Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grace Hopper Author Williams - Top Picks

(Prof. Kathleen Broome Williams, author of  Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea, on the Navy Professional Reading Program list and published by the Naval Institute Press, offers her suggestions for Navy Reads...)
by Kathleen Broome Williams
I’d like to start with an unconventional suggestion, but one that has been highly rewarding for me. There are two series of books -- both of which have been around for some time -- which anyone interested in the origins of naval theory and practice in the age of sail should read. 
HMS Tremendous engages French naval man-of-war Cannonierre, April 26, 1806.
In addition, they are rip-roaring good tales. 
Both series deal with the Royal Navy during the turbulent era of the Napoleonic wars, stretching from the end of the eighteenth century into the early nineteenth when England and France were locked in a life and death struggle covering much of the maritime world. 
First, and the quickest and easiest reading, are the books by C.S. Forester based on the naval career of Horatio Hornblower. Forester follows Hornblower from his days as a midshipman through ten books until he reaches the exalted rank of admiral. Each book is marked by Forester’s depth of knowledge of the times and of the details of naval life. 
A more recent series, and one that closely mirrors the first in subject, is Patrick O’Brian’s novels about the naval career of Jack Aubrey and of his inseparable physician friend, Stephen Maturin. Some readers may have been introduced to the two men through the movie Master and Commander, starring Russell Crowe. 
O’Brian’s twenty books, or so, are denser than Forester’s and marked by even more penetrating research and meticulous attention to nautical detail. Like the Hornblower books, too, the memorable characters and their gripping adventures make for irresistible reading.
There are a great many books about the Battle of the Atlantic that lasted from the beginning of World War II until the end of the war in Europe. For those unfamiliar with the subject a recent one worth reading is Bitter Ocean: The Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1945 by David Fairbank White. Based on secondary literature, as well as on archival sources and interviews, White presents a 300-page romp through the campaign in its entirety, on the way touching on many, perhaps most, of the most important issues. This is a useful introduction and a quick read.
Switching to the Pacific Ocean in World War II, Carl LaVO’s The Galloping Ghost: The Extraordinary Life of Submarine Legend Eugene Fluckey, tells the tale of the skipper of the submarine USS Barb, engaged in hair-raising and highly effective operations against the Japanese. Fluckey arguably sank more enemy tonnage than any other U.S. submarine commander and LaVO’s account is valuable for shedding light on the whole man, going beyond his wartime exploits to examine his personal life and postwar career. 
Nothing, however, can match Fluckey’s own memoir -- Thunder Below! -- for sheer suspense. Fluckey’s account is written with such immediacy and directness that the reader feels, sees, hears, and smells what it was like to be in action on a submarine in wartime. This is a must read for anyone interested in the Silent Service.
(Thank you to Dr. Kathleen Broome Williams, Director of General Education and Professor of History at Cogswell Polytechnical College. Dr. Williams has served and taught at the City University of New York, Sophia University in Tokyo, and at Florida State University, Republic of Panama. She has served on the editorial advisory board of The Journal of Military History and as executive director of the New York Military Affairs Symposium. She is the author of three books on naval history published by the Naval Institute Press. Read a review of her book Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea hereNavy Reads will continue to have guest lists and reviews from noted authors and thinkers joining Navy Reads in the months ahead.  We will have some special reviews coming soon related to the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. -- Bill Doughty)

Monday, February 20, 2012

War of 1812: USS Constitution and Freedom

by Bill Doughty
Just as slavery would become the defining reason for the Civil War by mid-19th Century, impressment was the match-to-the-fuse to the War of 1812.
HMS Guerriere's masts go over the side as Constitution
rakes her from ahead. Painting by Anton Otto Fischer.
“Impressment” describes the practice by the British Navy in the 1700s and 1800s of capturing suspected deserters -- even boarding and seizing American ships and confiscating property to do so.
The violation of freedom and sovereignty angered President Thomas Jefferson at the turn of the century and became an explosive issue for President James Madison in his first term starting in 1809.  Impressment and embargoing by Britain led to the United States Congress to declare war “in defense of freedom of the seas and sailors’ rights,” according to Charles E. Bodine Jr., Michael J. Crawford and Christine F. Hughes.
The authors explain how the War of 1812 became necessary, was fought and is remembered -- with USS Constitution as a centerpiece -- in Interpreting Old Ironsides.
"Confirming America’s political and economic independence dominated the new republic’s foreign relations during the first twenty-five years of its existence.  Fear that Britain’s maritime policies robbed the United States of its honor and relegated it to a colonial status convinced the Madison administration that war was the only alternative... While war came reluctantly to both sides, once engaged, they both anticipated a quick resolution -- the United States expected the British to come to terms quickly and the latter predicted a swift military victory.  Both parties underestimated the other’s resolve.  A combination of economic and military circumstances, in tandem with some astute American diplomacy, brought the war to an end."
Interpreting Old Ironsides, An Illustrated Guide to USS Constitution is published by the Naval Historical Center, with a forward by former director of the center Rear Adm. Paul E. Tobin Jr.
The book is designed as a tool, according Tobin, a training guide in three parts -- basic, advanced and master -- for understanding the “national icon.”  USS Constitution is described from blueprint to warship to symbol of diplomacy and freedom, the heart of OPSAIL cruises.
In the Basic section the authors show in great detail the armaments, strategies and discipline aboard Old Ironsides.
The Advanced Level presents the key history and context of the Barbary Wars, Preble’s Boys, and a short history of the War of 1812.
It’s in Part III, the Master Level, that the book explores the diplomatic and political nuances of the War of 1812 and its aftermath.
Part IV provides reprints of actual logbook entries from USS Constitution in 1812, a journal extract from Commodore William Bainbridge, letters to the Secretary of the Navy, a chronology of Constitution in the War of 1812, and U.S. Navy Regulations from 1814, among other fascinating artifacts.
As an illustrated guide, the book offers photos, drawings and diagrams to give a comprehensive look at Old Ironsides.  This authors provide a good balance of the “who, what, when, where and why,” of USS Constitution’s past in the context of “how” -- illuminating the causes of a war that helped the United States win freedom of the seas 200 years ago.

USS Constitution conducts an underway demonstration in Boston Harbor Sept. 16, 2011.  Photo by MC2 Kathryn E. Macdonald.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fiery Trial - Lincoln and Slavery

by Bill Doughty
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery earned Eric Foner the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in History.  His book is a remarkable dissection of a complicated man, issue and time in American history 50 years after the War of 1812, in the heat of the War Between the States.
As much as some people, including Lincoln, himself, wished to separate the issue of slavery as a cause of the Civil War, Foner shows us how aligned and combined they were.  He shows how unresolved issues from 1812 and unfulfilled promises of 1776 continued to broil as the nation expanded.  
Although the book begins with his birth and ends shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, much of the text focuses on the pivotal war year of 1862.  Several significant events for naval historians occurred that year, starting in February.
Eight days after Lincoln’s birthday, on Feb. 20, 1862, his young son Willie died after a long illness.  Lincoln contemplated the meaning of life and his place in history, according to Foner, cementing his desire to place slavery “on the road to extinction.”
That month, Samuel F. DuPont led a naval expedition to capture Port Royal in the Sea Islands, where he witnessed the inhumanity of slavery.  DuPont “accounted himself a conservative until he had seen the institution in all its horrors,” but he now considered himself an abolitionist, Foner writes.
Also in February, Lincoln met with Edmund L. Pierce, who traveled to the Sea Islands.  Lincoln would later take steps to assist former slaves in Port Royal, South Carolina so they could buy farm land at $1.25 per acre.
Foner writes about a key decision Lincoln made 150 years ago:
"In February 1862, ignoring numerous pleas for clemency, including one from the Republican governor of New York, Lincoln refused to intervene to prevent the execution of Captain Nathaniel Gordon, an illicit slave trader whose ship carrying 900 slaves had been captured off the coast of West Africa by a U.S. naval vessel.  A week after Lincoln’s election, a New York jury had convicted Gordon of international slave trading, a crime legally equivalent to piracy and punishable by death.  Gordon became the first and only American to be hanged as a slave trade.”
The Fiery Trial shows how cooperation with the British had grown in the 50 years from the War of 1812 to the American Civil War.  Secretary of State William H. Seward signed a treaty in 1862 allowing the British to board American-flagged vessels and search for slaves.
"Contraband" slaves escaping the Confederacy.
Foner writes about an incident in May 1862, a small Union flotilla sailed up the Stono River in South Carolina and witnessed Confederate troops pursuing a “stampede of slaves” who were trying to flee forced relocation.
"After opening fire on the Confederate forces and dispersing them, the naval commander took more than seventy slaves on board.  He settled them in a safe location near the coast.  That same month, in one of the war’s most celebrated acts of individual daring, Robert Smalls, the slave pilot of the Confederate naval vessel “Planter,” brought on board his wife, child, and a dozen other slaves, guided the ship out of the Charleston harbor and surrendered it to the Union navy."
On July 17, 1862 President Lincoln signed the Militia Act to recruit black soldiers, though black service members had served with George Washington in the Revolutionary War and later at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.
His Second Confiscation Act, which allowed for confiscation of Confederates’ property, including slaves, was a precursor to the Emancipation Proclamation.  How could a nation committed to the Constitution, democratic principles and liberty tolerate the idea of people as “property”?  Lincoln’s draft order reads: “All persons held as slaves with any state or states shall then, henceforth, and forever, be free.”
Freed slaves in South Carolina 1862.
The Fiery Trial describes the institutional racism of the Dred Scott decision and colonization (a proposal to deport blacks to Central America).  Emancipation, itself, is revealed as being for strategic military advantage, rather than for social or ethical reasons of equality.
Foner shows how our 16th president “grew into greatness” with “a willingness to listen to criticism, to seek out new ideas.”  Through careful research, Foner explains how Lincoln’s antipathy toward slavery deepened as the institution grew, poised to expand westward.
"By the eve of the Civil War, the slave population in the United States had reached nearly four million.  The economic value of these men, women and children were considered as property exceeded the combined worth of all the banks, railroads and factories in the United States.  In geographic extent, population, and the institution’s economic importance, the South was home to the most powerful slave system the modern world has known." 
Lincoln’s conviction evolved from expediency to passion.  “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” Lincoln wrote. 
Lincoln considered the views of thinkers and activists, supporters and rivals, like Frederick Douglass, John Stuart Mill, Salmon P. Chase, Susan B. Anthony, Charles Sumner, and many others.  We see the intense pressures and strong statesmanship of Lincoln and his affinity for Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay.  Like Paine, Madison and Jefferson, Lincoln penned some of the greatest passages in American history.  It was President Lincoln who said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  “(Let us) unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal... I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosom until there shall be no doubt that all men are created free and equal.”
(Photos and art, Library of Congress)
At this moment Sailors aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) are promoting those ideals in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Eric Foner and Lincoln - Top 5 for Navy Reads

(Pulitzer Prize winning author Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University, sent his top five suggested authors and titles about Abraham Lincoln to Navy Reads. One of the nation’s most prominent historians, Foner writes about the intersections of intellectual, political and social history, and on the history of American race relations.)
by Eric Foner
Richard N. Current, The Lincoln Nobody Knows.  Not a standard biography but a perceptive investigation of key moments in Lincoln's career; almost half a century after its publication it remains one of the best works on Lincoln.
David Donald, Lincoln.  Not entirely convincing in portraying Lincoln as a man lacking deep moral and political convictions, more buffeted by events, this is nonetheless probably the best one-volume biography.
James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican.  A comparative study of Frederick Douglass and Lincoln, incisively reveals the differences, and growing conversion, between the radical abolitionist and the mainstream politician during the Civil War.
James M. McPherson, Tried By War.  The best account of how Lincoln learned the art of warfare, his relationship with his generals, and his role in the military conduct of the Civil War.
And, especially for naval history, Craig Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals.  Despite the numerous volumes on Lincoln and the land Civil War, this is the first full study of Lincoln's relationship to the war at sea, and its reveals him mastering the nuances of naval warfare, something with which he had no experience before becoming president.
(Navy Reads thanks Prof. Foner, author of the enlightening The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery for sharing his recommendations for our Navy audience. -- BD)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Critical Curious Thinking - Mary Roach

by Bill Doughty
To misquote Forrest Gump, a book of essays is like a box of chocolates.  New York Times bestselling author Mary Roach’s The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2011) (BASNW) is a collection of curious, sweet/tart morsels for critical thinkers.
Like her own works -- Stiff, Bonk, Spook, and Packing for Mars -- Roach has fun removing the lid to reveal essays about space, time, species, mind and the universe.  As a special treat, she offers recommendations for Navy Reads readers in this blogpost, but more about that in a moment.  First, from BASNW 2011:
With help from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, we get a goldfish view of the world and reality.  Other essays deal with chemistry, robotics, fracking and fertility.  Essays can be read in any order and some can be skipped, but I confess to enjoying each one...some more than others.
Jill Sisson Quinn takes us into the forest for an existential look at the 8-inch Ichneumon wasps that lay their eggs, Aliens-like, into the bodies of wood wasps, even into and through tree bark.
We learn about alcohol poisoning (and poisoning of alcohol), invasive species like giant Asian carp and New York City coyotes, and the mating habits of Layson albatrosses at Kaena Point, Oahu, Hawaii.
The book features works from such luminary writers as Malcolm Gladwell, Jonathan Franzen and Oliver Sacks, writing for New Yorker.  Works come from Discover, Outside, Orion, Wired, Scientific American, Atlantic and other magazines.
Editor of the overall The Best American Series, Tim Folger, introduces Roach’s selections with a lament about the lack of attention given to science in today’s culture, a view shared by critical thinkers who visit a book store and see the dwindling size of the science section.  (But, I was happy to find there were four copies of BASNW at the neighborhood Barnes & Noble.)
Folger discusses the cultural reaction to a historic discovery a year ago, Feb. 3, 2011, by the Kepler telescope.  Kepler revealed 1,235 planets orbiting other stars, doubling the number of known planets in our galaxy. [Planet Candidates (2,326 as of 2011 Dec 5)]
That discovery increased the odds of intelligent life existing in the cosmos, but because it was made a few days before the Superbowl (and perhaps for other reasons), it got very little attention.
Reading about discoveries by scientists and thinking about their insights can be as satisfying as watching football and eating chocolates.  By the way, scientists have found that chocolates can be good for you.
Mary Roach.  (Photo by David Paul Morris)
According to Mary Roach, “Make no mistake, good science writing is medicine.  It is a cure for ignorance and fallacy.  Good science writing peels away the blindness, generates wonder, brings the open palm to the forehead: ‘Oh! Now I get it!’”
A goal of the Navy Professional Reading Program is to foster critical thinking. Ancient philosophers, Enlightenment giants, military historians and popular science writers, like Roach, offer “aha” opportunities to think critically, analyze logically and act wisely.
Ms. Roach sent me her suggested reading list for better critical thinking.  Her recommendations to Navy Reads:
“If TV were a book,” Roach told me, “I'd put Mythbusters on the list.”
From Roach’s Spook: “In my experience, the most staunchly held views are based on ignorance or accepted dogma, not carefully considered accumulations of facts."