Sunday, June 28, 2015

Arctic Adventure: Sides with Science

Review by Bill Doughty

A good Navy read during hot summer months is the chilling true tale by Hampton Sides, "In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette" (2014, Doubleday).

Sides, author of "Ghost Soldiers," takes us to the late 19th century when science was still revealing the truth about earth's geography.

Explorers like Hudson, Barents and Barrington believed in an open polar sea. They sought to find warm currents and a temperate land beyond the ice. Navy charts at the time were incorrect.

Vain efforts to prove an open sea at the North Pole were fueled by assumptions of a deranged German mapmaker named August Petermann. He's just one of the interesting characters in the drama. 

Another is newspaper magnate James Gordon Bennett Jr., the obscenely wealthy owner of "The New York Herald." The eccentric newspaper publisher capitalized on strong feelings of nationalism and saw rich profits to be gained by backing a voyage to the Arctic. Bennett funded a U.S. Navy public-private venture to discover something that didn't exist.

This is a tale of life and death, courage and resilience.

The Navy's maps indicating a "supposed open polar sea" were developed by a naval officer respected for his oceanography, Silas Bent, who had previously served as flag lieutenant under Commodore Matthew C. Perry aboard USS Mississippi.

The Jeannette mission to the Arctic was launched in early July 1879, just 27 years after Perry sailed his "black ships" into Japan, 14 years after the Civil War (in which Silas Bent would resign his commission to side with the Confederacy) and 20 years before the Navy established a base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 

Parts of the world were still being opened to trade, ships were just being converted from canvas to steam, and Thomas Edison was about to light up entire streets with his greatest invention.

One hero of the voyage is captain of the USS Jeannette, Lt. Cmdr. George Washington De Long of New York.

De Long became captivated by the Cold North on an earlier journey up "the ragged west coast of the world's largest island, Greenland."
"De Long's disdain for the polar landscape soon wore off ... something began to take hold of him. He became more and more intrigued by the Arctic, by its lonely grandeur, by its mirages and strange tricks of light, its mock moons and blood-red halos, its thick, misty atmospheres, which altered and magnified sounds, leaving the impression that one was living under a dome. He felt as though he were breathing rarefied air. He became intrigued by the phenomenon of the "ice blink," the spectral glow in the low sky that indicated the presence of a large frozen pack ahead. The scenery grew more impressive: ice-gouged fjords, towering bergs calved fresh from glaciers, the crisp sound of cold surf lapping against the pack ringed seals peeking through gaps in the ice, bowhead whales spouting in the deep gray channel. This was the purest wilderness De Long had ever seen, and he began to fall in love with it."
Sides describes De Long as frustrated by Navy bureaucracy and red tape yet fully embracing the stern, disciplinarian style of shipboard leadership, quoting a contemporary of his, Mark Twain. According to Sides:
"De Long blamed the Navy for some of his worst traits. He once wrote, 'Ship life is a hard thing on the temper. Mark Twain in his Innocents Abroad says that going to sea develops all of man's bad qualities and brings out new ones that he did not suppose himself mean enough for. I wonder if that accounts for all the rough edges of my character.' He admitted that he could be 'hard on men,' but such was the nature of a naval officer's life. 'I can only say I never allow any argument,' De Long once wrote. 'It is my office to command and theirs to obey.''"
Prior to heading north, De Long brought USS Jeannette to the Mare Island Shipyard where double trusses, new iron beam reinforcement and extra pitch were installed and applied. Mare represented the nation's original "rebalance" to the Pacific and was considered a "western outpost of America's burgeoning might."

The Navy's Chief Engineer at the turn of the 20th century, George W. Melville
Another hero of the voyage is innovative engineer George W. Melville. Years later, Melville would become chief engineer for the Navy, earning the rank of rear admiral. As the 20th century dawned, Melville "presided over an expansive redesign of the fleet, largely completing its conversion from wood to metal, and from wind to steam power.  When he retired, in 1903, the U.S. Navy boasted one of the most powerful modernized fleets in the world."

Sides, known for revealing the personalities of long-dead characters, excels here in describing more than a dozen men of De Long's ill-fated mission.  The author shows the hard choices the sailors and civilians faced so they could survive: ice or sea, boats or sleds – which dogs to cull – what to eat.

Arctic-bound USS Jeannette becomes icebound.
Books were an important part of the mission, as inspiration both before and during the months at sea: books by Twain, Stephen Crane, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and Frederick Marryat, of the British Royal Navy, whose swashbuckling tales ignited in De Long "a profound desire to enter the Naval Academy."

"Kingdom" is a fascinating book, recommended by retired Adm. James Stavridis and another favorite Navy Read author, Nathaniel Philbrick, who calls this book a "dazzling page turner ... full of unforgettable characters and vividly described scenes." For example:
"Much of their journey seemed like a dream, a long whiteout of undifferentiated days punctuated by a few moments of haunting clarity: A snowy owl staring at them. A pile of decrepit sleds they smashed up for firewood. The corpse of a native buried in a box on a hill. A crow, circling and circling and circling."
Hampton Sides used original documents and reports from the voyage, coupled with contemporaneous newspapers and letters, including some heartbreaking correspondence between De Long and his wife Emma – featured in each chapter. The author's notes and selected bibliography span 34 pages and more than 140 years.

Pick up "In the Kingdom of Ice" to read more about De Long and Melville's daring adventure, the entropy of their mission in search of the open polar sea, and the revelations found in the frozen and unforgiving Arctic. Some survived. Others perished. Those who did not return alive were called by the Secretary of the Navy, "martyrs in the cause of science."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Charleston Shows a Better Way

by Bill Doughty

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston is about six miles down the same peninsula as the former Charleston Navy Yard.

The church is site of the vicious murder of nine African Americans by self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof.

John C. Calhoun, 1849 (photo by M. Brady)
Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is located on a street bearing the name of former Vice President and Secretary of War (Defense) John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was a powerful voice promoting the United States military in the War of 1812. 

Unfortunately, John C. Calhoun was also an avowed segregationist who was pro-slavery to the point of threatening civil war.

Early in James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" (Oxford University Press, 1988) the author shows how Calhoun fanned glowing embers of the growing secessionist movement, leading to the war between North and South – over states' rights to own slaves.
"In February 1847, Senator John C. Calhoun introduced resolutions denying the right of Congress to exclude slave property from the territories. 'Tall, careworn, with fevered brow, haggard cheek and eye, intensely gazing,' as Henry Clay described him, Calhoun insisted that territories were the 'common property' of sovereign states. Acting as the 'joint agents' of these states, Congress could no more prevent a slaveowner from taking his human property to the territories than it could prevent him from taking his horses or hogs there. If the North insisted on ramming through Wilmot Proviso, warned Calhoun in sepulchral tones, the result would be 'political revolution, anarchy, civil war."
Northern congressmen voted for the Wilmot Proviso calling for prohibiting slavery or "involuntary servitude" in new territories – including in the expanding West. They passed a resolution calling for abolition of the slave trade in the nation's capital. "These actions enraged southerners, who used their power in the Senate to quash them all." McPherson writes.
"A southern caucus asked Calhoun to draft an 'Address' setting forth the section's position on these iniquities. The South Carolinian readily complied, sensing a renewed opportunity to create the Southern Rights party he had long hoped for. Rehearsing a long list of northern 'aggressions' – including the Northwest Ordinance, the Missouri Compromise, state personal liberty laws that blocked recovery of fugitive slaves, and the Wilmot Proviso – the Address reiterated Calhoun's doctrine of the constitutional right to take slaves into all territories, reminded southerners that their 'property, prosperity, equality, liberty, and safety' were at stake, and warned that the South might secede if her rights were not protected."
SECNAV Gideon Welles
McPherson shows how the north fought to keep slavery from expanding into Texas, New Mexico and California 160 years ago in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. One of the northern congressmen who took a stand was Connecticut's Gideon Welles:
"'The time has come,' agreed ... Welles, 'when the Northern democracy should make a stand. Every thing has taken a Southern shape and been controlled by Southern caprice for years.' We must, Welles concluded 'satisfy the northern people ... that we are not to extend the institution of slavery as a result of this war.'"
Welles would become President Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy 15 years later.

In 1858 the Charleston Mercury newspaper published this: "On the subject of slavery, the North and South ... are not only two Peoples, but they are rival, hostile Peoples."

The editor and founder of the Charleston Mercury was South Carolina Representative Henry L. Pinckney. 

Pinckney, served as Mayor of Charleston and was son of Charles Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution and a slaveowner who introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause. Charles Pinckney owned slaves in Beaufort in what is now the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, where once the Pinckney plantation stood.

South Carolina State Representative Clementa Pinckney's empty desk last Friday.
South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, whose family on his father's side originated in Beaufort, South Carolina is likely a descendent of slaves owned by Charles Pinckney. Rev. Clementa Pinckney was among those murdered last week. He was senior pastor at Mother Emanuel AME church. 

Emanuel AME church was founded in 1816 by African Americans at a time when black literacy was prohibited. The church on Calhoun Street was the target of intolerance, segregation and hate for decades. But today it is also a place of Christian faith, hope and the power of love.
Left to right top: Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders.
Left to right bottom: Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons Sr
In the face of gun violence and in a state that flies the Confederate battle flag and where the streets are named for heroes of the Confederacy (as John Stewart* points out), the families of the victims of homegrown terrorism showed remarkable grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Instead of cynicism and calls for revenge and more violence, loved ones in Charleston are calling for "understanding," "unity" and "love." Church services today demonstrated an infinite capacity for human resilience.

Compared with a history of intolerance, racism and violence against people of African ancestry, Charleston shows us a better way today.

*Stewart provided a powerful monologue in the immediate aftermath of the assassination in Charleston before introducing his interview guest, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and gun violence victim Malala Yousafzai.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Mark Twain's Colors II: Thug Life

Review by Bill Doughty

The original Thugs killed for the joy of taking lives, according to Mark Twain, author of "Following the Equator." One sees parallels with the self-proclaimed Islamic State or "Daesh" (aka ISIL/ISIS).

Indian "thugs" from around 1865 in Peshawar, now part of Pakistan. (Photo from NPR)
The word "thug" comes from an actual sect of religious extremist terrorists – the Thugee – who strangled and robbed men, women and children two hundred years ago in India. Murders were often carried out after the Thugs had gained the trust of their victims.

Twain first heard about the Thugs in the mid 1800s and read and wrote about them when he visited Bombay (Mumbai) in 1896.
"Fifty years ago, when I was a boy in the then-remote and sparsely peopled Mississippi valley, vague tales and rumors of a mysterious body of professional murderers came wandering in from a country which was constructively as far from us as the constellations blinking in space – India; vague tales and rumors of a sect called Thugs, who waylaid travelers in lonely places and killed them for the contentment of a god whom they worshiped; tales which everybody liked to listen to and nobody believed..."
Twain devotes more than two chapters of his "Following the Equator" (Volume II) to discussing the Thugs, referencing a government report printed in Calcutta in 1840.

Thugee belief: gaining trust, distracting victims, then striking from behind.
He describes the report by Major Sleeman, of the British Indian Civil Service, as "a clumsy, great, fat, poor sample of the printer's art, but good enough for a government printing-office in that old day and in that remote region, perhaps."
"The Thugs were worshipers of Bhowanee; and to this god they sacrificed anybody that came handy; but they kept the dead man's things themselves, for the god cared for nothing but the corpse. Men were initiated into the sect with solemn ceremonies. Then they were taught how to strangle a person with the sacred choke-cloth, but were not allowed to perform officially with it until after long practice ... the expert's work was instantaneous: the cloth was whipped around the victim's neck, there was a sudden twist, and the head fell silently forward, the eyes starting from the sockets; and all was over. The Thug carefully guarded against resistance. It was usual to get the victims to sit down, for that was the handiest position for business."
Mark Twain aboard USS Mohican, 1895. (PBS)
Twain became captivated with learning more about the cult, which included teenage boys and elderly men. He lauded Britain's "noble" task to remove them. And he saw parallels in other cultures. Twain asks about The Why – "what was the impulse?" Then he draws a surprising conclusion:
"Apparently, it was partly piety, largely gain, and there is reason to suspect that the sport afforded was the chiefest fascination of all ... That must really be the secret of the rise and development of Thugee. The joy of killing! the joy of seeing killing done – these are traits of the human race at large. We white people are merely modified Thugs; Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization; Thugs who long ago enjoyed the slaughter of the Roman arena, and later the burning of doubtful Christians by authentic Christians in the public squares, and who now, with the Thugs of Spain and Nîmes, flock to enjoy the blood and misery of the bull-ring. We have no tourists of either sex or any religion who are able to resist the delights of the bull-ring when opportunity offers ..."
Beautiful "splendid" colors then and now in India. (Photo from PBS)
Twain also looks disapprovingly on the 19th century big game hunters in India who killed tigers and elephants – not for meat or out of necessity, but for the "sport" and joy of killing. He shines a harsh light on human nature, but sometimes his light reflects beauty in fiery spectacle.  

"Following the Equator" sings with colors, especially during Twain's visit to Bombay. Here is part of his description of the trip to Gallé Face by the seashore:
"What a dream it was of tropical splendors of bloom and blossom, and Oriental conflagrations of costume! The walking groups of men, women, boys, girls, babies – each individual was a flame, each group a house afire for color. And such stunning colors, such intensely vivid colors, such rich and exquisite minglings and fusings of rainbows and lightnings! And all harmonious, all in perfect taste; never a discordant note; never a color on any person swearing at another color on him or failing to harmonize faultlessly with the colors of any group the wearer might join. The stuffs were silk – thin, soft, delicate, clinging; and, as a rule, each piece a solid color: a splendid green, a splendid blue, a splendid yellow, a splendid purple, a splendid ruby, deep and rich with smoldering fires – they swept continuously by in crowds and legions and multitudes, glowing, flashing, burning, radiant; and every five seconds came a burst of blinding red that made a body catch his breath, and filled his heart with joy. And then, the unimaginable grace of those costumes! Sometimes a woman's whole dress was but a scarf wound about her person and her head, sometimes a man's was but a turban and a careless rag or two – in both cases generous areas of polished dark skin showing – but always the arrangement compelled the homage of the eye and made the heart sing for gladness."
What happens next in the parade of colors – breaking Twain's revery – is jarring and insightful, contrasting cultures, appreciating diversity and showcasing Twain's laugh-out-loud sense of humor. A recommended read.

Twain's "Following the Equator" was suggested in 2012 by Rear Adm. John Kirby, former U.S. Navy Chief of Information and former Pentagon spokesperson, now State Department spokesperson.  "Twain has always been my favorite author. I love his humor, his wit and the ease and simplicity of his writing. 'Following the Equator' captures his essence best, in my view," Kirby wrote.

Twain captures the common shared values of humanity, good and bad – including Thug Life in India two centuries ago. Read our first installment of "Mark Twain's Colors" published last year on Navy Reads  here.

As for the original 'gees – Thugees – read a fascinating post by Lakshmi Gandhi at National Public Radio. Gandhi ties in other aspects of American culture, including thuggish-ruggish music and a new genre of literature known as thug-lit. The big revelation: how the term "thug" has been misused but is being reshaped, especially considering the original murderous group from which the word originates.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Equator, Climate, Weather – Plans & Action

Solar filament. (Photo from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Solar Dynamics Observatory)

Two separate studies by the journal Science report that global climate change and specifically warmer water in the world's ocean ecology is pushing ocean life and habitats away from the equator and toward the poles; fish are migrating and coral is being displaced by a warmer climate.

Coral near Australia (Queensland Museum)
A study from the University of Washington, Seattle studied affects in the Atlantic Ocean on the metabolism of several species of fish and crab. Researchers in Queensland, Australia are showing that corals may be forced to shift toward the poles as a result of global warming, but their ability to do so may be limited by a variety of factors.

Like a changing climate, changing weather can alter reality and plans. The sun-powered, no-fuel Solar Impulse 2 airplane, making a journey around the world had to make an unanticipated stop in Nagoya, Japan on its way from Nanjing, China across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.

Solar Impulse 2 flies, powered by the sun and PV panels across its wingspan. (SI2)
Wind caused some damage to the plane's wing in Japan, causing a delay in plans to fly to Hawaii, according to Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg.

The flight originated in Abu Dhabi, and the plane has made stops in Oman, India, Myanmar, China and now Japan. The longest-leg flight across the Pacific to Hawaii – "following the equator" – is considered the most hazardous.

Meanwhile, in Kauai, Hawaii, changes in weather are hampering another mission in the sky. Weather has caused delays this week in NASA's "Flying Saucer" test – the launch of the "Mars Lander" Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) aboard a high-altitude balloon. The overall window is through June 12, with another attempt Monday, June 8. The Navy is supporting the mission from Pacific Missile Range Facility and Navy Region Hawaii (see photo below).

According to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and California Institute of Technology site, "This week offers up another opportunity to witness an important milestone in experimental flight tests. NASA's LDSD project will beam back to Earth live imagery from a supersonic, edge-of-atmosphere test of braking technology for Mars."

Learn more here...

And here: Check out this great NASA blog by Laura Faye Tenenbaum, "Earth Right Now – Your planet is changing. We're on it."

Back across the Pacific, straddling the equator, lies the island nation of Kiribati. The Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3) is visiting the Independent Republic of Kiribati as the first mission visit of Pacific Partnership 2015. At the same time, south of the equator, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) is in another island country, the Republic of Fiji, where healthcare providers are helping people and Seabees are building schools. Pacific Partnership is the world's largest multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission, providing training, outreach and civil infrastructure assistance in Indo-Asia-Pacific. It is a summer-long mission led by Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

150527-N-DT805-011 KAUAI, Hawaii (May. 27, 2015) Sailors assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 Explosive Ordnance Detachment conduct a safety walk-through in preparation for recovering the test vehicle for NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) off the coast of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. NASA's LDSD project is designed to investigate and test breakthrough technologies for landing future robotic and human Mars missions, and safely returning large payloads to Earth. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John M. Hageman/Released)

150604-N-HY254-204 TARAWA, Kiribati (June 4, 2015) Musician 3rd Class Brian Mathis, assigned to the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band, plays tambourine with children at a concert in Bairiki Square during a Pacific Partnership 2015 visit to the Independent Republic of Kiribati. Now in its 10th iteration, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jonathan R. Kulp/Released)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Catching Up on Names, Namesakes

by Bill Doughty
New Jersey, John Finn, Midway and Craig Symonds, Mary Roach, Jimmy Carter and John S. McCain – all in the news recently and each with featured spots in Navy Reads. Make the connections...

A state of the Navy is New Jersey. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced this week that the newest Virginia-class attack submarine to be named after the Garden State would be SSN 796, USS New Jersey. A DOD story this week reminds us that the Navy’s first submarine, USS Holland, was designed and built in New Jersey in 1900.

Medal of Honor recipient John Finn, Dec. 7, 2006.
In Mabus's home state of Mississippi, at the beginning of this month, USS John Finn was christened at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagaoula. According to an informative post about John Finn on Navy Live Blog, "The future USS John Finn is the 63rd Arleigh Burke class destroyer, and the first of the DDG 51 Flight IIA restart ships."

John Finn passed away five years ago this week, May 27, 2010. We interviewed him for Navy Reads in late 2009, when he told us his favorite author prior to World War II was Ernest Thompson Seton – author, artist and naturalist. “I always loved books about wildlife,” he said. 

Finn was a hero who fought back against Imperial Japanese Navy planes attacking Oahu, Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

Craig Symonds
On Oahu next week Craig L. Symonds will be featured speaker at the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, Pearl Harbor to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Midway, which became the namesake for a great aircraft carrier, USS Midway (CV 41), now a museum in San Diego. The battle is considered the turning point of the war in the Pacific, just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and Oahu.
Dr. Symonds, a scholar of naval history and the Civil War, will conduct several book-signing events and interviews during the week leading up to the event at PAM, Saturday, June 6, 2015.

Mary Roach
Meanwhile, another gifted author who has contributed to Navy Reads, Mary Roach, is up in Skagway, Alaska this week as keynote speaker for "Exploring the Frontiers of Language / Let Skagway Inspire You," sponsored by North Word Writers Symposium. Roach – a champion of science, humor and critical thinking – is author of the New York Times bestsellers "Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal," "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void," "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex," and "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife." 

Yesterday, 90-year-old Navy veteran and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter – author of numerous books on human rights, history, international relations and peace – attended a change of command ceremony for his namesake submarine, Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) during a ceremony at Naval Base Kitsap, Bangor, Wash.

Cmdr. Melvin Smith (right) assumes command of USS Jimmy Carter.
Cmdr. Melvin Smith relieved Cmdr. Brian Elkowitz as commanding officer.

A story noted that "the 39th president and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner is the only U.S. president to graduate from the Naval Academy and the only one to qualify on submarines."

Carter, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1946 and served in the Navy until 1953, said: "Of all the honors I have ever received, I've never had anything of greater honor than the chance to be the namesake of USS Jimmy Carter."

Vice Adm. John S. McCain Sr. and Cmdr. John S. McCain Jr. in 1945.
In a ceremony May 28 in Yokosuka Japan, the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class USS John S. McCain conducted a change of command ceremony. Cmdr. Chad Graham relieved Cmdr. Chase Sergeant as CO. McCain is named for Admirals John S. McCain Sr. and John S. McCain Jr., both WWII veterans and leaders, grandfather and father to Senator John McCain, Vietnam veteran, Navy pilot and former POW.

Sen. McCain's book "Character is Destiny" was featured on Navy Reads last year. The book, written with Mark Salter, is filled with short biographies and inspirational stories about core values, leadership, and the importance of good character.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Review by Bill Doughty

USNS General C. H. Muir
The Navy ship USNS General C. H. Muir (AP-142), launched by Kaiser Co. in 1944, was among American transport vessels that brought immigrants across the Atlantic from Europe after American and Russian troop liberated World War II concentration camps in Germany.

Allies liberate Dachau.
Referred to by the Nazis as KL (from the German Konzentrationslager), the camps "embodied the spirt of Nazism like no other institution in the Third Reich," author Nikolaus Wachsmann writes in "KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps" (2015; Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Using primary sources, including recently accessible SS and German police reports, Wachsmann describes the horror and terror in the camps, where both guards and prisoners were dehumanized.

Liberated prisoners. (photo courtesy Truman Library)
"Terror stood at the center of the Third Reich, and no other institution embodied Nazi terror more fully than the KL," he writes, noting anti-semitism was at the core of the "racial war" carried out by Hitler, Himmler and their followers.

The Nazis used an Orwellian term, "protective custody," to describe their reason for establishing the KL. Eventually targeting Jews and other groups, the initial target was political enemies of the State, especially Communists, according to Wachsmann.

Wachsmann's chronology begins in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler rekindled a fascist dictatorship the ashes of Germany's failed early democracy. The Nazis practiced "radical repression of all internal enemies." The chronology examines the complicated nature of the different kinds of camps, describes how they were run, and shows how they were liberated.

Along with terror, at the heart of the reason for the camps was fear and hate. Even after liberation, Wachsmann describes the fear some German soldiers and citizens had of the men, women and children who were imprisoned. "Fear sometimes turned into paranoia and panic, with apocalyptic visions of escaped prisoners."

Wachsmann writes about memorials at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen and Berlin. Nearly 200 pages of this 865-page book are devoted to notes and sources.

This book is a new authoritative standard on the history of concentration camps in Nazi Germany, showing different facets from the point of view of captors and captives, alike.

Gen. Charles H. Muir
As for USNS General C. H. Muir, the ship not only served to bring troops and survivors back from Europe in 1945 but then also brought troops to Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok, Ulithi, and Leyte and in the following decade served in the Korean War. General C. H. Muir received two battle stars for Korean War service, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The ship's namesake was born in 1860, the year before the Civil War began.  According to NHHC:
"Following duty at various posts in the United States, including service in the Indian Wars, [General Muir] took part in the capture of Santiago during the Spanish-American War and fought in the Philippines – during the insurrection which followed. Muir was also a member of the China Relief Expedition of 1901. Staff duty and service in the Philippines followed; and, with America's entrance into World War I, he was given command of the 28th Division. Muir was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his service during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive."
Muir died December 8, 1933, the same year Hitler came to power in Germany.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Jefferson, Monty Python, UCMJ and Magna Carta at 800

by Bill Doughty

Terry Jones of Monty Python narrates a really cool video synthesizing the history of Magna Carta on the occasion of its 800 year birthday this weekend and recognizing it as one of the cornerstones of democracy and human rights.

The animated video is part of a project sponsored by the British Library:

"Why was Magna Carta agreed at Runnymede in 1215? What did the document say, and how was it interpreted over the next 800 years? Why is it still important today, and how does it affect our culture, laws and rights?"

The ideas captured in the document crossed the Atlantic with colonists and immigrants searching for liberty and an escape from gross inequality.

Penn reprinted Magna Carta in 1687.
Magna Carta influenced growth of freedom in Philadelphia under William Penn in the century before the American Revolution. Penn, founder of Philadelphia ("City of Brotherly Love") was persecuted, even jailed, for freely expressing his religious beliefs as a Quaker. He stood for the belief, expressed in Magna Carta that the innate rights of people should not be infringed upon by the Church or State. Penn had the full text of Magna Carta reprinted in Philadelphia in 1687.

The U.S. National Archives offers an exhibit and series of programs this summer commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

From the Archives website: "During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights."

Interestingly, Thomas Paine in his "Rights of Man" denounced Magna Carta for not going far enough, in that it was merely a bargain with the barons and other nobles and did not represent the interest of all people. Perhaps Paine's argument was influenced by his strong ties to France.

Nevertheless, Thomas Jefferson saw Magna Carta as a turning point in the history of human rights.

Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson, who as president was commander in chief during the Navy's victory in the the Barbary Wars, wrote a letter in 1814 referencing Magna Carta. It was the same year British troops burned the Library of Congress in the War of 1812 (Jefferson would donate 6,000 books from his personal library in response).
In Jefferson's letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, dated Feb. 10, 1814, the statesman reminisces about "a time of life when I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they had, and bearding every authority which stood in the way."

He reasons that Magna Carta, also spelled "Magna Charta," was significant in that it marked a turning point in history from common law to statute law.
"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law, or lex non scripta, and commences that of the statute law, or Lex Scripta. This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century."
Jefferson's letter makes the case that American law and justice evolved from legislative authority based on fundamentals of human reasoning, rights and freedom.

In "Thomas Jefferson: A Life" author Willard Sterne Randall reveals that "whether he knew it or not (Jefferson) was descended, on his mother's side ... from one of the barons who signed the Magna Carta in 1215."

Magna Carta also influenced the thinking and philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi and therefore Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King John is compelled to sign Magna Carta May 15, 1215.
2nd Lt. Allen Ernst, of 71st FTW Legal Office of Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, offers this perspective as to why the 800-year-old document is relevant to members of the armed forces as a keystone for Uniformed Code of Military Justice:

"The UCMJ governs all US military personnel around the world, from the chief of staff to the newest airman basic, and protects the rights of service members by laying out strict guidelines for the due process of military law," he writes. "For example, Article 7(e) prohibits confinement of individuals without probable cause, and Article 55 specifically prohibits cruel and unusual punishment."
According to Ernst, "The Magna Carta was a response to a problem. King John of England was abusing his supreme power, supposedly by divine right, acting selfishly at best and destructively at worst."

Navy JAGs visit Library of Congress Magna Carta exhibit Jan. 14, 2015. (Photo by Lt.j.g. Hood)
Lt.j.g. Colin Hood of the Region Legal Service Office Naval District Washington wrote in a post in March on DOD Navy Live U.S. Navy JAG Corps blog:

"Although the original charter was nullified by Pope Innocent III a few weeks after its distribution, language from the document would be recycled in subsequent royal charters and decrees. The interpretation and implementation of ideas expressed in the Magna Carta would eventually lead to the beginnings of several legal theories (the right to due process, the jury system, etc.) we depend on today."

Eventually, in 20th century, Magna Carta would even influence the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In addition to the funny and informative Monty Pythonesque video, the British Library's comprehensive site offers a series of essays about Magna Carta, including more about how early American history was influenced by the landmark document.

(Special thanks to friend and colleague Brandon Bosworth for his suggestion to do a Navy Reads post on this topic. Check out Brandon's A Gent In Training blog. Mind-expanding reads.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Remembering B.B. King of the Blues

by Bill Doughty

Reading books on weekends (or while working on the Navy Reads blog) can be enhanced with some music on. This weekend it will be the blues.

Riley B. King died May 14 in Las Vegas. The King of the Blues was 89.

I heard my first B.B. King album at 17 in 1971, "Live at Cook County Jail."

When I discovered the music of B.B. King and his guitar Lucille I was already into the electric blues of Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Cream, and of course Led Zeppelin. B.B. was the pure heart of stage-band blues who captured hearts with "The Thrill is Gone."

But it was his Live at Cook County version of "How Blue Can You Get," written by Leonard and Jane Feather, that gives me chills every time I hear it. Funny, audacious, powerful: 

   "I gave you a brand new Ford, but you said 'I want a Cadillac.' 
   I bought you a ten dollar dinner, and you said 'thanks for the snack.' 
   I let you live in my penthouse; you said it was just a shack.
   I gave you seven children, and now you want to give 'em back."

   I've been downhearted baby, ever since the day we met. 
   You know our love is nothing but the blues. 
   Tell me how blue can you get"

You have to hear his Cook County performance as he belts out these lines backed by his tight band.

B.B. King was renowned for his generous spirit and positive perspective. He was said by one biographer to "worship education and lament his lack of schooling," having survived the Depression and life as a sharecropper, picking cotton as a child and young man. His influences were the Count Basie Band, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Django Reinhardt and especially T. Bone Walker.

As an artist he communicated universal messages of love and pain through his music.

B.B. King performs at Harvard's Lippmann's House in 1980.
In 1980 the King of the Blues visited Harvard University's Lippmann House at the invitation of Bulgarian journalist and Nieman Foundation for Journalism Fellow Bistra Lankova and biographer Charles Sawyer, author of "The Arrival of B.B. King."

King performed "for love," according to Sawyer.
"What followed was a unique and purely magical performance. He played five songs, singing without a microphone while his audience listened, in complete thrall to the greatest blues singer and guitarist of all time, who was sitting across the room from them, giving them a private concert. The power of B.B.’s voice was enhanced, not diminished, by the absence of a sound system because of the intimacy he achieved in the confines of a small, acoustically dampened space."
You can read about B.B. King's unique example of King's commitment to the blues, and listen to his performance – in a library, captured on a small recorder. The acoustic dampening comes from the books, no doubt. Among the songs King does in the nearly-unplugged venue are "I Like to Live the Love (that I Sing About)," "How Blue Can You Get" and "The Thrill is Gone."

According to David Ritz, another writer who collaborated with King on his autobiography "Blues All Around Me," King's move to Memphis in 1946 at the age of 21 "changed his life – and the course of American music."

Ritz wrote this in 1998 about B.B. King in liner notes to the great bluesman's Greatest Hits:
"His devotion to the urban blues he loves so deeply has insured the genre a distinct place of acceptance and honor. King is a man of honor, an artist whose lifework bears the stamp of integrity, passion and honesty. He has blessed our culture with a blues, born in despair and nourished in faith, of singular and stirring beauty."
The thrill is not gone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

McRaven & Russell on Fear, Hope and Beginning of Wisdom

by Bill Doughty

Retired Adm. William McRaven, former commander of the United States Special Forces Command, published a list of recommended books in 2013, the year before he retired. The list included some familiar Navy Reads favorites: "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, "The World is Flat 3.0" by Thomas Friedman, "Made to Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath, and "Eleven Rings" by NBA Coach Phil Jackson.

McRaven's book and author recommendations were presented to special operations warriors as a way to "understand contemporary issues, develop a strong appreciation of our history and heritage, and stimulate creative thinking to confront complex challenges." The complete list was published on "War on the Rocks."

When he promulgated his list McRaven said he valued critical thinking and analysis, and he expected his SEALS and other warfighters to confront challenges head-on. He suggested the same approach to new college graduates.

McRaven was a guest on this past Sunday's This Week show on ABC TV where he discussed his civilian job or "new mission" as Chancellor of the University of Texas system. Guest anchor Martha Raddatz played clips from his viral world-famous commencement address from last year at the UT with advice about what to do if you want to change the world. McRaven explained what he'd learned from SEAL training, starting with "make your bed."

McRaven challenged graduates, just as he challenged his warrior readers, to face their fears and embrace hope.

"If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope," he said to University of Texas graduates.

Nearly 100 years ago, in 1917, the year the United States entered World War I, philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote this about the subjects of fear and hope in an essay, "Education":
"No institution inspired by fear can further life. Hope, not fear, is the creative principle in human affairs. All that has made man great has sprung from the attempt to secure what is good, not from the struggle to avert what was thought evil. It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves a great result. The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at a passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our efforts are to create. It should be inspired, not by a regretful hankering after the extinct beauties of Greece and the Renaissance, but by a shining vision of the society that is to be, of the triumphs that thought will achieve in the time to come, and of the ever-widening horizon of man's survey over the universe. Those who are taught in this spirit will be filled with life and hope and joy, able to bear their part in bringing to mankind a future less somber than the past, with faith in the glory that human effort can create."
Russell, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and author of "A History of Western Philosophy," is sometimes quoted in commencement ceremonies, too.

The excerpt above from "Education" was published in an anthology of nonfiction, fiction and poetry titled "The World's Best," edited by Whit Burnett (The Dial Press, New York, 1950).

Russell himself introduced the piece, "because reverence for human individuality and mental initiative are, in my opinion, of the utmost importance, and are increasingly threatened ..."

Russell was a pacifist who believed that a strategy of reason and cooperation was better than tactics of killing and conflict in dealing with complex challenges. An opponent to the First World War, he later came to support Britain in war against Germany in World War II when he saw there was no reasoning with Adolf Hitler.

Among Russell's famous quotes are: "War does not determine who is right – only who is left" and "To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom..."

Thursday, May 7, 2015

'Dead Wake' and Stink of U-Boats

Review by Bill Doughty

Captain William Thomas Turner
Premonition, dread, drama, romance and revelation await readers of "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania" by Erik Larson (Crown Publishers, Penguin Random House, 2015).

The author describes the times and the people who inhabit this true story, including Master of the Lusitania, Captain William Thomas Turner, an imposing and self-assured man "with the physique of a bank safe."

"Dead Wake" builds like a thriller as it interweaves side stories with strong characters and historical references from a century ago and shows how the United States was dragged into World War I despite President Wilson's drive to remain neutral. Entreaties by Great Britain were ignored, as was German savagery against civilians and disrespect for "sacred freedom of the seas" – even for nearly two years after the sinking of the Lusitania. But eventually strategy on one side and miscalculation on Germany's side led the United States to join the Allies.

Attacks on civilian shipping – including against commercial ocean liners, causing to the deaths of innocent children, women and men – were perpetrated by German submarines, known as U-boats.

For Navy readers, the description of life in early 20th century submarines provides pungent details and insights.
"The boats were cramped, especially when first setting out on patrol, with food stored in every possible location, including the latrine. Vegetables and meats were kept in the coolest places, among the boat's munitions. Water was rationed. If you wanted to shave, you did so using the remains of the morning's tea. No one bathed. Fresh food quickly spoiled."
German submarines were known to scavenge – from other vessels, from a dispatched hunting party on land, and from the sea after explosions killed schools of fish.
"These fish and their residual odors, however could only have worsened the single most aspect of U-boat life: the air within the boat. First there was the basal reek of three dozen men who never bathed, wore leather clothes that did not breathe, and shared one small lavatory. The toilet from time to time imparted to the boat the scent of a cholera hospital and could be flushed only when the U-boat was on the surface or at shallow depths, lest the undersea pressure blow material back into the vessel. This tended to happen to novice officers and crew, and was called a 'U-boat baptism.' The odor of diesel fuel infiltrated all corners of the boat, ensuring that every cup of cocoa and piece of bread tasted of oil. Then came the fragrances that emanated from the kitchen long after meals were cooked, most notably that close cousin to male body odor, day-old fried onions."
U-boats in harbor. U-20 is second from left in front.
U-boats became the scourge of the seas, especially after Unterseeboot-20, under Kptlt. Walther Schwieger, sank the civilian ocean liner Lusitania, May 7, 1915. British artist Norman Wilkinson immortalized the scene.

But, according to Larson, "U-boats despite their fearsome reputations, were fragile vessels, complex and primitive at the same time."
"The boats were prone to accident. They were packed with complicated mechanical systems for steering, diving, ascending, and regulating pressure. Amid all this were wedged torpedoes, grenades and artillery shells. Along the bottom of the hull lay the boat's array of batteries, filled with sulfuric acid, which upon contact with seawater produced deadly chlorine gas. In this environment, simple errors could, and did, lead to catastrophe."
Larson gives examples in snippets of stories, and he quotes directly from letters, papers, once-secret dispatches, archived reports and logs, journals, telegrams, memoirs, and newspaper accounts.

Several times while reading personal stories or correspondence never meant to be public, especially those from the Wilson Papers, readers may feel they're invading someone's privacy.

British artist Norman Wilkinson immortalized the sinking of the Lusitania.
Yet, the author's accuracy in describing the science of undersea warfare, the architecture of ocean liners, or the terror of abandoning a sinking ship makes for powerful magnetic reading. You'll see the presidency, periscopes and vulture-like seagulls in a different light after reading "Dead Wake." And you'll practically smell the inside of a U-boat in 1915.

The conclusion of this book touches on some fascinating discussion in the aftermath of the sinking of the Lusitania – in the wake of the "dead wake."

Was there a conspiracy by the British Admiralty and a secret desire for the ship to be attacked in order to get the United States into the war? What was behind the German plot to get Mexico to side with Germany "in return for Texas, New Mexico and Arizona"? Why was Captain Turner, by all accounts a good and honorable man, blamed by Winston Churchill and the Admiralty?

U.S. Navy destroyers join the fight in Gribble's painting, "The Return of the Mayflower."
When U.S. destroyers joined the British in patrols against German U-boats on May 8, 1917, people in Great Britain rejoiced the "descendants of the colonials returning now at Britain's time of need." The moment was captured, Larson notes, in "The Return of the Mayflower," a painting by Bernard Gribble.

Larson ties up story lines nicely and unflinchingly – showing us the grisly reality of life and death in time of war. A recommended read that helps put the First World War and submarine warfare in context.