A few days ago, in history

There have been a few times, dear readers, that in my other, non-columnist job here at the T-R as the Supreme Allied Layout Commander and Paginator Plenipotentiary, that I am selecting the Associated Press (AP) content for the day that I stop and think to myself: is anybody reading this?

I understand that there is important news that I personally do not find interesting; but “what I find interesting” is hardly the proper criteria for selecting news content, otherwise the paper would be filled with my feelings about unnecessary movie sequels, excerpts from unfinished novels, and poorly drawn cartoons depicting myself atop some manner of cyborg velociraptor, wearing an eye patch.

Am I wearing the eye-patch or is the velociraptor? Well, that’s up to you! Send in your best drawing of me riding a cyborg velociraptor, or write “Burns rides a cyborg velociraptor” on a 3×5 card, and you’ll be entered to win a curt handshake from myself and an all-you-can-snack session from our beloved vending machine (limit $3)! The winner will be chosen by picking the drawing most flattering to myself physically … and emotionally.

I’m sure this problem of “boring news” has vexed many of you; scrolling through our website or flipping through our pages, you’re met by some story of seemingly little personal interest, which you then skip to once again look through “Daily Record” in search of former classmates.

I have found a solution to this dilemma! No longer will you suffer from “boring news.”

Here’s what you do when met with a news story you find too boring to read: READ IT ANYWAY! THEN READ SOME MORE!

Stories only appear boring until you read them; and the more you delve into the subject, the more you’ll find to keep you interested.

Case in point: Today in history.

At the top of page 2 of the A Section we run a “Today in History” column we get from the AP. It has a list of famous events that happened on that day X-number of years ago, as well as a list of celebrity birthdays that makes me feel older and older and older and the guy from Blackstreet is 57 now? Where has the time gone? I have to get my 401K in better shape!

As I’m writing this, it is 3:35 a.m. on Thursday (AKA only 90 minutes until they start serving McGriddles) and I’ve just placed the “Today in History” section for the Friday, Jan. 6, edition of the paper.

The highlight for the day:

On Jan. 6, 1967, U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese troops launched Operation Deckhouse Five, an offensive in the Mekong River delta. The 10-day operation reportedly claimed the lives of 21 Viet Cong fighters along with seven Americans.

First, can we have a moment for how good our military/intelligence organizations are at naming things? Operation Neptune Spear (2011), Operation Desert Storm (1991), Operation Overlord (1944); even this new case of Russians hacking the DNC is already called Operation Grizzly Steppe! Whoever is naming these things deserves a big, well-named medal.

As for Operation Deckhouse Five, just sit for a minute or two with the information. 21 Viet Cong soldiers killed in a 10-day operation. Now, this is in 1967, during the height of President Johnson’s escalation in Viet Nam. Does 10 days of patrols, in an operation important enough to get its own name, seem like the expected result?

The way we, as a connected society, operate I’m sure many of you are trying to anticipate what I’m going to say next, and tailoring your angry responses thusly. You’re certain I’m about to say either unduly critical or unduly laudatory about US troops in Viet Nam. I hate to disappoint, but all I’m interested in is what actually happened.

So what happened? The enemy deaths seem low for Operation Deckhouse Five. And seven American soldier deaths seems too high for an operation that involved the storied Special Landing Force (if regular Marines are tough the SLF were guys you just didn’t make eye contact with) of the Marines.

According to the History and Museums Division of the Marine Corps the operation suffered from the Viet Cong being forewarned by counterintelligence operatives.

So who talked? An argument can be made it was anti-American forces within the Republic of Viet Nam’s military, but you’ll have to research that on your own.

Do you see what I’m saying now? Inside that blurb on the right-hand side of page A2 is enough information to illuminate your understanding of America’s role in Viet Nam, and a little cursory research (Wikipedia is fine, but only if there is a link to a primary source) can shine a light on an important chapter in our country’s history, giving you a broader understanding of our place in the world today.

Remember how we are still involved in two wars? If you think the Viet Nam War doesn’t effect how the US applies its military prowess or interacts with foreign military units to this day you probably stopped reading ages ago and have since folded your newspaper into a little hat.

And there’s so much more to read! I didn’t even get to Cnut the Great being crowned King of England (Jan 6, 1017); he was actually the king of the North Sea Empire, as Cnut was also king of Denmark and Norway, AND a story about him serves as the basis for our idioms about “trying to stop the tide,” which, over the years, turned into “time and tide wait for no man,” which is why Chaucer used that phrase in the super English-y “Canterbury Tales!”

Next time you’re flipping or scrolling through the paper and you see a story that makes you want to yawn, go back and read it. Read all of it. Then look up the parts you don’t understand; from that day forward the world will be just a little bit more interesting … then go do it again.


Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or wburns@timesrepublican.com.