Sunday, November 21, 2010

Umnak Island, 28 August 1944

My Darling…
I am smackdab in the middle of changing shifts. We make the shift of shifts every month. It gives me cramps. I was supposed to go on days but Al Hesse, the third censor, who was to get graveyard wanted to stay on the daylight detail, whereas I have a passion for the obscure delights of early a.m. work when labor there is little and leisure much. So we swapped. As payment for the change, I drew the sixteen hour workout of my regular swing session and the new corpse-hour siesta combined.

The current change of shifts is fabulous. If I credited our Chief Operator with imagination I would believe he had arranged the swing shift with an eye to ridding himself of all his problem personnel in one climactic chance-medley. He stocked the place with more guys who hate each other than Agatha Christie would put on an island in a murder mellerdrammer.

If it were not for Ted Godfrey, the chief censor, who will also be swinging low, I doubt the anything could be accomplished as no two men are on speaking terms. Godfrey will act as interpreter or intermediary, like the good Padre Jose Maria Cuevas between the Cristeros and the government. Methinks his job will make him section eight stuff. 

As a matter of fact, the arrangement of the swing shift is so Machiavellian that a number of fellows accused Martin of machinating it in a subtle attempt to sabotage the administration. But as Ted mentioned when someone called his attention to it, the only way to get a shift which didn’t run afoul of the feuds would be to have the censors do it all. They don’t feud because there are only three of us and we never work on the same shift, seldom see each other, and get along fine. 

There are more vendettas here than at a diplomatic function in Lisbon or a staff meeting on Time. The number of deep dislikes among the forty-odd men is surprising, especially when you consider that nearly all have a deep desire to get along, a conscious will to make the best of a long and at most a bad year. On the other hand, it is surprising that the feuds don’t seem to really hamper the efficiency of the outfit.

They spring, in part, from the very effort to avoid them. The consciousness of the effort to be friendly militates against normal relations. There is too much tension.  …

There are many other factors besides the tension of loneliness which cause friction up here. One of the worst is race prejudice, overt and secondary. A number of our more noxious characters feel themselves superior to other denizens of this dump on grounds of nationality or race. Tim Eagon, for example, dislikes Jews, Negroes, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Danes, Englishmen, Poles, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Italians, Mexicans, Hollanders and, I imagine, Aryan Hindus and cross-eyed Celts. He has a lot of company, although few of the men have such ample hates. Any conversation which deals with race is likely to do so in terms of kikes, wops, spics, dagoes, niggers.

It is strange that there can be so much prejudice in a group which has few representatives of minority races. The stock here is predominantly British-Nordic. There is one Pole. Two of the boys are Jewish. We have a few second generation Germans and a number of Scandinavians. For prejudice to crop up in such a group in a democratic army seems incredible. Yet the seeds are sprouting.

Secondary race prejudice is my own type. I am prejudiced against those with prejudices. This complicates my relations with my friends—mainly the Rebel.

Another cause of trouble is sectionalism. Texans seem to be generally unpopular in the army. Here we have little trouble with our lone Lone Star because he is essentially likeable. He is very much the puppy when he is not morose … 

Other sectional dislikes are for New Yorkers, and hillbillies, and sometimes for Californians. Then, here in the ACS, there seems to be a sort of Seattle against the rest of the world feeling. These are all more or less minor dislikes, and have little to do with the sometimes strained relationships of the enlisted personnel. But differences in military background seem to play a big part now, and in the recent past played an even more important role.
Not everyone in the ACS wants to be there. Or ever wanted to.  A lot of men have been transferred in, not even knowing what they were getting until they reached Seattle. Most of these men had Signal Corps training at Monmouth. They feel themselves to be, consequently, superior to the “ACS commandoes,” the men who do not care for GI life and like the comparative freedom of the ACS. Since most of these transfers are in one branch of work, it makes the differences even more obvious and tends to divide our camp in to groups. A second military difference is between the pre and post Pearl Harbor soldiers. Tim Eagon again is a shining example. Whenever he gets drunk, which is often, he goes into details about what he thinks of any man who was not in uniform before Pearl Harbor. He does not even like guys who volunteered after Pearl Harbor. He talks one of the best fights I have ever heard, but, as is often pointed out to him, he asked for duty in the ACS in order to stay out of the infantry. A final difference in this type is between the men who like the Army (there are some) and those who don’t.
Among the more beautiful feuds now in full blossom are those between Martin and Eagon; Hesse and a wild-eyed boy named Coleman who wants to stay in the army when it’s all over; Rebel and Mochkatel, a society boy from Seattle; the poet Traina and the perverted bridegroom to be  Graffunder; Bender and a long, lank interesting kid from Oregon named Cobb.

The best comment yet on the swing shift personnel: “It’s not sabotage, it’s an act of Godelewski.”
I’ve often told you about our black mountain, the basalt cone of which dominates our local scene. Yesterday morning at sunrise it was red, a deeper red than our hill at Patzcuaro, the red of drying blood. It was so beautiful that I decided to climb it then and there. But before I could get more than a quarter mile from camp it was completely covered by clouds, and before I got back: rain.

With the days free during the next month, however, I hope to climb it.
You asked in your last letter about [page] makeup. It is awfully hard to think of anything in that line without knowing the type of stories, whether long or short, the type of paper, the number of cuts [illustrations], etcetera.  …  On the next page I’ll draw three possible make-ups for such a paper. All are predicated on your suing off-set and have free use of pictures.  … There are a few don’ts--Don’t have stories break next to each other below the fold unless there is a good


I doubt there is much to help you there, Nunny. If you’ll send me a few of the papers I might be able to make suggestions. Also tell me how many pages and how many pictures and how much they will let you try typographically. By the way, there is a rather good chapter on tabloid makeup  in the book we have on newspaper makeup. I believe the book is by Allen.

Your being in the Press Photographer’s Union really pleases me, my pet. How are your relations with the Newspaper Guild? Also being CIO in Beck’s town [Dave Beck, longtime Teamsters Union leader] is even better than being CIO in New York. Do you get touched by the CIO Political Action Committee?

Love of my life, the war news is better than I had dreamed it could be. But don’t start counting on my being home ahead of time. We’ve got the biggest half of our other war to fight yet, and it would take a military miracle to end that one in time to get me home before my year is up. Just set your sights on our staying together when we get together, for that is the most important thing of all. I can’t help hoping for miracles myself, but I am almost superstitiously afraid of hoping too high. 

Your letters are wonderful, Nunny. I’m glad you liked, or rather approved, of the short story. I sent Ann a copy the same time I sent you one, so she should have it by now.
M

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