My crossing of the Delaware

Since I came this far to visit a friend in Philadelphia, I wanted to take advantage of being here, since I’m not sure when I’ll be in the neighborhood again.  Because of that, I booked a hotel by Valley Forge and planned to spend time today (7/13/17) in Trenton.

By the time I actually located my hotel (a fiasco that’s a story for another place) and navigated through the construction and traffic to actually reach the right entrance, I discovered I was unable to check in (despite the website claiming 24 hour check-in.  Apparently, it was not the official website.)  So, I left already frustrated with this leg of the journey.

Navigating around New Jersey is nothing like navigating around Virginia.  I desperately missed the times of going hours as the only car going in my direction and one of only a handful on the road.  But, finally, I made it to Trenton.  Now to figure out where to go.  If I had such famous events as “The Turning Point of the American Revolution” to my credit, I would shout it from the mountaintops.  I mean, this is how we became a nation! But, to find places in Trenton requires a bit more work.  After a bit of sleuthing (trying to decide where to actually go), I landed on the Visitor Center for Washington’s Crossing Historic Park.  I navigated around a path, illegally backed up, went the wrong way on a one way, and finally ended up in a parking lot for the center.  All the lights were off.

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Inside the Visitor Center.  I’m not sure where you weren’t supposed to take pictures, so I included a far away shot.

I went in, and the lone man at the desk informed me he had the lights off to help with the heat.  Understandable.  I paid my $1.00 to see the movie (I offered to pay the park entrance fee as no one had been at the gate, but he said they only charge on weekends.) and started to look around.  This is actually an incredible site with some incredible artifacts, including some of the first medals given out to a number of military men who made a huge difference in the American Revolution.  The movie explains about the time leading up to the American Revolution.  While the museum may not seem like much, the directors were apparently all at the American Revolution Museum in Philadelphia deciding how they wanted to make this museum better.  But, he assures me that project is still 6-10 years down the road.

One of the most interesting things I learned is that the story of the Hessians being hungover for the Battle of Trenton is a myth!  The site calls it the biggest myth in American History that is even in school textbooks. But, the series of skirmishes in the area and the journals of the Hessians revealed that they were on guard against Washington and his men.  The fact that the weather was horrible (freezing rain at our backs and in our enemy’s face, which also affected their gunpowder) and that Washington had crossed undetected and attacked forcefully made the real difference.

After looking through the museum, I asked the curator what he would recommend in town.  He drew me a map to the Old Barracks Museum and the Monument, but told me to head down to the Johnson Ferry houses.  One of the historians was down there, and she would be “a good one to talk to.”  He was more right than he knew.

The Johnson Ferry House

When I asked at the Ferry House, one of the historians said the other would be better as she’d grown up here and had been a docent here forever, whereas she was only a lowly seasonal employee (for 9 years!).  But, she brought down Nancy Ceperley, who is a jewel indeed.  For the next hour or so, Nancy and I sat on chairs in the Johnson house and talked about Washington.  We discussed the fact that he was an eloquent man, reserved, focused, and determined.  Nancy believes his aspirations to be in the gentry class stem from a desire to be able to serve on a greater level.  Our conversation then turned to Washington’s faith.  She mentioned his many letters and family observations that he was a deeply Christian man–not just a religious or moral man. We discussed his mason involvement, and the fact that the masons changed after Washington was in it, and that men at the time wrote to Washington to see if he could stop the changes, but he had a country to create by that time, and wrote that he could not focus on that at the time.

Lighting in the Johnson Ferry House

Our conversation then turned to the Crossing of the Delaware–the painting, the event, and the people who lived in this house located in a loyalist state who were willing to help Washington actively with ferrying troops and simply with their silence about the plan.  What a great risk they took!  This launched Nancy into a favorite subject of hers:  The Great Awakening.  While she covers the aspects of the house that are of interest to whichever visitors she has, her true passion and course of study is the affect the Great Awakening had in preparing for the American Revolution.  Were it not for that event pulling people together and giving them the principles, determination, and resolve to see Independence achieved, things might have been very different.

Replica of the flat boats that ferried troops and supplies

What an incredible privilege to meet Nancy!  We prayed together for the state of our nation today and for our respective roles in serving the public.  She gave me a copy of her book Whitefield in Philadelphia:  The Great Awakening of 1740, for which she spent years researching the connection between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution.  I can’t wait to read it!

Washington’s Crossing spot

As I stepped out to head to my car, contemplating the difference between my Turbo tour of yesterday, and this jewel, where I could literally sit for hours for a personal conversation with an expert, it began to pour rain!  So, I drove down to the crossing site and took pictures of the boat replica in the pouring rain.  But, as it was around 5:00, most things were closing.  Though I drove by the Old Barracks Museum and the War Memorial, I didn’t have opportunity to visit either.  Perhaps I’ll make it back before I head home.  But, regardless, I had an incredible day enjoying two of New Jersey’s hidden treasures!

Mount Vernon

Today (7/12/2017), I headed into Mount Vernon to catch up with some dear friends from high school who made the sacrifice to drive a few hours to see me and suffer the heat to visit with me.  Because of morning commitments, they were going to be later in the day, so I made the hour drive a bit early so I could do some research before they arrived.  When I arrived, however, I discovered that the research area had been moved from Mount Vernon itself to a library across the street–closed to the public until November, except by appointment only.  (My second time to be stuck in that situation.)  But, once again, the helpful people at customer service made arrangements for me to be able to go over to the library.

The study room 💗

After going through intense security (having to be buzzed in at two different entrances), I arrived at the new facility.  I’m sure I could have spent hours, but I only had about an hour before my friends arrived.  The librarian gave me a list of databases and helped me navigate their collection.  Right away, I found an amazing collection of George Washington’s memories of the French Indian War, and found it is still in print, so I ordered it from Barnes and Noble.  I also found a hardcover collection of the writings I had spent hours in Williamsburg reading online (Though this one ran almost $200–But, I discovered my home library may have it.)  While I didn’t really find anything new, per se, I found amazing resources to peruse at home, so it was definitely a great stop.

Part of the farm area

Then, it was off to Mount Vernon.  While it has been a while since any of us were here, there was so much I remembered and loved.  The grounds are beautiful, the wharf was neat to see, as were the gardens and farm area (though the walk back up was rough).  My favorite Mrs. Washington wasn’t there, which was a disappointment, as she is always a highlight.

But, the thing that struck me the most was the tour itself.  I jokingly called it the turbo tour.  While they had narrators in every area of the house, we actually spent less than a minute in any room.  We were shuffled along, catching only scattered pieces of information as we hustled through.  Yes, it was cool to see, but we wanted to learn.  I don’t know if I’m romanticizing my previous visit, but I feel like we lingered longer last time–that we had an actual guide who took us around.

A handsome George–around the age he is in my book

As we walked out, discussing the turbo tour, one of my friends pointed at the line, and said, “Yes, but imagine how long we’d have to wait if each group got an individual tour.”  I don’t know–somehow, I feel there has to be a better way to get the information.  Perhaps that’s what the Premium Tour covers.

All in all, it was still a good day, and as Jenny Roberts commented on Facebook, “That place is where history really hit me once.  Standing in the dining room, it became very real to me that George Washington himself had stood there, too!”  I’m hoping more people can slow down long enough for it to hit them too.

 

The Handley Library in Winchester, VA

I set out today (7/11/17) to find the library recommended to me by the Culpepper Library. (I also ran in by the Culpepper Library to copy some family tree info for a friend.  I had been scanning the shelves looking for things on Washington and ran across a book on his family.  I messaged him to see if he was aware of it, and was able to get him information for his upcoming family reunion!  Amazing God timing!)

The Handley Library in Winchester is an incredible building architecturally.  I headed down to the archives and started looking through their collection of Washington items.  While I didn’t find really anything new, (though I got to see some cool things), I learned that they have a French Indian War Organization whom I decided to try contacting.

Site of Fort Loudoun

When I stopped by the headquarters of the Organization, however, I discovered it was located at the site of Fort Loudoun, which George Washington designed and oversaw.  Unfortunately, there isn’t anything left of the fort but a filled in well–it now has houses on the site–but, they had an audio tour with some good information.

Jackson Headquarters

As I was heading to the Fort, I had noticed a sign for the Stonewall Jackson Museum in Winchester.  Since he’s my favorite Civil War General, I decided to swing by.  I’m so glad I did.  The site, known as Jackson’s Headquarters, was used by Jackson from 1861-1862.  The house itself was built in 1854 and first belonged to a dentist, but he sold it to Col. Moore (Great Grandfather of Mary Tyler Moore).  When Jackson came to town, he first stayed at the Taylor Hotel, but he had become famous (the whole “Stonewall” incident), so people were constantly trying to see him, and he never got anything done.  Col. Moore knew of the situation and had planned on vacating the house, so he offered it to Jackson.  Jackson moved in November of 1861, and his wife came the next month.

When he leaves in January for the Romney Campaign, his wife goes to live with the Grahams, so when he returns, he’ll go to her there and use the Moore’s home as his office.  Incidentally, the wallpaper in his office, which Jackson described vividly enough that it was able to be reproduced, and when they found the original, it was the same design.  Mary Tyler Moore paid for the office to be wallpapered again.

Jackson, seen through a cannon wheel

Jackson came close to quitting the war in this room as well.  He and General Loring had secured Romney (despite Loring’s delays and complaints over the conditions his men were enduring.)  Jackson left Loring to keep Romney secured.  Though the men were safe, Loring was frustrated with Jackson, felt vulnerable, and went over Jackson’s head to the War Department to have his men recalled.  Without consulting Jackson, the War Department ordered Jackson to recall Loring.  Jackson was furious and promptly resigned (asked for a transfer to VMI).  Joseph Johnston talked him out of it, however.  Still, Jackson was proved correct when the Union forces regained Romney as soon as Loring’s men had left it.

The Museum is also unique in that it has the Battle flag of the 33rd Virginia (Stonewall Brigade).  When battle flags were surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, a soldier managed to keep this one hidden.  Another amazing artifact is Jackson’s prayer book.  The curator explained he has lots of personal notes inside, but they’re not opening it.  That’s disappointing to me–I would love to have read Jackson’s notes and prayers.  She explained that Jackson’s habit was to pray three times a day.  He used to hang a handkerchief on his tent so his men knew to leave him alone.

Manassas

While I only got the abbreviated tour (I got there at 3:30, and they close at 4), I absolutely recommend this site!

From Jackson’s headquarters, I finished the drive to Manassas, where I will spend the evening before heading to Mount Vernon tomorrow.  It was perfect at the end of the day to see where Stonewall became Stonewall.

 

The Culpepper Library

I spent today (7/10/17) at two different libraries, again looking for primary source information on Washington.  I started out at the Culpepper Library, which I was surprised to find located in a shopping center!  But despite its unusual appearances, I received a lot of helpful information.  First, the librarian pointed me to another library I will have to check out tomorrow (it was an hour and a half away…), but she also helped me find a few accounts I hadn’t seen before.

View of Ferry Farm

First, I was interested to read an account of Ferry Farm and discover the house looks very different from the way they’re reconstructing it, so I’m sending the information I found over to them.  I’m sure they have done extensive research, it was just interesting to me.  Additionally, I found out that in the trial of the two indentured servants who had stolen George’s clothes while he was swimming, it was, in fact, two Women!  You have to wonder what they were thinking.  Apparently, from the records I’d found, one of them gave evidence that it was the other’s fault, and that girl got 15 lashes on a bare back.  Still, I think it’s hilarious and wonder how old these two ladies actually were.

I also found some anecdotes from others who knew George as a young man.  One described the fact that George could outrun anyone in the county, though another kid in town who was an excellent runner liked to boast he could “bring George to a tie.  But, I believe he was mistaken;  for I have seen them run together many a time; and George always beat him easy enough. ” Another man talked about how fine a rider George was, and how good a judge of horses.  A final man mentioned that strength ran in the Washington family, as his dad’s gun was so heavy that “not one man in fifty could fire it without a rest.”  He mentions Washington throwing rocks over the Rappahannock (determined to be 115 yards in length–or over a whole football field), so I’m sure this is what gave rise to the Silver dollar over the Potomac myth.  Definitely fascinating reading, though.

Washington’s letter–this original is an amazing part of the special collection at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville

From there, I made my way to the Special Collections building at the University of Virginia.  I checked out a box of Washington’s papers.  What an amazing privilege to hold Washington’s own description of the ambush in the French Indian War.  His writing is incredibly small (Picture left shows an eraser for comparison), and there was no transcript, but I got to read his description of the engagement I wanted.  Here’s what he said:

“When we came to this place we were attacked (very unexpectedly, I must own) by about 300 French and Indians….(After accounting their number and that they had 60 killed and wounded officers, including his General who would die three days later)…I had four bullets through my coat and two horses shot under me.  It is supposed we left 300 or more dead in the field.”

Another interesting passage to me was a letter he wrote to a close friend during the American Revolution.  He writes very candidly since this letter is being hand delivered and not going through any post riders.  His purpose is:

“to make you sensible of the real situation of our affairs, and that it is with difficulty, (if I may use the expression) that I can by every means in my favor keep the life and soul of this army together–in short, when they (Congress) are at a distance, they think it is but to say “(unreadable)” and everything is done–as in other words done (unreadable) without considering or seeming to have any conception of the difficulties and perplexities attending those who are to carry these resolves into effect.”  (Mar. 2, 1777 to Robert Morris)

It resonated because I could clearly understand how our current military men must feel when D.C. is making decisions that they have to carry out, having no real concept of what conditions are like or what it costs those men.  A good perspective.

The Statue slated for removal

I ended the day driving by the statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park) voted to be removed.  It had come to my attention on Twitter that there had been a march protesting the removal of the statue, so I wanted to go see it before it was gone.  I had posted on Facebook about the statue and had a lengthy conversation about how these men are perceived and whether or not there should be statues to them.  Having family in the South and knowing the character of these men, I love that they’re honored.  But, to some of my African American friends, they represent a system of slavery that led to unspeakable horrors for their ancestors.  I was again reminded of the need for good honest dialogue in order to mend the wounds that still run deep!

 

Washington’s Birthplace

After church at Crosswalk this morning (7/9/17), I set out from Williamsburg to take in two spots from Washington’s youth:  his birthplace, where he lived through age three, and his boyhood home, where he lived until he was a young teenager.  Both were incredible to see.

When I arrived at the birthplace, I learned that it had been the intention of George’s father Augustine to secure farms for all of his sons, not just the first one as was traditional.  He had the Pope’s Creek plantation first, then acquired Mount Vernon, and finally Ferry Farm.  Because of these acquisitions, George only lived at the Pope’s Creek Plantation until he was three, but often returned often during his youth. The house was in the family until 1779 when it burned in a fire on Christmas Day.

The reconstructed house–where they thought it stood.

While there is an outline of original house, the house on the property was built for the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday.  They built it on the spot they assumed was the original, but later archaeology confirmed a different location.

Our house tour was given by the lively Chris Kennedy, who told Washington’s whole story in rhymed verse–very fascinating information and delivery.  Kennedy stated that the stories about Washington (like the Cherry tree incident) were not meant to be taken for real events, but rather served as moral examples to the character children should acquire.  Chris said that the point of the Cherry tree story is to teach children (and grown ups as well) to admit when they’ve made a mistake.

Washington’s view out to the Potomac River

Chris also shared a bit of the Washington family history.  Washington’s dad’s first wife Jane died, leaving 3 kids.  Augustine’s second wife Mary gave birth to five more, of which George was the oldest.  As I mentioned, Augustine Washington was actively working to acquire farms for each of his sons, but when he died, all of George’s prospects changed. Now, he couldn’t go to England to study (a fact that would hinder his advancement in the British Army).  Additionally, Mary pulled George out of school at the age of 11 to help her run the Ferry Farm (she decided not to remarry–her property would be affected.  Additionally, with her older step sons (both in their 20’s) running Mount Vernon and Pope’s Creek, she felt she and George could manage Ferry Farm–George’s inheritance.)  George wanted to be in the British Navy, but his mom wrote letters so they wouldn’t take him (I’m curious to find what these say!)  Instead, she reluctantly sent George to his half brothers’ farms to learn.

The cradle came from the Washingtons, so it could have been George’s.

It is at his brothers that George does his first survey:  his brother’s turnip garden. His brother introduces him to Lord Fairfax, the richest man in Virginia and Lawrence’s father-in-law, who will hire him on as a surveyor.  George had always imagined he’d be a British officer and played with toy soldiers as a boy, but because of his lack of education, he was looked down on, even when he was able to join the militia.  George worked first as a farmer, then as a surveyor. Because of this, he knew much of the land, a fact that would advance him in battle later.

The bridge (reconstructed) over Pope’s Creek

Another tragedy struck when Lawrence died.  His widow inherited Mount Vernon. (George was next in line after her.)   George asks her to rent it to him, and she does. Shortly after, George receives a commission in the British army. His job?  Take letters to Ft. Duquesne.  Along the way, the French ambushed the company and an unarmed French nobleman was shot. Washington took prisoners so he’d have a chance to explain the situation (at Ft. Necessity.)  But, George still became the fall guy. (Apparently, he signed a confession he couldn’t understand because his translator had died–a good lesson in not signing something without reading it!)

Washington’s parents’ coats of arms

Later, General Braddock was advised by George to fight behind trees. Braddock ignores George’s advice and gets caught in an ambush where he and other officers are killed. The virtually leaderless soldiers flee to the woods. Washington is able to lead them out by a trail he knew as a boy. George himself had bullet holes in shoulder and hat. He did, however, learn that the British only want to hear what they want to hear instead of how to best protect their men.  That knowledge will help him with the attack on Trenton in the American Revolution.

Entrance to Ferry Farm

From Washington’s birthplace, I headed out to Ferry Farm.  I was surprised to enter this formerly 600 acre plantation by means of a dirt and gravel road. I knew that Augustine Washington had owned an iron works 6 miles down the road, which was probably the reason he chose this spot–that and it was near Fredericksburg, which was a bustling tobacco port. But, Ferry Farm was to be George’s property.  I found out when I went in the main building that George’s mom finally sold this property and moved to Fredericksburg in 1772. She sold it to Mercers, who rented it out. Later, a soldier in Civil War wrote a letter home in which he stated they had torn down Washington’s house for firewood. After that, Youth For Christ bought the property for a boy’s home. In 1996, the Kenmore foundation (Washington’s sister’s home) purchased it. Finally, in 2008 archaeologists found foundation of the house, and they are currently rebuilding on original site.

The Visitor Center

At the visitor center, I received an ipad to take a tour around the grounds.  There is a series of 10 flags which mark various points on the property.  At each point, you can listen to historical information as well as hear from the archaeologists.  Here are a few of the nuggets I gleaned along the way:

1.  When George moved here from Mount Vernon, he left a plantation for urban life–the city is obviously very different from the country.

2.  George’s first survey was of brother’s turnip patch. When Lord Fairfax enlisted him as a surveyor, this gave George a substantial salary.  Additionally, surveyors got to see the land first for claiming.

3.  Some slaves came with the property, some the Washington’s already had, and some came from Africa. One of the beads found on the property marked a chief.  I was reminded of the story of Cinque on the Amistad.  I wonder what his story was.

 

4.  Archaeology tells a lot about the family.  Since all of the estates were separated when Augustine died, Mary, who is 35 at the time and has 5 children, is left in charge of all the plantations. One thing archaeologists found is a punch bowl that Mary had mended–this shows that while they were comfortably situated, Mary is still being frugal.

 

5.  Being at the crossroads of trade, George undoubtedly conversed with people coming and going, which would improve his gentlemanly standing.  Also, from his surveyors wages, he paid for his own dancing and fencing lessons and to go to the theatre–which I think is both cool and hilarious.  He also learns cards and billiards, joins the masons, and is taught tea table manners. He learned gentlemanly behavior both at Ferry Farm and from Lawrence and the Fairfaxes.

6.  Archaeologists found over 115 wig curlers on Ferry Farm.  (George didn’t wear a wig–he liked his own hair better….)

The Rappahannock–this is the river Washington threw things across, though stones, not silver dollars

7.  Two court cases draw very public scrutiny of the family.  First, in there’s a trial in which one slave kills another–there wasn’t much information on that.  The other court case concerns George swimming in the Rappahannock and 2 indentured servants steal his clothes (I also think this one is hilarious!)

Construction and archaeology

Though it was unfinished, I’m glad I made a stop here, and will enjoy seeing the progress they’ve made the next time I come!

The Governor’s Palace

I began my study of George Washington at my favorite Colonial Williamsburg.  When I received my grant on Robert Bolling, I spent a great deal of time in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, aided by the wonderful people there, so I knew they would be a good place to start today (7/7/17).

I was pleased to find on the Colonial Williamsburg schedule that Lady Washington would be speaking today.  We had fallen in love with the “original” Martha Washington (who started the reenactment program at Colonial Williamsburg and now plays Lady Washington at Mount Vernon.)  And while I know the reenactors at Williamsburg are just that, I also know they spend an extensive time studying the original before taking on the role.  Since I wanted to get a feel for Washington’s personality, I figured the best place to start was with those who “knew him best.”

Lady Washington’s presentation was mostly concerning the role of women in the war, but more specifically her duty to her husband.  When they had married, George had promised her he wouldn’t be involved in battle again.  But, when he is selected by the Continental Congress to hold the position, he feels duty bound to accept.  Martha, also has an amazing sense of duty which will compel her to the winter camps to be with her husband.  Ironically, she receives the final persuasion to go from reading in the newspaper that she is a Tory, estranged from her husband, and not supportive of the cause.  Obviously, this makes her aware of the role she plays in the new nation’s formation.  So, for the next several years, she will spend the winters with her husband in camp, where many of the men will view her as a mother and caretaker to them all.  It definitely gave the audience a lot to think about in regards to our current soldiers and their families.

Lady Washington

After seeing Lady Washington, I wandered around a bit and stumbled upon an auction in progress.  This is a newer addition to Williamsburg and one of the changes I actually like. Daily during the summer and on Saturdays the rest of the year, Colonial Williamsburg conducts a public auction (not requiring an admission pass).  During the auction, bids start usually at half price on items available in gift shops and a few special items unique to the auction.  It was an incredible experience!  It’s also the only auction I’ve seen where the auctioneer will occasionally give you items for less than you were willing to pay.  I had bid up to $10 on a hatpin, and he dropped the bid back to $5!  Definitely a fun addition.

After the auction, I decided to buckle down for the heat of the day, and made my way to John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, where I received my second surprise.  There was a sign on the window that due to the cuts, the library would no longer be open to the public, except by appointment–which I didn’t have.  Another loss from lack of funding.  Thankfully, however, one of the librarians saw me gaping and let me in.  Those who were there were willing to work with me, and I spent the next four hours pouring over Washington’s papers.  One of the managers was also able to email the man who plays Washington, as an artist on the palace green informed me he had been required to do a year of reading before being allowed to play Washington (You see what I mean about these guys knowing their stuff.)  I haven’t heard back from him yet, but I’m excited for the process.

The Auction

There were several cool things I discovered while doing research on the young George Washington. I started with his diary entries as a 15 year old!  These were mostly about his surveying activities and discussions of hard times he had with lodgings (sleeping on scant hay with vermin infested blankets.)  But, he also included a passage about seeing an Indian war dance.  I copied down his description for use in my book.

“They clear a large circle and make a great fire in the middle, then seat themselves around it.  The speaker makes a grand speech telling them in what manner they are to dance.  After he has finished, the best dancer jumps up as one awakened from sleep, runs and jumps around the ring in a most comical manner.  He is followed by the rest.  Then begins their musicians to play a pot half of water with deer skin stretched over it as tight as it can and a gourd with some shot in it to rattle and a piece of horse tail to make it look fine.”

Knowing how much Washington would deal with the Native Americans in the future, I found it interesting to read these early impressions.  Reading Washington’s own thoughts really gave me a sense of his voice.  I especially loved his dealings in the French-Indian War.  Two things particularly stood out. First, Washington even at this time was honing his spy skills.  He evaluated land for its potential defensability. He also used time in the French forts to scout their resources.  His level of observation (telling how many cannons and which types, the number of men, and areas of the fort that were vulnerable) give indication of the strategist he would become.  It also helped me understand the information he requested of the Culpepper ring.

The Capitol Building

The second thing that interested me was his dealings with the Native Americans and the propaganda each side used.  The French seemed to try to bribe the Indians with goods (mostly weapons or alcohol.)  The British, however, protest that they’re fighting this war to preserve the Indians lands, and they offer their protection to the tribes’ old, women, and children.  Another interesting thing I noticed (and Washington seems to take exception to) is the fact that the French call the Indians “children” and the Indians refer to them as “fathers.”  The British (or at least George Washington on their behalf) calls the Indians both brother and friend.  In one letter, he even signs his own Indian name Conotocarious.  Ironically, the name (which Washington inherited from his Great Grandfather John Washington) means “Town Taker” or “Devourer of Villages.”  In light of our later treatment of Native people, I find that extremely interesting and would love to find the back story.  Even more interesting is the fact that when Washington refers to himself by his Indian name, he has just signed his letter “Your friend and brother.”  Just a fascinating dance, these interactions between cultures!

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Escaping a Rainy day at Charlton’s

After studying for the better part of four hours, I decided to head over to Charlton’s Coffee House.  As always, there was amazing chocolate and fun information on the house, and on this particular day, it provided a nice place to wait out the short shower of pouring rain.

I concluded my day by heading over to the William and Mary Campus Library.  The Special Collections researchers had already headed home for the day, but the librarian was able to point me in the direction of Ferry Farm, Washington’s boyhood home.  I was surprised this hadn’t come up in my research–I just had information on his birthplace and assumed he went from there to Mount Vernon.  But, Ferry Farm is on my way (ish) from the birthplace to Culpepper, so I’ll head there on Sunday.  So much to see and do!

Welcome to Virginia

When I first started this blog, I had received a grant from The Lilly Foundation to study Robert Bolling and Lucy Maude Montgomery.  I used this blog to chronicle my six week journey with them.  Once I finished with my studies, however, I continued my journey through a variety of travels.  There are so many amazing places to visit in our world, and I wanted to share them with you.

I am writing now, having just returned from Cambodia (I will try to post a few blogs about my time there) with the news that I had received the Indiana Arts Commission grant to study the life of George Washington.  So, we have come full circle.  I’m studying George Washington to get to know him as a young man to complete a novel I’m working on entitled Jon Everett and the Hall of History.  In the novel, Jon meets a young George Washington in the French Indian War.

I decided, as I embark on this journey, I will share the first chapter with you.  So, without further ado, thus begins Jon Everett and the Hall of History.      

Chapter 1

“Army Crawl,” Jon snorted as he pressed his face into the dirt. “Army drag is more like it.” Overhead, a shower of sparks split the sky. Something had been hit. The sky turned black again. In the darkness, he heard Howie gasp. “Shhh!” he chided. But, he immediately saw the source of Howie’s alarm. Search lights were bobbing down the hill, not five hundred yards from where they lay.

“Roll!” he ordered. Just left of them was a row of hedges. Their only hope was to get behind them before the search lights could give them away. He and Howie half rolled, half scrambled noiselessly behind the hedges, then flattened themselves into the soft earth. Despite the approaching choppers overhead, Jon bit into his sleeve as his elbow covered his nose, trying to muffle his breath and keep himself from making any noise.

The bobbing search light grew closer. They could hear footsteps approach and stop. Jon and Howie lay perfectly still as the light passed over the tops of the hedges. Jon tried to shrink, praying his feet wouldn’t be seen. He scarcely dared to breathe as the search light wavered, then kept moving.

We’re safe,” he thought, lifting his head off his arm. Just then, he felt his forehead split apart. Pain ripped through him.

A voice broke into his consciousness. “And so, Washington secured his reputation as a brave and noble soldier—“

Jon looked around. He was in Mr. Jackson’s history class. He rubbed his head. Ouch!

In the desk next to him, Howie was silently shaking with laughter. “Your head slipped off your arm,” he mouthed, eyes watering.

He must have whacked it on the corner of the desk. “That’ll leave a mark,” Jon thought to himself, eyes straying unconsciously to the clock above the door. “Three more minutes.” He glanced at the board and tried to hurriedly finish jotting down the notes. He wiped the drool off his paper and sighed. ”I’ll just get them from Jeanette later.”

Mr. Everett, please remain after class.” Mr. Jackson said. Howie shot him a sympathetic look as the bell rang. Jon gathered up his books and sighed loudly as he headed up to Mr. Jackson’s desk. Mr. Jackson waited until the other students had left the room before starting in on Jon.

Jon, this is the third day in a row you’ve fallen asleep in my class,” he began.

I’m sorry,” Jon thought it best to apologize before Jackson really got started. He had gym next. “Sir,” he added for good measure. Teachers liked it when they thought you respected them.

Is everything okay at home? Have you been staying up too late?”

Jon stared at him in disbelief. ”Where does this guy get off?” he thought. “No,” he said aloud, “I’m bored.” Politeness hadn’t worked. Might as well try being rude. “I’m never going to use this stuff in real life. Who cares about a bunch of dead guys anyway?”

Mr. Jackson looked stunned. Jon congratulated himself. “Well, I do, for one. But, let me get this straight. You think George Washington is irrelevant?”

Jon thought fast. No use insulting the Founding Fathers. “He was a cool guy, I guess. I mean, he was our first president and all. But, come on, Mr. Jackson, be honest. What else do I really need to know about him? I mean, other than the fact that he’s on our money, and when I’m playing pro-ball, I’ll be making a lot more than dollar bills.”

You think so, do you?” Mr. Jackson asked. “And you think there’s nothing Washington could teach you that’s relevant for life—or basketball?”

Jon had to laugh at this one. “Come on, Mr. J. The only ball Washington knew about was the kind with those nice knee britches he wore and the girls in those dresses that made their hips look big. Basketball wasn’t even invented yet. Face it. He’s got nothing to do with today.”

Hmm,” Mr. Jackson thought a while.

Round one. Jon Everett.” Jon smirked. Mr. Jackson just had to dismiss him so he could get to gym class. “Well, Sir, I’m glad we’ve had this little talk, and I promise I will try to stay awake, but I really should get to gym class…”

Mr. Jackson wasn’t finished yet. “I’m assigning you extra homework this weekend.”

What?” Jon nearly shouted. He had practice this weekend. “No, Mr. Jackson, it’s almost tournament. I said I’d do better!”

And I will be speaking to your coach as well.” Jon groaned. Coach Myers would make him run for sure. Suicides probably.

What do I have to do?” He growled, trying to keep his hands from clenching into fists. “How could Mr. Jackson do this? Just because I fell asleep in some stupid history class? It isn’t even on the SAT. You know a class is stupid when they don’t bother to test it.”

I’m sending you to the History Museum.” Jon leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling, sighing loudly. “I’ll expect a one page paper on my desk Monday morning. The paper will cover what you’ve learned about George Washington. Since you obviously can’t learn from me, maybe the museum can help. They have a special exhibit on George Washington.”

And if I don’t do it?” Jon asked, brazenly.

You fail my class. Which I think makes you ineligible for the tournament next weekend. Coach Myers won’t be too pleased to have to find a new point guard on such short notice.” Mr. Jackson smiled. Jon wanted to hit him. But, he’d be expelled for that too.

Fine.” He said instead, and turned towards the door.

Jon,” Mr. Jackson stopped him. “You forgot your pass.”

It was hard to slam a spring-loaded door, but somehow, he managed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stamp cards that help you trace the changes in Poland through the War

Stamp cards that help you trace the changes in Poland through the War

For out last day in Poland (6/27/15), we spent the morning touring the Schindler Factory Museum.  This is by far the coolest museum I have ever been in (Which is saying something, as I’ve been in museum’s all over the United States and around the world.)  The attention to every detail was incredible.  The museum traces the journey through the war.  Though it is called the Schindler Factory Museum, this is because it was Schindler’s Factory–the Museum covers World War II, not just Oskar Schindler.  Every time we turned the corner, it took our breath away.  From the floor which varied from cobblestones, to planks, to gravel to tile, depending on the area you were to be in, to the interactive screens, to sound effects, to artifacts, this museum truly outdoes anything you’ve ever seen.  I easily could have spent the entire day in there.

We had bought the combination ticket (Three museums for less than $7,00), so we also went back to the Pharmacy by the chair memorial.  It was much smaller than the Schindler Factory, but still offered some cool details.  We had wanted to check out the Resistance Museum as well, but there just wasn’t time.  Instead, we spent the afternoon and evening just roaming around the square.  We will definitely miss this place on so many levels.

Flower Market in the Market Square

Flower Market in the Market Square

So, in case I forget, here’s a list of things I will miss about Poland:

1.  The sound of horse’s hooves on cobblestones as the horse drawn carriages run underneath our window

2.  Gelatto every 10th store or so (and eating it several times a day)

3.  Walks to the square where you are safe enough to walk alone, yet usually run into someone from the hundred members of our team.

4.  Architecture that is older than our country

5.  The bugler who plays every hour from the clock tower

6.  Eva Kor–her humor and her stories

7.  Street performers (usually Break Dancing) in the square

8.  Outdoor restaurants that have blankets on the chairs as standard procedure in case you get cold.

9.  Castles and Cathedrals

10.  Sharing an incredible experience with strangers who feel like you’ve known them forever.

Birkenau (Auschwitz I)

Birkenau (Auschwitz I)

Today, (6/26/15). We went back to Birkenau and Auschwitz I. On the way, Alex shared another Eva story. Apparently, in the frames after the part of the liberation video that is usually shown, when you watch the end of it, Eva sticks her tongue out at the camera and laughs. Knowing Eva as we do, none of us are surprised.

When we arrived at Birkenau, we had the choice to go on the guided tour or explore on our own. I did a little of both. One of the things I had noticed is that for me, going on a tour is fascinating as far as the information you receive, but it doesn’t allow everything to really hit you.  Walking around with other people, rushing through exhibits, etc., isn’t conducive to reflection and understanding the gravity of the situation and this place.  I wanted to allow myself time and space to truly be impacted by what is here.  So, I opted to keep my headset on when I was with the group and wanted to hear what was being said, but also have the freedom to walk away when there was a shot I wanted or time I needed.

Szymon returned us to the barracks showing the living conditions of prisoners. 100_4484He shared that people in Birkenau considered Auschwitz a spa. Though people in Chelmno considered Birkenau a spa. It’s all in your perspective. Looking through the barracks, I was amazed to see a bird sitting at the window seemingly looking out. It sat for a minute, gazing out through the bars, then flapped its wings.  I was reminded of two things:  First, Mia Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  In it, she shares some of the horrors of her childhood and explained how much she was touched by beautiful things as an escape to the terrors around her.  Second,  I was reminded of an interview in Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah.  A woman recalls her experience being on one of the cattle cars and peeking out of the top window and seeing birds fly by.  She remembered envying them their freedom.

Eva sitting at the ruins of her barracks

Eva sitting at the ruins of her barracks

After the barracks, I left the group to go around  a bit on my own. Eva was back at the foundation of her former barracks, and there was a small group around her as she again told about her days in the camp.  She pointed out the remains of the stove they used too cook “organized” (stolen) potatoes on (End of the bricks where the flowers are sitting in the picture).  The girls in the barrack used to take turns standing guard while one of them cooked.  It was only after the liberation a friend had told her, “How did you manage to not get caught?  Boiled potatoes have a smell.”  Eva was surprised, so she boiled a potato to see, and sure enough, the girl was right.  Eva speculated that it might be because Dr. Mengele admired people who were strong and resourceful.  He despised pathetic people, so perhaps he had told them to not interfere with those who had managed to acquire something to help themselves.  Another group member asked if Eva had ever seen the giants or dwarves Mengele kept.  She said she had seen both.  Mengele was trying to figure out what caused all kinds of genetic mutations in his quest to create the master race.  He also practiced different methods of sterilization on some of the twins and other subjects.

Eva speaking to Israeli Students

Eva speaking to Israeli Students

Then, it was time for our candle lighting at the Victims’ Memorial. When we arrived for the celebration, we found Eva sharing her story with a groups of Israeli students, all draped in Israeli flags. She challenged them to never be a bystander, to never give up, and about the power of forgiveness. As she shared her story, one sweet girl sat with years running down her cheeks. “It’s alright,” Eva said, “I made it. And you will too.”
Finally, Alex was able to drag her away, and we went to the monument. One by one, each of us lit a candle and shared who we were lighting it for. Eva lit hers in memory of her family, Alex in honor of the grandparents he had never known. It was an incredible time to hear which aspect of the Holocaust was memorable to whom.

Remembrance

Remembrance

Team members honored their own family members, members of resistance movements, those still surviving in countries affected by genocide, and those who sacrificed their lives for others. I lit mine in memory of Maurice Eisenstein’s family (a member of our Chabad community whose whole family perished in the Holocaust), the Ten Boom family and others like them who risked their lives to hide Jews and paid the ultimate price. After that, a rabbi with us led us in the mourner’s Kaddish. Definitely a moving time.

Then, we left Birkenau for lunch at Art Deco and then to Auschwitz I.

Wall Art from the Gypsy area

Wall Art from the Gypsy area

Here, we went to see the typical barracks. Then, we headed to the Museum dedicated to the memory of the gypsies.  This was another fascinating area.  One of the coolest things was the artwork on the wall.  There was a painting by a prisoner that was actually done on the wall and protected by glass, but there was also an art display by a prisoner whose art talent literally saved her life.  Additionally, it was fascinating to read the stories of a number of children who had escaped.  It may just be my imagination, but I could almost tell from the eyes of these children which ones would succeed.  They had a defiance and a determination that looked different than the others.  What courage it must have taken, just like little Eva, to have the will to survive that will help you do whatever it takes to stay alive.

Children's drawings from the camp (Yad Vashem exhibit)

Children’s drawings from the camp (Yad Vashem exhibit)

A difficult area to visit was the Yad Vashem exhibits.  This was an incredibly well-organized exhibit that really makes the experience real for those who visit.  One of the things nearly every member of our group mentioned was the room with children’s drawings.  A number of children drew images from the camp–some ghastly like hangings or shootings, some beautiful like hearts, stars of David, and a bird singing–ironic in light of my experience that morning.  Another one that touched me the most was the image of a little girl sitting alone on the train platform with a suitcase with the word Terezin, 1943, and a number on it (Possibly a relative’s prison number.)  Another was the image of abandoned toys.  It’s very interesting to view an atrocity though the eyes of a child.

Book of Names room

Book of Names room

Another area that was extremely moving was the book of names room.  In three languages, it states, “The names of the murdered are inscribed in this book as an eternal memorial.”   Then, it quotes Psalms 139:16, “And in your book, they all will be written.”  Like no other area, this room strikes you with the sheer mass of people who were murdered,  I took the opportunity to look up my friend Maurice’s family, as he had mentioned they had been wiped out during the Holocaust.  I thought I might find a relative or two.  There were two full pages (3 feet of type each!) with name after name of people with his last name.  It was horrifying to see the devastation of this one family.  Another team member had found that her family name had three pages.  It brought home the fact that the Holocaust truly wiped out entire family lines!

Sabbath service at the Galicia Jewish Museum

Sabbath service at the Galicia Jewish Museum

When we returned to the hotel, a group of us were scheduled to head into town for a musical Sabbath service.  So we caught a cab downtown for a little over $4.00 total for the four of us, and waited for the service to begin.  We had previously had dinner here, and it was a cool venue.  The group here is really a grassroots group trying to interest seekers and make traditions more palatable for a younger audience.  With my normal experience in Judaism being with Chabad, it was WAY different.  They had a female rabbi, played instruments throughout, and didn’t recite the normal prayers, though there were people who did it.  However, the music was well done, they had Siddurs available for the visitors, and Kiddish was sensitive (both wine and grape juice) with the most amazing hallah I have ever tasted.  Just not what I’m used to.

When we arrived at the hotel at 10:30 PM, Eva was just heading into the lobby.  She sat on her walker and shared with us–stories from her past (returning to their family home to find it abandoned and neglected.  She teared up discussing her mother and how it felt to realize by the tall weeds and neglected appearance that her parents were never coming back.  But, she soon changed to the humorous as well, laughing through the tale of her husband getting trapped in his new used car because he didn’t know how to get out without setting the alarm off.  We laughed and cried and just thoroughly enjoyed being in the presence of Eva Kor.  Finally, we headed back to our rooms, shocked to discover it was midnight, and we had spent an hour and a half sharing with her.  What an incredible time!

The Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine

This morning (6/24/15), we had the rare opportunity to visit the Wieliczka salt mine. It is an incredible experience, and one I recommend.  Ironically, I first heard of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in the eighth grade English book selected for me to teach.  The article was used for students to practice summarizing, but described in great detail the beauty of this mine.  Now, 13 years later, I get to see it in person.

This was a working salt mine until salt production stopped in 1964. Now, they just use the brine from the mine for bath salts and other beauty products.  When it was time for our tour, we were escorted to a miner elevator (claustrophobic–it was built for the miners, but is actually more like a 3x5x6 cage.  Still, an incredible experience!).  We descended several floors to start the tour.  In the normal tour, there are 800 steps, but a few of us were blessed to take the “handicapped tour” because of our knee problems (heart for me.) there were about 20 stairs. Additionally, in one area, we had a ramp of 100 meters with about a 30 degree incline.  We discussed the difference between the American definition of handicap accessible and that of other countries.

Salt Sculpture in the mine

Salt Sculpture in the mine

Down in the mine, it is a constant 57 degrees (constant 14 Celsius). They used oak or pine wood to reinforce the walls because they are hard woods.  The salt statue in the main chamber is from the Second World War. Inside the mine, there are 2,350 chambers with 240 km of corridors.  And, in 1978, UNESCO placed the Wieliczka salt mine on its list as a world heritage site. With its rich history, it’s easy to see why.

In the 18th century, kings owned the mine. At the time, it was a treasure.  Due to the lack of refrigeration, salt was valued for its preservative properties and its ability to mask the taste of that which had not been preserved well enough. In fact, In the 14th-15th century, it was more expensive than gold.  In one chamber, there is a statue of Johann Wolfgang van Goethe who had visited the mine (right). It was carved by miners just outside of the only chamber excavated with explosives. In addition to the amazing sculptures, in the lower levels of the mine, there is a Sanitarium for people with asthma or a spa to enjoy as the air is supposed to make you look two years younger.

Salt chapel--carved entirely out of salt

Salt chapel–carved entirely out of salt

The mine averages over one million visitors per year, and tourists started visiting after the First World War.  Our tour guide shared the legend of the patron saint of this mine. The Hungarian Princess Kinga knew that Poland was rich but had no salt. King Bela took her to a mine in Hungary. She threw her engagement ring down the shaft to claim it,  When she arrived in Poland, she asked miners to dig down deep.  According to legend, they found salt, and when they split it open, her engagement ring was inside, claiming the mine for herself.  She then became the Patron saint of miners.   Mining is dangerous, so miners prayed a lot in the chapel–and it’s incredible!  This chapel is floor to ceiling salt (Trust me, one of our tour members licked the floor…)  The amazing artistry is incredible, reproducing such greats as Da Vinci’s Last Supper,  other incidents in the life of Christ, a statue of Pope John Paul II, and a salt chandelier!  It is breathtaking!

Salt Crucifix from the chapel area

Salt Crucifix from the chapel area

There are three masses held in this chapel every year:  One at Christmas, one July 24 (Polish Independence Day), and the fourth of December, the day of St Barbara, the patron saint of miners.   This entire room was carved by three Polish miners who were also artists.  I can’t even imagine what it took to create a thing of such lasting beauty.

In addition to the caverns and chambers, the mine also boasts a restaurant and two bookstores where you can purchase a variety of salt and salt related items.

From the mine, we headed into town where we were able to spend time just walking around the market, having conversations with our group, buying souvenirs, and enjoying the horse drawn carriages and the variety of street performers always doing something on the streets of the square.

After an incredible dinner at Wesele on the square, we headed back to the hotel to hear one of our tour members share about his trip to North Korea three years ago.  I have included my notes from his lecture.  Please realize that this is North Korea as seen through his eyes.  His views may be accurate–they may not be.  With the current lack of information about North Korea, I appreciate the opportunity to learn, even if I take it with a grain of salt.  Most of it has already been discovered by the UN or other organizations.

He began his talk explaining the ideology of North Korea.  He compared it to a religion of Kim family worship. These men are held in such regard that there are a variety of myths surrounding them such as rainbows appeared at their births or they don’t have to use the bathroom.

He got to visit North Korea because they invite a group of Harvard grad students to visit, and he wanted to attend.  He explained in this ideology that the government has absolute control over information. People are taught that their first loyalty is to state. Children will even spy on their own families, just like in Nazi times.  He had written his thesis on North Korean prison camps.

After explaining that the Kims have been In charge of 20 million people for 60 years, he delved into previous history. Before WWII, Korea was colonized by Japan. Japan tried to get rid of Korean culture. Then, after World War II, it was split into two parts:  one controlled by the Allies, one by the Communists. Both sides put in puppet government. So, the Koreans came from a unified people–one people group. The politics were imposed not chosen. North Korea had been controlled by the USSR, so when Communism fell, they needed new benefactor. They chose China, another close Communist nation, but they never had the relationship with China they had with Russia.

So, what is life like for a North Korean?  He asked us to remember they controlled what he got to see. First, he commented that they had a hard time feeding the group. The food they received was either inadequate or sub par. At end of trip, all members had mouth sores and were weak. After first experiencing inadequate nutrition, the feeling is intense. Then, it subsides. At the peak of their hunger season (day 2-3), they went to restaurant. Their minder told the group North Korea was paradise on earth.  In the middle of making the statement, the lights went out. It was a rolling black out.

He also reminded us that, depending on what you do with interacting with locals, you won’t end up in jail, but they will. We talked about the Holocaust prisoners strong sense of familial responsibility–it’s the same In North Korea. There are three classes in Society. Your class determined food, information, ability to be in government, etc. The three classes are: those loyal to Kim’s, people who were wavering, or people determined to be disloyal. Because of this, there is such a culture of fear. They don’t want to be sent north.

There is a dual function of the prison camps: Get rid of people they don’t like permanently and inspire so much fear that everyone wants to obey. These aren’t death camps like Auschwitz. If your cousin does something, your entire family may get sent. When you arrive, you’re told you’re scum, and you will work for the regime until you die. They call it being plucked up by roots.  You have to eliminate the whole family to get rid of the root of disloyalty.  Estimated numbers in the camps were 150,000-200,000. Most of the information we have comes from people who escaped. There’s a story of one man who was born in camps because “good” prisoners may be allowed to have sex with other prisoners. Like the Nazis, guards are told prisoners aren’t people. Starvation is rampant. It’s so bad there were people searching through dung to find undigested kernels of corn to eat. There are extensive rapes and forced abortion. Guards also use people for live target practice or lock them in cells where they can’t stand or stretch. Survivors say there are no pictures, but if you want to see, look at Holocaust.

So, what can we do? How do we make sure we’re not just the same as those who knew the Holocaust was happening and did nothing about it.  First, we can raise awareness, especially with people in power. But, the question remains:  What do you do to make people across the world care? Our speaker’s suggestions?  North Korea is dependent on China to feed their people. Why does China support North Korea? His speculation is for China, It is better to have Korea divided than united and leaning toward the US. China has a lot to be proud of and to offer the world. They also want to save face with the world. When things get too bad in North Korea now, China turns off oil for 24 hours–they yank the proverbial chain. We need to ask China to use their leverage to bring change.

Still, the question is far from easy.  What would North Korea do with all those people if the camps closed? He doesn’t know.  But the US government isn’t the one to raise pressure. We need advocates. We can’t throw our arms up and saw there’s nothing we can do.

Another interesting thing he shared was that everywhere they went they saw actors. They were allowed to visit a maternity hospital named for the Kims. On the trip, they had a neonatal doctor from the US. After touring the hospital and seeing all the mothers and babies, he said none of the babies were newborn, and none of mothers had just given birth.  It was all an act.  Also, they went to a library to see people typing on computers. When they walked by screens, they were all off.
They also came across a wedding in park that they “happened” upon. Every building had pictures of Kim’s. People have been sent to camps for not respecting the portraits.

Someone asked what does China get out of North Korea? Apparently, there is long history among the countries there. People believe if armies are coming to attack China, they’ll go through Korea. Having the buffer zone is good for them.  Also, the two countries fought together against Japan in WWII. He feels that in China, there is a diversity of opinion: Some ask why are we in this? Others say we are brothers in arms, loyal to the end.  Another group asks at what point do we break ties?  Having North Korea, though, also deflects resources and interest to something else when China needs it to.

As to the future, he shares he thinks North Korea was better under Kim il Sung. He really was a war hero. Under Kin Jong Il, things got worse. People hoped things were going to change with the new regime. But he thinks Kim Jong Un is being the most brutal, executing even his own family. Everyone’s hoping for reform. China did it successfully.  Maybe Korea can too.  For past 60 years, people have been predicting the collapse of North Korea, and yet it holds on. He does not think solution is military. There is a pessimism in the region. Most of the region doesn’t want to take on the issues associated with thousands of refugees and their health problems, etc. feels like leaders think it will be over soon so haven’t tried.
He recommends reading The Hidden Gulag by David Hawk.  It contains testimonies of people in the camps.

Finally, he shared a few stark details.  The kids are malnourished, so South Koreans are on average are 5-6 inches taller, despite being from the same heritage. He saw schools and orphanages where the kids were malnourished with rashes. He didn’t see a single old person in North Korea. People had also converted cars to run on steam for when there’s no gas.  He stated that people have same clothes and haircuts. The number one thing studied in school is the wisdom of the leaders. This is all people know. Only ruling elite are allowed outside education. There is smuggling out of North Korea, but they’re clamping down on it. One final story he told was when they had been in North Korea for six days.  Suddenly, a noise broke into their sub-consciences, and everyone on the team stopped.   It was the sound of a bird. They had seen and heard no birds or squirrels in the whole time they’d been there. When 1/5 of country died, they ate them all.

The first step is being informed.  Now, we have the opportunity to be an advocate.