Easygoing Guide to Natural Florida; Volume 2, Central Florida by Douglas Waitley. Pineapple Press, paper 2008.

Easygoing Guide to Natural Florida; Volume 2, Central Florida by Douglas Waitley. Pineapple Press, paper 2008.

Douglas Waitley has, indeed, provided us with an easy-does-it guide to Florida’s wonderful and accessible natural areas. That does not mean, however, that he is easygoing in his opinions, which are presented to us in large doses. He gets around in his car, avoids overnight camping and arduous hikes. He boards riverboats rather than paddling a canoe. He notes that cyclists are interested in speed, not terrain. Mostly traveling alone, he gets into one-on-one conversations with the solitary fishermen that he encounters. Or birdwatchers.

Next to fishermen, birdwatchers constitute the largest audience for his often contrary remarks. He talked with a woman who had been watching a hawk fishing and voiced her admiration for this aggressive bird. Waitley’s dry response to her exuberance: “What about the fish?”

The first half of the book finds him at the headwaters of the St. Johns River, where he contemplates this largely managed river and the chain of lakes which it drains. Much of the area is in the Ocala National Forest, east and south of Ocala. Several magnificent springs feed the St. Johns its waters, via the Ocklawaha River. The St. Johns is perhaps the most “historic” of Florida’s rivers. It saw action in the Civil War, participated in the cattle business, and later the cotton economy. Its fresh waters have been the cause of many a squabble over water rights.

Much of the area was logged in the early part of the last century, and the forests that Waitley admires are mostly second growth. Exotic flora and fauna are a major problem; “suburban estates” are a relatively recent exotic. But the original biodiversity of the swamps and drier areas is recovering. He admires the mix of longleaf pines, turkey oaks, and wiregrass. Lots of water birds and indigenous mammals, including the black bear, are coming back – despite the fragmentation of the forests. There is a continuing threat of wild fires, usually caused by lightening.

The St Johns acquired a tourist industry in the early twentieth century. President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration acquired land and built infrastructure to facilitate that use. The pleasantly quaint structures are now serving as visitor centers

More recently the proposal for a Cross Florida Barge Canal threatened to alter the Ocklawaha and other tributaries of the St. Johns. Begun in the 1930s during the New Deal, the Canal’s construction was halted during WWII. Fortunately the Canal never happened thanks to The Florida Defenders of the Environment. But we still have the Kirkpatrick Dam, part of the Canal’s infrastructure, and hence their continuing demand that we “Set the Ocklawaha Free.”

On to the “Nature Coast,” beginning at Tampa Bay. Waitley has crossed over a peninsular “divide,” a central “highland” that results in the St. Johns and its tributaries flowing north into the Atlantic, while another set of rivers on the west side of the Florida peninsula flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida’s Gulf Coast is a product of its salt marshes which dominate the mouths of its rivers, the Withlacoochee and the Suwannee. The Gulf does not provide waves, hence no sandy beaches. The Big Bend’s most prominent vegetation are the mangrove swamps. Its bays shelter several good-sized mammals: the porpoise (dolphin) and the manatee. The marshes are the winter habitat for migratory birds. This region is looked after by the Southwest Water Management District called Swiftmud.

Cedar Key is perhaps the most interesting of the Gulf’s coastal towns. This and adjoining keys lost their cedar trees, harvested to be used as railroad ties. After the adoption of creosote, cedar railroad ties were phased out. Cedar was a common ingredient in lead pencils and Cedar Key continued to be a manufacturing town. It was also a port city, being the terminus of a railroad from its wharfs to Fernandina, on the Atlantic Ocean side. The Key’s mangrove swamps are recovering nicely from a hard freeze 30 years ago.

Leaving the salt marshes and driving north and east brings the motorist into Gainesville and the nearby Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The Devil’s Millhopper is a huge sink hole, the result of Florida being on a limestone shelf that is vulnerable to salt water intrusion and collapse, in this case centuries ago. The Prairie is the remains of a large, shallow lake. It played a role in the establishment and then demise of the region’s citrus industry.

Waitley pays relatively little attention to the Seminoles or other Native Americans, the invasion of their lands by white agriculturalists and their slave workforce. Nor does he mention East Florida and West Florida, chunks of the Spanish New World along the Gulf Coast.

I’ll take Douglas Waitley’s Easygoing Guide to Natural Florida with me when I explore the various State Parks and Preserves. The parks are a wonderful resource, and damn it, not to be swallowed up by coastal condominiums and golf courses.

Cattle Kingdom; The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton. Harcourt, 2017.

Cattle Kingdom; The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton. Harcourt, 2017.

Some years ago the eminent historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, located the closing of the American land frontier in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Christopher Knowlton has made a similar declaration to explain the history of the ‘cattle frontier’. Cattlemen were exploiting the grass lands of the Great Plains to fatten their cattle. The US investing community saw opportunities and bought up huge parcels of ranchland being used for grazing. The construction of trans-continental railroads and cow towns along their right-of-way facilitated the growth of the ‘kingdom.’ Eventually the cattle kingdom reached its environmental limits.

Knowlton includes a colorful description of these cow towns and their institutions, their saloons, ramshackle hotels, and retailers that supplied the cowboys with their needs. The most famous cow towns were Dodge City and Abilene in Kansas and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

It was impractical to ship livestock in cattle cars for long distances, so the cattle were converted into beef steak and then transported. That in turn required refrigerated railroad cars. Chicago, where those cross-continental rail lines terminated, became the center of a meat-packing industry.

Not just US investors got involved. English and Scottish nobility were intrigued by the cattle business, entertained by the lore of the cattle drive and the cowboy it fashioned. The cattle kingdom offered employment and adventure for their younger sons. (Winston Churchill’s father had tried his hand at herding cattle on the Great Plains.)

These European nobles joined young males from prominent US families hoping to prove their manly virility. Theodore Roosevelt had some fun playing cowboy “out west”. In 1884, he interrupted his political career, bought a ranch in the Dakotas, and took on a cattleman persona. He learned the hard way about the perils of the business; a severe freeze in the winter of 1886-87 devastated his herd.

Most ‘cowboys’ were hard-up for employment and the cattle business, though seasonal, was an opportunity. The required skill-set was minimal. The would-be cowboys tended to specialize: shooters or skinners, cooks in charge of the chuck wagons, wranglers who looked after the saddle horses.

The Western prairie had not always been as “empty” as it appeared in the last decades of the nineteenth century. It was empty only because of the slaughter of the vast bison (buffalo) herds for their hides, long exploited by Native Americans. Recreational hunters joined in the decimation. A motivation not acknowledged at the time was to rid the plains of the bison and its population of migratory Indian tribes, creating that empty space that the cattle industry could exploit.

While Knowlton acknowledges the gun violence of these cattle towns, he contends that they were no more violent than the eastern seaboard cities. The problem was law enforcement. In the absence of a working justice system, there were numerous “necktie occasions.” Cattle rustlers and horse thieves were the most common offenders that were strung up, usually without a legal procedure.

Although the cowboys did not normally go around armed, there were armed confrontations generated by feuds between homesteaders and small ranch owners vs. the owners of the large spreads and the gangs they employed to keep order, including Pinkerton Detectives.

Perhaps the most violent episode in the years of the cattle business on the Great Plains was the Johnson County War in Wyoming. Knowlton describes in some detail the feud between one group of wealthy ranch owners associated with the Wyoming Stockowners Association headquartered in Cheyenne and another group, mostly smaller ranchers, challenging their dominance. The former accused the latter of cattle and horse theft. There were several impromptu hangings and shootouts by hired gunmen out of Texas. Eventually a unit of cavalry from Fort McKinney near present-day Buffalo, Wyoming was sent in to quell the violence. The story of the War was later retold in a novel published in 1902 by Owen Wister entitled The Virginian.

Knowlton acknowledges that the Johnson County War may have had environmental elements as well. The overgrazing of the Great Plains in these years had pitted ranchers against ranchers. He also suggests that the disappearing cattle may have been the result of the revival of the gray wolf.

Cattle Kingdom; The Hidden History of the Cowboy West explains a good deal of the standard plot of the ‘Western’ book genre that my dad’s generation enjoyed.  That cavalry sent out to quell disturbances pictured in many a Western film thrilled my generation of youthful movie goers in the 1950s and 1960s.



Empire of Cotton A Global History by Sven Beckert. Vintage, paper 2015.

Empire of Cotton; A Global History by Sven Beckert. Vintage, paper 2015.

Sven Beckert’s history of the cotton trade contends that the production of cotton yarn and cloth was one of man’s greatest accomplishments. For almost a millennium, cotton production was the world’s most important manufacturing industry. And for most of that time, raw cotton was the most valuable agricultural commodity as well. Critics of Empire of Cotton believe, however, that Beckert has understated the negative side of cotton production: the expropriation of land from indigenous peoples, exhaustion of the soil, and the enslavement of an agricultural workforce. On the other hand, he gives due credit to the manufacturing regions and country-sides that pioneered the cotton economy.

There are four different species of cotton. Gossypium hirsutum or “upland cotton” is Mesoamerican in origin; it represents 95% of the cotton crop grown in the US. It is the best species both in terms of the length and uniformity of its fiber. Cotton will grow where there are two hundred frost-free days.

Manchester was the initial location of England’s spinning and weaving mills, and England dominated the cotton trade for the fifty years between 1775 and 1825. The enclosure movement in England and Scotland had created a class of landless labor that could then be recruited by the cotton mills. And without any overwhelming loss of agricultural productivity.

Cotton production has always been associated with technological ingenuity. The most frequently mentioned example is the development of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in the 1790s. His machine drastically reduced the workforce needed to prepare the cotton for the spinning process. And many small adjustments and improvements in the machinery kept improving productivity at little extra cost. “British tinkering,” Beckert calls it.

Britain then became the major source for machinery. Falling water was the first form of energy that ran the machinery in these humongous mills. Later steam power.

Britain did not grow the cotton that it used in its mills. The New World dominated raw cotton production, the American South, Mexico, and Peru in particular. The growth of British sea power and its empire can be explained by this need to connect cotton growing with manufacturing.

Cotton production came to a screeching halt during the American Civil War, 1861 to 1863 and the resulting ‘cotton famine’ produced a scramble for cotton and an effort to find both a new labor force and suitable lands for growing cotton. Eventually Southern planters worked out an arrangement called sharecropping and a set of social-racial arrangements that became Jim Crow. Land was made available for this cotton production by the removal of Native Americans from regions west of the Mississippi. Confiscation!

There is a strong relationship between the success of the cotton economy and the expansion of European colonies into Asia and Africa. It was, Beckert argues, the continuing demand for raw cotton that shaped Britain’s colonial expansion. The British Empire in India is the best example of this connection. The manufacture of cotton yarn had long been a cottage industry and successful as an export sector.  Most generally the work of women in their cottages.

In the 1890s an Indian mill sector established itself, concentrated in Ahmedabad and Bombay (Mumbi) in western India. The spread of the milling sector eventually led to competition with India’s home-spun cottons both exports and local consumption. Nothing was done; the Government of India believed in the dictates of the market place. But more to the point, it would be inopportune to levy duties on British cotton cloth.

The Government of India was less willing, however, to stand aside and watch Japanese cotton cloth undermine local production. The Brits also felt it necessary to cultivate the Bombay Millowner’s Association. In the 1930s they decided to impose a duty on cotton imports from Japan to protect the Indian machine industry. It was done under the pretext of cotton production being an infant industry.

One of the most interesting aspects about the Indian market is the way in which it utilized traditional institutions within caste and kinship networks for capital mobilization. Entrepreneurs were drawn from Eurasian diaspora communities: Armenians, Parsees, Georgians, Jews, and in India: banias, chettis, Muslim merchants, and British East India Company employees.

Perhaps the most unsavory aspect of the cotton economy in the nineteenth century was the importance of child labor in the workforce.  The largest number of workers in Britain were in the age range of ten to eighteen. Very young girls and boys and unmarried women lived in dormitories associated with a mill. This first industrial force was mobile. Absenteeism was high. Shifts were as long as eleven hours.

Cotton cloth overwhelmed other fabrics, woolens, linens, and silk. We are now experiencing the replacement of cottons by polyesters.

Hitler’s American Model; The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law by James Q. Whitman. Princeton University, Press, 2017.

Hitler’s American Model; The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law by James Q. Whitman. Princeton University, Press, 2017.

The Nuremberg Laws were drawn up in the first years of the National Socialist Government in Germany. The inspiration for Nazi racial law was, James Whitman claims, was the racial regime in the US. In particular, Adolf Hitler admired the segregation in the public schools in the South, in transportation, restrooms, and even drinking fountains. The Nazi lawyers that drew up the earliest version of the Nuremburg Laws were, however, more interested in our interest in the “science of eugenics,  immigration law, and our decades-old success at pushing Native Americans out of tribal lands. The latter they found comparable to the Nazi geopolitical goal of lebensraum.

Provisions in American immigration laws were aimed at the feeblemindedness and other inheritable diseases. Strains of the American pseudo-science of eugenics and German racial murder.

Our exclusion of immigrants on the basis of race, ethnicity, and religion dated back to the early years of the Republic. But the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 clarified what had long been a series of federal and state laws, based on a percentage of the number of immigrants of that nationality that were already living here, 2%. That favored Immigrants from Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, and Germany. It penalized immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, and particularly, Italians, Russians and Polish Jews. Our National Origins and Asian Exclusion Acts excluded all Chinese and Japanese immigrants from the West Coast and Hawaii, mostly at the urging of Californians concerned about the “yellow peril”.

Perhaps the Nazi Party official most responsible for the Nuremberg Laws and the interest in American models was the Nazi Minister of Justice, Franz Gürtner. He had been an early enthusiast for the National Socialist Party and had secured Hitler’s release from prison after his arrest for participation in the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Yet he argued for borrowing carefully from the American judicial practice. It was based on a longer tradition of liberal legal traditions with which he and his fellow jurists disagreed. He admired the independence of the American judiciary, but dubious of the harshness of our criminal law.

On the other hand, Gürtner found our separation of the US population into two categories, Caucasian and non-Caucasian, would have been far too simplistic for Germany. Whitman points out that the creation of a German race law must take into account the presence of substantial Jewish populations in eastern Germany. That was not an issue in the US.

The Nuremberg Laws had first to define the ethnic category “Jew.” Germans had lived amongst other ethnic groups for centuries, and found America’s “one-drop” rule impossible. In Germany you were deemed to be a Jew if either of your parents were Jewish or descended from two fully Jewish grandparents. Or, and this had nothing to do with ethnicity or race, if you belonged to a Jewish community or subsequent to the legislation were to marry into a Jewish family.

While the Germans who drew up the Nuremberg Laws found the legal and social structure of our Jim Crow South to be close to what they hoped to create, they were less admiring of the liberal outlook of the Amreican legal system in general. The US had many social-political arrangements that had matured over the decades and were worthy of German emulation. But the reverse was not so much the case. By the mid-1930s, there was considerable street violence in German cities which was abhorrent to most Americans.

In many ways German jurists believed our race laws to be “harsher” than theirs. For example the Germans were, even then, struck by the harshness of our criminal law and particularly our treatment of repeat offenders.

Wisely Whitman is careful not to exaggerate this, but Germans were, he reports, taken with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and its similarity to the German success in easing the severe depression with which both countries were contending. While there were no doubt more differences that congruencies between the two socio-economic programs, both involved authoritarian elements in their relief programs.

James Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model; The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law tells the story of forty-five Nazi lawyers put on a luxury ocean liner in September 1935 bound for the US on a “study trip” to look firsthand at the structure of American racial law. By the time it arrived at our shores, things were chaotic, and no doubt these German Nazi lawyers welcomed a return to the ‘order’ that the National Socialists brought to Germany.


Fear Itself; The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Kra Katznelson. Liveright, paper, 2014.

Fear Itself; The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Kra Katznelson. Liveright, paper, 2014.

Kra Katznelson’s book looks at the New Deal, including both the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman Administrations, a twenty-two year span dominated by Democratic control of both Houses. He admires both Presidents but does not fail to mention their omissions. “Fear Itself” is taken from FDR’s inaugural address in 1933, “[The] only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The author’s grand theme is the importance of the Southern Democrats in forming the New Deal. Its essential support in those years explains FDR’s unwillingness to take on its social system: Jim Crow involved white supremacy, a restrictive franchise, and racial segregation. The ‘solid South’ also opposed the international role that the Roosevelt-Truman Administrations resolved to play in World War II and its aftermath.

One criticism of Fear Itself is that Katznelson doesn’t discuss the Hoover Administration, its efforts to deal with the country’s massive unemployment prior to 1932 and the role that the alliance of Southern Democrats played in limiting Hoover’s response to the Depression. Roosevelt understood that revitalizing the national economy and rebuilding our armed forces in the face of German aggression would include a huge increase in military spending. that greater federal efforts to restore the economy would require a larger bureaucracy. Hence the construction of the Pentagon building in 1941-1943.

Not only did the Southern Democrats shape American response to depression and war, they were also able to shape racial policy during the New Deal. The new Pentagon was a segregated building as were most federal office space. The Armed Services also remained segregated throughout both world wars. Truman ordered their integration in 1948 at the beginning of his second term.

But African-Americans served in our segregated army and hence should be given the opportunity to vote. “Ballots for Soldiers” would seem to have been a given. Yet federal intervention to expand the franchise threatened Jim Crow. Katznelson points out that there were difficulties involved in facilitating voting by soldiers stationed overseas. Also voter registration in the South was in the hands of local and state officials. Collecting the poll tax, common in the South, could not be part of any federal initiative.  Roosevelt’s solution was to create a simple federal ballot, but leaving its administration in the hands of those state and local officials

Historians talk of two New Deals, the First New Deal (1933-1935) involved an array of federal interventions into the American capitalist economy. Those first hundred days of the Roosevelt Administration have become a model for nearly all subsequent pro-active Administrations.

The Second New Deal (1935 to 1941) was in part the result of the Southern Democrats and their continuing “veto” as a restraint on a federal response to the Depression. (FDR was also having difficulty getting his legislation through court challenges.) However the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the passage of the Civilian Conservation Corps got past the Southern “veto.” Both authorized relief programs that employed unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25.  The camps were segregated and the benefits to African-Americans fewer. The CCC was perhaps the most popular measure of the Second New Deal, and many of its projects are still around for everyone to enjoy.

Americans watched while fascist regimes triumphed in both Italy and Germany. We felt comparatively safe from European entanglements, oceans protecting us. From a distance the US could admire the Italian and German regimes addressed their own troubled economies in ways not open to a capitalist democracy.

We were divided over Roosevelt’s isolationist position. The various Neutrality Acts passed in 1930s were intended to ensure that the US would not become entangled in European conflict.

Roosevelt found ways, however, to support Britain, most notably the Lend Lease Act. War materiel from destroyers to machine guns were supplied on credit in exchange for bases on various islands within the British Empire – Destroyers for Bases. In the meantime we began our own rearmament efforts. This time the South was not left behind with the industrial surge resulting from that war production.

The fear of which Roosevelt spoke in his first inaugural was the result of economic collapse. We now feared German submarines sinking American merchant ships in the North Atlantic. We had no German bombers dropping their loads on our cities, or American boys dying on the battlefield. But we anguished as the British cities were bombed repeatedly and the Russians lost millions of young men on the Eastern Front. In 1941 we entered World War II.

Several final chapters discuss the anxiety of atomic warfare in the late 1940s. Looking back, it seems to have been an effort to keep the nation mobilized for a prolonged ‘cold war’ with the Soviet Union. 1952 is a good year to end the story that Ira Katznelson tells. General Dwight Eisenhower’s two presidential terms provided a different set of fears and anxieties. Who can forget the grade school drills when we crouched under our desks fearing an atomic attack?

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.