Tag Archives: England

Big war, small peace – did Stephen Hawking really know the truth?

29 Aug


I was waiting, so I picked up a book. Inside, just a few pages in, was a simple sentence with the power to uplift, encourage, and promote optimism.


It seemed to confirm the idea that there was light amid the dark; that somewhere below the horrid nature of mankind there was good trying to surface.

Sadly, that sentence – written as a statement of fact – is probably wrong. Oddly, its author is one of the world’s most intelligent men.


Hawking book jacket-bioThe book was “My Brief History,” the 2013 autobiography of physicist Stephen Hawking, the man in the wheelchair with the synthetic voice whose life is now a major motion picture called, “The Theory of Everything.”


The movie is more a love story than a science story. Still, its title comes from Hawking’s pursuit of a unified way of explaining all forces in the universe.

In the book, Hawking talks about his birth in Cambridge, England, home of one of the world’s greatest universities. His reason for being born in Cambridge is what uplifted me. His casual little sentence was a gentle piece of history I had never heard of; one of those marvelous pieces of information that suggests we maintain a small degree of civility even as we try to utterly destroy each other. It was like reading for the first time about the unofficial Christmas truce during World War I, when soldiers from both sides climbed out of the trenches, sang songs together, exchanged presents and even played soccer.


In Hawking’s case, the scene is World War II. The scientist said his family moved to Cambridge because the English and the Germans had agreed it was not to be bombed. Also under protection was Oxford, and in Germany the universities at Heidelberg and Goettingen.


I had never heard anything of the sort, but recognized that such an agreement could easily have been buried in the rubble of all the other destruction. Visualizing the leaders of these two warring countries shaking hands on this was heart-warming. I actually pictured them doing it.


But I guess even Hawking can get things wrong.


The fact-checking site Snopes.com said the agreement mentioned by Hawking had been an Internet myth. It’s likely to spread further now with Hawking’s book. Additional searches could not confirm the agreement.


Of course, Cambridge was without strategic value and bombs were precious, so it was much safer to be in Cambridge than in London. Hawking’s father probably moved the family there just to lessen the odds of being killed.


With many others doing the same, the myth of protection probably evolved and spread. I’m sure it made living in Cambridge a lot more comfortable.


Cambridge bombedMyth or not, in 2010 a BBC website ran a story on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Vicarage Terrace in Cambridge. It has a woman named Barbara Wright remembering the incident. She was six. There’s a photo.


“Suddenly there was a huge noise,” she said. “The actual walls on either side came in and practically touched us.”


The story said nine people were killed in the attack, and that they were the first British civilian casualties of the war.


The fact that the myth exists even when there is proof that Cambridge was bombed shows the power of myth and the need to believe in good things.


If anyone can shed additional light on the myth, the truth, or Stephen Hawking, please comment. Perhaps the full story still remains to be told. Please don’t, however, write if you have info that the Christmas truce was a myth. Let’s at least leave that one in place. After all, they made a movie out of it.


The trailer is below, along with that for the new Hawking movie.


By Lanny Morgnanesi


<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/Salz7uGp72c” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>




embed trailer

Imagine America with a Queen

29 Jul

I don’t think too many Britons say nasty things about their Queen.

They don’t object to her politics because she really doesn’t have any. They may get mad at all the money – their money – she spends on palaces and servants, but they get over that.

What she represents is them, the collective whole, and they seem to appreciate it, rally round it, and draw strength from it.

A keen memory of mine is from a dinner toast at a British embassy. It consisted of two words that meant 10,000. It was simple and so reverent:

“The Queen.”

The leader and figurehead of the United States, by contrast, is called names and blamed for all kinds of bad things. His motives are questioned, as if he refuses out of spite to use clear and easy solution to big and complicated problems. It is frequently suggested that he is out to destroy America — on purpose.

Not so with a queen.

I was never much for monarchy. In fact, a favorite movie line of mine comes from Monty Python after, I think, a noble personage advises a lowly peasant, “I’m your king,” and gets the answer, “Well I didn’t vote for you.”

But seeing Queen Elizabeth at the Olympics, sitting there as an honored representation of all Great Britain, inspired envy.

From afar, and perhaps in fact, the British seem to have a cultural homogeneity that the U.S. does not. While Britain is markedly divided by class and is mixed racially (from immigration), there is something holding all together.

You only have to listen to the way the Brits sing their anthem “Jerusalem” to know this. They did so at the Olympics and it moved even me, a non-Brit. The final, powerful verse is:


I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In England’s green and pleasant Land


Americans love being Americans, but we are a country of individualists. We can be distrustful of each other. Our tendency is to work on our own to improve our lives, not to work collectively for a new Jerusalem. In Britain and much of Europe, there is a collective desire to see that all have health care, that all can afford higher education, that all can get around on trains, subways and buses.

We don’t have that in the states. We do have the Interstate Highway system, but only because the military needed evacuation routes in case of nuclear war.

The American continent does have a distant legacy of working as a tribe. But the ways of the Native American people never had an impact on the rugged, go-it-alone settlers.

Hardworking, innovative Americans have performed technological and economic miracles working alone. It was this kind of culture that allowed us to break from the English, better them and pretty much rule the world.

Still, I feel as if we lack something as a people. When I see the Queen of England, who I didn’t vote for, I have this wish that we could get behind our leaders in a forceful way that lifts our spirits and moves us ahead quicker. Of course, such a system would require that leaders be pure of heart and dedicated to the American cause and not their own.

This would be the hardest thing to accomplish, even if we gave them all palaces.

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