Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Comforting Presence of the U.S. Seventh Fleet

Hong Kong, 
1920 & 1987

Looking out the window of an old Star Ferry as it slowly chugged over to Kowloon on a warm October day in 1987, my family and I spotted the guided-missile cruiser U.S.S. Gridley bobbing serenely in Hong Kong harbor amid a swarm of fishing boats and barges. (Unknown to us, this warship of the U.S Seventh Fleet had just returned to Asian waters after conducting retaliatory strikes in the Persian Gulf.1) An American naval officer seated nearby overheard us discussing the vessel and asked if we would like to go on board. His invitation reflected the long and friendly relationship between the U.S. Navy and American expatriates living in Hong Kong. It is a connection that goes back many years, as evidenced by a menu from 1920.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Price of Fried Chicken in Old Florida

Winter Haven, 

When Cypress Gardens opened  in 1936, it was billed as Florida's first commercial theme park. Carved out of a swamp near Winter Haven, the botanical gardens added water-skiing shows and other attractions like hoop-skirted “Southern belles” who strolled through the grounds, chatting with guests and posing for photographs—a little like Mickey Mouse, but prettier. The park was used as the filming location for a number of travelogue romances in the 1940s, including the musical comedy “Moon over Miami,” starring Betty Grable and Don Ameche. It was also the site for a string of movies showcasing aquatic-actress Esther Williams.1 In the 1950s and 1960s, the gardens served as an exotic backdrop for television specials and print advertisements.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Summer of Love

Glassboro, New Jersey

During the Cold War, the two superpowers eased strained relations at critical moments by engaging in détente, an on-going process marked by summit meetings and treaties. One such crisis occurred in early June 1967, when war broke out between Israel and the Arab states. Shortly after the so-called Six-Day War, President Lyndon Johnson proposed to meet with Chairman Aleksei Kosygin of the Soviet Union, taking advantage of his counterpart's upcoming trip to address the United Nations. In addition to the Middle East, there were other issues for them to discuss, such as disarmament, nuclear arms control (China announced the explosion of its first hydrogen bomb on June 17) and the Vietnam War. Having pledged to “seek peace, any time, any place,” Johnson was looking for ways to end the conflict in Southeast Asia where the U.S. was gradually losing ground.  However, the first issue the leaders had to resolve was where to hold the summit. While Kosygin wanted to meet in New York, Johnson preferred Washington, believing there was less chance of anti-war demonstrations. In the end, they agreed on Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in Glassboro, New Jersey, a small town roughly equidistant between the two cities.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Wake-Up Special

Atlantic City, 

Some believe the adversarial relationship between the press and the White House started with Watergate, the political scandal that led to President Nixons resignation in 1974. However, there were already signs of strain in the 1960s when the term “credibility gap” came into widespread use, describing skepticism over the veracity of the Johnson administration’s public assessments of the Vietnam War. Although it may not be possible to pinpoint an exact date, trouble began soon after the first large-scale military deployment in March 1965, when the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade landed at Da Nang.