Yesterday turned out to be a boon day for free events in town.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is sponsoring a series of free lectures at American University this month. They are serious lectures and question/answer periods, extending from 10 in the morning until about noon, with one ten minute break.
I will not be able to get to most of them, but I did go yesterday, to listen to Lynne Olson talk about her recent book Troubled Young Men, the story of a group of Tory members of Parliament who vowed to cause the resignation of the Tory government of Neville Chamberlain in 1940. They were, of course, successful, and Winston Churchill became Britain’s war time prime minister.
The story itself is a fascinating one. How undefeatable Chamberlain appeared, how he had the majority of the country behind him in his attempts to keep Britain out of the European War and even after the invasion of Poland and the declaration of war by Britain on Germany, how he tried to keep the war on the back burner, so to speak, and not overly involve the British public or military. How Britain remainded exhausted from World War I, how much pro-German, and yes, pro-Nazi, feeling there was particularly amongst the English elite. And how Chamberlain was forced to resign not by a movement of member of the other parties (Liberal and Labour), but by dissidents within the Conservative Party itself.
Of the approximately 500 members of the House of Commons, only about 30 were involved in this insurrection. But they were quite a bunch, including Harold Nicolson, Harold Macmillan, Ronald Cartland (Barbara Cartland’s brother), Ronald Tree (grandson of Marshall Field, of all people), Leo Amory, and Duff Cooper. Noticeably not on this list was Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, who although he had spoken out loudly against the policy of appeasement before he entered the cabinet, became a loyal member of the government while in office, yet was the choice for the prime ministership after the resignation of Chamberlain. (Churchill kept Chamberlain in the government, as part of his war cabinet, although the former prime minister died within the year.)
This tells only part of the story how this group of ‘troublesome young men’ worked the change of power in Britain and thus ‘saved the world’ from the ravages of Hitler. More of the story was told by Olson in her presentation and, of course, even more is contained in her book.
What was also extraordinary about Olson’s lecture was the lecture itself. She spoke for about 45 minutes. There was nothing off-the-cuff about the presentation; it was all written down, almost like a presidential campaign stump speech, where a carefully prepared speech is read off a teleprompter. But there was no teleprompter, and it sounded much more like a spoken speech, than a speech that was being read. It was beautifully organized, it was clear. The audience of 150 or so seemed to follow it word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, thought by thought. I spoke to a few people afterwords who agreed that this was a fantastic presentation.
Last month, Olson gave the annual speech in Fulton MO, at Westminister College, to commemorate the anniversary of Churchill’s 1946 Iron Curtain speech, which he gave there. This was the speech she gave; I am sure that it was very well received.
Later that day, we went to a free concert at the National Geographic auditorium, the last in a series sponsored by that organization, the State Department, Jazz at Lincoln Center and Radio Station WPFW. The concert was part of the Rhythm Road series, featuring jazz groups which are sponsored by the State Department and sent around the world as goodwill ambassadors of United States music.
There were two groups performing. The first, the Washington based Duende Quartet, composed of two percussionists, a bass and a piano, specialize in jazz with a Latin, Cuban tilt. They were nice to listen to, and smile at. But they did not get your pulse beating any faster. But then came the Eli Yamin Blues Band – a piano, a tuba, drums and a vocalist (yes, you read that right). They were simply extraordinary. While Duende played music for the audience to listen to, Yamin demanded participation – you clapped, you snapped, you swung John Henry’s hammer, you joined in the chorus, you did everything. Yamin is not only an extraordinary talent at the piano (blues, stomp, rag, jazz), but quite a performer to boot. Find him on Youtube, or on his own website, http://www.eliyamin.com, and see what I mean.