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Sh*tholes

In May of 1919 my Grandfather Henrich Frankel sat his family down and told them they were leaving their home, all they had ever known and they were going to America.  They weren’t poor and weren’t going in search of a better economic life.   But he gave a litany of other reasons.  Their country had been on the losing side in the just ended World War I and where they lived now was no longer part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.  In fact, there was no Austrian-Hungarian Empire anymore.  It was Czechoslovakia.  Under the Austrian-Hungarian Empire all ethnic groups shared equal status and that was all over.  My Grandfather had served in the losing army and the Czechs, who had been among their enemies in the War, were running the show now.  Things were getting bad, scary and they were only, going to get worse.  In short, my Grandfather summed it all up by saying.  “We’re leaving for America because this place is becoming a Sh*thole!”

The immigrant’s story in America is told by the immigrants.  How they came to America and the first thing they saw was the Statue of Liberty.  How they could now do things here, that they never could have done in the old country.  Like make a good living, buy property and accumulate enough wealth so they could leave a nice part of it to their children and grandchildren.  How they literally were able to climb the economic and even the social ladder of success.  And, it is a true story.  But it’s their side of the story.  Another side of the story is most people living in America today no matter what ethnic group they belong to, or where their families came from, are here, because their ancestors were cheap labor.  Not because anyone in the government of the United States ever wanted “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” or someone else’s “wretched refuse”.  It’s not like they were being invited over for dinner.  They were invited over to work and to fill up and almost empty country.  And as I stop to think about it, referring to them as “the huddled masses” and “the wretched refuse” is insulting.  My family wasn’t anyone else’s stinking garbage.  And, The Statue of Liberty was not put there to greet immigrants and the poem at her base was added as an afterthought.  The Statue was given to the United States in 1876 from the people of France to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the United States.  And, Ellis Island built in 1892 was not a welcoming center.  It was a processing center where the newly arrived would be immigrants, were lined up like cattle, then poked, prodded and examined.  If anything was found wrong with them, they were placed on the next boat back to wherever they came from.  And, those people who were sent back never became immigrants and never part of the immigrant’s story.  And, there is no corner of Ellis Island where the brass band played and confetti wasn’t dropped from the rafters.  You can go take a look see, as it is a museum now.  And, if you do, you will find it is a very sterile and eerie place.  There was never anything welcoming about it.

And, if anyone is wondering why someone would leave everything they have ever known and embark on a journey fraught with peril, it could be that they dreamed of being an American.  But it is most probably because wherever they lived, it was a Sh*thole.”

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12 comments to Sh*tholes

  • Well said, Don. Not to be flip, but who’s mostly responsible for sh*tholes? The assholes in charge. Granted, in some countries the ‘powers that be’ were elected (rather than taking over by force), but that only goes to show that many people are too easily fooled and/or led….Hitler being a prime example.

    Fortunate is the country which has generally had enlightened leadership and managed to muddle through those times when it didn’t.

  • Don Frankel

    Muse, I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree. No one individual runs a country, not even Hitler. Not even Stalin who pretty much whacked everyone who disagreed with him or who he thought might disagree with him. But even ole Uncle Joe had to literally have legions of people who were on the same side with him or he just couldn’t get anything done. King George III had to give up the colonies because his Parliament of the time told him he was wasting their money. You get more than a dozen humans together and whoever is in charge is going to need help. A baseball team is a prime example maybe not major league right now as the players make so much money but think back to the 50’s and Casey’s Yankees. If anyone was ever an autocrat it would be Casey. But he had a half a dozen coaches and Yogi of whom Casey would frequently say “I don’t do anything without my man.” It’s just the nature of the animal.

  • arekhill1

    Alarming number of facts here, Sir Don.

  • Don, I think you took me too literally. I didn’t mean to imply that Hitler could have run Germany by himself, as he obviously had many henchmen. But I was thinking in the despotic ruler sense, not in operating terms. Even Kin Jong Un couldn’t run North Korea by himself, but is there any doubt that he is in complete control, and that if he inexplicably decided to, let’s say, become more benevolent to his own people and modify his belligerence toward the U.S., his henchmen wouldn’t follow (if they know what’s good for them)? Not that I expect that to happen, because most people never change (or, as you say, that’s “just the nature of the animal”).

  • Richard the IVth, every once in a while it is nice to try and remember what really happened instead of getting all weepy eyed over some romantic version.

  • Muse, the short answer on King Jung-un is no. I have no idea what is going on in North Korea and I would not know where to get any real or good information from. If I were to make a guess I would guess that he’s trying to negotiate something. But that would just be a guess. I would also guess with almost 100% certainty, no make it 99% that he’s not going to lob any nuclear weapons at anyone. When the media reports on North Korea the idea of nuclear war is too sensational so no one bothers to find out what is really going on. They’ve got their story madman threatens nuclear war. Why bother with anything else?

    But someone in charge of any country elected or otherwise is a reflection of how power coalesces in a country. The image of the one guy in charge is just that an image. That is how it appears to me as I read history and half the time I’m wrong and the other half I just don’t know what I’m talking about. But a despotic leader is usually replaced by another despotic ruler. King Jung-il to Kim Jung-un. Fidel Castro to his Brother Raul. Usually the Leader is taken out by the handles. When George Washington leaves the Presidency to go home to his farm after two terms he’s the first guy to do that since Emperor Cincinnatus the guy they named your home town after who also went home to his farm.

  • Don,

    Great history lesson, Don, and I couldn’t agree more. By coincidence, I was doing some research on Hitler recently while arguing with a Polish friend and was reminded how popular he was in the thirties, even in America with the German American Bund. And Germans whom I spoke with in the seventies when I was stationed there–those who would be candid–admitted that the thirties were great economic times in Germany while the rest of the world suffered the Depression. My family (both sides) being German came to America in the late 1840s and 50s to escape the war ravaging Europe then and were ironically caught up America’s Civil War and fought for the North. Yep, many do want to immigrate to depart a sh*thole. But “timing” can be crucial! LOL Mark

  • Mark,
    Hitler was evil! Hitler was like, like well like Hitler! My guess is most people couldn’t tell you six things about Hitler or pass a Hitler quiz designed for a 12 year old. Recently I was with a friend of mine who did not graduate college and we were discussing something about WWII and she asked me why Hitler invaded Russia? It was a great moment because here was someone asking why. I explained it to her. But I wonder how many of the Cognoscenti could answer that?

    And then there is poor ole Uncle Joe Stalin all but forgotten in the pantheon of bad guys. No one ever compares anyone to him. I wonder if he’s hurt by it. Does no one remember him? My theory on this is Uncle Joe was on the winning side and as Churchill said. “The Victors write the history books.” But I could be wrong. It’s been know to occur.
    Don

  • markscheel1

    Don,

    Not to worry, at least on this one, IMHO, you’re not wrong! Ha. Have you seen the new book by Robert Harris, Munich? Heard him interviewed on radio today, and he said we have a skewed view of Chamberlain and the peace treaty of 1938. That Hitler actually felt he got the short end of the deal; he wanted to go to war then. The treaty delayed it a year and allowed the other countries to build up their military. So, you might say history is fluid, not stone. Sehr interessant! 🙂

    Mark

  • Mark,
    “History will tell lies… as usual.” George Bernard Shaw. Harris’s book sounds fascinating, but should not surprise if we stop to think about it. People create narratives but that doesn’t mean that those narratives are what happened. Over the years I’ve read 8 books on the Battle of Gettysburg. Some historians think Meade having just taken command of the army is not that involved and it is his subordinate commanders who make all the decisions. Others think he takes command and is very involved. Go figga. Or take the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor. This was a great victory for them, right? No, it was a disaster. And no, not because “they awoke a sleeping giant”. BTW Yamamoto never said that. Who would he have said it to? NBC? CNN? But because they failed to meet any of their military objectives which is why their fleet was sunk six months later.
    What is wrong today is way too many people take the news as if it is a source document. Then they proceed to argue especially the people who are all over the TV screaming. Half the time they don’t even know what they are talking about.
    Don

  • Right again, Don. You’re batting a thousand! 😉

    Mark

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