Pearl Harbor; From Infamy to Greatness by Craig Nelson.

Pearl Harbor; From Infamy to Greatness by Craig Nelson. Scribners, 2017 paper.

            Craig Nelson argues that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Oahu) on 7 December 1941 was intended to keep the USA out of the Pacific Theater until Japan had occupied Europe’s resource-rich colonial territories and integrated them into the Japanese war economy. Japan was critically short on fuel supplies and looked with envious eyes at the oil rich Dutch East Indies. It had been diverted from its Imperial quest in the Pacific by its preoccupation with the Chinese theater.

We were also consolidating our position in the Pacific Ocean. Once based in southern California, our Pacific fleet had been moved to a forward base on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. By 1941 Oahu had a dozen installations and was our largest base in the Pacific. The Pearl Harbor Naval Base was the most important of those military installations, home port to battleships, carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and miscellaneous service ships. Fortunately its aircraft carriers were out at sea on 7 December 1941. There were also several army units. An American territory since 1898, Hawaii must be protected from invasion like our other possessions in the Pacific.

            It was argued that the presence of our navy and army mid-Pacific would act as a constraint on Japanese ambitions. Hence Japan and the United States were exercising their versions of the Monroe Doctrine.

            Japanese military and civilian elites had been divided about the wisdom of the raid. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the attack, had toured the US a few years earlier and had decided that our industrial capabilities – and our ability to wage war in the Pacific – far exceeded existing and potential Japanese capabilities. Furthermore, the US would retain that overwhelming strength when both were fully mobilized.

 However, both the Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo had to be convinced of the wisdom of the Pearl Harbor attack. And much of Nelson’s account is about the dialogue between the Japanese high command and civilian politicians. Could there have been some resolution short of war? Nelson seems to think so.

The Japanese benefitted from the element of surprise. We had been breaking their Naval and Diplomatic Codes right along. Which meant that we often had information about fleet movements. Japan had concluded that we were reading coded messages exchanged by their diplomats in Washington and London. They began using a more sophisticated code, “Purple” which had not yet been broken.

Nevertheless there were indications of Japanese naval ships in the Pacific. Perhaps the most significant tip off about a surprise attack was the fact that the Japanese Embassies in London and Washington were burning their code books.

Nelson makes the point that there was little cohesion in the response of the various American agencies to what the code breakers were learning. This became obvious when various investigating committees after the Pearl Harbor raid looked into what amounted to an intelligence disaster.

Blame was spread around from President Roosevelt on down. The Pearl Harbor command was subject to the most criticism. It could not explain why there was no surveillance aircraft in operation and why the gates to the port facilities were left open allowing submarines and torpedoes to fire away at the docked ships.

The plan called for three waves of attacking aircraft. The third wave never happened. Nelson believes that it would likely have been a misfortune for the Japanese if it had been launched. By this time, the surprise was over and the American forces were beginning to respond. And the Japanese attacking force was running out of fuel.

A third raid might, however, have gotten around to destroying the oil storage tanks. Hence there remained a good supply of aviation fuel after the first two waves to power the American arsenal. 

Vengeance! FDR was good at reading the American public. Hence he immediately ordered the special mission led by Colonel James Doolittle in March 1942 to avenge Pearl Harbor. Pilots, navigators, and bombardiers were recruited to take off on sixteen carrier-based B-25 bombers on a mission that would target Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagasaki. They were to drop incendiary bombs, the idea being to destroy by fire large sections of these Japanese cities. The firebombing proved hugely successful against Japan’s wooden housing; sadly the death toll of non-combatants was shocking. 

Nelson tells various stories about their fates. Those captured by the Japanese in occupied China were either executed or left to starve in prisons. The Chinese hid some. Some died in crash landings.

The recruits asked to be allowed to go after the Emperor, but were ordered not to do so. It would only stiffen Japanese resolve.  And well that the Emperor survived the bombing. It was Emperor Hirohito who finally made the decision to end the war.

Down the road a lot of Americans wondered about the strategy of killing civilians with incendiaries. Hindsight is always better than decisions made in the heat of warfare. Our insistence on unconditional surrender may have kept the Japanese fighting longer. The Japanese Homeland would have been defended in the spirit of the samurai and involved huge casualties. All things considered, Nelson concludes that the Doolittle Raid was an acceptable alternative. 


The Cost of Courage by Charles Kaiser.

The Cost of Courage by Charles Kaiser. Other Press, 2017 paper.

Charles Kaiser has told the story of a Parisian family who lived through the four years of German occupation, each member displaying various degrees of cooperation, resistance, and accommodation. The family was bourgeoisie, good Catholics, and good Republicans. The parents, Jacques and Hélène Boulloche watched – and worried – as their children lived out both their anger toward the German occupiers and their loyalty to the city of their birth. Jacques Boulloche had an important position as Director of the Bureau of Highways. A fourth son, Robert Boulloche, also had a good post as Inspector in the Ministry of Finance.

As much as possible, father and brother kept their distance from the German army of occupation. That response the Germans would more-or-less tolerate. But the active Resistance that sprang up almost immediately. (June 1940) was another matter. The two daughters, Jacqueline and Christiane, were active in the Resistance as was their youngest son, André.

Being active in the Parisian Resistance was dangerous business. There were numerous instances of individuals who betrayed their colleagues and neighbors in return for small favors from the Germans. The Resistance was a porous organization easily infiltrated by double agents. The chance was good that upon an arrest, you would either be shot or shipped off to the German Concentration camps designed for the Reich’s political opponents.

Christiane had made arrangements to meet her father and mother for a family dinner in the family’s spacious apartment. German agents knew that she would appear at their apartment. However, coming on a bike, she had been delayed by a flat tire. So the Germans arrived before her, and not able to arrest her, arrested her parents instead. Nazi criminal justice was capricious. The parents were subsequently shipped off to work camps in Germany, her father to a SS Camp at Flossenbürg, her mother to a camp for women political prisoners. Hélène was tortured (water-boarded) but never betrayed her daughters or any of their comrades.

Hélène soon died in the camp, miserable and alone. Jacques depended upon the allowed monthly letter that he received from her to brace himself for the conditions in work camp to which he had been sent. When the letters stopped coming, he realized Hélène was dead, and gave up as well.

The author has successfully woven the major events of the war in Europe into this family story. The course of the War had a bearing about “the costs of courage.” Parisians got most of their information about the War by listening to the BBC. London was the nerve center of French resistance movements. And French hope.

Though not always dependable, the network of Resistance fighters was also a good source of information. Resistance fighters like the Boulloche sisters often traveled outside of Paris and met up with individuals active in the Resistance in Provincial France and North Africa.  

Most Parisians, certainly the Boulloche family, loathed Henri-Philippe Pétain and his government. He had signed the armistice and was Chief of State in the unoccupied portion of France during the Vichy period from 1940 to 1944.  His surrender speech in June 1940 summarized what would become the rationale for French accommodation. Be practical!

The Allied leadership had mixed views about the French Resistance. Kaiser quotes General Eisenhower’s claim that the success of the Normandy invasion was as much the work of the Resistance as it was the bravery of the men who stormed the Normandy beaches. Their destruction of rail communications in Normandy and Northern France is always noted in any account of the invasion. Kaiser argues that perhaps the most important role that the Resistance played was in the French countryside, assisting downed Allied flyers. Many a Resistance fighter hid out in the countryside amongst those same rural folks until they could safely return to the Capital.

The author includes the interesting story of General Dietrich von Choltitz. Von Choltitz was the last commander of Nazi occupied Paris, appointed in August 1944. He was ordered by Hitler to destroy Paris as he departed. German demolition squads mined the city’s infrastructure, its factories, and its famous landmarks in anticipation of the German army’s departure.

But before withdrawal Von Choltitz had a conversation with a Paris municipal councilor who apparently persuaded him to leave the city he admired unharmed. He realized that no advantage would come from its destruction. Also Von Choltitz had earlier met with Hitler and believed him to be insane. The demolition squads left with the last of the German occupation troops. And Paris remains much as the Germans found it. 

As is true of many Europeans who survived this terrible war, Parisians view the liberation through a web of defensiveness, erasure, and guilt. The survivors of the Boulloche family rarely speak of the war years and their part in the Resistance.  Von Choltitz is never hailed by Parisians as their city’s savior. He was later arrested and tried for his part in the deportation of French Jews during his command.


Grunt; The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach.

Grunt; The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. W.W. Norton, 2017 paper.

Mary Roach’s book is not about giving belligerents greater fire power, it is about keeping them alive and battle worthy.  Her investigation involves everything from the composition of a “grunt’s” uniform and his rations to how best to assure that sailors manning both submarines and surface warships can escape their “metal coffins.” Much of the life-saving research was carried on at the Natick Soldiers’ Research, Development, and Engineering Center.

Recent wars fought in the Middle East have had to deal with Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs. Most WWII vehicles – tanks, troop carriers – expected to be attacked by machine guns and hand grenades from their flank or from above. Mines were the exception. But today these explosive devices are detonated by walking on or running vehicles over them. So army contractors have been set to work to arm the underbelly of Humvees and other All-Terrain vehicles.

The coffee break. Coffee keeps the soldier alert but only for a half-life of six to eight hours. The Germans developed much more effective drugs for that purpose during WWII. Our Natick labs developed freeze-dried coffee which didn’t need to be brewed, only water heated to boiling.

Military uniforms have to be flame-resistant, warm in cold weather, cool in hot weather, and insect repellant. Roach points out that some of these requirements are contradictory. Wool is more flame resistant than cotton, but also warmer than cotton.

Whatever the fabric of the infantryman’s uniform, it is thoroughly saturated with chemicals. But crawling around in those battlefields requires washing and the material soon lost most of its chemical treatment.  So there has been much investigation of how to prolong the life of those chemicals. The next time that you see soldiers in military outfits, be admiring of the science that goes into them.

There was a requirement that service men be clean shaven. This was a holdover from World War I when whiskers compromised what was designed to be air-tight gasmasks. (Roach makes the point in the first years after our entry into World War II, we were fighting with WWI technology.) Fortunately chemical warfare was not used in World War II. So whiskers, or at least several days’ growth of facial hair, flourished.

The US did use something like a stink-bomb. Very smelly chemicals were frequently sprayed airily over Japanese soldiers that smelled like objectionable body odors. These “body smells” were so objectionable and so durable that those sprayed were frequently ostracized. No one wanted to share a fox hole with a soldier who smelled like excrement. (One of the ‘fragrances’ was “Who, me?”) This created a problem for the individual odorous soldier but also for his squad who needed to keep together.

Buttons. Always problematical. So much so that the U.S. military had twenty-two pages of specifications. Replacement: zippers? They could be a problem, especially after the person wearing the zipper had crawled around in the dirt long enough to thoroughly foul a zipper. The solution was to remove the zippers from the front of the garment and put them onto the side where they were less vulnerable.  Velcro; can you imagine the attention that its noise would get from a nearby enemy snipper. Of course camouflage prints were carefully worked out to blend with the alien vegetation. Eventually they escaped into high fashion.

The “Essentials of Sea Survival” was a British wartime publication which laid out what to do in case your submarine or warship sank. There would be an immediate effort to stop the sea water from rushing through any hole however tiny. Should that prove impossible, an immediate decision had to be made to seal off the flooding compartment even if that involved the lives of sailors inside. Still the navy did everything it could procedurally to prevent the sinking of a ship from being fatal to its crew. These weren’t technological, but rather common sense procedures to get the sailor to the surface of the ocean where he could be found and picked up by a rescuer.

On such occasions there was said to be a problem of man-eating sharks. Were sharks attracted to the presence of blood?  The navy devised a chemical that could be sprayed around the struggling survivors to discourage sharks from attacking. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution worked on a chemical that promised to deter sharks from going after wounded survivors of a sinking ship.

It turned out that while there were various unfortunate results of long-term exposure to ocean water discussed in “Essentials of Sea Survival”, sharks were not mentioned. But the idea was sobering enough to result in a background dread of sea warfare. Though not to worry about sharks if you were dead; they do not go after dead meat!


The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan.

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan. W.W. Norton, 2017.

The five Great Lakes – Erie, Ontario, Huron, Michigan, and Superior – and various attached bodies of water – contain 20% of the world’s supply of surface fresh water. Their “path to the sea”, the Atlantic Ocean, is interrupted by the dramatic difference in elevation between lakes Erie and Ontario, hence Niagara Falls. As some would have it, the Great Lakes constitute a fourth coast, making inland cities such as Cleveland and Chicago ports.

In the last century the Great Lakes were connected to the Mississippi River basin by the dredging of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the reversal of the Chicago River’s flow out of Lake Michigan rather than into it. Chicago found this solution to its untreated wastewater at the time being dumped into Lake Michigan and fouling the City’s waterfront. Dan Egan points out that this restructuring was a breach of what he calls a “sub-continental divide,” a range of hills in Illinois and Indiana that had separated the Great Lakes watershed from the huge area drained by the Mississippi.

The Erie Canal between Albany and Buffalo, which opened in 1825, was an early effort to use the water resources of the Great Lakes for transportation. The canal never lived up to expectations; the railroads came soon after the Canal’s opening paralleling the waterway and providing it with unbeatable competition.

More recently the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a joint Canadian-US project, allows ocean-going freighters to transport goods to ports on the Great Lakes. Opened in 1959, the Seaway has been widened several times in order to accommodate the increasing size of the freighters. (The St. Lawrence Seaway does, however, have an ice problem in the winter months.)

For years the heavy industry of the Midwestern States used the Lakes as a dumping ground for their wastes, augmenting the Great Lakes’ transportation function. The Clean Water Act has been a major force in cleaning up much of this industrial waste, but the ships that transport cargoes to and from this “Fourth Coast” to the Atlantic continue to pollute the Great Lakes.

These ships frequently dump their ballast tanks in the less turbulent waters of the Great Lakes after their Atlantic crossing. This ballast contains saltwater mussels that can survive in freshwater and have no predators in the Great Lakes. Predators have been introduced to “manage” these mussel populations, but that hasn’t solved another problem: the various species that hitch-hike into the Lakes on ships’ hulls. Egan proposes that many of the troubles that the Great Lakes are facing could be partially solved by railroad transport. The ships with cargo for the US Midwest could be downloaded at the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia and sent across country by railroad.

Much of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is about their unique flora and fauna and how to create a fish population that isn’t overwhelmed by both the pollution problem and potential predators. The Lakes will have to be managed but for whom? Probably commercial fisheries will never survive, and the management of the Great Lakes will benefit sports fishers or “anglers” as Egan calls them. Whatever the choice made, the fish populations will originate in hatcheries.

On to other threats to the Lakes. Phosphorus has become a menace to all bodies of water in the US and Canada. Applied to fields of corn and soy beans to boost production, it also promotes algae production which can blanket huge areas of the Great Lakes, harming “native” plant and animal species.

If a lake’s water is used within the lake’s watershed, it cycles back to the lake and hence is not diminishing the resource. But users outside the watershed are looking to grab a drink. Pipelines carry off water that never gets returned to the watershed. That has been the fate of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and, closer to home, the Ogallala Aquifer underlying the Great Plains. Large-scale extracting of their water for agricultural uses outside the watershed has depleted this fresh water source. And it is beginning to happen to the Great Lakes. Fresh water, not oil, will be our future most precious resource, Egan argues.

Proper management could be at least a partial answer. But part of the problem with the “management” response is that there are two provinces – Ontario and Quebe -, and six states – Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and New York – whose policies have to be coordinated. Plus a number of major municipalities. Good luck at getting any coherent, joint policy out of this diversity, especially when they are dividing up a scarce resource.

Dan Egan’s book was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.



The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City by Margaret Creighton.

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City by Margaret Creighton.  W.W. Norton, 2017 paper.

The Pan American Exposition opened in Buffalo, New York, in May of 1901 and closed in November. It celebrated our ‘victory’ in the Spanish-American War in 1898, a triumph for imperial America at the expense of imperial Spain. Even back then, world fairs were financially a losing proposition and this one was no exception. The Exposition had some other unhappy distinctions. And Margaret Creighton tells that story.

            The attendance figures sound impressive: 200,000 daily and on good days as many as 300,000 paid admissions. Its promoters, however, felt they were competing with the Chicago World’s Fair for attendance. The Buffalo fair was a days’ journey by rail for forty million people. Canadians were next door. Hence the Buffalo Exposition had a much bigger potential draw than was the case with Chicago.

Some wealthy businessmen and several politicians with public money to spend had agreed to subsidize the Exposition. But the promoters had to hustle to keep money coming in. That meant creating exciting press coverage. Press releases were frequent and there were a number of special-event days designed to attract attendees, often for a second visit. But then a downer. While visiting the Fair, William McKinley, just beginning his second Presidential term, was shot and mortally wounded by a drifter, Leon Czolgosz, on 6 September.

Czolgosz, was born into a Polish immigrant family. An unemployed steel worker, he contended that the capitalist economy in America was disproportionately favoring the well-off. He considered himself an anarchist, though, Creighton notes, his ideology was thin.

McKinley seemed to be doing fine, recuperating in a mansion near the Fair. But he took a turn for the worse on 13 September and died early the next morning of an infection that the medicine of the time couldn’t stop. The McKinley assassination put a dent in the attendance and hence revenue.

Given the theme of the Exposition – electricity and its blessings, Czolgosz’s death by electrocution was an unwelcomed outcome of that celebration. He was one of the electric chair’s first victims.

            Close to Niagara Falls, the Exposition was always an opportunity for individuals to seek press attention by passing over the Falls in a barrel.  Annie Edson Taylor was a school teacher of middling success who had taught in different schools in the Upper Midwest. Most people thought her aim was to commit suicide, but she made it over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls on 24 October. Her stunt had the advantage of all the publicity linked to the Exposition. She lived for another thirty years, dying at the age of ninety-three. Taylor stayed out of the poor house for most of the rest of her life by selling souvenirs of her stunt on the streets of Buffalo, a facsimile of the original barrel by her side.

            Like most state fairs, carnivals, and circuses, World’s Fairs had a midway. The Pan American Exposition was no exception. Its most popular midway attraction was owned by Frank Bostock, which included a dozen or so elephants including Jumbo II, which was said to be the largest mammal in captivity.          

The star attraction of this midway, however, was Chiquita, “The Cuban Doll,” a very small midget, around whose stature Bostock had created an act. But love conquered Chiquita’s height problem. She fell in love with a musician in the show, Tony Woeckener. “Little Tony,” was scrawny but not a midget. Chiquita and Little Tony were carrying on in secret.

To keep together they needed a union of some sort and so fled to Buffalo and got a quick marriage. But alas, Bostock found out about their relationship and subsequent ‘flight.’ To justify his intervention in their happy post-marriage, he claimed that The Cuban Doll had been kidnapped and that sensation got a flock of journalists to follow the fate of The Cuban Doll and Tony.

            Bostock, it turned out, had another problem. Jumbo II, his elephant star of the show was not behaving, and misbehaving elephants were not safe to parade amongst the attendees as the elephants did several times daily. It was decided that Jumbo should be ‘retired’ by a public execution. And there was a good crowd drawn that day to watch poor Jumbo’s demise. But the electrocution didn’t work, despite several tries and obvious suffering on the part of the animal.

            Neither those who opposed capital punishment nor cruelty to animals had yet found their voice. But the author points out that those missing voices were soon to follow.


The Gulf; The Making of An American Sea by Jack Davis.

Congratulations, Jack on winning the Nobel Prize in History 2018


The Gulf; The Making of An American Sea by Jack Davis. Liveright, 2017.

Professor Jack Davis covers a relatively short period in the history of the Gulf of Mexico – from the Pleistocene, two million years ago, to the Twenty-First Century AD. The Gulf is an enormous body of water that drains a vast land area, the basins of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and the rivers that deliver freshwater to the Gulf from Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. His study of the Gulf is modeled after Alexander Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II.

Davis keeps his sense of humor despite the bad news that flows from his word processor. The subject of his history, he laments, has been “a sandbox for the earth-sculpturing [by the] US Army Corps of Engineers.” Their dike building along the Mississippi River is only a small part of the trouble, however. The Gulf has also become a dump for the numerous industries that have clustered around its waterways.

Add to that the more recent discovery of off-shore petroleum deposits and their exploitation. In April 2010 Deepwater Horizon, one of those off-shore oil rigs, blew spewing two hundred million gallons of oil into the Gulf. But that is less, Davis reminds us, than the annual dose of poisons that comes down the Mississippi River from our Midwestern agricultural heartland. Nor was this the first time that the Gulf has been contaminated by discharge from an off-shore oil rig.

Those ‘tarred and feathered” birds that attracted so much attention during the press coverage of the Deepwater Horizon spill should remind us that the Gulf is a major path for migrating birds. Billions of birds cross the Gulf of Mexico twice a year. It is a six-hundred mile trip for many of them, but shorter ­- “as the crow flies” – than any passage over land.

Many of the migratory birds are in their breeding plumage. Look back at photographs of fashionable, turn-of-the-last-century females and you will find their hats decorated with plumage, feathers from egrets, herons, spoonbills, and other mostly wading birds. They were harvested by shooting, hence a rapid reduction in numbers. (Fortunately women’s hat fashion changed during WWI).

Their men folk joined clubs and hunting lodges and, for the sport, aimed their guns at those same migrating birds. For the gentlemen, there were shooting excursions by steam boats up the St. Johns River.

Wading birds may have seemed like ‘small potatoes’ to some hunters, but there were alligators fashioned into ‘big game’. They were an impressive prop in a photograph of the dead animal and its sportsman hunter. Or for fishermen; tarpon were popular fish for the sports fisher, their size, according to Davis, would satisfy the national masculinity zeitgeist.

The hoteliers, Henry Plant and Henry Flagler, were happy to supply these gentlemen and ladies with luxury accommodations. Both were railroad men, presiding over a transition in the Florida tourist trade. From vacationers arriving by rail, many were now traveling to Florida in automobiles. And staying in Plant’s Gulf coast hotel in even larger numbers.

The Gulf of Mexico became a second home near the beach. And that in turn led to the rows of high-rise condominiums. With them more roads, more malls, more fast-food restaurants. And up-rooted mangroves.

Meanwhile the Gulf of Mexico was becoming a major docking facility for container ships. The widening of the Panama Canal resulted in a major transformation of shipping in the Gulf. Huge new machinery, lifts, etc. were necessary to handle these containers.

Sand has always been a tricky foundation for a building of any size. And that became a problem as condo’s etc. were allowed closer and closer to the edge of the water. Moreover, existing regulations, if enforced, have not made allowances for sea level rise and more Hurricanes and tropical storms. The slowly-disappearing beach needed to be armored and nourished.

Gambling. It was decided that the best way to add gambling to the Gulf and keep it more-or-less out of sight was to position it off-shore. That particular gamble however, did not pay off. It didn’t count on an uninvited participant – Hurricane Katrina. The casinos, washed out to sea, were rebuilt. They are now back on land, and paying taxes.

Jack Davis ends The Gulf; The Making of an American Sea on a positive note. When the State of Florida banded gill-netting in 1994, Cedar Key fishers began exploiting a new fishery, clam farming. And the town changed from one where those fishers lived to vacation condominiums for the well-off. Most of the employed population live inland.  So be it.

Historic Pensacola by John Clune, Jr. & Margo Stringfield. 

Historic Pensacola by John Clune, Jr. & Margo Stringfield.  University Press of Florida, 2016.

Pensacola, West Florida can claim to have been initially settled in 1559. More accurately, a Spanish ship captain, Tristán de Luna, led an expedition to Pensacola Bay and a settlement he established lasted for a few years. It is the basis for Pensacola’s claim to being the oldest European settlement in North America and a rival to St. Augustine on the Atlantic side of the Florida peninsula.

The area was largely vacant; its native population had been decimated years before by European diseases that had been spread by the native population’s “first encounters” with sick crews on the Spanish galleons.

Several surprises. While we learn of the exploration of Hernando DeSoto in our grade-school textbooks, there are other Spanish explorers that did not find a mention. Also the authors, John Clune, Jr. and Margo Springfield, call attention to the sophisticated and elaborate town planning that these Spanish explorers brought with them to the New World. Pensacola was laid out in a grid pattern with room set aside for a fortified presidio and a Church.

Other than the presidio, most of the structures were wooden – and subject to destruction by fire either from natural causes or from warfare.

The town of Pensacola moved around within its Bay area. Early it was located up stream of the estuary. But when that created difficulties for sailing ships, the town was moved to the barrier island at the mouth of the Bay, Santa Rosa Island. Better for maritime communications, it was, however, vulnerable to the hurricanes which plow through the area.

The Spaniards were serious about settling Pensacola Bay. One of Luna’s expeditions had eleven ships and over 1,500 settlers. Many of these settlers were recruited from interior Mexican towns and had no experience of living on a restless bay.

From the years of these early settlements, European rivalry created New-World competition. The colonies along the Atlantic Coast were British. The French had seized control of the Mississippi Valley and New Orleans, but it continued to trade with West Florida. The Spaniards claimed Santo Domingo, the wealthiest island in the Caribbean, and the vast lands of Texas, Southwestern U.S., and Florida.

All three European colonial regimes had allied themselves with various Native American tribes, where they still survived. This meant that colonists settling on Pensacola had also to worry about Indian raiders. West Florida, including Pensacola, was a British colony from 1763 to 1781. It then returned to Spain. In 1821 the Adams-Onís Treaty ceded West Florida and hence Pensacola to the young American Republic.

Pensacola avoided the issues over taxation that beleaguered Colonial-British relations. Hence it did not play an important role in the American Revolution.

The town continued to participate in the trade along the Gulf Coast between Mobile and Pensacola. This trade was a monopoly of a chartered company. It stocked the usual luxury goods for its Pensacola customers but made its money buying and reselling deer-skins. Spain recognized the importance of the eighteenth-century “global economy.” They intended to make sure that their administration encouraged that development.

Pensacola competed with Galveston with its Tivoli House. There were gambling rooms and an extensive bar for unruly Spanish soldiers and sailors on leave.

Historic Pensacola is a handsome book, published by the University of Florida Press. Each chapter has a recipe associated with its content. It is well-illustrated and has wonderful maps.  The two authors, John Clune, Jr. and Margo Springfield, teach at the University of West Florida.

Darwin’s First Theory; Exploring Darwin’s Quest to Find a Theory of the Earth by Rob Wesson.

Darwin’s First Theory; Exploring Darwin’s Quest to Find a Theory of the Earth by Rob Wesson. Pegasus Books, 2017.

Charles Darwin is best known for his On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection. His “first theory” however was an important contribution to the science of geology. He received an invitation to participate in the voyage of the HMS Beagle, from 1831 to 1836. Its purpose was to explore and map the coasts of Argentina and Chile. Part of that long voyage was spent hiking through the Andes on field trips.

Darwin was still a young man, twenty-two, having just completed his studies at the University of Edinburgh and Cambridge. He hadn’t yet married, nor established a career. Rob Wesson suggests that he considered his selection to be a big honor. But he needed to bone up on his geology and so he engaged in a ramble through North Wales with a noted geologist, Adam Sedgwick.

Darwin’s cabin mate on the HMS Beagle was Robert FitzRoy, an English officer in the British Royal Navy and captain of the ship. They got along well, though FitzRoy was already showing signs of the depression from which he would suffer later in life.

FitzRoy, like many other scientists who read Darwin became alarmed when his theories were less not easily reconciled with the creation accounts in the Hebrew Bible. True, Biblical stories about a catastrophic flood in the creation of Earth did not necessarily conflict with observations that Darwin and others were making about natural phenomena, particularly of tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. (Tsunamis were in Darwin’s time called tidal waves.) But Darwin was creating a new language that was less and less confirming of the Genesis account.

After their voyage Darwin and FitzRoy were invited to give papers and take part in the discussion of their observations of the coast of Patagonia at the Royal Society. This prompted an often heated discussion over the next half-dozen years about Darwin’s “first theory.” Charles Lyell, British lawyer and geologist, joined the conversation arguing for what he, and Darwin and other geologists referred to as Uniformitarianism – the theory that Earth was shaped by the same processes still in operation today.  Lyell popularized the idea of uplift and subsidence, which fit well into Darwin’s observations of the presence of coral reefs now visible well above the surface of the ocean.

Wesson has captured an edifying portrait of the lively scientific community in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. They were not necessarily associated with the country’s universities. There were now many professional organizations that you could be invited to join. Papers were given in rooms of some social clubs if the organization itself did not have a club room.

One of the topics of conversation was “erratics.” These were boulders that were “out of place” and had somehow gotten to their locations by some mechanism, not yet well understood. Some geologists suggested that they were brought to their location by icebergs. The possibility of glaciers transporting them had not yet been proposed because there was no clear understanding of glaciers and what we call the ice age.

The idea of an ice age also explained another geological puzzle that these geologists, including Darwin, found quite mysterious. Called the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy, they were once the various shorelines of ancient, ice-jammed lochs. But there was no sign of what might have blocked the valley to create those various shorelines. Again glaciers became the proposed solution.

There was as yet no speculation on drifting continents, subduction and uplift, although Darwin and his generation had begun to describe the phenomena. Darwin was also beginning to think about species and the mechanism of natural selection that would explain their diversity. We would call this thinking about geological and biological phenomena “thought experiments.”

Wesson’s book is about Darwin’s “first” theory, not about On the Origin of Species. That explains why the famous letter from Alfred Russel Wallace proposing the same mechanisms that Darwin was considering. Wallace’s paper on the subject was jointly published along with some of Darwin’s writings in 1858. Finding out that the idea of natural selection was circulating amongst naturalists prompted Darwin to publish his Origin.

Darwin’s theories were much discussed in Great Britain because he was also an accomplished writer. And there was already a conversation going on about his first and subsequent theories that drew in Wallace, Lyell, Adam Sedgwick, and other geologists and biologists.


The War That Forged a Nation; Why the Civil War Still Matters by James McPherson.

The War That Forged a Nation; Why the Civil War Still Matters by James McPherson. Oxford, 2015.

In Charlottesville, Virginia Robert E. Lee’s statue was recently pulled down and partially destroyed. In Gainesville, Florida a statue of a Confederate soldier was given back to the original donor organization to be displayed at a less public venue. It isn’t much of a task to argue as James McPherson does, that the Civil War still matters. But McPherson’s book was published in 2015. Half the chapters are his reviews of books published over the last several decades and before the campaign against Confederate soldiers and leaders go under way.

As a result of the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848), our Nation had acquired new Southwest territory. Would that lead to the expansion of slavery? Would the expansion of a mining industry in the West lead to an exploitation of slave labor? Northern Abolitionists were determined that this would not happen.

McPherson reminds us that dominance of a southern slave-owning elite in the young Republic would need to be reversed. For two-thirds of the years between our independence in 1789 and the Civil War in 1861, the residing U.S. presidents had been slave owners. Moreover the economy of the Southern economy remained dependent upon one cash crop, cotton. The North, on the other hand, was becoming a diversified economy directed by an industrial elite.

One comforting thought for both sides was that they were fighting a jus ad bellum, a just war. The seven states that had withdrawn from the Union were justified in defending themselves in the face of the continuing Northern disruption of their slave economy. They were fighting a jus ad bellum, a just war. The North believed its effort to end that disunity a defensive war and equally just.

In September 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued an Emancipation Proclamation that freed all slaves in territory held by the U.S. army. McPherson contends, however, that the issue for most of the War and its participants was not about slavery but about succession.

It became obvious that the War would not end in a victory for the North – or South – without resorting to “total warfare.” The resources of the Northern economy was eventually harnessed for a total victory. The South “must feel the hard hand of war.” Hence General William Sherman’s “march to the sea”, looting and burning as he proceeded.

One surprise for this reviewer: you might call the spiritual enthusiasm on both sides, a renewal. Many soldiers and their leaders “got religion” on the battlefield; Jefferson Davis received baptism in May 1862! Religion, at least the belief in a hereafter, was, McPherson argues, a comfort to the wounded and dying. The most accepted number who died on both sides in the War was 750,000. How a soldier’s death was dealt with is wonderfully described by Drew Faust in her This Republic of Suffering; Death and the American Civil War. She argues for 6,000,000 if an equivalent proportion of today’s population died in the war.

The American Civil War caused much confusion and hand-wringing on the part Europeans, and particularly the British. Their textile industry was dependent upon cotton from Southern fields. British ship yards were constructing “blockade runners” for the Confederacy. On the other hand, the Brits could not in good conscience embrace a country that embraced slavery. But even after the Emancipation Proclamation, Britain held to a policy of neutrality.

In April 1861 Lincoln’s Administration declared a blockade of all Confederate Ports. That provoked an international incident out of the seizure of a British ship transporting two Confederate envoys to Britain and France. They were removed from the ship as contraband of war. There will always be controversy about how successful the blockade of Southern ports was. It may have kept many small operators from participation.

Contraband was also the term applied to escaping slaves upon their entering Union lines. They were property and hence viewed in the same way that any confiscated property is during wars.

Lincoln observed that these ex-slaves were assisting the Union cause which was increasingly being waged in the name of Slave Emancipation. The Confederacy felt differently about the matter and refused to exchange black POWs for white captives in Federal prisons. There were instances in which these black POWs were executed when captured.

The North had not yet clarified the status of black soldiers now participating in the Civil War. But the growing trouble over the Civil War’s conscription caused Lincoln to think more carefully about black soldiers. Hence the Emancipation Proclamation recognized not only Lincoln’s evolving views about the War’s objectives but also the fact that by 1864 over 109,000 black soldiers had found their way into the battlefield in support of the North.

The Union was unwilling to offer any terms other than unconditional surrender, and so the bitter war continued. It lingers. We have not found a reconciliation of diverging war remembrances.


Toussaint Louverture; A Revolutionary Life by Philippe Girard.

Toussaint Louverture; A Revolutionary Life by Philippe Girard. Basic Books, 2016.

Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian revolutionary, is credited with having led the only successful slave revolt in the New World. It began in 1791 in French speaking Hispaniola, and Louverture succeeded in keeping the leadership amidst challenges from the Spanish colonial regime in Saint-Domingue, from British Jamaica, Spanish Cuba, Colonial America, and Metropolitan France in the midst of its own revolution.

Haiti was at the time of its slave revolt, perhaps the wealthiest European colony in the Caribbean. That was due largely to its production of two crops: sugar and coffee. It fortunately had good soil, sufficient rainfall, and mostly sunny days.

But it was also a deadly environment for its slave cultivators. The mortality rates from malaria, yellow fever, and other contagious diseases, were so high, (7 to 14% a year) that it had to continuously import new slaves from Africa. Hence Haiti was an active participant in the African slave trade. Louverture grew up a slave, a muleteer. Both of Toussaint Louverture’s parents were African. So recent was their African heritage that Louverture claimed that he was descended from African royalty.

Most of the owners of the Haitian sugar plantations were absentee whites. They employed three different layers of land management: the managers who ran the plantations on a daily basis, attorneys who dealt with legal matters and represented the owners in their court battles, and accountants. Many of the estates were poorly managed. It was possible that black slaves might ultimately be contracted out as a manager of several sugar estates owned by the same person.

Girard explains that the slave economy of Saint-Dominague was initially not a racist society. Louverture, ambitious and black, could rise within the island’s Creole society. But that changed with the rise of racism in Haiti. Girard argues that the racist ideas were useful because that hierarchy, which generally ignored skin color, gave opportunity for a black man of talents to rise. But it also provided opportunity for a fall. Like racism elsewhere in the New World, one drop of black blood made you a Negro. Hence there were two categories of whites – “little whites” and “big whites” and the opportunity to descend in social standing. On the other hand, the Haitian army provided opportunity for movement of blacks and whites in both directions on the social ladder.

There is no answer to the questions who, how, and why Louverture was a “free black.” He began acquiring land, small plots when they came up for sale and then larger estates. Making good money, he could buy his family’s manumission. Unfortunately there is no civic or church record of his changing social status.

The author reminds us also that there was always some level of slave resistance in the Caribbean. There were numerous groups of fugitive slaves (in Haiti they were called Maroons). They congregated alongside working plantations, disrupting discipline and providing opportunities for flight. Good reason for flight; Caribbean plantation owners were known for their cruelty. Maroonage was harshly punished. Men had their bones broken and were often castrated; women severely burned and frequently whipped. The general practice was branding for a first offense, hamstringing for a second, and death for a third. So there was a substantial risk involved in protesting against your slave status by running away.

Toussaint Louverture should be hailed as an abolitionist, if it weren’t for his acknowledgment of the importance of the plantation culture to the economic welfare of its slave population. And vice versa. Louverture, cooperated with Spanish officials in Saint-Domingue in their efforts to restore the colonial economy. In 1801 he agreed to a restoration of the slave trade.

In July 1789, the Bréda family decided to sell off some of their properties and slaves at auction. This always resulted in the breaking up of slave families and Louverture decided that this was a sufficient reason for him to act. He was also being challenged by rivals for the leadership amongst the restless slave population.  In 1791 Haiti’s slaves rose in rebellion.

Girard’s account of Toussaint Louverture’s life was enormously complicated by the French Revolution and then the Napoleonic Empire. Louverture, surprisingly, turns out to have been a loyalist, faithful to the Bourbons because of their efforts to establish a set of rules to govern the slave/owner relationship in their colonies and control some of the cruelty, but also introduce what the author suggests is a “pronatalist” policy of supporting slave families and promoting infant care.

Through his alliances with men of power in France, Louverture had by 1801 become both governor of the colony and general of the army. He was also a statesmen who was of sufficient status to be trusted to represent France in negotiations with the British in 1798. As governor, he worked to restore the colonial economy of Saint-Domingue, a restoration from which he would benefit as a major landowner.