Times Two

It’s been an awfully busy week, both day and night. I’ve had scant opportunity to write, and probably won’t get much of a break until the weekend. So for today, we will simply comment briefly on two items drawn from today’s issue of Gotham’s newspaper of record.

First, of course, we note that it is the 65th anniversary of the scurrilous Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The New York times marked the event by publishing on its editorial page a dispatch from reporter Robert Trumbull, written in 1942, describing the aftermath of the raid, and the enormous effort — including the creation of an ad-hoc city of workers at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard — that resulted in the salvage of almost all of the stricken vessels. These dispatches have not appeared in print until now, apparently; their publication was suppressed by military censors.

The writing is magnificent, of a style and command of language that is rare these days. A sample:

What has been done here to put back into fighting trim the once proud warships that were unmercifully rent and shattered by bomb and torpedo, the ships pounded and broken into an unholy mess and then jammed by their own great weight into the muck of the harbor bottom, could scarcely be grasped by anyone who has not seen it.

To understand adequately the staggering problem that faced the naval engineers Dec. 7, 1941, one must go back and survey Pearl Harbor as it lay in the silence of death and ruin after the attack.

The battleship Nevada, staggered by a number of heavy bomb hits and punctured by a torpedo that struck near the bow, was able to get underway and leave the hell that was Battleship Row. It beached itself in the channel and sank back to rest with water lapping its quarterdeck.

The California, its bow burned and its insides horribly scrambled by torpedoes amidships, sank at its moorings, settling in the mud with a list of five to seven degrees. Only its high turrets poked above the water, which swirled over its stern and quarterdeck, and rushed inside the torn hole to add its own vast weight to the mass pressing into the soft harbor bottom.

Please read this article — it is outstanding, and its publication, after so many years, is a worthy commemoration of this somber anniversary. You can find the excerpt that was published in today’s paper here, and see the original typewritten dispatches by following the links on the left-hand sidebar once you get there.

Second, we mark with sadness the passing of the great chess master David Bronstein, who died on Tuesday, in Minsk, at the age of 82. He was one the the top players of the twentieth century, and would perhaps have been World Champion but for circumstances of personality and politics. Certainly in skill he was the equal of the midcentury champions. His book 200 Open Games, a personally chosen selection spanning his greatest years, is one of my all-time favorite collections of games, and gathers little dust on my chess shelf. (An “open game”, for those of you who aren’t avid players, is one that begins 1. e4 e5.) You can read Bronstein’s obituary, also from today’s New York Times, here.

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