Facing the Russia Threat

Times have changed since the Cold-War officially ended, but, perhaps times are more dangerous. Certainly for Latter-day Saints, the entire Russia-America relations are more complicated.

Pre-1991, before the putsch that overthrew the Soviet government of the USSR, American LDS members had communism as the clear-cut enemy, although in enclaves of BYU and other universities left-leaning LDS professors quietly spoke fondly of the wonders of collectivization with their academic peers, while sternly looking down on the Ezra Taft Bensonites who could quote “None Dare Care It Treason” or reel off statistics and sayings from Cleon Skousen’s “The Naked Communist.”

In 1991 the Bensonites felt justified that they’d won part of the geopolitical gambit although there was still Cuba, Venezuela and China to go.

The LDS lefties decried the capitalists going into post-Gorbachev Russia and spoiling a pure people. Oh well. What can you do with some mother’s children?
I felt their wrath when, in 1990, I brought the Deputy Minister of Higher Education of the USSR to BYU. He was instantly greeted with great warmth by so many from the BYU political science and Russian departments until he spoke to a large gathering. 

At the start of his lecture these professors were beaming to have a Soviet leader actually speaking at BYU, but let out a collective (pun intended) gasp when he announced that he was bringing to the USSR a group of American business leaders to teach capitalism to the Soviet people. When he announced he had partnered with me to lead his effort, I went from their darling to devil in a twinkling of an eye. Ah, the fickled fortunes of fate.

Over the next ten years the company my wife and I started, took 10,000 Americans and Soviets/Russians and put them on ships that sailed on the Volga and Dnieper rivers so Americans could learn about Russia and Ukraine through the eyes of her people. Thousands of friendships were made.

Between land tours, Americans were in classes on board learning about Russian culture, Pushkin tales, language, etc., and the Russians were taking my classes on how to survive and prosper in a free market economy and how to start a business. Many businesses were started with new American partners.

Marriages happened. So many Russians joined the LDS church just because coincidentally (if there are such things) many of our passengers were faithful LDS members anxious to share their faith.  

All of this work in the former USSR republics, Russia in particular (I’ve been there more than 50 times), I grown to understand a bit about the place. I’m not an expert on this place Churchill called “a riddlewrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
But I’ll try to lend some thoughts.

What’s changed in Russia from the Soviet Union is, on one hand substantial, but on the other, negligible. Russia has a long history of being subjected to either tsars, commissars or plutocrats. Democracy is minor on a local level and at best theoretical on a presidential level. The parliament is the main democracy although Vladimir Putin has constrained that making it less relevant.

Given the long history of being ruled from the top down, the Russian people have no history of objecting to authoritarianism until they are pushed to do so by massive war deaths and starvation that precipitated the Bolshevik Revolution. Beyond that … so many just take their vodka back to their small apartments and survive.

America has long been a country they at once fear and admire. Even while it was the USSR I was greeted with trepidation, then genuine warmth. Children couldn’t wait to high-five me in the closed city of Gorki. When I was the first foreigner to address the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine and then BelaRus, the decorum shown was astounding. The shared frankness remarkable. I quickly learned that Russians were self-deprecating and loved “dishing it out” and taking it. We teased each other incessantly. I gave as good as I got, and then some. 

On long train rides we held joke contests that I won about as many times as I lost. On politics, they were realistic but rather fatalistic. None could ever see how anything could ever really change for them. Yes, a bit of freedom in traveling and starting businesses, but they’d just shrug and figure the mafia would take whatever the politicians didn’t take.

The LDS Church has grown, shrunk from emigration and loss of faith, and grown some more. The temple in Kiev was no accident. Ukraine is more hopeful than Russia, but the saints all over the former USSR are people who have something so many Russians lack – hope.

This was borne out to me while on one of our river cruises. We had gathered the Americans and Russians together for one of our “Getting to Know You” sessions where ANY topic was allowed, although we told people to speak for themselves and not their country and whenever I felt we’d covered the topic, we’d go on. On Russian stood and asked, “To my new American friends. Please tell me what gives you security and…hope.” The Americans started off with answers like their financial solvency, a paid-off home and car, money in the bank, and a retirement account. 

A little flummoxed the Russian tried again, a bit more earnestly. “Not that. What gives you inner security. Peace. Inner hope. A deep sense of being still?” The Americans tried again with freedom, democracy, friends and such and could see they still weren’t registering with this very earnest and sincere Russian. So they asked him, “Tell us what gives you hope.”

That brought a serene smile to his face. “Two years ago I was like most of my Russian friends. I was in despair. I had no hope. We had nothing and no prospect of anything even though this country was becoming more free. Life was dark, with little reason to smile. Then, I was allowed to come on this cruise and I met some people who introduced me to God. A light began to shine inside my heart. My heart became a little warmer. I shared this with my wife and children. We all could feel the light and warmth grow. God became the center of our lives. Today, we still have very little, but, we have so much hope. So much warmth in our heart. Today, we smile and every day we smile and give thanks to God.”

The Americans shifted very uncomfortably in their chairs as they knew they’d been taught a powerful lesson by this Russian. Many spoke up and echoed his belief in agreement. The rest of this meeting of people from different faiths became unified in their faith in a divine being. One last thing. The good Russian was in the leadership of the local LDS church.

Having the church helping the lives of so many Russians rather complicates American foreign policy for many LDS in the West.
But things are rather straightforward in some ways. Russia is being led, pulled and bullied by Putin. Too many Americans whine about Trump doing the same, but that shows a woeful ignorance to the real political system differences. 

What Putin says will go for as long as he wishes to remain in power. And power is the dogma of Putin, not communism. Trump seems mindful, and I hope he is, that Putin is not governed by a sense of what is best for Russians, but what will keep him in power. Trump had better not push him too far, but had better do enough to keep him in check. It will be a delicate dance.

Obama was terrible at this dance. When someone sought to cut in, Obama stuttered and stammered but stepped aside, “leading from behind.” Putin knew he could push his power claims however far he wished and did so mercilessly on Ukraine.  Trump will need to let Putin win a issue, but very few and solely in the trade area which will actually help Russia and in turn be good for America.

Putin understands Trump. He knows Trump is also not an ideologue and deals from a power base as well. The two will be in a two-step for at least four years. Neither will push the other enough to have a war. Above all Putin cannot afford any military actions. His military is weak and ill-prepared for any conflict more than a few minutes. A military set-back of any kind would be a disaster for Putin so bluster must be his game and he knows if he tangles with the US a set-back is the overwhelming likelihood.

Financially, Putin cannot afford any further reductions in his foreign currency reserves. Look for Trump to make some trade deals to allow Putin a chance to build the Russian economy. So many little thing wins can make a huge difference to this country that is potentially a huge trading partner for the USA. Keep in mind it has more natural resources than just about any country; more oil, precious metals, enough virgin forests to cover the USA and other “bounties of Rodina.” Its populous is intelligent but hasn’t a clue how to run a true market economy. Should Trump help them with that, then Russia could cease to be a tough, muscle-bound enemy and become a friend. That would be good for my friends in Russia and for the USA.

Except plenty of sabres to be rattled but in the end, money talks.

Name that Politician

Time to play “Name that Politician.” I’ll use present tense and American lingo although the politician may be modern or historical, American or British.

1.      He is notorious or famous for his uncompromising positions on his pet projects which are considered outrageous and outlandish by a great many people.
2.      He changed parties at least once and was often seen in the company of the political enemy.
3.      While in his job (be it political or private) he often used patronage (securing jobs for friends of friends) for getting projects through.
4.      His marital life was often a target of his political enemies.
5.      Detractors often pointed to his many failures.
6.      He was criticized by many for being opposed to the major war of his time when he ran for president.
7.      When he ran for president, he was not popular among large groups of people.
8.      When campaigning he often fought back politically by pitting his opponents against each other by carefully planned political patronage and by appealing to the people with his powers of oratory.
9.      His bedrock principles were noted as nationalism, and republicanism.
10.   He was known as a talker. He could talk for hours and often did.

Not sure who you were thinking about, but, if you said Winston Churchill, you could mostly be right although I’ve never quite associated his philosophies with republicanism and have never read any criticism of his wife, Clementine or Clemmie as he called her. But he failed often in politics, changed parties several times, levied criticism against the bunglings of WWI and most of the other points.

But all ten certainly applied to the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln. And I chose to write briefly about him because it’s a beautiful spring day and I’m gazing out at our lilac bush that’s about to bloom. The frost has spared the blossoms and soon it will spring forth in all its beauty. For most, that is an amazing occasion, but, for me it is a rather melancholy time for it brings to my mind these lines from Walt Whitman:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

He wrote these as the opening lines to his elegy for the funeral of Abraham Lincoln, for it was on a spring day like today in 1865 that Lincoln succumbed to the effects of the shot from JW Booth the night before. April 15, 1865 to be exact.

It would be well for all to remember during this primary election season to temper our enthusiasm for our candidates and antipathy for those we oppose. Booth’s ember of political hatred once enflamed led to death of a great leader. 


Trying to Put Some Reasoning into Politics

What in the World Does Anyone See in Trump
By Mark Stoddard
Taking Donald Trump to task is too easy. No one has ever blown himself up to be larger not only than life, but than a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Snoopy Balloon. He knows the pot shots are coming but only inflates himself more, caring less for the incoming fire.

Nowhere does he get more incoming righteous indignation fire than from Utahns seething with wrath for his Gadianton visage, lack of Cleon Skousen upbringing and the missing Ezra Taft Benson sensibilities for the Constitution. Many that I meet insist Trump is not a Republican, neither a consistent conservative nor even a conservative, and so forth. Others just say he is evil…pure evil, although I’ve never understood that oxymoron.

I’ve had plenty of Romney clones assure me Trump is a phony and his billions of dollars aren’t real. That Trump’s business failings, unlike Romney’s, were big deals, but their sources are always “a friend of a friend told me and he knows.”

I assure them that like Marc Antony, this Mark has not come to praise Caesar but to bury him. Or at least understand him – and like Opie told Sheriff Andy, “Let’s give him a fair trial and then hang him.”

To that end I’ve gathered my wheel barrows of research collected not only from when the Donald first announced he was running , but in the mid 1980’s when I first saw him in New York City and read his light weight book, The Art of the Deal. My business associate at the time, Byron Boothe, assured me he didn’t think much of the flamboyant millionaire because he had dinner in Trump’s group and Donald had a drink… with an umbrella in it. What kind of a hard driving real estate mogul drinks Shirley Temple’s, Byron insisted. Turns out Donald is a teetotaler and doesn’t care if anyone likes it or not. Pretty much the way he does everything.

Back to a year ago. When my brother called me from California to let me know he’d heard Trump had thrown his hair into the ring to run for the presidency I asked for which party. I half expected he’d gone back to the Reform Party of Ross Perot. But, no, he declared he was now a Republican all the way. Unless they weren’t nice to him. I told my brother I wouldn’t hold my breath. Give Donald a week or two to self-destruct with several off-message comments that would sink his tenuous ship.

In the months since then Trump has scored more off-message comments than I can count and they’ve driven his media coverage through the roof along with his negatives. In my previous life as a political hack in D.C., the president of our grassroots citizen’s lobby, Neal B. Blair used to preach that if you can drive the opponents negatives high enough, he could never recover.

Well, Trump has gleefully collected the negative rule books and a bunch of other campaign conventional wisdom rule books and burned them on his way to a commanding lead and the probable nomination of the Republican Party. And, yes, my friends in Utah, he actually is a Republican according to all of the ballots and Republican Party records.

One high ranking Republican friend at the Utah Republican Convention I attended confided in me that his daughter had been doing research on Hitler’s rise to power and he thought it scary how many similarities there were with Trump’s rise. I yawned and suggested about 10 points where Winston Churchill’s rise was also similar.  He paused to give that some thought, and then concluded that powerful people do tend to have much in common with their accumulations of power – both those who do it legitimately and those who don’t. In fact, Ted Cruz’s methods of scoring delegates is actually more comparable to some of Hitler’s tactics than Churchill or Trump’s methods of populism. At least Hitler started a party and kept to it while both Churchill and Trump changed parties. (Knowing history is a bummer.)

My friend asked why I supported Trump and I said, “whoa, cowboy. The election isn’t today. I have no vote until November. I support no one. I’m in a state of gathering information. Pondering.” So he asked me, “What is good about Donald Trump?”

I suggested that the first clue to that answer is that if you have to ask that question it might be that your personal prejudices are so high that you’re blind to the obvious strong points. I asked him, “Why do you think so many otherwise intelligent people like Dr. Ben Carson, Phyllis Schlafly, Geraldo Rivera, Rudy Gulliani, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Newt Gingrich, Lou Dobbs, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have good things to about Donald Trump? (Not that they’ve all endorsed him, but they do say many good things about him.) Why does his ex-wife who he admits he severely wronged, stand up for him so strongly and promote him as a presidential candidate?”

He thought about it. “Those aren’t stupid people. I think it’s his innate or perhaps developed sense of leadership in getting something done. He has gotten things done and in a government that’s in gridlock; in Washington D.C. where we’ve both worked and nothing works, our fellow citizens are sick to death of politicians who can’t get anything to work.”

I agreed. Despite Mitt Romney’s protestations about Trump being a phony, Trump has actually accomplished quite a lot. Just look at the heaps of criticism about all of the buildings with his name plastered on the top – Trump. He’s got an edifice naming complex for sure. But, they’re on buildings he’s built. When’s the last time you built a building. As a former general contractor, I have respect for anyone who even dabbles in building. It takes a considerable amount of coordinating leadership to pull together the subcontractors, inspectors, materials and testing to put even a small house together. Try doing it for a skyscraper in Manhattan. Trump has accomplished more in business than Mitt Romney, and Mitt has an impressive resume.

Like any business person, Trump has made mistakes – some whoppers in fact. So did Romney. Our country was founded on people who were unafraid to make whoppers. Big deal. Some of Trump’s businesses were either ugly, shady or awful. I have no interest in dealing in gambling or strip joints. For him it was just another business. Voters will have to weigh the evidence and compare those legal but unsavory businesses with the way Hillary Clinton conducted the seamy quid pro quo and crony capitalism of the Clinton Foundation. I suspect that will end up a wash with neither side getting clean.
My friend asked about Trump’s divorces. Yep, he’s had them. Of course Kasich had one and Trump had two. Not sure if we’re supposed to keep score. Some insist Donald’s penchant for marrying beautiful eastern European models is a disqualifying trait. I’d rather not get into the peccadillos of past presidents. It broke my heart when I found out Ike stepped out on Mamie Eisenhower, but then again, she was no pin up model so does that factor back into the equation or should we just stop this sort of questioning? Unless we bring up Marilyn and Jackie and JFK. Aww. I give! Monica beat them all and Hillary enabled.

In the end, we both decided if Trump were to be the Republican nominee, the best advice is to study up on him without all of the knee-jerk reactions and try to sift through his character and issues. Ignore his smoke screens and lack of political sophistication in giving well thought out political double speech…something we both agreed was at least refreshing.

We listed a few thinks we both like about Trump:
1.      He is a generalist. No, he doesn’t have well thought out policy answers. For those stultifying policy discussions we’d have to go to Hillary to bore us. Trump lays out vision. That’s what leaders and generals do. They hire colonels to create the deals, and lieutenants and sergeants to carry out the plan. And Trump does have his vision. Specifically he says he wants to:
a.      Stop illegal immigration.
b.      Promote proper immigration and streamline it.
c.      Eliminate huge trade imbalances.
d.      Make better trade deals
e.      Encourage our businesses to stay here.
f.       Have an incentive tax system to encourages our businesses to invest here and bring their money parked overseas back to the USA.
g.      Protect the 2nd Amendment.
h.      Protect the unborn except in the case of rape, incest or the life of the mother.
i.       Repeal Obamacare. We did wonder what Trump meant by his thoughts that he couldn’t let a poor person die in the streets because he had no insurance. Again, a generalist comment. His references to that have to do with putting it back to the states to figure out. He does seem to like Federalist solutions – let the States decide.
2.      He is learning and is starting to pivot to a less amateurish persona.
3.      He says he’s going to produce a list of conservative judges he would nominate to SCOTUS who will be strict constitutionalists. Smart move if he follows the list.
4.      His family. Anybody with an impressive family of five kids can’t be all bad. I believe someone once stated something about “by their fruits you’ll know them.”
5.      He has vigor and works tirelessly unlike Hillary and Obama.
6.      He doesn’t yet have a politician’s vocabulary and stuffy speech but, unfortunately, he’s likely to acquire it.
7.      We saw nothing racist or anti-woman about him. Let’s start with racist. Yes, he speaks ill of illegal Mexican immigrants, but, Mexico is a country, not a race. On Muslims he suggested a temporary halt until our documentation process could be verified and other generalizations but to the obvious point, Islam is a religion, not a race. So, where are the racism objections?
Now the anti-women charge. It’s obvious from his business dealings that he employs and promotes freely men and women of any and every race. He sees green first. At least so far as the evidence is concerned. True, he’s made terrible comments about a handicapped person and about Rosie O’Donnell and some other individual women. That makes him a jerk, not a racist, bigot or other “ists.” He seems to be an equal opportunity offender at times, and a charmer at others. Don’t know how he’ll change in the Oval Office. Could be a problem if he gives Angela Merkel a wedgie or tries to high five the Pope.
8.      We believe him when he says he abhors abortion now and has a pro-life conversion. We believe him as much as we do Romney in his change in abortion stances.
9.      He’s loyal and sticks by his people.  Cruz, Kasich, the media, Clinton, Sanders all said Trump should have fired his campaign manager for grabbing that female reporter but Trump stood by his guy and now the facts prove Trump right and the rest as reactionaries.
10.   He is or can be an SOB. But, as FDR said about George Patton, “yes, he’s an SOB but he’s our SOB and is going to kick the butt of their SOB.”


We’re not about to coronate him, not by half, but at least he’s not Satan and deserves a fair hearing before we string him up at the Convention. We mostly found his greatest positive is… he isn’t Hillary Clinton.

The Real Trouble With Trump

The trouble with Trump is not his bombast nor his name calling nor his choice of inflammatory topics. People get over that. Nor is it his policies. Currently, his critics who call him names about his desire to temporarily halt Muslims from coming to America until the US visa process becomes far less porous have no viable proposals to solve the wolves-among-the-lambs scenario we now face.

But, agree, disagree with those or whatever the next conflagration of thought is; it doesn’t matter. The trouble with Trump is his entertaining personality, his flamboyance that attracts people and his ability to articulate what is bothering so many Americans. With those qualities he could very well ride the White Horse into the White House.

So what is the problem? The White Horse. In times of trouble the electorate or the masses seek an end to the tribulations by rallying around the person riding the white horse, a symbol of dynamic victory. They decide that because of the person’s charisma, dynamic influence and staunch stances against the status quo, all problems will soon be solved when the emperor mounts the steps to the Senate and declares it is a new age.

In the rambling rhetoric of the man on the white horse people find great comfort – and I say man because with the exceptions of Boudicca of Britain, Rebecca of Judah and three or four others no one has heard much about, women do not ride white horses to victory although Joan of Arc tried and died. That’s because the rhetoric is so wide, so rambling that the masses can begin with the white horse leader’s language and then fill in the massive gaps with their own language. God said he created man in his own image. The masses create white horse leaders in the masses’ own image.

We saw it with Barack Obama. Vacuous promises of hope and change were voids filled in by the yearning masses.

Donald Trump is another Barack Obama. In fact, Obama created the vacuum for Trump to fill. And that’s the problem. When a leader comes to power by way of an excited electorate that has created a candidate in their own image, they are soon met by the reality that they’ve elected him president, not emperor. The proletariat cravings that got Obama’s electorate excited were the cravings for sweeping benefits for themselves and massive changes to the American political landscape. It didn’t happen because it couldn’t happen. Obama is president, not emperor, executive orders not withstanding.

Yet Trumpians expect that when the emperor stands on the Senate steps, the Senate will acquiesce to all he asks. Emperors don’t ask, they tell. But Senators, Congressmen, and bureaucrats just yawn at dictations and go about their business.

“Ah, but Alexander cut through the Gordian knot bureaucracy with one fell swoop of his sword!”, they say. True. Welcome to the world of non-sequiturs. Trump has no such sword, nor do we really want him to have it. That’s why we got rid of George III. Hence a written constitution limiting powers.

Trump has had only the powers of the free market, the will of bureaucrats opposing him, and the stubbornness of reality. All could bend to his strengths. He could buy off politicians and admits to openly donating to any political party if it could be swayed by him. As president, pay offs are still available in the form of pork barrel spending granted to a senator for his or her vote. Trump will use those freely. Bribes to foreign governments in the form of aide and professed alliances will be used. But when those alliances need Trump, the wheeler dealer may be off on another deal and will sell out to whoever is on the other end of his latest deal.

A president with no real deep seated convictions is prone to do such things. So is a president like Obama who has an ideological agenda… the metaphysical results are the same although the destiny of America can be changed by either.

Ronald Reagan was blessed with an agenda that was clear – stop communism. He believed it and as president could move voters to believe he meant what he said. He followed it up knowing his base was 100% behind this noble goal. Reagan tried the same tactics – cool persuasion, intelligent argument, persistent prodding – with Tip O’Neil and the Democratic congress to get tax cuts and spending cuts. He could only manage tax cuts and never reduced spending, just the rate of increase. Presidents are not emperors after all.

Should Trump become president, and as of this date that is clearly a distinct possibility with Hillary ready to implode with yet another revelation of corruption and no viable options from the left to oppose Trump, he will find the constitutional straight jacket he’ll wear to be none too comfortable – too confining. Then he’ll do what Jefferson did with the Louisiana Purchase – create powers heretofore unknown to the constitution or the presidency.

He will also willingly sell out his supporters because in business negotiations, of which Trump is a master, you know half a loaf is better than no loaf. So you compromise. This country was founded on compromise when John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, two staunch abolitionists, allowed objections to slavery to be omitted from the Declaration of Independence in return for the Carolina states’ support. 

These great Americans, Adams and Franklin, reasoned that as repugnant as slavery was, they could never get rid of it until they had a country. So they voted for American independence first, and then went to work on the abolition of slavery. Trump will find opportunities for his “making America great again” agenda but will find he’ll have to trade votes for this agenda and sell out on issues like abortion, family rights and other social issues to get the “great again” issues passed. The purists on the right who now support him will be apoplectic.

He will be tough with ISIS, China and Mexico. He’ll likely find himself in a trade war of paralleled proportions because China IS governed by a defacto emperor and the leader and his gang can do as they please, unrestrained by a constitution. Mexico will be buoyed by China and soon ally themselves with China against the USA. Trump will fight back by attacking ISIS – deflection and inference are always good negotiating tactics. 

Immigration will haunt him. He’ll want illegals to come in legally. They won’t until companies stop hiring them and getting companies to hire more expensive gringos who won’t do the dirty work will be a Gordian knot he can’t cut on day one. Building a wall will be easy compared to getting Congress to pass the funding for it. Bush wanted a wall. So did Clinton. But who would vote for funding? Congress is not housing stupid people as Trump claims. Key votes will need to be bribed and they’ll hold out for the best deal. They’ve been insulted by him and will make him pay for his insolence to the establishment.

Trump will go crazy and will try to be Reagan and go over the head of Congress. That won’t work because Congress can deflect responsibility through endless sub-committees until Trump busts the budget and doles out pork in record amounts. The real cost of the wall will be 10 times the brick and mortar required. And he will NOT have solved the source of the problem – fellow business leaders needing cheap labor.

With no stated ideological agenda except “Making America Great Again,” Trump will find homegrown allies tough to come by. They won’t know if they are on the In or the Out, even if they’re currently In.

Trump will discover that while Americans wail about “do nothing politicians” we actually prefer them to politicians like Obama who go around creating new laws, entitlements, rights and objectives.

Alas, the white horse will turn grey and the masses will turn against Trump as a turncoat, a phony who speaks loudly and wields a little stick. Trump is smart, and may learn to go against his instincts and start creating allies now instead of enemies. Don’t count on it. A warrior atop a white horse can only hear the roar of the crowds, not sound of the barbarians inside the gates.


PS. Where I leave doesn’t have a primary for some time so I have NO dog in this hunt and I will have none until I see who the candidates-left-standing are. Then, I’ll put aside what I really want and deal with the choices I have. Life is always “compared to what” and will use that standard. 

Who more than self their country loved

by Mark Stoddard

When I was chairman of Americas Freedom Festival Grand Parade, I turned away more than 70 entries from self-serving people wanting free advertising. I tried to emphasize to them that the 4th of July is a celebration of the sacrifice our founding fathers made to give us the chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They remind us of Americas promise that began with the sacrifice made by the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Fifty-six Americans of the Continental Congress stepped forward to sign the final document written by 33 year old Thomas Jefferson. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

They deeply believed in what they signed. It was not a lark, or a fun jab at the establishment, because THEY were the establishment in their communities. Twentyfive were lawyers or jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers or large plantation owners. One was a teacher, one a musician, and one a printer.

These were family men of means and education. When they signed the Declaration of Independence, they knew they had nothing financial to gain. In fact they knew that by signing such an inflammatory document, the British would brand them traitors and do everything to cut off the head of the revolution snake.

Knowing full well that the penalty for signing could be death if they were captured, they signed from conviction without compensation, with no thought of glory.

Their wives and family knew the risks too and proudly supported their husbands and fathers.

Soon the ledger of leadership began to be filled with notations from the price they paid. Five signers were captured by the British and brutally tortured as traitors. Nine fought in the War for Independence and died from wounds or from hardships they suffered. Two lost their sons in the Continental Army. Another two had sons captured.

At least a dozen of the fiftysix had their homes pillaged and burned.

In the face of the advancing British Army, the Continental Congress fled from Philadelphia to Baltimore on December 12, 1776. Its president, John Hancock, worried the flight would be a problem for his wife who had just given birth to a baby girl. Complications stemming from the escape to Baltimore cost the child her life. Hancock pressed on in the cause of liberty. He said his reason for signing the Declaration in such a large script? So King George III would not need glasses to read Hancocks signature. That signature assured Hancock of years of turmoil.

William Ellery signed at the risk of his fortune. In December 1776, during three days of British occupation of Newport, Rhode Island, Ellery's house was burned, and all his property destroyed.

After signing the Declaration, New Jersey State Supreme Court Justice Richard Stockton, rushed back to his estate near Princeton only to find his wife and children living like refugees with friends. He and his family had been betrayed by a Tory sympathizer. From another Loyalists tip, British troops pulled him from his bed one night, beat him and threw him in jail where he almost starved to death. When he was finally released, he went home to find his estate looted, possessions burned, and horses stolen. With his health in ruins from the terrible treatment in prison, he died before the war's end. His surviving family had to live the remainder of their lives off charity.

Wealthy planter and trader Carter Braxtons ships were captured by the British navy, yet he loaned a large sum of money to the American cause. The money was never paid back and Braxton was forced to sell all of his plantations and properties to pay his debts.
Hounded by the British, Scotsman turned American, Thomas MKean, moved his family almost constantly. He served in the Continental Congress without pay, and kept his family in hiding.

Vandals or soldiers or both looted the properties of George Clymer, Lyman Hall, Benjamin Harrison, Francis Hopkinson and Phillip Livingston. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Thomas Heyward, Jr., Edward Rutledge and Arthur Middleton, all of South Carolina, were captured by the British and kept a year in dungeons at the St. Augustine Prison.

At the Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. urged General George Washington to open fire on the headquarters of British General Cornwallis. The fact that Cornwallis was in Nelsons own home did not deter the patriot. Washington reluctantly shelled the home. Nelson later died bankrupt.

The British jailed Francis Lewiss wife for two months, destroyed his home, and his properties. The war so affected his wifes health that she died two years later.

"Honest John" Hart, a New Jersey farmer, was driven from his dying wife's bedside. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. Hart's fields and his grist mill were laid waste. For more than a year he eluded capture by hiding in nearby forests. He never knew where his bed would be and often slept in caves. When he finally returned home, his wife had died, his children disappeared, and his farm and stock were completely destroyed. Hart himself died in 1779 without seeing his family again.

These were not wild-eyed emotional radicals, nor reactionaries, nor self-engrandizers. They were patriots deliberate in their beliefs of freedom, putting principle above personal prosperity.

Klara Szita and the Trial of a Soul

by Mark Stoddard

This is the true life of a real face of a Hungarian teacher educated in Russia coming to grips with the past and a brave new world. Her story is one of millions everywhere in the former countries of the Warsaw Pact.

Klara Szita could not understand her father. For that matter understanding other Hungarian fathers was as difficult. They always seemed sullen and distracted. Life was miserable to them. It showed in their countenance. Whenever her own father looked at her he would seem to become more sullen and removed. She always felt she was disappointing her father, causing him his sadness.

For more than 15 years the USSR had been more dominant than their own unique and colorful Hungarian culture. Sure, they had heard rumors about Soviet military people doing something wrong in the mid 50's, but didn't soldiers everywhere cause a few problems?

Russian was now their second language. Never did one study any other foreign language. To speak the language of the proletariat was an honor. Klara quickly found she enjoyed studying language although she didn't want to study Russian.

Her mother told her that learning Russian would give her the key to travel and economic opportunity. Her father said little and in fact shrunk back when the conversation turned to Russia. He said he had nothing to say.

When she mastered Russian, she looked for another linguistic challenge. Her mother decided English would serve her well. For the first time, Klara's father's eyes lit up and he quietly, but with a smile, agreed.

The light quickly dimmed, however, when word came back that her application to learn English in high school had been turned down flat. The word never came in a letter, but by verbal innuendo. Came the word that neither she nor her family were Communist Party members and should not expect privileges. Besides, there was still information that revolution had been part of her heritage. She could not be trusted.

At age 21, because of her great abilities with language, she was part of a select group that got to travel to Leningrad, Russia where they could study under Russian professors. What a chance to not only study the lexicon of Russia, but the literature as well in its original language. The literature of Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Pushkin, Chekhov, and others. Klara could barely contain her enthusiasm. Her father said nothing. In the winter of 1982 she boarded a plane for her first trip to the Soviet Union. Her first trip anywhere.

They were often told that the USSR was the epitome of civilization and it was the sworn aim of all nations, particularly the crumbling USA to emulate that great giant of culture, progress, humanity and enlightenment. They were told by their teachers that the USSR was the most beautiful country on earth and by far the richest. How her friends envied her!

For four hours after arriving at her dormitory in Leningrad, neither Klara nor her fellow Hungarians spoke. They could not. They were in shock.

Leningrad was dilapidated, dirty, and sullen. All around were lines of people waiting in the cold to enter shops. Not just a few people, but lines that stretched around the block. Lines everywhere.

The snow outside seemed warmer than their dorms, and cleaner too. Finally, the cold made them stir to get things in order. When they asked about hot water, heat, brooms and such, they were quickly told that Hungarians were always the biggest complainers. They had no socialist loyalty. Hungarians could not see the good in something if it was not Hungarian.

The next day matters definitely improved. She met their teacher. From the moment they met, the Hungarians fell in love with her warmth and humanity. She was like so many Russians. From a distance they are cold and aloof, but when met face to face are warm and giving.

Olga welcomed them and listened to their stories of back home in Hungary and why they had come. Olga made them nearly forget the dismal lot of Leningrad; until the next day when they received their course outlines. The history of the Communist Party. The history of Lenin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev. The history of Soviet literature; Gorki and the lot. Pasternak and Solzenitzan were not included.

But what about Tolstoy, Pushkin and Chekhov?The teacher avoided the questions until she could resist their pleadings no longer. Without answering a single question she dismissed the class and told them to prepare their lessons for the next day.

Later that night Olga came to their dormitory. As she spoke, she choked up a little and tears came to her eyes.

"You are young. You see no boundaries and no dangers. That is good. So I must say something that you must never repeat. Will you promise me?" They did.

"I have been told if I cannot take care of you and teach you what I have been told, then I will be released and sent north. "

One brave student ventured the obvious question, "Siberia?"

"Yes. It is serious. Will you please go against your good desires and bear with me?" They nodded sadly.

For one year they studied in Russian, but never read a word of Pushkin.  Or Tolstoy.   No Chekhov. Not officially.

Her new Russian friends snuck in books of Pushkin, the writer all Russians adore.   Under blankets they read the tales late at night.

After one year of being in Leningrad, Klara Szita returned home to her father and mother in Budapest, Hungary. She was now year older and a decade wiser. She had learned one of the prime arts of communism. "I learned how to lie to stay alive. "

But lying to stay alive would mean a change of life. She could lie on some things, but lie to children? In a classroom?!She could not. Upon her return, she told the authorities she no longer wanted to teach children. She lied about the reasons. Instead, she became a guide to the many Russian tourists for three years.

At age 25, in 1985, life had become settled and peaceful. No turmoil and strife.   She guided, she got paid, she lived. She took up studying German and English on her own. Occasionally she met an Englishman or a German, and practiced on them.

Then came the chance to go to the backward nation of Austria, to study some German and perhaps some English. She and other guides were to be translators for some Russians who were cooperating with the Hungarians on a project. The project called for some work in Austria and they needed translators.

Klara was pleased to do some different work, but not terribly pleased to be going to her first capitalist country. She had been told they were rude, had a bad economy and it was a bad place. But, it was a change. And she was requested. So she went.

A few hours drive from Budapest was the border. The translators, all in their late 20s or early 30s, laughed and joked, even at the serious border crossing. Guards with machine guns and dour expressions were routine to them.

After the usual questions, grilling, passport controls, visa authentications, and making sure all papers were in order, they decided to walk into Austria to wait for the bus. Patrol dogs sniffed the luggage area for stowaways and soldiers inspected the underneath portion of the bus.

 Klara was glad to leave the scene, even if it were to cross into the dismal country of Austria.   "Just three feet into Austria, we stopped. We collapsed to the ground. We saw paradise.

 "They had to be helped up. On the bus they cried. None of them spoke to each other the rest of the trip. They could not find the words.

"In a matter of a few seconds we realized how completely our lives were based on lies. We wanted to return to Hungary immediately and do suicide. Our lives were over. "
But they could not return. They had learned to be tough in Russia, and now they counted on that toughness and coat of lies to get them through.

For three days they worked harder than ever, anything to rid their minds of the plaguing conundrum.  But they had to work harder still when returning home not to openly criticize their communist government. For four years their silence prevailed. In those years the despair took over. They could see no end to communism's ruinous appetite for control.
Life did go on. But not with joy.

One day her parents asked her when she would have children. She turned to her father sternly and told him, "Never. I have always been a disappointment to you. I don't want to have a relationship with a child. You have always been so cold to me that I know you've never liked me. I could not do that to my child. "

Her father started to speak, then bitterly reconsidered and said nothing. He went to his easy chair, turned on the television and began smoking; something he had always done whenever such a subject was brought up.

And so it went until 1989. In an explosion of freedom that the world has never seen, Hungary declared their era of communism dead. Suddenly Klara and her friends found out they were not the only ones hiding their thoughts.   One would mention something small that had bothered them, testing the waters.   Then others chipped in a little, emboldening each of them to say more. Soon they talked about all the forbidden things.

"In that moment I felt freedom for the first time. I freely spoke of my experiences in Russia and Austria.  About the lies, the criminal acts, the suppression. To my surprise others spoke equally free about similar thoughts. Together, we had a new beginning. "
She returned home rejoicing. She then went to her parents' home to hug them both. But her father hugged her first. He wept openly. For the first time in her recollection, he was alive and animated. She was taken aback.

"Oh my darling Klara.  Forgive me. Forgive. I could say nothing until now."

"Why not?" was all Klara could manage. Such emotional whiplash left her dazed.
 
"I was there in Heros Square in 1956. I was young like you. Full of dreams. We had a
whole new world of glorious promise.  All the students gathered and talked and planned for a better life with freedom. In Heros Square we cheered the future.

"Within an hour the Soviet tanks came. They killed my friends. I escaped at first only to be captured and tortured. After that, they knew me. If I said a word, you would have died, too. I could say nothing.  Forgive me. "

Klara Szita received many freedoms that day.   Today she will tell you, "Now we have freedom, but some confusion of the mind on what to do. But, we see you Americans with your smiles and eyes of freedom. We see strong people with freedom AND independence of mind and it gives us hope. We will succeed like you. "

Our best to you, Klara.

To the family of Ernie Peschau

by Mark Stoddard

In 1998 on Memorial Day, I stood in the rain at the Ofunu railroad station just outside of Yokohama in Japan.  I’d always heard how Japanese were polite and many spoke English, but it’s often unwise to rely upon conventional wisdom.  While they were polite, few spoke English, and my Japanese was non-existent.

So I stood in the rain watching the Japanese world go by.  Then I spotted a middle age man with a child.  I asked him, by chance, if he spoke English and he said he did a little.  I asked him if he knew where the World War II prison camp had been.  He said he did not and was surprised to hear that there might have been one here.  He’d been raised in Ofunu and the subject had never come up. He also couldn’t imagine such a thing being so near Tokyo.  I assured him it was and he apologized for not knowing.  I thanked him and went about trying to find someone in their sixties who might have lived here as a child during the war.

A little while later as I was asking more people if they spoke English, the man came running up, out of breath. He told me his wife had just arrived to pick him and his daughter up, and she thought she had heard of it.  He invited me to come with them and find the spot.

His wife said her English name was Lucy and his was Guy.  She was charming and spoke a little better English than he did.  She asked if I knew details about the camp.  I could also tell from Lucy’s manner and questions, she really wanted to know why I would want to find a prisoner of war camp.

I explained that my father had been a prisoner in Ofunu during World War II.  They both were very quiet and apologized for his suffering.  If they could have disappeared in that moment, they would have.  I told them quickly that my father loved the Japanese people.

They were more shocked.  Yes, I explained, he understood the difference between the political events and the people.  It was the guards who were brutal.  I told them of the days by the wire fence of the camp where the local people had come up to bow to them and offer greetings.  Despite their homes being fire bombed nightly by the B-25s, they went about their business the next day and part of that business was being hospitable to the American POW’s.

My father related many stories of kindness as well as stories of shock of how the guards often ran outside of the fence and beat the villagers for their kindness.  Still, they returned.
That made Guy and Lucy smile and say that during war much could not be understood.

I then took out my father’s book and read some of the descriptions of the area around the camp.  Lucy then said she knew exactly where the camp had been and drove to the spot.
Just as my father had described, a hill suddenly rose up, covered with a dense forest.  In the middle was a Buddhist temple, the same one my father had seen from his camp.

I told Lucy and Guy that I had two reasons for being there.  The first, to see the spot where my father had lived for 15 months and the second, to find the grave of Ernie Peschau, my father’s navigator on his B-24 that had been shot down over Saipan while flying cover for a crippled plane.

Ernie had had serious internal injuries, but somehow managed to survive the days in the raft after the crash landing, the days of torture in Saipan, the flight to Tokyo and the torture and starvation in the Ofunu camp.  One day it was all too much and he died.

The Japanese by custom cremated his body, but my father wanted him to have a proper burial.  As commanding officer it was his duty to see to the service.  So he bribed the guards to take him to the Buddhist shrine where they might have some burial area.  A young Japanese girl met them and said she had a sacred spot up the hill.  They wound their way through the thick forest to a little burial spot.  There they spoke their words and buried the remains of Ernest T. Peschau, a brave fellow who died for his county.

Dad said he thanked the young lady and wanted to give her a gift, although he had nothing much to give.  He offered her some items, but she refused and said it was but her duty to care for them.

So I was there some 52 years later to find the grave that the Peschaus had never found.
Lucy went inside to see if someone there knew of a grave site on a hill.  She returned with an older gentleman and an older lady, both dressed in traditional Japanese clothing.  They bowed and said they remembered the prison camp and offered their apologies.  I assured them none were needed.  The gentleman said he remembered a burial spot but was too old to hike the hill.  The quiet old lady said she would take us there.

We wove our way through the formal gardens into the forest and up the hill.  Soon we arrived at the little clearing where some stone markers stood and about twenty five foot high wooden stakes leaned up against trees.  Each stake was about three inches wide and ornately carved at the top with Japanese characters gracing the face of the stake.
She asked the name of the soldier and I told her.  One by one we read the stakes.  Finally, they read, Ernest T. Peschau.  I’d found his grave.

The old lady said his name over and over.  In broken English she asked, “Was your father named, Loren?”  Shocked, I said it was.

She smiled.  “I remember him. He was most kind and gentle.  He offered me gifts for helping him bury this young man.”  It was the young lady.  She smiled, “How is your father?”

“Quite well,” I said.

On this Memorial Day as I write, I remember Ernest T. Peschau, my father, the lady of the Buddhist Temple and the others who gave of themselves for others.  Especially to the families of those who died for our blessings of liberty, I remember you.