Monday, January 21, 2002
Burn Baby, Burn
The 5th Marines secured the top of Mt. Suribachi on February 23rd, killing 600 Japanese to reach the summit. There were, however, 1,000 more defenders on the mountain securely entrenched in the numerous caves and tunnels and it took close and bloody fighting to kill them. The 4th Marines landed in the middle of the southeast side of the island and pushed toward the northern end. The 3rd Marines completed landing on the 24th of February. All three divisions advanced abreast to the north part of the island. The 4th drove on the right, the 3rd in the middle, and the 5th on the left. The island was declared secure on March 16th. Nevertheless, the Japanese, in isolated pockets, continued their resistance for months.
On August 11, 1965, a routine arrest of a drunk driver in the Watts section of
Los Angeles sparked a riot that lasted five days and took the lives of thirtyfour
people. African American rioters looted and set fire to stores, as
bystanders chanted the slogan of a popular disc jockey, “Burn, Baby, Burn!” The
Watts riot ushered in four “long, hot summers” of mayhem. Between 1965 and 1968,
more than three hundred riots occurred, resulting in two hundred deaths and the
destruction of several thousand businesses (Thernstrom and Thernstrom 1997,
158–61; Graham 1980, 12).
The Los Angeles Times was in a quandary. The newspaper needed the news, but it was too dangerous to send white reporters into Watts. Unfortunately, white reporters were pretty much all the paper had.
Then somebody seized upon Robert Richardson, who was black and worked as a messenger for the classified advertising department. This 24-year-old man received an instant and informal promotion to reporter. He drove into the riot area, found a phone booth, and began calling in graphic eyewitness reports on the carnage in Watts. To protect himself from the rioters, who might not have been too friendly to a reporter in their midst, he periodically leaned out of the phone booth and joined them in yelling their slogan: "Burn, baby, burn!" Later, Richardson also wrote several pieces on the riot.
Iwo Jima, which means sulfur island, was strategically important as an air base for fighter escorts supporting long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan. Because of the distance between mainland Japan and U.S. bases in the Mariana Islands, the capture of Iwo Jima would provide an emergency landing strip for crippled B-29s returning from bombing runs. The seizure of Iwo would allow for sea and air blockades, the ability to conduct intensive air bombardment and to destroy the enemy's air and naval capabilities.
For months, oil-company lobbyists have argued unsuccessfully with the Environmental Protection Agency over the reduction of sulfur in gasoline and diesel fuel. The EPA has sided with the auto industry and environmentalists and called for almost eliminating sulfur in these fuels. The EPA wants sulfur cut to 30 parts per million in gasoline and 15 parts per million in diesel, more than a 95 percent reduction. The oil companies have offered a cut to 50 parts per million -- a level EPA Administrator Carol Browner has insisted would not do the job.
Ira Hayes, born January 12, 1923. Ira was a Pima Indian. His Chief told him to be an "Honorable Warrior" and to bring honor upon his family. He was horrified when he learned that President Roosevelt wanted him and the other two survivors to come back to the U.S. to raise money on the 7th Bond Tour.
I will never forget the emotion I felt as a child when I saw that famous photograph by San Francisco photographer Joe Rosenthal of the Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima -- capturing in one moment in time, the strength and determination of the entire nation. The courage and devotion of these brave soldiers should not be allowed to become simple relics in our history books -- some anachronism of times past. If we are not teaching our children today the kind of values and respect that produced such courage and pride, then those will most certainly die in the hearts of those soldiers. Our country can't afford that.
I served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam and I love this country, its people and what it stands for. I am offended when I see the flag burned or treated disrespectfully. As offensive and painful as this is, I still believe that those dissenting voices need to be heard. This country is unique and special because the minority, the unpopular, the dissenters and the downtrodden also have a voice and are allowed to be heard in whatever way they choose to express themselves. The freedom of expression, even when it hurts, is the truest test of our dedication to the principles that our flag represents.
You would hope that people -- especially those who may have been born in countries other than the U.S. -- who display the flag in their vehicles, store windows and homes do so voluntarily and of free will, and not out of something fearfully akin to the old tradition of paying protection money. It's a sensitive subject to bring up, but it should be said out in the open: If some people born elsewhere are feeling they must display an American flag to avoid criticism or worse from people born in the U.S., that is a sad and troubling thing.
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