Monthly Archives: April 2012

Some work of noble note, may yet be done, Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks: The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends, ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

A map of the supposed route of Henry Hudson's final voyage - no one knows the true track - which may have been made to survey Hudson Bay rather than to find the Northwest Passage.

Fatal journey : the final expedition of Henry Hudson a tale of mutiny and murder in the Arctic    New York : Basic Books, c 2009   Peter C. Mancall Hudson, Henry, d. 1611, Mutiny Hardcover. 1st. ed., later printing. 303 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 237-286) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

Henry Hudson's ship Half Moon. The Discovery, from which he was set adrift, was smaller - about 38 feet long and displacing only 20 tons - and had been built in the late 16th century. She had been the smallest of the three ships used for the expedition to and founding of the Jamestown, Virginia colony in 1607. Despite having been locked in the ice in 1611 her remaining crew of 8 - who were never tried for mutiny - sailed her back to London.

The English explorer Henry Hudson devoted his life to the search for a water route through America, becoming the first European to navigate the Hudson River in the process. In Fatal Journey, historian Peter C. Mancall narrates Hudson’s final expedition. In the winter of 1610, after navigating dangerous fields of icebergs near the northern tip of Labrador, Hudson’s small ship became trapped in winter ice. Provisions grew scarce and tensions mounted amongst the crew. Within months, the men mutinied, forcing Hudson, his teenage son, and seven other men into a skiff, which they left floating in the Hudson Bay. A story of exploration, desperation, and icebound tragedy, Fatal Journey vividly chronicles the undoing of the great explorer, not by an angry ocean, but at the hands of his own men.

John Collier's fanciful portrait of Hudson adrift with his teenage son and loyal crew members - no trace was ever found - of the famous English navigator who sailed for the Dutch. It is interesting to realize that the famous Italian navigator who sailed for the Spanish - Christopher Columbus - nearly met a similar fate when his first voyage took too long to find land. The hold on command by the master of a vessel could be a tenuous thing in the age of discovery.

Advertisements

Comments Off on Some work of noble note, may yet be done, Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks: The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends, ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Filed under Book Reviews

Empires of the Sea shows the Mediterranean as a majestic and bloody theatre of war. Opening with the Ottoman victory in 1453 it is a breathtaking story of military crusading, Barbary pirates, white slavery and the Ottoman Empire and the larger picture of the struggle between Islam and Christianity. Coupled with dramatic set piece battles, a wealth of riveting first-hand accounts, epic momentum and a terrific denouement at Lepanto, this is a work of history at its broadest and most compelling.

There are those among the hawks who will see American troops march into Baghdad, topple a statue of the current tyrant and then fly out to an aircraft carrier and stand under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. There are those among the doves who believe that if we bestow the blessings of liberty upon the people and shower them with our largesse – and for the truly craven beg their forgiveness for everything from the lack of rain in the desert forward – that we will be loved because we are “good people”

Both camps are full of fools. Unfortunately the east knows that the West’s stomach for war is weak. A few weeks, a few months or even a few years and we are unwilling to bear the costs of our own defense. Five centuries ago Islam attempted to conquer the West – it was not a campaign of a single battle but a war that lasted for three generations – and the West finally prevailed, well more like a stalemate, because they were willing to bear the cost of the battle.

We do not pretend that they were like the Crusaders marching under a banner of DEUS LE VOLT, they were merchant princes for the most part trying to defend their commerce, but they were also men of Faith who knew that surrender was tantamount to voluntary slavery. Today a weary West marches slowly toward that same slavery all boldness drained from our blood with a fool’s confidence in a sword we no longer have the strength to wield.

In the 1960’s it was said that an optimist learned Russian and a pessimist Chinese – Crowley makes a compelling case to either study arabic or learn anew the price of freedom.

Empires of the sea : the final battle for the Mediterranean 1521-1580    London : Faber and Faber, 2008 Roger Crowley Venice (Italy)  History  Turkish Wars, 1453-1571 Hardcover. 1st. ed., later printing. ix, 341 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index.Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In 1521, Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power, dispatched an invasion fleet to the island of Rhodes. This was the opening shot in an epic struggle between rival empires and faiths, and the ensuing battle for control of the Mediterranean would last sixty years.

Empires of the Sea tells the story of this great contest. It is a tale of spiralling intensity that ranges from Istanbul to the Gates of Gibraltar and features a cast of  characters including: Barbarossa, the pirate who terrified Europe; the risk-taking Emperor Charles V; the Knights of St John, last survivors of the crusading spirit; and the brilliant Christian admiral Don Juan of Austria. Its brutal climax came between 1565 and 1571, six years that witnessed a fight to the finish, decided in a series of bloody set pieces: the epic siege of Malta; the battle for Cyprus; and the apocalyptic last-ditch defense of southern Europe at Lepanto – one of the single most shocking days in world history that fixed the frontiers of the Mediterranean world we know today.

Empires of the Sea follows Roger Crowley’s first book, the widely praised Constantinople: The Last Great Siege. It is page-turning narrative history at its best – a story of extraordinary color and incident, rich in detail, full of surprises and backed by a wealth of eyewitness accounts.

Comments Off on Empires of the Sea shows the Mediterranean as a majestic and bloody theatre of war. Opening with the Ottoman victory in 1453 it is a breathtaking story of military crusading, Barbary pirates, white slavery and the Ottoman Empire and the larger picture of the struggle between Islam and Christianity. Coupled with dramatic set piece battles, a wealth of riveting first-hand accounts, epic momentum and a terrific denouement at Lepanto, this is a work of history at its broadest and most compelling.

Filed under Book Reviews

“A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.” John J. Pershing

Finley Peter Dunne‘s Mr. Dooley discusses the dilemma of a nation on the brink of empire from Mr. Dooley in Peace and War (1898)

Wan iv the worst things about this here war is th’ way it’s makin’ puzzles f’r our poor, tired heads. Whin I wint into it, I thought all I’d have to do was to set up here behind th’ bar with a good tin-cint see-gar in me teeth, an’ toss dinnymite bombs into th’ hated city iv Havana. But look at me now. Th’ war is still goin’ on; an’ ivry night, whin I’m countin’ up the cash, I’m askin’ mesilf will I annex Cubia or lave it to the Cubians? Will I take Porther Ricky or put it by? An’ what shud I do with the Ph’lippeens? Oh, what shud I do with thim? I can’t annex thim because I don’t know where they ar-re. I can’t let go iv thim because some wan else’ll take thim if I do. They are eight thousan’ iv thim islands, with a popylation iv wan hundherd millyon naked savages; an’ me bedroom’s crowded now with me an’ th’ bed. How can I take thim in, an’ how on earth am I goin’ to cover th’ nakedness iv thim savages with me wan shoot iv clothes? An’ yet ‘twud break me heart to think iv givin’ people I niver see or heerd tell iv back to other people I don’t know. An’, if I don’t take thim, Schwartzmeister down th’ sthreet, that has half me thrade already, will grab thim sure.

“It ain’t that I’m afraid iv not doin’ th’ r-right thing in th’ end, Hinnissy. Some mornin’ I’ll wake up an’ know jus’ what to do, an’ that I’ll do. But ’tis th’ annoyance in th’ mane time. I’ve been r-readin’ about th’ counthry. ‘Tis over beyant ye’er left shoulder whin ye’re facin’ east. Jus’ throw ye’er thumb back, an’ ye have it as ac’rate as anny man in town. ‘Tis farther thin Boohlgahrya an’ not so far as Blewchoochoo. It’s near Chiny, an’ it’s not so near; an’, if a man was to bore a well through fr’m Goshen, Indianny, he might sthrike it, an’ thin again he might not. It’s a poverty-sthricken counthry, full iv goold an’ precious stones, where th’ people can pick dinner off th’ threes an’ ar-re starvin’ because they have no step-ladders. Th’ inhabitants is mostly naygurs an’ Chinnymen, peaceful, industhrus, an’ law-abidin’, but savage an’ bloodthirsty in their methods. They wear no clothes except what they have on, an’ each woman has five husbands an’ each man has five wives. Th’ r-rest goes into th’ discard, th’ same as here. Th’ islands has been ownded be Spain since befure th’ fire; an’ she’s threated thim so well they’re now up in ar-rms again her, except a majority iv thim which is thurly loyal. Th’ natives seldom fight, but whin they get mad at wan another they r-run-a-muck. Whin a man r-runs-a-muck, sometimes they hang him an’ sometimes they discharge him an’ hire a new motorman. Th’ women ar-re beautiful, with languishin’ black eyes, an’ they smoke see-gars, but ar-re hurried an’ incomplete in their dhress. I see a pitcher iv wan th’ other day with nawthin’ on her but a basket of cocoanuts an’ a hoop-skirt. They’re no prudes. We import juke, hemp, cigar wrappers, sugar, an’ fairy tales fr’m th’ Ph’lippeens, an’ export six-inch shells an’ th’ like. Iv late th’ Ph’lippeens has awaked to th’ fact that they’re behind th’ times, an’ has received much American amminition in their midst. They say th’ Spanyards is all tore up about it.

“I larned all this fr’m th’ papers, an’ I know ’tis sthraight. An’ yet, Hinnissy, I dinnaw what to do about th’ Ph’lippeens. An’ I’m all alone in th’ wurruld. Ivrybody else has made up his mind. Ye ask anny con-ducthor on Ar-rchy R-road, an’ he’ll tell ye. Ye can find out fr’m the papers; an’, if ye really want to know, all ye have to do is to ask a prom’nent citizen who can mow all th’ lawn he owns with a safety razor. But I don’t know.”

Empire by default : the Spanish-American War and the dawn of the American century    New York : H. Holt, 1998 Ivan Musicant Spanish-American War, 1898 Hardcover. 1st. ed., later printing. ix, 740 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 704-716) and index. The definitive version of the Spanish-American War as well as a dramatic account of America’s emergence as a global power. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG   

excerpted from the introduction with minor editing…

Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan‘s  book, “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783” (1890), captured the minds of imperialists and provided the key to expansion overseas after the American frontier ceased to exist. Spain’s cruelty in Cuba was the excuse required to achieve this end; the Navy was the means. In 1883 Congress authorized the first four all-steel ships of a new Navy. These small cruisers were followed by larger ones and, in 1890, by battleships, marking a decisive turn away from coastal defense and toward construction of a two-ocean Navy. The stage was set for empire.

This is a standard interpretation that is completely wrong, the historian James A. Field Jr. has argued. Field held that Mahan was not an imperialist, and that his writings were largely concerned with hemispheric defense. The lesson he drew from history was that the United States needed both a powerful fleet and naval stations in the Caribbean to command what would become a great highway of commerce when the Panama Canal was built. One need only read Mahan to see that Field was right, and to read “Empire by Default” to discover that Musicant really agrees with Field — and with his own title.

The building of a modern fleet in the 1880’s and 90’s, according to Field, was a response to the growing reach and power of European navies, not the work of Congressional imperialists. Even commerce raiding, the mission of the old Navy, could no longer be undertaken without long-range modern warships, the purpose of which was to deter aggression or, failing that, to defend the East Coast against attack from Europe. Thus, except for a handful assigned to Asian waters, most United States warships were deployed in the Atlantic. Before 1898 few Americans saw them as instruments of conquest.

The war with Spain resulted from a mixture of public enthusiasm and historical accident. As former colonial subjects, Americans sympathized with the Cuban rebellion that began in 1895. Spanish repression reached a peak with the arrival of Lieut. Gen. Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau in 1896. By decree he packed the rural population into fortified areas and garrison towns, where 95,000 Cubans are thought to have died of starvation and disease. The rebels were brutal too, but Weyler’s victims got noticed.

President William McKinley was an amiable man with no taste for war, but public opinion, excited by the yellow press, drove him onward. Spain, which was being drained by Cuba, did not want war either, but a series of weak governments courted public favor by upping the ante in a losing game. The armies shipped to Cuba melted away, largely from disease, while the rebels held the countryside. That was how matters stood when the battleship Maine arrived in Havana on Jan. 25, 1898, for a “friendly” visit. On February 15th it blew up for reasons still unknown. Only 96 of a crew of 355 survived, 80 of them wounded.

Incited by William Randolph Hearst‘s newspapers the American people demanded war and on April 25th Congress declared it. On May 1 the Navy’s Asiatic Squadron, Commodore George Dewey commanding, sailed into Manila Bay to put further pressure on Spain. At 5:22 A.M. Dewey said to his flagship’s captain, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Two hours later the guns of every ship in the decrepit Spanish fleet had been silenced. Spain lost seven ships and hundreds of men, Dewey nothing and no one. Empire beckoned, even though, as the humorist Finley Peter Dunne remarked, before Dewey’s feat most Americans had not known whether the Philippines were islands or canned goods.

Cuba was blockaded and then, amid frightful disorder, an invasion force came ashore. Spain’s pitiful Cuban fleet was efficiently dispatched by Rear Adm. William T. Sampson at the Battle of Santiago in July. His losses amounted to one man. Spain lost an empire. On Oct. 10, helpless and embittered, Spain signed a peace treaty in which it gave up Cuba, ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States, and, for a payment of $20 million, the Philippines as well.

Buying the Philippines was an afterthought. Dewey had been sent to Manila Bay to obtain bargaining chips that would be useful at the peace table. But once Spain’s fleet was destroyed and Manila blockaded, America could not set the Philippines free because, for want of a navy, the islands would have been acquired by a foreign power — Germany and Japan being especially keen. Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the native insurgency against Spain, wanted the Philippines to become independent under protection of an American fleet. That was impossible since America would never guard territory it did not control. Giving the Philippines back to Spain was no option either. It had been losing to the insurgents and could hardly afford another colonial war. Most likely Spain would have sold the islands, probably to Germany.

The German menace was real. Germany’s warships were all over Manila Bay, interfering with Dewey’s blockade. In July, Dewey became fed up with German disruptions and complaints. He reminded a German officer that it was he who was conducting the blockade and that German ships were there on his sufferance. “Do you want war with us?” Dewey asked. “Certainly not,” the German replied. “Well, it looks like it,” Dewey went on, “and you are very near it; and” — his voice rising until it could be heard in the wardroom below — “you can have it as soon as you like.” Germany backed off. The strategic dilemma remained, McKinley resolving it as best he could by taking the islands.

Musicant does not go beyond the war, but its aftermath is worth noting. The wave of jingoism soon passed, and the thirst for empire too. A long and bloody campaign was waged to suppress muslim insurgents, during which the United States used the same methods it had criticized Spain for. America then found itself with a possession it no longer wanted and could not defend, as Japan proved in 1942. The lesson was evident well before then. Owning colonies was a bad business that America meant to get out of, and did. Imperialism was a national growing pain, worse for the Filipinos than for us, but a mistake that would not be repeated.

Comments Off on “A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.” John J. Pershing

Filed under Book Reviews

“Nothing has given me so much chagrin as the Intelligence that the Federal party were thinking seriously of supporting Mr. Burr for president. I should consider the execution of the plan as devoting the country and signing their own death warrant. Mr. Burr will probably make stipulations, but he will laugh in his sleeve while he makes them and will break them the first moment it may serve his purpose.” Alexander Hamilton

What a wonderful idea. A constitutional amendment requiring all elections be settled by duels. Even if the wrong candidate is the better shot we would still have 50% fewer politicians!

Duel : Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the future of America    New York, NY : Basic Books, c 1999 Thomas Fleming Burr-Hamilton Duel, Weehawken, N.J., 1804 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xiii, 446 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 407-427) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

All school children know the story of the fatal duel between Hamilton and Burr – but do they really? In this remarkable retelling, Thomas Fleming takes the reader into the post-revolutionary world of 1804, a chaotic and fragile time in the young country as well as a time of tremendous global instability.

The success of the French Revolution and the proclamation of Napoleon as First Consul for Life had enormous impact on men like Hamilton and Burr, feeding their own political fantasies at a time of perceived Federal government weakness and corrosion. Their hunger for fame spawned antagonisms that wreaked havoc on themselves and their families and threatened to destabilize the fragile young American republic. From that poisonous brew came the tangle of regret and anger and ambition that drove the two to their murderous confrontation in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Readers will find this is popular narrative history at its most authoritative, and authoritative history at its most readable.

Comments Off on “Nothing has given me so much chagrin as the Intelligence that the Federal party were thinking seriously of supporting Mr. Burr for president. I should consider the execution of the plan as devoting the country and signing their own death warrant. Mr. Burr will probably make stipulations, but he will laugh in his sleeve while he makes them and will break them the first moment it may serve his purpose.” Alexander Hamilton

Filed under Book Reviews

“Translating from one language to another, unless it is from Greek and Latin, the queens of all languages, is like looking at Flemish tapestries from the wrong side, for although the figures are visible, they are covered by threads that obscure them, and cannot be seen with the smoothness and color of the right side.” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Some scientists would like to divide the world’s history into periods like the dawn of time, precambrian time and the phanerozoic eon with subdivisions for eras, periods and epochs all of which hold up about as well a library sorted by the weight of books. Likewise modern historians – who tend to be novelists posing as sociologists or vice versa – the ancient world, the dark ages, medieval times, the age of reason, etc., most of which – like the renaissance – are 19th century inventions and betray all of the prejudices of the reduction of the soul to a mass-produced piece of clockwork.

Many wish to claim, wrongly, that Quixote [and Shakespeare for that matter (and there is certainly more that unites them than separates them!)] are products of the late renaissance [and I use this francophone pretension because most readers will not recognize renascence which is the proper English spelling of the word] when, in reality, they are very much high points at the end of the age of Faith. Cervantes had been a slave for the muslims that continuously pirated the trade of the Mediterranean from before the Crusades until Stephen Decatur arranged  a treaty with the ruler of Algiers, “dictated at the mouths of our cannon”, in 1815. No place in any of his works can I find any praise for ebullience  at pornography,  soft drugs being legalized, divorce, party-politics, or kissing in the street.

If you read the great book itself you will encounter the following passage, “There is no book so bad…that it does not have something good in it,” unfortunately this book proves that in that one particular – which may have been true when written – is now, sadly, false.

Don Quixote’s delusions : travels in Castilian Spain    Woodstock, N.Y. : Overlook Press, 2002 Miranda France Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de, 1547-1616. Don Quixote, Castilla-La Mancha (Spain) Description and travel Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. 243 p. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 236-237) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

Miranda France is a travel writer with an unsparingly absurd voice. Her book tells us about Spain by juxtaposing Cervantes’s life and his character’s adventures with the author’s own anecdotes, characters, and observations. As such you would think that the primary criticism would be that it is derivative but it is not – she understands neither Quixote nor his creator Cervantes and this is nothing more or less than revisionists twaddle trying to fit a medieval character into the modern world.

At the heart of Miranda France’s  book are two very different visits to Spain, set ten years apart. In 1987, the author spent her student year in Madrid – when post-Franco ebullience was at its height and pornography and soft drugs were legalized, along with divorce, party-affiliation, and kissing in the street. A return trip to central Spain, taken in 1998, shows her that much has changed in the country, but also that much has endured. An  cast of real-life characters, along with her cursory investigations of  Cervantes’s Don Quixote – published in 1605 and, the author finds out, the most translated book after the Bible – reveal much about the identity of modern Spain and its people.

Comments Off on “Translating from one language to another, unless it is from Greek and Latin, the queens of all languages, is like looking at Flemish tapestries from the wrong side, for although the figures are visible, they are covered by threads that obscure them, and cannot be seen with the smoothness and color of the right side.” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Filed under Book Reviews