Sunday, 27 July 2008

Behind the Songs: The Thresher

"Oh, can't you see the wrong, she was a death ship all along, died before she had a chance to kill"
--Phil Ochs, "The Thresher" (1963)

The Death of the USS Thresher: The Story Behind History's Deadliest Submarine Disaster

On the morning of April 10, 1963, the world's most advanced submarine was on a test dive off the New England coast when she sent a message to a support ship a thousand feet above her on the surface:


Then came the sounds of air under pressure and a garbled message:

. . . TEST DEPTH . . .

Last came the eerie sounds that experienced navy men knew from World War II: the sounds of a submarine breaking up and compartments collapsing.

When she first went to sea in April of 1961, the U.S. nuclear submarine Thresher was the most advanced submarine at sea, built specifically to hunt and kill Soviet submarines. In The Death of the USS Thresher, renowned naval and intelligence consultant Norman Polmar recounts the dramatic circumstances surrounding her implosion, which killed all 129 men on board, in history's first loss of a nuclear submarine.

This revised edition of Polmar's 1964 classic is based on interviews with the Thresher's first command officer, other submarine officers, and the designers of the submarine. Polmar provides recently declassified information about the submarine, and relates the loss to subsequent U.S. and Soviet nuclear submarine sinkings, as well as the escape and rescue systems developed by the Navy in the aftermath of the disaster. The Death of the USS Thresher is a must-read for the legions of fans who enjoyed the late Peter Maas's New York Times best seller The Terrible Hours.

Norman Polmar has been a consultant to senior officials of the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense, and was a member of the Secretary of the Navy's Research Advisory Committee (NRAC). For four years--as an employee of the Northrop Corporation--he worked on the Navy's program to develop submarine escape and rescue systems. He is the author of more than thirty books on naval, aviation, and intelligence subjects. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

"Gripping in its narrative as it takes the reader step-by-step through the days leading up to the loss of the ship, much of it told in the words of pioneers of nuclear submarine force . . . the seminal work on the subject."
--The New London Day

"A worthy new book about submarines."
--The San Diego Union-Tribune

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Behind the Songs: Too Many Martyrs

"It struck the heart of every man when Evers fell and died"
--Phil Ochs, "Too Many Martyrs" (1963)

Of Long Memory: Mississippi and the Murder of Medgar Evers

The history is well known: On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers, a rising star in the Mississippi NAACP, was gunned down by the white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith. Tried twice and released twice by all-white juries, Beckwith escaped conviction for three decades. In 1994 prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter once again put Beckwith on trial, and this time won a conviction.

What is not so clear is the murky racism that still haunts Mississippi. Adam Nossiter was a reporter in the South in the 1990s, covering Beckwith's trial. Considered an outsider by Mississippians, he was free to study Evers's life, death, and legacy without the handicaps of self-recrimination and self-doubt that still plague many white Southerners. Using the tools of memory and history, Nossiter reconsiders racism in the South and reveals how, by reviving the case against Beckwith, an entire community of Southerners painfully confronted its past. A new afterword examines how Beckwith's conviction opened the courtroom doors to a surprising wave of new indictments in old civil rights cases and how Mississippi is growing into its new self, one judge at a time.

In the tradition of Taylor Branch's classic Parting the Waters, this is a remarkable look at the transformation of racial issues from the 1960s through the beginning of the twenty-first century.

"A fine history of Mississippi's political, social, and racial evolution."
--Philadelphia Inquirer

"Shows how the first political assassination of the 1960s, intended to squelch the civil rights movement, actually galvanized it."
--New York Times Book Review

Adam Nossiter was a staff writer for the New York Times and before that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is the author of The Algeria Hotel: France, Memory, and the Second World War, and has been writing about the South for nearly twenty years. He lives in New Orleans.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Rebels with a Cause

I managed to watch Rebels with a Cause last night, one of the lesser-known documentaries from Zeitgeist Films. It features several interviews with key Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) members, and some archival footage, including a black-and-white shot panning across a 1967 rally with Phil Ochs performing (not seen elsewhere). It also more Phil Ochs songs than the typical 1960s documentary, with "I Ain't Marching Anymore," "Draft Dodger Rag," "I'm Going to Say It Now," and "The War Is Over" punctuating the soundtrack. Definitely worth watching to hear the perspectives and views of various participants in this important group.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

"Cross My Heart" and "No More Songs" featured in A Previous Engagement

Phil Ochs performing "Cross My Heart" and "No More Songs" is featured in the film A Previous Engagement, released May 9, 2008 in Canada and the United States.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Behind the Songs: William Moore

"What price the glory of one man?"
--Phil Ochs, "William Moore" (1963)

Freedom Walk: Mississippi or Bust

In 1963, the streams of religious revival, racial strife, and cold-war politics were feeding the swelling river of social unrest in America. Marshaling massive forces, civil rights leaders were primed for a wide-scale attack on injustice in the South. By summer the conflict rose to great intensity as blacks and whites clashed in Birmingham.

In Freedom Walk: Mississippi or Bust, Mary Stanton chronicles deeply influential events that occurred outside the massive drive. Before the tumultuous summer of 1963, Bill Moore, a white mail carrier, made his own assault on racial injustice. Jeered and assailed as he made a solitary civil rights march along the Deep South highways, he was ridiculed by racists as a "crazy man."

His well-publicized purpose was to walk from Chattanooga to Jackson and hand deliver a plea for racial tolerance to Ross Barnett, the staunchly segregationist governor of Mississippi. Moore had kept a journal that detailed his goal. Using it, along with interviews and extensive newspaper and newsreel reports, Mary Stanton has documented this phenomenal freedom walk as seen through his eyes.

On April 23, on a highway near Attalla, Alabama, this lone crusader was shot dead. Floyd Simpson, a grocer and member of the Gadsden, Alabama, chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, was charged with Moore's murder.

A week later a white college student named Sam Shirah led five black and five white volunteers into Alabama to finish Moore's walk. They were beaten and jailed. Four other attempts to complete the postman's quest were similarly stymied.

Although Moore was not a nobly ideal figure handpicked by shapers of the movement, inadvertently he became one of its earliest martyrs and, until now, part of an overlooked chapter in the history of the civil rights movement.

Freedom Walk: Mississippi or Bust tells the complicated, interwoven stories of Moore, Shirah, and Simpson. Though all three shared a deep love of the South, their strong feelings about who was entitled to walk its highways were in deadly conflict.

"This is a story--actually three stories--that needed to be told. A good bit has been written about certain of the civil rights atrocities, such as the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, the Medgar Evers assassination, and the executions of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman. However, the circumstances of the life and death of William Moore remained relatively unknown. Mary Stanton has done a good job of uncovering and relating this story. Regardless of their possible shortcomings, both William Moore and Sam Shirah deserve no less."
--Bill Baxley, former Alabama Attorney General

Mary Stanton, an assistant public administrator of the town of Mamaroneck, N.Y., is the author of From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo. Her work has appeared in Southern Exposure, Gulf South Historical Review, and Government Executive.

"Stanton . . . offers a well-written portrait of another overlooked civil rights warrior, mail carrier Bill Moore. . . . Retracing his steps and quoting liberally from the diary he kept, Stanton honors Moore and his brave efforts while examining his troubled life. . . . A fine contribution to the literature of the civil rights movement and to Southern history."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Mary Stanton has mined the historical record and her own considerable powers of insight and imagination to produce this compelling book, which illuminates the complex social forces and individual lives that were linked to William Moore's lone walk."
--Morris Dees, Executive Director, Southern Poverty Law Center

"A white Southerner, literally touched by Bill Moore during his walk, pronounced his epitaph: 'I wouldn't say that guy was fitten to be killed. I'd say he was doing what he thought was right. I shook hands with the man, and he seemed alright to me.' Bill Moore was all right. But he was not normal, with his stubborn belief that one person, alone, might make a difference. By bringing his example back to our national consciousness, Mary Stanton affirms that same abnormal belief and in the process does us all a service."
--James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

"The Freedom Walkers made a valuable impression--on me, on their colleagues in the movement, and on the larger on-looking world. Moore's murder drew international attention to the horror of white racism, and the lengths to which the resistant white South would go to support and defend white supremacy. The walkers who took up his journey demonstrated Moore was not alone in his quest for racial justice; their interracial character showed that whites as well as blacks supported justice. While more celebrated events fill the pages of history books, these smaller but nonetheless important moments need to be recorded and preserved. Thank you for telling his story."
--Julian Bond, Chairman, NAACP National Board of Directors