Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Atlas of Modern War

What was the cause of surging American military superiority in 1918? New York University Mechanical Engineering Professor Collins P. Bliss outlined how the prior century had been a frenzy of technological development in the art of warfare. (Including the usage of the phrase “motor traction” in the very early years of vehicles, before we’d really settled on a term for it.)

In the last hundred years the evolution of war has been more marked than in any other period since the invention of gunpowder… The familiar developments of the present conflict — the use of the submarine and airship, trench warfare, the employment of artillery on an unprecedented scale, especially in forming the barrage, the greatly extended use of the machine gun, the substitution of motor traction for horses, and the effective marshaling of numbers of men so immense that it had been conceived hitherto to be impossible to keep such forces in the field as mobilized and effective combatants — are all based upon a background of engineering skill. The engineer has led the way in bringing about this transformation of warfare. Without his ever-present help the new appliances would be useless in affecting the results of battles and campaigns.

In his 2016 book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari makes a similar point about technological developments in the century since 1918 as well — arguing that it helped lead to a dramatic decrease in war, especially since WWII or so:

While the price of war soared, its profits declined. For most of history polities could enrich themselves by looting or annexing enemy territories. Most wealth consisted of material things like fields, cattle, slaves and gold, so it was easy to loot it or occupy it. Today, wealth consists mainly of human capital and organizational know-how. Consequently it is difficult to carry it off or conquer it by military force.

Consider California. Its wealth was initially built on gold mines. But today it is built on silicon and celluloid — Silicon Valley and the celluloid hills of Hollywood. What would happen if the Chinese were to mount an armed invasion of California, land a million soldiers on the beaches of San Francisco and storm inland? They would gain little. There are no silicon mines in Silicon Valley. The wealth resides in the minds of Google engineers and Hollywood script doctors, directors and special-effects wizards, who would be on the first plane to Bangalore or Mumbai long before the Chinese tanks rolled into Sunset Boulevard. It is not coincidental that the few full-scale international wars that still take place in the world, such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, occur in places where wealth is old-fashioned material wealth. The Kuwaiti sheikhs could flee abroad, but the oil fields stayed put and were occupied.

Let us pray these developments only continue in the century ahead, especially in the places where there are still full-scale international wars.

 

The Atlas of Modern War: On the Shoulders of the Engineer Falls a Tremendous, Ever-Increasing Burden, Due to the Extraordinary Technical Demands of the Present Day (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 14, 1918

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

April 15th, 2018 at 10:17 am

Posted in History,War

Washington Crossing Rhine, Not Delaware

The iconic painting Washington Crossing the Delaware is a misnomer. The river was actually modeled after the Rhine River in Germany, leading to several inaccuracies. According to Wikipedia:

“The river is modeled after the Rhine, where ice tends to form in jagged chunks as pictured, not in broad sheets as is more common on the Delaware. Also, the Delaware at what is now called Washington Crossing is far narrower than the river depicted in the painting.”

After this 1918 article, the original 1851 painting was destroyed in a 1942 bombing raid, as the original was housed in Germany. The two other versions also painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze are still intact, currently housed at the Met in New York City and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

The painting was also parodied last month in Geico’s commercial Washington Crossing the Delaware Turnpike:

Washington Crossing Rhine, Not Delaware: Leutze’s Famous Painting Really Represents the German River, and German Soldiers Were Used as Models — American Pupil Aided Artist to Get Proper Uniforms (PDF)

From Sunday, February 17, 1918

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

February 16th, 2018 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Art,History

When Lincoln Had a Coalition Cabinet

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography Team of Rivals was largely about how Abraham Lincoln stacked his Cabinet with several people who had run against him for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination. Lincoln named:

  • New York Senator William H. Seward as Secretary of State
  • Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron as Secretary of War
  • Former Missouri Congressman Edward Bates as Attorney General
  • Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase as Secretary of the Treasury, and later nominated by Lincoln as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court)

Donald Trump appointed two people who ran against him for the Republican nomination to his Cabinet:

  • Former Texas Governor Rick Perry as Energy Secretary
  • Physician Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Barack Obama nominated several intra-party rivals as well:

  • Delaware Senator Joe Biden as Vice President
  • New York Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State

Obama was a vocal fan of Team of Rivals, which he repeatedly cited as one of his favorite books of all time — and specifically mentioned that Lincoln was his favorite president. Obama did keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, a Republican holdover from George W. Bush’s administration.

Perhaps not quite a “team” of rivals, although Obama did retain or reappoint several other notable non-Cabinet appointees of Bush such as Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chair and Robert Mueller as FBI Director. In contrast, Trump did not keep any of Obama’s Cabinet appointees, and axed several of Obama’s other appointees such as James Comey and Janet Yellen.

(Not going to lie, though — I tried reading Team of Rivals but couldn’t finish it. It’s 916 pages long.)

When Lincoln Had a Coalition Cabinet: Discussion About Such a Body Today Recalls How His Great Tact and Firmness Enabled Him to Allay Discord Among His Advisers (PDF)

From Sunday, February 10, 1918

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

February 9th, 2018 at 9:01 am

Posted in History,Politics

Civil War Food Prices Were Lower Than Those of Today

Between 1861 and 1863, the Civil War caused huge percentage price jumps. Eggs went from 15 to 25 cents per dozen, cheese from 8 to 18 cents per pound, and a bushel of potatoes from $1.50 to $2.25.

But if the prices were actually lower than they were in 1918, why was there so much more economic anger about prices during the Civil War than during World War I? Because during the Civil War, income and wages were doing a much worse job at keeping pace with inflation.

Ostensibly the lesson here for the present day would be that politicians should try their best to insure that wages go up. Yet in 2016, American middle-class incomes reached their highest levels ever, yet the presidential election reflected seemingly the opposite result.

Civil War Food Prices Were Lower Than Those of Today (PDF)

From Sunday, January 9, 1918

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

January 9th, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Business,History

“Keep Jolly!” Somme Veteran Tells Our Men

How does a soldier keep from going insane in wartime? Maintain your sense of humor. That was the advice in this 1917 article. Among the examples they gave were:

“They give absurd names to everything. The Tommies call the ‘R.I.P.’ that is put on a soldier’s grave ‘Rise If Possible.’ When the rats were bad in Belgium and we were amusing ourselves by shooting at them along the parapet, I heard a pal of mine tell a rookie that those trench rats were so big that he had seen one of them trying on his greatcoat.”

Alas, people wouldn’t become that fun until the late 1970s. If this was the best humor they had to offer, a lot of WWI soldiers probably did go insane.

“Keep Jolly!” Somme Veteran Tells Our Men: Soldiers at the Front Would Go Crazy If They Didn’t Joke, Says Lieutenant Alexander McClintock, U.S.R., Formerly in the Canadian Army (PDF)

From Sunday, December 23, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

December 22nd, 2017 at 5:10 pm

Posted in History,War

Precedents for Expulsion of Senators

A U.S. Senate member getting expelled from office hasn’t happened since 1862. So when this 1917 article was written, it had already been 55 years since the last time.

It’s come close to happening since. In the past century, there have been 9 senators who faced expulsion proceedings. But all of them either resigned before they could be removed from office, or else did not meet the required threshold that two-thirds of the Senate vote to expel them.

The most recent case was in 2011, when Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) was charged with financial misconduct, but he resigned before he could be expelled.

The last time a senator even faced an expulsion vote at all, and didn’t resign beforehand, was in 1942. Sen. William Langer (R-ND) was charged with corruption, but the Senate voted 52-30 to keep him in office.

14 of the 15 Senate expulsions that have ever taken place occurred during the Civil War, when multiple senators were expelled for supporting the Confederacy.

But it might potentially happen again later this year.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is facing a corruption trial this month. If Menendez is convicted and is expelled (or resigns), under New Jersey state law, the governor would appoint the successor.

If it’s before January 2018, that would be Republican Gov. Chris Christie. But if it’s after January 2018, the next governor would have the privilege — and polling indicates that the November gubernatorial election will likely be a landslide win for Democrat Phil Murphy.

With Republicans only holding a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, every vote counts —  see this summer’s health care repeal which failed by only a single vote. So a Senate seat that potentially switches parties could change things dramatically in Washington and the country at large.

Precedents for Expulsion of Senators: Some Cases During Civil War Days Recalled by Present Demand for Oustin of La Follette and Other Obstructionists (PDF)

From Sunday, October 7, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

October 5th, 2017 at 10:01 am

Posted in History,Politics

‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as Nation’s Anthem

The Francis Scott Key song, though written in 1814, was not fully recognized as the American national anthem until patriotic fervor struck upon involvement in World War I in 1917. The Star-Spangled Banner would not be officially declared as the American national anthem until 1931, and would not even be played at a sports game for the first time until 1918.

As this article notes: “No theater audiences stood while it was being played in 1898, and, in fact, the general disposition at that period, at least in the Northeastern part of the United States, was to elevate ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,’ to the place of honor.”

I can personally attest that being the singer for the national anthem before a sports game, as this column I wrote for my college newspaper years ago recounts:

‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as Nation’s Anthem: Only Since the Present War Against Germany Began Has It Been Generally Recognized — The Real Story of Its Origin (PDF)

From Sunday, July 15, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

July 19th, 2017 at 7:31 am

Posted in History,Music,War

Earliest Known Manhattan Map Made in 1639

A map of “New Amsterdam” with Dutch inscriptions was created in 1639 by cartographer Joan Vingboom. It was then hidden and forgotten about in Holland for almost 200 years. Finally the “Manatus map” had been donated to the Library of Congress, believed to be the earliest map of what is now New York City.

The names used in the map didn’t quite adhere to the Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly lyrics mapping out the city: “New York, New York, a wonderful town / The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down…”

Earliest Known Manhattan Map Made in 1639: Indian Settlements Occupied the Area That Is Now Called Brooklyn, and Even Coney Island Occupied Its Present Place (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 30th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in History