[ NOTE: Dan Ellsberg, born in April 1931, started out as a laser-bright Harvard grad, a Marine, and was a Pentagon whiz kid under Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara, when the Vietnam War heated up.
He rose to fame when his conscience moved him to copy and release a secret report, called the Pentagon Papers, which showed that the government had been lying about the war, and its prospects, for years. The Nixon administration wanted to jail him forever; but in a story marked by his courage and a long line of federal screwups and crimes that mixed Kafka with the Keytone Kops, the charges were thrown out.
Ellsberg has never since stopped campaigning against nuclear weapons and wars. But if he beat the federal rap, he couldn’t beat the clock. This week he sent out letter about that, joining Jimmy Carter on a list of generational heroes in their closing days. ( My putting them side by side might make Jimmy, or both, uncomfortable; but I’ll stand by it, and them.)]
From Daniel Ellsberg, originally in Twitter:
Dear friends and supporters,
I have difficult news to impart. On February 17, without much warning, was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer on the basis of a CT scan and an MRI. (As is usual with pancreatic cancer–which has no early symptoms–it was found while looking for something else, relatively minor). I’m sorry to report to you that my doctors have given me three to six months to live. Of course, they emphasize that everyone’s case is individual; it might be more, or less.
And he said this very calmly. I hadn’t known that he was about to be sentenced for draft resistance. It hit me as a total surprise and shock, because I heard his words in the midst of actually feeling proud of my country listening to him. And then I heard he was going to prison. It wasn’t what he said exactly that changed my worldview. It was the example he was setting with his life. How his words in general showed that he was a stellar American, and that he was going to jail as a very deliberate choice—because he thought it was the right thing to do.
There was no question in my mind that my government was involved in an unjust war that was going to continue and get larger. Thousands of young men were dying each year. I left the auditorium and found a deserted men’s room. I sat on the floor and cried for over an hour, just sobbing. The only time in my life I’ve reacted to something like that.
Decades later, reflecting on Kehler’s decision, Ellsberg said:
Randy Kehler never thought his going to prison would end the war. If I hadn’t met Randy Kehler it wouldn’t have occurred to me to copy [the Pentagon Papers]. His actions spoke to me as no mere words would have done. He put the right question in my mind at the right time.
In a 2002 memoir, Ellsberg wrote about the Vietnam War, stating that:
It was no more a “civil war” after 1955 or 1960 than it had been during the U.S.-supported French attempt at colonial reconquest. A war in which one side was entirely equipped and paid by a foreign power – which dictated the nature of the local regime in its own interest – was not a civil war. To say that we had “interfered” in what is “really a civil war,” as most American academic writers and even liberal critics of the war do to this day, simply screened a more painful reality and was as much a myth as the earlier official one of “aggression from the North.” In terms of the UN Charter and of our own avowed ideals, it was a war of foreign aggression, American aggression.
Ellsberg Letter, Cont.: I have chosen not to do chemotherapy (which offers no promise) and I have assurance of great hospice care when needed. Please know: right now, I am not in any physical pain, and in fact, after my hip replacement surgery in late 2021, I feel better physically than I have in years! Moreover, my cardiologist has given me license to abandon my salt-free diet of the last six years. This has improved my quality of life dramatically: the pleasure of eating my former favorite foods! And my energy level is high.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve done several interviews and webinars on Ukraine, nuclear weapons, and first amendment issues, and I have more scheduled.
As I just told my son Robert: he’s long known (as my editor) that I work better under a deadline. It turns out that I live better under a deadline!
I feel lucky and grateful that l’ve had a wonderful life far beyond the proverbial three-score years and ten. ( I’II be ninety-two on April 7th.) I feel the very same way about having a few months more to enjoy life with my wife and family, and in which to continue to pursue the urgent goal of working with others to avert nuclear war in Ukraine or Taiwan (or anywhere else).
When I copied the Pentagon Papers in 1969, 1 had every reason to think I would be spending the rest of my life behind bars. It was a fate I would gladly have accepted if it meant hastening the end of the Vietnam War, unlikely as that seemed (and was).
Yet in the end, that action-in ways I could not have foreseen, due to Nixon’s illegal responses- did have an impact on shortening the war. In addition, thanks to Nixon’s crimes, I was spared the imprisonment I expected, and I was able to spend the last fifty years with Patricia and my family, and with you, my friends.
What’s more, I was able to devote those years to doing everything I could think of to alert the world to the perils of nuclear war and wrongful interventions: lobbying, lecturing, writing and joining with others in acts of protest and non-violent resistance efforts.
As I write, “modernization” of nuclear weapons is ongoing in all nine states that possess them (the US most of all). Russia is making monstrous threats to initiate nuclear war to maintain its control over Crimea and the Donbas–like the dozens of equally illegitimate first-use threats that the US government has made in the past to maintain its military presence in South Korea, Taiwan, South Vietnam, and (with the complicity of every member state then in NATO ) West Berlin. The current risk of nuclear war, over Ukraine, is as great as the world has ever seen.
China and India are alone in declaring no first use policies. Leadership in the US, Russia, other nuclear weapons states, NATO, and other US allies have yet to recognize that such threats of initiating nuclear war — let alone the plans, deployments, and exercises meant to make them credible and more ready to be carried out — are and always have been immoral and insane: under any circumstances, for any “reasons,” by anyone or anywhere.
It is long past time–but not too late!–for the world’s publics at last to challenge and resist the willed moral blindness of their past and current leaders. I will continue, as long as I’m able, to help these efforts. There’s tons more to say about Ukraine and nuclear policy, of course, and you’ll be hearing from me as long as I’m here.
As I look back on the last sixty years of my life, I think there is no greater cause to which I could have dedicated my efforts. For the last forty years we have known that nuclear war between the US and Russia would mean nuclear winter:
more than a hundred million tons of smoke and soot from firestorms in cities set ablaze by either side, striking either first or second, would be lofted into the stratosphere where it would not rain out and would envelope the globe within days. That pall would block up to 70% of sunlight for years, destroying all harvests worldwide and causing death by starvation for most of the humans and other vertebrates on earth.
So far as I can find out, this scientific near-consensus has had virtually no effect on the Pentagon’s nuclear war plans or US/NATO (or Russian) nuclear threats. (In a like case of disastrous willful denial by many officials, corporations, and other Americans, scientists have known for over three decades that the catastrophic climate change now underway–mainly but not only from burning fossil fuels–is fully comparable to US-Russian nuclear war as another existential risk.)
I’m happy to know that millions of people–including all those friends and comrades to whom I address this message–have the wisdom, dedication, and moral courage to carry on with these causes, and to work unceasingly for the survival of our planet and its creatures.
I’m enormously grateful to have had the privilege of knowing and working with such people, past and present. That’s among the most treasured aspects of my very privileged and very lucky life. I want to thank you all for the love and support you have given me in so many ways. Your dedication, courage, and determination to act have inspired and sustained my own efforts.
My wish for you is that at the end of your days you will feel as much joy and gratitude as I do now.
[Blogger’s P S: As late as 2021, Ellsberg wa s still up to his whistleblower mischief. I wonder if the plans he leaked then, about ultra-secret Pentagon plans for a pre-emptive nuclear attack on China, had anything to do with the secret photo reconnaissance missions my late Air Force pilot father was called on to fly in those same years, blogged about here. take a look, see what you think:
On May 22, 2021, during the Biden administration, The New York Times reported Ellsberg had released classified documents revealing the Pentagon in 1958 drew up plans to launch a nuclear attack on China amid tensions over the Taiwan Strait.
According to the documents, US military leaders supported a first-use nuclear strike even though they believed China’s ally, the Soviet Union, would retaliate and millions of people would perish. Ellsberg told The New York Times he copied the classified documents about the Taiwan Strait crisis fifty years earlier when he copied the Pentagon Papers, but chose not to release the documents then.
Instead, Ellsberg released the documents in the Spring of 2021 because he said he was concerned about mounting tensions between the U.S. and China over the fate of Taiwan. He assumed the Pentagon was involved again in contingency planning for a nuclear strike on China should a military conflict with conventional weapons fail to deliver a decisive victory. “I do not believe the participants were more stupid or thoughtless than those in between or in the current cabinet,” said Ellsberg, who urged President Biden, Congress and the public to take notice.
In releasing the classified documents, Ellsberg offered himself as a defendant in a test case challenging the Justice Department’s use of the Espionage Act of 1917 to punish whistleblowers. Ellsberg noted the Act applies to everyone, not just spies, and prohibits a defendant from explaining the reasons for revealing classified information in the public interest.
If you ever want to rile up a Friends meeting, here’s a simple recipe: Leave them a lot of money in your will, but with no instructions about what to do with it.
It’s a sure thing: the meeting will spend years haggling over what to do with all that worldly wealth.
In the mid-1970s, a fellow named Charlie Pentler did just that to Palo Alto Meeting in California. I don’t recall how much his estate finally came to; but it was enough, at least, to build a new meeting house, which was what they finally decided to do with most of it, after tying themselves up in knots for several years.
That whole story would probably yield the plot of an absurdist comedy of Quaker manners, if there was a Friendly cable channel to show it on. But before all the ruckus started, the Meeting decided to use a bit of the loose cash in one of Charlie Pentler’s accounts for a different purpose: to make some small grants to local folks for Friendly projects of one sort or another.
Being nearby when this news came, I hied myself to the front of the line, with my cap in one hand and an idea for writing some Quaker stories in the other.
The meeting gave me $1200, and the immediate result was two Quaker short stories, my first. which I labored over for weeks, hidden away on a farm near York, Pennsylvania.
But in a way, almost half a century later, a few dozen more stories are also the ultimate results of their generosity. That’s because the Quaker story bug, once loose in my veins, wouldn’t go away. For many years, like a recurrent fever, it kicked up ideas from my subsconscious, usually when I was least expecting them, and I’ve done my best to capture them on paper before they slipped back into the mist.
Most of these were first written to be read aloud, the earliest to my own children. Some years later, when my kids were older, they were read to the campers at Friends Music Camp, held for many years on the historic campus of the Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, where I visited for this purpose for more than thirty years.
It started by accident: I visited Olney school one summer with son Asa, just to bask in the locale’s old-time Quaker atmosphere, and met the camp director, Peg Champney of Yellow Springs, Ohio Friends Meeting. I was low on cash and asked what I could trade for a weekend’s board for us.
“What have you got?” Peg asked.
I hemmed and hawed, then: “Um—I have some stories I could read.”
I was in luck. The evening program for the next day had just fallen through. So that evening, campers clustered around me in the main dorm lounge, and I read my stories.
They liked them. Looked forward to more. So one summer visit led to — thirty others. For ninety minutes in each of those years, sitting on a plain camp chair as dusk fell, surrounded by rapt youths, I felt like a famous writer.
The stories aren’t only for children, or Quakers.
I’ll post two of them: one below, the other tomorrow. Read them for yourself, and make your own judgment as to whether Palo Alto Meeting, and the shade of Charlie Pentler, got their money’s worth.
A postscript: some stories feature Quaker ghosts. They too started out to be fiction. The first was told spontaneously in the summer of 1987, during a visit to the historic Friends meetinghouse in Mount Pleasant, Ohio.
My two younger children, Guli and Asa, wanted to know why we had stopped there; and the explanation, to my surprise, came out as a story, about how a Quaker quarrel there in 1828 turned into a riot (it really did) and how ghosts linger with its memory, and can be heard there, still quarreling, on warm summer afternoons.
As the story was being told, Asa, at least, was quite sure he could hear the ghosts when he pressed an ear against the locked door of the meeting house. Asa’s hearing is very good; and ever since then, I haven’t been entirely sure whether the story, and some others, were as fictional as I thought.
His Eye Is On the Sparrow
[Note: This story is essentially true; it happened in summer 1961. I was 19, between freshman & sophomore years in college. The camp was in the Hudson Valley of New York]
It was Marcy Siegel who first realized that a killer was about to strike.
“No!” she shrieked. “Don’t”
But it was too late. The killer squeezed the trigger, squeezed it smoothly, silently, remorselessly. The rifle popped loudly, and the sound bounced back from the low hill in front of them.
The victim jerked and fell to the ground.
Then Marcy Siegel screamed, and so did the others.
Camp Pontiac was not much different from dozens of other such places: A long rambling row of cabins spread out along the shore of a cool blue lake. Behind them were softball fields, basketball courts, and other athletic equipment. A big lodge divided the boys’ cabins on the east from the girls’ on the west. In the big lodge we ate, heard announcements, and griped about the food.
I didn’t gripe about the food, though, at least not so the Inters could hear. “Inters” was short for Intermediates, which meant age 11 or so.
I couldn’t let them hear me gripe because I was one of their counselors. It was up to me to set an example.
Many of my kids could use a good example too; Pontiac was an expensive camp, where most campers arrived hauling huge trunks crammed with stacks of brand new shirts and shorts and socks, twice as many as they’d ever need. Fortunately this was 1961, or there would have been cell phones and tablets too. Instead, when Visiting Day came a few weeks into the season, parents and other relatives brought or sent each of my kids bags and bags of candy, more than a single child could be expected to consume in a week.
In hopes of controlling the sugar craziness, we told them to eat as much as they could by bedtime that night, and then confiscated the rest. But there wasn’t much left by then, because what they couldn’t eat, they ended up throwing at each other, or us. For the rest of the season there were brown splotches on our cabin porch where M&Ms were ground into the wood floor.
That had been the low point; mostly the kids were bright and interesting, even if they wore us out. Besides, several of them had an air of underlying sadness that all the candy and new clothes couldn’t quite conceal: I called them the orphans.
They weren’t officially orphans, of course, but they might as well have been: they were shipped off to boarding schools for nine months of the year, and then trans-shipped off to camp for the summer. Their parents were evidently otherwise engaged, and had the money to keep the kids at a comfortable distance. I admit I cut the orphans a little extra slack sometimes; maybe I’m just a sucker, but it felt like they needed it.
Days at Camp Pontiac had a regular round of activities, swims, and assemblies. A kind of focal point came every weekday after rest period. That was when we gathered in front of Herbie the Head Counselor’s cabin for mail call and any last-minute afternoon announcements.
Herbie was big, blustery, sun-blond, and not really very athletic. But he was a longtime Camp Pontiac staffer, who knew what was what, and he was always ready to set us straight. He’d burst dramatically out of his cabin,blow a whistle hanging around his neck on a nylon cord, make a joke or two, and pass out the mail. Then he’d collect postcards the kids were constantly encouraged to write to their parents, at least weekly. The camp provided the postcards, and Herbie dropped them ceremoniously through a slot into a big locked wooden box attached to the front of his cabin.
“Okay!” he’d shout when this ritual was completed. “Let’s get out there and have a great time!” With one more blast of the whistle, he’d send us scampering to the afternoon’s activities.
There were a lot of options at Camp Pontiac; there had to be, for as much as they charged. This variety was why I was there at all: in the winter, when checking the Summer Job Directory at college, the counselors’ lists in the camp section were a series of painful reminders of just how un-athletic I was:
Could I swim? A little, but not enough to teach it or lifeguard; as for hitting a baseball or shooting a basket, forget about it. And tennis? Don’t be silly. Volleyball, just barely.
Page after page, the activities lists at camp after camp were nearly identical. I was about to give up on getting away from my college in Colorado for the summer when, near the end of the section, Camp Pontiac appeared. Its list was longer than most, and even included horseback riding. Not that I could ride a horse either; but it gave me hope.
Then, like a gift from heaven, there it was–something I could actually do, and maybe even teach: riflery.
It’s true. When I was about twelve and living in rural California, my father bought me a single-shot .22 rifle. We never went hunting, but several times I took it out behind our house, facing an empty open field, and used up a box of shells plunking away at tin cans and bottles. I always hoped a bird or a rabbit would stray into my line of fire, but none ever did.
Two years later, a high school youth group offered target shooting lessons, and I jumped at the chance. I liked shooting; what 1950s American kid wouldn’t? I enjoyed the classes, too: (This was Back in the Day when the NRA was mainly about safety— no, really.) The instructors were sticklers about safety rules. But unlike a lot of rules in my world, theirs made perfect sense. They taught us to listen to the instructor’s commands, and to move together in sequence:
Move up to the firing line.
Pick up your rifle.
Load and lock.
Ready on the Left?
Ready on the Right?
Ready on the firing line. Commence firing!
Cease firing. Rifles down.
Move backfrom the firing line.
We followed these rules because they kept us safe, and focused on the real objective, which was blowing little holes in the black bullseyes of the targets at the other end of the range.
Besides appreciating the discipline, I also liked the classes because in shooting, bigger didn’t mean better; what counted was control, concentration, aim, a steady trigger finger. A skinny kid like me could be a better shot than some burly, swaggering jock. We even had girls in the class, and some were better shots than most of the guys.
Besides, the results suggested I had a knack for it. My shooting scores were decent, and with practice got better. I was picked for the rifle team, earned a Sharpshooter’s medal, then added several bars to it. Our team won a few matches, and lost some, but in all I carried my weight. I hadn’t ever done that in a team sport before.
But then it ended: my family moved, and the new place didn’t have a rifle range available to teenagers, and that was that for my shooting career. Or it was until that day I sat reading through the Summer Job Directory at college.
My spirits lifted: Riflery was a skill I could legitimately offer Camp Pontiac. And it wasn’t that common; lots of people could hit a baseball; but how many could hit a bullseye? This, I thought, just might be my ticket back East, to New York, which I’d never seen before.
And so it was. One sunny morning in mid-June I was on a train chugging up the Hudson Valley from Manhattan. A few hours later, in my brand new Camp Pontiac tee shirt, I inspected the rifle range.
It was small, only six target stands, and backed up against the slope of a wooded hill, with nothing behind it for many acres. It looked good: safe, cozy and familiar. This I could handle.
I asked Herbie if I could try out the range; the campers weren’t due til tomorrow. He wasn’t too keen on the idea, but let me take a few potshots. I put two bullets through the bull’s eye, several more close to it, and was getting ready for my last shots when I noticed a fluttering in the trees halfway up the hill.
Lifting my eye from the rifle sight I saw birds flitting through the branches, seemingly unconcerned about the slugs kicking up dirt a few feet below them.
Come on, tweeties, I whispered urgently to them. Come on down here. Let me find out if I’m really still a sharpshooter. Come to papa. But they didn’t.
Everything went well that summer until the morning the killer appeared. Several times a week I met groups of campers at the range, showed them what to do, explained the importance of following instructions, gave out ammunition, and barked the commands:
”Campers ready! Move up to the firing line; pick up your rifle; load and lock. Ready on the left? Ready on the Right? Ready on the firing line, commence firing!”
I called out these orders from a spot behind the line, where I could see everybody and the targets beyond, to make sure every rifle was pointed in the right direction at all times. There weren’t going to be any accidents on my watch; the camp couldn’t afford it, and neither could I.
And it was going fine. In fact, the whole summer was going great. Camp, I soon discovered, was not just a matter of shepherding kids around. Over on the girls’ side, there were many pretty college age counselors, and the big lodge had a canteen where we could meet them after our boys were asleep. That year too, the Twist was the big dance, and I discovered to my surprise that I could actually do it.
So I was a popular guy, with kids when the sun was up, and with various female counselors after dark and on our precious days off. This, I concluded, was living.
That’s how it was the morning Marcy Siegel and her twelve year-old colleagues showed up, giggling and pigtailed. They were a little nervous about this business with guns, but eager too.
My confident tone was reassuring as I explained that a rifle is not a gun, that safety was primary, and how following my commands in unison would keep us all safe. They were wide-eyed, somber-faced and obedient when I said we were ready.
The first round of shooting went off without a hitch, though few of the girls could, as shooters say, hit the broad side of a barn. When we took a break I spoke encouragingly, gave them a few pointers, and said we’d do a second round so they could try to raise their scores. This time they were eager.
”Group One,” I shouted, “Move up to the firing line!”
Six subteens plopped down in their stalls.
”Pick up your rifle!”They obeyed.
“Load and lock!”There was a clicking and snapping of metal.
I started to say, “Ready on the Left!”But just then I glanced out toward the target stands, and the words stuck in my throat.
A bird, a sparrow, had flown down from the trees above and was perched, big as life at about four inches long, on the third target stand. Its little head moved in quick jerks. One tiny claw flicked up to scratch its squat neck in a blurry rhythm.
My mouth went dry. I had wanted to see something like this, not just all summer—no, for years, ever since I stood knocking tin cans off a fence post in California. And now, here it was.
My fingers tingled. I had, I figured, about ten seconds to decide what to do, if I was going to do anything, about this. I took a couple of deep breaths, and then spoke:
“Rifles down. Yes, down!” Heads turned toward me, faces quizzical, but my stern voice brooked no questions or challenge. “Move away from the firing line!” They scrambled nervously back in my direction.
As soon as they were even with me I said, “Wait here.”
In a second, I had flopped into position in the third stall, and was aiming down the loaded rifle sight, over the shiny dark barrel. That was when Marcy Siegel realized what was about to happen, and screamed.
I don’t think any bullseye ever felt better than that one shot. When the rifle made its single pop, the bird leaped off the target stand, then swerved right into the ground. I dropped the rifle and trotted out to the stands. There it was, limp and still, with a spot of blood bright on the tiny dark grey feathers where an eye had been. I walked back to the stalls, practically crowing about my shooting.
In fact, I was so full of pride at my kill that it took a few seconds to realize I was now surrounded by twelve near-hysterical girls.
To them, I was not a good shot; I was a killer, a cold-blooded, brutal murderer.
Really, they were so cute when they were angry. I patiently explained about how common such birds were, and how predators killed them by the dozens, and that actually I was no different than one of those sparrow hawks we saw circling overhead every day. No big deal; there were plenty more birds where that one came from, and anyway, didn’t they see what a good—no, what a great shot it was?
They weren’t buying it. My rationalizations about life and death in the wild cut no ice; my bragging about the fine shot did not impress. Marcy and a couple others started to cry.
I could see it was time to backpedal. I apologized for upsetting them, assured them that the bird did not suffer, and calmed them down as best I could. When it seemed that order had been restored, we finished up the second round and I sent them back to their counselors. They seemed back to normal as they went.
Once they were gone, I walked back up and took another look at my prey. No, I thought, they didn’t understand; they were too young. This really was the best shot I’d ever made. But probably it would be wiser, I figured, not to mention it to the other counselors.
This policy lasted exactly two days. Then, after mail call, when Herbie blew the whistle to send us off for the afternoon’s softball tournament, he called out to me to stay behind, and beckoned me to follow him into his cabin. I had never been inside it before; it was unofficially reserved for the senior counselors.
As soon as the door was closed behind us, he rounded on me, fury in his face: “What the HELL were you doing on the rifle range the other day?” he demanded.
Busted. Looking mostly at the floor, I explained what had happened. “I don’t know why I did it,” I concluded sheepishly. “But a bird never came down on the range before. It was probably the only chance I was going to have, and I guess I couldn’t pass it up.”
Herbie softened a bit as he listened. There was a good chance he had relatives in the army; and for all I knew he’d been in the army himself. I think he appreciated good marksmanship, at least in the abstract.
“And anyway,” I added lamely, “I was very careful about the safety procedures. None of the kids was anywhere near the firing line.”
Now Herbie snorted. “Oy vey,” he said. “Maybe not close to it, but they weren’t far enough away. Do you have any idea how many of them went back to their cabin and wrote home about this?”
I shook my head, confused.
“Five,” he roared. “FIVE!”
I was still confused. How would Herbie know that? But then in a flash it was obvious: the postcards. The box. It was not a regular mail box that could be opened only by an actual employee of the United States Postal Service. I glanced to my right, and there it was: the outside lock was for show: the box opened into a wire basket, right there in his cabin. And of course, there would be one just like it on the girls’ side.
No wonder the camp gave out the postcards. It was so the head counselors could read the notes home before sending them. And chances are, some never got sent. Like, Herbie explained, the five from my target practice escapade.
”You mean you didn’t send them?” I squeaked. The idea of tampering with the U.S. mail was genuinely shocking.
”Are you kidding?” he snapped. “What do you think the parents would do if they read that?” He rolled his eyes at my naivete. “We can’t afford that. You can’teither.”
Herbie let me go a few minutes later, with orders never to do any such meshuggenah thing again. I promised him I wouldn’t.
And I didn’t. Of course, this self-restraint was made easier by the fact that no bird ever again came near the target stands while I was on the range. A few weeks later, Marcy Siegel and her buddies made another visit to the range, eyeing me suspiciously the whole time. But everything went strictly by the book, and soon they seemed to be enjoying their shooting as much as the other campers did.
Maybe, I thought, this whole business was blowing over.
It seemed to be. The weeks passed swiftly, with kids keeping me busy during the days, and pretty female counselors to flirt with in the nights. By late August, when camp ended, everything seemed fine again. Heading back west toward Colorado and another year of college, I was determined to return there the next summer. Camp was fun; I missed the kids; I missed the female counselors. But next year would be even better-now I had experience to offer, as well as a specific skill.
Early the next spring, I sent an eager letter to Camp Pontiac, telling them how anxious I was to come back and do my best for them and the campers.
I never got an answer to that letter, nor to the follow-up I sent as May approached and I began to get desperate. My career as a camp counselor was over, no doubt slammed into oblivion along with that tiny sparrow. That year I ended up in ROTC summer camp, marching in full uniform around an Air Force base in Kansas in one hundred degree heat, without a cool blue lake or an eligible female anywhere in sight.
All this was sixty years ago, but I still miss Camp Pontiac sometimes, and wish I could slide one more postcard into that slot in Herbie’s box. If I could, the card would read like this:
”Dear Marcy Siegel, wherever you are, I’m sorry. I really am.”
That would be it. Although I admit I’d like to add a PS, which would say: “But really, Marcy, it was a great shot, a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Do you understand that any better now?”
I wonder if she would.
Posies for Peg is a collection of my stories, in memory of Peg Champney, founder of Friends Music Camp. Available here.
AP News: “A Good Man”: Exhibits honor ‘Peanuts’ creator Schulz on 100th
BY ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AND PATRICK ORSAGOS
May 27, 2022
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In a series of “Peanuts” comic strips that ran in mid–April of 1956, Charlie Brown grasps the string of his kite, which was stuck in what came to be known in the long–running strip as the “kite–eating tree.”
In one episode that week, a frustrated Charlie Brown declines an offer from nemesis Lucy for her to yell at the tree.
“If I had a kite caught up in a tree, I’d yell at it,” Lucy responds in the last panel?
The simplicity of that interaction illustrates how different “Peanuts” was from comics drawn before its 1950 debut, said Lucy Shelton Caswell, founding curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University in Columbus, the world’s largest such museum.
“The idea that you could take a week to talk about this, and it didn’t have to be a gag in the sense of somebody hitting somebody else over the head with a bottle or whatever,” Caswell said. “This was really revolutionary.”
New exhibits on display at the Billy Ireland museum and at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California, are celebrating the upcoming centenary of the birth of “Peanuts” cartoonist Schulz, born in Minnesota on Nov. 26, 1922.
Schulz carried the lifelong nickname of Sparky, conferred by a relative after a horse called Sparky in an early comic strip, Barney Google.
Schulz was never a fan of the name “Peanuts,” chosen by the syndicate because his original title, “Li’l Folks,” was too similar to another strip’s name. But the Columbus exhibit makes clear through strips, memorabilia and commentary that Schulz’s creation was a juggernaut in its day.
At the time of Schulz’s retirement in 1999 following a cancer diagnosis, his creation ran in more than 2,600 newspapers, was translated into 21 languages in 75 countries and had an estimated daily readership of 355 million. Schulz personally created and drew 17,897 “Peanuts” strips, even after a tremor affected his hand.
The strip was also the subject of the frequently performed play, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” as well as “Snoopy: The Musical,” dozens of TV specials and shows, and many book collections.
Bill Watterson, creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” described in a 2007 Wall Street Journal review of a Schultz biography the difficulty of looking at “Peanuts” with fresh eyes because of how revolutionary it was at the time.
Benjamin Clark, curator of the Schulz museum, describes that innovation as Schulz’s use of a spare line that maintains its expressiveness.
Schulz “understood technically in drawing that he could strip away what was unnecessary and still pack an emotional punch with the simplest–appearing lines,” Clark said. “But that simplicity is deceptive. There’s so much in these.”
The exhibit in Columbus displays strips featuring 12 “devices” that Schulz thought set Peanuts apart, including episodes involving the kite–eating tree, Snoopy’s doghouse, Lucy in her psychiatry booth, Linus’ obsession with the Great Pumpkin, the Beethoven–playing Schroeder, and more.
“Celebrating Sparky” also focuses on Schulz’s promotion of women’s rights through strips about Title IX, the groundbreaking law requiring parity in women’s sports; and his introduction of a character of color, Franklin, spurred by a reader’s urging following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
In addition, the display includes memorabilia, from branded paper towels to Pez dispensers, part of the massive “Peanuts” licensing world. Some fellow cartoonists disliked the way Schulz commercialized the strip.
He dismissed the criticism, arguing that comic strips had always been commercial, starting with their invention as a way to sell newspapers, Caswell said.
While 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is one of the most famous cartoon TV specials of all time, the characters have also returned in dozens of animated shows and films, most recently in original shows and specials on Apple TV.
Those Apple programs introduced new viewers to the truth of what Schulz drew, his wife, Jean Schulz, told The Associated Press last year. She described that truth this way:
“A family of characters who live in a neighborhood, get along with each other, have fun with each other, have arguments sometimes with each other, but end up always in a good frame hugging each other or resolving their arguments,” she said.
Caswell, who first met Schulz in the 1980s, said one of the exhibit’s goals was to surprise people with things they didn’t know about the man. In that, “Celebrating Sparky” succeeds admirably.
Who knew, for example, that Schulz, a hockey and ice–skating lover, is in both the U.S. Figure Skating and U.S. Hockey halls of fame? (Perhaps that isn’t surprising, given multiple strips that featured a hockey–playing Snoopy or Zambonis driven by the little yellow bird, Woodstock.)
By focusing on Schulz, the exhibit also aims to show he worked hard to perfect his drawing style before “Peanuts” was launched and was intentional about what he wanted the strip to be, Caswell said.
“This was a person of genius who had a very clear, creative focus to his life, and enjoyed making people laugh,” she said.
“Celebrating Sparky: Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts” at the Billy Ireland museum runs through November and was mounted in partnership with the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum has two exhibits commemorating Schulz’s birth: “Spark Plug to Snoopy: 100 Years of Schulz,” which explores comic strips and artists who influenced Schultz (running through Sept. 18); and “The Spark of Schulz: A Centennial Celebration,” exploring cartoonists and artists influenced by Schulz (from Sept. 25, 2022, through March 12, 2023)