Neutrality: an Explosive Step Closer to War

 

When I started this series detailing how the United States became involved in the Great War (afterwards World War I), I envisioned two parts, but when I realized how complicated the story was, I realized it  was going to take three.    Last month’s episode involved the sinking of the Lusitania.  The current blog describes how German agents in the United States used sabotage to keep American products from reaching the Allies, principally Great Britain and France.   The third, in April, will narrate Germany’s attempts to involve the United States in a conflict with Mexico, resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and how that finally tried President Wilson’s patience.

Black-Tom

President Wilson’s attempt to keep America neutral was difficult for a number of reasons: first, American businesses were making money off  the war.   Second, there was a large percentage of foreign born persons living in the United States.  The 1910 Census showed 1.21 million were British and almost double that were German.  The latter population was targeted by the German Ambassador to the United States, Count Johann Heinrich Andreas Hermann von Bernstorff, who was given the assignment of organizing a spy and sabotage network to keep Americans from helping the Allies with their war effort.   The German military and naval attaches did the hands-on work to see to it the Imperial Government’s plans were carried out. (1)

In 1915, the German network was at work on the New York waterfront, using crew members from ships that had been quarantined for the length  of the war to do their dirty work.  Bombs went off on either vessels that were docked or ships that had left New York and were at sea.  American authorities suspected German sabotage but could prove nothing.   At that point the federal government had no agency like the FBI or the ATF to investigate and make arrests in cases like they do today.   Instead, the Justice Department turned to the New York City Police Department.  Howard Blum’s book Dark Invasion traces that story.

New York was not only the place where German agents were carrying out acts of sabotage.   One was caught trying to blow up a newly built dam on the Rio Grande River in New Mexico.   Later, another confessed to blowing up a black powder magazine on Mare Island, California.  In June 1915, a man of German descent, Erich Muenter, using an alias, set off a bomb inside the U. S. Capitol in Washington and then took a train to Long Island and shot financier J. P. Morgan.  He was arrested soon after but died in jail before he could tried.  (2)

Two of Germany’s top agents in New York were Franz von Papen and Franz von Rintelen.   Von Papen was posted to Washington as a military attache in the German embassy.  Papen’s colleague von Rintelen was a junior in the Admiralty staff who had worked in a New York bank before the war, and was sent there to oversee his nation’s efforts to undermine American attempts to finance and supply Great Britain and France’s war. German agents both in New York and Baltimore used real and shell companies as fronts.  For example, Norddeutsche Lloyd (NDL) was a real German corporation, while the Eastern Forwarding Company (EFCO) was not. Von Rintelen set up cells in east coast ports and New Orleans; the members of each one did not know about the cells in other cities.  Eventually the American declared both men personna non grata and expelled them from the country.  With help from Room 40 British cryptanalysts, Rintelen was taken off the ship he was traveling on by British authorities and made a prisoner of war before being extradited back to the United States to face charges stemming from his activities there.

However, the biggest case of sabotage involved the Black Tom Munitions Depot in New Jersey.  The depot was owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, the entity responsible for shipping war materials destined for Great Britain, France, and Russia.  On the evening of July 16, 1916, a vast explosion ripped through the terminal, shattering windows in Manhattan, damaging the Statue of the Liberty, and waking sleeping people over a wide area.  Night watchmen on duty at the terminal sounded the alarm when they first spotted flames, but with over two million tons of explosives on site a disaster was waiting to happen.  The fact that the railroad had been violating federal regulations by keeping explosives on railroad cars and barges tied up to the pier masked the sabotage carried out by German agents. Not until a Congressional investigation in the 1930s was the truth uncovered. (3)

Further to the south, Baltimore was another port of interest to Germans, especially when the Imperial Navy constructed two commercial submarines, designed bypass the Royal Navy blockade of the German coast.  The crews of these ships were ostentatiously civilians but in reality, for the most part, belonged to the Imperial Navy.    The first of the two submarines, U-Deutschland, arrived in Baltimore harbor on July 10, 2016.     When the resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917, the U-Deutschland was converted to a warship.

(1)   British spies were active in the United States as well.  Christopher Andrew’s books on the MI5, the British Secret Service,  listed below, outlines their means for keeping track of the Germans.

(2) Muenter was a German professor at Harvard until he disappeared in 1906 after poisoning his wife.  When he surfaced nine years later, he had re-married and was called Frank Holt.  Before his adventure in Washington and Long Island, he volunteered to help the agents of the German IIIB network in New York.  Blum,  pp. 3-11,  279-333.

(3) Witcover.

For further reading:

Christopher Andrew,  Defend the Realm:  the Authorized History of MI5.    pp.  71-79

Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only,  pp.  30-50

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

Howard Blum,  Dark Invasion: 1915, Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America.

Robert Koenig, The Fourth Horseman: One Man’s Mission to Wage the Great War in America.

Jules Witcover,  Sabotage at Black Tom:  Imperial Germany’s Secret War in America.

In Praise of eBooks

One of the things about doing a bit of a retrospective of where you’ve been in the last year is that you occasionally realize things that sort of slid by you when you were actually experiencing them.

While compiling my list of top 10 recommendations of books I read in 2016 , I did a count of how many book titles I actually read last year.  Turns out since I keep a reading history – you can do this too in your online library account:

cardinal-screenthat I read 100 books, averaging about one every 3 or 4 days.

This surprised me, as 2016 may have been one of my biggest years ever for reading that many titles.  I may have surpassed that during the summers when I was 10-12, but I’ve generally found less time for reading as a working adult, a husband, and a father of a young child. So how in the world did I read that many books?  I believe it was the fact that 80 of the 100 books I read were in the form of an eBook.

Now please know from the start that I am in no way denigrating the “true book” experience – I too am a bibliophile, as one might expect from a librarian. I love the physical properties of a book: the tactile sensation of turning the pages, the smell of an older volume.  I probably have more volumes of books in my home than the average — it reminds me of the joke I used to tell: “What do you get when a professor marries a librarian? 15 bookcases full of books.”

Nevertheless, in the world I live in now I never could have reached 100 titles read in one year were it not for eBooks.  Here’s how it happened…

I do have a Kindle, but I must confess that a dedicated eReader has not been the primary platform for me and eBooks.  No, the device I read eBooks on is my smartphone.

To make this work, it took several different factors – one was the Overdrive app.

“OverDrive Media Console is a proprietary, freeware application developed by OverDrive, Inc. for use with its digital distribution services for libraries, schools, and retailers. The application enables users to access audiobooks, eBooks, periodicals, and videos borrowed from libraries and schools—or purchased from booksellers—on [various]devices…” — Wikipedia

This handy application (available in the Apple and Android universes, as well as others) is fairly easy to download, and, as stated above, free!

The second factor is the fact that by far the majority of US public libraries have chosen the Overdrive app to allow access to their eBook collections. You DID know that almost all public libraries have eBook collections, right?  Sometimes I wonder when I read about people touting various “for profit” paywall sources for eBooks – I’ve paid for less than six eBooks total.  I read library-sourced eBooks almost exclusively. Why not?  Who wouldn’t want free?

So big factor one and big factor two = FREE!

One of the nice things about the Overdrive app is the ability to download the book you want, instead of streaming.  Once it’s downloaded (and you have the choice of a download version compatible with Kindles or a more general standard called ePub) you don’t need an internet connection to read the book (which also saves on battery power for your device, not to mention data used from your phone’s service plan).  You can also choose the font size, the screen brightness, etc.  This makes it easy to read on the beach, in the car (while someone else is driving, of course), or even at night with a black screen / white letters that’s easy on your night vision.  Then it is quite convenient to pick up your device and read while you wait at the doctor’s office (instead of reading the year-old Sports Illustrated or the even older Better Homes and Gardens), while you are in a long line at the Post Office during the holiday mailing season, while you are waiting at your child’s basketball practice, or even in front of the fireplace on a rainy night instead of picking up a physical book.  When you put all of that spare/possibly wasted time together, you too can read 100 books a year.

SO…if you have a portable device like a tablet, phablet, or smartphone, start by making sure your library card is updated and ready to go.  You can do that by accessing your library account online:   the “My Account” button in the upper right hand corner of this webpage – http://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/home

(Or of course coming into a Fontana Regional Library branch in person, or calling your local branch…)

Once you know your account is “good to go,” travel to either the iTunes App store for Apple products: [https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/overdrive-library-ebooks-and-audiobooks/id366869252?mt=8];

Or for Android devices, go to the Google Play store: [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.overdrive.mobile.android.mediaconsole&hl=en].

Download the app and open it – it will guide you through the initial set-up.  Basically, it will ask you to identify your library and enter your library information and library barcode.  Once you do that, be sure and mark that you want your device to remember the information, unless you enjoy keying in the 14-digit barcode repeatedly.

At that point, your device is ready to browse and search for eBooks you might enjoy.  When you find a title (and the library has best sellers and a wide selection) you are interested in, just ask to Borrow that title – you can then have the eBook for 7 to 21 days (depending on the title – you can even choose the borrowing period for some titles!) and you start reading just by “flipping” screens on your device, just like turning pages on a physical book.  You can bookmark your place in the eBook (make sure you learn how to do this at the start) and then pop in to your reading choice during all the “spare corners” of your life.  Before you know it, you are reading like a house afire!

We can help you get started on reading eBooks here @ your FRL library – we have several people able to offer free device help as you need it.  Just ask!  Happy e-reading!

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.

 

Rollicking Reads from 2016

It is the time of year for retrospectives.  And rather than recap celebrity deaths (Prince, Bowie, Mariah Carey’s career), I thought I’d pick a handful of materials I’ve checked out from the library that gave me hours of enjoyment this past year of 2016. They were not all published in 2016, but 2016 was the year I read them for the first time.

Overall, I’ve read 80 eBooks this past year, and about 20 additional books in print.  From those 100  I’ll select 10 things to recommend, all available from Fontana Regional Library or the NC Cardinal state system that FRL belongs to.

One explanation about my selections: I like science fiction and fantasy genres, but also like thriller and adventure novels, good comedies, and even some mysteries; when reading non-fiction I like histories, biographies, and memoirs.  So you will see “all of the above” in the ten titles/series I’ve chosen.  I’ll start with a memoir…about a movie, made about a book, that was written about a fictional book.

1.As you wish: inconceivable tales from the making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (2014)

A memoir by the actor who played Westley in the now-classic movie The Princess Bride.  Hilarious and heart-warming, behind the scenes stories of how the movie came together, from the screenwriter (who also wrote the original book) to Billy Crystal to Andre the giant.

2.The Brilliance series by Marcus Sakey

3 titles: Brilliance (2013),  A Better World (2014), Written in Fire (2016)

An edge of tomorrow science-fiction thriller-adventure, about the social problems that occur when a percentage of the world’s children start manifesting savant-style gifts (like lightning calculation, but also mind-reading, pattern recognition, fantastic reflexes, etc.). It’s the story (somewhat similar to the story line of Blade Runner), about a special agent who hunts down the “Brilliants” who have broken the law.  And he and his youngest daughter are also Brilliants…

3.The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

3 titles: The Invisible Library (2016), The Masked City (2016), The Burning Page (2017)

This fantasy series contains the tales of an alternate reality wherein many alternate realities can be traveled to, and the Invisible Library where the librarians attempt to collect all the versions of various books by travelling to the multi-verses involved.  Each alternate has a varying degree of Law vs. Chaos – Law based realities are like ours, with science and technology, whereas Chaos realities have fairies, dragons, magic, etc.  The realities are on a spectrum, so many of them have a mix. One of the first places the first book goes is a steampunk world with a Sherlock Holmes surrogate vs. vampires.

4.Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor

8 novels, plus novellas: https://www.goodreads.com/series/109102-the-chronicles-of-st-mary-s

In this fast-paced science-fiction series, St. Mary’s is an historical institute where historians study history via time travel.  A secret to all but their sponsoring Thirsk University, these tales tell of a the madcap adventures of the historian Madeline Maxwell, as she bounces with her colleagues from the fall of Troy to the Gates of Thermopylae to encounters with Isaac Newton and dodo birds.

5.Night School by Lee Child (2016)

Like all the Jack Reacher books written by Child, this one can be read as a standalone work, and not in any particular order.  Some of the Reacher books are “contemporary” and others are set back in Reacher’s past, while he was still in the Army.  This is a “past” title detailing how Reacher and a select team of both FBI and CIA agents undertake a secret mission to stop terrorists before they strike.  The appeal of the Reacher novels lies in the Jack Reacher character himself, as his unique brain and his indomitable physical gifts combine to thwart evil wherever he encounters it. In total, there are 21 books as of Night School.

6.Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo

2 titles: Six of Crows (2015), Crooked Kingdom (2016)

This fantasy duology is set in a steampunk world with some magic, and is sort of a fantasy version of Ocean’s Eleven. A group of six misfit but highly competent mercenary/criminals set out to infiltrate an un-breachable fortress and liberate the prisoner held there. There are lots of plot twists, with the leader Kaz usually (but not always) one step ahead of his opponents.

7.Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley

8 published novels and one novella : https://www.goodreads.com/series/46160-flavia-de-luce

A mystery series set shortly after WW2, whose heroine Flavia is only 11 (in the first book), but possessed of a mind like Sherlock Holmes, a rather morbid interest in chemistry (specializing in poisons), and the youngest of a very interesting English noble family.  Most of the books are set in the environs of the decaying mansion and grounds of the de Luce estate, but one of the books sees Flavia off to Canada.  The series has ongoing themes, and is not really designed for standalone reading, but it can be done that way without undue difficulty.

8.The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson

3 novels and one novella: https://www.goodreads.com/series/93010-reckoners

An Earth where there are no super-heroes, only super-villains (the Epics), opposed by an extraordinary band of non-superpowered human rebels known as the Reckoners. Their goal – somehow defeating the Epics and restoring their world. Their only hope is to exploit the secret weakness of each super-villain.

9.Ex-heroes series by Peter Clines

5 titles: https://www.goodreads.com/series/67447-ex-heroes

{from the author’s website} In the days after civilization fell to the zombie hordes, a small team of heroes—including St. George, Zzzap, Cerberus, and Stealth—does everything they can to protect human survivors. Each day is a desperate battle against overwhelming odds as the heroes fight to keep the undead at bay, provide enough food and supplies for the living, and lay down their lives for those they’ve sworn to protect. But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the shadows of the ruin that lies everywhere…and they may be the most terrifying threat of all.

10.The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)

[from the publishers webpage] “The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.”

*****

As you can see, I discovered some wonderful series last year, as well as individual books, that kept me up too late, made me laugh out loud, and grabbed my imagination.  I hope you find something here that you will likewise enjoy!

[disclaimer: with series I am just linking to the first title in the series for you to get started, but I either list the existing books in the series or provide a link so they can be read in order]

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 to and from the front, II

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.  Unless otherwise noted, the excerpts  quoted below come from War Letters which was copyrighted ©2001 by Andrew Carroll.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States armed forces were already fighting an undeclared war in the Atlantic Ocean trying to protect conveys supplying Great Britain.  The Japanese aggression made it clear American service men and women would be scattered around the globe, especially after Germany declared war on the United States.  How were families who had relatives stationed abroad going to stay in touch with their loved ones?  And vice versa how were members of the armed forces going to get letters from remote parts of the world delivered to their families at home.   Confederate women who were left in charge of the southern plantations couldn’t rely on their postal service to deliver letters to their husbands in a timely fashion, but times and technology had changed immensely in three quarters of a century.

Writing from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was doing basic training, Morton D. Elevitch wrote to his mother: “This week they are teaching us to kill.  Now you probably looked away and shuttered.  Well, Mom, I don’t like the idea, either,  but we all know its for our good….By the way everything is done in double time this week .  We move in place and from place to place on the double — puff puff.”  (War Letters, p. 196)

Tracy Sugarman to his wife June, from Great Britain, March 1944:  “Reading material, Junie. Things like Reader’s Digest – Coronet, Cosmopolitan maybe. When you send them pooch – *have them in a package* – otherwise some news hungry soldier or sailor will swipe them & they’ll never get here I’m told”.¹

During World War II, the United States Post Office made it easier for service and their families to stay in touch with each other.  Victory Mail, or V Mail as it was commonly known made use of standard size stationary and microfilm to speed servicemen’s mail.²    Sugarman occasionally used VMail to write to his wife.  An example is here.

Servicemen would receive correspondence from home about siblings also in the service.  For example,  Bill Lynn’s mother wrote to him in September 1944 giving him news about his older brother Bob:  Dear Billie, will drop you a few lines as I haven’t from. and I have good news, from the last letter I sent you.  Bob will back in the States at the last of this month.  I sure was happy when I read the telegram from the government last night.  I hope you are well and O.K….well I didn’t know what to send you for xmas but you can be looking for a box, and I hope you will like it.  so write me soon.”  Lynn was killed in the Pacific in 1945, three days after his nineteen birthday.  (War Letters, pp. 222-223)

Some American servicemen were abroad when their children were born.  Lt. Walter Schuette wrote a letter to his daughter:  “You arrived in this world while I was several thousand miles from your mother’s side.  There were many  anxious moments then and since.  This message comes to you from somewhere in England.  I pray to God it will be given to you on or about your tenth birthday. I hope to be present when that is done.  It shall be held in trust by your mother or someone equally concerned until that time….With this letter you will find a war bond of $2500 maturity value, and list of names.  A list of names to you, honey, buddies to me.  Men of my company, who adopted you as their sweetheart when you came into the world.  It is these men who bought you the bond as a remembrance of when they were soldiers with your daddy…”   Happily, Walter Schuette was able to read that letter to his daughter, Anna Mary, in 1953!  (War Letters, , p. 227)

After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945 and the United States dropped two Atom bombs on their homeland, peace barely lasted five years.   The Cold  War was between the Communist world, primarily the Soviet  Union, its European allies, and the Chinese; and the western democracies centered around NATO.  In East Asia, counties such as Korea and Vietnam were split:  Communists to the north and NATO allies to the south.   On June 25, 1950, forces of North Korea, backed by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea.  President Truman sent American military forces, commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, under the auspices of the United Nations to help the South Koreans.  MacArthur’s force quickly drove the Communist North Koreans back to the border with Chinese Manchuria.  But that victory didn’t last long because Chinese forces made a surprise raid into North Korea and defeated the American and South Koreans at the Chosin Reservoir, eventually driving them back to to the 38th parallel.

In a letter to his father, Pvt. Bob Hammond describes the bitter fighting at Chosin from his hospital bed in Japan:  “Three days and nights of bitter fighting went on with heavy losses on both sides.  We were outnumbered 10 to 1. We were trapped and surrounded.  We had over 200 wounded guys.  I watched  a good buddy of mine die of wounds and lack of medicine.  I cried, I felt so utterly helpless.  On Dec. 1, 1950, we were ordered to fight our way back to the Marine Div. which was 8 miles back.  We had about 30 trucks which were carrying the wounded.  We went about 2 miles and suddenly a slug ripped thru my knee and chipped the bone.  I got into an ambulance which had 16 men in it.  We moved slowly and passed a few roadblocks and before I knew it, it was dark.  They were on all sides of us and we were masecured (sic).  Our driver was killed and the ambulance crashed into a ditch.   Machine gun slugs tore thru the ambulance killing a G.I. and Capt. sitting across from me. He slumped on me and I shoved him back in order to get the rear door open.  It was jammed, but I jarred it open in few minutes and fell out….”  (War Letters, p. 335)

In the 1950’s it was Korea, in the 60’s and the 70’s it was Vietnam.  The following  is an except from a letter from a young demoralized American Marine, L. Cpl. Stephen Daniel writes to his parents telling about the death of a close friend:    Mom and Dad:  Well its Friday morning.  Last night one more Marine died.  No one will ever here (sic) or care about it except his parents and us.  A good Marine has died and there is no nation to mourn for him or fly our flag at half mast.  Yet in this one night this Marine did more for his country than any President or Senator ever did.  His name was Corporal Lee…He was a good Marine and a better person.  He didn’t deserve dieing in a damn country not worth fighting for.  He didn’t deserve diein’ for people who won’t even fight for themselves.” (War Letters, 412-413)  Eight months later, on Easter Sunday, 1969, Daniel fell victim to a sniper’s bullet and died on the spot.

War correspondence, as we seen in the few excerpts above, dealt with many concerns.  Most important it created a lifeline to connect the service person with a touch of home when they serving far away.

¹http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp-stories/loc.natlib.afc2001001.05440/pageturner?ID=pm0024001

² http://postalmuseum.si.edu/VictoryMail/

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.”

The Joy of Hearing: Children’s Audiobooks

This week’s blog is a guest post from Cristen, Youth Services Supervisor at the Macon County Public Library. She’s going to tell us about children’s audiobooks with the assistance of a bright young lady by the name of Tessa. Enjoy!

I don’t know about your family, but my family spends a lot of time in the car!  Up until my daughter, Tessa, was about 4 years old, we listened to children’s music.  But after 4 years of listening to kids’ music, we had grown a bit tired of it.   At 4 years of age, I didn’t know if Tess would have the attention span to listen to chapter books.    We gave it a try though and started with the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne.   Tess loved them because, as she says, “they have cool adventures and the adventures weren’t too scary.”

tess hermione2
Tess makes a promise I bet she can keep.

Our whole family’s absolute favorite is the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling.  Even my husband, who initially wasn’t enthusiastic about listening to a children’s book, loved the Harry Potter books.  On several trips to Pennsylvania, these audiobooks have helped time fly by (and helped us all keep our sanity).  About the books, Tess said, “They were really, really interesting and exciting and the characters were funny.”  Jim Dale, the narrator of the Harry Potter audiobook series, is amazing!  As a narrator, he has won 2 Grammy awards and has 7 Grammy nominations.

Jim Dale also narrates the Peter and the Starcatcher series, which we are currently listening to, and again he did an incredible job.  Tess has enjoyed these books “because of the battles, but not too much blood and guts.”  Some of her other favorites and the reasons why (in her own words) –

tess hermione1
Magic is in the air! Or on the table…

Over the past 3 years, we’ve listened to over 100 children’s audiobooks!  We’re very fortunate that with our library card we have many options for listening to children’s audiobooks.  We can borrow CD audiobooks from libraries throughout North Carolina using NC Cardinal.  We can also download audiobooks for free from OneClick Digital and Overdrive.  So, if you want to save yourself from hearing “Are we there yet?” and if you want to build your child’s vocabulary and reading comprehension skills, audiobooks are the way to go!

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!

CHURCHILL II, 1939-1965

When Winston Churchill became the First Lord of the Admiralty for the second time in 1939, he ended his decade exile from government.   Then Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister on May 10, 1940 and Winston Churchill assumed that office.   Soon afterwards he addressed the British people and later the House of Commons.  He told both groups he could only offer, “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”   As Prime Minister he announced to the Commons he had formed a government made up representatives of Tories and Labour to meet the crisis  situation on the continent caused by the German blitzkrieg.   The French forces and BEF (British Expeditionary Force) were retreating, with the latter in the danger of being surrounded with their backs to the English Channel at Dunkirk. Eventually, the French government surrendered and BEF was rescued by an armada of boats of all sizes and shapes. Later, in September 1940, the blitz, the bombing of English cities, began;  the aerial Battle of Britain was underway.  The Royal Air Force (RAF) kept the Germans from gaining air superiority over England and forced Hitler to postpone Operation Sea Lion, the cross-channel invasion.

Earlier, when Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty, he opened correspondence with Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President of the United States.  The two men kept the communication open throughout the blitz and into 1941.  In June that year, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, turning his military might  eastward, away from Britain.  Two months later, Churchill boarded a battleship, sailing to Newfoundland to meet with FDR.   That was the first of eleven times during the war that the two men met, including lengthy stays at the White House and the president’s estate in the Hudson Valley in New York and twice in North Africa, once in Iran, and once in Crimea, in the southern part of the Soviet Union.   Stalin joined Roosevelt and Churchill in the last two conferences.  Churchill as met with Stalin without Roosevelt.

After the United States joined the war in December 1941, Churchill tried to convince Roosevelt to commit American troops and resources to defeating Hitler’s Germany instead of going after the Japanese, whose attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the conflict.   Roosevelt was convinced that crossing the English Channel to attack German forces in Europe was the best way to introduce American troops into the European theater.   Churchill and his military staff convinced the Americans to land in North Africa, to help the British fight Gen. Rommel’s German army in the desert.  With Stalin trying to the Allies to commit to a second front in Western Europe, it was decided the invasion would take place in the spring of 1944 with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower  as the commander.

As the war processed, Churchill felt his relationship with Roosevelt was getting strained.  There were a number of reasons for this:  first, after Stalin joined the summits, Churchill found himself playing a less significant role in the meetings;  Roosevelt was playing more attention to the Russian leader and less to the British Prime Minister.   Another factor was Churchill’s determination to keep the British empire together in a post-war world, which countered  Roosevelt’s policy to free nations from the British yoke after the defeat of Germany and Japan.   A final reason was the British military was having less of say in the strategic decisions how the war was being fought.  At any rate, when Roosevelt died in April 1945, Churchill felt he had lost a dear friend.

As the the Allies were getting closer to defeating Germany, the British Labour Party decided  to end its participation in the War Cabinet and got Churchill to call a General Election, that was to take place in the summer of 1945.    The election was held on 5 July, but the votes were not counted until 26 July to allow for the votes of service men and women who were abroad to be counted.  In the meantime Churchill went to Germany to meet with Stalin and Harry Truman, who succeeded Roosevelt, taking Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party with him.   The two returned to London for the vote count, which gave the Labour Party a solid majority in Commons.  The British people had rejected Churchill, who now was the leader of the Opposition.  However, six years later, Churchill was back in power.

In his second term as Prime Minister, Churchill lost an other close supporter, George VI.   The monarch died of lung cancer in February 1952, while his eldest daughter was on tour in South Africa.   Churchill became the first of twelve Prime Ministers who have served under Elizabeth II.  Churchill remained her as Prime Minister until 1954, when his health became an issue.

In the post-war years, Churchill continued to write, finishing his History of the English Speaking People and publishing his memoirs of World War II.  He also traveled abroad, notably giving his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in the  United States.   In 1952, he had a re-recurrence of the heart problems that had bothered him during the war.   In 1953, at the age of 78, he had a stroke.  In the spring of the following year, he resigned.  Following four additional strokes, Churchill died at 90 years of  age in January 1965.

Max Hastings.  Winston’s War.

John Keegan.  Winston Churchill.

John Lukas.  Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat.

William Manchester and John Reid.  The Last Lion, Vol. 3.

Secrets of Leadership: Churchill (Video)

Winston Churchill: The Whole Truth (Video)