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Operation WATCHTOWER and National Lighthouse Day

Yeah, I know…running late.  Sue me.

So, 7 August marks a number of auspicious events, among them being the creation of the Order of the Purple Heart in 1782 (making 7 August Purple Heart Day), the US War Department in 1789,  the patenting of the revolving door in 1888, the beginning of the Battle of the French Frontiers in 1914, and the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964.  But today, we talk about Guadalcanal, and lighthouses.

The exgenesis of what would become the Guadalcanal campaign of WWII is shrouded less in mystery than in myth.  Yes, the big island at the far eastern end of the Solomons Islands chain had a central plain large enough to support an airstrip, but that’s not why the Japanese went there: that’s why the Americans went there.  The Japanese were more interested in Tulagi, the smaller island to the north of Guadalcanal that had a longer, deeper beach that could support a seaplane base: the strip they started on Guadalcanal that so alarmed the Australians was to be for fighters to protect the seaplane base.  Japan wanted a seaplane base from which they could control the waters on the northern side of the Coral Sea and around New Zealand and New Caledonia, further isolating Australia; the Americans wanted to prevent both from happening, to build an airfield from which they could control those same waters, and as a starting point in the isolation of not only Rabaul but the Marshall Islands.

So was born Operation WATCHTOWER (colloquially, as Operation “Shoestring” for the meager support it got in the early months), the naval/ground/air operation in the eastern Solomons Islands that ran from the Marine landings on 7 August 1942  to 9 February 1943 when the Americans declared the island secure. Guadalcanal, in Navy/Marine parlance, was Task One for the South Pacific, and in many respects it was the most important single operation for both the Americans and their allies and for Japan.  Control  of the Eastern Solomons by either side meant control of the waters around eastern Australia, the springboard for the southern Pacific offensive. against Japan.  But too, it was the first test of Japanese resilience in the face of an Allied counter-offensive, of their ability to control events far from Japanese waters, and without strategic initiative.  As the end of the Guadalcanal offensive showed, Japan’s ability to outlast the Allies was wanting.  It was the first major chink in Japan’s island cordon.

The Guadalcanal campaign is well-covered by several authors, but for my money the best is The Guadalcanal Campaign by Richard Frank.  His dynamic, nearly day-by-day account of the three-month long campaign best covers both American and Japanese problems, but the one Japanese issue that Frank does not cover is the increasing desperation not of the senior commanders or even the common soldiers, but of the ever-increasing weariness of the overworked aircrews and their mechanics, which is best described in Okumiya Masatake’s Zero!. 

As some of you know, my co-author. Lee Rochwerger, and I have been working on a…retooling…of our What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War (Merriam Press 2009) book.  The new version, Why the Samurai Lost, will be bigger and better, with maps and tables that the first version lacked, and more information on the infighting between the Japanese Army and Navy.  Expect to see Why the Samurai Lost at the end of 2018.  Of which, more later.

On 7 August 1789 the US Congress approved an act for the support of “Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys and Publik Piers” that marked the beginning of what would become the Lighthouse Service, which would be eventually be rolled into the Coast Guard. Two hundred years later, Congress passed a commemorative bill designating 7 August as National Lighthouse Day.

Sometime in the 1960s, the Coast Guard determined that the older the lighthouse, the more costly it would be to knock down because of their stout construction. As of the 1980s, all of these innocuous structures that dot the coastlines of every major body of water in the US  have been automated, many shut down and abandoned. The Lighthouse Preservation Society is dedicated to keeping at least some of these landmarks as monuments, museums, or other repurposed function. For those of you who live on or near the Great Lakes or one of the three major coastlines of the US, have a look at those old brick piles with the big light domes and remember: it’s likely at least one of you had some friend or relative that counted on that light to keep from being wrecked on some rock or shoal.

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Ruminations on History and Warfare Available in Paperback and PDF

JDB Communications, LLC is proud to announce the publication of Ruminations on History and Warfare: Musings of a Soldier/Scholar by John D. Beatty, a combination of Ruminations on War and On Future War previously only available as Kindle Editions.  From the Author’s Introduction:

After reading, studying and thinking about history in general and military history in particular for going on half a century, I have come to believe that I have something to say about it…in general terms, anyway.  These essays were initially produced in an academic environment, but they are being repurposed to express some of my thoughts and feelings on several subjects about the past and the future of war and warfare. If you’re looking for homework-solving pithiness, forget it: I took out the footnotes.

Some of these essays are an attempt to make some sense of the most fashionable trends, fads and fancies of American historians and soothsayers in the early 21st century.

Seers of the future are an especially special breed of thinkers, and they already know it.  What makes them annoying, however, is their irritating propensity for mistaking wit for brilliance.  Case in point is the famous Albert Einstein quote:

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

There’s several versions of this quotation that first appeared in Liberal Judaism in 1949, and it may indeed have not even been original then, or even original to Einstein.  But what those who depend on this quotation as a cudgel for disarmament forget that even Einstein missed the ironic point: After humankind blows itself into the Stone Age, they will still be fighting.

Finally, there’s the constant refrain: War is not the answer. But that, of course, depends on what the question is.

Ruminations on History and Warfare is available from The Book Patch, paper $3.99, PDF $1.99.

 

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George H. Thomas, Andrew Johnson, and National Mutt Day

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: OK, you delusional clown, what could possibly associate these three?  And what, in the name of heaven, can you ever think that the last day in July wouldn’t have more topical or interesting events than…these?  Well, I reply casually, Columbus did land on Trinidad on this day in 1498, and Ignatius of Loyola–founder of the Jesuits–died on this day in Rome in 1556.  Then there’s Third Ypres in Flanders in 1917, and there’s Jimmy Hoffa’s last sighting in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan at the Fox & Hounds (which closed its doors exactly thirty years later) in 1976.  But today we talk about the American Civil War, and dogs.

George Henry Thomas, old Slow Trot, the Rock of Chickamauga, was born on 31 July 1816 to a slave-owning family in Southampton County, Virginia. As a young man, he and his family had to hide out in the forest during the Nat Turner rebellion in 1931. Before joining the Army, his thoughts on slavery as an institution are unknown, but legends abound about his position on the Peculiar Institution before the war.  Thomas fought in Mexico and Florida, and won steady promotion until the Civil War.  Though he did not “go south” as many of his colleagues did, the Army didn’t trust Southern-born officers.  Because he didn’t “go south, Thomas’s family never spoke to him again.

For the entirety of the war, Thomas served the Union with distinction, winning more fights than any other Union general, and more than most Confederates.  At Chickamauga in September 1863 he held his position on Horseshoe Ridge that the rest of William S. Rosecrans’ broken army could (and did) rally around, turning what could have been a disaster into a mere defeat.  Thomas and his staff did yeoman duty during William Sherman’s Atlanta campaign the next year. Outside of Atlanta, John B. Hood’s attack at Peachtree Creek in July 1864 broke against Thomas’s stalwart defense.  That same winter, when Hood tried to lure Sherman away from Georgia, Thomas instead raced Hood north, defeating him at Franklin in November, and crushing him at Nashville in December.

After the war, President Johnson offered Thomas Grant’s three stars (while Grant got four), but Thomas declined.  Assigned to command the Department of the Pacific by President Grant in 1869, Thomas died after a stroke in San Francisco in 1870.  Though he was memorialized by his colleagues after his death, not many of them, including Grant and Sherman, seem to have liked him very much. Thomas is buried in New York, and not a single family member attended his funeral.

Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina in December 1808.  Trained as a tailor, Johnson settled in Tennessee as a young man and entered local politics. His meteoric rise from alterman to mayor to the Tennessee House, the US Congress, the Governor’s mansion and the White House is the stuff of legend for someone who was never trained in the law, and never saw the inside of a university classroom.  Johnson is a member of the small club of American professional politicians who was not also a lawyer.

His tenure as president was the most controversial, and began with his swearing in while in wine (but it would have been hard to expect him to have been sober expecting not to be required for anything by Lincoln). Johnson, like Lincoln, wanted a quick reconstruction of the country after the Civil War while the Congress wanted to punish the South.  Neither side got their way, really, but in the meantime the former slaves were left with little in the way of protection.  For his staunch perfidy Johnson was impeached by the House but was acquitted by the Senate in 1868.  After Grant’s inauguration in 1869 Johnson slid into national obscurity, though he was lionized in Tennessee.  On 31 July 1875, Andrew Johnson died in Elizabethton, Tennessee while visiting his daughter.  To this day he has been the only president to serve without a vice-president.

And, mutts.  Lovable, loyal, playful dogs with more than one “breed” in their bloodlines.  Many end up in animal shelters, many end up in medical labs.  For whatever reason, they are not often seen as working dogs, though there’s no real reason for that discrimination.  Purebred dogs often have genetic disorders known to their kind: what makes them special?  Of all the dogs I’ve ever owned or lived with (a dozen over six decades), none of the purebreds from accredited kennels were any more special than the “Heinz 57” dogs from a shelter, or free from good owners, or just picked up off the street.

Dogs, well cared for and not abused, are only as good as their environment, but they can be a handful.  I’ve had one, just one and only for a week, who was uncontrollable, and Tiger was a AKC registered German Shepherd.  Most are good foot-warmers, great listeners, fetchers of whatever, and eaters of nearly everything.  Some bark a lot, most bark some, some don’t at all.  And yes, most of them shead, want your attention when you least expect it, and lick their privates in front of your in-laws. But, if you want a loyal companion who will occasionally make a mess, visit a local shelter or, failing that, help the ASPCA rescue the abused animals who, after all, only want to please someone.

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Three Essays on Strategy Now Available in Paperback and PDF

JDB Communications, LLC is proud to announce the availability of Three Essays on Strategy by John D. Beatty in paperback and PDF from The Book Patch.

Walcott, Iowa, and Wall, South Dakota may seem to be unlikely places to talk about in an essay collection on strategy, but examining these institutions is a good introduction to the ideas of how strategy is made.  For those who have never been to Walcott, Iowa, it is the home of the world’s largest truck stop.   To earn this distinction, the ne plus ultra of road trip rest emporiums rises from the Iowa prairie along Interstate 80.  It began in 1964 as a simple gas station and lunch counter, according to the web site, and has by this writing grown to a sprawling complex that offers everything from a museum to a pet wash stand, four eateries, a laundromat and even a chiropractor and a regular doctor, in addition to the usual fuel found at any such, smaller establishment.  Wall Drug started even earlier, in 1931, offering free ice water to thirsty travelers in the Badland’s summer heat.  When this correspondent saw it, Wall Drug had been joined by over fifty-odd other store fronts plying everything from food to footgear, from books to jewelry, and from tourist souvenirs (including the ubiquitous bumper stickers) to fuel.  How these two mid-America roadside behemoths got where they are, how they got to be bigger than their host communities, is part marketing of course, but also by employing the theme of these essays: strategy.

Alfred T. Mahan’s series of Naval War College lectures, published as The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (1890) were inconsequential, but the 110-page introduction formalized strategic thought and theory for the first time.  Using Britain as a model, he outlined a fleets-make-bases-make-ports-make- trade-makes-money-makes-fleets formula that had been in use, if unacknowledged, ever since wood was made to swim and carry a load.  This model of strategy was designed not for just for military gain but to advance and secure economic power.  To emphasize this point, Mahan wrote his introduction out of economic necessity: his original manuscript had been rejected, and he penned the famous introduction to get it sold.

That this formalization of what every major state since the beginning of recorded history had practiced should come from a naval officer from the greatest commercial power of its age was almost anticlimactic.  Of all human enterprises, up until Mahan’s time ships and the sea were simultaneously the most lucrative and the most expensive to build and maintain.  The United States, of all the world’s commercial powers, took advantage of America’s many international coasts and harbors to build an overseas trading empire that dwarfed both its competitors and its partners by the middle of the 20th century.

Scratch any historian, politician, wargamer, monarch, or businessperson and you’ll likely get a different definition for “strategy” from each.  Each will be correct—as far as their specialized viewpoint is concerned.  Politicians need to keep getting elected, so their concern is for their electorate, which often means jobs.  Monarchs have some of the same concerns—though usually for their own fortunes and for those of their supporters.  Business always looks for markets, for resources, for labor, but most often for political and economic stability.  Wargamers, working in a different kind of environment altogether from the rest, seek to succeed in whatever game they are playing at the moment, but only within the confines of the game.  For the historian, “strategy” is the sum of what social groups and states plan to do, and what they actually execute, to achieve their goals.  As such, “strategy” is the overall idea that monarchs, tradesmen, politicians or anyone else start out with—or what they develop over the course of years or centuries—to either achieve a defined goal, to ensure their commonweal, or to just survive.

These essays were written in a time when the concept of “strategy” had been formally defined for over a century, and in a world where the concept of “strategy” was intentionally driven by policy.  As these essays show, strategy has been an evolution, a development of policy-making that stretches back millennia, and was sometimes driven by accident, sometimes by design.  During the time period covered by the first two, dealing with the Mediterranean’s ancient world and with Europe and Asia in the early modern period, strategy was a matter of royal prerogative and trade demands.  In the third, dealing with the United States and Japan in the Pacific in the 19th century, strategy was the prerogative, at least in part, of democratically elected representatives.  What is interesting is how similar the strategic choices are, and how similar the alternatives are.  The greatest difference is that of scale.

But too there’s geography, and the tremendous role played by simply stopping in the right place.  Human communities grow where there are resources and conditions that support them.  Even if commercial enterprises like the I-80 truck stop and Wall Drug make their own conditions, that’s not always possible.  Drive along an interstate highway in the US on either side of Wall or of Walcott, and that becomes apparent.  The successful stops are built where on and off ramps provide easy access, but there are nearly as many tall road signs standing next to empty concrete slabs as there are those next to bustling enterprises.  Those that are further down the frontage roads or farther from the ramps rarely survive more than a few years unless they offer something else that weary travelers needed or, like Wall Drug did in the beginning, gave away ice water in summer.  In some places along the highway are the artifacts of failed truck stops, motels and even whole towns that may have thrived once, but no longer.  Many of the abandoned gas stations along the highway lost business when the range of vehicles increased, others because the price of fuel made their continued operation unprofitable, and still others because the owners retired or died.  But, these relics of bygone days were often the casualties of strategic changes made by their competitors and the changing tastes of consumers that they failed to meet.  Often as not, they are the losers in a strategic game that they lost, or perhaps that they didn’t even consciously play.

The social groups and countries described in these essays, like the truck stops and the drug stores that fail while others succeed, are all subject to someone’s strategy.  The trick is being in a position to take advantage of successful strategies or be able to withstand bad ones.

Three Essays on Strategy is another of the growing essay collection from JDB Communications, LLC. that retails for $3.99 for paper, $1.99 for PDF from The Book Patch.

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Hamburg and National Tequila Day

So, 24 July marks a lot of things. The Great Fire of Rome (the one Nero fiddled through…not) ended in 64 AD; Mary Queen of Scots was compelled to abdicate in 1567; the Rochester (New York) Riot started in 1964; and Apollo IX returned from its Moon mission in 1969, fulfilling JFK’s pledge to send a man to the Moon and bring him back.  Too, today is Amelia Earhart Day (born in 1897), and Fast Food Day, and Cousin’s Day (I only ever had two and one’s gone, so that one’s lost on me.  But today we’ll talk about Operation Gomorrah and Mexican booze.

By 1943, the RAF and the USAAF were able to pick and choose targets in Germany with some impunity, having built up an inventory of over 1,000 heavy bombers and crews.  After a five month campaign against the Ruhr, RAF Bomber Command decided to switch targets and concentrate on Hamburg, on the North Sea coast.  The first RAF raid was on 24 July, 1943 included a pathfinder force that saw the first use of chaff (called “Window” at the time) to jam the German radar. The fires the first raid started burned for three days.

A daylight raid followed on 25 July, and another night raid. After a 24 hour respite, over 700 RAF bombers struck on the night of 27 July, igniting the first recorded man-made firestorm: a cyclonic blaze so big it was seen in England and Norway (read Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII for a description).  After 27 July, the Luftwaffe wrote off Hamburg, declaring that it was no longer worth defending–or that they were capable of defending it.  There were two more raids before the British and Americans were done on 2 August.  In the end, Operation Gomorrah caused more than 80,000 German casualties at a cost of less than 500 Allied, caused over a million Germans to flee the city, and essentially knocked Hamburg off-line for better than a year.

Why Hamburg?  There’s some debate about that.  Though Germany had a large armaments industry there, the concentration of 4,000 pound blockbuster bombs in the early part of the 27 July raid suggests an “operational experiment” on the behalf of the Bomber Command eggheads and the American National Fire Prevention Association that created the surveys and data for evaluating the relative flammability of targets. The early “thousand-plane” raids in 1941 hit on a formula that made optimum use of the masonry that was used in German construction: blow it to dust and light the dust on fire. In addition, the larger bombs would be better for destroying the infrastructure (like water mains and telephone networks, city streets and fuel stocks) the defenders used to fight fires and evacuate casualties. Some defenders of the Allied air offensive claim that all of this was coincidental, but the record makes it fairly clear that using the ancient Hanseatic city’s very construction and age against it was planned.  It is known that some of the data gleaned from Gomorrah was used again in planning the fire raids on Japan in 1945,  Yes, it all sounds very callous, but it was a war.

And then there’s tequila.  Today, 24 July, is National Tequila Day for reasons unknown to anyone.  Now, I personally can’t physically stomach the stuff (long story that intimates know), but I can appreciate that mezcal wine distilled from the blue agave has done more for the region that it’s made in than any other export.  It is a shining example of what alcoholic beverages were first made for: to extend the commercial trading range and shelf life of agricultural products. The agave plant’s sap itself, undistilled, is of little commercial interest other than as a sweetener. But, turn it into mezcal, call it by the region’s name (Tequila) and suddenly you can sell certain bottles of the stuff for hundreds of dollars on the other side of the world, as it has been since it was first exported in the 1880s.

And you can drown you sorrows in it when your house burns down because your leader can’t keep his mitt off other countries.

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Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories Now Available in Paperback

JDB Communications, LLC is proud to announce the availability of the famous short story collection from John D. Beatty, Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories at The Book Patch. According to the author:

Mostly this collection is about the unsung, the innumerable heroes that don’t get into the history books, that struggle on many levels, are hurt and killed by the enemy and the elements, by bad luck and stupidity-the ultimate yet necessary stupidity that is war.

Priced at $7.99 for the 212-page 6 X 9 perfect bound, $3.99 for PDF, Sergeant’s Business is perfect for those who love a front-to-back engaging read.

 

 

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Crucible: Causes and Global Effects of the War of 1812 Now Available in Paperback!

JDB Communications, LLC is proud to announce that Crucible: The Causes and Global Effects of the War of 1812 by John D. Beatty is now available in paperback from The Book Patch.

The War of 1812, often called the second war for American independence, took place during a global conflict between Britain and Napoleonic France, which then controlled most of Europe. The causes for the war are often obscured, and go far beyond the impressment of sailors so often cited. The long-ranging effects of the conflict are still being felt, and may be most evident in the American way of war, with the conduct of warfare at sea for the rest of the 19th century, and in the nature of the military and political systems of the United States.

Modestly priced at $3.99, this 38-page text is also available in Amazon Kindle format for $0.99, or free for Kindle Unlimited members.

 

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Wrong-Way Corrigan and Yellow Pig Day

Well, we all know the story of ol’ Wrong Way (though most of what we “know” ain’t so), but of other things that happened on 17 July there are legion, including the final surrender of Napoleon at Rochefort in 1915, the founding of Harvard’s Dental School of Medicine in 1867, the execution of the Romanovs in 1918, the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Port Chicago explosion in 1944, the opening of Disneyland in 1955, and the TWA 800 explosion in 1996.  It’s also National Peach Ice Cream Day and World Emoji Day.  I can get (almost) all but that last one.

The whole world “knows” that Douglas Corrigan took off from New York on 17 July 1938 planning to go to California, but landed twenty-eight hours later in Ireland.  The sobriquet “Wrong Way” got stuck to him immediately thereafter and stuck for the rest of his life.  Trouble is, that’s not really what happened.  He wasn’t authorized to make a trans-Atlantic jump because the authorities that were in charge of such things deemed his aircraft (that he built himself) to be unsafe.  It was important for public relations reasons at that time that as few air-travel disasters as possible were enabled, and Corrigan was a fairly well-known airplane builder (he had worked on Lindberg’s Spirit)  and pilot.

The truth was that he had always planned a trans-Atlantic flight, and he was by no means the first to solo across the pond.  He took off after anyone who could stop him had gone home, turned around above the cloud deck, and headed for Ireland.  But he enjoyed more fame as a poor navigator than he did as a miscreant, so he never admitted that it was intentional.  Corrigan died in 1995, and Wrong Way Corrigan Day commemorates his achievement.

Someone is seriously going to have to explain this one to me.  Yellow Pig Day is July 17, has been since the 1960s, apparently. The way I get it, yellow pigs have seventeen eyelashes, and a couple of math geeks at Princeton named Kelley and Spivak were obsessing over the number 17…yeah.  Anyway, the two of them invented yellow pigs with seventeen toes and seventeen teeth…and on and on, and…maybe you need to be a mathematician to appreciate it. At any rate, Yellow Pig Math Days are celebrated at Hampshire College as a convocation of budding mathematicians, and are also held at various other locations to emphasize mathematics in education. As someone who always considered abstract mathematics as stupid human tricks, I don’t get it, but I don’t need to.

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Gettysburg, a Smorgasbord of National Days, and the Consequences of Belief

Huh, you say…what is he up to now?  Well, as it happens, I just want to put some stuff out there so you, my dear readers, can argue about lots of different things that have nothing to do with anything, like our current Fearless Leader in the White House duking it out with the Mass Media into all sorts of nothing sandwiches while he quietly gets the regulatory swamp drained.  Such is life.  Misdirection, you see.

Just like Lee was snookered into Gettysburg.  Sure, he wanted a fight outside Virginia…but then what?  The Confederacy was already losing half its food supply when US Grant finished clearing the Mississippi Valley with the capture of .  The Richmond/Washington corridor was, in comparison, as sideshow.  But the history books, driven by the Lost Cause Mythology (LCM) that demands that All Things Lee must be Earth-shatteringly vital, says that Gettysburg was the battle of the Civil War.  Some American history textbooks mention Bull Run, Gettysburg and Appomattox, foregoing all other actions  as unimportant.  Lee is mentioned, of course, and Lincoln, but Grant?  Meade? Even Halleck?  Not on a bet.

But…you moan.  Lee was snookered into Gettysburg?  Tricked?  Well, in a way, yes, he was.  Though the “strategy” that he outlined to Jefferson Davis demanded a fight with the Army of the Potomac, but he didn’t say just where or how.  So he split up his army to join it up somewhere in Pennsylvania so he could thrash “those people” (the term that LCM insists Lee always used when referring to the Union Army…except when he didn’t) once and for all.  Trouble with that was that, without a definite plan, the various pieces of his army were just going to be out foraging as he looked for a place to get together.  Lee wasn’t expecting to get it together in southern Adams County, but that was where Buford’s cavalry encountered Ewell’s corps.  Then there was Howard’s and Reynold’s corps, and Ewell had a real fight on his hands.

Suddenly Lee’s army had to come together, and he had no idea that Meade’s whole army was on hand because Stuart’s cavalry was off on another “ride around” the AoP and thus out of communications, but unlike 1862, the propaganda value to the Bold Cavalier’s exploits was nil.  However, the military value of bruising Stuart’s ego in June at Brandy Station was tremendous, and to salvage his sinking reputation he took his horsemen off on another wild ride.

So Lee was blinded by Stuart’s absence…or at least that’s what LCM claims.  You see, it just isn’t possible that Lee had so little control over his subordinates that such things could happen, so it has to be Stuart’s fault.  Just as on 3 July 1863 it was Longstreet who failed against Meade’s center because Lee cannot fail…ever.  And Lee, the ever-stainless Marse Robert Edward Lee, cannot be faulted for fighting at a severe terrain disadvantage in Pennsylvania.  It had to have been his subordinates who failed him. And so it goes.

But too, today is National Chocolate Wafer Day, National Eat Your Beans Day, and National Fried Clams Day.  Now, only Fried Clams Day has a known origin–3 July 1916 was the first time anyone suggested deep-frying clams–but the other two are mysteries.  A snack stand in Essex, Massachusetts battered and fried a batch after a customer suggested it, and first served them during Fourth of July festivities.  It sort of took off.  I have some rather fond memories of fried clams at Howard Johnson’s restaurants, which dates me.  The national day started in 2015.

Now, the consequences of belief.  There are, you know.  As Lee found out in Pennsylvania, believing that he could steal a march on Meade was, in his case, catastrophic. Similarly, German belief in their capacity to knock France out of the war before having to deal with the Russians in 1914 was similarly disastrous.  Germany did it again in 1939, taking on the whole world by 1941.  But that was a consequence in Hitler’s “unshakeable belief” in so many things that were just–demonstrably–wrong.

But no one can escape the consequences of belief, because what you believe guides what you do.  And if what you believe is accurate, all is well until someone decides that what you believe is simply wrong.  If that disagreement is a simple “I don’t think so,” there it  ends.  But if someone believes–and has the power to enforce–that you must change your belief and behavior or face a fatal consequence…that’s different.

But that’s where “free speech” and “censorship” and “hate speech” and “blasphemy” and “sedition” get all tangled up.  Opinions (personal, not legal) can’t be “wrong” if they don’t deny facts–they’re just beliefs.  Today is Monday.  If you say that it’s Wednesday, you would be wrong, incontrovertibly.  That is not an opinion, but a fact.  If you believe that persons of another faith or skin color are all evil, or want to destroy those of your faith or skin color, that is an opinion because it’s simply too broad a spread.  But if you act on that belief, it stops being an opinion and starts being a motive for whatever it is you wish to do.

The painting that heads this little missive is a good example.  It was painted to meet a commercial need, and to satisfy an audience that would find “Hancock at Gettysburg” to be inspiring. It’s not a photograph, and abounds with historical inaccuracy.  But it was commercially successful despite all that. Point at it as say “Pickett’s Charge” if you want; no one will kill you for it, but it’s “Hancock at Gettysburg.”  But say that a TV personality is wrong, or ugly, or–horrors–unworthy of your time, and you may be in for a fight.  Attractiveness is unquantifiable, and thus not a matter of “fact.”

What anyone says about anyone’s looks or appearance is, long run, irrelevant to living, or governing, or ruling.  The accuracy of paintings, too, is pretty irrelevant.  And so is this blog.  I write it because I want to; you read it for the same reason.  No harm no foul if you don’t or I don’t.  But it’s not “censorship” if you don’t follow me, just as my not watching the endless reruns of the same twisted plots of TV sitcoms isn’t “censorship,” or my not caring what your sexual proclivity is or your gender identity or your personal pronouns isn’t “anti-gay,” and it is not yet illegal to not care.  That may come, but not yet.

 

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A Disaster in Luxemburg and Lightning Awareness Week

Yeah, like living in the Great Lakes we’re not “aware” of lightning.

Anyway, 26 June is one of those days that, well, is not blessed with an excess of National Days (except for National Hair Stylist Appreciation Day and (National Chocolate Pudding Day), and a plethora of events including the murder of Pizarro in 1541, the battle of Mechanicsville in 1862, the beginning of the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963.  But today, we have to be obscure…and talk about lightning.

In the early 19th century, during the French occupation of Luxembourg , the 75 year old fortress of Fort Thungen in Kirchberg (now a part of Luxembourg City), was being used as a magazine and gunpowder factory by the ammunition-hungry armies of Napoleon.  On 26 June 1807, a lightning strike touched off the powder, destroying two city blocks and killing at least 300 people.  If my sources are right, most simple gunpowder in the pre-industrial era was made from November to March to avoid dampening the mixture, so its not clear if the powder works was operating.

At this distance it’s hard to say exactly what happened, but either the walls of the fortress were very stout or there wasn’t a great deal of powder there.  This accident took place just twelve days after the battle of Friedland in Prussia, the battle that ended the War of the Fourth Coalition, enabled the Treaty of TIlsit and pulled Russia into the Continental System, at least for a while.  It was also four months after the battle of Eylau, and barely a month after the siege of Danzig ended.  In six months, Napoleon had consumed several magazines of powder so far that year, so it’s just possible that the magazine was lower than normal.

National Lightning Awareness Week was last week (last full week in June), regrettably, but I couldn’t resist the connection.  Neither accidental explosive detonations nor lightning strikes are that rare or unusual, but this one was both.  It’s called the deadliest lightning strike in history by some, but the Lightning Safety Council doesn’t mention it on its web site.  As of 2001 lightning strikes killed about 50 people a year in the US: at this writing that number is about 30.  The Lightning Safety Council claims its because of their efforts, but it seems more likely that people are spending less time outside and electrical codes have caught up with the need for extensive grounding.  I’ve been in airplanes when they were struck by lightning (flash/boom/passenger hollers/PA says “nothing to worry about”), but with modern aircraft the problem isn’t what it once was.

Lightning and gunpowder–dangerous mix.

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Emancipation and Juneteenth Day

There was a lot going on in history on 19 June: Robert Peel started the Bobbies/Peelers in London, the first organized police force in 1828; USS Kearsarge sank the Confederate raider Alabama in the Bay of Biscay in 1864; Maximilian I of Mexico was executed in 1867; the first Father’s Day was observed in Spokane, Washington in 1910; the Marianas Turkey Shoot (also called the battle of the Philippine Sea) destroyed much of the remainder of Japan’s naval aviation in 1944; and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for espionage in 1953.

It’s not often that historians can point to a single moment in history and declare: there is where it was all changed, where the fates were fixed.  On 19 June in 1862 and in 1865, such an event occurred, but not for the reasons usually ascribed.  On 19 June 1862, Congress passed a law prohibiting slavery in US territories–not the states, and not everywhere that Federal troops didn’t stand in the Confederacy.: that would come later.

This was landmark legislation because it completely repudiated the Dred Scott decision of 1857, and ended the Southern notion of “popular sovereignty” in the territories being the controlling factor.  Though Lincoln was still on a lawyerly fence about a general emancipation, he was discussing the matter with his cabinet even at this early date.  The Congress’ action on 19 June galvanized and accelerated Lincoln’s thinking. Though the news of the horrible carnage at Shiloh in April had reached Washington and most of the Union by then, it hadn’t sunk in yet to the halls of power or the general public that the river of blood spilled in the Tennessee pine barrens decided that the conflict would not end with two separate countries.  It would, though, soon enough .

Fast forward to 19 June 1865, when Gordon Granger and his XIII Corps landed on Galveston Island.  Lincoln was dead; most of the principle Confederate armies had given up and gone home, but still word of the Emancipation had yet to reach this somewhat remote former Confederate territory.  Granger read General Order #3 almost as soon as he got off the boat:

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.

There were a thousand or so slaves in Galveston at the time, and a great celebration ensued.  The next year the anniversary was observed, and has been on 19 June ever since.  The day had been called Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, even though the actual emancipation was 1 January 1863.  But because the commemoration/celebration started on 19 June and the local vernacular “Juneteenth” was catchy, the tradition stuck.

Like most holidays in America, business has grabbed the opportunity, but not as much as other “greeting card” holidays like St. Valentine’s or Grandparent’s Day.  So 19 June didn’t free all the slaves, and it didn’t grant them any more rights than they had before but it did signal the end of chattel slavery in the United States.  And that’s worth taking note of.

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Anne Frank’s Diary and National Red Rose Day

Connections? Read and find out.  I find it quaintly coincidental that anyone should declare a day celebrating the flower that symbolizes romance and love on the same day that a young Jewish girl in the Netherlands should get the autograph album that would become her famous diary.  Or, for that matter, the same day Medgar Evers was killed on the same day in 1963, or that Gregory Peck died in 2003.  It’s also the anniversary of the Virginia v Loving decision that legalized interracial marriage in the US in 1963. Just coincidence…I suppose.

Anneliese Marie “Anne” Frank was born in Germany on 12 June 1929, but spent most of her short life in and around Amsterdam. Stateless in 1941 after German Jews were stripped of the citizenship, she and her family hid out in various places in Amsterdam until August 1944, when the family was discovered and they were shipped off to the camps.  Anne and her sister died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen sometime between February and March 1945. All but her father died somewhere in the camps.

But between her thirteenth birthday on 20 June 1942 and 1 August 1944–three days before she was captured–Anne made entries in her diary nearly every day. It described everyday life for Jews in Amsterdam, for just over two years.  Her first –and only–romance with fellow attic refugee Peter van Pels is described, as is her exploration of her own sexuality (in the 1995 edition)–a series of entries her father left out in earlier editions but that some educrats have take exception to.  But she was a teenage girl stuck in an attic with strangers, that included her family.  The internal tensions she described with her family and the others that she was enclosed with in that attic.  The food they ate–especially how much–and their attitudes towards nearly everything were carefully compiled. After the war, and after the Red Cross had confirmed Anne’s death, Anne’s father, Otto, went back to the attic and found the diary hidden away. Since its publication in 1947 the Diary of Anne Frank has gone through numerous editions under different names, translation into sixty languages, and has withstood accusations of hoax, forgery and worse, but has been authenticated by more than one authority.

A rose, according to WIkipedia,  “is a woody perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa, in the family Rosaceae, or the flower it bears.”  According to Gertrude Stein, “a rose is a rose by any other name:” by Shakespeare’s lights “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  All of that aside for the moment, a rose is a flowering ornamental shrub that thrives nearly everywhere, from Africa and Asia to Europe and the Americas.  Most garden roses (and there are over a hundred different varieties) prefer somewhat temperate climates where they can hibernate for a few months between blooming seasons.  My dear wife struggles mightily with the roses in her garden every spring, and they seem to respond in kind, thriving from year to year.

But National Red Rose Day?  OK, I get the romance part (I never gave a woman a red rose who didn’t appreciate it in some way–and there have only been two), but a national day?  Oh, why not? Today’s Peanut Butter Cookie Day too, and Jerky Day…and Loving Day, after the Loving decision.

So a rose for the famous diarist on what would have been her 88th birthday. We wish you might have gotten one from some young admirer at least once in your short life.