This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,070) on Friday, September 1, 2023.
People should be careful about what they say, about the words that they use. That’s a bit of age-old wisdom that good parents teach to their children. Sometimes people say crazy things, and everyone who hears what they say understands that they should not have said it.
In the same way, I think, journalists should be careful about what they report. Just because someone says something crazy is not a reason for it to wind up in a news story. Yet, more and more, I see examples of this happening.
Not long ago, a state legislator in a Midwestern state made some comments that seemed to predict a “civil war” could soon happen in America. (I apologize for not being clear on the details, but I did not read the entire story.) That statement merited a headline on the opening page of The Washington Post website the next day.
The person who made the statement did not, as far as I could tell, do anything except make the statement. It was an outrageous thing to say, certainly, but was it really worth a headline in a news organization that operates out of the nation’s capital? I think not.
But, unfortunately, it is not hard to find such stories. There are a lot of real people doing real things in our world. There is much that merits news coverage. Just because someone says something crazy does not make it news. There are other things that journalists should be doing with their time and professional efforts.
Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.
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Britain’s secret World War II assassination squads
When Winston Churchill stood before the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, he famously declared:
“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.”
The speech was one of the most remembered and revered pieces of rhetoric in the history of the English language.
It was more than rhetoric, however. Churchill and British military forces, in those very dark and dangerous days, were preparing to put into practice Churchill’s words. But they were doing so in ways that most of the British people would never dream of, and with a plan that the world would not know about until decades after the war had ended.
In the nine months prior to that speech, Germany had conquered continental Western Europe with lightning speed. Its invasion forces had conquered Poland in the east, and then turned west, and ran roughshod over Holland and Belgium. France, with both its own army and the British forces on land there, was supposed to be the fortress, the place where the German blitzkrieg would finally be halted.
It was anything but that.
German forces overwhelmed the French and British armies. The French army collapsed almost completely. British forces were driven to the edge of the sea at Dunkirk and were saved only with the heroic efforts of small boats and their pilots who ferried the English army back home.
That was the situation when Churchill faced Parliament. The world fully expected Great Britain to be next. Even the formidable English Channel area seemed on the verge of succumbing to the Nazi juggernaut.
The British military anticipated an invasion, and they began a plan that would operationalize Churchill’s rhetoric. The plan involved forming something they eventually called Auxiliary Units. These were secret military organizations composed of between 6 and 12 specially trained men. These units, once the Germans were on British soil, would disappear—almost literally.
The plan was for these units, scattered throughout most of the coastal areas facing Western Europe, to go into secret underground bunkers. From those bunkers, they would emerge, usually at night, to conduct reconnaissance, assassinations, and sabotage. The man who organized these units was Lieutenant Colonel Colin Gubbins. Initially they were called Local Defense Volunteers (LDV). The name was later changed to the Auxiliary Units.
British military strategists had studied the way the German army had moved across Europe. They had done so without much organized local resistance, with collaborators who assisted them, and with uninterrupted lines of supply.
The Auxiliary Units were designed specifically to counter these factors. These units would provide expert local resistance, they would assassinate German officers and British citizens who were seen to be collaborating, and they would gather information that would disrupt German supply lines. And, they were to be utterly ruthless in their mission. They were trained to let nothing—even fellow citizens—stand in their way.
Underground bunkers were built and supplied throughout the coastal counties in Britain, and particularly in the south of England, where the invasion was thought likely to take place. Their locations were kept strictly secret, and as far as we know, there was no centralized list of where these bunkers were located.
Fortunately for Great Britain and for the world, the German invasion never took place. The English Channel proved to be a formidable obstacle after all. The summer of 1940 saw it hosting continuous bad weather and rough seas. In addition, the Royal Air Force had never succumbed to German air power, despite a fierce bombing campaign. The powerful British Navy also served as a deterrent to any invasion force that Germany could muster.
When the war ended, those who had volunteered to be members of the Auxiliary Units received a short letter, saying that their service was no longer necessary, and also that what they had done for the country would never be acknowledged. The men who served in these units simply went back to their normal lives. Because they had all signed the Official Secret Act, most of them never spoke about their service to anyone, even their families.
The military had planned to dismantle the underground bunkers, but because those bunkers had never been mapped and were exceedingly hard to find, that plan was never carried out.
It took several decades after the war before information about these Auxiliary Units became public. Since then, a number of excellent books have been written about the topic, including the following:
Annie Dillard: Noticing beauty
We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather.
Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. (Read more on Pough.com.)
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
JFK assassination: the beginning of conspiracies (part 2 of 3)
To understand why we have lived with so many conspiracy theories surrounding the death of John F. Kennedy for the last 60 years, a simple truth should be acknowledged: most of the people in charge of leading the country and of investigating his death were not interested in finding out or solving the facts of his murder. Their agendas were elsewhere.
The Dallas police never treated Kennedy’s death as a local murder. To their credit, they did respond with a manhunt that, while it resulted in the death of one of their own officers, was ultimately successful. They captured Lee Harvey Oswald.
To be fair, the Dallas police were hampered by the fact that the president’s entourage put his body onto Air Force One and immediately flew back to Washington, D.C. Thus, the police were deprived of any examination and autopsy that might have yielded clues to Kennedy’s death.
The responsibilities and incompetence of the police, however, pale almost to insignificance with what happened in Washington in the days and months after the assassination. Again, finding out who killed Kennedy and why it happened was not a top priority for either the new president, Lyndon Johnson, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its director J. Edgar Hoover.
Hoover, ever protective of the image of the Bureau, sought to cover up the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald had been on the Bureau’s radar for months, even years, before the assassination. Hoover’s instinct was to bury as much of that information as possible, and to publicly pretend that Oswald was such a minor character that no reasonable person would have paid much attention to him. Any effort to find out why Oswald did what he did—if indeed, he did it—would have meant revealing the FBI’s extraordinary incompetence in keeping up with his obviously dangerous character.
Hoover, of course, could have none of that.
Lyndon Johnson’s priority was purely political and to some degree understandable. Oswald had been a self-declared Marxist. He had lived for a time in Russia after renouncing his American citizenship. He had returned to the United States under murky circumstances that have never been fully explained. His sympathies for Fidel Castro and socialist Cuba were well-known.
Johnson feared that Oswald was indeed some kind of Marxist agent, commissioned either by Castro or by the KGB in Russia to carry out an extraordinary mission: the murder of a U.S. president. Many of the signs of Oswald pointed in that direction. As Lyndon Johnson took command of the ship of state, he did not want to face political headwinds that demanded some sort of retaliation against Cuba, or more dangerously, the Soviet Union itself.
A few days after the assassination, President Johnson appointed a blue ribbon commission to investigate the assassination. It was headed by the Chief Justice of the United States, Earl Warren, and it inevitably became known as the Warren Commission. The Commission itself was made up of prominent individuals, including Allen Dulles, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Commission, in turn, hired a number of bright young attorneys, none of whom were seasoned investigators, to begin unraveling the events surrounding the assassination. They lacked neither money nor resources. What they lacked were time and an open mandate to go wherever the evidence led them. President Johnson had made it clear that he wanted their work to be wrapped up in a matter of months. It was also clear that both he and the nation wanted to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
That is what the Warren Commission concluded. The report issued by the Commission consisted of thousands of documents, but the story it told was neat, abbreviated, and “sanitized.” The Commission ignored many contradictions in the evidence. It inexplicably failed to interview many of the eyewitnesses to the assassination and others who might have important information. It failed to question the narrative being promoted by the FBI. It also failed to exercise skepticism about the ignorance of Oswald’s activities that the CIA had claimed.
Instead of providing a full accounting of the case, the Commission offered the American people a comforting version of the assassination that encouraged any thoughts about a conspiracy to rest in peace.
But if that was the purpose of the report, eventually, it had exactly the opposite effect.
Next week: A garden on conspiratorial delights
Group giveaways for September
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.
Jacques Futrelle mysteries
We are taking a week off from presenting the mystery stories of Jacques Futrelle. We will return with one next week.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: The clarinetist
Best quote of the week:
Bullets cannot be recalled. They cannot be uninvented. But they can be taken out of the gun. Martin Amis, novelist (1949-2023)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
Helping those in need
Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The JFK assassination and the world awry, Harvey Firestone, the Georgia indictment, and more Jacques Futrelle: newsletter, August 25, 2023
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