided to rebuild Europe after WW2). 

Then, in the late-1980s, and certainly inspired by the failed perestroika and glasnost reforms, independence movements began to swell in the Soviet sphere; and then, the speed of the collapse of communist rule in Soviet satellite countries stunned the “Free World.” 

On Dec. 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union was dissolved and divided into 15 separate and independent countries. Russia (i.e., formally the “Russian Federation”) was considered the successor state of the Soviet Union, which meant that it kept almost all of their nuclear weapons and the seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. 

The collapse also resulted in the rise of the “Russian Oligarchy”, which, probably too simply, is almost a parallel government of powerful individuals, who accumulated enormous wealth during Gorbachev’s market liberalization and the period of dissolution. 

The failing Soviet state had left ownership of the State’s assets in question, and allowed for “informal” opportunistic deals with former Soviet officials in Russia and Ukraine as a means of “distributing” State property.

The conventional political wisdom (at that time) was that the Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Some Final Thoughts: Unfortunately, Brunhilde never sang. (i.e. “it ain’t over ‘til …”) 

The Cold War only paused after the 1991 Collapse. The battlefield and rules of engagement changed, but, otherwise, it’s the same thugs under a new flag (I apologize for “thugs”, but it seems appropriate.)

Vladimir Putin has served as either Prime Minister or President since 1999, in both the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.  His key cabinet members and senior department heads largely came with him from the Soviet Union. 

A brilliant tactician, the Stalinist Putin is former KGB, and popular with much of the Russian citizenry, many of whom resent the collapse and the apparent change of Russia’s international standing. He has been described as “the Despot’s despot.”

In his annual address to the Russian Federation in 2005, Putin said ,”The collapse of the Soviet Union was the major geopolitical disaster of the past century. Millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots find themselves outside Russian territory.” He pledged to turn the economy around and restore their status in world affairs.

Putin had already “deked” the West in 2003 by allowing Paul McCartney to perform before thousands of Russians in Red Square, his first-ever concert in Russia. The Beatles had been banned in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, declared to be “an enemy of the Soviet people” by Nikita Kruschev; their music “caused delinquency, alcoholism, vandalism, and rape”. 

I am absolutely certain that my eighth-grade math teacher, Sister Thomas Ann, was unaware that she shared Mr. Kruschev’s opinions on rock music. In Sir Paul’s own words: “The Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the west behind; and Moscow girls make me sing and shout, and Georgia, …”.

The Reboot of the Cold War

Hacking and leaking: It is widely accepted and reported by our Intelligence Agencies that Russian agents have interfered in democratic elections across Europe and in the United States. Besides offering assistance to the 2016 campaign of one candidate, they also gained access to voter rolls in two Florida counties. This last breech was revealed by the Florida governor in May, 2019. 

Even more concerning is one conclusion by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee that former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort appears to have been directly connected to the hacking operations conducted by the Russian agents, which exposed large files of internal emails belonging to the DNC.

On Aug. 31, the CIA published an assessment of Russian efforts to interfere in this November’s election in their CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review. CIA analysts compiled the assessment with input from the NSA and the FBI. 

The assessment provides details of the activities of a Ukrainian lawmaker to disseminate disparaging information about candidate Biden to lobbyists, Congress, the media and contacts close to the President. 

Some good, old- fashioned provocation: In late August, USAF  F-22 fighter jets, supported by KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft, intercepted three groups of two Russian Tu-142 patrol jets that entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone.

In early September, two Russian jets flew within 100 feet of a USAF B-52 bomber in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner”, while the pilot was conducting routine training over international waters in the Black Sea. 

In his recent address to the UN’s General assembly, Putin stressed the need for multilateral cooperation against the pandemic. He also argued that ending “illegitimate sanctions” against countries like his could boost the global economy and create jobs.

I am going to conclude with something that might give you some comfort: A short time ago, in a video conference with elected heads of the Russian regions, President Putin called for “an agreement between Russia and the United States to guarantee not to engage in cyber-meddling in each other’s elections. He called for a “reset” between Russia and the United States and said he wanted an agreement between the two countries to prevent incidents in cyberspace”. What’s done is done?

God save the United States of America.

The era did produce a new literary genre; and, if you have the interest to re-visit those years in fiction, I recommend the novels of John LeCarre’. Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, and Nelson DeMille.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View From My Porch: Great Leaders and Great Speeches. Part 5: Cold War “Visual Aids”

Editor’s Note: This the fifth part of Thomas Gotowka’s series titled “Great Leaders and Great Speeches.’ The previous four parts can be found at these links:

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 1: Washington’s Farewell through Theodore Roosevelt

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 2: Nazi Aggression through “A Rain of Ruin from the Air” on Hiroshima

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 3: The Cold War 

A View from My Porch: Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 4: The Cold War Heats Up

The last essay concluded with President Kennedy’s humiliation of the Soviets and the resultant dismantling and removal of their offensive weapons from Cuba.
The United States had stepped back from the brink of nuclear war.

In this essay, I explore the “Visuals” of the Cold War. What were anxious Americans reading and watching during that tense era? I will then wrap up my treatise on the Cold War with a review of the gradual “wind-down” of hostilities, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As always, my goal is that the reader gets a solid foundation in the fundamentals of the subject, which may even pique their curiosity enough to seek additional information.


Images played an important role in waging the Cold War and communicating its possible impacts to Americans. The importance of television, posters, cinema, and political cartoons in representing our Cold War enemy was recognized early. Public Service Announcements and posters often featured mushroom clouds and some reference to “We will bury you”.

I have strong memories of a large portion of the Cold War era, and, being familiar with the demographics of SE CT, I know that I am not unique. 

Americans feared that the Soviet Union would launch an unprovoked attack on the United States with nuclear weapons. I am only providing a small sample of what Americans were reading, watching, or hearing from their leaders during that tense era; and just a few of the events that also affected our collective angst.

Much of the following was created or supported by a series of independent government agencies involved in civil defense.

In the early 1950s, schools performed emergency “Duck and Cover” drills to prepare children to react in a manner that provided some protection in a nuclear attack. The animated character, “Bert the Turtle”, engaged the youngest Americans in preparing for these drills. Students were trained to dive under their desks and cover their heads. Desks were incredibly sturdy back then.

“I Led Three Lives” was a series that aired from 1953 through 1956 on American television, and covered the activities of Herbert Philbrick, a young professional in 1939 Boston, who infiltrated a Communist Party Cell in Cambridge, Mass.; and worked covertly with the FBI for nine years. His cover was so convincing that he was asked by Cell leaders to follow other comrades to assess their loyalty. Hence, his three lives: white-collar worker, Communist agent, and FBI operative thwarting Communist plots.

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik1, the world’s first artificial satellite, and one of three in the Soviet “Sputnik” program that achieved orbit.  Sputnik1 remained in orbit until Jan. 4, 1958, when it dropped and burned in the Earth’s atmosphere. Many Americans feared the potential “sinister” uses that the Soviets could bring to bear on us with this expertise in rocket and satellite technology. 

However, more serious was the perception of American weakness and loss of scientific leadership, which then contributed to Kennedy’s election win, as he had emphasized the “space gap” and the role of the Eisenhower-Nixon administration in creating it.

Our government, the military, and the scientific community were caught off guard by the Soviet technological achievement; and, as a result, combined their efforts to catch and surpass the Soviets, marking the beginning of the “space race”. Our first satellite, Explorer1, was launched on Jan. 31, 1958; and, with more advanced communications technology than Sputnik, provided the first data transmitted from space, revealing the presence of radiation belts encircling the Earth, now known as the Van Allen Radiation Belt. 

In 1958, NBC presented “Ten for Survival”, a 10-episode television series on how to survive a nuclear attack. There were also several pamphlets accompanying the series, published by the Department of Defense Office of Civil Defense.

“AXIOM FOR SURVIVAL: If this country is attacked with nuclear weapons, you can protect yourself. But first, you must know what to do and how to do it.” The associated pamphlets covered subjects ranging from “dealing with the three main effects of a nuclear explosion (i.e., “Heat, Blast, Fallout, Heat”) to “preparing to live in a fallout shelter”.

During the Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 12,1960, Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet First Secretary of the Communist Party, removed his shoe, and raised it above his head as if to strike the desk, in protest at a speech by another delegate, who stated that Eastern Europe had been “deprived of political and civil rights due to the dominant influence in the region by the Soviet Union”.

Note that it was reported widely that he did strike the desk, but I could only locate photographs of a “threat to pound”, with shoe held above his head.

A fallout shelter sign in the United States of America. Photo by Geraldshields11. Published under the Creative Commons license.

Fallout shelters became that generation’s wine cellars and whirlpool tubs in essential home features and improvements. In a speech on “Urgent National Needs” delivered to a joint session of Congress on May, 25, 1961, President Kennedy stated that, “his Administration has been looking hard at exactly what civil defense can and cannot do. It cannot be obtained cheaply. It cannot give an assurance of blast protection that will be proof against surprise attack or guarantee against obsolescence or destruction. And it cannot deter a nuclear attack.” (Holy Cow!) 

Then, in July, after the Soviets imposed a blockade on West Berlin, Kennedy  said in a televised speech, that “in the event of an attack, the lives of those families which are not hit in a nuclear blast and fire can still be saved if they can be warned to take shelter, and if that shelter is available.”

Finally, on Oct. 6, he advised families to build shelters to protect themselves from atomic fallout in the event of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. In another speech on civil defense issues, Kennedy assured the public that the government would soon begin providing such protection for every American.

The President went on say: “We owe that kind of insurance to our families and to our country. The time to start is now. In the coming months, I hope to let every citizen know what steps he can take without delay to protect his family in case of attack. I know you would not want to do less.” 

Congress approved $169 million to locate, mark and stock fallout shelters in existing public and private buildings. Note that this all occurred about a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Periodicals like “Better Homes and Gardens”, “Life Magazine”, and “Popular Science” all included articles on fallout shelters, aimed at readers who were preparing to build the best possible shelter. How-to booklets were widely available, with instructions and diagrams in the finer points of building and equipping your family fallout shelter.

Even earlier, Eisenhower’s Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) had urged American families to maintain a seven-day supply of food and water in case of an atomic emergency. The FCDA launched an initiative called “Grandma’s Pantry”, with slogans like “Grandma was always ready for an emergency.” They produced thousands of “Grandma’s Pantry” exhibits for use in stores, with advice on what should be in every American’s disaster pantry.

The “Mother of All Fallout Shelters”:

In 1955, President Eisenhower instructed the Department of Defense to develop emergency plans to relocate Congress and ensure continuity of government in the event of a nuclear strike. The Army Corps of Engineers selected the Greenbrier Resort property in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., which was relatively close and accessible to Washington, D.C., but distant enough to be safe from an atomic bomb dropped on the Capital.

The Greenbrier had served as a confinement facility for Japanese, Italian, and German diplomats; and then as a military hospital during the second world war. 

Construction on the “super-bunker” Relocation Center began in 1957; and was completed in October, 1962, just as the Cuban Missile Crisis loomed. The Greenbrier bunker was buried 720 ft. underground. It would not survive a direct nuclear strike, but was capable of withstanding a blast 15 to 30 miles away and protecting its occupants from fallout.

The facility‘s two levels totaled about 115,000 square ft., “roughly the size of two football fields on top of one another”. Although the presence of the bunker was a closely-guarded secret, its largest halls, which were intended for sessions of Congress, were actually depicted as part of the Greenbrier Hotel complex, and would have been sealed off in the event of an attack.

All walls were concrete, three feet thick, and reinforced with steel. The entire structure was covered with a concrete roof and buried beneath 20 ft. of soil. It had a highly sophisticated ventilation system that was designed to circulate air and remove radiation.

The Bunker included a decontamination room, 18 rooms of dormitory space, each housing 60 people in metal bunk beds; a kitchen, and a 400-seat cafeteria, which was decorated with fake windows featuring scenic views. The upper level contained storage space and offices for Congressional leaders.

The bunker also had a hospital, operating room, pharmacy, crematorium, and a vast television, radio, and communications facility. The Relocation Center was maintained in a constant state of “readiness” by Forsythe Associates, which was later described by the Washington Post as an “obscure company ostensibly based in Arlington, Va.” These on-site employees claimed that their purpose was to maintain the hotel’s 1100 televisions.

The bunker remained a closely-guarded secret until 1992, when the Post published “The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway.” Given that its secure location was one of the primary guarantees for its defense, the bunker was quickly decommissioned and became the Greenbrier Cold War theme park. (To schedule a tour, call 844-690-4141. Adults: $39 per person Youth (10-18): $20 per person.)

The “Miracle on Ice” — some Cold War good news:

In 2005, the Olympic Center ice arena in Lake Placid where the Miracle on Ice took place was renamed the Herb Brooks Arena in the US ice hockey coach’s honor.

“Miracle” was a medal-round game between the United States and the heavily-favored Soviet Union that occurred during the men’s ice hockey tournament at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Our team of college players, the youngest team at that tournament, held on to beat the four-time defending gold medalists Soviet Union team of “amateurs” by a score of 4 to 3. 

Two days later, the United States secured the gold medal by beating Finland in their final game. The Soviet Union beat Sweden for the silver. (USA! USA!) 

The United States’ victory over the Soviets became one of the most iconic moments in sports; and, in 1999, was named by Sports Illustrated as the top sports moment of the 20th century. Perhaps as well-known as the final score was the call in the final seconds of the game by Al Michaels for ABC Sports, when he declared: “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” 

Some Final Scary Thoughts:

Most historians doubt that the Greenbrier bunker could have been used effectivelyMissile technology had so decreased the time between a “decision to strike” and the appearance of a bomb crater that a safe relocation of Congress in anticipation of an imminent attack was virtually impossible. An early relocation would have been provocative to the Soviets.

In his May, 25, 1961 speech, Kennedy also stated that “we will deter an enemy from making a nuclear attack only if our retaliatory power is so strong and so invulnerable that he knows he would be destroyed by our response. If we have that strength, civil defense is not needed to deter an attack. If we should ever lack it, civil defense would not be an adequate substitute.”

Thus, it was widely believed by Cold War strategists that war with the Soviet Union was largely prevented by the fear of mutually-assured destruction (i.e., the MAD Doctrine). In simple terms, the theory of deterrence assumes that, because a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender; the threat of using such weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons. 

This deterrent concept assumes rational calculations by rational people; which I am not convinced that we still possess at the highest levels of Government.

Is “person, woman, man, camera, TV” ever really enough?

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 4: The Cold War Heats Up

Editor’s Note: This the third part of Thomas Gotowka’s series titled “Great Leaders and Great Speeches.’ The previous three parts can be found at these links:

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 1

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 2

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 3: The Cold War 

Part 3 concluded with President Kennedy’s humiliation with the disaster at the Bay of Pigs, which served to strengthen Castro’s government; and resulted in Cuba’s adoption of communism, and their development of close ties with the Soviet Union.

This essay is a review of two weeks in 1962 that brought the world dangerously close to nuclear war. In the next essay, I will explore the “Visuals” of that period: What were anxious Americans reading and watching during that tense era? I will then review the gradual “wind-down” of Cold War hostilities, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in a following essay.

My goal with these essays is that the reader gets a solid foundation in the fundamentals of the subject matter, which may even pique their curiosity enough to seek additional information.

The Cuban Missile Crisis Thriller:

Fidel Castro was so certain that the United States would make another attempt at military intervention after the Bay of Pigs that he looked to the Soviet Union for military assistance, which they eagerly provided.

Consequently, during routine surveillance flights over the island in September 1962, U.S. Intelligence found evidence of a general Soviet arms build-up on Cuba, including Soviet IL–28 bombers.

So, on Sept. 4, 1962, President Kennedy issued a public, televised warning against the introduction of offensive weapons on Cuba. Our Intelligence services had also discovered that, in July, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had reached an agreement with Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to “deter” any future invasion attempt.

Despite the warning, photographs taken by a high-altitude U-2 spy plane over Cuba on Oct. 14 provided indisputable evidence that several missile sites were under construction and nearing completion. These sites could house Soviet medium-range missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and striking many major cities in the United States, including Washington, DC.

The President convened an emergency meeting of his senior military, political, and diplomatic advisers to discuss these developments and determine America’s response. He ruled out a “surgical” military strike early in the deliberations, concerned that it could miss some of the missile sites and would prompt Soviet retaliation, probably against a vulnerable West Berlin.

In lieu of the military strike, Kennedy and his advisers decided on a Naval quarantine and a “very strong” demand by the President that the bases be dismantled and missiles removed.

In an extraordinarily grave televised speech on Oct. 22, the President revealed the discovery of these missile bases to the American people.

“This Government, has maintained close surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that ‘imprisoned’ island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.”

Then, and evocative of the Monroe Doctrine, he continued with, “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

He announced that he was ordering a Naval “quarantine” of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from transporting any additional offensive weapons to the island, and again affirmed that the United States will not tolerate these missile sites on Cuba. Kennedy said America will not stop short of military action to end this “clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace.”

Although he had no experience in “reality TV”, Kennedy was highly skilled in the use of that medium to communicate with Americans.  He had already demonstrated his presence and poise in the televised debates with then opposing presidential candidate, Richard Nixon.

The quarantine began on Oct. 23 and, after a few tense days, Soviet ships appeared to reduce speed or change course as they approached the quarantine “line.”

UN Secretary general U-Thant in 1963. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

United Nations Secretary-General U Thant appealed privately to both Kennedy and Khrushchev at the request of more than 40 non-aligned nations and urged them to “refrain from any action that may aggravate the situation and bring with it the risk of war.”

In what turned into an amazing confrontation on Oct. 25, the usually soft-spoken and consummate diplomat, Adlai Stevenson addressed the United Nations Security Council on “Soviet Missiles in Cuba.”

In response, Soviet ambassador Zorin laced into the United States’ “lies” at great length, and refused to confirm or deny Stevenson’s allegations.

Stevenson responded, “I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I do not have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language, and for doubletalk. And I must confess to you that I am glad that I do not!” Stevenson went on to denounce the Soviets for lying, and said he was prepared to wait for an answer on these missiles, “until hell freezes over, if that is your decision; and I am also prepared to present the evidence in this room.”

Zorin still refused to answer, and Stevenson’s aides placed large U-2 photographs of the Soviet missiles on easels around the room. The delegates in the room, and anyone watching the television coverage, were witness to the Soviets’ brazen provocation. The mild-mannered Stevenson had scored an enormous political and diplomatic victory for the United States. His dramatic and forceful exposure of Soviet duplicity ensured increased international pressure for them to back down.

During this crisis, our military forces went to DEFCON 2 & 3, the highest military alerts ever reached after WWII; and the military prepared for full-scale war with the Soviet Union.

On Oct. 26, the President learned that work on the missile bases was proceeding without interruption, and he considered authorizing bombing and an invasion of Cuba.

However, now under international pressure, the Soviets conveyed a proposal to the President to end the crisis: the missile bases would be removed in exchange for a pledge by the United States to not invade Cuba. They then increased their demands by calling for the dismantling of our missile bases in Turkey, which threatened the Soviet Union. Note that Kennedy and Kruschev communicated directly throughout the crisis.

While Kennedy and his team debated this turn of events, a U-2 spy plane was shot down over Cuba. To the dismay of his military advisers, Kennedy prohibited any military retaliation unless another surveillance plane was fired upon over Cuba.

To defuse the worsening crisis, Kennedy agreed to dismantle the missile bases, but at a later date; which he felt would prevent Turkey, a key NATO member, from protesting.

Finally, on Oct. 28, Khrushchev announced his government’s intent to dismantle and remove all offensive Soviet weapons from Cuba. and the United States stepped back from the brink of nuclear war.

Kennedy called off the quarantine in November, and by year’s end, removed our missiles from Turkey. The removal of what were obsolete Jupiter missiles had no detrimental effect on U.S. nuclear strategy.

The crisis was over, but the danger of nuclear war in the future had not abated.

Unfortunately, after shutting down their missile bases on Cuba, a humiliated Soviet Union began a massive nuclear buildup and eventually reached nuclear parity with the United States in the 1970s. They also built intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking any city in the United States.

I believe the following statement from President Kennedy illustrates his guiding principles in resolving this crisis: “Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation. We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation’s security to constitute maximum peril.”

Kennedy continued, “Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift, that any substantially increased possibility of their use or any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace.”

Some Final Thoughts:

As I refreshed my memory of the Cold War era, I couldn’t help but consider Edmund Burke’s warning, which seems very relevant in light of the evidence of foreign interference in the 2016 election, and recent allegations of bounties in Afghanistan. Burke said “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Kennedy’s interactions with his advisers had changed after the Bay of Pigs. He began to challenge their suggestions and insights to a much greater degree, and he demanded more options and better estimates of possible outcomes. Certainly, in this current COVID-19 crisis, we should better recognize what Adlai Stevenson characterized as “obfuscation, distortion, confusing language, and doubletalk” in our leaders.

Kennedy had been in office less than two years at the beginning of this crisis. However, he clearly demonstrated how great leaders must act in times of overwhelming crisis — accept responsibility, challenge your trusted advisers, communicate, and value your “intelligence gatherers”, but verify.

Kennedy’s strategic use of “quarantine” distinguished his action from a “blockade”, which assumes a state of war; and also enabled the United States to receive the support of the Organization of American States.

A succession of United States’ Administrations honored Kennedy’s pledge to not invade Cuba, but relations with them remained a “thorny” issue for our foreign policy until 2015, when formal “normalization” of relations occurred.

Unfortunately, the current Administration has not seen fit to honor prior agreements and alliances.

If you have any interest in the “art and science” of decision- making, I recommend The Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, by Graham T. Allison, who used the crisis as a case study for future analyses of governmental decision-making. The book became the founding study of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

God save the United States.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 3: The Cold War 

Editor’s Note: This the third part of Thomas Gotowka’s series titled “Great Leaders and Great Speeches.’ The previous two parts can be found at these links:

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 1

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 2

Part 2 concluded with President Truman’s decision to use the atom bomb to bring the war with Japan to an end; which was “an awful responsibility that has come to us.” This essay continues with several events and associated speeches that illustrate the development and expansion of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Although discussed chronologically, they are not contiguous; and there may be several years between or amongst them.

This essay spans the period from Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946, through American “boots in the sands” of Cuba in 1961. As always, quotation marks delineate a passage taken directly from the text or transcript of a speech; and the essay includes my own, (and others’) analyses of the content. 

This is not intended to be an historical “play-by-play”, but a consideration of the “look and feel” of the United States through a review of some of the key events of that tense Cold War period. 

Some Jargon:

The Cold War was an ongoing and largely, but not always, political and rhetorical period of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, and their respective allies. The Cold War began after the surrender of Nazi Germany; and continued as the uneasy wartime alliance between the United States and its allies, with the Soviet Union rapidly deteriorated.

The “Cold War” phrase first appeared in a 1945 essay in the London Tribune by George Orwell: “You and the Atomic Bomb,” wherein he expressed his grave concern about life in a troubled world with weapons capable of immense, and almost instantaneous, destruction. 

The “Iron Curtain”:

Sir Winston Churchill. Photo by Yousuf Karsh. Public domain.

On March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill gave a speech in Fulton, Missouri that is considered by many as the West’s earliest volley fired in Cold War hostilities. The now former Prime Minister was in Fulton to receive an honorary degree from tiny liberal arts Westminster College. 

He began with some flattery directed at President Truman, who shared the dais. “The United States stands at the pinnacle of world power. It is a solemn moment for the American democracy; for with this primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future”.

He continued: “It is my duty to place before you certain facts about the present position in Europe; from Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Adriatic; an iron curtain has descended across the Continent; and behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe”.  All these famous cities. and the populations around them, lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere; and are subject to Soviet influence and a very high measure of control from Moscow”.

His use of the term ”iron curtain” had profound symbolic meaning; and was also used, from then on, in the West, to refer to the Soviet Union and its allies; expressing, as was Churchill’s intent, that those  living in Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe were oppressed, and denied basic human liberties.

Ironically, Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, in one of his many “manifestos”, expressed similar concern in the German newspaper, Das Reich, (The Empire) in February 1945. about an iron curtain falling if Germany lost the war. The term only really became in common use after Churchill’s speech.

The Hydrogen Bomb Soap Opera:

On Jan. 30, 1950, President Truman announced the development of a “hydrogen bomb”, which would get a significant portion of its explosive energy from fusion, or the joining of atoms, rather than fission, the splitting of atoms. “I have directed the Atomic Energy Commission to continue its work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so-called hydrogen superbomb.” He continued, “Like all other work in the field of atomic weapons, it is being, and will be carried forward, on a basis consistent with the overall objectives of our program for peace and security.” 

The Trinity test of the Manhattan Project led by J. Robert Oppenheimer was the first detonation of a nuclear weapon. Photo by the United States Department of Energy / Public domain.

Opponents of development of the hydrogen bomb included J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. He and others argued that little would be accomplished except the acceleration of the arms race.

The United States accelerated its program to develop the thermonuclear bomb after the Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb in Kazakhstan in September, 1949, and immediately eliminated the monopoly held by the United States on nuclear weapons 

Then, and just weeks later, United States and British intelligence discovered that Klaus Fuchs, a German-born top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, had spied for the Soviet Union, which meant that the Soviets knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb. 

About two years later, the United States detonated the world’s first thermonuclear weapon, the 10.4-megaton “hydrogen bomb”, at Eniwetok Atoll in the South Pacific, vaporizing the island and leaving a crater more than a mile wide. The blast measured about 1,000 times stronger than the two atom bombs dropped on Japan ending World War II. 

The detonation only gave the United States a brief advantage in the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union because, on Nov. 22, 1955, the Soviets detonated their first hydrogen bomb. The nuclear arms race, which became central to the Cold War, had taken a dreadful step forward.

Both America and Russia built up their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. By the late 1970s, seven nations had constructed hydrogen bombs.

“We Will Bury You”:

Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev was ‘Time’ magazine’s 1957 Man of the Year. Photo by Time Inc., illustration by Boris Artzybasheff.  Time magazine archive, Public Domain.

While addressing the ambassadors from ‘Western Bloc’ nations (i.e., a coalition of countries aligned with the United States) at the Polish Embassy in Moscow on Nov. 18, 1956, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev declared, “It doesn’t depend on whether or not we exist. If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations, and don’t invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.”

The speech prompted the envoys in attendance from 12 NATO nations and Israel to leave the room. 

“We will bury you” was interpreted as a threat by the Western press. Khrushchev attempted to “walk back” his threat in succeeding years.

While speaking to the National Press Club in Washington on Sept. 16, 1959, Khrushchev stated that “the words, ‘We will bury you,’ should not be taken literally; as is done by ordinary gravediggers who carry a spade and dig graves and bury the dead. What I had in mind was the outlook for the development of human society. Socialism will inevitably succeed capitalism.”

The “Military-industrial Complex”:

In a televised farewell to the American people on Tuesday evening, Jan. 17, 1961, President Eisenhower expressed his concern about the “acquisition of unwarranted influence by what he called “the military industrial complex” This address occurred just days before John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, where he challenged Americans to, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  

Eisenhower’s remarks were especially noteworthy because he had served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during WWII. 

He urged his successors to balance a strong national defense with diplomacy in dealing with the Soviet Union. He was concerned about the emergence of a massive and permanent armaments industry; and warned that “the federal government’s collaboration with an alliance of military and industrial leaders, though necessary, is vulnerable to abuse of power”.

Eisenhower believed that the military-industrial complex tended to promote policies that might not be in the country’s best interest; and he specifically cited participation in the ongoing nuclear arms race.

The Bay of Pigs Debacle:

On Jan. 1, 1959, Fidel Castro drove his guerilla army into Havana and toppled the government of General Fulgencio Batista, a corrupt and despotic dictator, but an ally of American business interests. 

Castro proceeded to reduce American influence on the island and nationalized the American-dominated sugar and mining industries. (At that time, American corporations and wealthy individuals owned more than half of Cuba’s sugar plantations.) He also encouraged other Latin American governments to act in a similar manner. 

He established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union; and the United States, Cuba’s primary sugar importer, responded by prohibiting further import of Cuban sugar. However, the Soviets then agreed to buy the sugar and prevent the collapse of the Cuban economy.

This new order on the island (i.e., “Cuba Sí, Yanquis No”) made American officials very concerned about a potential threat less than 100 miles from our mainland; and the State Department and the CIA began to develop plans to remove Castro. 

Consequently, President Eisenhower authorized the CIA, early in 1960, to train and equip a guerilla army of Cuban exiles that could serve as an invasion force that would overthrow the Castro regime. 

Chief Justice Earl Warren administers the Presidential oath of office to John F. Kennedy at the Capitol, January 20, 1961. Public domain.

President Kennedy, who was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1961, inherited Eisenhower’s CIA campaign against Cuba. The new President is said to have had some initial doubts about the wisdom of the plan, and was uncertain whether Castro posed any real threat to the United States. He feared any “direct and overt intervention by the American military in Cuba”, which the Soviets would likely see as an act of war and be forced to retaliate. 

So, he gave his support to the plan, but only if it appeared that the invasion was purely an internal matter of Cuba, and not linked to the United States. The CIA assured him that our involvement in the invasion would be “masked” and remain secret. The action would appear to have been initiated by Cuban dissidents and exiles; and would spark an anti-Castro uprising on the island. They promised him that the invasion would be both “clandestine and successful”.

By April, Kennedy was determined to make an example of Cuba to prevent the spread of communism in the West, and the resultant extension of Soviet influence. He firmly believed that the Cuban leader’s removal would demonstrate to Russia, China, and doubtful Americans that he was serious about winning the Cold War. 

The Administration soon severed diplomatic relations with Cuba and accelerated invasion preparations. However, he raised his concern that the plan might be “too large to be clandestine. and too small to be successful”. The plan was intricate and complicated, and required that every phase work perfectly.

Nonetheless, on April 17, 1961, the CIA launched what they expected to be the definitive strike by “Brigade 2506”, the name given to the force of 1,400 American-trained Cuban exiles. 

Unfortunately, the preliminary stages of the invasion were fraught with failure, and it was too late to apply the brakes. The Brigade was gravely outnumbered by Castro’s troops, who had them pinned on the beach. They surrendered after less than 24 hours of fighting. 114 were killed.  and over 1,000 were taken prisoner.

This was a humiliating defeat for President Kennedy. The incident undermined his new Administration and set the stage for a difficult summit just two months later with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The failed invasion also strengthened the position of Castro’s government, which began to openly proclaim its intention to adopt socialism and pursue closer ties with the Soviet Union. 

Note that Kennedy put the blame squarely on the CIA and himself for going along with the ill-conceived plan. On April 20th, he addressed a high-level media gathering: 

“The President of our great democracy, and the editors of such great newspapers, owe a common obligation to the people: an obligation to present the facts, to present them with candor, and to present them in perspective. It is with that obligation in mind that I have decided to discuss the recent events in Cuba. “It is clear that the forces of communism are not to be underestimated, in Cuba or anywhere else in the world. It is clear that this nation, in concert with all the free nations of this hemisphere, must take an even closer and more realistic look at the menace of external Communist intervention and domination in Cuba. We face a relentless struggle in every corner of the globe that goes far beyond the clash of armies or even nuclear armaments.” 

He then went on to detail the Bay of Pigs disaster and the developing threat of Cuba’s alignment with the Soviet Union.

Of some historic note, E. Howard Hunt, the CIA operative behind the development of Brigade 2506, resurfaced later at the center of Watergate, as one of the leading members of Nixon’s Special Investigative Unit, also known as the “plumbers”; who were hired to dig up dirt on Nixon’s opponents or enemies.  Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, and a few other “plumbers” also plotted the Watergate burglaries and other clandestine operations.

Some Final Thoughts:

Many western observers were concerned with Churchill’s use of the “Iron Curtain” descriptor, as they still viewed Russia as a wartime ally; but the term became synonymous with the Cold War divisions in Europe, just as the Berlin Wall later became the physical symbol of that division. One wonders how Winston Churchill and the President of the United States chose to share the dais at tiny Westminster College to deliver a major policy speech. 

Tension between the United States and the Soviet Union increased steadily after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. 

The next essay further considers Cold War activities in Cuba, the important “visuals of the Cold War. And the gradual “wind-down” of hostilities, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. God save the United States.”

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 2: Nazi Aggression through “A Rain of Ruin from the Air” on Hiroshima

Nazi Aggression through “A Rain of Ruin from the Air” on Hiroshima

Part 1 ended with a review of Theodore Roosevelt’s extension of the Monroe Doctrine to enable the United States to exercise “international police power” in the Western Hemisphere. I continue my review of significant speeches with one of Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches.

As noted last time, my selection is based wholly on my judgment that the speech is notable, or an important contribution to history. These speeches are arranged chronologically, but they are not contiguous. A passage taken directly from the text or transcript of the speech is delineated by quotation marks. Otherwise, the essay includes my own (and others’) analyses of the content.

6. Winston Churchill “We Shall Fight on The Beaches”:

This famous photo shows then Prime Minister Winston Churchill (center) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on VE Day — May 8, 1945 — after victory in World War II had been declared. Standing to his right are King George VI and Princess Margaret while to his left are Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and then Princess Elizabeth, who now still reigns as Queen Elizabeth II.

Churchill demonstrates the skills that able leaders display when speaking to their nation in times of crisis. This address to the House of Commons occurred on June 4, 1940, just after the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force from the coast at Dunkirk. “Beaches” is often cited as one of the defining speeches of World War II. At that time, France was falling to the Nazis, and the threat of an invasion of Britain seemed a near certainty; so much so that Hitler had given the plan of invasion the code name “Operation Sea Lion.”

Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash

Churchill addressed the House of Commons to reconfirm, despite the near disaster at Dunkirk, the goal of “victory, however long and hard the road may be”, that he had declared in his May 13, speech (see below).

“Beaches” was the second of three major speeches given during that period in 1940. The others are the “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech of May 13, and the later “Finest Hour” speech of June 18. 

The speech was also an appeal to the Americans, who were still watching the war from the sidelines. Churchill eloquently and honestly informed the British of what was facing them all: “Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo, and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end”. 

“We shall fight in France; we shall fight on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight on the landing grounds; we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. And even if this Island, or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle.”

He ended with a gesture to America: pleading that, “in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

7. FDR’s Four Freedoms:

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Original color transparency taken by Leon A. Perskie, Hyde Park, New York, in 1944. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In his State of the Union Address on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to Churchill’s appeal and began to move the United States further away from its post-World War One policy of neutrality. He had watched with fear as Europe fell to the Nazis; and was intent on rallying public support for the United States to take an expanded role in the war beyond the Lend-Lease program that already permitted war supplies be sent to Britain.

He had already initiated a buildup of the military. “I find it, unhappily, necessary to report that the future and the safety of our country and of our democracy are overwhelmingly involved in events far beyond our borders,” stating that, the need of the moment is that our actions and our policy should be devoted primarily – almost exclusively to meeting the foreign peril”.

He noted that, “by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to full support of all those resolute people everywhere who are resisting aggression and are thereby keeping war away from our hemisphere. By this support, we express our determination that the democratic cause shall prevail; and we strengthen the defense and the security of our own nation”. 

He referenced his belief that America’s primary role was to support our allies as “the arsenal of democracy”, which he had introduced in a radio broadcast about a week before. “We cannot, and we will not, tell them that they must surrender, merely because of their present inability to pay for the weapons which we know they must have”. At that time, the United States was just nearing the end of the Great Depression, and industry, which had not yet recovered, was reluctant to expand. 

The Defense Production Act was not enacted until 1950, at the start of the Korean War. However, Congress provided FDR with sweeping war powers, which he used to break through that reluctance. These powers ultimately enabled him to requisition supplies and property; and force entire industries to produce wartime products rather than products for civilians. America began producing airplanes, tanks, military vehicles, weapons, warships, and other defense-related products. 

As justification, he stated that, “in the future, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms”. He insisted that “people in all nations of the world shared Americans’ entitlement to these same four freedoms: “the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear”. 

The value of FDR’s many “fireside chats”, which he began right after his first inauguration, should not be under-estimated in moving the nation’s industry into wartime production. His radio broadcasts of “conversations” with Americans were very “well-attended” (e.g., an estimated 60 million Americans listened to his first radio address), and he had gained the trust and respect of Americans, who had grown to appreciate his honesty and straightforward language.  

8. President Truman and the Use of the Atom Bomb at Hiroshima:

President Harry S. Truman c. 1947. By National Archives and Records Administration. Office of Presidential Libraries. Harry S. Truman Library. (ID. 7865583)., Public Domain.

Less than two weeks after being sworn in as President after FDR’s death, Harry S. Truman was briefed by Secretary of War Stimson on the top-secret Manhattan Project, which began in 1942 to develop an atom bomb. He was informed that “within four months, we shall, in all probability, have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history”.

After a successful test of the weapon, Truman formed the “Interim Committee” to “advise the president” on matters pertaining to the use of nuclear energy and weapons. The Committee’s first priority was to provide counsel on the use of the atomic bomb to bring war with Japan to an end. 

The group considered four options: conventional bombing of Japan; ground invasion; demonstration of the bomb on an unpopulated area; and finally, use of the bomb in a populated or an industrialized area. Some historians have said that Truman and his advisers made the only decision they could have made in the context of finally bringing the war with Japan to an end. 

Prolonging the war was not an option for the President. His decision to use the bomb was made to prevent the estimated one million casualties associated with a Normandy-type amphibious landing on the Japanese mainland. He believed that use of the bomb would also save Japanese lives, and wanted a swifter close to the war than any other option of force would provide.

Allied leaders had gathered in Potsdam, Germany, after the European phase of the war had ended; and before the final decision to use the bomb in Japan had been made. 

Truman, Churchill, and Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek drafted a declaration that defined the terms for Japan’s surrender and made dire warnings if the country failed to end all hostilities. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was not part of the group because his country had not yet declared war on Japan.

Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945 (jointly with Great Britain, and China), demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan, and warning, otherwise, of “prompt and utter destruction.” The “Declaration” claimed that “unintelligent calculations” by Japan’s military advisers had brought the country to the “threshold of annihilation.”

Hopeful that the Japanese would “follow the path of reason,” the leaders outlined their terms of surrender, which included complete disarmament, allied occupation of certain areas, and the creation of a “responsible government.” It also promised that Japan would not “be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation.”

Japan did not acquiesce; and on Aug. 6, and 9, 1945, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by dropping two atom bombs (known as “Little Boy”, and the more powerful “Fat Man”, respectively) At this time, the Soviet Union also declared war on Japan. On Aug. 15, Japan finally and officially surrendered. 

On Aug. 6, 1945, President Truman delivered a radio address while returning home from the Potsdam Conference aboard the USS Augusta: “Sixteen hours ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. 

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many-fold; and the end is not yet here. 

“These bombs are now in production, and even more powerful forms are in development. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East”.

“By 1942, we knew that the Germans were working feverishly to find a way to add atomic energy to the other engines of war with which they hoped to enslave the world; but they failed”. 

“The battle of the laboratories held fateful risks for us; as well as the battles of the air, land and sea”. We have now won the battle of the laboratories, as we have also won the other battles”.

“Scientific knowledge was pooled; and with American and British scientists working together we entered the race of discovery against the Germans”. 

“We have spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history, and won. “What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history”.

“We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.

It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum”. 

“If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”. 

Some Final Thoughts

President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb was very controversial. At the time, however, the majority of America’s political and military leaders believed that it was the best alternative. “It is an awful responsibility that has come to us.” He also recommended that Congress establish a commission to control the production and use of atomic power within the United States. 

It is refreshing that, like many of his predecessors, and some of his successors, he believed that “the buck stops here”, and he accepted accountability for all the decisions of his administration. Truman valued scientists.

Eleanor Roosevelt with her dog Fala in 1951. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, 

After FDR’s death, President Truman appointed former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a delegate to the United Nations, where she served as Head of the Human Rights Commission, and was instrumental in framing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. She often referred to FDR’s “Four Freedoms” when advocating for passage of the “Universal Declaration”.

I could have devoted this essay to the speeches of Winston Churchill, who exhibited the skills required of a wartime leader. Recordings of his speeches, are still available. I find his delivery to be very stirring. 

Churchill, authored his own speeches, and used “repetition” very powerfully in “Beaches”, as did FDR in “Four Freedoms”; who repeatedly used the phrase “by an impressive expression of the public will” (in the full text.) JFK also did so in his “Berlin” speech, which is reviewed in a later essay. 

I’ll wrap this up with an uncomfortable link to the WWII era. Repetition is, in no manner, synonymous with Joseph Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda; which states, in part, that “if one wrong is reverberated many times, then people will accept that wrong as right”. “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly; it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”.

With apologies, the alternative to Goebbels is Bob Dylan’s Principle: “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.” 

Part 3 begins with a speech that defines the advent of the “Iron Curtain”, considers the “Military- Industrial Complex”, and proceeds through the Cold War.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.


A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 1: Washington’s Farewell through Theodore Roosevelt

Part 1: Washington’s Farewell through Theodore Roosevelt

I enjoy reading historic speeches. I often find them to be inspiring; and they can fill gaps in my understanding of an important event or period in history.

In this essay, I begin my review of these speeches, and provide some context for the events that precipitated their creation.

These essays will not be an exhaustive survey of the speaking arts. My selections are based solely on my judgment that the speech is notable, or makes an important contribution to history. A passage taken directly from the text or transcript of the speech is delineated by quotation marks. Otherwise, the essay includes my own, (and others’) analyses of the content.

These speeches are arranged chronologically, but they are not contiguous. They highlight leadership during periods of conflict and crisis. 

There has been considerable argument in Congress in the past few years regarding “what the founders and framers really meant” when they drafted the principles passed on to us in the Constitution, So, I’ll begin with a review of the first president’s farewell to the nation.

1. George Washington’s Farewell Address:

Portrait of George Washington, circa 1850. Public domain.

Washington wrote his “Address” near the end of his second term as president, working closely with Alexander Hamilton in the final draft. He also had input from James Madison; so, it represents the collective wisdom of some key players in the split from Great Britain and the founding of the United States. His “Address” was never presented as a speech, but was a public letter to the American people; and published in a Philadelphia newspaper, the American Daily Advertiser, on Sept. 19, 1796; and then, in newspapers throughout the country. His letter included three principles:

First, the importance of unity; “You have, in a common cause, fought and triumphed together. Your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other”.

Second, he cautioned that “the worst enemy of government is loyalty to party over Nation”. Dominating regional loyalties could lead to factionalism and the development of competing political parties. He warned that, “if Americans voted according to party loyalty rather than the common interest of the nation, it could foster a spirit of revenge”, and “enable the rise of cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men who would usurp for themselves the reins of government”.

 Third, he warned of the “danger of foreign entanglements” He believed that partisanship would open the door to “foreign influence and corruption.” He advocated that the United States be on good terms with all nations, especially in commercial relationships. “Inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.”  He believed that a foreign policy based on neutrality was the safest way to maintain national unity and stability.

2. Emerging American Foreign Policy – The Monroe Doctrine:

Portrait of James Monroe, 1819. The White House Historical Association. Public domain.

It became evident in the first quarter of the nineteenth century that European powers were trying to reassert their influence in the Americas. Russia had tried to expand eastward into Alaska, and Spain was establishing new colonies in Central and South America.

Consequently, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, on behalf of President James Monroe, began to articulate America’s foreign policy direction. In an address to the House of Representatives on July 4, 1821, Adams asserted that the United States is “the defender of freedom against the corruption of Europe, and should not let itself fall under the influence of any of those ‘old’ countries.”

“America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government.” “She has, invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, and generous reciprocity.”

Two years hence, President Monroe proclaimed, in a Dec. 2,1823 Address to Congress, a new foreign policy initiative, largely drafted by Adams; that will always be known as the “Monroe Doctrine.”

This new policy forbade European interference in the American hemisphere, and also declared America’s neutrality in future European conflicts. It stated that “further efforts by any European nation to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States”.

3. Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Abraham Lincoln, the US’s 16th president. Public domain.

Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865. The capital city was a mess at that time, with mud-soaked streets and over-flowing hospitals treating Civil War wounded. The event occurred at a time when victory over the Confederacy was imminent, and slavery in all of the United States was proclaimed “ended”.

Sherman completed his march through the south, and Grant was confronting Lee at Petersburg. There was concern that, because of the teeming rain, Lincoln would not be able to take the oath on the steps of the Capitol. However, the sun appeared as he rose to begin his speech.

In an account of the event in the New York Times, Walt Whitman “noticed that a curious little white cloud, the only one in that part of the sky; had appeared like a hovering bird, right over him.”

Lincoln did not speak of victory, but of sadness. He sought to avoid harsh treatment of the defeated rebels by reminding the thousands in attendance of how wrong both sides had been in imagining what lay before them when the war began. “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war, rather than let it perish.” 

Lincoln spoke of the unmistakable evil of slavery. “To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war. Neither party expected the magnitude or the duration that the war has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease” … (i.e., The Emancipation Proclamation).

He continued: “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continues until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword; and as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said; “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”… (Psalm 19:9)

Lincoln ended his inaugural address : “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the  nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted that the many African Americans in attendance, which included troops who marched in the inaugural parade, applauded vigorously, but were, “wonderfully quiet, earnest, and solemn during the speech.”

4. Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise Speech:

Booker T Washington. Public domain.

B.T. Washington was born a slave in Virginia in 1856. After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, he moved with his family to West Virginia, which had joined the Union during the Civil War as a free state.

As a young freeman, he worked his way as a janitor through Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University), and attended college at Wayland Seminary (which is now Virginia Union University). In 1881, he co-founded and became the first president and principal developer of what is now Tuskegee University.

He was advisor to several presidents, and the most influential spokesman for black Americans from the latter part of the nineteenth century through the first quarter of the twentieth century.

On Sept. 18, 1895, he gave a speech that would open the “Cotton States and International Exposition” in Atlanta. The “Atlanta Compromise” speech was the first address by an African American to a racially-mixed audience in the South. He asserted that vocational education, which gave black Americans an opportunity for economic security, was more valuable to them than social advantages, higher education, or political office.

In return for African Americans remaining peaceful and socially separate from whites, the white community needed to accept responsibility for improving the social and economic conditions of all Americans, regardless of color. He summarized his concept of race relations in this manner: “In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

Many black leaders opposed Washington’s “accommodationist” form of politics. Some historians cite the “Atlanta Compromise” as being responsible for the founding of both the NAACP and the “Niagara Movement” civil rights organizations.

5. American Imperialism — Theodore Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine:

Theodore Roosevelt around 1904. Public domain.

European intervention in the Americas resurfaced as a foreign policy issue at the turn of the 20th century. Three European nations had blockaded Venezuela’s ports in an attempt to force Venezuela to pay its international debts, violating the Monroe Doctrine’s declaration that Europe should not interfere in the Americas.

Further, Roosevelt had recently gained, through hostile action, the right to build the Panama Canal; and he believed that any threat to the canal threatened our strategic and economic interests.

Accordingly, to maintain security and ensure financial solvency in the region, the President announced, in his State of the Union address in December, 1904, that, “Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation. In the Western Hemisphere, our adherence to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of wrongdoing, to the exercise of international police power.”

Thus, the United States will intervene in conflicts between Europe and Latin America, rather than having the Europeans press their claims directly. 

As a result, Marines were sent into Santo Domingo in 1904, Nicaragua in 1911, and Haiti in 1915; and, several more times in the Caribbean and Central America over the next quarter century. America’s relations with our southern neighbors remained strained for many years; and. in 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt renounced interventionism and established his “Good Neighbor Policy” within the Western Hemisphere. 

Some Final Thoughts

I am impressed with the eloquence of America’s early leaders. I have included only small portions of the actual transcripts of the historic speeches in the above; but, if I have piqued your interest at all to read the entire texts, they are readily available and require only modest search or library skills. 

Note that George Washington was not restricted to two terms. However, in somewhat failing health, he feared that, if he died in office, it would establish a precedent that the presidency was a lifetime appointment. Instead, he stepped aside to make way for a successor, and demonstrated his commitment to democracy, rather than power.

There is a tradition in the Senate, wherein George Washington’s birthday is celebrated by a reading of his Farewell Address on the floor of the Senate Chamber; with readers coming from alternating parties. Although his warnings are still relevant, attendance at these readings has, unfortunately, shrunk. 

Also note that historians cite Lincoln’s second inaugural address as one of the greatest speeches ever made by an American president. 

Finally, Part 2 of this essay begins with Nazi aggression in Europe, and continues through Hiroshima.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.


A View from My Porch: The Rising Waters of Long Island Sound — A Primer on Global Warming and Climate Change, Postscript Now Added

A peaceful summer scene at White Sand Beach in Old Lyme, but what does the future hold for Long Island Sound?

POSTSCRIPT ADDED 04/14: Our home is on a salt marsh alongside a small, tidal river. Over the past several years, we have observed gradual changes in the breadth and height of high tide. Eventually, the borders of our yard directly adjacent to the river were covered with brackish water at high tide to about 25 ft. beyond the riverbank. This occurs regardless of moon phase or the presence of a storm surge.

So, I investigated the scientific literature to seek out the wisdom of the experts in an effort to explain our localized tidal surge. I reviewed reports from respected scientific sources and data from state and federal agencies. The data are troubling. This essay summarizes the conclusions of those scientific and government sources.

I considered postponing this essay pending greater progress on resolution of the COVID-19 crisis, but a recent Mike Lukovich editorial comic in The New London Day showed the “grim reaper” at the front door, complete with hooded black robe and scythe, wearing a sign that says “Climate Change”. The caption reads “Whew, I thought you were coronavirus!”

Life will continue after we finally beat this disease, and return to some sense of normalcy; and we’ll still have those old and ongoing problems like global warming and sea level rise that require our collective attention.

Some Sobering Facts:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that Long Island Sound’s levels have been rising for decades, and its waters are warming; as is Connecticut’s air temperature. Sea level has risen at a rate of 10 to 11 inches per century along the Connecticut coast, which is faster than the global rate. Longer-range projections are that global sea levels will rise one to four feet by 2100. James O’Donnell, executive director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) predicts that Long Island Sound levels could rise by 20 inches by 2050.

There is general agreement among climate scientists in Connecticut and across the world that global warming is occurring and human activity is making it worse. The fear is that, unless more is done to curb pollution, the long-term effects of climate change will be devastating. Although there is some occasional dissent in academic opinion, the majority of climate scientists also agree that the rising seas are linked to warmer global temperatures.

The Fundamental Causes of Global Warming:

The impact of climate change is in our hands. Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash.

There are gases in the atmosphere that absorb radiation. These “greenhouse gases” are largely responsible for the “greenhouse effect”, which is the warming that occurs when certain gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap heat; these gases let in light. but keep heat from escaping.

This concept is not new, and was first studied in the late 19th century by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, who concluded that fossil fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming. He proposed a relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature. His research was corroborated in the late 1980s, when scientists began investigating the gradual increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and water vapor. Of considerable impact are the fluorinated gases, which include the hydrofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and several others; all of which are generated as by-products of industrial processes. Although the fluorinates are present in small concentrations, they trap heat very effectively. Note that chlorofluorocarbons, once used as refrigerants and aerosol propellants, were phased out in the 1980s by international agreement.

Other factors that clearly contribute to the Earth’s warming include the accelerated ice loss from the polar ice caps, which are now melting six times faster than in the 1990s. While rising seas may be the most damaging long-term impact of this ice loss, we are also losing the Earth’s natural cooling resource. Finally, the rapid deforestation of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil through unchecked harvesting of trees, clearing and expansion of land for agriculture, and housing development seriously reduces the natural capacity of the rainforest to absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide; and much more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

The Carnegie Institution for Science reports that Americans contribute more than twice as much carbon dioxide per capita than the Chinese or the Europeans, and have accounted for most of the greenhouse gas that is currently in the air.

The Impacts of Climate Change:

Aerial image of Hurricane Sandy.

New England’s geography makes it particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, which include an increased frequency of abnormal and severe weather events. Shoreline flooding is more frequent, and intense wind and rainfall has become much more common across Connecticut.

Long Island Sound is a fairly shallow body of water, averaging just 63 ft. in depth, so small changes in sea levels can have an exaggerated effect when storms come through. Rising water levels, when combined with bigger storms, may produce surges that hit the coast harder and penetrate farther, resulting in flooding that’s more damaging. Two fairly recent examples include Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, which battered our shoreline in 2011 and 2012 respectively, destroying homes, flooding roads and threatening sewage and power plants.

If you want to observe the power of such storms on our local shoreline, walk along White Sand Beach, past the break wall and over our “world class” moon snail shell shingle in a southwest direction up to, and around the Point. You may be astonished with the dramatic changes in beach topography and the amazing size of the timbers that have been deposited far above the high tide mark.

Long Island Sound Lobsters:

In 1999, the lobster population in Long Island Sound crashed; it has never recovered. Although many then considered pesticide pollution as the cause for the dramatic decline in lobsters, most scientists now agree that the warming of the Sound’s waters was the primary cause.

Reversing Global Warming:

Unfortunately, there is no single technological silver bullet emerging to resolve this immense problem. Further, given the geographic, meteorological, and political scope of the situation, it is probably better to focus only on mitigating the problem by stabilizing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

International Efforts to Curb Climate Change:

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that “without rapid cuts to carbon emissions, there could be, by the end of the century, a rise in sea levels that would leave 400 million people exposed to coastal flooding each year. They go further and state that, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal. There is direct evidence that humans are the main cause of the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

Consequently, the Paris Agreement was negotiated by representatives of 196 member nations within the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Agreement’s goal was to strengthen the international response to climate change mitigation by keeping the Earth’s temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees. The language was adopted by consensus on December 12, 2015, and signed in 2016. As of February 2020, all UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, 189 have become party to it, and the only significant emitters, which were not parties to the agreement, are Iran and Turkey.

Unfortunately, on June 1, 2017, and only about six months past inauguration, a new “science-light” American president announced that the United States would terminate all participation in the Paris Agreement. He stated that withdrawal would be in accordance with his “America First” policy.

This decision stunned our allies, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “it’s time to look ahead. This decision can’t and won’t stop all those of us who feel obliged to protect the planet; on the contrary. we in Germany, Europe and the world will combine our forces more resolutely than ever to address and successfully tackle challenges for humanity such as climate change.”

The President’s decision to withdraw could accelerate and worsen the impacts that global warming is already having on Long Island Sound and Connecticut’s environment. He has also proposed cutting federal funding for environmental programs in Long Island Sound and is easing anti-pollution regulations over various industries. He argued that those changes will help the economy.

Despite that decision, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia have all joined a coalition committed to upholding the Paris Agreement and taking aggressive action on climate change.

A Few Final Thoughts:

These are the data. None of this is really new and much of it factored into the Paris Agreement. I don’t know whether “accepting” climate change and sea level rise require a certain belief system or just the ability to understand and embrace scientific fact.

We’re at the point where we need to cut carbon pollution as quickly as feasibly possible. That’s true, whether Earth has warmed 1.0 or 1.1 or 1.2°C above “pre-industrial” temperatures. I believe that these “seemingly modest” increases have given us an unfortunate sense of security regarding the impacts of our changing climate.

In the speech announcing his decision to leave the Paris Agreement, President Trump argued that “even if all the goals in the agreement were met, it would cut global temperatures by only two-tenths of one degree by 2100.” He did not go further and explain why that supported his decision. In contrast, MIT researchers have said: “The real risk with global warming is if it accelerates so quickly that we can’t respond fast enough.”

My next column will examine some of history’s key speeches. I am a reader of speeches made by both American and World leaders. I often find them to be very inspirational.

In closing, former Connecticut resident Mark Twain is supposed to have said: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”. I am not certain that he actually said that, but this is our chance to prove him wrong.

Postscript to: A View from My Porch: A Primer on Global Warming and Climate Change
By Thomas D. Gotowka
Published April 14, 2020

On April 11, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and several other newspapers published the obituary of S. Fred Singer, a scientist who made key advances in rocketry and atmospheric research in the 1950s and 1960s, who died on April 6 in Rockville, Md. According to the Washington Post, he was “President Trump’s most senior expert on climate change,” presumably assisting in decisions regarding termination of America’s participation in the Paris Agreement.

He was better known in the later years of his life for an unrelenting criticism of the scientific consensus surrounding climate change and global warming.

Siegfried Frederick Singer was born Sept. 27, 1924, in Vienna, Austria. However, after the Nazi invasion of Austria, he was sent to England as part of the “Kindertransport” program that resettled Jewish children. 

He came to the United States in the early 1940s and served in the Navy during World War II, and worked on weapons programs.

He received a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Ohio State University in 1943, and both Master’s and Doctoral degrees in physics from Princeton University in 1944 and 1948 respectively. 

His career was somewhat peripatetic. He conducted some of the initial experiments with high-altitude rockets and satellites, also enabling measurement of cosmic rays and other components of the upper atmosphere. He was a consultant during the start-up of the U.S. space program in the 1950s and later, while working for what is now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), participated in early efforts to use satellites in weather forecasting.

He held senior academic positions at the Universities of Maryland, Miami and Virginia; and was also chief scientist at the U.S. Transportation Department in the late 1980s and a research professor at George Mason University in the 1990s. He also held senior-level positions at the United States Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.

He had “very public” views and promulgated predictions that were usually considered as intentionally outside accepted scientific norms.  For example, he wrote that the “melting of ice caps and the redirecting of rivers could help irrigate the arid Southwest and produce a general improvement to the climate of the North American Arctic.” 

As many of his statements were proven spurious, Singer began a new phase in his scientific career. He adopted a new purpose as an “outsider” seeking to denigrate other scientists, who warned the public about secondhand smoke, greenhouse gas emissions, acid rain and the dangers of a steadily warming climate. “It’s all bunk,” he often said.

In a 2011 presentation at Colorado State University, he attempted to convince the audience that climate change is harmless and helpful to humans. He stated, “Stop worrying; nothing you do will have any effect on the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere; and, even if it did, it won’t affect the planet.” Worrying about climate change, is a “psychosis.”

Singer founded the Virginia-based Science and Environmental Policy Project to “challenge” government environmental policies based on what he defined as “poor science.” In 2007, he also assisted in the launch of the Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which was a climate change-doubting counterpart to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1988.

Over time, his primary  focus became climate change, becoming perhaps the best-known scientist speaking in opposition to a growing body of evidence that rising global temperatures could have a catastrophic effect on the planet.

As I stated in the original essay, “There is general agreement among climate scientists in Connecticut and across the world that global warming is occurring and human activity is making it worse.”

He had a regular column in the Washington Post. He wrote in 1991 that “There is nothing remotely like scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, or if it is, that it will have disastrous consequences,” and that, “A respectable body of opinion in the international scientific community holds that any climate warming is as likely to be beneficial as harmful, acting as a hedge against global cooling.”

In 1995, he condemned the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for making a “political statement” by awarding the Nobel Prize in chemistry to three scientists, who demonstrated that chlorofluorocarbon emissions were depleting the ozone layer. I refer you to my essay, wherein I also note that “chlorofluorocarbons, once used as refrigerants and aerosol propellants, were phased out in the 1980s by international agreement.”

Singer was eventually regarded within the mainstream scientific community as a fringe figure and a crank. 

Britain’s ‘Guardian’ newspaper called him the “grandfather of climate denial.” His false assertions about climate change have been largely discredited by scientists from the American Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, NASA and NOAA.

Finally, I am only adding this postscript to the essay because his faulty declarations seemed to be heard by lawmakers and some officials who called for the United States to withdraw from international agreements on climate and the environment. As I stated above, he was “President Trump’s most senior expert on climate change,” presumably assisting in decisions regarding termination of America’s participation in the Paris Agreement.

A View from My Porch: Keep Calm and Carry On

Original 1939 UK poster. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

The title of this essay is derived from a poster designed by the British government in the late 1930s to maintain morale when war against Germany became imminent. This essay roughly considers “a day in the life” of Southeastern Connecticut residents as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts each of us and our collective ability to “carry on” our lives as usual. I will present the key elements of this crisis, drawing from the wealth of real data that have become available, and define some of the terms used by our public health professionals so that you can better understand the basis for the required actions.

The Statistics: 

The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) reported on March 23 that there were 618 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state; with multiple cases in each of Connecticut’s eight counties. Fifty-four patients were hospitalized, and 12 residents have died. Over 60 percent of Connecticut cases are in Fairfield County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported over 50,000 cases and nearly 700 deaths across the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports over 415,000 cases and nearly 19,000 deaths worldwide. Note that these numbers change, and probably increase, daily. 

Excuse me in advance, but this isn’t our first rodeo; and we’ve successfully dealt with pandemics in the past. These include the HIV/AIDS crisis that began in the mid to late 1970s, and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. 

Unfortunately, our response to COVID-19 was late and disorganized with mixed and confusing messages coming from the highest levels of the federal government. As a result, testing for the disease started late, supplies of critical personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves for health care personnel became scarce, and were not replenished in a timely manner.  The same was true of essential hospital equipment like ventilators, which are the “breathing machines” used for treating patients in severe respiratory distress. 

And so, on March 10th, Connecticut Governor Lamont joined several governors in nearby states and declared both a public health emergency and a civil preparedness emergency. A public health emergency gives the state authority over quarantine, while a civil preparedness emergency grants the governor broad powers over state institutions, allowing him to restrict travel, close public schools, some businesses, and public buildings.

As a result, only “essential businesses”, which include: grocery stores, pharmacies, medical offices, hospitals, childcare, auto repair, banks, and emergency services remain open. Restaurants may remain open, but for takeout and delivery only. Schools were closed on March 31, and there is some thought that they may remain closed through the end of the semester. Hospitals have changed visitation rules.

I will not list the “non-essential” businesses. Tele-commuting is encouraged when at all possible. These restrictions and closures have resulted in significant displacement of workers and unemployment has grown.  

Important Terminology: 

COVID-19 is a disease triggered by a coronavirus, which is a relatively common virus that can cause both upper and lower respiratory tract infections. 

In the past, most coronaviruses weren’t dangerous and caused only mild respiratory problems. However, in early 2020, following a late 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization identified a new type of coronavirus. Officials named this new virus “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus2 “(SARS-CoV-2)”. This highly contagious and virulent microorganism is the agent that causes COVID-19; which can lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure, septic shock, and death.

Older adults and any individual with a serious underlying medical condition are at higher risk for COVID-19’s more serious complications. The CDC notes that people may be most contagious when they are at their sickest. However, note that many cases are still mild to moderate and not life-threatening. These can be treated at home.

You may have also heard this virus referred to as “novel”, which, very simply, refers to a virus that has not been seen before, or has never infected humans before. As such, it’s unlikely that anyone will have immunity, or antibodies that protect them against the novel virus. 

Public health professionals stress the need to “flatten the curve” as a means of controlling this disease. The curve refers to the rate of growth of new cases displayed graphically (i.e., the projected number of new cases over a specific period of time). A “flattened” curve staggers the number of these new cases over a longer period, so that people have better access to care, and do not overburden the healthcare system. 


The virus is spread primarily from person-to-person, commonly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, saliva, or from some hard surfaces on which the virus may live for four or five days and remain infectious for even longer.


The best way to prevent this disease is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The CDC still recommends social distancing to reduce the probability of contact between individuals carrying the infection with others who are not infected. 

The goal is to minimize disease transmission, and its resultant morbidity, and ultimately, mortality. The minimum recommended measures include:

  • Allow six feet of interpersonal space, which means avoid crowded social activities, like going to pubs, bars, and restaurants, sporting events, theaters and cinemas.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently; use hand sanitizers.
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Use the “usual” coughing and sneezing protocols.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. 

Testing is a good thing:

It is correct that testing does increase the number of individuals identified with the disease, but it also provides the data required to target resources and plan for future needs. Testing is now widely available. All acute care hospitals have the ability to test, although for those that utilize the DPH lab in Rocky Hill, testing is reserved for patients that have been admitted to the hospital.

There are also a number of outpatient testing sites that use private labs, and do not need to comply with the admission restriction. All sites require a physician’s order, who, at present, must make an appointment for the patient.

Critical and Immediate Issues:

This crisis will not end soon. Only one source predicts an end by April 12, which is Easter Sunday in the United States. Most experts agree that an end date is difficult to predict, but 60 days is feasible.

There is currently no vaccine or “miracle” drug specifically targeting COVID-19 — no antiviral drugs are licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients with COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and collaborators are working on development of candidate drugs for rapid testing and evaluating re-use of drugs approved for other diseases. Current treatments often focus on protecting against opportunistic infections and alleviating symptoms while the disease “runs its course.”

We do not yet know what the recurrence rate is for patients, who have recovered from COVID-19. 

Americans have never really faced the rationing of healthcare services. It is clear, however, that we must plan for a possible surge of critically ill patients and identify additional space in which to provide care. Unfortunately, it may be possible that our medical professionals will need to make decisions regarding assignment of scarce resources like ventilators. 

I am confident that the United States will allocate resources to support our citizens and small businesses that face economic hardships as we move through this crisis. 

Make certain that you know the source of the information about this disease. The most reliable data comes from Connecticut DPH, Ledge Light Health District, and the CDC. 

Finally, God save the United States if we ever reach the point when we have to value a life lost in this pandemic less than a life lost in an economic downturn (whatever that is.)