My dad, me and World War II

Last week, the History Channel had a five-night, 10-hour series, “WWII in HD.” My dad and I watched it together, as part of a bonding experience between the two of us and as fellow history nerds.

The series, if you haven’t seen it, is a must-see. Gary Sinise does the bulk of the narration, with 12 actors narrating for individuals whose stories have been singled out. The footage is mostly full-color, digitally restored for the presentation. The series also uses maps to illustrate the action, and interviews with some of the 12 featured individuals (those who are still alive). The people are fairly diverse — an Austrian Jew fighting for the U.S., a Tuskegee airman, a nurse, a Japanese-American who became a POW, a fighter pilot and a collection of Marines, Army recruits and naval soldiers.

My dad and I discussed the action and the tactics. A portion of my political science coursework in school was in the areas of military strategy and ethics, which allowed me to critically analyze and understand what was happening.

My dad said something to me during one of the programs that stuck with me.

“I’m proud of you for taking an interest in this. Most girls your age don’t care about this, or most guys, for that matter.”

That really made me think, about how there are people my age who don’t know what the Holocaust was, or Iwo Jima, or D-Day. I’m sure they’d be shocked and appalled to know that the American government herded American citizens of Japanese ancestry into internment camps while fighting to free Jews, Gypsies, POWs and other political prisoners from the Nazis.

It’s also a bitter pill to swallow knowing that war-based video games are so popular (including among many of my friends), while the young people who play them are oblivious to war’s actual cost and the staggering amount of logistical detail necessary to win one. It’s also eye-opening to see outrage at a dozen or so American deaths in Afghanistan each month, when the casualty toll on any given island in the Pacific could be in the thousands. That’s not meant in any way to diminish the losses sustained in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it does make me wonder if we’d have the iron will necessary to win WWII if it were fought again tomorrow. Of course there are differences in perceived legitimacy, goals and politics between those conflicts, but I don’t think Americans today would tolerate thousands of deaths in a two-week span, no matter how strong support for the engagement was.

I got emotionally invested in the series. When the sad fate of a few of the featured individuals was revealed — John Doe was killed in action — it actually hurt. I think this series would do great things when it came to teaching WWII in schools.

Studying war and military strategy as I have, I try my hardest not to glorify war, glamorize it or elevate it to some noble standard. I do believe in St. Augustine’s theory that there is such a thing as a Just War, and that WWII would be one such conflict. But seeing the death, tension, fear and misery in that old yet surprisingly crisp footage makes me think that, yes, war is hell, and it’s a hell people need to be aware of, lest they send men and women to their deaths too easily.


Dear AP Stylebook

Dear 2007 AP Stylebook,

I was really worried that I’d lost you there for a second. You weren’t in my messenger bag or visible on my bookshelf, but luckily I found you. It’s not that I needed you immediately, but I like knowing where to find you. Sure, I had the 2006 AP Stylebook in front of me, but what if I had needed to know about the African Union, Asperger’s syndrome or Islamic holy days? I’d have been screwed. What if I had used “Baghdad, Iraq” in a dateline? I’d have looked quite silly.

I received you at Dow Jones training in May 2008. I was thrilled to have a NEW stylebook of my very own, and immediately wrote my name and phone number inside you in pen. I got to use you immediately during training, looking up all sorts of random stuff. Your sports section was quickly dog-eared, mainly because I always forget whether end zone is one word or two (it’s two).

While I mostly used the in-house stylebooks in Indianapolis and Columbus, you were always in my bag (along with my wallet, keys, phone, a snack and a bottle of soda). It was nice knowing you were there when I needed you. You also helped me out quite a bit when I edited at the Kansan. I remember at least one incident where, without you, Sarah Palin would have hailed from Wasilla, Ala(bama). And that time I pulled a stock-market crash headline out of my rear, your business section came through in the clutch.

My mother knows I use you, but I don’t think she really understands how. When I asked her if she’d seen you, she said no but she was “sure” you’d “turn up.” Luckily your spine is kind of hard to miss.

Sadly, you’re getting out of date, and I’ll eventually have to shelve you with your older brother and go for the sexy younger man — the 2009 AP Stylebook. Don’t worry, though. I think I’ll donate you to the journalism department at my old high school. You can help younger journalists appreciate the delicate mechanics of AP style. Hell, when I was 15 and in my first journalism class, I heard “style” and pictured stories in cocktail dresses and tuxedos.

You’ve been a good friend, and whatever happens next, we had a good run.



Foreign languages, je t’aime

When I discussed deferring grad school with my parents, one of my mother’s conditions was that I do something worthwhile in my time off. A couple of days ago, I enrolled in French at the local community college for the spring semester.

My foreign language, for the purpose of formal education in high school and college, is German. My mother’s family is German, so the language has always had cultural significance for me. I haven’t had the chance to use my German in quite a while, but I’m confident that if I spent any significant amount of time in Germany, I could get back up to snuff and maybe eventually become fluent.

But now, especially because I’m focusing so much on the European Union at school next year, I think that I should probably be at least somewhat familiar with all three primary EU languages.

My earlier experience with French is limited to about a week and a half spent in Paris, Nice and Monaco. I got the absolute basics down (hello, good-bye, excuse me, please and thank you) and knew well enough how to order food (except for that one time when I ordered fish when I meant chicken).

I think it’s important for people to learn multiple languages. I definitely plan on bilingual (or even trilingual) early education for my own children when I have them. I also think my European cousins have it a little easier, getting so much access to foreign languages and more emphasis on them in school. It’s gotta a lot easier to practice German or French or Italian when you’re a train ride away from Berlin, Paris and Rome.

So this spring, whilst patiently waiting for September, I’ll start studying my third language. I hope it’ll be fun and come in handy next time I’m in Paris.

The Joy of Sweaters

I love sweaters. One of the reasons that autumn is my favorite season is because it ushers in sweaters.

I have a lot of sweaters (my mother might say I have too many). Each one has a story, and most of them show up in photos. There’s the funky multi-colored coarse sweater I got at Abercrombie; it got to go to Cardiff. I have a plum-colored sweater from H&M that I landed for £10 in Reading, a steal even with the exchange rate. I watched fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night with my friends, wearing a green American Eagle sweater. The sky-blue-green wool AE sweater I got for Christmas in 2007 has been to London and Paris. A brown AE cardigan with big wooden buttons kept me warm through the flu in 2002. There’s the red Aeropostale sweater I wore during the Kansan’s Spring 2009 staff orientation. I wore a lime green AE sweater (another Christmas present) a lot at work in the spring, when the Box (the editors’ office) was freezing. There’s a pink fuzzy sweater from an Abercrombie in Atlanta. And of course, the navy cardigan from Gap that I got for Easter in high school.

Guy Fawkes Night

Me in my olive green sweater, Louise and Alex on Guy Fawkes Night, 2006

Cheryl and me (and my sweater!) at the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square, London

Those are just the ones I know off the top of my head. I’m sure I have a couple more … somewhere. That’s not even counting the sweaters of old, almost all of which my mother crocheted for me herself. I had sweaters for every holiday, a “neighborhood” sweater with buildings and people on it, a red sweater with Scotties and a balloon sweater. I was born ready for sweater weather (seriously, I’m a January baby, it was cold).

As you can see, my sweaters come from a variety of places. I look everywhere for them, and grab the ones I like. While I’m picky about shirts, pants and dresses, it’s very easy for me to find sweaters that I love.

I’m wearing a sweater at the moment, a lovely dark teal Forenza cowl sweater from The Limited (snagged at 40 percent off to boot). Is there anything in the world that feels as cozy as being enveloped in a soft, cushy sweater? Maybe being enveloped in a soft, cushy sweater with a mug of hot tea (how English of me) or cocoa.

So, thank you sweaters. Thank you for going with jeans, slacks or skirts. Thank you for coming in so many gorgeous colors. Thank you for being machine-washable. Thank you for fitting well and accentuating the right parts (read: breasts). Thank you for being on sale and for keeping me warm and snuggly in many a situation, whether it’s working in front of a computer or strolling through a museum. Thank you for being sold everywhere, and for usually being reasonably priced (with sales, of course).

Sweaters, je t’aime.