Hitler's 'Jig'

Jordan Hoffman [Free for All, Oct. 16] should go back to his reference books. Adolf Hitler had the World War I French railway "salon" passenger car in which the Germans signed their humiliating surrender in 1918 brought to the same spot, Compienge, where that German surrender took place. There, on June 22, 1940, the French signed an armistice.

No "boxcar" was involved. Perhaps Hoffman is thinking of the "40 and 8" (40 men or eight horses) boxcar so famous in that war.

As Wilhelm Keitel and others signed the surrender in the salon car, Hitler stood outside. Afterward, the world saw pictures of Hitler "dancing a jig." Actually, he slapped his gray gloves on his right thigh once and stamped his booted foot once. I remember this well, as I was an Associated Press man in Germany at the time.

Years later, I was puzzled about friends talking about the "dancing a jig" impression they had. It was no "impression"; it was one of the slickest British covert propaganda operations of World War II. MI-5 or MI-6 got the German "Wochenschau" newsreel footage, "looped" the foot-stamping segment and sent it out to the world. British intelligence friends told me this years later.

--Angus MacLean Thuermer

Dreamy Mom

Ouch. In his Oct. 15 review of "The Story of Us" Stephen Hunter advises actor Michelle Pfeiffer to cut the "mommy crap" and don a "cocktail dress and a pair of very high-heeled Steve Maddens" so that he can "dream" about her again.

It's hard to say to which I take more umbrage: that being a mommy is "crap" or that a cocktail dress and high-heeled shoes are required of women to make them dream material. Interestingly enough, Hunter dispenses this advice just below his admonition to Hollywood for stereotyping midwesterners.

--Valerie Carter

Nonpolluting Nukes

In " 'Green' Power, an Electric Idea?" [front page, Oct. 17], William Booth says that coal burning and nuclear fission are "traditional but polluting sources" of electrical power.

Nuclear fission is not a source of pollutants. Categorizing nuclear power together with coal power in this regard is invalid. During normal operation, coal power plants release gases harmful to the ozone layer and the ecology, whereas nuclear power plants release nothing of the sort.

--Jim Gaarder

Rocket Science

Kathy Sawyer's Oct. 4 article regarding the Biopan project reported that the tests were "launched on Russian Foton rockets." To the best of my knowledge, there is no such thing as a Foton rocket. A European Space Agency press release reports that the Biopan experiments were attached to a Russian Foton spacecraft that was carried into orbit by a Russian Soyuz booster rocket.

There is a Russian booster called the Proton, and both a manned spacecraft and a booster called the Soyuz.

--Roger MacBride Allen

It's Alive

James Wilson [Free For All, Oct. 16] boldly enters the "its"/"it's" arena, though he seems unarmed for the fray.

"Its" may be, technically, a pronoun--though not according to the reputable authorities. But it is never used as such by a normal English speaker: We can say, "That is ours/theirs/yours/hers"; we never say "That is its."

Wilson also wants us to hear "I feel its pain" as "I feel it is pain"--a remark inconceivable, except perhaps by a nonplussed sadomasochist.

As for the "chafing against the rules" of your sage "Red Pencil," I agree that rules can help. In Washington, for instance, we all drive on the right, run red lights, snail through green ones and prolong our lives accordingly.

But traditional grammar rules are something else: They mostly stem from an urge to pour the new wine of English into old Latin bottles; and they are mostly a bunch of fiats and canards born of ignorance, superstition and myth. The sort of person who believes in them as Gospel (Don't Split Infinitives, Don't End With Prepositions, etc.), and tyrannizes others with them, is the sort of person who believes that the world was created in 4004 B.C. and is flat.

--Peter Brodie