2007-02-23 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

Nobody Asked Me, But… (Life And Death Edition)
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Commentary By Howard Schwach

Nobody asked me, but... Three men who had a large impact on me as a teen and young adult but who are probably largely unknown by anybody under the age of 40 died in the past two weeks. And, although I haven't thought of any of them for some time, I was saddened by their passing nevertheless.

...The first was Hank Bauer, the rough-hewn, hard-hitting ex-Marine who was a mainstay of the Yankee outfield from 1949 to 1959 and then went on to manage the Baltimore Orioles. Unlike today's players, who faint at the thought of a hangnail and who make demands far out of proportion to their talent, Bauer was the real deal. Bauer fought his way across the Pacific Ocean during WW II, stopping only at places such as Okinawa, Iwo Jima and other such garden spots. In capturing an airfield on Okinawa, 58 of 64 of Bauer's platoon mates were killed. He received two purple hearts and two Bronze Stars. If you don't know what that means, it's a good time to look it up. He was the Yankee's enforcer, telling players who were not hustling enough for him to "get to work, you're messing with my World Series money." After all that and seven World Series rings, Bauer is perhaps remembered best for his part in the infamous Copacabana incident, at Billy Martin's 29th birthday party on May 16, 1957, where he cold-cocked a man who was heckling entertainer Sammy Davis Junior. He broke the man's nose with one punch.

...Another athlete who died a short time ago was Gump Worsely, equally as tough in his own way as Bauer, but who never fought in WW II. He was the goalie for the New York Rangers from 1952, when he was the Rookie of The Year in the NHL at a time when there were only six teams and when goalies did not wear masks to protect their face. After more than ten years as the toughest goalie in the league for the Rangers, he was traded to his hometown Montreal Canadians, where he went on to win four Stanley Cup championships in five years. He was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1980.

...The third man who died recently was probably, in his own way, as tough as the other two, but in a very different way and had a far different impact on me than the other two. E. Howard Hunt worked for President Richard Nixon. He organized the Watergate break-in that eventually brought down his boss and forced him to resign the presidency. Hunt was many things: a soldier in WW II, an officer in the CIA, the organizer of both the coup that overthrew the Communist government of Guatemala and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion under President John F. Kennedy as well as the author of more than 80 spy and Cold War novels (one of his pen names was John Baxter, and there were some who thought that the author was Rockaway's John Baxter). He was the link that led the famous reporting duo of Woodward and Bernstein to look at the White House after the attempted break-in at the Watergate complex in Washington, leading to the investigation and the cover-up on the part of Nixon's administration. Hunt, along with G. Gordon Liddy and several others were arrested at the complex. Twenty-five men associated with the break-in, including the Attorney General, were found guilty and many went to prison. His 1974 comment to People Magazine will always be remembered. "I had always assumed working for the CIA that anything the White House wanted done was the law of the land," he said. "I viewed this [Watergate] like any other mission. It just happened to take place inside this country."

...Speaking of life and death, the military is in a jam. Nobody wants to join up because of the war in Iraq no matter how much money they offer new recruits, so the decision was made to lower the standards to take in felons. It's not going to work out very well, and I know that from experience. When I was in the Navy I was a court reporter on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of my first jobs in the legal office was handle Captain's Mast and control the reports of those people brought up on breaches of discipline. Now, breaches of discipline in the private sector can lead to problems and getting fired. Breaches in discipline in the military can quickly lead to somebody getting killed. I often heard young sailors tell the captain at mast, when asked why they joined the Navy, "I was given two choices - go to jail or join the Navy. I joined the next day." Those kids invariably wound up in trouble and people invariably got hurt. The numbers are frightening. The number of waivers granted to recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last three years, increasing to 8,129 from 4,918 in 2003, Defense Department records show. People who break the law usually believe that rules and discipline are for other people. That is not the kind of person you want fighting alongside you in a firefight.

...Talking about life and death, we're back to the school busing issue. School Chancellor Joel Klein said of the fiasco, that there was no way he would allow a sixth grade child of his to take public transportation to school even though that's just what he wanted thousand of other parents to do. He said that he and his staff "would take a look" at the problem and perhaps come up with a rule on what age students could be reasonably asked to use public transportation on their own to get to and from school. If he uses the same experts that came up with the asinine plan in the first place, you will probably soon see ten-year-olds navigating the subway system - as long as it's not for their kids. By the way, Martin Oestreicher, the top man in the DOE's transportation office (he was on vacation in Florida during the entire switch-over fiasco) has decided to retire two weeks after his grand plans fell apart, leaving little kids with MetroCards and thousands of kids stranded without transportation to school. His retirement will be effective on March 9, and it can't come too soon. Now, the DOE has to get rid of the consulting firm that made the mess in the first place.

...John Mueller has written a new book called "Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats and Why We Believe Them," which posits that there is only a "limited threat that has been inflated to produce widespread and unjustified anxiety." We hope that he's right, but if he's wrong and the government listens to him, we're in trouble.

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