Barbara Tuchman

Recently, when I was reorganizing my personal library, I noticed I had a number of books by the American writer Barbara  Wertheim Tuchman, including one I used in my last blog, The Zimmerman Telegram. Her topics ranged time wise and  geographically  from  ancient history  to the twentieth century and from the Far East to the Americas.  Like David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ms Tuchman wrote history for the lay reader, not the academic.

Barbara Wertheim was born in New York, educated in a private school there and went to college at Radcliffe, a private women’s college in Massachusetts.  Two years after graduating from Radcliffe in 1933, she went to work for Nation Magazine, which  was published by her father.  She published her first book, The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700, in 1938.  Her  second book, Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, came out in 1956.  In 1958, she delved into the United States’ involvement in World War I with The Zimmermann Telegram. Two years later  came  The Guns of August, her take on the opening months of the Great War and her first Pulitzer Prize.   After that,  in 1966, Tuchman investigated the world in the years leading up to World War I in  The Proud Tower.   Next, she used her experience in the Far East as background for her book about the American experience in China, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, centered around General Joseph Stilwell, who was the ranking American general in the China-Burma theater in World War II.  That book, published in 1971,  earned Tuchman  her second Pulitzer Prize.

Before her death in 1989, Tuchman wrote five more books.   Notes from China was her view of China during a six-week trip she took in 1972.   Nine years later, she published Practicing History, a combination of essays on the writing of history and reprints of articles she wrote in the 1930s and thereafter.

Tuchman’s book about 14th century Europe,  A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century,  concerned Enguerrand de Coucy, a french nobleman who lived through a turbulent time fraught with wars, disease, and a little Ice age.   Why do governments develop policies that go against their best interests?   This is the question Barbara Tuchman tries to  answer  in The March of Folly:  From Troy to Vietnam.   Her last book, The First Salute: A View of the American Revolutioncame in 1988, the year before she died from a stroke at the age of 77.  I’ll have more to say about this book and Stilwell and the American Experience in China below.

Tuchman’s interest in China stemmed from her stint as a volunteer researcher at the Institute of Pacific Relations immediately after graduation.  As such, she spent an extended period in the Far East, include a month in China in the mid-1930s.  Her book Stilwell and the American Experience in China, is not really a biography of General Joseph Stilwell, who spent most of his military career in that part of the world, but rather she uses Stilwell as symbol of the American experience in the country through the first half of the 20th century.

When Stilwell first arrived in China in 1911, it was a long way from being a modern country.  But rather, it was broken up into regions governed by warlords.  At the end of World War I, the Japanese took over German concessions in China  and gradually strengthened their hold on Chinese  territory.  Stilwell was in and out of China during the 1920s, during which Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Chinese Revolution (Kuomintang) died, and his place  was taken as the leader of the Kuomintang by Chiang Kai-Shek.  “Vinegar Joe” was Stilwell’s nickname  he earned stationed at Fort Benning, where he had a reputation of not suffering fools gladly. By the end of the 1930’s Stilwell had been promoted to Colonel.  The Sino-Japanese War started in 1938, but Stilwell stayed in China until May 1939.  On his way home, Stilwell found he had been promoted to Brigadier General.

In World War II, Stilwell rose among the general officer ranks to become a four star general in command of the China-Burma-India theater.  He attended the Cairo Conference in 1943 along with  Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, representing the Free Chinese.  His first order of business was to open a road from China into Burma, which was under Japanese control and posing a threat to India.  But, as usual, Stilwell had a hard time getting individuals and allies he could work with.  He didn’t trust his allies (the Chinese and the British), and most of all, he didn’t get along with Chiang Kai-Shek.  He was recalled to the states in October 1944 and worked there until his death in 1946,

Tuchman addresses the American Revolution, partially in the The March of Folly and to a greater extent in The First Salute.   She doesn’t attempt to cover the whole war, instead sets the Revolutionary War in the conflict between Great Britain and Holland and France. The book opens on November 16, 1776, when an American ship, Andrew Doria, flying the flag of the Continental Congress from her mast,  sails into the harbor of St. Eustatius on  the Dutch West Indies, her cannon saluting Fort Orange. Then the fort returned the salute, making it the first time an American flag was recognized by a foreign power.   

When Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty at the start of World War I, he found the Royal Navy  had changed very little since end of the 18th century, the period Barbara Tuchman writes about.  Tuchman finds a lot to criticize both the British government and its military leaders for.  Neither those who ruled nor those who commanded took the trouble to find  out about the geography of America or about cost or what it took to transport soldiers and/or materiel from Great Britain to there.  What they did realize was the importance of keeping control of the West Indies which was a depot for Dutch merchants to export critical supplies to the colonies.  Admiral George Rodney was given the task of capturing St. Eustatius.

Rodney, according Tuchman, was a class above his Royal Navy colleagues.  “Thinking outside the box” would be the modern phrase that would suit the admiral well.  However, when giving the assignment to keep the French fleet from reaching Yorktown and trapping Cornwallis and British army, he failed.  To find why, you will have to read the book.

Tuchman’s books:

The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700 (1938)*

Bible and the Sword (1956)

The Zimmermann Telegram  (1958)

The Guns of August (1960)

The Proud Tower  (1966)

Stilwell and the American Experience in China (1971)

Notes from China (1972)*

A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century (1978)

Practicing History (1981)

The March of Folly:  From Troy to Vietnam (1984)

The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution (1988)

  • – Not available in NC Cardinal

 

 

The Lusitania: United States One Step Closer to War

April is the 100th anniversary of the United States declaring war on Germany and its allies the Great Powers.   The Wilson administration’s decision to go to war was not taken lightly or in haste. In fact, it was almost two years after the sinking of the Lusitania that  The president  appeared before a joint session of Congress on April 2, 1917 and asked that body to declare war.  Woodrow Wilson’s  speech outlined a number German actions – specifically unrestricted submarine warfare, committing sabotage in the United States and attempting to lure Mexico into the war on their side –  that justified this country being involved in what many Americans viewed as a European conflict.   This will be a two-part blog:  the first dealing with the sinking of the Lusitania;  the second,   German efforts at sabotage in the United States  and the  Zimmermann Telegram.

The submarine brought a new dimension to warfare on the world’s oceans.   A vessel that traveled under the water, out of sight of other vessels, had an advantage over the ships they were targeting.   Before the submarine, if a warship stopped a merchant vessel belonging to an adversary or a neutral nation, their crew would board that ship, determine it was carrying forbidden cargo, send the crew safely off, and then sink it.   During the the early part of the Great War, submarines would surface, would use that procedure and sink the ship with a torpedo.   Neutral shipping would be left alone by the Germans as long they were not carrying contraband.   That is until the British started using neutral nations’ ships, such as American freighters, to carry war materials.  Early in February 2015, the German government stated that the area around the British Isles would be considered to a war zone and ships carrying contraband would be targets for U boats.  The German action was partly in response to the Royal Navy blockade of Germany’s coast. (1)

 The RMS Lusitania was scheduled to sail from New York on May 1, 1915, with cargo and passengers on board and Liverpool as her destination.  The German Embassy in the United States took out an advertisement in the New York newspapers warning Americans not to sail on British ships.   For the most part that warning was ignored by the Americans who had booked passage on her.

The day before the  Lusitania sailed out of New York harbor, a U boat backed out of its berth at Emden, Germany, followed the estuary of the Ems River into the North Sea, and set a northerly course that would eventually take it around the British Isles and Ireland to it’s patrol sector in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland.   Periodically the U-20  would send radio messages back to it’s base in Germany, unaware that the Royal Navy code breakers in Room 40 in the Admiralty in London were intercepting them. Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger and the commanders of  the six other U boats at sea were under orders from the Hochseeflotte (High Seas Fleet) to hunt British ships and sink them without warning. ( 1 )

While the codebreakers in Room 40 knew the approximate location of the German U boats, they had no knowledge of the position of British passenger or merchant ships in the waters around the British Isles, where the submarines were on the prowl looking for targets.  Messages had been sent to masters of British vessels whose voyages took them past the south coast of Ireland to avoid headlands, choose a course that took up the middle of St. George’s Channel,  zigzag to minimize their ships as targets,  and to time their arrival at the Liverpool bar so they wouldn’t to stop to take on a pilot.

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Woodward Wilson was trying to find a way for the United States to bring peace to the war fought mostly in Europe.  When the conflict had broken out in the summer of 1914, Wilson had told the American people to be “neutral in thought as well as action.”   President Wilson sent his closest advisor Colonel Edward M. House on a peace mission to Europe  in January 1915 on the Lusitania.  On that voyage, the captain raised the United States flag when the vessel approached the Irish coast.

Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger’s U boat reached the southern coast of Ireland on 5 May.  Before he encountered the Lusitania on 7 May,  Schwieger attacked four other vessels.  He sunk two of them with torpedoes, shelled one after sending its crew away,  the torpedo he used for the fourth  mis-fired.  When the Lusitania appeared in his periscope, Schwieger released a torpedo.  It struck the ship on the starboard side, causing an explosion.  There was a second explosion minutes later causing the liner to sink in eighteen minutes.   Only 764 persons of the 1962 total of passengers and crew survived.  Of the dead a number were women and children,  and 128 were Americans.  After the fact, the U boat commander claimed he didn’t recognize the profile of the liner until after he had launched the torpedo and a crew member recognized her.   Most authors who have written about the tragedy claim Schwieger was being disingenuous. The German government justified the sinking by claiming the liner was carry munitions in its cargo holds, pointing to the second explosion as proof. In Great Britain, the sinking raised a number of questions; primarily, why hadn’t the Royal Navy sent destroyers to guide the Lusitania through treacherous waters where German submarines had been active.   On 10 May, the First Lord of the Admiralty (Winston Churchill) appeared at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons to answer members’ questions.  Part of  one of  Churchill’s answers: “I have stated that two warnings were sent to the vessel, together with directions as to her course. I made that quite clear. If the hon. Member asks if a special escort was sent out my reply is “No.” No exception was made to the regular method by which our seaborne commerce is conducted.” (2 )

For almost a year extensive diplomatic correspondence was carried out between the American State Department and the German Foreign Office. (4 ) In February 1916, the Germans agreed to quit sinking neutral vessels.  America stepped back from war, for at the least time being.

(1) For those readers who want to read the German government’s note, use the following: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1915Supp/subch1

(2) Patrick Beesly, Room 40: British Naval Intelligence, 1914-1918, is the best source on Room 40, but the only copy in Cardinal in owned by Forsyth County’s Central Library, which is closed for renovation.   Beesly lists the reasons that could have contributed to the liner sinking so fast and questions the disappearance of documents that could answer several question relating to the Lusitania.

(3) For the full transcript of Churchill’s statement, use this link:   http:n//hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1915/may/10/statement-by-mr-churchi

(4)To read this correspondence: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1915Supp/ch8

For further reading:

Christopher Andrew,  Her Majesty’s Secret Service,  pp. 86-127.

A. Scott Berg,   Wilson,  pp. 362-369.

Erik Larson, Dead Wake:  The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.

Diana Preston, Lusitania, an Epic Tragedy.

 

Churchill’s “The World Crisis”

As we get closer to November 11, Veteran’s Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in the UK, we need to remember those have sacrificed their lives so we can live in freedom.  One hundred years ago the Great War was being fought in Europe and the Middle East.  As I do every year at this time, I remember my uncle, Patrick Morrison, who served in the Seaforth Highlanders and survived the Great War, both on the western front and at  Gallipoli, which is the subject of this blog!

Followers of my blog will have deduced by now I am a admirer of Winston Churchill.  I have in my personal library most of his important works of history and a lot of books written about him.  The one book of Churchill’s I was missing and wanted was his The World Crisis , a four volume history of the Great War.   A few months ago, I thought about buying the one volume paperback edition of his abridgement, but before I could, a co-worker found a hardback copy at an estate sale and presented it to me without knowing  how much I desired that particular  volume.

In the earlier  world war, Churchill was not the hero he was to the British people he was in the Second World War.  To be sure he was in the top ranks of the government, but not as prime minister.  He started out the conflict as First Lord of the Admiralty (the political head of the Royal Navy), running the most powerful arm of the British armed forces, scattered all over the world; working with the sea lords, the professional commanders of the fleet.

For more than a century the enemy lay just across the English Channel in France, but now the foe was the German High Seas fleet based on the east side of the North Sea, and the ally was the French.   Accordingly, when the threat of war became clear in August 1914, the fleet was dispatched to a base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands just north of Scotland, where it could easily confront the Germans on the North Sea.  Great Britain was drawn into the war by guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium from invasion by the Huns, as the Germans were called then.  An ultimatum was sent to the German government, due to expire at midnight August 4, 1914.  Churchill describes the final minutes leading up to that fatal midnight thusly:

 “It was 11 o’clock at night–12 by German time–when the ultimatum expired.  The windows of the Admiralty were thrown open in the warm night air.  Under the roof…were gathered a small group of Admirals and Captains and a cluster of clerks, pencil in hand,  waiting.  Along the Mall from the direction of the Palace the sound of an immense concourse singing ‘God Save the King’ floated in.  On this deep wave there broke the chimes of Big Ben; and, as the first stroke boomed out, a rustle of movement swept the across the room.  The war telegram, which meant ‘Commence hostilities against Germany’ was flashed to ships and and establishments  under the White Ensign all over the world.  I walked across Horse Guard’s Parade to the Cabinet room [at 10 Downing Street] and reported to the Prime Minister and the Ministers who were assembled there that the deed was done.”

Churchill’s main contribution, and perhaps downfall, at the Admiralty was the Dardanelles campaign.  The Dardanelles is the body of water that connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara in northwest Turkey.  As long as the Dardanelles was in the hands of the Turks, the Russians were blocked from a southern all year route out of Black Sea past Constantinople  and westward to the Aegean Sea.  Of all the Allies’ ill gotten attacks against Germany and its supporters, the Dardanelles was one of the most unfortunate and Churchill was at the heart of the planning of this fiasco.

At the heart of this unfortunate plan was the fact that the land war on the Western Front had reached a stalemate barely four months into the war.  Churchill wanted, as he did in World War II, to advance allied forces in the Mediterranean, this time  against the Austrians and Turks, who were both a part of the Central Powers.   According to Churchill, the planning for attacks against what was left of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) began in January 1915.   Churchill convinced the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, of his plan to use an Allied fleet made up partially of older dreadnoughts and some modern ships to force their way up the Dardanelles toward Constantinople.    There were differing opinions as to whether this could be accomplished by the Navy alone or whether troops would be needed to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula which bordered on the left side of the Dardanelles.

After two months of planning, the Royal Navy, along with a smaller group of French ships, attacked the Turkish forts along the waterway.  The Turks, expecting a attack, mined the Dardanelles between its opening to the Aegean Sea and the Narrows, which guarded to entrance to the Sea of Marmara.    The modern battleships of the British fleet were out of range of the Turkish forts until they entered the Dardanelles and came in contact with the Turkish mines, some of which the Allies did not know the location of.   The French admiral’s flagship was sunk with virtually all hands lost.  Some of the British ships were severely damaged and retreated.  The War Council, at Churchill’s behest, voted to use troops to invade the Gallipoli Peninsula.    The causalities from the invasion were horrific and Churchill was the scapegoat and he was sacked from the Admiralty.

Reading Churchill’s version of  events while he was First Lord of the Admiralty reminded me of a Max Hastings quote I used before when I was the discussing Churchill’s role in the Dardanelles/Gallipoli affair:  “Churchill believed himself exceptionally fitted for the direction of armies, navies, and air forces.  He perceived no barrier to such a role in the fact that he possessed neither military staff training nor experience of higher field command.”   Comparing his activities in both the world wars, he made his greatest errors in the Mediterranean theater.   When you are reading Churchill’s account of both wars, Hastings’ opinion  is very apt.

 

Why Read Moby Dick?

I don’t recall if I ever attempted to read Moby Dick in the past.  I have faint memories of seeing Gregory Peck on the movie screen as the one legged Captain Ahab driven to madness in his striving to get revenge from the great white whale.  At that time, over sixty years ago, we had Classic Comics.  They would now be called graphic novels.    (To see the cover of Classic Comic of  Moby Dick  click on the title. )  So why at my advanced age did I decide to read Moby DickTo begin with, I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s National Book Award winning book, In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, about the real incident in 1820 on which Melville based his novel.   Second, I read his  book entitled, Why Read Moby Dick.

 The story of The Essex takes place in a time, 1820, when, as soon a ship was out of sight of the shore, its crew was out of reach of help should a crisis occur.  Although navigation had improved since the European explorers cast off their harbors, ship to shore communication had not, and would not until the invention of the radio at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

According to National Geographic’s website, a Sperm Whale is 49 to 59 feet long and weights 35 to 45 tons.  The whale that sunk the Essex hit the ship’s bow, splintering it, causing the vessel to start sinking.   The survivors left the wreck in three whale boats (the smaller vessels actually used to hunt the whales) and eventually attempted to make it to west coast of South America, which was over 2,000 miles to the east.  There are no spoilers here – to find out how survivors, if any, were rescued, you will have to read the book!

Whales had a very valuable product:  oil!  Before the discovery of petroleum,  whale oil was used in lamps and other products.  But getting whale oil was a dangerous occupation and very labor intensive.   Crews on whale ships would stay at sea for up to three years while searching the oceans of the earth for whales.  For example,  The Essex left Nantucket on August 21, 1819 sailing east, with the prevailing winds, to the Azore Islands, then southeast to Cape Azore Islands off the coast of Africa.  The next step of the vessel’s journey was southwesterly along the east coast of South America, then around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean.  After preceding north, picking up provisions along the way, up the west coast of South America, The Essex headed west, south of the Galapagos Islands, until November 20, 1820, when she was rammed  by a whale and sunk.

Nathaniel Philbrick’s father was a English professor who introduced his two sons to Moby Dick at a young age.  Philbrick states he has read Moby Dick at least a dozen times.  He has found:

“Contained  in the pages of Moby Dick is nothing less the genetic code of America: all the promises, problems, conflicts, and ideals that contribute and to the outbreak of a revolution in 1775 as well as a civil war in 1861 and continue to drive this country’s ever-contentious march into the future.” (p. 6)

Unfortunately, Moby Dick did not sell well during Melville’s lifetime.  From the time the book was published, 1851, until the author’s death, 1891, the now classic  sold only 3,715 copies. That’s under a hundred copies a year.   It was not until after World War I that critics, especially contemporary  20th century writers,  took notice of Melville’s novel.

Although I’ve had a copy in my library for over sixty years,  I have not taken time to read Moby Dick, but I am reading it now.  Why should I read it at all?  Why should you read it?  What role did Nathaniel Hawthorne play in the writing of Moby Dick?  Read Nathaniel Philbrick’s relatively short book to answer those questions.

Go to the following websites if  you desire to find out more about sperm whales and the 19th century American whaling industry.

 

Letters from (and to) the Front, Part I

Recently I was prowling the book donations at the thrift store where I volunteer  and I came across a copy of  War Letters:  Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll.  The Legacy Project, which is the source from which these letters came, was founded in 1998 as a gathering place for veterans and their families to donate correspondence written by members of American armed forces to and from their families while on active duty.   Since its founding  the Legacy Project’s name has been changed to  “The Center for American War Letters,” and it’s collection is housed at Chapman University in Orange. California.  War Letters was made into a documentary on PBS’s American Experience, which can be watched on YouTube.

 Coincidentally, I was reading Drew Gilpin Faust’s Mothers of Invention : Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, which contains excerpts of letters written by Confederate women to their husbands on the front.  Also, in my home library I have a copy of Tracy Sugarman’s My War: a Love Story in Letters and Drawings.  Unfortunately, that book is not in the NC Cardinal system, but a large collection of his letters to his wife is preserved on the Library of Congress website, so I decided to include his book in this blog. One other book that excerpts from letters written by soldiers serving in the Union army in the Civil War is Earl J. Hess’   The Union Soldier in Battle.  The first part of this blog will have excerpts from letters from the Civil War and World War I, the second letters from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Separation in families during wartime can be traumatic both for the member of the armed forces being away from his or her family and the family at home.  But these days email and social media help to shorten the distance with almost instant communication and air travel makes leave at home realistic despite long distances to the site of deployment.  Imagine being a woman in the Confederate south, where the postal service left something to be desired, hearing about a major battle and not knowing for weeks, or even months, if your loved one is whole or not; or even alive or dead.  Faust cites a letter from a woman who tells her husband she wishes him to be wounded or suffer an amputation, so he comes home deformed, and not be attractive to other women in a culture where there was a shortage of men.  In World War II, distance was a problem in correspondence traveling from home to the various fronts, and vice versa, especially when  there were armies and naval forces that were on the move.  In some cases the soldier or sailor would receive a “Dear John” or “Dear Jill” letter ending a relationship.

The contents of letters depended on their origin.  Dr. Faust discovered that women left to manage large plantations, while their husbands were off fighting, doubted their ability  to take the man’s place running complex business and cultural environments.  Some of these women hired old white men to manage the slave laborers, while others did it themselves, trusting the black slaves to help with the planting, raising, and harvesting of the crops.

 The letters Dr. Hess uncovered had to do with men writing about combat experiences about which the southern women were totally divorced from, at least if they lived far beyond the armies.  A New York regimental surgeon replied to a question from his wife as follows:  “You have asked for a description of a field after the Angel of Death has passed over it; but I do no more so than I can give you an idea of anything indescribable.  You must stand as I have stood, and heard to report of battery upon battery, witness the effect of shell, grape and canister–you must hear the incessant  discharge of musketry, see men leaping high in the in the and falling dead upon the ground…hear their groans…see their eye grow dim in death, before you can realize or be impressed with its horrors.”

Confederate Captain William Harris Hardy gave his wife the following description of combat:   “All the firing had ceased, everything was calm and still after the awful storm save the awful shrieks of the dying and wounded which were great came from every quarter in every direction.  Cries for help, for water, brother calling brother, comrade for companions.  In ten feet of where I lay was a Pennsylvania Yankee with his bowels shot out….  We left before daylight.  I don’t know what became of him.”

In War Letters, a World War I ambulance driver, George Ruckle, wrote this description to his family:  “I’ll never some of the sights I saw and how bravely our men and the French bore their wounds.  Men with arms and legs torn off would never utter a groan during the whole trip to the hospital.  At one place some new batteries came up their horses were picketed  in a clump of trees.  I saw a shell land in the middle of them and the next minute there was pile of 50 or 60 dead horses.”

On the other hand, soldiers of the Civil War era could  not describe what they saw on the battlefield, either because they didn’t want to relive the experience or they didn’t want to scare their correspondents.   Illinois soldier wrote this: “I shall not attempt to describe what I saw, of dead wounded and suffering .  It would be an absolute  impossibility  and if it were possible my heart would shrink from such a task.”   Another Illinois soldier phased it this way, “a scene that it impossible describe either to a writer or artist”

At the of the war to end all wars, Lt. Lewis Plush reflects on his memories of the war to his parents  as he sails back to the United States:  “There was a war,  a great war, and it is over.  Men fought to kill, to maim, to destroy.  Some return home. others remain behind on the fields of their greatest sacrifice.  The rewards of the death are the lasting honors of martyrs for humanity; the reward of the living is the peaceful conscience of who play of life and plays it square.”

Samuel Eliot Morison

I believe it was when I was in Junior High that friend of our family gave me a copy of Samuel Eliot Morison’s book Admiral of the Ocean Sea:  a Life of  Christopher Columbus.   That was my introduction to the writings of Dr. Morison, who, unbeknownst to me when I was a teenage boy, was a historian studying the naval history  of the new world.  Over the years, and he wrote and published just short of his death in 1978, Morison produced seven books relating that aspect of American history, besides publishing his fifteen volume History of United States naval operations in World War II,  and multiple books on the history of  his native New England, as well as co-authoring an American history textbook in 1930 that is it’s 7th edition.   For the purpose of this blog I am going to concentrate Morison’s book  The Great Explorers.

 The Great Explorers is an abridgment of  The European Discovery of America :  The Northern Voyages and The Southern Voyages .  When Morison wrote the preface to the latter volume, he dated it exactly two years before he died at the age of 88.  While writing these two volumes, he was traveling all over the world tracing the voyages of Columbus and the men who followed him to the coasts of North and South America, and in the cases of Magellan and Drake, circumnavigated the globe.  Morison concentrates on the voyages, how they arrived at the Americas, the ships they sailed on, not what happened after they got here.  For some reason I can’t figure out, Morison wrote about the northern voyages before the southern ones, although he suggests Columbus’ trips laid the ground work for the rest of the fifteenth and sixteenth century explorers.

Columbus made four trips to the Americas.  The first one as we learned in school was in 1492.  Although Columbus sailed under the colors of the Spanish kingdom Castile and Aragon, he was born Cristoforo Columbo¹ in Genoa long before it was considered Italian.  Columbus and a number of other Europeans believed if one sailed west across the Atlantic they would find a short cut to East Asia.   On his first voyage he took three vessels:  The Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina.  The first was 85 feet in length, the two were smaller. Morison reckoned Columbus touched San Salvador and Cuba on that trip.  The Nina was only the one that made it back.  During the second and fourth voyages Columbus visited Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola.

A quarter of a century after Columbus set foot on the “New World,”  Ferdinand Magellan was in Seville, giving up his Portuguese citizenship to become a subject of Emperor  Charles V of Spain.  Two years afterwards Magellan was in command of five ships with a commission to explore the Pacific Ocean.  His fleet sailed south along the coast of South America, through the strait which now bears his name, and out into the Pacific in the latter of November 1520.  By February the following year, he reached the Caroline Islands and by March, after touching at Guam, he was in the Philippines; where he died during a battle with natives on April 21.  Eighteen survivors made it to back to Seville on the Victoria, Magellan’s flag ship, which had sailed three and month before.

Unlike Magellan, Sir Frances Drake survived his circumnavigation and went up the west coast of the Americas besides.  Drake was regarded as a naval hero to the English and a pirate to their enemies, the Spanish.  The purpose of this voyage was two f0ld:  first, harassment of the Spanish settlements in the Americas, second, exploration. Unlike the voyages of the Spanish and Portuguese, Drake’s was funded by private monies.  There were six vessels in his fleet, which sailed in December 1577, headed by the “The Golden Hind,” armed with a total of 56 guns and, in addition to crew members, men at arms.  Each time they found a Spanish  settlement  it was attacked.    The English expedition traveled as far north as what is now known as San Francisco Bay.  Despite Drake claiming that part of Calfornia for Queen Elizabeth I,   the Spanish built a series of missions there.  The voyage ended in Plymouth harbor on September 26, 1580.  The whole expedition was profitable for the investors, the throne, and Drake as well.

Unlike Drake, John Cabot was an explorer. Cabot is the anglicized version of his Italian name, Giovanni Caboto.   Cabot’s home base in England  was at Bristol on the Avon River which empties into the Irish Sea.  Cabot made his first seaworthy trip to North America in 1497 by sailing due west to the southern tip of Ireland, then west northwest before resuming a more westerly direction, which took him directly to the island of Newfoundland off the coast of what became Canada.  For the next 36 years several Englishmen and a Portuguese, Joāo Alvares Fagundes, made voyages to Newfoundland and Labrador on the mainland. Toward the end of the 16th century, the English became involved in the search for the fabled Northwest Passage.  Martin Frobisher  made several voyages, all of which ended in failure.  John Davis was another mariner who failed to find it.

The first voyage under French colors was led by a man of Italian descent, Girolamo da Verrazzano, whose first trip led to landfall of the present coast of North Carolina.  Sailing north from the outer banks, he came the Narrows that leads into what is now New York harbor.  From there he explored the shore opposite what we now call Long Island and from there proceeded to what become Maine, where he had contact with natives.  Verrazzano was followed to North America by a native of Normandy, Jacques Cartier.    Cartier made three visited North America three times between 1534 and 1542.  On his third voyage, Cartier founded a colony named Charlesbourg-Royal after the Charles duc d’Orléans, son of the King of France.²

Morison’s book is filled with illustrations of old maps, which gives readers an inkling of the geographical ignorance that Europeans had of the western approaches to the Far East from Europe.  Particularly not realizing there was a whole large continent between Europe and Asia.  In addition to those maps, there are portraits of many of the explorers and photographs the author took from his flights which traced to routes used by the explorers to find their way west.

Author’s note:   To be sure the Europeans brought war and disease to the indigenous peoples of the “New World,”  and started a genocide that lasted in North America until late in the nineteenth century.  But Morison concentrates on the voyages, how they arrived at the Americas, the ships they sailed on, and how they navigated without any of the modern aides modern sailors have at their disposal.

 ¹ In Portugal he was known as Christovão Colom.

² Archaeologists discovered remains of the colony in 2006 at the junction of the Cap Rouge River and the St. Lawrence River.

CALL 999!

It’s no secret I like to read mysteries!  I used to work with someone who introduced me to that genre of fiction about forty years ago.  I am one of those readers who have three or four, or maybe more books going at a time.  I read non-fiction for the most part in my living room, restaurants, and doctor’s waiting rooms and fiction at night in bed.  The only exception is when I getting close to the end of a mystery, it moves to the front of the line. I’ll read it anywhere, except, of course,  at work.  In the case of mysteries my preference is British police procedurals and the occasional spy story.

Recently I have started watching Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis, both characters developed by Colin Dexter in a series of books, (which I am also reading) who investigate crime in Oxford.  Ruth Rendell, who died just last May, wrote twenty-four mysteries featuring Inspector Wexford and Detective  Mike Burden, who were later brought to life on television.  North of the border (English-Scottish border, that is) Stuart MacBride sets  his stories around Aberdeen and the Northeast.  Ian Rankin, another Scot, has his detective policing in Edinburgh.   Martha Grimes, an American author, has written a series of  British police procedural mysteries with each title reflecting  the real name of an English pub.  Elizabeth George is  another American who write police detective fiction set in England.

In the Morse books and the television episodes, Morse is the detective inspector and Lewis is his sergeant.  Dexter did not write any books with Lewis as the main character, but the ex-sergeant, now a detective inspector himself, stars in his own television series, a spin off from the Morse shows.    Morse, himself, likes his liquor, cryptic  crosswords and other word games, and expects people who send reports him  to be grammatically correct and know how to spell.  Unlike Lewis, who has a wife and family, Morse lives by himself and expects his sergeant to make himself available any time at his  chief’s beck and call.

Unlike Colin Dexter’s character, Inspector Wexford is married with two daughters and a long suffering wife.   To assist Wexford in his cases, Ruth Rendell created Mike Burden, Wexford’s sergeant,  also as a married man.  Rendell wrote twenty-three more novels featuring Wexford in almost fifty years.  In the last two, Wexford is retired but still consults on cases.  In the debut book in the series, From Doon With Death, Wexford has to identify the person who gifted the murder victim books inscribed with the name “Doon”.  If Wexford investigates of the past of the dead person, he is sure he will be able find “Doon”.

Up in Aberdeenshire,  Stuart Macbride writes about Detective Sergeant Logan McCrea solving crimes in the Granite City, where the winters are long, wet, and cold, as suggested by the title of his first book:  Cold Granite.  I like MacBride’s books for the simple reason I spent the first nine years of my life in Aberdeen, so I am familiar with the geography of the city and the region.  A warning to fans of ‘cozy’ mysteries, MacBride’s books are not for  you.  If, on the other hand, you never miss an episode of ‘Law and Order Special Victims Unit” you will enjoy his books.  A note about DS McCrea:  he is far from a perfect hero, as he bucks the system and often is far from politically correct.  What would you expect from an author who calls his cat “Grendel!”

A little further south, in the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh, Inspector John Rebus is actively hunting bad guys.  Ian Rankin, along with MacBride and a number of other Scottish mystery writers publish what has been called “Tartan Noir.”   In Rankin’s first Rebus novel, “Knots and Crosses,” the detective get assigned to the case of the Edinburgh Strangler, who is murdering young girls whom he has kidnapped.   His investigation is hampered by an anonymous person is sending him clues and a nosy newspaper reporter who thinks Rebus is hiding something.   To solve his first case, Rebus has to delve into his past.

Martha Grimes main character is Detective Inspector Richard Jury.  Like Morse, Jury is a single man, but Grimes has surrounded him with a bevy of appealing characters to keep his life interesting.   Jury is aided in solving crimes by a sergeant who is always on the verge catching some disease and a personal friend, Melrose Plant, an aristocrat who long since lost interest in his title and given it up.   Jury is based in New Scotland Yard in London, so he goes other places in England when the local police request help from the capital to solve a case.*

Another aristocrat crime solver is Elizabeth George’s Inspector  Thomas Lynley.   Unlike Richard Jury’s friend, Lynley admits to being the 8th Earl  of Asherton.  He has a valet and drives a Bentley.  His crime solving partner, Sergeant Barbara Havers comes from a lower middle class background, which makes them an odd couple.  In A Great Deliverance, the first book in the series,  the latter is given a second chance at working in the CID (Criminal Investigation Division) at NSY, so she has to learn to get along with Lynley as they delve into a family whose conflicts climaxed in a horrific crime.

*– A word about British police organization.  New Scotland Yard is responsible for policing Greater London, providing security for the Royal Family and other important individuals, and lending a hand when requested by local police to help solve cases, among other things.  In other words, in its national responsibilities, it is like the American FBI and Secret Service combined.

BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS

This, I believe, is the 50th blog in this series, so I thought I would review, to the best of my memory, some of books I have read over my lifetime.  I have always had books at home.  Being I was a history major in undergraduate and graduate school (not counting MSLS degree) and history is a reading intensive subject, my education brought me in contact with even more books.
Like me, Emily Dickinson loved books and even wrote a poem about them:

There is no Frigate like a Book

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
                                        EMILY DICKINSON
 I do not recall what my parents read to me before I could read.  Babar is the first character in book I can remember.  Enid Blyton, who was a famous author of children’s adventure stories in Great Britain, had published six of the “Famous Five” series by the time I left Scotland in 1948. I think I had read them all.
When we moved to Memphis in 1949, one the first things my mother did was to visit the old Cossitt Library downtown to get us both a library card.     There I discovered Joseph Altsheler, who wrote a number of series of historical novels for what we now call middle school boys. (I was delighted to discover Altsheler’s books are still available in either paperback or Kindle editions from Amazon.)  As a sixth grader and on into junior high I read his books and a series of biographies of famous baseball players and managers and other sports figures.   In fiction my choice was also sports including John Tunis, who wrote about all sports, not  just basketball, baseball, and football.
In high school and college I had little time for pleasure reading, but when I did, I read Leon Uris, James Jones, and James Michener each of whom wrote historical novels, some based on their experiences in World War II.  Meantime, in classes, I was introduced to a number books I still have in my personal library:  The Tennessee: the Old River by Donald Davidson, which I had to read for class in Tennessee History;  and  Mont Saint Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams, which was required reading for Medieval History.  A graduate reading course in Southern history made me familiar with William Faulkner’s  Absalom, Absalom!, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, and Eugene Genovese’s powerful study of the world slaves lived in Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made.    For other classes I read Nixon Agonistes by Gary Wills and The Quiet American by Graham Greene.
In the mid-1970s a colleague introduced me to a genre of fiction that has given me pleasure ever since:  the mystery.  In this vein, I just learned that one of favourite mystery writers, Ruth Rendell, died last May.   She was equally at home with psychological mysteries or police procedural  novels.  In fact, her Inspector Wexford series was adapted for television.   Anne PerryTess Gerritsen, Rhys  Bowen, Jacqueline Winspear, and, of course Agatha Christie, are a just a few of my favourite mystery authors.
Mysteries are my habitual fiction reading tastes.  In non-fiction I tend to read military (mainly Civil War, WWI and WWII) history and biography.  Such interests have seeped through onto this blog.  See, for example, previous  blogs on Shelby Foote, Winston Churchill, and John Keegan.  During the last few years, when I’ve evidently have had more time,  I have read and am reading multi-volume works such as Foote’s The Civil War, Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants: a Study in Command, Rick Atkinson’s The Liberation Trilogy,  about the American army in North Africa and Europe, Volumes 1 and 2 of Ian W, Toll’s in progress Pacific War Trilogyand Carl Sandburg’s massive biography of Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and The War Years.
About fifteen years ago, I decided to keep a log showing what I had read and the date I finished the book.   Beginning in 2002, I have, on my computer, a complete list of books I have read each year.  I also keep a record of the number of pages in each volume so I can see how many pages I have read.  (BWT: I don’t tell my wife because she thinks I read too much already!)  That came in handy a few years ago when a friend accused me of reading nothing but boring history books, I could tell that person that over the past few years I had read fiction and non-fiction equally.   And I plan on doing that as long I can read!

Murder Mysteries Set on Trains

Before the advent of automobile and air travel, railroads were the way travel long distances.  As early as the mid-1860s, both coasts in the United States were joined by rail.  By the 1930s, railway travel brought cities closer together both in America and Europe and had a certain romance to it.  At the same time motion pictures were gaining in popularity, so it did not take long for trains to find their way to the big screen and attract the attention of movie directors such as Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitchcock directed two motion pictures set at on trains:  The Lady Vanishes and Strangers on a Train.  In the first movie, based on Ethel Lina White’s The Wheel Spins (Not available on Cardinal*), the plot centers around a elderly English lady disappearing off a train in Central Europe in the time leading up to World War II.   The setting is in a small fictional country in Central or Eastern Europe with a dictatorial government.   A British agent on the train must get a message back to London.

The idea of switching murders with a complete stranger is the plot twist behind Patricia Highsmith’s debut novel Strangers on a Train, made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock.  Imagine meeting a stranger on a train, or anywhere else for that matter; having a conversation about people you know you would like to see dead.  Then the other person suggest you murder his person and he kill yours.  That’s what happens to Guy Haines when he meets  up with Charles  Anthony Bruno in Patricia Highsmith’s story and Alfred Hitchcock’s film. (spoilers ahead)  As usual, there are differences when a book is brought to the screen.  For example, Bruno (Robert Walker) murders Guy’s estranged wife on page 81, while in the movie that happens near the end.  Another example is Guy(Farley Granger)’s occupation; in the book, he is an architect and the movie, a professional tennis player.  Additionally, in the movie,  to get past the censors of the 1950s, Guy has to double-cross Bruno and not kill Bruno’s father, like he does the book.  In the book and the movie, Bruno eventually dies.   In the former, guilt overtakes Guy and he turns himself in.

Agatha Christie wrote three mysteries set on trains, two featuring her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot,  the most famous of which is Murder on the Orient Express.   Poirot is traveling on the Orient Express from Istanbul back to England, when the train gets stuck in a snowdrift in Yugoslavia.   An American passenger is murdered and as there are no police on the train Poirot is charged with solving the case.  What he discovers is the victim was traveling using an assumed name and is wanted for a ghastly crime back in the States.  The other passengers in the coach, despite their varied nationalities all seem to have a connection that crime.   The story was made into a movie in 1974, starring Albert Finney as Poirot and an all-star cast.   Masterpiece Mystery had a better version (in my opinion) as a part of a tv series, with David Suchet as the Belgian detective.

The 4:50 from Paddington, which was filmed as Murder She Said, has Jane Marple doing the sleuthing.    In the  book a friend of Miss Jane Marple witnesses a murder on a passing train, but when she reports crime to the authorities, she is not believed.   The two women figure out the body must have been dumped off the train at some point.  Miss Marple figures out where and hires a young woman to take a position at a nearby estate to search for the body.  (In the movie version, Miss Marple sees the murder and does the investigation herself.)  The body is discovered and New Scotland Yard is called in and the investigation broadens geographically.  Needless to say, Miss Marple helps the police find the murderer.  As usual with Christie stories, red herrings abound!

A favorite plot of mystery  and screen writers is to combine murder mysteries set on trains with stolen jewels.  Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes movie, Terror in the Night, is one of these; Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train is another. In the former, based on parts of number Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories,  Holmes is hired to protect a valuable jewel while he, the owner and her son ride the train overnight in England.  The son is murdered and the jewel stolen.  The murderer has a number of tricks up his (gender neutral)  sleeve to throw the famous detective of the scent, but in the end Holmes prevails.

The Blue Train, or the train Bleu, ran from Calais on French coast of  the English Channel to Nice on the Riviera.  It was the train very wealthy traveled on to winter on the Riviera.  In this story, Poirot faces a radically different puzzle that he tried find the solution to on the Orient Express.  The basic plot concerns Rufus Van Aldin, who gives his daughter, Ruth Kettering,  an expensive jewel.  As she travels on the Blue Train, she is found murdered and the jewel is missing.  As usual in Christie’s stories, people are not always who or what they first appear to be.

In Paula Hawkins recent best-selling novel Girl on a Train, the chief character commutes to London on a train that goes past the house where she used to live with her ex-husband.  The train always has to stop behind one of the neighboring houses and one day she notices the woman who lives there with a different man.  A few days later, reads in a newspaper that woman has disappeared and she goes to the police.  When they don’t believe her, she gets more involved in the case, bringing her ex and his current spouse into the plot.    Without giving the plot away, let’s say the chief character has issues.  I’ll bet this one makes to it to the big screen as well.

*Available from Amazon in the Kindle format

 

 

 

Sir John Keegan

British historian John Keegan and I were almost contemporaries.  Although he was four years older than me, both of us were boys living in a Britain troubled by war in the early 1940s; he in England, I in Scotland.  Keegan told interviewer Brian Lamb a few years ago he chose military history  to study because he lived in the south of England as a boy in 1944 and saw the enormous Allied force that was preparing liberate Europe from the Germans.   Ironically, because of the lasting effects of a boyhood illness, he was disqualified for serving the military. When he went up to college, it was to Oxford.   After Oxford,  and a trip the United States, Keegan was appointed to a senior lectureship at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and later held visiting professorships at Princeton and Vassar. After twenty years at Sandhurst, Keegan retired and went to work for the Daily Telegraph as a reporter and Defence Editor.

Beginning in 1970, Keegan launched a writing career that spanned four decades, including a History of Warfare, histories of World War I, The Second World War, and the American Civil War; he also authored volumes on Intelligence in WarThe Mask of Command, and The Face of Battle.  Although Keegan deals with individual battles in a number of his books, Six Armies in Normandy  is the only one that focuses on one campaign.  With the exception of his general histories of wars and the Price of Admiralty, Keegan wrote exclusively about conflict on land rather water. In addition teaching and writing, Keegan lectured all across the United States and Canada.  For his contribution to military history Keegan was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in the Millennial Honours in 2000.  For the purpose of this blog, I want to focus  on one of his twenty books:

The American Civil War, published in 2009. Instead being battle oriented like so many other histories of the American Civil War, this book concentrates on topics and campaigns.   Keegan’s theme of the importance of geography to the fighting of war  in North America continues from  the The Fields of Battle, which described Keegan’s travels on the continent and the wars that have fought there from colonial times to Indians wars of the late 19th century .  The distance between Washington and Richmond and the Mississippi Valley explains why  the armies on both sides in the western theater seem not to have as much attention paid to them as those around the two capitals in the east.  Along with distance, Keegan points out that the Alleghany Mountains provided a formable barrier between  the two areas of the conflict.    Keegan also explains that the differences in the majors rivers in the eastern theatre, which tended to flow northwest to southeast, making barriers to approaching Richmond from from the north; and those in the west, which, with the exception of the Mississippi,  flowed from the Appalachians north to the Ohio River and hence to the Mississippi and to the Gulf of Mexico.   The major rivers in the west, the Mississippi, the Tennessee, and the Cumberland led right to the heart of the Confederacy instead being a barrier like they were in the east.  To make use of the major rivers in the west, Union forces developed a shallow water naval force that backed up infantry by using their  guns as artillery and providing transports for moving troops in the same way the Army of the Potomac  was transported in Virginia.  A little over eighteen months after Ulysses Grant’s first battle in November 1861, he had captured Vicksburg splitting the Confederacy in two.

In addition to the geography of the eastern United States, Keegan discusses the military leadership on both sides.  It seems he only thinks two generals are outstanding:  Grant and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In the twentieth century, compares Rommel to the Confederate general.  He points out Lincoln had a problem finding leadership in the eastern theater until he brought Grant east in 1864.   Keegan sees Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan as a team winning the war for the Union, especially after Sherman’s march through Georgia and up to the Carolinas, while Grant was leading to charge in Virginia.   On the southern side, Keegan claims Lee was to much of a gentleman to be a good commander and President Davis could not get along with his generals.

What makes Keegan’s history of the American Civil War interesting besides its emphasis on geography  and leadership are its comparisons with twentieth century wars, especially  the Great War and World War II.   He relates the battlefield, the casualties, and type of fighting at Shiloh to World War I battles.   Keegan attributes the high rate of wounded and dead to the minié bullet,  fired from a rifle, that traveled at a higher velocity than the ammunition  from a musket.   The American Civil War yielded more than million casualties, according to Keegan, of that number, 200,000 died.   In percentage of population, he compared that to European losses in World War I and Soviet casualties in World War II.

Keegan died in 2012 after a battle with illness caused by a reoccurrence of his boyhood sickness.

John Keegan on Book-TV