Thomas Wictor



I’ve always loved the word “monkeyshines.” To me it brings to mind disreputable incompetence. Clowns behaving badly. I discovered today that the word first appears in 1828 in a song called “Jump Jim Crow.”

The song was popularized by Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice, who performed in blackface as Jim Crow. Apparently there was a real Jim Crow, also called Jim Cuff, a slave who originally sang the song.

I’ve never understood the use of black people as comic relief. As a military historian, I learned long ago that the idea of the happy-go-lucky, or lazy, or joke-telling, or “naturally entertaining” black person is about as accurate as all other racial or ethnic stereotypes. Read up on the American 369th Infantry Regiment of World War One, the Harlem Hellfighters. They spent the longest time in combat and were the most decorated unit of the American Expeditionary Force.

Is there something funny about the Battle of Henry Johnson?


It’s called that because he was a one-man army. On May 15, 1918, Private Johnson of the 369th was standing guard as a sentry when he and Private Needham Roberts were attacked at 2:00 a.m. by a German trench-raiding party the size of a platoon.


Roberts was injured almost immediately, so Johnson engaged about twenty-five Germans with hand grenades and his rifle. When he accidentally put a clip of French bullets into his weapon—jamming it—he swung the rifle like a baseball bat until he broke the wooden stock. Then he used a giant knife called a bolo.

Johnson fought the Germans for an hour and was wounded twenty-one times. Reinforcements eventually arrived, and Johnson survived.

On May 15, 2014, Army Secretary John McHugh approved a Congressional Medal of Honor application for Johnson submitted by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). From there the application goes to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. If he signs it, final approval must be granted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Obama.

My poor father Edward Wictor was forced to perform in blackface many times. Here he is as a bellhop in a high-school play in Remsen, Iowa.


Dad is on the right. I’m sure they made him shout things like, “Yassuh! Sho ’nuff! Feets, don’t fail me now!”

And the audience of Midwesterners roared with laughter. What can you even say? Back to “Jump Jim Crow” and “monkeyshines.”

There are many different versions of the song. One contains the following lyrics.

I cut so many monkey shines, I dance the galoppade
And when I’m done, I rest my head on shovel, hoe, or spade.

The galoppade or galop is “A lively dance in duple time, popular in the 19th century.”

What an absolute nightmare.

Anyway, the word “monkeyshines” originates in a song from 1828.

I now have a psychotic aversion to monkeyshines. When I find out that people are up to something behind my back, I immediately and permanently un-person them. I don’t bother confronting them or trying to talk to them. Recently I wrote about the late Louis Zamperini and how he forgave the Japanese who tortured him during World War II.

My own limitation is that I can’t forgive unless the perpetrator asks for it. Several people sent me messages explaining that forgiveness is the first step to re-establishing relationships with those who’ve wronged you. Christ forgave his murderers so that he could welcome them into the fold.

Well, I’m not Christ. My destiny isn’t to die for everybody’s sins. And the truth is, I don’t want a relationship with malefactors. They can go to hell. It doesn’t matter to me who they are.

The worst sort of malefactor is the kind who giggles at the idea of getting away with something.

Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these!


Who might they be? They’re sweet little cans monkeyshines. Lots and lots of monkeyshines went on and go on to this day. The monkeyshiners think they’re really smart. Nobody will ever know!

Not true, actually. Things can be figured out when you have the key. For a researcher like me, keys are easy to find. And I like to share them with as many people as possible. What moneyshiners don’t understand is that possessors of keys have all the power. Every person who has the key becomes another sandbag in the defensive trench I’ve had to build in order to survive this extremely difficult life.

I’m not a fan of the actor Will Smith. He’s been stuck in a rut for a quarter-century now, and like so many wildly successful black Americans, he’s bitter. No idea why. Asked if the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed him, he said this.

No. Absolutely not. When you grow up black in America you have a completely different view of the world than white Americans. We blacks live with a constant feeling of unease. And whether you are wounded in an attack by a racist cop or in a terrorist attack, I’m sorry, it makes no difference.

That was it for me. It’s beyond obscene that a pampered multimillionaire would compare himself to people who had to choose between burning to death or jumping from 100 stories up. But he had one good line in Men in Black.

Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing.

It’s an excellent warning. I get to write whatever I want. You know why? Because I’ve earned it. I paid enough dues for every writer on the globe, in fact.

So, monkeyshiners: Enjoy the fruits of your labors, and we’ll leave it at that. Henry Johnson is my role model. Look at all the carnage he wrought when he was pushed into it.

And he wasn’t even angry.