Thursday, February 17, 2011


I hope you had a fine day celebrating your sweetie with non-fattening, non-aspartamic sweets, and fair-trade flowers, in honor of fourteen or so martyred saints of ancient Rome.

A legend about one of them has him restoring the sight of his jailer's daughter, and then writing her a note on the eve of his execution and signing it "From your Valentine." Hmmm.  But I suppose "Be my Valentine" might be just as bad, in mytho-historical perspective.

Touching as this is, it is not as heart-warming as the message we and our British friends sent to our allies, the Russians, on February 14, 1945 -- via the thousand bomber firebombing and destruction of Dresden. Around 40,000 innocent civilians lost their lives delivering this message, and example of "killing the messenger".

I'm sure many of you have read Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five. If not, grab a copy right away. You won't forget it. It's a riot.

But even Kurt -- who was there at Dresden -- didn't really understand why all those people were getting burned and suffocated to death. He hadn't had available this excellent article backgrounding the affair:

It seems by February, 1945 there was no military necessity for this enormous operation. Rather, the barbarous wiping out of the population was directed at our Cyrillic allies to warn them not to get too uppity with their post-war victor claims. The Russkis needed to witness this kind of air-strike by the US and Britain -- one which could just as easily be turned on them.

Seven months later, the US alone would put on a similar show at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The cover story would be the same -- we need to do this to end the war. But the real story (victims aside) was to intimidate our Soviet friends with our love-power and solidarity.

Speaking of February and ancient Rome, I'll bet not many of you know where this month gets its name. After finding out, you may not want to know, but by then it will be too late. In the really old days, there was a major Roman festival called Lupercalia. That's right: lupus = wolf. It was a party in honor of the wolf who mothered Romulus and Remus, the brothers who founded the eternal city.

At the high point of the festivities, two boys were chosen to go to the cave where R&R had been nursed. There, they were anointed with the blood of sacrificed goats, and would spend the rest of the day running through the streets whipping people with strips of goatskin. These strips were called februa, from the Latin februum, a religious purification. There was also a lot of drinking.

Hearts and flowers, hearts and minds. May our beloveds beware.

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