December 12, 1862: Hardluck Ironclad: USS Cairo

 

A book I purchased, Hardluck Ironclad, by Edwin C. Bearss, a distinguished Civil War historian,  was written in 1966 and detailed the history of the Union gunboat Cairo that was sunk during the Civil War, and his ultimately successful efforts to begin to raise her from the Yazoo River.

The centennial observation of the Civil War began an effort across the nation to recover our Civil War past, and the recovery of portions of the Cairo is a prime example of the successes and limitations of that effort. (more…)

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Published in: on December 12, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Something for the weekend.  Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer sung by Gene Autry.  Rudolph first appeared in a coloring book written and drawn by Robert L. May in 1939 as a Christmas giveaway by Montgomery Ward.  The tale of Rudoplph proved immensely popular with kids, with the coloring book still being in print and sold more than seven decades latter.  The famous song was written by Johnny Marks, a song writer and world war 2 combat veteran.  It was first sung by Harry Brannon in November 1949, shortly before the singing cowboy, Gene Autry, performed his immortal rendition. (more…)

Published in: on December 9, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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December 8, 1863: Lincoln Issues Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

 

robert_e_lee_amnesty_oath_1865

 

By the end of 1863 Abraham Lincoln could look back on a year in which the Union had made some progress in its goal of defeating the Confederacy.  Although barren of results, the Union had won the largest battle of the War at Gettysburg, a huge boost for Union morale.  In the West results were more tangible, with the Union seizing control of the Mississippi, and rooting Confederate forces from Tennessee.  The Union certainly had not yet won the War, but the signs were encouraging.  This allowed Lincoln to turn his attention to the vexing questions of what to do with former Confederates who wished to pledge their loyalty to the Union and how to re-establish pro-Union civilian governments throughout the Confederacy.  Lincoln had always been clear in his view that the Confederate states had never left the Union, and that once the rebels who had seized control of these states were suppressed, that these states could resume their rightful places in the Union.  His policy thus favored leniency both to individuals and to states, to ensure that the military victory of the Union would be followed by a lasting peace.  It is a great tragedy that Lincoln did not live to attempt to implement the policy.  On December 8, 1863 Lincoln issued a Proclamation that set forth his policy regarding amnesty for individuals and the re-establishment of pro-Union civil governments in defeated Confederate states.  Here is the proclamation: (more…)

Published in: on December 8, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Lessons of Pearl Harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor, the date which will live in infamy in F.D.R.’s ringing phrase, happened 71 years ago today.  Less than 2000-2500 of the 42,000 sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen stationed there that fateful day are still with us.  Time has done what the forces of Imperial Japan could not, and soon the memories of that attack will be only a page in history.  The lessons of Pearl Harbor are however as timely today as they were on December 7, 1941:

1.  It Takes Two to Avoid a War-Today, too many people speak the most dreadful rubbish that boils down to the contention that the US can avoid war if it simply adopts a peaceful policy to all other nations.  Nations, like people, have their own goals, and they will pursue those goals as they will, whether the US adopts a “smiley-face” foreign policy or not.

2.  Peace Time Mentality-Pearl Harbor was such a disaster largely due to a mindset that gripped too many in the military that it was sufficient to simply go through the motions.  This is a common enough attitude in the world, and in peace time it becomes all too common in the military.  Pearl Harbor teaches us how disastrous this mentality is in war-time.

3.  Peace or War can be a Matter of Seconds- Throughout its history the US has often had wars start quite quickly:  The Revolution, The Civil War, Korea, World War II and 9-11.  George Washington warned us that: To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.   Too often in our history we have forgotten that sage advice and paid for it at our peril as we learn the old lesson that war can come upon us with the speed of summer lightning, especially in our modern age.

4. Assumptions-Behind every great disaster there are usually a string of bad assumptions.  We assumed that the Japanese if they attacked would likely not attack Pearl Harbor.  We assumed that a Japanese fleet could not sail from Japan to Hawaii unnoticed.  We assumed that our air power, especially with the new-fangled technology called Radar, would be on alert, and that in any case our fleet could defeat anything that Japan could send against it.  Pile enough bad assumptions on top of each other and a debacle is in the making.

5.  Killing More People Won’t Help Matters-That quote comes from Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, the lone dissenting vote in the House against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor.  A Republican from Montana, Rankin is an interesting figure.  The first woman elected to Congress, she served two terms.  In her first term she voted against declaring war on Germany in World War I and in her second term she voted against declaring war on Japan.  Both votes stemmed from her deep-seated pacificism, both votes were immensely unpopular and both votes effectively ended her political career at two different points in her life.  I give her the courage of her convictions.  However, her stance after Pearl Harbor illustrates the folly of pacifism as a national policy.  The sad truth is that in this vale of tears it is sometimes necessary to take up arms to avoid greater evils than war, and those peoples who forget that truth of the human condition will experience such evils sooner or later. (more…)

Published in: on December 7, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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December 6, 1941: FDR writes to Hirohito

untitled

An historical oddity.  The day before “the date which will live in infamy” President Roosevelt wrote a letter to Emperor Hirohito.  Here is the text of the letter:

[WASHINGTON,]

 

December 6, 1941

Almost a century ago the President of the United States addressed to the Emperor of Japan a message extending an offer of friendship of the people of the United   States to the people of Japan. That offer was accepted, and in the long period of unbroken peace and friendship which has followed, our respective nations, through the virtues of their peoples and the wisdom of their rulers have prospered and have substantially helped humanity.

Only in situations of extraordinary importance to our two countries need I address to Your Majesty messages on matters of state. I feel I should now so address you because of the deep and far-reaching emergency which appears to be in formation.

Developments are occurring in the Pacific area which threaten to deprive each of our nations and all humanity of the beneficial influence of the long peace between our two countries. These developments contain tragic possibilities. (more…)

Published in: on December 6, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Francis Pharcellus Church, the Little Girl and Santa Claus

(I published this last year, and I am going to publish it each year before Christmas.  It evokes sweet memories of Christmases past when my children were young.)

Francis Pharcellus Church was a newspaper man to his marrow.  As a young man he had covered the Civil War for the New York Times and with his brother William he founded the Army and Navy Journal which dedicated itself to reporting news about the military forces of the United States, along with historical pieces on US military history, and opinion pieces about innovations or reforms in the military.  It is still being published today.

After the War he served as lead editorial writer on his brother’s newspapers the New York Sun.  He died in 1906 at 67, leaving behind no children.  Although he lived a full life, he would be all but forgotten today except for one incident.

In 1897 Virginia O’Hanlon was upset.  She was eight years old and some of her friends had been telling her that there was no Santa Claus.  Her father, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, suggested that she write to the Sun and see what that newspaper had to say.  Virginia followed her advice and duly wrote the letter.  Mr. Church wrote the reply to the letter which appeared on September 21, 1897 in the New York Sun.

DEAR EDITOR:

I am 8 years old.   Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.   Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’   Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.

115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

 

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

 

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

 

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. (more…)

Published in: on December 5, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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December 4, 1942: Long Patrol Ends

 

 

In one of the most stunningly successful small scale operations in the history of the US Marines,  from November 6, 1942, to December 4, 1942, the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, about 700 Marines, under Colonel Evans Carlson, in 29 separate engagements, killed 488 Japanese soldiers while pursuing a force of approximately 2500 Japanese troops under the command of  Colonel Toshinari Shōji on Guadalcanal, while suffering 16 killed.  Carlson was a double mustang.  He rose from the ranks while serving in the Army during World War I, ending up as a Captain of Field Artillery.  In 1922 he enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1923.  While serving in China in the 1930’s he studied, and was greatly impressed by, the tactics used by the Chinese Communists.  Carlson’s political beliefs were always left wing, although David Shoup, a future Commandant of the Corps and who earned a Medal of Honor, noted at the time of Carlson, “He’s a red but he is not yellow.”

In 1942 he was placed in command of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion which he trained along the lines of the Communist guerillas in China.  If this strikes the reader as unusual, it was.  The high command of the Marine Corps was not happy, but President Roosevelt was a fan, as was his son, Captain James Roosevelt, who served in the Raiders.  (Roosevelt would rise to the rank of Colonel during the War and earn a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for his courage.  A liberal Democrat, he turned conservative in later life, crossing party lines to back both Nixon and Reagan.)

The 2nd Raiders made headlines with their raid on Makin Island in August of 1942 and for their service on Guadalcanal, and were known popularly as Carlson’s Raiders.  War out with malaria and other illnesses, Carlson was relieved of command in March of 1943.  He served as technical advisor for the film Gung Ho, starring Randolph Scott, a World War I combat veteran, as Evans Carlson, which told the story, with the usual Hollywood indifference to history, of the Makin Raid.  Returning to active duty, he served at Tarawa and Saipan, where he was wounded while attempting to rescue a radio man.  That wound caused his retirement in 1946 with a terminal promotion to Brigadier General.  He died of coronary disease in 1947, age 51.

Here is the text of his Navy Cross, one of three he earned during his career, citation for the Long Patrol:

The Navy Cross is presented to Evans Fordyce Carlson, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and courage as leader of the Second Marine Raider Battalion in action against enemy forces in the British Solomon Islands during the period from 4 November to 4 December 1942. In the face of most difficult conditions of tropical weather and heavy growth, Lieutenant Colonel Carlson led his men in a determined and aggressive search for threatening hostile forces, overcoming all opposition and completing their mission with small losses to our men while taking heavy toll of the enemy. His personal valor and inspiring fortitude reflect great credit upon Lieutenant Colonel Carlson, his command and the United States Naval Service.

December 3, 1894: Robert Louis Stevenson Dies

Requiem
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson died one hundred and twenty-one years ago, much too young at 44, of a cerebral hemorrhage.  He knew a fair amount of illness in his brief like and asked that his poem Requiem serve as his epitaph.

One of the more popular writers of his day, as he has justly remained in death, his American connection, beyond his living in this country for a while during his years of wandering, is linked to his defense of the leper priest in 1890.

 

So much has been written about the famed leper priest that I feel no need to discuss here the basic facts of his life.   After his death from leprosy in 1889 grave libels were made against Father Damien, chiefly by a presbyterian minister C.M. Hyde, who, oddly enough, had praised Father Damien during his life.

The defense of Father Damien came from an unsual source, the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson.  Stevenson had visited Molokai shortly after the priest’s death and had been deeply moved by what Father Damien had accomplished.  When the libels of Hyde against Father Damien were published in the newspapers, Stevenson took up his pen and composed a reply to Hyde in the form of an open letter.

I have always been moved by the ending of Stevenson’s  letter:

“This scandal, when I read it in your letter, was not new to me. I had heard it once before; and I must tell you how. There came to Samoa a man from Honolulu; he, in a public- house on the beach, volunteered the statement that Damien had “contracted the disease from having connection with the female lepers”; and I find a joy in telling you how the report was welcomed in a public-house. A man sprang to his feet; I am not at liberty to give his name, but from what I heard I doubt if you would care to have him to dinner in Beretania Street. “You miserable little ——-” (here is a word I dare not print, it would so shock your ears). “You miserable little ——,” he cried, “if the story were a thousand times true, can’t you see you are a million times a lower —– for daring to repeat it?” I wish it could be told of you that when the report reached you in your house, perhaps after family worship, you had found in your soul enough holy anger to receive it with the same expressions; ay, even with that one which I dare not print; it would not need to have been blotted away, like Uncle Toby’s oath, by the tears of the recording angel; it would have been counted to you for your brightest righteousness. But you have deliberately chosen the part of the man from Honolulu, and you have played it with improvements of your own. The man from Honolulu–miserable, leering creature–communicated the tale to a rude knot of beach-combing drinkers in a public-house, where (I will so far agree with your temperance opinions) man is not always at his noblest; and the man from Honolulu had himself been drinking–drinking, we may charitably fancy, to excess. It was to your “Dear Brother, the Reverend H. B. Gage,” that you chose to communicate the sickening story; and the blue ribbon which adorns your portly bosom forbids me to allow you the extenuating plea that you were drunk when it was done. Your “dear brother”–a brother indeed–made haste to deliver up your letter (as a means of grace, perhaps) to the religious papers; where, after many months, I found and read and wondered at it; and whence I have now reproduced it for the wonder of others. And you and your dear brother have, by this cycle of operations, built up a contrast very edifying to examine in detail. The man whom you would not care to have to dinner, on the one side; on the other, the Reverend Dr. Hyde and the Reverend H. B. Gage: the Apia bar-room, the Honolulu manse.

But I fear you scarce appreciate how you appear to your fellow-men; and to bring it home to you, I will suppose your story to be true. I will suppose–and God forgive me for supposing it–that Damien faltered and stumbled in his narrow path of duty; I will suppose that, in the horror of his isolation, perhaps in the fever of incipient disease, he, who was doing so much more than he had sworn, failed in the letter of his priestly oath–he, who was so much a better man than either you or me, who did what we have never dreamed of daring–he too tasted of our common frailty. “O, Iago, the pity of it!” The least tender should be moved to tears; the most incredulous to prayer. And all that you could do was to pen your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage!

Is it growing at all clear to you what a picture you have drawn of your own heart? I will try yet once again to make it clearer. You had a father: suppose this tale were about him, and some informant brought it to you, proof in hand: I am not making too high an estimate of your emotional nature when I suppose you would regret the circumstance? that you would feel the tale of frailty the more keenly since it shamed the author of your days? and that the last thing you would do would be to publish it in the religious press? Well, the man who tried to do what Damien did, is my father, and the father of the man in the Apia bar, and the father of all who love goodness; and he was your father too, if God had given you grace to see it.” (more…)

Published in: on December 3, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Something for an Advent weekend.   Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  Written by Charles Wesley in 1739, the hymn we enjoy today developed and changed over a century with input from many hands.  No hymn I think better exemplifies the sheer joy that the coming of Christ should awake in the hearts of all Christians.

 

(more…)

Published in: on December 2, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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December 1, 1941: Hirohito Gives Approval for War Against US and Great Britain

 

 

In the wake of World War II a useful fiction was promulgated by the Japanese government, with the active connivance of the US Occupation under General Douglas MacArthur, that Hirohito had been anti-war and helpless to stop the militarists who controlled Japan.  It is astounding how many people, against all historical evidence, bought into this rubbish, and still buy into it.  Seventy-six years ago Hirohito gave his approval for war against the US and the British Empire, not grudgingly, but as part of a very long term plan to make Japan the undisputed dominant power in East Asia.

MacArthur had little doubt of Hirohito’s war guilt, but he also had little doubt that Hirohito’s cooperation was necessary for a peaceful occupation of Japan.  Hirohito thus served as a figure head while MacArthur, the Yankee Shogun, remade Japan.  This picture tells us all we need to know about the relationship between the two men:

Macarthur_hirohito

MacArthur encountered considerable resistance to his decision not to prosecute Hirohito.  Belief in Hirohito’s war guilt was an article of faith in America and in the other nations that had fought Japan.  MacArthur played along with the fable promoted by the Japanese government that Hirohito had always been a man of peace, who was powerless in the face of the militarists who ran Japan.  This myth, well bald-faced lie would be a more accurate description, was surprisingly successful.  The first major scholarly attack on it was by David Bergamini’s 1200 page Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy, published in 1971.  Read a review of it here. (more…)

Published in: on December 1, 2017 at 3:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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