Category Archives: History

One of the “great embarrassments” of the Confederate army.

The army of Sherman was now exposing one of the great embarrassments of a chivalric, apartheid society: rhetoric, costumes, polite manners, titles, and arcane traditions among a privileged elite hide weakness rather than reflect strength. An egalitarian society of freeholding citizens that can draw on all members of its population, make them feel of equal value to the cause, and sanction their brutality by a true democratic consensus, needs no emblems of ferocity because it is intrinsically ferocious, even scary in war, both numerically and qualitatively. It was no accident that on surrender Grant looked shabby, slouchy, and muddy, Lee resplendent and sworded; Sherman was rumpled, Joe Johnston dapper in his military gray; as a rule, Southern horsemen were more privileged and adroit, Union cavalry workmanlike and more numerous; Southern infantry loud, brave, and bold in their charges, Union troops usually better armed, more plentiful, and in the end far more lethal.

-Victor Davis Hanson, The Soul of Battle, p. 174.



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Three enduring mysteries of Pearl Harbor.

The Christian Science Monitor today features an interesting discussion with historians abut three enduring mysteries of Pearl Harbor.

The first is why the US did not have a proper war footing. The late Gordon Prange, a University of Maryland professor, believed that the “core problem was that the US government did not in its heart believe that its own warnings about imminent Japanese aggression were true,” according to the CSM. “This fundamental disbelief is the root of the whole tragedy,” concluded Mr. Prange in his book, “At Dawn We Slept.”

A congressional committee conducted hearings into the attack and concluded that the Army forces were focused on training, not on a possible attack. According to the CSM, “Army commanders were so worried about sabotage they locked up anti-aircraft ammunition rather than distribute it to gun sites.” No one thought war was truly eminent. If they had, they would have conducted aircraft patrols at sea – at the time quite difficult due to a lack of equipment – or established a picket line of surface ships instead. Commanders, however, did not understand the threat.

In the current issue of Naval History, a journal of the US Naval Institute, historians Jonathan Parshall and J. Michael Wenger argue that an overlooked answer to the question of why the US was surprised is that US commanders did not understand how quickly aircraft carrier warfare was evolving.

The Pearl Harbor strike plan involved the melding of planes from many carriers into a hornet swarm of attackers. That was a skill the US did not know the Japanese military possessed.

The second enduring mystery is why the Japanese did not press their advantage, especially in destroying the infrastructure and fuel depot at Pearl Harbor, which mostly remained intact.

After two waves of aircraft devastated Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row and US air bases, Japanese pilots returned to their carriers in triumph. Adm. Chuichi Nagumo then led a discussion on whether another attack was feasible. Many air commanders supported such a follow-up, believing that fuel dumps, repair shops, and other US logistical sites were now vulnerable.

A cautious commander, Nagumo decided against more action. It would have required reloading aircraft on deck at sea at a time when the location of US carriers and submarines was unknown. Japanese forces had already won a spectacular victory. Why waste that gain?

Max Hastings, author of “Inferno,” argues that a follow-on attack was not feasible, as suggested by new research.

“The winter day was too short to launch and recover [another wave of aircraft], and in any event Japanese bomb loads were too small to plausibly wreck Pearl’s repair bases,” Mr. Hastings writes.

The third enduring mystery is what would have happened if the US had repulsed its attackers. This would have set the stage for a major naval battle in the Pacific. What if they US had lost that battle? Read the CSM article to find out.

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‘Pearl Harbor? Who is she?’

For more than half a century, members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association gathered here every Dec. 7 to commemorate the attack by the Japanese that drew the United States into World War II. Others stayed closer to home for more intimate regional chapter ceremonies, sharing memories of a day they still remember in searing detail.

But no more. The 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack will be the last one marked by the survivors’ association. With a concession to the reality of time — of age, of deteriorating health and death — the association will disband on Dec. 31.

“We had no choice,” said William H. Eckel, 89, who was once the director of the Fourth Division of the survivors’ association, interviewed by telephone from Texas. “Wives and family members have been trying to keep it operating, but they just can’t do it. People are winding up in nursing homes and intensive care places.”

Harry R. Kerr, the director of the Southeast chapter, said there weren’t enough survivors left to keep the organization running. “We just ran out of gas, that’s what it amounted to,” he said from his home in Atlanta, after deciding not to come this year. “We felt we ran a good course for 70 years. Fought a good fight. We have no place to recruit people anymore: Dec. 7 only happened on one day in 1941.”

It was a good course. Seventy proud years of sharing tales of honor and sacrifice. Let us do our best to make sure the memories are not lost.

“I was talking in a school two years ago, and I was being introduced by a male teacher, and he said, ‘Mr. Kerr will be talking about Pearl Harbor,’ ” said Mr. Kerr. “And one of these little girls said, ‘Pearl Harbor? Who is she?’

“Can you imagine?” he said.


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Ross Douthat defends the identity of Western Civilization

In response to Niall Ferguson’s latest tome, Civilization: The West and the Rest, economist Brad DeLong writes that Ferguson, and Yale classicist Donald Kagan, who wrote a favorable review of Civilization, “can all go off in the corner together.” DeLong does not believe that he shares an “essential ‘Western’ identity” with the likes of the villains in the history of the West. He names a few – Bartolomé de las Casas, Hernan Cortes, et al. – but could have chosen far more grotesque characters from history.

I’d like to ask from which culture and tradition does his way of life come? Individual liberties, the study of economics, academic freedom, scientific rationalism – all products of the West. His thoughts are indicative of the multicultural belief that no society or culture can be any better or any worse than any other, and that since the past leaders in the West clearly had flaws, we are wrong to have pride in our history in general. To the first characteristic, DeLong should explain in which civilization, current or historical, he would prefer to live. Or, with which historical peoples does he feel a stronger bond than to the Ancient Greeks and the thinkers of the Enlightenment. The Mughals? The Han Dynasty? To the second, DeLong should explain which civilization, current or historical, has a more proud record of their net influence – contributions and sins – to the world around them. The Aztecs? The Zulu?

We are a product of our history, and not, as Ross Douthat responds, “historical free agents”:

Now maybe the whole idea of a civilizational identity is just a silly intellectual conceit for Victorian nostalgists, and we’re all actually historical free agents, with no reason to feel any identification (whether proud, guilty, or somewhere in between) with any particular figures or cultures from the past. Maybe. But that seems like an awfully convenient way for a contemporary Westerner to think about the world. Brad DeLong holds a faculty position at a state university that owes its very existence to an American war of aggression against Mexico, in a country whose founding documents were written by slaveowners, on a continent that was ruthlessly expropriated from its indigenous population. Is he really sure that he can so cleanly separate himself from the various plunderers, exploiters, slavers and imperialists who have shaped the history of the Western world?

Maybe this is my Catholic bias showing through. I’m not exactly proud to belong to the same faith and institution as Marcel Maciel and Catherine De’ Medici and Tomas De Torquemada. But I can’t deny that I share a pretty essential identity with a long rogue’s gallery that goes all the way back to the 1st century A.D. And I think there’s wisdom to be obtained in acknowledging those kind of connections, rather than hotly distancing ourselves from our ancestors’ sins — whether they’re ancestors in a faith, a country, or the Western civilization to which all Americans are in some sense heirs.

I am reminded of a speech historian Victor Davis Hanson gave on gods that failed, in which he defends “the unique, complex, menu of ideas and values and protocols” of Western Civilization.

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Paul Johnson on humility

“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.” -Paul Johnson

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The History of Veterans Day

World War I — known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.


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