The Umbrella Man

Today’s offering, courtesy of War on the Rocks: an essay on the study of history, from MIT’s Francis J. Gavin. Here.


  1. JK says


    Ever tell you Malcolm ’bout the time I left the ship headed to the PX in Yokosuka during a typhoon?

    Had myself one of those collapsible umbrellas and immediately after I cleared the air-break of the carrier pier wall the umbrella left me headed for China.

    An’ there I’d been thinking no air could be fiercer than standing behind an F-14 and have the “jokester” pilot click the abs on.

    I looked plumb foolish or so the SP said after they quit laughing. Then, when they asked and I replied “Arkansas” they didn’t quit.

    History …

    Posted November 18, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink
  2. swimple says

    Maybe it was a parasol. Thematic peg-hook done, next.

    Posted November 19, 2016 at 4:33 am | Permalink
  3. Tina says

    I had not heard this story before. It’s great! I bookmarked it.

    a willingness to understand historical subjects on their own terms and as products of a particular time and place

    It’s nearly impossible to get many people to understand what this means.

    There’s a Facebook page called “Traces of Texas” that posts random vintage photos. Comments from readers can show how quickly a wrong assumption can take hold. One example was a 1950s city street corner scene. Among assorted people walking or waiting to cross was a man whose legs had been amputated. He sat on a ground-level dolly, using hand-held blocks to push himself along.
    The other people on the street seemed to be ignoring him (and he, them). Readers freaked out! They were appalled that “no one is helping him!” “how can they ignore him?” “why did no one buy him a real wheelchair?” “look at those heartless people not offering to help him!” “how sad he has no prosthetics” “this is why we need government health care!” etc etc. But they were reacting wrongly, as anyone who has worked with physically handicapped people (or who has had genuine non-discrimination training) knows. And even if they weren’t, they never stopped to imagine that people had already helped him, that he may have refused help.

    He may have been (and most likely was) a “regular” downtown, familiar to the other people who probably crossed that intersection daily or weekly. My husband’s physical therapist pointed out that the ground-level wheels would have been much faster, easier, and safer to maneuver for that particular disability – even more so than state of the era prosthetics would have been. And he was more likely to have been self-supporting than someone in a similar situation today. A vast number of jobs that have disappears with technology included work that people with all kinds of challenges could do, that paid enough to live on (because a great deal less was required to support oneself 50 or 60 years ago).

    That is merely a small detail. Multiply them, and all the history books fail. Makes a good case for reading original source documents.

    Posted November 19, 2016 at 4:15 pm | Permalink