Q&A: The Government is Closed!

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All this little guy wanted to do was see the bears at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
(Reddit/WTKR)

If you weren’t aware that the government shut-down their operations last October.. I don’t know where you have been. Reactions nationwide became dramatic. From coverage on major news networks to social media outputs that spanned sixteen days (the most humorous, yet moderately truthful commentary, came from The Onion’s “Last Thing Government Worker Needed Was Agency Labeling Him ‘Nonessential“). But what happened next, actually surprised me.

I am a park guide.

I work for the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior.

So, per the news reports and protocol (but with unexpected realization), my supervisor called me to say that I would be put on leave if a shutdown happened. It did. And according to reports, some 800,000 employees were also furloughed and routine operations were curtailed. Sigh.

The last government shut-down occurred in 1995-96, but threats of pending foreclosures are frequent, especially when Congress fails to pass the budget for the fiscal year. Often it has little relevance to funding; polarization of opinions between the two political parties on major issues can also cause delay. In 2013, the Republican-dominated House sought to block President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act after previous attempts. It’s a political move.

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This video showing the sensational encounter between Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) and a park ranger at the closed World War II Memorial, perhaps best depicts the effect of the shutdown.
(NBC)

I was recently interviewed by my friend Dan, who was writing a college paper on the incident. It was then, Day 2.

Q: “How has the shutdown affected you personally?”

A: The government shutdown has affected me personally as I was laid-off (unpaid) like many other seasonal employees, but also in the sense that it has affected my own political beliefs regarding what’s been said in the mainstream news and its effect on other citizens.

What sucks the most (for my part) is not being able to do my job and be a public servant. I work primarily on weekends and we often have visitors that travel from across the country to see our unique historic sites. Just last weekend, I had visitors from Kentucky and Georgia. So, I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to share my knowledge with others or just minimally, open the facilities so that the site can be used for recreational use. People complain when they can’t use our bathrooms.

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These people are complaining.
(Michael Mathes/AFP)

Q2: “How and/or when do you see the shutdown ending?”

A: Threats of the government “shutting-down” actually occurs pretty frequently; obviously this time is unique since it hasn’t happened in seventeen years. But I think that most agencies know it’s always a possibility, based on how much funding is allocated per year (sequestration seems to effect the National Park Service every year). For anyone that wants to know, we actually pay 1/13 of $0.01 from our income tax towards the national parks. So, yeah, we pay more for NASA than Yosemite or Yellowstone.

But to answer [your question], I believe it will end when both parties in the House of Reps. comes to an agreement, or when the people start bitching about how it’s effecting them (e.g. parks closing, stock market rates falling, unemployment, etc.). Personally, I don’t anticipate it lasting too terribly long, but reports are estimating that it could be as long as a month. And that would be bad.

Q3: “Who is most at fault in your opinion and why?”

A: Interesting question. And I might be the only one who thinks it, but fault is relative. Pointing-at certain people would be unwise, because I think that all this, is our own doing. We are products of our actions. And what resulted is their effect. As that line from the movie Cool Hand Luke (1967) goes, “failure to communicate”.

See more:

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My reenacting pard, Jason Wickersty, made this graphic to express solidarity amongst furloughed federal employees, now available as stickers! Profits from sales are being donated to the Association of National Park Rangers.
(click to order!)

Q&A: Sherman Tanks at Gettysburg?

Interpreters at public museums get asked a lot of questions.

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Energetic college-dude asks a question!

I mean A LOT of questions.

The predictable FAQs, like “Where’s the bathroom?” or “I’m traveling from hundreds of thousands of miles away, please plan my itinerary” occupy most of the day.

But every once in a while, there are those which catch you off guard, breaks the monotony, and requires a little more attention. I try to answer all questions carefully (well, alright, I do blow-off the stupid ones). But recently a friend from high school asked me:

Q: “Would having a Sherman tank given either side a guaranteed victory at the battle of Gettysburg?”

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M4 Sherman Tank, ca 1941
(Armed Forces Military Museum)

I very rarely entertain hypotheticals since all vestige of context can be lost, but I wanted to answer Thomas thoughtfully  since he’s an up-and-coming “buff”.

A: Doubt it.

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The 9th Massachusetts Battery firing near the Trostle house at Gettysburg.
(Don Troiani/Historical Art Prints)

The army’s field artillery (some 150-250 guns) was already enough to demoralize an entire division during “Pickett’s Charge.” By hurling solid shot, case shot and canister, approx. 10-15 men could be KIA or WIA per round. Ordinance was traveling at some 100 mi/hr and could pass through two or three ranks. The destruction by artillery was already horrific, in my opinion.

Q2: I don’t know if any Civil War-era fire could damage a Sherman tank, though. Look at how successful those armored gunboats were on the Mississippi [River] and their armor was thinner than that of a tank.

Also, I think the firepower of a Sherman tank would have been more devastating to infantry on an open battlefield. A 75mm cannon, one 50 cal. machine gun, and two M1919’s would’ve done some SERIOUS damage. Even if the tracks were damaged it has enough firepower to be effective when it’s stationary.

A: Oh geeze, if you are really going to push me…

First of all, rapid-fire v. muzzle-loading is far too unmeasurable for me, but let’s look at the effect of mid-1800s projectiles v. today:

Not sure what or how many the armies had at Gettysburg, but the most common guns were:

Napoleons
– 6-lb. 1520 yds., 3.58″ shot/shell
– 12-lb. 1620 yds., 4.52″ shot/shell

Parrotts
– 10 lb. 2000 yds., 2.88″ shot/shell
– 20 lb. 2100 yds., 3.63″ shot/shell

3-in Ordinance Rifle
– 1850 yds., 2.88-.94″ shot/shells

Howitzers
– 12 lb. 1100 yds., 4.5″ shot/shell (approx.)
– 24 lb. 1325 yds., 5.68″ shot/shell
– Mountain 900 yds., 4.5″ canister

By contrast, a M4 Sherman’s 75mm is: 14 lbs., 677 yds., 2.95″ shell. Armor penetrating for a 76mm = 3″ (approx.)

So, generally, a M4 Sherman Tank can shoot roughly the same size projectile as common field artillery pieces during the American Civil War, but from a far shorter distance.

Another question(s) might be:

  1. “How thick was the plating on the ironclad ships during the Civil War?”
  2. “Could siege artillery have changed the outcome of the battle, rather than the field-class of artillery, since they shot farther and had completely heavier projectiles?”

But that is for another day.

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Another hypothetical: What if a tyrannosaurus was lowered by a crane into the Sarlacc pit?

Send me a message and keep those questions coming!

Sources: