President Obama is visiting Buchenwald today. And it reminded me of a hero I never knew about. A true American hero. Someone who never asked to be one. This is the life of James Hoyt and Buchenwald…

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You know me. I get pretty worked up about some politician out there and their gang of cronies. They just don’t measure up. They don’t honor those who sacrificed for this country called the US of A. They are nothing compared to true American heroes. They don’t deserve to even stand in their shade. They dance on the graves of those who truly sacrificed for this country. And they dishonor those who saw the best and the worst in the name of America.

I am not from here. I am just visiting. But I want to tell you a bit about a true American hero. And maybe you’ll understand why I think this country has something going for it. And why I get so pissed at some people out there. People who forget what it means to be true heroes. People who forget who the true Americans really are. People who just disrespect the meaning of being American.

What a real hero looks like

What a real hero looks like

James Hoyt was born in Oxford (Iowa) on 16 May 1925. The son of a railroad worker and a schoolteacher. He died in Oxford on 11 August 2008. Oxford is a small little town. About 700 people. And he lived their his whole life. Well, almost his whole life. He once went overseas.

He ranked his greatest achievement as being the Johnson County spelling bee champ in 1939 when he was in eighth grade. He remembered the word he had to spell – “archive”. It’s apt that it means “a collection of historic documents”. Some things should just never be forgotten. Like Mr. Jame Hoyt.

Mr Hoyt was a mail carrier. James Hoyt delivered mail for 30 years in Oxford. He retired in 1992. He worked until he was almost 70. Just a normal guy. Delivering post in little Oxford, Iowa. The furthest he ever got was was Des Moines. The furthest that is, until he went overseas.

James Francis Hoyt Sr. came back to Oxford after his overseas trip and married Doris. Or as he called her, “She’s the love of my life”. They had six children. They lived a happy and loving life together.

James, or Jim as his friends called him, didn’t talk much about his overseas trip. Even those who knew him for many years didn’t know about his trip. But every week he would go to meet his little group. You see, Mr. Hoyt went to group therapy each and every week. Because James suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. All because he went on a trip to Europe.

James went to Europe because of war. James was in WWII. And James was one of the four U.S. soldiers to first see Germany’s Buchenwald concentration camp. With him goes a piece of history. A memory we will never be able to hear from again. He was the last of the four to pass away.

He hardly spoke about that day in 1945. Partly because James was a humble man from a small town in Iowa. But also because of what he saw. “There were thousands of bodies piled high. I saw hearts that had been taken from live people in medical experiments. They said a wife of one of the SS officers — they called her the Bitch of Buchenwald — saw a tattoo she liked on the arm of a prisoner, and had the skin made into a lampshade. I saw that.” He saw a lampshade made from a prisoner’s tattoo…

James didn’t like to talk about what he saw when he was 19.

“Seeing these things, it changes you. I was a kid,” he said.

And then there was the dreams. “I still have horrific dreams. Usually someone needs help and I can’t help them. I’m in a situation where I’m trapped and I can’t get out.”

James Francis Hoyt Sr. was a true American hero. Someone who loved his country. Someone who had nightmares for his country. And someone who kept quiet, loved his family and delivered the post for 30 years. James Francis Hoyt Sr. is a hero.

R.I.P. Mr. Hoyt. I hope you also saw the faces of the prisoners you met that day. Starving and dying and almost beaten and tortured to death. But when they saw you Mr. Hoyt… Oh, when they saw you. Their bodies ravished by the hunger and the pain. But they lifted you up. High up in the air. Throwing you up into the air. Again and again. Because you where there Mr. Hoyt. You came for them Mr. Hoyt. Like you, they never forgot that day. They to had nightmares of those days. But not of that day. That day is the day of dreams come true. Of happiness. Of liberation. I hope you can now see your face in their dreams Mr. Hoyt. The face of a hero. A true American hero. Your life was the life they were waiting for.

I leave you with these words from Retired Gen. Robert Sentman…

“When the prisoners saw Jim, they picked him up and threw him in the air, that’s how happy they were after seeing such horrors. Prisoners had been hung from hooks to die. He saw a lampshade made from a prisoner’s tattoo. Jim carried those horrors with him forever. He never got what he had seen out of his mind. If you ever wondered about Jim, think about what he saw.”

“When you were discharged, no one really gave a hoot about you. It was difficult for a compassionate person like Jim to forget what he saw. He was a hero.”

R.I.P. James Francis Hoyt. Sweet dreams Jim. We will never forget.

What I hope Jim remembered. The smile of liberation.

What I hope Jim remembered. The smile of liberation.

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Note: Only two news agencies reported on the death of James Francis Hoyt Sr. Ask yourself. How many of the news stories you heard this week will you remember in 63 years time? Thank you to CNN for remembering – I used their report a lot and dug around a bit more to find some additional info on Mr. Hoyt and Buchenwald. 

I couldn’t bring myself to post more photo’s of Buchenwald. It is too horrid for this blog. But do yourself a favor – go do a few image searches and see what Jim saw when he was 19 and lived with for more than 60 years.

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It irritates the living hell out of me when politicians (or anyone for that matter) uses the “I have been there” line. You know, that line when a country comes up in a conversation and they say “I have been there”. I was listening Bill Maher (yeah, yeah) on my iPod when some or other politician was using this argument that things are soooo much better in Iraq. You know – he’s “been there”. Like he knows something we don’t know. Sorry buddy. You haven’t been there. Going on an escorted trip to some holiday camp isn’t “been there”. It’s just a package deal holiday trip. It’s buying that Disney trip off the travel agent. Not planning your own trip to Florida. Disney isn’t Florida. You haven’t been to Florida just because you have been to Disney World. Mickey Mouse isn’t Governor Charlie Crist – and Goofy isn’t Jeb Bush either. They just act like them. I know – it’s a shocker. But that’s the truth.

Dick Cheney has been to Iraq. Hillary has been all over the place. All escorted trips. Talking to people and seeing people that other people controlled. Not a moment of meeting the people in the streets. No. They met the people those in power wanted them to meet. Those “good little soldiers”. Those on the side of the winners or warlords or occupiers – not those who suffer in their homes without water or electricity or food or jobs. Or walls for that matter. Those have been bombed as well. So what you have are just very big windows as the Republicans would like you to believe. You see what they want you to see. And not what you should see. You don’t see the families caring for the wounded ones or crying for the lost ones.

It brings me to McCain. (No, I am still not writing about the election – just the topic of “I have been there”). McCain went to Iraq last week. Made a few “misspokes” by confusing a few issues. Wouldn’t you with Lieberman standing next to you? You just don’t know which way Lieberman might go – Independent today, Republican tomorrow, Democrat yesterday. Anyway – I digress. Again. So McCain went to the marketplace. Bought a few goods there I hope. You know. A bucket of water (just a few minor shrapnel holes in it). Some oil (imported from Saudi Arabia because you can’t find Iraqi oil). An AK47 (seen some action). But no food and no freedom fries. But why didn’t he go to the market he went to the last time? Because it wasn’t safe. Not even with those Blackwater guards, marines, armoured vehicles and helicopters. He hasn’t “been there”. He could only say “I haven’t been there”.

They don’t know those places. They don’t live in those places. They fly in and they fly out. Just so they can say “I have been there”. Just so they can spin it in a way that you like it – with a bit of cream on top thank you. It makes it soooo much easier to swallow. It’s just the way I used to feed my dog his medicine – hide it in a piece of ham. But even my dog got it in the end. He started spitting out the pills (but still ate the ham). Americans aren’t stupid. No. Let me rephrase that. Americans aren’t dumb for long. You start smelling something rotten and starts spitting out the pill of stupidity. And the approval rating of those “who have been there” starts dropping faster than the bombs in Iraq. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time…

“I have been there”. I should be a politician really. No – I should be the ruler of the world by now. Hear me people of the world – your leader is here. The wait is over. Get the roses and the wine ready, because here I come. The people of Cameroon – I am your main-man. I have been there once. For almost a day. A stopover on my flight to Bamako, Mali. Actually, I have been there twice – on my return flight as well. I am the most knowledgeable foreign policy person I know. Why? Because “I have been there”. Zambia – vote me in. I spend time in Lusaka – many times. “I have been there”. I’ve eaten your nsima and drank your Mosi. Ivory Coast – your saviour and warlord is here. “I have been there”. Twice. Stuck at the airport.  Hungary – anoint me in the Danube. “I have been there”. For 3 long days in a luxury hotel that included a massage from a big hairy Hungarian – male. Mexico – ola, make me your main revolutionary piñata. “I have been there”. Mexico City, Chihuahua, Monterrey and many Tequila’s. France – c‘est la vie, your monsieur of la resistance has arrived. “I have been there”. Four long days in Paris – baguettes, wine, cheese, insults and all. Germany – your über prince of the united country is here. “I have been there”. In Trier to shop for toys, in Berlin to do nothing really, and in Nuremberg for a job interview. “I have been there”. I have been everywhere. Almost. Never mind South Africa where I was born and raised. Or the UK where I spend four long years watching footie, drinking pints and eating crap “fish and chips” like a real Englishman. Or the US where I have lived for the last 18 months shouting for the Red Sox and hating the Yankees like all good Americans should. Yes, I have been there. But I know nothing. Because I don’t live their lives. I am just a guy from South Africa. An Umlungu who knows too little and says too much.

Really, if “I have been there” qualifies you as a foreign policy expert then every pilot on the Delta international route is Boutros Boutros-Ghali. And sorry my friend, you ain’t from Egypt or his world. I sometimes even doubt if you are even from this world. Even if you “have been there”. You still haven’t “been there” or “got it”.

So. Stop it please. Stop trying to sound all travelled and wise because you “have been there”. You haven’t. You haven’t even “been there” when it comes to the US. You can’t use a daft and brainless line just to justify and spin your stupid, warped and pathetic policies. It isn’t an answer. It isn’t an analysis. It isn’t even SNL or Real Time. It’s just you being stupid. Like my dog was in the beginning. But even he got over it. He roams and knows his territory. He even marks it by lifting his leg on everything. Instead of telling me “I have been there”, tell me how you are going to “be here”. Just don’t leave a mark like my dog. Just don’t take the piss.

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I won’t comment on whether I believe in unions or not. That’s for another time and another debate. And I think my time in the unions might affect my opinion. But I do have a concern about the impact that attitudes towards unions can have on a business – especially a global business.

I don’t know how often I hear US companies say that they don’t need or like trade unions. That it is their business and they will make the decisions. Or that they like to develop a personal relationship that is more like a family. That people working for the company are not workers, but rather partners or associates. ‘Unions are not for us thanks. We look after our workers and believe in the personal relationship between us and our partners’ – standard responses by businesses in the US. And these are good businesses. Not sweatshops or the companies you would put on your black list. No, these are companies I, and most people, admire and like most of the time. Companies we don’t mind supporting or work for. Companies we hold up as leaders in the field of development, environment, stakeholder engagement and everything else you want to throw in the hat. Companies that inspire us. And I just don’t get it.

Yes, unions in the US might not be the friendliest of the bunch – and they have their own reasons. But the world is different the minute you step outside these borders. You might have strong feelings about unions and their role in the US. But they are viewed differently outside these borders.

You run the risk of killing your business if you believe that Europe is a key market and you still believe that trade unions have no role to play in your business. Go to Germany and France and people love their unions. People are proud of being a member and unions have huge influence on communities and politicians. Hey, they even participate on the board in many companies.

In most Scandinavian countries unions are part of official political alliances on national and local levels. They help decide what money goes to what programs and they support union movements all over the globe. The local political leader will most likely be a union leader as well. In these countries unions are seen as key to development and foreign policy. Remember, we are talking about social democracies here.

And political alliances between governments and unions are also common in places like South Africa. Here the largest trade union federation COSATU is also an official ally of the ruling ANC government. In fact, they played a key role in electing Zuma as the new ANC leader over current President Mbeki. They didn’t like Mbeki’s economic policies and selected someone they felt they could control a bit more. And union members are part of the official Ministerial WTO team of negotiators. They are embedded in the government. And South Africa has unionization rates way above 80% just to make things a bit more difficult in case you decide you don’t like them.

Also, why would you want to tell your suppliers that their workers should have freedom of association in places like India, China and Mexico when you don’t want that back home? Yes, unions are mostly limited or controlled (and sometimes hunted) in some of those places, but the principle of freedom of association should be consistent for both you and your suppliers. Your suppliers won’t feel that committed if you don’t walk the talk.

And to make things even more difficult they use a a different language when you leave these borders. It’s not brother and sister anymore – it is comrade. Again – no comment from me whether this is right or wrong – you just have to live with it. And learn to celebrate 1 May as Workers’ Day – a global celebration of workers and their rights, just not in the US.

So, if you decide that you don’t want unions in some of your overseas offices you might just as well close your shop and walk away from the global market. You have to think and act like a global player if you want to play oas a global player. Love them or hate them, but you can’t operate efficiently in these countries without them. Remember that, and you might become trusted and build a loyal workforce – become the ‘comrade boss from the big office’.

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