Thursday, April 28, 2016

Memories from the War, the Eisenhower years

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day (or Yom Hashoah) on May 5, I’m posting a note Harry wrote to an individual 50 years after his Army service ended. I found the note, plus another one on the Eisenhower years, in Harry’s computer files. I believe both are worth sharing for history’s sake. Harry’s loved ones will enjoy these photos from his time in Germany. (I will not post the gruesome Holocaust photos also in his collection.)

In every photo, Harry is on the left.

Holocaust reflections
In November 1996, Harry wrote to someone (unknown) with a few details on World War II and concentration camps. He had served with an Army mission to hunt down Nazi war criminals and gather evidence for the Nuremberg Trials. (You can read about his experience in an earlier post on this blog.)

When the Allies invaded the continent of Europe in June 1944, the Russians were already moving west toward Europe’s heartland. A great many Germans could see the handwriting on the wall and started making preparations for their inevitable defeat. The Russians were the first to come across the concentration camps, most of them in eastern Poland, and the word started to spread about the horrors they were finding. By the way, most people only hear about the major camps and believe there were only about a dozen or so. The truth is, there were several hundred camps, all of them competing to see who could kill the most people in the shortest period of time. Anyway, those Germans who could see ahead, wanted to avoid the Russians, realizing that the atrocities the German armies had inflicted on the Russians the previous year were about to be returned by a vengeful Russian army. Hundreds of thousands of them fled westward, hoping to be captured by the Americans.    

Starting in October/November 1944, about six months before the war ended, some Germans decided to hedge their bets, so to speak. They would pick the strongest or healthiest young Jews, mostly young women but some men, too, who could be expected to survive under the harsh conditions they would face until the war was over, and help them to “escape”. They would also provide shelter, such as it was, and some food – enough to keep them alive. The survivors could then testify, if need be, to the fact that their benefactors had saved their lives. True, it was a risk for them – they could perhaps be sent to the camps themselves if caught. But it was a calculated risk, and for most of them it paid off. It’s also true that there were some righteous people among them who acted for humane reasons, but not very many.    

When the invading armies got close, the Germans who were stationed at the camps almost all fled, tearing off their uniforms and joining the thousands of refugees streaming along the roads. Your grandmother was one of hundreds of similar survivors we found at that time, all with similar stories to tell. What had happened to them was terrible, worse than anyone in your generation can ever imagine. But what happened to them in the immediate aftermath of the war, at the hands of us Americans, was enough to break your heart. I don’t think that part of the story has ever been adequately told. You should ask your grandmother what happened after she was freed, and how she found her way to America.

The Eisenhower years
In March 2010, Harry jotted these thoughts to someone (again, unknown). He refers to Presidents Eisenhower and Truman, Secretary of Defense George Marshall, and Senator McCarthy. History buffs may especially appreciate this. (You can read about his experience during the McCarthy era in an earlier post on this blog.)

This is my understanding of Eisenhower’s treatment of Marshall. Senator McCarthy, whose claim to fame rested solely on his fiery anti-communism and his accusations that there were communists in the State Dept. and the Defense Dept. (though he never, never once, named one), attacked George Marshall. He called him a man “steeped in falsehoods” and accused him of harboring communists in the State and Defense Depts. and of catering to Russian requests, etc. etc.  Eisenhower, who owed his career to Marshall, and was now the Republican candidate for President, had ignored McCarthy while he was an Army officer, but as a political candidate he had to take a position. I got this from the speech-writing fraternity (a small world in the government, especially at State, Defense and White House).

While campaigning in Wisconsin, McCarthy’s home state, Ike had a prepared speech defending Marshall in strong terms against McCarthy’s charges. But, when it came time to use it, he gave the speech but left out all references to Marshall. He did what all politicians do, he backed away from a fight he thought he couldn’t win – and to hell with principle. The newspapers all commented on it, and I remember that TIME magazine especially gave him a hard time about it. But, what the hell, he won the election and became President – twice, two terms. But he could have stopped McCarthy a lot earlier. As it was, McCarthy figured he had nothing to fear from Eisenhower, so he went ahead to accuse the Army of harboring communists and started holding hearings. That’s when Eisenhower finally decided to stand up and fight – now he was President. Those famous hearings were televised and drew the biggest TV audience ever – up to that time – 1953, I think. McCarthy was finally discredited, later reprimanded by the Senate, and died in disgrace.

But Ike never defended Marshall. He resigned as Sec/Def in 1951, while Ike was campaigning for Pres. The scuttlebutt was that Truman wanted him to stay on with the expectation that Ike would also ask him to stay on if he were elected, but Marshall declined and – get this – because he did not want to put Eisenhower in the embarrassing position of deciding whether to keep him on or not.

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Are the media doing their job?

Author Harry M. Zubkoff
As readers of this blog know by now, writing was a huge part of Harry’s life, and he saved a lot – letters, emails, articles, poems, stories, novels and more. Much of what I’ve posted in the past year, I found in his paper files, organized neatly in about a dozen boxes and in folders on his shelves. Starting in the 1990s, he also saved writings in computer files. Those documents, too, wow me with more about my dad – his interests, knowledge, experiences, and feelings from both professional and personal aspects of his life. I hope you continue to enjoy these discoveries, too.

Harry wrote this piece on Dec. 6, 1996, likely for a publication. I was especially struck with his comments on our environment, Vietnam, and gun control. See what you think.

The American Constitution begins with this statement: We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.    

These purposes are listed not in descending order of importance, but rather as matters of equal importance. This paper will concentrate on the fourth listed goal – to provide for the common defense. (The American spelling of “defense” has superseded the British spelling.) Surely this is among the most important purposes of the Union, and the “common defense” in modern parlance has come to be known as the national security.

Most Americans have only a vague idea of what is meant by “national security”. They know that we have an Army, a Navy, an Air Force, and a Marine Corps, but informal surveys disclose that fewer than one in a million knows what the roles and missions of these armed forces are. Which of them, for example, is responsible for defending the nation against a surprise attack by submarine launched ballistic missiles? Or by land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles? Or which of them, if any, is responsible for the research and development of nuclear weapons, or of laser weapons?

And how many would recognize the different uniforms the military services wear or the various insignia they display? According to random questions asked on college campuses just after the Gulf War, I would guess that fewer than one in ten million Americans – that’s one in ten million – would know the difference between an Army officer and a Marine Corps officer, or between an Air Force officer and a Naval officer, if he saw them all walking down the street in their respective uniforms. And that, I submit, is a sad state of affairs.    

This level of ignorance extends to some of the most important public policy questions confronting our nation today. What size military forces should we build and what should the proper numbers of men and women allocated to each of the services be? What kinds of weapons systems should we develop and procure? What is the nature of the threat confronting us over the next ten years, and how should we prepare to meet it? How much of our national budget should we spend on military preparedness? Of course, these are complicated questions, and even the experts can disagree on the answers, but if there is one thing we all agree about in this country, it is that the people must be participants in the policy-making process. The problem is that they cannot participate if they have no foundation of knowledge on which to base their decisions.    

And there’s the rub. Who’s at fault here? Is it the government for failing to disseminate the necessary information on which informed decisions can be taken? Partly, although the government is constrained in many ways from providing more than the most basic information to the people. The main source of information for the public at large is the giant industry collectively known as the media. And the media, or the one small piece of the media that any individual looks to for information about public policies, is inadequate for the task.   

I don’t know how to solve this problem, though I have some suggestions. To begin with, the public policy quandaries and dilemmas confronting the country are extremely complex, and no single element of the media has the resources to cover them all and to explain them all to the public – not the wealthiest of the newspaper conglomerates, not the weekly news magazines, or even the broadcast networks with all the facilities at their disposal. I have stated many times and still believe that the major responsibility for keeping informed about public affairs lies with each individual; that only by reading widely in the various elements of the media – newspapers, magazines and broadcasts – could you be well enough informed to make decisions on public policies. But study after study has shown that the great majority of individuals in this huge, diverse society of ours spends less than 30 minutes a day on the news, and most of that time is spent on television news, which may be entertaining but is only marginally informative.   

What to do about it? I believe public policy studies should be incorporated in the teaching curricula of all public schools, elementary through secondary through college levels, so that all Americans will have a solid grounding in the public policy questions that the various levels of our government must deal with. And foremost among those questions is the provision of national security.    

So, what is national security? 
In my view, the national security embraces three major aspects of national activity: first, the nation’s military and defense policies; second, the nation’s foreign policies; and third, the nation’s economic policies. These three components are inextricably intertwined; you can’t have one without the other.                

The military and defense policy component of national security is covered only superficially by the media. The recruiting of men and women for military service, for example, once a subject of national concern and debate because of the draft, has subsided in the national consciousness since the draft ended in the mid-1970s. To this day, however, the implications of the all-volunteer service are not well understood in all their ramifications, and their devastating effect in terms of isolating our “mercenary” forces from the mainstream of our society is never discussed in the media. If the public truly understood what is happening, how a wholly new and culturally different element of our society is taking root in our midst, I suspect there might be a renewed effort to reinstitute conscription in order to maintain a genuine citizen’s army that would more nearly reflect our societal values.

Yet, the only media discussions about manpower and personnel problems take place when a cheating scandal emerges at a military school or a sex scandal at a military base, which places a skewed picture of military life before the public and further distances the military from the general public. News coverage of foreign policy matters is scanty, at best, unless an international crisis occurs. Unfortunately, international crises emerge quite often, but for a citizenry that needs to stay informed, the only time international affairs receive intense coverage is when a crisis develops and surprises the public. But crises do not develop and explode overnight. Every international event that assumed the proportions of a crisis since the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was foreseeable.

What’s worse, not only were they foreseeable, they were actually foreseen and predicted. And, more to the point, they could very possibly have been averted or blunted had the media been more aggressive in informing the public, and had the government been more willing to act before public opinion could be mobilized instead of waiting for the full-fledged crisis to emerge.

The economic component of national security is even less well-covered than is defense or foreign policy. It is generally recognized that international trade agreements are important elements of our economy, but how many are aware of the impact of such agreements on the security of our country? For example, for decades the Defense Department tried to control the export of sensitive technologies, but only after Iraq invaded Kuwait did the public suddenly become aware of the need to prevent some countries from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Even today, with the world’s expanded awareness of the danger involved in allowing Saddam Hussein, or any of the other rogue states such as Libya and Iran, to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, there seems little doubt that he and they continue to pursue them clandestinely. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait exposed still another aspect of our economic national security – our increasing dependence on the Middle East sources of energy. In fact, a great many other countries around the world are even more dependent on Middle East oil supplies, which make the integrity of the entire region a matter of international security. 

A huge and complex problem
There are other elements of national security seldom mentioned in the media, but which will surely affect us all in the coming years. There is a problem confronting us so huge and so complex that its dimensions are almost impossible to describe – the management of our planetary environment.  We are, without a doubt, poisoning the planet, and the consequences will ultimately be disastrous, but the media are doing very little to keep the public apprised of the steady erosion of the environment. The destruction of our tropical rain forests is taking place at an ever increasing pace with a foreseeable impact on the ozone layer. The explosion of the world population is a phenomenon to which no attention is paid. 

From the beginning of history to 1830, we reached the one-billion mark. The second billion took 100 years, from 1830 to 1930. We added 3 billion more in the next 60 years, from 1930 to 1990.  The next billion will be complete only 11 years after that, in 2001. The pressures generated by an expanding world population can be predicted, with the developing countries competing with the developed countries for a larger share of the increasingly scarce natural resources. And, not the least of the international environmental problems facing humanity, the widespread distribution of toxic and nuclear waste materials is slowly rendering substantial areas of the planet uninhabitable.
If you don’t think that’s a national security problem, you’re living in another world with the media, which seem completely oblivious to this growing catastrophe.

More media failures
Let’s just mention a few other areas of enormous importance in which the media are failing to keep the public informed. Take the question of arms control and disarmament; the public generally believes that, since the Cold War has ended, arms control is no longer a priority consideration and may even be a moot question. The fact is, however, that missiles with nuclear warheads are still aimed at targets in the United States and the process of dismantling them is on hold. Moreover, the nuclear materials and other essential components of warheads are disappearing from Russian storage, with their ultimate destinations the subject of considerable speculation. Surely there is a threat to our national security involved.    

Take the question of our national defense industries: With the end of the Cold War, the need for new weapons systems has understandably declined, and as procurement contracts shrink, the industrial arsenal of democracy also shrinks. In order to stay afloat, defense industries are realigning themselves, and mergers are the order of the day. Where once we had dozens of large corporations and hundreds of smaller concerns in the defense business, today there are only a half dozen major corporations and a few dozen smaller ones left.

Hundreds of thousands of skilled workers have lost their jobs in this industry in the last five years. That’s the bad news. The good news is that many of these industries and skills are becoming engaged in other enterprises that are changing America’s lifestyles even as we speak. But how much of the media and of the public are truly aware of the tremendous technological revolution taking place right now? And how many are aware that the explosion of electronic wizardry, from computers to the Internet, is the direct result of the military research and development process?     

Look at just one weapon – the B-2 Bomber: Study after study has confirmed the fact that the public derives most of its news from television, so how have the networks covered the B-2 Stealth bomber? This case provides an illustration of how the networks distort the news and paint a curious picture of events. The public roll-out took place in November 1988, on the 25th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. All three major networks focused on the cost of this airplane, varyingly described as ranging from 250 million dollars to 500 million dollars. Not a word was mentioned about the capabilities of the plane or the purpose it was meant to serve. When the plane carried out its initial taxiing tests in July 1989, the networks again fixated on the cost and spoke derisively about its ability to travel six miles on the ground at a cost of a half billion dollars. They were all uninterested in discussing any substantive issues involving the advanced technology represented. 

Indeed, television will not or cannot talk about complicated events or problems unless it can present pictures to accompany the discussion. This means that no intelligent discussion reaches the great mass of the public on one of the most potent weapons systems ever developed. The fact is, this bomber, and the F-117 Stealth fighter, are together rewriting the rules of air warfare with technological advances that are fully as impressive in the field of aeronautics as the nuclear warhead is in the field of physics. But the media, and consequently the public, are completely unaware of the developmental marvels involved.                 

Do the media influence public policy?
There is more than one answer to that question. The first answer is one that the media do not like but that I believe to be mostly true. I believe the media has little or no impact on the formulation of public policies. Let’s look at a little history to document my view. The military and a substantial segment of the public believe that the media was responsible for losing the Vietnam War. They look at the news reports and they truly believe that the media was against the war from the start and in the end persuaded the public to turn against the war which, in turn, forced the government to settle for a phony peace and get out.    

Every objective study of the media’s performance during those years, however, proves differently. Actually, the media supported the war, from the time President Eisenhower first sent Americans to Vietnam in the mid-1950s, after the French were defeated and left. It was not until the American public turned against the war and began mass demonstrations on campuses all over the country and in Washington in the late 1960s that the media began opposing the continuing war effort. Helping to turn the public and the media against the war was the opposition of a number of congressmen and other prominent public figures. And while it is true that the government bowed to the pressure of public opinion in getting out of the war, it is not true that the media played a significant role in shaping that public opinion. Indeed, it was public opinion that shaped the media’s performance. 

Of course, other factors were at play, as well. One was the fact that President Johnson’s role in escalating the war was based on a lie – the incident in the Tonkin Gulf never happened and the lie was subsequently exposed. Another was the increasing number of casualties we were suffering. Still another was the failure to enunciate a clear declaration of policy by the President, and the seemingly incomprehensible conduct of the war itself under the leadership of Secretary McNamara.

Only in the last two or three years, two decades after the war ended, has McNamara finally confessed to the fact that the war was unwinnable under the rules he himself laid down. But it was widely known from the early days of the war that it could not be won under the conditions imposed by him and the President. The lessons drawn from that sad experience were directly reflected in the successful conduct of the Persian Gulf War five years ago, when victory was the goal, clearly stated, and the forces assigned to the task were adequate to carry out the strategic and tactical actions involved.    

There is plenty of other evidence to support my contention that the media has little effect on the formulation of public policies. To put it another way, the policy makers at the top levels of our government make their decisions based on other considerations, not on media support or opposition. The media, for example, was generally opposed to sending ground troops into Bosnia. The President did it, anyway. The media, too, was generally opposed to the NAFTA agreement; the government entered into that agreement, anyway. The Democratic President acted despite strong opposition from his own party and succeeded only with the support of the Republicans in the Congress. And take the elections of 1992 and 1996; despite a drumbeat of media comment about the President’s character, and poll after poll showing that the public did not fully trust him, he was still elected. I can only conclude that the media has little effect on the public itself, as well as on the policies that the government adopts.   

Measuring media performance
But let’s go on to another way of looking at the media’s impact. This involves looking at how the government’s policy makers view the media and measure the media’s performance. While it is true, as I noted earlier, that the public gets most of its news and opinions from television, this is not true for the decision makers. Most high-level officials cite CNN reports, which has emerged since the Persian Gulf War as a major source of news on breaking stories, but they rely on the print media for in-depth coverage. Now this is an interesting twist on the impact of the media on public policies. The CNN and television news reports often break a story, which is to say that they report on a news event with whatever pictures are available, thus providing a sort of headline service. Then the print media go after the story in a sort of feeding frenzy to obtain every possible scrap of information and conjecture they can get. Thus, TV has a multiplier effect by provoking the print media to pursue stories in ways that TV cannot. And it is the print media that the decision makers read and reread as they examine all the ramifications of the policy options open to them before they come to a final decision.

To be sure, they take public opinion into account in the decision-making process, and it is true that they would like to have public support for their decisions, but it is not the major consideration in the momentous decisions of our times. Sometimes, Presidents or Administrations or even the Congress will do what they think is “right” for the country, despite contrary public opinion.

Gun control is a case in point. Both the electronic and the print media have strongly supported gun control for the last 30 years, ever since President Kennedy’s assassination. What’s more, every poll taken since 1968, when both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were killed, has indicated that as much as 70 percent of the public favored gun control. Yet, every Administration and every Congress voted against gun control, despite public opinion and media pressure, until President Clinton and the 1992 Congress enacted the crime bill and the Brady bill. In fact, the 1994 Congress started agitating against gun control and wanted to repeal the Brady bill and the part of the crime bill prohibiting the sale of certain weapons, despite growing public and media support for those measures. And the 1996 Congress is again threatening to take these actions, despite public opinion and the certainty of a Presidential veto. So, I repeat, where’s the impact?                            

Power of the media
The real impact, I submit, lies in the power of the media to spark a national debate and to stimulate a national discussion about the problems confronting our country and our policy makers. This, actually, is what the media is supposed to do – to report on governmental activities and other current events and thus to keep the people informed. The real debate and discussion takes place in the Congress, which, through its system of conducting hearings in order to obtain information leading to legislation, keeps the media occupied in conveying that information to the public.

So, information takes a circular path; the media breaks a story usually with a minimum of information to start, followed by other media pursuing the story and obtaining additional information, followed by governmental pursuit of the story in its deliberations, followed by media elaboration of the story based on information disclosed by the government, and so forth and so on ad infinitum – or until the media in its wisdom decides that the story has been milked dry and goes on to repeat the cycle with another story. The life-cycle of a “big front page story” varies from a few days to a few weeks at most for 99 percent of them; only once in a great while will a story last longer.

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman

Thursday, April 14, 2016

'The Jerusalem Affair' still applies today

Author Harry Zubkoff
When it came to Israel, Harry used to mention that certain news media got their stories all wrong. He had a chance to make stories right in articles he wrote for his synagogue newsletter. He also enjoyed sending articles from his trusted news sources via emails to family and friends. In a way, he was our trusted news source.

Harry wrote the following article in April 2010. It makes sense to share it now because the circumstances when he wrote it six years ago are amazingly similar to those today. His comments still apply, too, except Secretary Kerry is in the place of Secretary Clinton. 

I took the photo in the graphic below when I visited Israel, coincidentally in April 2010.

A funny thing happened on the way to the peace process. Well, funny may not be the right adjective. Looking back (it was just a month ago, in March) it seems surreal. It started with VP Joe Biden scheduling a trip to Israel advertised as an effort to reassure the Israelis of America’s continuing support and friendship for the Jewish state. Such an effort was deemed advisable because the warm relationship between the two countries that had existed during the Bush administration was obviously deteriorating. Mr. Biden’s good-will trip, however, ended with the most serious crisis in American-Israeli relations in several decades. It was triggered by an announcement of Israeli government approval of a 1,600-unit apartment project in East Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood. 
There are other Israeli housing units in this part of East Jerusalem, as well as Arab housing units, although the Arabs regard this area as “disputed territory”, which means its status has yet to be negotiated. Of course, the Arabs regard all of Israel as disputed territory and have thus far even refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state itself. As for this area of Jerusalem, populated largely by a community of Orthodox Jews, it complies fully within Israeli policy guidelines, and both the U.S. and the Arabs were aware of it. In fact, PM Netanyahu, who back in October had announced a 10-month freeze on settlement building in order to bring Palestinians back to negotiating, had specifically excluded Jerusalem from the freeze. Jerusalem, he had declared, is not a settlement. Secretary Hillary Clinton had understood and accepted his declaration and even praised his “unprecedented concessions” in imposing a temporary construction freeze on settlements. 
There is no doubt that the announcement of this building project while VP Biden was visiting was incredibly stupid, and PM Netanyahu delivered an abject apology, both privately and publicly. But was it a gaffe or an insult to America, so grave as to precipitate a genuine crisis and a permanent rift in American-Israeli relations? The unusually harsh language that Ms. Clinton and the State Dept. used would seem to indicate so. State Dept. spokesman Philip Crowley made it clear that Israel’s actions “undermined American interests”, and he reported that Secretary Clinton now felt that it was up to Israel to show that it was committed to our bilateral relationship not through words but through specific actions. America’s angry reaction to this incident has also emboldened the Palestinians to back away from the peace talks once again – the indirect peace talks, since they simply refuse to negotiate directly with Israelis.

Interestingly, American spokesmen have never spoken so harshly to the Arabs or the Palestinians as they have to their “friends and allies”. Some of the most knowledgeable observers of American political and diplomatic behavior have noted that the escalation of tensions with Israel is not simply the result of a misunderstanding or of events spinning out of control, as sometimes happens unexpectedly. On the contrary, it seems to be premeditated and calculated, and if it had not been this housing project announcement, another excuse would have been found. It seems obvious to them that the current American policymakers look upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as undermining American interests in the Middle East and that Israeli housing projects are impeding the peace process.
So it all comes back to the so-called peace process. America sees it as in its best interests for the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs to agree on a peaceful solution to their conflict by establishing a Palestinian state alongside the Israeli state. Forgotten is the fact that more than three-quarters of the Mandate land that the League of Nations had designated for a Jewish state had already been given to the Arabs for their own state. That state is now called Jordan. Overlooked, also, is the fact that the Arabs have consistently refused to establish another state alongside Israel, a fact that American policymakers seemingly cannot grasp. What the Arabs of Palestine want is the elimination of the state of Israel, another fact that American policymakers seemingly cannot grasp. To look upon a housing project in Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel, as an obstacle to peace seems very strange when dozens of rockets launched by the Arabs of Gaza against Israeli civilian targets do not raise similar concerns.      
The American policy rests on a faulty assumption. It is not settlements, construction, or housing projects that are obstacles to peace. It is the Arab refusal to negotiate directly with Israel over the terms of any agreement; it is their resolute refusal to accept the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state in the region; it is their unwillingness to accept the idea of any Jews residing in any area that might someday be a part of their state; and it is their unwillingness to establish a state alongside the Jewish state. Over the years they’ve had many opportunities to do so and always refused. Three times they have gone to full-scale war to eradicate the Jewish state instead. Each time they lost. They have persisted in dozens of smaller-scale hostilities and lost those, too. And still, there are those among us who continue in the mistaken assumption that Israel is sabotaging the peace process, and that if Israel will only stop building new apartments or expanding settlements, peace will ensue. 
Over the years America and Israel have devoted time and effort into building a strong and mutually beneficial relationship. The freedom that the peoples of these two countries enjoy has provoked those who cannot abide the notion of liberty to perpetrate acts of terrorism against them both. Israel and America are opposed by the same enemies. In the face of a common enemy, the two countries have formed a union of joint effort in military training and intelligence gathering and sharing, and close cooperation in many areas of research and weapons development that have strengthened both. This is what makes the U.S. attitude toward Israel so puzzling to Middle East analysts. It is sad but true that Israel has only one friend in the world today – the United States. Without this powerful friend, Israel cannot long survive in an unfriendly world. And this friendship rests on a foundation that is no longer firm and solid, as it has for the past half century. To preserve and strengthen this friendship for the next half century and beyond is our first priority now.

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman

Thursday, April 7, 2016

‘Invasion’ – a '60s newsroom story

Author Harry M. Zubkoff
Immigration is a hot topic today, as always, and the theme of Harry’s fiction below. If it looks familiar, you may remember his brief “opinion” piece on this blog last November. The version below, I later discovered, tells the full story. 

Harry’s setting is one he found familiar – the newsroom. He wrote the story, like many of his others, when he lived in Greenbelt, MD (1949 to 1963), where he spent a lot of time volunteering at the city newspaper office. His involvement there and in other Greenbelt activities probably gave him excellent fodder for his imagination. (See one example in the news clipping at the bottom of this page.)   

This is the last of Harrys fictional stories Ill post for now because others are too long for a blog; some run 50 pages or so. He also left behind several unpublished novels.  

The Managing Editor was still reasonably young, although his sandy hair was balding on top and he could no longer read copy without his black-rimmed glasses. But he didn’t need his glasses to note with appreciation every movement of his secretary’s ripe figure as she approached his desk.

“Here it is, Chief,” she announced triumphantly as she slapped an envelope down on his desk. “It’s marked Personal for you,” she added, “and there’s no return address, but there’s no doubt who it’s from.”

His heart beat a little faster as he fingered the envelope, absently watching her hips as she walked away. Then he swiveled his chair to face the window, carefully adjusted his glasses, and opened the envelope.

The letter was handwritten, unusual for a reporter like Larry. He must be hiding somewhere without his typewriter, the thought flashed through his mind as he started reading.

* * * * *


When you first assigned me to do a story on the boom in apartment buildings, I was uncertain how to tackle it. We’ve had dozens of stories in the Real Estate Sections during the past year, so there seemed to be little I could add in terms of construction starts or building plans.

Every major city in the country is going through the same experience, with modern high-rise monstrosities coming to dominate the skyline from coast to coast. These apartments aren’t inexpensive, either, with rentals ranging from over $100 a month for efficiencies to several hundred a month for multiple bedroom units.

Frankly, I found it hard to believe that there were enough people around to fill these buildings. And I found it doubly hard to believe that there were enough people around who could afford these prices. The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that no one had ever written a story about the people who live in all those new apartments. Oh, sure, there have been planning studies, in statistical terms, of the impact of apartment dwellers in a given area – on the road facilities and traffic patterns, the shopping facilities, the employment markets, etc. But how many human interest stories have you seen? How many stories about people – who they are, where they come from, what they do?

Well, that was my gimmick. I decided to peg the story on the “population explosion”; but first I had to do a little research to find out just how fast the population is growing in order to tie it in with the number of apartments being built. That’s when I started running into trouble. I kept checking and rechecking my figures, but somehow they didn’t make sense to me.

Consider, for example, these statistics. China, which is and always has been the fastest growing nation in the world, had about 70 million people at the time of Christ. If the population had been increasing at the rate of only 1% per year since then, it would amount to something like 21 million billion today (which would come to 13 Chinese per square foot of the Earth). Obviously, this is not the case. The most reliable estimates put the Chinese population at about 700 million today, which means that their rate of growth has been a very small fraction of 1%.

Let’s bring this a little closer to home. Europe, throughout the period of its greatest growth in the 19th century, never exceeded a growth rate of 1%. In fact, between 1800 and 1950, the population of Western Europe went from 125 million to 310 million, an average increase of 0.6% annually. These figures represent the norm, against which all other statistics must be measured. With that in mind, does it make any sense at all to believe the United States Census figures? Look at these incredible statistics for some of our states. Between 1900 and 1960 the population of Arizona increased by 958.5%; California by 958.1%; Florida by 836.1%; Nevada by 578.6%; and so forth and so on for a total United States increase of 135.5%. Not only are those figures incredible, they are absolutely unbelievable.

I know I’m taking the long way around, Chief, but just bear with me a few more minutes. You must realize the state I was in when these figures finally registered with me. The statistics are based on a head count by official census takers, so they must be right. And obviously, the people are here. So the question I was stuck with was – where are all those people coming from?

Now seriously, have you ever stopped to consider that question? Has anyone? Well, I have – and what’s more, after racking my brains over it for a long time, I think I’ve come up with the answer. The fact is, I don’t think they’re people at all. Have you been reading all the reports about flying saucers lately? Well, judging by the frequency of these reports, it seems to me that somebody “up there” is running a shuttle service to Earth – that there’s a mass immigration taking place right under our noses.

Now wait a minute, Chief, don’t flip your lid just yet. I know it sounds wild, but I ask you again, stop and consider. Even a hard-nose editor like you can’t help but be impressed by these statistics.

The astronomers estimate that there are about 6,000 million galaxies, like our own Milky Way, within range of our 200-inch telescopes. (There are probably millions more that we haven’t seen yet.) They also estimate that our galaxy contains about 30,000 million stars, most of them bigger than our Sun and each of them with its own family of planets. If each of the galaxies contains approximately the same number of stars, and the truth is, most of the galaxies are considerably bigger than our own, then we can conservatively guess that there are something like 180 million million stars out there. Multiply that figure by ten and you get a rough idea of how many planets there are. Now with all those trillions and trillions of planets, literally more numerous than the grains of sand on all the beaches of all our oceans, there must be at least a few on which life similar to ours has evolved. A few – well, let’s put it this way … If only one planet in a million had life like ours, there would be billions; if only one in a billion had life like ours, there would still be millions. With odds like that, it seems quite reasonable to assume that life like ours has evolved elsewhere and that they have discovered our existence.

And if they’re anything at all like us, they must think the grass is greener here, and maybe it is, at that. Anyway, I think they’re coming here, probably from many different places, landing secretly on dark nights, printing their own money (which accounts for inflation that’s taking place) and setting themselves up in residence. Maybe they look upon the Earth as a vacation capital of the universe. After all, viewed through their eyes, we’re probably good for a lot of laughs the way we behave towards each other. Or maybe they look upon us as a horrible example and are trying to figure out how to avoid making the same mistakes themselves.

By now you probably think I’ve gone off the deep end, and in a way I don’t blame you. But you’ve come this far with me so you might as well hear me out. Like any reporter, as soon as I’d make the assumption, I started to check it out. First, I spent some time just observing the people (creatures?) living in one recently completed luxury apartment house. The pattern of their lives struck me immediately. To begin with, they all seem to be fairly young people. The men are all handsome; the women all beautiful; everyone well-dressed at all times. The men play a lot of golf; the women a lot of bridge; and none of them seem to have to work for a living. Now I ask you, Chief, is that the way normal human beings live? Of course not.

I noticed, too, that there were a lot of single young men and women living there, with no visible means of support. How can young people afford to live like that? If they’re human, they can’t. There was also a complete absence of children. A lot of pets, but no children! How do you account for that? It’s just not human, that’s all.

In probing deeper, I learned that almost all of them were college graduates, so I decided to visit a few campuses to see what I could learn. Well, Chief, that’s where I struck pay dirt. Without exception, all the campuses (including some of our most famous universities) have been literally transformed into an alien environment. I could see at once that in their younger years these aliens bear only a superficial resemblance to human beings. Oh, now and then you see a human being, but for the most part, the students are obviously aliens. They go to school, apparently, to learn something of our language and our culture, but among themselves they speak incomprehensible jargon and have a culture which is decidedly un-human. Everything about them is different – their dress, their speech, the way they walk or their “gait,” if you will, the way they sit or slouch – everything which goes to make up our “human qualities” is missing. And get this, Chief, they’re also either sexless, or their sex is interchangeable – at least, in most cases, it’s impossible to distinguish between the sexes. I think what happens is that about the time they graduate, give or take a year or two, they undergo a metamorphosis and emerge into something which bears a much closer resemblance to human beings, even to the extent of assuming a gender, although exactly how the change takes place is still obscure.

In any event, Chief, I think I have established a prime facie case for my thesis, but I can understand that you may feel that I still need more concrete evidence. The trouble is, something’s wrong. There’s an old jungle that keeps running through my mind. It describes my situation, in a way, and it goes like this:

I took her to the movies,
I took her to a show,
I took her almost every place
A boy and girl could go.
I took her out to dinner,
I took her out to tea,
When suddenly I realized
That she’d been taking me!

You see, Chief, during the last couple of weeks I’ve had the most uncanny sensation that I was being watched. Just this morning I found out for sure. I spotted them, two of them, everywhere I went, and I suddenly realized that all this time, while I’ve been observing them, they’ve had me under observation, too. And suddenly I’m scared. That’s why I’m writing this letter, to bring you up to date on my findings, just in case. As soon as I mail it, I’m going to drop out of sight. I’ll be holed up in a friend’s place (she’s a very good friend) at 1121 Park Road. The phone number is 221-4573, if you want to reach me for anything. But please, Chief, you’re the only one I’ve told and I ask you to keep it strictly between us until the heat’s off.

As ever,
* * * * *

When he had finished reading he sighed and swiveled back to his desk. Almost reluctantly his finger reached out to punch the intercom button.

“Call the Security Squad,” he told his secretary. “He’s at 1121 Park Road.”

The fourth one this month, he thought sadly, and more of them learning about us all the time. And yet, he consoled himself, it’s still the easiest way to settle a new planet with the fewest possible casualties to the poor natives.

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman
According to this 1962 article, Harry was chairman of Greenbelt, MD’s, 25th Anniversary events. I was 10, but don’t remember. I do vaguely remember the NASA tour mentioned in the article; Greenbelt residents are NASAs fortunate neighbors. (Special thanks to Paul Kasko, the photographer’s son, for sharing this and other clippings surprisingly absent from Harry’s files.)