Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Naked and the Dead and Eddie Puchin Story and Policing Terrorists

Oh ye of little faith as the blackbird appeared again this morning until about midday when it departed once more. It has discovered the water and the food but also likes to scavenge on the floor. Its departure around mid morning should enable me to use the car when really needed although I am prepared to use the bus unless the weather is poor. It seems unaffected by my presence about the house or internal noise except when shifting the far side curtain to the window in this room which requires a tug. I will take more care tomorrow or just open the one nearest me which lets in sufficient light to work at the desk
The day has been dominated by feeling queasy and the tummy has not felt settled all day. On a visit to the supermarket for fruit for the weekend and some indigestion tablets I discovered two Azda brands. Their own tablets 80 for 1.45 compared to £1 for ten for other brands and tablets to settle the tum.

My condition yesterday affected the inclination to work. I watched two films on the television. The second was an old fashioned tear jerker which I remember seeing with the family when released in 1956 because it starred Tyrone Power and Kim Novaks. Eddy Duchin and his orchestra did not play my kind of music although he was very popular in New York as a pianist with the orchestra at the Casino nightclub in Central Park in 20’s and 30’s during which time he took over as the band leader. There was a practice, on both sides of the Atlantic, for bands to make live broadcasts from their clubs and which brought them popularity, records and sheet music sales across a wider population.

I have two collections of British Band Music with one a four disk set containing 100 numbers of Jack Payne, who introduced a regular programme called Bandbox; Carol Gibbons at the Savoy Hotel who also had a weekly show at Radio Luxembourg; Harry Roy played at the Cafe De Paris will still exists and which I passed on my recent visit to London and where he commenced radio broadcasts from the Cafe Anglais before moving to places such as the Mayfair Hotel and the Embassy Club; Nat Gonella had a jazz background and played with a number of major British bands such as Lew Stone, Billy Cotton and Roy Fox before leading his own and is regarded as the father of British traditional jazz for players like Humphrey Lyttleton; Ambrose who moved from the Embassy with its policy of no broadcasting until 1927 to the Mayfair Hotel and led to becoming known throughout the UK; Jack Hylton who in addition to being a band lead became an international impresario; Lew Stone was another who played in various bands before he took over from Roy Fox at Monseigneurs whose Tuesday night broadcasts made him famous along with his trumpeter Nat Gonella and Al Bowly until he left to join Ray Noble in the USA; another club which he played at was the Pigalle Restaurant; Geraldo became perhaps the best known playing the transatlantic ships and giving a start to a host of major British musicians including Johnny Dankworth, Stan Tracy, Ronnie Scott and in his day the great Ted Heath and his Music; Ray Noble who with Al Bowly made it big in the USA with his New Mayfair Orchestra and Joe Loss was one of the most famous bands in the 1940’s and 1950’s and his most successful number, ‘In the Moo’ became a signature tune.

Many of these bands are also featured on a two disk 44 track set called the Great British Dance and which includes Henry Hall who broadcast regularly with his Guest Night and Face the Music, and perhaps the best known, strict tempo, dance band leader of all time in the UK Victor Sylvester who joined the army aged 15 to serve in World War I and was required to be part of a firing squad executing five deserters before being wounded in 1917 when his true age was discovered and he was discharged with honour.

The mentioning of sheet music which was always on sale in quantity alongside the old 78 records in the music section of stores, reminds of my birth mother who played the piano would save up to buy sheet music which the rest of the family wanted to hear her play.

In the film the Edie Duchin Story the emphasis is on the death in childbirth of his first wife, who in real life was a wealthy socialite, and on Duchin’s inability to acknowledge his son who was brought up by an uncle and aunt, until service in World War II made him realise the importance the boy could have in his life and with the help of a governess with whom he established a relationship he got to know the boy who was then shattered when Duchin was discovered to have leukaemia from which he died in his early forties when his son was just a teenager.

What is factual is that the his wife died five days after giving birth and was Peter was brought up by distinguished family friends, the statesman Averill Harriman and his wife. As shown in the film Peter demonstrated an early talent for Piano playing like his father and also went onto become a bandleader. He studied at the Sorbonne in France and Yale. Moving in social circles of the time he received a thoroughbred racehorse from the father of his first wife which is said to be one of only four horses to have won two major races in the USA, according to Wikipedia. Like the man who brought him up Peter had and continues to play an important role in the political, cultural, and social life of his country including the World Policy Institute, the Citizens Committee for New York City, and as a former Vice Chairman of the New York State Council of the Arts. In addition to a New York Loft which he shares with his second wife he has a home in Washington. In 1996 Radom House published his memoir Ghost of a Chance. A book I would like to read from curiosity more than anything else although I know I do not have the time.

A very different film based on an important fictional World War II story, and which I did read fifty years ago, is Norman Mailer’s the Naked and the Dead. When I bought the Panther paperback in 1962 over ten million copies of the story had been sold. My copy was and remains almost unreadable because it is not only small printed but has two columns per page and still packs some 400 pages. For its time, first published in 1949, it paints a frank and brutal picture of the war and the life of the main characters. As it is fifty years since I read the book I had to rely on Wikipedia to remind that the film reverses the book ending. This is typical Hollywood and destroys the point which Mailer was making

What kind of men, and women today, do we want our generals to be? What kind of men and woman do we want to lead those on active combat? Two of the main characters in the film provide one viewpoint.

The General, played by Raymond Massey(a star of several war and western films and others such a East of Eden, Arsenic and Old Lace and Reap the Wild Wind) is the strictest of disciplinarians who believes military leaders should be feared, remains separate from their men and is pedantic and obsessive in a way which reminds of the naval captain in the Caine Mutiny. One of his staffers is Lieutenant Hearn, a World War II officer without combat experience(Cliff Roberston), who while accepting the authority and the power of the General takes an opposite viewpoint arguing that you will only get men to fight and die if they believe not only in the cause but in their leaders. In the film he is brought back to Headquarters despite his severe wounds because of the relationship he establishes. In he book he dies. He is sent on an expedition deep into Japanese controlled territory on the island they are trying to liberate because he has emotionally and psychologically threatened the stability of the general who expresses regret that that his wife did nor bear them children and a remark of Lt Hern is taken to imply he is questioning the virility of the general.

Lt Hern is asked to lead a closely knit platoon team previously led by Sgt Croft(Aldo Ray who saw action as a young soldier on Okinawa). He plays a rough and tough character who one minute is behind his men when they build an alcohol still in a secret jungle clearing and get drunk, and the next second he is punishing them and destroying the still because he is reminded of the betrayal he experienced after discovering that his sexy wife entertained when he was away on duty. He is a very different personality from the military ideologist General who buries his feelings and emotions yet is also someone who is prepared sacrifice in order to achieve the required objective. In this instance he successfully gets rid of Lt Hearn who is all for cancelling the rest of the mission. The point made in the book is that had the rest of mission been cancelled the army would have received a false impression of the actual position. He would have reported that the area was fully controlled by the Japanese and that the proposed offensive should be delayed until air support could be provided together with from the sea. In fact the Japanese were bluffing, making attacks and giving the impression of strength while they arranged to pull out from the island.

The book is therefore an early argument that war is nasty and dirty whether conducted by armies or by special forces who become terrorists when they are directed at us. The only different aspect of the situation today is the development of the personal suicide mission although many special force operations were suicidal for the majority and no different from the advances over the trenches in World War 1 or the Japanese suicide pilots- the kamikaze. The question posed is not academic. Recently I drew attention to the wide range of people and interests groups that were likely to have been involved in the protests organised for the G2 summit and where in fact the policing operation proved far more successful than at the Nato summit in France where petrol bombs were used and the police became involved with running battles with demonstrators putting at great risk the welfare of anyone caught up in the situation through no fault of their own.

An unnamed American happened to be on site with his camera to film the moment when a policeman is shown to have pushed to the ground the alleged demonstrator, said to have been walking away, and who is subsequently said to have died from a heart attack, although a second post mortem has been arranged. If the man, a father with a son and two daughters was not involved in the demonstration or involved but acting peacefully then the methods used by the police should be called into question, without losing sight of the their and our main concerns. I am concerned that the attention concentrates on the policeman involved and who has now come forward. What concerns me and the general media is the action of senior officers and police media in that the first story which was put out indicated that they had gone to the rescue of the man when he collapsed and that they had come under fire from individuals throwing things which could and did cause injury. It could be that having come under fire in this way individuals did lose their temper and hit out regardless. It is a difficult situation for anyone to be in if they are not part of a specially trained force. A few years ago now I was at a football match when a young policeman drew his truncheon and threatened supporters enjoying the match on his way with others to remove someone who was making a nuisance of himself. I was puzzled by the whole incident because as a regular away supporter I had not seen anything like this before from other away supporters although we have come under physical attack from home supporters in and outside grounds, and my suspicions were aroused when I was told by a police Inspector as I left the ground early in disgust with what had happened that there was a party of Europeans visiting the stadium (Arsenal) to see how the police managed supporters within and without the stadium. The Inspector had approach me to enquire why I was leaving early and having explained the incident he advised me to make a complaint which I did. It was fully investigated and an officer came from London and advised on the outcome to the effect that the young man was from an outer London force and that this was his first experience of such a situation and would be required to undertake further training. This seemed to me a good outcome and I left the matter with the police rather than take further as I was advised that I could do so. Against every case where a cover up is suspected, and sometimes proved, there will be countless others like mine where it was the police themselves who initiated action, fully investigated advise what was going to happen and that I could take the matter further if I wished.
There has been similar swift action today with the resignation of a senior police office in the Metropolitan Police and a former Chief Constable. As head of counter terrorism he had been photographed entering the office of the Prime Minister holding a briefing document, the details of which could be read via a telephoto lens, of a planned police operation later that day, and arresting suspects of a major terrorist operation in the UK allegedly organised from Pakistan. His resignation has been accepted and a new man immediately appointed The raid took place earlier than planned, albeit it appears only of a few hours. There are three aspects which will dominate politics over coming weeks when Parliament reassembles.

First how could such a senior office be so stupid? His behaviour borders on the criminal and a resignation should only be the start of any investigation or inquiry. It is also said that he was behind the arrest of the Tory Member of Parliament and searching of the Parliamentary offices. Nothing has been further heard of the matter which did not cast the Home Secretary in good light and how she manages to survive in post shows the weakness of the Brown administration.

However both these issue are minor compared to the fact that a major terrorist atrocity was being planned in the UK again, involved men mostly from Pakistan and in England on student visas. Hopefully the police will gain the evidence to bring to prosecution so that the facts can be made public. We continue to be at war with these fanatics. In the film, Lt Hern on return to the military HQ tells the general that what happened proved his methods not to be the way forward because what led him to survive and the two members of the platoon to get him back was the humanity within rather than the fear imposed without.

This is a fine thing to say in art and on the political platform. Say it to the mothers and fathers, wives and children, other relatives and friends of those killed or maimed fro life as a consequence the actions of these evil people. The first priority is to stop then, the second is to capture and ensure they are never in a position to plan, organise or commit such atrocities again. If this can be done with humanity great if not I will shed no tear or experience restless sleep at night and we need to honour and protect those who do this work for us.

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