The Diary of Brig. Arthur Varley

Arthur Varley, a commander of the 22nd Australian Infantry Brigade, was one of those unfortunates who, almost at the tail end of the war, was loaded on a prison transport ship to be taken who-knows-where, a ship that was, tragically, sunk by a US submarine (The Japanese refused to mark their prisoner transport ships)

Fortunately, he had kept a meticulous diary during his internment and his forced labor on the Burma-Siam railroad and buried it near his camp in Thanbyuzayat, its whereaouts known only to a trusted few. After the war, during the War Crimes trials of the officers who ran the POW camps in Burma, the diary was located and the words of the “welcome speeches” given by certain officers, and in particular the words and actions of a sadistic officer who headed 80-kilo, 100-kilo, 105-kilo and 114-kilo camps, Lt. Colonel Yoshitada Nagatomo, came back to haunt them. Nagatomo, was hung in the jail in Chiangi, the same jail where so many POWS had been kept in isolation and tortured, on Sept. 16, 1947.

Jane Harris, Wife of Lanson

For three years, friends and family of Jane Harris had urged her to accept the inevitable: that her husband had gone down with his ship. She tuned them all out. Hospitalized for a burst appendix, she insisted that the doctors continue to sedate her because the hospital was the first real sleep she had had for years. Then, she insisted they keep her sedated, for three more weeks.

A U.S. newspaper had printed an article “describing how two unnamed USS Houston men had escaped from a Thai prison camp.” Then she received “a Navy Department telegram saying that her husband was safe in American hands.”

She told an interviewer, “I put two and two together with the telegram I got, and I said, well one of those has got to be Lans.”

Sentence of the Day: Christmas Eve, 2021

Gus Forman, imprisoned in Changi, Singapore, where he had served in isolation for three months of what he was told was a six-year sentence (for plotting to escape), suddenly saw the door to his cell open. Sunlight flooded in, blinding him. He was ushered out and reunited with two other survivors of the USS Houston: Capt. Ike Parker and Major Windy Rogers.

They cringed at each other’s stench.

Ship of Ghosts, p. 405

July 25, 1945

In July 1945, two USS Houston survivors, James Huffman and Lanson Harris, managed to escape from their prison camp. Aided by Thai villagers, they were led to a secret camp, hidden deep in the Thai jungle, run by a Major Eben Bartlett. Bartlett, it turned out, was part of OSS, a covert US operation that had established camps all over Southeast Asia. He was amazed when Huffman and Harris told him they were survivors of the USS Houston, and that approximately 300 survivors had been taken prisoner. They also had the names of all the men they knew who had died in captivity, about sixty-odd names.

On July 25, 1945, the world heard for the first time about the fate of the survivors from the sinking, over three years before. By then, Harold Rooks, the eldest son of the USS Houston’s captain, who had been a junior at Harvard when his father’s ship was sunk, had enlisted and was headed for the Pacific War as the plotting officer for the USS San Jacinto.

On July 29, Bartlett used a portable transmitter to begin transmitting the roster of names to his U.S. superiors. The roster of “lost names” filled his “outgoing Morse bandwidth for nearly a week. It was not until August 5 that Major Bartlett’s radioman hand-keyed the last of the dots and dashes representing the 301 names on the list. Two days later, he started sending a shorter list: the name of sixty three of the sixty-seven Houston men who had met their end as prisoners of war.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Poetry Friday: “Like the Molave” by Rafael Zulueta y da Costa, Written 1940

This poem is epic.

The molave was a Philippine hardwood (said to be impervious to fire), now extinct.

Jose Rizal was the writer of the seminal novels Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. He was tried by the Spanish for inciting a revolution, and shot by firing squad in Manila’s Bagumbayan Field.

Self has not been able to find much about Rafael Zulueta y da Costa. He died in 1990, and apparently this was his only poem. He wrote in English. At the time of writing, the Philippines was still an American colony.

Like the Molave, Part I:

Not yet, Rizal, not yet. Sleep not in peace:
There are a thousand waters to be spanned;
There are a thousand mountains to be crossed;
There are a thousand crosses to be borne.
Our shoulders are not strong; our sinews are
Grown flaccid with dependence, smug with ease
Under another’s wing. Rest not in peace;
Not yet, Rizal, not yet. The land has need
of young blood — and, what younger than your own,
Forever spilled in the great name of freedom,
Forever oblate on the altar of the free?

Not you alone, Rizal. O souls
And spirits of the martyred brave, arise!
Arise and scour the land! Shed once again
Your willing blood! Infuse the vibrant red
Into our thin anemic veins; until
We pick up your Promethean tools and, strong,
Out of the depthless matrix of your faith
In us, and on the silent cliff of freedom,
We carve for all time your marmoreal dream!
Until our people, seeing, are become
Like the molave, firm, resilient, staunch,
Rising on the hillside, unafraid,
Strong in its own fibre; yes, like the molave:

After

Only nineteen of the three thousand transcripts that were eventually declassified and published in 1995 mention Julius or Ethel. Julius was given the code name “Antenna” or, as already seen, “Liberal” in the messages. David was code-named “Kalibr” (Caliber) and Ruth was called “Osa” (Wasp). However, Ethel had no code name and was mentioned only once, and then by her given name.

Ethel Rosenberg, an American Tragedy, p. 223

Self has no words.

p. 205, Back to Crying

Really, self has never experienced anything like it, not in her entire life: it’s like her eyes have been swollen to the size of golf balls for TWO DAYS, all on account of reading Anne Seba’s Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy (The title was slightly different in the UK edition, self noticed. It was Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy).

And also, the house is really, really cold. Insulation is circa 1939, which means there is none. Self is wearing three sweaters.

Also: She is really glad it rained last night. And not just a little sprinkle, either. Ground was wet when she went to the backyard this morning.

p. 205:

  • Ethel was admant that her fate could not be separated from Julius’s: either both of them would be spared, or both would go to the electric chair. “A cold fury possesses me and I could retch with horror and revulsion for those unctuous saviors, these odious swine who are actually proposing to erect a terrifying sepulcher in which I shall live without living and die without dying” . . . Ethel had learned that she might be saved “out of a humanitarian consideration for me as a woman and as a mother while my husband is to be electrocuted,” an idea that appalled her.

Self is simply in awe. This should be an opera. Why hasn’t anyone turned this into an opera?

Meanwhile, on the rejection of their last appeal for clemency, to President Eisenhower, Judge Kaufman — yes, that same Judge Kaufman who presided over their initial trial, where he pretty much functioned as a member of the prosecution team — sets the date of execution for the following week. He’s waited two years for this moment, the moment when the Rosenbergs run out of options and face the music! Oooh. Can’t you just see his face? As far as this judge is concerned, the Rosenbergs should have received their just deserts in 1951, why have they been allowed to live an additional two years?

Ethel is calm, but Julius becomes belligerent. Why, he wants to know, do the other convicted spies get 15-year sentences and he and Ethel get the electric chair? Why indeed. That was probably a question for his lawyer, who was so completely out of his depth, he didn’t even think about the court of public opinion until it was too late.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in the prison van, 1951. The last time they were allowed to touch. Even on the day of their execution, two years later, they were separated by a wire mesh barrier.

Letter to Julius

July, 1951:

Believe me, my loved one, children are what their parents truly expect them to be. If we can face the thought of our intended execution without terror, so then will they. Certainly neither of us will seek to dwell on these matters unduly but let’s not be afraid and they won’t either.

Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, p. 185

The visit with her children on Aug. 1 lasted one hour. It was the first time she’d seen them in a year.

Self’s tearducts are getting properly exercised, for sure!

David Greenglass, you are a lousy, stinking rat!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Emmanuel Bloch Closing Argument in the Trial of Ethel Rosenberg

March 28, 1951, shortly after 10 a.m.:

  • “Dave Greenglass loved his wife. He loved her more than he loved himself . . . and ladies and gentlemen this explains why Dave Greenglass was willing to bury his sister and his brother-in-law to save his wife.” — Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, p. 165

Granted this may not have been the most persuasive closing argument in the history of closing arguments, but it was heartfelt.

Apparently not content with having sent his sister to the electric chair, in 2001 Dave Greenglass gave an interview to 60 Minutes (!!!!) where he tried to justify his actions (again!) and showed not the slightest remorse.

Here’s the link to a foundation started by Ethel Rosenberg’s younger son, Robert Meeropol. His brother Michael is on the board.

On to the jury deliberations. “The one juror holding out against a death sentence for Ethel was a forty-eight-year-old accountant called James A. Gibbons, with two children of his own.” (p. 169) May his name go down in history.

If self had been on the jury, notwithstanding the terrible incompetence of the Blochs, self would have thought: Hmm, isn’t it strange that the ONLY testimony to this woman’s guilt comes from her brother? He cannot be entirely trustworthy. It’s all his word against hers.

On April 5, the judge handed down his sentence. Julius and Ethel sat there, their faces “chalk-white . . . frozen into grimaces of incredulity.”

The judge went on to sentence the two to death, and probably went home afterwards feeling very satisfied with the day’s work, while Ethel’s brother David — well, who cares what David was feeling. He’s not smart, so he probably felt self-congratulatory, too.

The judge did not just stop at sentencing Julius and Ethel to death, oh no. He drove his point home by singling out and “criticizing Ethel as a mother.” (What about Julius as a father? Did the judge care to say any words about that? Newp)

Before the two were taken back to their respective prisons, Ethel sang a Puccini aria from Madame Butterfly to Julius. AARGH! Which prompted a prison guard to say (p. 174): “Julie, you’re a low-down son of a bitch . . . but you’re the luckiest man in the world because no man ever had a woman who loved him that much.”

That night, the prison matron offered Ethel a sedative, but she refused it. Singing arias to her feckless husband after she’d just been sentenced to death? Then refusing the sedative? God, that woman was strong.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Million-Dollar Question

Manny Bloch’s cross-examination of David Greenglass, Ethel’s younger brother (bear in mind Bloch’s experience in court was settling small bakery contract disputes, and he was up against a very wily and very slippery Roy Cohn, David’s lawyer)

Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, pp. 141 – 142

“You realize the possible death penalty in the event that Ethel is convicted by this jury, do you not?”

Repeating the question, Bloch asked: “And you bear affection for her?”

“I do.”

“This moment?”

“At this moment.”

“And yesterday?”

“And yesterday.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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