We live in unprecedented times, not because wars did not happen before but because the military power and the weapons’ sophistication is far beyond what nation states had at hand before. If you’re watching TV and reading the news you hear politicians, economists and journalists giving their opinions. Some of them are extremely offensive, some of them have smiles on their faces. I do not enjoy any of it, and I find myself in political impossibility.
I would like to see a reasonable end to the madness we are all part of. I have been trying to, but people who are knowledgeable of Russian politics do not say good things about how this is going to end.
Fiona Hill, an expert in Russia politics says in an interview that was published by Politico: “Every time you think, ’No, he wouldn’t, would he?’ Well, yes, he would. And he wants us to know that, of course. It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared…. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.”
Thomas Friedman, an author that has penned well known books on world politics, says that he sees 3 scenarios about how this war ends. None of them are rosy, but the less likely of them it’s called …. “the salvation.” You can read that New York Times article here:
Ok, so, first, people in Ukraine are dying. That’s right, children, old people, women and men are dying. Second, if the government is kindly offering us advice of how to survive nuclear blast, they should also know that nobody survives above the ground in the area of the blast. We also do not have the kind of houses that would offer protection against the penetration of gamma radiation, in case we are not in the blast area. And….in California there are no basements. So, no, I am not smiling. None of us should. Perhaps the ones smiling on TV and in political and in other kinds of circles have a plan B. But us, regular people, do not.
Biden said yesterday “We’re ready.” I am asking, ready for what? What are the checks and balances in the situation that is unfolding right under our eyes? Is there a logical, tactical plan that would end this or at least minimize the damages and the risks?
I am never pessimistic, but right now I need someone to help me out of the gloom.
From the Lion King that my kids love so much, to Star Wars, the Edge of Tomorrow and you name it, everyone likes to think they’re a hero. Right now, I and us all are looking for that kind of hero, but in real life. We need somebody wise that would be able to de escalate the conflict. If he shows up, god bless him/her/they (or whatever the pronoun the hero would like!). We should call him: The man/woman who saved the world.
The bomb that fell flattened his world, And drew corridors of fire That led everywhere and nowhere, Toward a future that kept hanging.
The tearless silence was floating, Dressed with silk black cap, As faith was rewriting the lists For new havens.
His eyes were closed, but it was bright inside, He remembered the taste of chocolate And how he ran up and down the hills Over the desert.
He will soon hear the others, Crawling like him, on their canes of hope, Their skills got sharper every time.
He’ll join them in the quest for Their food for tomorrow: Wild mushrooms and rabbits. Sometimes they will go by the airfield, Wondering loud where the storks were, And why was their place taken by uniformed men.
He felt his body burning, Heard shouting, faint, then rising, He smelled his father pomade and felt the clutching of his arms. He was tired of running in a race that had no stopwatch, Besides he already won, Of all the things, this war has never been able to embargo his dreams.
This is a poem I have written few years ago. Like everything I write( like everything that we writers write), there is a story behind it. Back then I was doing field work in Jordan about war refugees, and I was spending time listening to Syrian war refugees recounting their stories. Some of them had their children around when I was taking their interview. I was struck, I knew war from far away but this was a first account, as close as I could get. I would finish the interviews, and then I’d go transcribe and I would feel these people, and their pain even more than I didn’t before. Their faces would come to mind. This poem is about one of those faces.
I never sent one. I was born in the Internet era, so for me, the email was and is the standard. Though, sometimes I do like to send the occasional written letter, because there is nothing like it. Maybe I am old fashioned that way, because I can’t trade the feeling of having a physical book in my hands for the Kindle. I still like the libraries and the smell of books, and one thing that has stayed with me throughout the years is the memory of the University of Chicago’s library, where I have spent a lot of time when I was a graduate student. But this post is not about books, it’s about the old way people used to send each other information: The Telegram.
The postman fishing out a telegram from his satchel is an abiding image that many of us just saw in movies, isn’t it? I would think is not used anymore today, but…..strangely enough, when I did a bit of research I have found out that in some countries this kind of service is still available.
In the US, there is the Itelegram: https://www.itelegram.com, in Spain there is SEUR, in Italy there is Poste Italiane, in Germany Deutsche Post. In some countries like India, UK, France, this service doesn’t exist anymore. People still use telegrams for canceling contracts and sending legal notifications, because the message is retained for 7 years in the files and can be legally verified.
Why am I writing about it? Because I think it’s part of our history. I know the telegraph maybe out of date or seem obsolete, but it represents a really important time period in human history, when humanity was advancing itself ….just as we do today. Because I am imagining how it felt to have a long distance relationship back in the days when you had no Whattsapp, Facetime and other technologies. Because telegrams made and changed history, and I will give an example about one that changed America’s participation in WW2.
Do you know the heartbreaking story behind the most popular version of the telegraph?
Born in Massachusetts in 1791, Samuel Morse studied mathematics and philosophy at Yale. But he was also an artist, a painter. A good painter, although in February 1825 at age 34, when he was invited to Washington D.C to pursue what could have been his big break, he was older than his heroes had been when they created their masterpieces. Here he was commissioned to paint Marquis de Lafayette, who was returning as a hero to the country he helped make free. Morse’s wife, Lucretia remained in their family home in New Haven, Connecticut, expecting their third child.
While working on his painting in DC, Morse got a letter from his father: “My heart is in pain and deeply sorrowful, while I announce to you the sudden and unexpected death of your dear and deservedly loved wife.” Lucretia had died a few days earlier of heart attack while recovering from childbirth. He rushed back to his family, but by the time he got back his wife was already buried.
So this heart broken man has embarked in creating a technology that might have given him a chance to share a final few moments with Lucretia, or at least to attend her funeral. He wanted others to not have to go through same pain and sorrow. His endeavor took many years and many hurdles, but on May 24, 1844, he sent the first message, from the floor of US Supreme Court that said “ WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT.”
OK! But, we should also say that Morse had learned about telegraphy in Britain, where William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone had already developed a working electrical telegraph, in 1838 – some six years before Morse sent his famous message. Morse’s design did prove to be a more elegant solution, so while not the first, in time it became the most popular.
William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone’s electric telegraph from 1837, which is now held in the London Science Museum (Photo: Geni/WikiCommons CC BY-SA 4.0)
Telegrams were expensive
Yes, they were very expensive!
In 1860, for example, a ten-word telegram sent from New York to New Orleans cost $2.70 (about $65 in 2012 currency). When the transcontinental telegraph opened, the cost was $7.40 for ten words (about $210), while a ten word transatlantic message to England cost $100 (about $2,600). Source: https://newatlas.com/last-telegraph-message/28314/
Stories by Titanic survivors, rescued by the passenger ship Carpathia, say that some of them sent radiograms from on board the Carpathia, but these were very expensive. Other survivors sent telegrams as soon as the Carpathia arrived in New York on the 18th of April. One survivor, Mrs. Dowdell recalled “One man, a barber, had but $1.25 with him, and he handed over one dollar of this to send the word ‘safe’ to his mother.”
Telegraphy – a Victorian version of the Internet
Telegraphy in the 1800s was the earliest form of electronic data communication. Telegraphers created a new language, one of strange abbreviations that only they, understood. 73, for example, meant goodbye; 30 was the number placed at the end of a news story to signify the end. Just like we today, we have LOL….emojiis and all kinds of other abbreviations.
If you want to read more about how it all started, there is a book, which I know of : The Victorian Internet by Tom Standee. I personally did not read it yet.
By the way, the first transatlantic telegram happened 14 years after Morse’s first message, when Queen Victoria sent a message of congratulations to the American president James Buchanan.
The Zimmerman telegram and WWI
Photo: Cryptic version of the Zimmermann telegram, WWI. Creative Commons
This is the telegram that brought America into the First World War!
Up until 6 April 1917, US remained neutral. Then it joined the Allies, and this is the course of events that lead to it.
Although wireless (radio) was used to send messages in the First World War, the principal means of diplomatic communication was via telegrams sent on undersea cables. In 1914 the Allies cut many German cables, forcing them to communicate via the cables of other powers. German communications were routed through the neutral US Embassy in Berlin, via their cable across the Atlantic. Yet this cable actually passed through the UK and could be tapped by the British intelligence services(source for this information : The official website for BBC History Magazine, History Extra)
British had broken the codes they were using, and so any messages could be read. On 17 January 1917, British intelligence intercepted the Zimmermann telegram. The Zimmermann message was passed to the British code-breaking unit in ‘Room 40’ and it took several weeks to decode. The message was encouraging Mexicans to invade the southern US with the aim of re-conquering those states that were formerly part of Mexico: Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and Germany would support this effort with money and arms.
President Wilson was shown the Zimmermann message on 24 February, and released it to the press on 1 March. The wave of anti-German and anti-Mexican feeling grew in the US.
The US entered first World War on April 6th, 1917.
So, yes, these are few interesting facts and stories that I thought to share with you! I hope that you enjoyed it, and that you have learned something new by reading this today!