Tuesday, June 30, 2020


“We would hire you today but you’re the wrong sex and the wrong color.” 

That was the shortest job interview I ever had, and it was also the first.  Straight out of college with my newly-printed journalism diploma, I approached a Portland radio-TV station that employed a former University of Oregon J-school colleague.  He was two years ahead of me at the U of O, but we’d been acquainted tolerably well so I gave it a shot.

That was in the 1970s.  As in, forty-plus years ago.  In those days anti-white bias was accepted as “reverse discrimination” in which “reverse” is the adjective and “discrimination” is the noun.  Just thought I’d mention it.  But today we’re riding the same semantic merry-go-round again. 

Now we’re hearing a great deal about the wider matter of White Privilege and “reparations” for slavery.  So what are we to make of the 360,000 or so white Union soldiers who died to free the slaves?  If “reparations” are to be paid to descendants of slaves, logically (!) compensation should be made to descendants of those who died to free them because those soldiers’ relatives received almost nothing.

I asked some history colleagues and Veterans Administration sources about Civil War “GI insurance” for Union KIAs.  Apparently there was none.  This is the most detailed response, from a friend finishing the history of a Wisconsin regiment: 

“The family would get whatever money was due to the soldier, such as pay and enlistment bonus.  Certain next of kin: widows, parents (if they could demonstrate need), and minor children if orphaned could apply for a pension, but it was not always automatic. Rates varied over time but they were not generous.” 

My VA source (a Vietnam War platoon leader) is a retired attorney who says the first wartime death benefits arose in World War I.

Now, for some personal perspective, here’s the lowdown:

Two of my paternal great-grandfather's older brothers from Ohio served in the Union Army and survived.  They were the fortunate ones.  (Their cousin born in 1863 was named in honor of Copperhead politician Clement Vallandigham.  His northern party favored a negotiated settlement with the South, resulting in a military tribunal, imprisonment and deportation.)  

A brother of my maternal, Barrett, great grandfather from a Maine regiment died in Confederate captivity.  Two Union Tillmans from Maine and Massachusetts (cavalry) died of other causes, plus another in U.S. Colored Troops.  Another distant kinsman, Private Tillman Westfall, died in an Ohio cavalry regiment.

Sothen: what are we to make of “reparations” as one of many routes to offsetting White Privilege?  We The People are expected to dip into the U.S. Treasury (already billions in debt) and pay atonement money to people who were never slaves and who have never known anyone who was a slave.  In fact, it seems uncertain how the recipients of Reparations would prove eligibility.  And for that matter, what degree of consanguinity would apply?  How many generations and how many tenth cousins six times removed? 

Some definitions are required.  Would reparations only apply to descendants of black American slaves from 1776 to 1865 or from 1619?  And where’s the documentation?  

Would payments be based upon the number of slave ancestors, or do recipients get the same amount whether they had just one such ancestor or ten, or one hundred?  Some phenotypically “white" Americans have black slave ancestors.

I'd guess that most non-black Americans today don't have a slave-owning ancestor. Is it fair for taxpayers all of whose ancestors arrived here after 1865 to contribute to this fund?  

What about black and American Indian slave-owners?  Many if not most black Americans descend from slave owners.

How about American Indians, Asians and Latinos?  

How would the total amount be derived?  No matter how high, it would never be deemed enough.  Abolitionists wanted every family of freedmen to receive forty acres and a mule, but few did.  With four million freed slaves, there might have been a million such families.  The value of forty Southern farmland acres and a mule today would run around $120,000, thus about $120 billion en toto.  At present possibly eligible population of perhaps 40 million, that's only $3,000 per person, which probably wouldn't be acceptable.

And how many additional Reparations will ensue?  (In ’86 Reagan foolishly signed a one-time good deal amnesty on behalf of illegal immigrants.  Yeahright…)

You see where we’re headed…

Usually I allow myself 1,000 words for each blog but this month I don’t see any point in expounding beyond what I’ve already written.

Besides, I’m working on two more books that I hope will enhance my self-employed, non-pensioned White Privilege.

Sunday, May 24, 2020


I began my blog in 2009, and this will be the shortest entry ever.  That’s because there is no elaborating upon it.

This month marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Victory in Europe, ending that phase of the Second World War.

Amid the celebrations and commemorations, my memory reverted to an event that has stayed with me for thirty-five years.

In 1985 I hosted a member of the American Fighter Aces Association and his family, touring the Champlin Fighter Museum in Mesa, Arizona.  We had friends in common from his ETO fighter group and quickly bonded.  

After awhile I sensed that the ace wanted to talk, so we edged away from the group.  He looked me in the eye.  “I'll tell you a secret."  He inhaled, paused, and said, “I loved aerial combat.  On the day the war ended I sat down and cried, and not because I was glad it was over."

I'd heard similar sentiments. "How old were you?"

"Not quite twenty-six."  (Later I found his birthday was VE + 1.)

"You knew you'd never be that happy again."

His eyes misted, he nodded, and rejoined his family.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Hospital ships are like antifreeze: you cannot have them too early; you can only have them too late.  

The U.S. Navy and the Trump administration demonstrated that fact by deploying both of our hospital ships (designated AHs for “auxiliary hospital”) within days of the order to sail amid the Wuhan Virus emergency.

Hospital ships have a history spanning millennia, dating from ancient Greece and Rome to the Spanish Armada of 1588, which had two.  The British Royal Navy deployed dedicated hospital ships from the 17th century.  

The first six American vessels were commissioned between 1798 and 1896, serving in climes as varied as President Thomas Jefferson’s 1803 campaign against Tripoli, and anti-piracy efforts in the West Indies.  The Union Navy had at least three hospital ships during the Civil War and the Confederacy confiscated a Cornelius Vanderbilt yacht for the purpose.

Despite international conventions, hospital ships were not always immune to danger.  In World War I twenty-six were sunk by intention, mistaken identity or crew error, including sixteen British Commonwealth vessels.  Austro-Hungary lost three, the Netherlands two, Czarist Russia two, with one each by Greece, Italy and Germany.

The U.S. transport Henderson, accompanying an Atlantic convoy in 1918, rammed a German submarine, inflicting serious damage.  She began her second war at Pearl Harbor and was converted to the hospital ship Bountiful (AH-9) in 1944.  The second Solace (AH-5, converted from a passenger ship in 1940) also was at Pearl Harbor and earned seven battle stars through 1945.

The Navy acquired twelve more AHs during World War II.  Three were crewed by sailors on behalf of the army: Comfort (AH-6), Hope (AH-7) and Mercy (AH-8).

During World War II twenty-five hospital ships from seven nations were lost to all causes, including seven British Empire and six Italian vessels. Japan’s three included the Awa Maru, sunk in error by a U.S. submarine in 1945.  The lone survivor admitted she was carrying military supplies (a violation of international law governing hospital ships)   but the sub skipper was court martialed and found guilty of negligence.

Subsequently, U.S. hospital ships came under attack.  Off Okinawa on April 2, 1945, Relief (AH-1) was bombed by Japanese aircraft with slight damage but far worse awaited.

On the night of April 28, south of Okinawa, the third Comfort (AH-6) was running illuminated as per international regulations.  But a Japanese kamikaze pilot made a masthead pass over the white ship with red crosses, circled and dived into the sweet spot.  The impact in an operating room killed 28 patients and staff, including six nurses.

As many as three other AHs also were attacked, ineffectually.

Three hospital ships served during the Korean War—Haven (AH-12), Consolation (AH-15) and Repose (AH-16)Two deployed during Vietnam—Repose and Sanctuary (AH-17).

Today’s AHs are far beyond anything previously envisioned.  At 900 feet long and 69,000 tons they displace four to ten times their predecessors, well over twice the tonnage of a large World War II aircraft carrier.  When Mercy (AH-19) and Comfort (AH-20) were commissioned in the mid 1980s they were the first new hospital ships in four decades.  Both were christened in honor of prior AHs, each becoming the third to bear the name.

The ships have responded to humanitarian crises in the Caribbean and Pacific, the 9-11 response, Operations Desert Shield and Iraqi Freedom, plus Hurricane Katrina, among others.

Two years ago the navy considered decommissioning both AHs or scrapping one to maintain the other.  Congressional opposition not only saved the ships but led to some upgrade funding.  That was money well spent.

One AH is allotted to each coast: Mercy in San Diego under Captain John Rotruck, and Comfort under Captain Patrick Amersback in Norfolk.  President Trump announced their possible activation on March 18 and, upon completing scheduled maintenance, they arrived in Los Angeles and New York within thirteen days, vastly less than “weeks to come” floated in some media.  Mercy arrived at San Pedro Bay on the 27th; Comfort at New York’s Pier 90 on March 30, following a few days of required dredging in the harbor.

The Mercys bring enormous capability to any port.  With 1,200 military and 60 civilian staff they possess 1,000 beds, a dozen operating rooms, an ICU, laboratory, dental service, and even a morgue.

Early reports indicated that neither ship was required to meet the actual number of patients.  However, combining mobility and capability, America’s two hospital ships should remind We the People why they maintain a navy that often performs duties beyond its primary role of keeping freedom of the seas.