David Kubicek

Fiction Writer, Journalist, Photographer

Archive for the category “History”

Hiroshima: City on Fire

Hiroshima 1

If you think a nuclear war would be a good idea, or even if you don’t, you should read this book.

The atomic bomb was first used in warfare on the morning of August 6, 1945, when it was dropped from a high-altitude U.S. aircraft on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The bomb was the culmination of several years of work by U.S. scientists, and many involved with the project weren’t even sure if it would work.

It worked. Hiroshima had a population of 245,000. About 100,000 died, and another 100,000 were injured (and most of them would suffer from varying degrees of radiation sickness for the rest of their lives). The blast destroyed everything at ground zero, and the shock waves and heat collapsed buildings and set fires for miles around. Three days later, since the first bomb apparently didn’t convince the Japanese Emperor to surrender, the Americans dropped an A-Bomb  on Nagasaki. Apparently, that convinced the Emperor, and World War II ended.

American journalist John Hersey interviewed many of the survivors and published Hiroshima in 1946. Nearly 40 years later he returned to Japan to interview those still living and the relatives of those who were not, and he added a final chapter–The Aftermath–to a new edition of his book, published in 1985.

Several things we must remember if we ever catch ourselves thinking that a nuclear war wouldn’t be so bad:

  • The Hiroshima bomb was a fart in the wind compared to the A-Bombs we have now; after seven decades of research and development, humankind has developed bombs a thousand times more destructive than that first feeble attempt, and today’s bombs don’t have to be dropped from airplanes–we have missiles now.

  • In 1945, the U.S. was the only country in possession of an A-Bomb; now there are many (the latest count, I believe, is 24), and if we start lobbing A-Bombs around, we are likely to piss off some of those countries who, in turn, will start lobbing A-Bombs around.

  • We have a president who, in a one-hour foreign policy briefing, allegedly asked three times why we shouldn’t use nuclear weapons, as long as we’ve got them.

  • If a full-scale or even a partial nuclear war breaks out, we won’t be able to watch it unfold on our TV’s, laptops or phones from the security of our comfy living rooms the way we can watch overseas wars now; the war will be brought home for us to experience in all of its fire and glory.

I think it’s highly likely that Donald Trump, given his temperament and unpreparedness for the job of Commander In Chief, will drop an A-bomb on a civilian population. The question is when will he drop it and on whom.

Albert Einstein said: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Given the destructive power of today’s A-Bombs, there might not be anyone left alive to fight World War IV.

Leprechauns: Mythology of the Little People

Leprechauns are often stereotyped, misunderstood—especially in the United States—and even maligned, as in a series of 1990s horror films in which the leprechaun is a malevolent little beastie.

Leprechauns have been used to sell cereal (Lucky Charms) and as mascots for sports teams (the Boston Celtics). They have been portrayed as pyromaniacs (in an episode of The Simpsons), and their musical taste has been impugned—sentimental Irish music is called Leprechaun Music. And, of course, it is common knowledge that leprechauns have a pot of gold.

How does all of all of this “leprechaun lore” stack up to the leprechaun’s real place in Irish mythology? As with most fantasy figures, leprechauns have evolved over the years, and the most romantic aspects of their legend have survived.

A commonly accepted image of a leprechaun is of a small, old man with a red beard and wearing a top hat. He is often intoxicated, but never so drunk that he can’t ply his trade as a shoemaker or a tinker. The first sign that a leprechaun is near usually is the tapping of his hammer.

It’s unclear where the name “leprechaun” comes from. It may be from leath bhrogan, Irish for shoemaker, or it may derive from the Irish word luacharma’n for pygmy.

Leprechauns have not been around that long. They rarely are spoken of in folk tales, those stories that usually concern a human hero and are given a more formal telling. Leprechaun tales usually are told casually by locals and contain local names and scenery.

Only since the early 20th Century have leprechauns been depicted as wearing emerald green; the first leprechauns wore red, and their physical appearance varied depending on where in Ireland they lived.

Unlike the malicious creature in the Leprechaun films, leprechauns like solitude and usually avoid human habitations, although some have adopted human families and have even followed them abroad.

In general, though, leprechauns don’t have much use for humans, whom they consider foolish and greedy.

Leprechauns are cunning, mischievous and sometimes cranky, but they generally don’t harm people. They have a “gift for gab” and would be the life of the party, if you could get them to attend human parties.

Leprechauns do have a treasure, left by the Vikings when they plundered Ireland in the eighth and ninth Centuries A.D., which they bury in crocks of gold.

Because leprechauns are honest, if you capture one, he must tell you where he’s hidden his gold, but beware of his tricks. You can hold a leprechaun in place with your eyes, but if you glance away, he will vanish.

Each leprechaun carries two leather pouches, one containing a silver coin and the other a gold coin, to bribe captors to set him free. But both coins are bewitched; once the leprechaun has paid his ransom and gained his freedom, the silver returns to his purse, and the gold turns to leaves or ashes.

Copyright 2013 by David Kubicek

This story may be reposted on other websites and blogs if credited to the author.  Publication in any other form must be by permission of the author.

Wail of the Banshee: Harbinger of Death in Irish Folklore

A mournful wail shatters the stillness, rising and falling like ocean waves, echoing through the dark, lonely hills. It is the cry of the Banshee, an omen that someone will die.

According to Irish folklore, the Banshee wails, or “keens,” for only the five major families of Ireland: the O’Neils, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Gradys, and the Kavanaghs. Each Banshee attaches itself to a mortal family and follows that family wherever it travels, even across the ocean.

When someone in the family is about to die she stalks the hills around their home, her silver-grey hair streaming like a gossamer waterfall to the ground, her face pale and eyes red from weeping, her grey-white cloak as fine as cobwebs clinging to her tall slender frame. If you catch a Banshee, she must reveal the name of the person for whom she is keening.

The Banshee can take many forms. She may appear as a beautiful young woman, as a stately matron, as an old hag, or as an animal Irish folklore associates with witchcraft, such as a hooded crow, a hare, or a weasel. Some legends maintain that she is a ghost, often of a murdered woman or woman who died in childbirth.

In Ireland she is called Bean Sidhe (Sidhe pronounced “shee”), which literally means “woman of the fairy mound.” Her Scottish counterpart is Bean Nighe, or “washer woman,” which is another form she can take. The English word “keen” is derived from the Irish caoineadh, which means “lament.”

Traditionally, a woman would sing a lament, which was said to be an imitation of the Banshee’s cry, at peasant funerals.

According to legend, Banshees would appear before the death of a member of the five major families and sing their laments. If several banshees appeared, it foretold that someone great or holy would die.

The Banshee herself often attends funerals, her wails blending in with those of the mourners.

An American Valentine Story

She launched a business empire when she was nineteen years old. Her New England Valentine Company grossed $5,000 in its first year and was earning more than $100,000 annually when she retired in 1881 at the age of 53.

Her name was Esther Allen Howland (1828-1904), and today she is often called the Mother of the American Valentine’s Day card. Her alliances with two other early valentine makers, Jotham Taft (1816-1910) and George C. Whitney (1842-1915), would build the company she started in her home into an economic powerhouse.

In 1847, Worcester, Mass., native Esther Howland was a recent graduate of the 10-year-old Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Mass., when her father received a supply of English valentines to sell in his book and stationery store. She marveled at their lacy paper and floral decorations, but she thought she could do better.

Through her father’s store she imported the materials from England and set to work. Her brother was so impressed with the results that he took samples with him on selling trips and brought back orders—so many orders that Howland had to recruit friends to help her keep up with the demand.

Soon the enterprise moved to the third floor of the Howland home where there was enough room to set up an assembly line, with each employee contributing a piece to each card. Later she rented commercial space.

By the mid-1860s Jotham Taft and George C. Whitney also were building reputations as valentine makers.

According to family lore, Taft was creating valentines as early as 1840; however, 1863 is the first record we have of his efforts. Taft collected materials while traveling in Europe, and when he returned to the United States he and his wife made valentines at home.

Taft later partnered with Howland but sold his company to George Whitney when he retired.

Like Howland, George C. Whitney began selling valentines out of the stationery store he and his brother, Edward, owned in Worcester, Mass. Edward left the partnership in 1869, and in 1881, Whitney bought New England Valentine Co. from Howland.

Combined with Taft’s and Howland’s Companies, Whitney took his firm to the next level in American valentine manufacturing. He installed machinery to make lace paper and floral decorations so the firm no longer would have to import materials from England. By 1888, the company boasted stores in New York, Boston, and Chicago.

After George Whitney died in 1915, his son, Warren, took over the business. When it shut down in 1942, a victim of the World War II paper shortage, the company that had grown out of the efforts of Esther Allen Howland, Jotham Taft, and George C. Whitney was the largest valentine producer in the world.

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