Sunday, January 21, 2018

British Bulldog

As a student of history, my particular interest has focused on those leaders of the free world -- both political and military -- who battled the fascists during the Second World War: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Douglas McArthur, George Patton, Bernard Montgomery, Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill, among others.

By coincidence, I was reading the recent bestseller, “Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, A Daring Escape and The Making of Winston Churchill” by Candice Millard when “Darkest Hour” with Gary Oldman as Churchill premiered at The Bijou over the holidays. In both cases, the man and the myth came into clearer focus.

Indisputably the most revered Brit of all time (despite the fact that he was half-American), Churchill was both widely loved and loathed. In the book, the author describes the young Churchill, an ambitious aristocrat with almost foolhardy faith in his destiny who believed he would one day govern as Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Seeking fame and fortune, and with complete faith in his “star,” Churchill fought for the realm in India and Pakistan, the Sudan and finally in South Africa during the Boer War. Captured by the Boers and imprisoned, Churchill engineered a daring escape, eventually returning to England and taking his place in government.

As with many other notable figures in history, his path to greatness was fraught with drawbacks and failures. As first lord of the admiralty, his “victory at all costs” approach had been blamed for the military disaster in Gallipoli during World War I near the Dardanelles Straits in an effort to gain an edge against Turkey.

Churchill had sent British, French, New Zealander and Australian troops, mostly half-trained volunteers, to besiege the Gallipoli Peninsula, resulting in a military disaster of epic proportions. The debacle resulted in a demotion for Churchill, so he left the government and joined the Army.

A quarter-century later, however, when Hitler’s aggression forced the British to reconsider their approach to Nazi Germany, Churchill was promoted once again to Lord Admiral. When the war effort resulted in impending crises, the British proceeded with the formation of a new coalition government led by Churchill.

That story is the subject of “Darkest Hour,” which examines the days preceding and immediately after Churchill’s ascension to Prime Minister, when he faced the decision to negotiate peace with the Nazis, or stand firm to fight for the liberty and freedom of a nation, and ultimately, the free world.

Critics will characterize him as a violent racist with a penchant for for imperialism -- and scotch. But the fact remains that, for Churchill, when it came to stopping Hitler, the buck stopped squarely on his desk. Responding to the Nazis with the stubborn tenacity of a bulldog, he rallied his nation to vanquish the fascist oppressors.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Missive From Milepost 65

To say it’s been a year of transition -- everything from milestones to new beginnings to turning points -- would be an understatement. At the start of 2017, I had just arrived at an age celebrated in song during the “summer of love” exactly 50 years before by The Beatles: “will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

But the year began like something out of a Dickens novel: “bleak, dark and piercing cold.” Worse, the political landscape had changed in untenable ways never heretofore imagined, swinging a full 180 degrees like an action sequence in a Marvel movie. Incredibly, we had a misogynistic, arrogant simpleton in the White House.

Soon after, a beloved friend succumbed to severe depression: Keldon Jon Tjaden. Fellow wilderness rangers in the '70s, we had become friends for life: both Sagittarians, soul brothers, alter egos. He was a renaissance man, adventurer extraordinairecomic genius, master storyteller and a man of letters. Kelly stomped on the terra.

Together, we had many adventures exploring the Glacier Peak Wilderness and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness as backcountry guards for the U.S. Forest Service. Later, we took lengthy backpacking excursions on the Pacific Crest Trail and Icicle Ridge Trail, and floated the Wenatchee River, the Rogue River and many others.

We joked that we were twin sons of different mothers from another planet. I have indeed lost a brother. His legacy will be his many friendships, a universe of companions from around the country, but especially Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California and Utah. He will be missed but never forgotten.

During a busy spring break complemented by rain and gloom, daughter Gina and Dan Miller were married at the McMenamin’s Edgefield facility in Troutdale. Greeting summer with enthusiasm, few could anticipate the searing heat wave that would arrive later that season. Injuring my knee in June, hiking became a moot point.

Good time to get out of town. My 50-year grade school reunion was a highlight in July. An excursion to New York City (above, outside my hotel) as a member of the PRSA Nominating Committee prefaced a trip to Geneva, Switzerland with Gina in August. We also visited Gruy√®re, Vevey, Montreux and Chamonix, France.

Back to school in September, the summer had paradoxically seemed both too long and too short. Most of the Northwest was suffering through stifling smoke (below, from my back yard) from more than 46 forest fires burning out of control throughout the Western United States, creating air quality issues never seen in these parts.

In October, I was a delegate to the PRSA Leadership Assembly, along with colleagues Dianne Danowski Smith and Julie Williams, at the PRSA International Conference in Boston, where we precipitated an ad hoc rebellion to scuttle a couple of dubious by-law amendments introduced by the society's leadership.

Today, I turn 65, joining the ranks of Baby Boomers on Medicare everywhere. Despite the grim outlook nationally, I'm blessed to have my family and friends, and my health. I will need it to continue to resist the evil overlords in power and fight the good fight until they are vanquished. Bring on 2018.