Sixty-five years after the conclusion of World War Two its history is still being written, and the reckoning is still taking place. Facts are being unearthed, interpreted and debated, and individual stories are being told. A new contribution to what may be the most thoroughly documented event in world history is “In the Neighborhood of Zero” by William V. Spanos. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-908958.mp3
In general outline, the story may resemble millions of others: a son of Greek immigrants who grew up in a small town in New England was drafted into the U.S. Army, sent through military training and into combat. He was taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans, forced to do hard labor until the final decisive battles drove his captors into disarray and he was repatriated. The soldier returned home and resumed his life and studies, finding success and admiration in his profession. William Spanos is now a Distinguished Professor of English and comparative literature at Binghamton University. Reading the detail of those events makes “In the Neighborhood of Zero” an especially powerful and disturbing slice of history. As a member of an ethnic minority, William Spanos felt like something of an outsider in American society. He was a good soldier but not enthusiastic about military service. Assigned to an antitank unit in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge, Spanos was taken prisoner after only about two weeks and shipped to a labor camp near Dresden. It is amazing that he survived. He became one of the last people to see the old city of Dresden. Its beauty was awesome. The spires and domes of cathedrals and governmental and cultural buildings against a sky enflamed by a falling sun and the river winding through the city were breathtaking. The buildings were constructed of rust-colored stones, and their hybrid architecture was a combination of baroque, rococo and eighteenth-century classical styles, all of which conveyed the aura of an old and venerable but lively city that was defiantly indestructable, immune to the ravages of time and history. — from “In the Neighborhood of Zero”
Within days “the Florence on the Elbe” would cease to exist. It had remained intact after years of war because it wasn’t considered of military importance, even though it was a transportation hub with some defense industries. Germans fleeing the advance of allied forces from both east and west had streamed into Dresden for safety. On 13-14 February 1945 more than 800 bombers pelted the city with incendiary bombs. The death toll from the fire-bombing of Dresden is still debated, but the slaughter that William Spanos witnessed he called “a calculated act of terror perpetrated by the Allies on an utterly unsuspecting and defenseless population of civilians.” Three months later the Nazis surrendered.
People who live in the Southern Tier and Central New York have never faced an issue like extracting natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation, even though the resource has been there some 4,000 feet under the surface, locked in rock since time immemorial. The indigenous people knew of “burning springs” and the medicinal qualities of petroleum. The first commercially productive gas well lit up the village of Fredonia, on Lake Erie south of Buffalo, in 1825. But oil and gas was only marginal to the development of upstate New York, which flourished from agriculture, industry and tourism, its natural beauty cherished by residents and visitors alike. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-1018312.mp3
Recent years have seen an economic decline in upstate New York with times especially hard for many farmers. At the same time, rising energy demands and the desire for cleaner energy sources have brought interest back to the gasfields that run from the foothills of the Adirondacks through Pennsylvania to West Virginia and Ohio. With good natural flow the Trenton Black River play (TBR) was successfully developed in the final years of the 20th century, the best wells concentrated around Steuben, Chemung and Chautauqua Counties. Output from these wells was enhanced by newly-developed horizontal drilling techniques that could draw gas from a wider area. But the Trenton Black River play is dwarfed by the discovery of Marcellus Shale and a gas “fairway” believed to be the second largest in the world. Unlike the earlier wells, however, shale gas needs to be forced out of the rock by hydraulic fracturing — known commonly as “fracking” — and that requires the injection of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure. Anyone in New York concerned about what such activity could do to the local landscape and the potential to affect air, water and rural life only needs to go a few miles into Pennsylvania. While some wells are now safely sending gas into the pipelines, in many places there has been pollution of local water sources (a result of either fracking or the general disturbance to the land tied to drilling activities) and the concomitant presence of heavy road traffic and industrial activity. Tom Wilber has been on this story ever since the nation’s oil and gas companies started to take an interest in the Marcellus. As he points out in his book “Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale”, the frackable fields are in proximity to “other gas-rich geological formations and under the infrastructure of a burgeoning natural gas distribution system to major metropolitan markets inthe northeast.” Wilber’s book opens with a stroll with Terry Engelder, the Penn State profesor of geosciences who first measured the extent of the Marcellus. Engelder has estimated that there’s about 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas obtainable from the Marcellus. Soon residents of northern Pennsylvania were getting visits from ‘landmen” trying to convince them to sign over their mineral rights. Meanwhile, back in New York communities were being torn by local attempts to forbid fracking as well as moves statewide to create the Empire State’s first policies on natural gas extraction. This growth of natural gas exploration came at a time when the world was beginning to be concerned about the human race’s “carbon footprint” and the need for new, clean (and, if possible, economical) energy sources.