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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Political Fate of the Electric Car

Most people that I've spoken with so far tell me that electric vehicles have yet to be made viable and that this is the reason that we stay with gasoline-powered vehicles.  I propose that electric vehicles have been around longer and could have been made viable long ago (indeed, already have been), but that people in general loved the power and pick-up of gasoline engines so much better that they ignored pollution and cost problems (from refueling cars, repairs, maintenance, etc) in order to have the power.  A PBS Timeline gives the short version of the major events in the electric car's history, which represented 28% of the 4,192 vehicles on American roads in 1900.  

Yes... the electric car used to be a third of all cars produced in America!  Incredible?  Unbelievable?  You say... "No!  That's not right!  Electric cars are just not viable!"  Obviously, you haven't heard the history... didn't read the assigned material... you get an "F."  Sorry.  Popular history and reality are two different things... especially in America. 

Gasoline-powered vehicles had been invented, but the handcrank (as opposed to electric starter) made them less desirable (desirable does not equal viable).  The most recent episode in this tragic history is the willful, purposeful, intentional death of the EV1, a series of well-liked and useful electric cars made by multiple car manufacturers to satisfy and ultimately oppose a California emissions mandate.  

Who made these vehicles?  Well... GM, Honda, Toyota, Saturn, Ford (even a truck version), and a slew of other "small" names in the car industry (lol).  These were TOTALLY ELECTRIC vehicles with a 120-mile range and a 30-minute recharge rate (for 80% power).  These cars were only leased, not sold, and recalled and crushed once the mandate was crushed by politics (thank you again, "W" Bush administration).  Car manufacturers never intended to make these cars work... they even made commercials that they never aired... Why the hell would they do this, you ask?  Well, lots of people would like to know that.  It was that damned, pesky California mandate that required zero emissions in five years!  Car companies made it look good, but worked against it behind the scenes.  Politics killed the mandate and the car companies killed the EV1... Long story short (too late), the EV1 died and completely disappeared by 2003.  Gasoline won, again!  This PBS website pretty much makes my case, but there's a few related historic details to be made.

Fate of the GM version of the EV1 in 2003.

Vehicle power was only a superficial desire, not a necessity... again, not a requirement for viability (so, quit with this excuse!!).  Only a few years later, with gas prices soaring and the threat of global warming, pollution problems as seen in cities like Los Angeles, the gasoline-powered car is quickly being revealed as a luxury that we can no longer afford.  We need the EV1 back!  But, the auto guys killed the program!!  The lessons of the 1970s didn't make a big enough impression.

You see... if I'm a businessman and want to sell a product that will make me lots of money, I'm not going to tell you what else is available... indeed, I may go to extremes to prevent the other companies from advertising or even to produce their product and compete with me.  You may never even know what else is available, if I have the money or political connections...  But, this wasn't really easy to accomplish... unless you had GOBS of money with which to pad the palms of your Congressmen... so much more money than everyone else and a giant thirst for more... you know... like a "Robber-Baron?" Speaking of...

First, you need a product... in the early days, oil was a fleeting resource.  It created the town of Pithole in 1865 almost overnight, a town whose "black gold" dried up the next year.  The hunt was on for further resources (oil proved its "desirability"... again, not the same thing as "viability").  Video on the History of Oil.   Still, kerosene for lamps is what we wanted oil for, then...

This video never even mentioned the early electric car made by Edison/Bailey in 1899-1915... a much-desired competitor of the gasoline vehicle (as long as people had to "crank" these gas vehicles awake).  Edison patented this Electrical Automobile on January 19, 1904.  Electric cars were produced in the US by Anthony Electric, Baker, Columbia, Anderson, Edison, Studebaker, Riker, Milburn, and others in the early 20th century and the Detroit Electric was produced as late as 1941!  Battery technology since then has removed the only obstacle for the early electric car (Lithium-ion technology was discovered in the 1970's and reached amazing capacity in 2002, which contributed to the development of the EV1).  Still, the electric car proved its worth well before 1920.  Today, estimates show that the average American only drives 29 miles per day.  Electric cars have had at least this range for several decades.  The EV1 had 4 times this range with the new batteries.  Still, the electric car isn't "viable"?  Americans really fight hard to believe what they're told by those lovable little darlings at GM, Chrysler, etc... or by Haliburton, Exxon, BP, etc, etc, etc... these are big league hitters with everything to lose by the "impending viability" of the electric car.  So, why are we believing what they tell us?  I dunno... Miss South Carolina might have an opinion on this one. 

The hesitant beginnings of the gasoline-powered car reflected its difficulty in cranking the engine by hand to start it.  Electric cars passed these old crank-starts on the road before 1908.  But, the invention of the electric starter (based on electrical technology of the electric vehicle, ironically) made the gasoline automobile more DESIRABLE... NOT VIABLE (I'm hoping that if I say it enough...).  It simply satisfied American desires for more speed (remember, we measured power in terms of "horses" and wanted to improve on this).  What's a little smoke, huh? When there's only a few thousand cars... not a lot.  But, now that there's millions... well, you've seen the Los Angeles smog problem? 

American business recognized one hell of an opportunity and the agendas became highly political.  One American agenda became apparent in 1917, at the beginning of the Soviet Union and the end of a Russian regime that was "so-so" friendly to the US.  When that occurred, oil tycoons John D. Rockefeller and his son, facing heavy competition from Texas "wildcats" (rich newcomers to oil who hit a major Texas oil pocket at the turn of the century), decided not to indirectly profit, but make the most out of the Russian weakness and establish a foreign market for oil.  According to one website

The Rockefellers had given their financial support after the Czar refused to give them access to the Russian oil fields, which were already being pumped by the Royal Dutch Co. (owned by the Rothschilds and the Nobel brothers) and giving Standard Oil plenty of competition on the international market. Even though John D. Rockefeller possessed $15,000,000 in bonds from the Royal Dutch Co. and Shell, rather than purchase stock to get his foot in the door and indirectly profit, he helped to finance the Revolution so that he would be able to get Standard Oil firmly established in the country of Russia.

John D. Rockefeller in 1885
You see, Rockefeller had a headstart on the political infrastructure necessary to manipulate government affairs.  Texas "wildcats" did not.  Historian Barry Weisberg believes that Standard Oil of New Jersey was the major impetus behind the US invasion of Russia in 1918.  There was an invasion of Russia, you ask?  Yes, there was.  

Rockefeller's financial abilities easily influenced Woodrow Wilson to send 5,000 American soldiers into Siberia in 1918 to join allied forces.  While this was ostensibly to protect Czechoslovakian troops and the railroad, many historians like Weisberg believe this was simply the cover story for the invasion that was most likely influenced by Standard Oil's political intervention with President Wilson.  For the first time EVER, Congress never gave the approval for the 1918 invasion, setting a dangerous imperialistic precedent.  Historian Robert Maddox puts it, "The immediate effect of the intervention was to prolong a bloody civil war, thereby costing thousands of additional lives and wreaking enormous destruction on an already battered society." President Wilson withdrew most of the soldiers on April 1, 1920, though some remained until as late as 1922.  Still, Standard Oil got what they were after...

Historian James Loewen tells this history very well and I'll not attempt to retell it.  Suffice it to say that Loewen cites various substantial sources and observes a growing tendency of the wealthy class to manipulate politics for their own financial ends (again, Robber-Barons).  I know that this is no surprise today, for we have all long been aware of the US's imperialistic desires across the world.  The one that became important for this discussion is the desire for oil, numero uno.  PBS also did a documentary on Rockefeller's oil industry takeover.

American Intervention In The Russian Civil War, 1918-1920
Website for pics and Info on the 1918 Excursion

Now, I have been accused of being an alarmist, a conspiracy theorist, and any other less-desirable things than "historian," but the facts are that these are the facts.  We don't like to think of ourselves as being the "muscle" for oil companies for more than a century, but that is the truth.  

Gen. Smedley D. Butler sarcastically reflected on his involvement in 1931, "I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank Boys to collect revenue in. I helped pacify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers… I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras ‘right’ for American fruit companies in 1903. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints."  I'm sure you get the point...

Once the market was established, Rockefellers went after even more... The Iranian Parliament, in 1921 gave Standard Oil the right to explore for oil in the five provinces of Azerbaijan, Astarabad, Guilan, Mazandaran, and Khorasan for a period of five years.  This maneuver received protests from British and Soviet oil companies who vied for the same resources.  The battle for the world's oil had begun.  

There has been a long-running attempt to gain control of world oil since this time.  The overthrow of Iran's democratically-elected government in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, 1957 election-rigging in Lebanon which led to civil war, assassination of Patrice Lumumba of Zaire, repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, overthrow of elected Chilean government in 1973, the list goes on... least of which was the 1991 invasion of Kuwait and the ongoing occupation of oil-rich Iraq.   But, remember... it's just business.  They shouldn't take it personally, right?  Ask the rest of the world and you will find that most everyone is DEFINITELY taking it seriously!

Oil became a vital resource because it was profitable and damn whatever else came along... damn the air... breathe something else!  But, what if oil was no longer a vital resource?  What if the electric car replaced the millions of cars on American roads... the millions of cars worldwide?  It's certainly a fundamental change in the economic world structure, but America is facing serious competition from China and may lose its hegemonic crown very soon.  Can you imagine the end of US Superpowerdom?  Another historian, Immanuel Wallerstein, says that all hegemonic states fall because they exhaust their resources (and piss off everybody... lol). 

US foreign policy has been largely to control American financial resources around the world and the largest and most lucrative of these was oil.  OPEC formed (Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela met in Baghdad to discuss ways to increase the price of the crude oil produced by their respective countries) as competition for the US in 1960, after US intervention in Middle East affairs (largely to obtain... you guessed it... oil) and an American policy reducing oil imports that lowered oil prices drastically in these countries.  You see, the "owners of America" (George Carlin's phrase) and their "muscle" haven't always seen eye to eye... our last breath of righteous indignation.

Since then, the dwindling supply of oil has necessitated American intervention in foreign affairs.  The Saudi Arabian government's sole source of income today, amounting to an annual income of about $700 billion dollars is this crude source of energy.  For them, the choice is oil or sand... which do you want?  If it's sand, well, the Saudis will survive the electric car... if not... well?  CBS's 60 Minutes aired an investigation of this country's strangulation of the world economy over oil and their attempts to eek out the last lingering drops of this finite resource.  Leslie Stahl did a great job, by the way.  

Now, we could continue to pollute the earth in order to save the Saudi Arabian economy, but I for one, am more concerned about the rest of the world and for the whole suffering planet (you know?  The Human Race and all their buds).  I also don't particularly like being indirectly associated with imperialism. 

American companies have never gained the foothold on oil that they really wanted.  Woodrow Wilson's/Standard Oil's 1918 incursion into Russia (without Congressional approval, remember?) was only the start of a long-fought struggle to maintain dominance over oil.  It was no accident that the death of the first electric car (Thomas Edison's creation) coincided with this military event and the beginning of Standard Oil's lucrative venture into the foreign oil business.

Thomas Edison and an electric car in 1913.

Rockefeller as an industrial emperor, 1901 cartoon from Puck magazine
Remember, though, I'm just the conspiracy theorist.  I spout all kinds of American Imperialism stories... I might be as crazy as Mel Gibson's character!  Maybe I'm the loony that thinks that the CIA (in a US-occupied territory) should have found Bin Laden years ago... well?  I might have completely lost my mind!  You need to listen to ALL of these established experts that I've quoted here... someone else... An interesting first hand direct account is the book by John Perkins, Confessions of An Economic Hitman, in which he describes these types of events in grisly detail.  A Youtube video of an interview with him is available, too.  There's more... a simple cursory investigation will show this.

I'm actually a nice guy... this conspiracy theorist stuff is not really fair.  I'm a long-time Beatles fan, too.  John Lennon had these ideas for decades, but no one ever listened because the US won that propaganda battle (US Vs. John Lennon movie preview).  Maybe because he was British and easy to dismiss...  An open, clear-thinking mind does not simply dismiss these ideas as fantasy.  Besides, there's just way too much proof.  But, you have to READ the sources to find out!!

The electric car has simply been another helpless victim, much like the Iranians, Guatemalans, or Chileans... or even Americans ourselves.  These victims became victims of American desire for the more-powerful American gas guzzler, the SUV's and giant Ford Pickups and Hummers, promoted by TV ads and television shows, American shows with greedy tycoons like Donald Trump.  It has become fashionable to be abusive.  

Perhaps, the depletion of this vital and finite resource that we have depended on and coveted for over a hundred years will be enough to revive clean energy resources that we have had even longer than oil.  What's the phrase?  Save us from ourselves?  

A fully electric car (not a #^&#@!! hybrid/deal with the devil) will accomplish this.  A significant problem for the electric car is that car companies can't make nearly as much money on maintenance and repairs, since they generally don't break down as often.  Wow, another plus for us!  lol  It's amazing that we haven't switched long ago.  Well, no it's not... we are slaves to our own greed, aren't we?

Please, people, don't tell me that electric cars aren't a viable resource anymore... please, please, please.  It gets annoying to discuss any historical subject with someone who hasn't read the assigned material!  Don't trust anything you hear on TV.  Do the research and be skeptical.  I've always been trained as a skeptic by many knowledgeable professors in my academic career.  They have never steered me wrong.  There's a lot out there if you choose to read it.  I promise you that it will rarely be on the "boob tube."  Reality has never been one of its strong suits!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

England's Positive Influence on North Carolina

In 1733, England made a positive change in North Carolina.  Historians of the early, progressive era, however, did not favor that view.  It was not an advantage to promote English over American.  Somehow, America had to be responsible for every positive change that took place.  Otherwise, America might not be able to support public opinion of the American Revolution AGAINST Britain (1776-1783).

What was it in 1733 that happened, you may ask?

There was a port city on the Cape Fear River in 1733 that was in the deepest part of that river and served England's mercantile purposes quite well.  No, that port was not Wilmington.  Wilmington did not exist as yet.  This older port cannot be seen today... there are nothing but ballast stone foundations of former homes there now, not even visible from the river.  However, one home does still exist near that old port.  It is now a tourist attraction famous for its beautiful gardens.

Where there are now gorgeous flowers, there once were fields of rice, tended by as many as 250 slaves.  These slaves were owned by one man from South Carolina.  But, he wasn't the only South Carolinian to live in the Lower Cape Fear.  He had lots of family there, too.  Brothers, sisters and their families, all ostentatious South Carolinians that looked damned uppity to our North Carolina ancestors.   Uppityness was essentially a British trait of the eighteenth century.  According to historian Keith Wrightson, author of English Society, 1580-1680, this was a disassociation of "polite and plebian cultures."  Uppityness was even more pronounced in the 18th century and when Carolina was founded in 1663 than during Elizabethan times.  South Carolina, as the "King's favorite" Carolina, engendered more uppity folks than North Carolina.

Actually, many North Carolinians today are the descendants of these uppity South Carolinians.  Since British administration affected both North and South Carolina about the same time, the uppity folks stayed in the Lower Cape Fear, even after their initial settlement failed.

Why did it fail?  Well, South Carolinians always believed that the boundary between the colonies was the Cape Fear River.  So, when they moved onto its western bank in 1726, they felt like the territorial dispute might give their settlement an advantage.  You see, Cape Fear was also as far away from Charleston as it was from Edenton (the early capital of North Carolina).  In fact, the Lower Cape Fear region was literally the "boonies" between the two Carolinas in 1726-1733.  These visitors decided to build a new colony, "A New Settlement calld Cape Fear, bounding on this and on North Carolina, but under neither, nor any Government."  British authorities clearly saw this as a problem.  That quote came from a South Carolinian priest writing to his SPG superiors in London.

Governor James Moore of South Carolina was known around the Empire as the infamous Indian slave trader of the early eighteenth century.  He not only appeared "uppity" to British officials, but downright dangerous, too.  He led expeditions against Spain's St. Augustine and other parts of Florida to scoop up more Indian slaves, on the pretense of defying Spain's dominance of America.  He cared much more for personal profit than English needs.

It was his sons and daughters who founded Brunswick Town in 1726 and the illegal "Brunswick Settlement" on the Cape Fear River in present-day North Carolina.  His descendants still live in the Lower Cape Fear today.  Of course, their original settlement of Brunswick is completely gone today, a result of a British police action in 1733 that resulted in the replacement town of Wilmington.  Wilmington did not lie in a deep portion of the river and accessible to British shipping.  In fact, many ships had to be offloaded at Brunswick and a nearby island before proceeding to Wilmington.  Still, after 1733, every aspect of British government left Brunswick and moved to the new town of Wilmington. 

The owner of that slave plantation was "King" Roger Moore, credited with "running off" the Cape Fear Indians to build their empire.  His brother, Maurice founded Brunswick Town on their land.  Together, they formed the Family, along with family friend and former employee of Gov. James Moore, the controversial Edward Moseley.  These men all married sisters and their family to form this generational empire.  It took nothing short of a revolution to oust them from their throne.  

[Two of my works treat Edward Moseley and his early history in London.  Both papers are free as downloads.]

Still, North Carolina always told the tale from the standpoint of local pride.  According to decades of historiography, North Carolinians founded Wilmington and developed the unique American ideals that led to the revolution in 1776.  Maurice Moore Jr and many other Jrs of the Family (now living as prominant citizens of Wilmington) joined in that Revolution and became famous for their service.  Still, it was Moore descendants who later led the only coup d'etat EVER in American history when they took back Wilmington from the "Black Republicans" in 1898. 
Alfred Moore Waddell, gg-grandson of Brunswick founder, Maurice Moore, stated that he would "choke the Cape Fear with carcasses" to achieve his uppity aims and he did exactly what he promised.  [American history officially starts in 1776, remember.  Otherwise, 1733 might be considered the first and both happened in the same area.] 

This is the true story of Wilmington and that beautiful Orton plantation on the west bank of the Cape Fear River.  This story was never told.  It was not favorable to our state at the time.  This is only a small sample of how history has been skewed to support a political agenda.  Truth is whatever is told the loudest and the longest.  If you want to read the details, CLICK HERE.  If you download it, it's free.  It was my pleasure to bring you the truth.

The development of Wilmington as opposed to Brunswick Town allowed for settlement to continue since the Family bought up over 105,000 acres of the most coveted land in the region and kept it for their plantations, rarely selling bits of it to anyone outside the Family.  If this had not happened the way it did, our history might have been radically different.   Wilmington was the only viable port in our state until roads became the dominant form of transportation over the rivers.   The Cape Fear was still quite important as a "highway" throughout history and even today.  England made our state what it is and they have seldom been given any credit at all.  When you get a chance, say thank you to Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle and the former Secretary of the Southern Department who made Wilmington possible. Even though the Family again usurped the Lower Cape Fear anyway, later colonial governors made it damned difficult for them to regain full control.  If anything, the American Revolution gave the Family a new start... allowed them to usurp the Lower Cape Fear again and to elevate criminals like Edward Moseley to hero status.  The Race Riot of 1898 shows that they still held power over that region.  They still do.

Monday, December 13, 2010

As Croce said, You Don't Tug on Superman's Cape

Historian Carl Swanson, in his book, Predators and Prizes: American Privateering and Imperial Warfare, 1739-1748, regarded official government sanction of maritime raiding and “piracy” as nearly the same thing.   A “letter of marquee,” or the official government permission, alone separated one act from the other.  Swanson agrees with many maritime and pirate historians that the end of war and naval demobilization left many privateers with an armed ship and nothing else to provide them with income.  They turned to piracy, or the taking of vessels on the open seas without government sanction.   Earlier, King James regarded similar men as “lewd and ill-disposed persons.”   Still, King James had little problem with depravations upon the sea, until it came against England.  Captain Henry Avery, “Commander of [his] Majesties Ship the King's Fisher,” turned pirate and committed those depravations upon all shipping, becoming a thorn in King James’ side.   It may be that Avery simply followed the dollar, as any businessman or country, or state business would.  

El Draque, “the dragon” became the quintessential state pirate.  Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth’s favorite pirate/privateer, incurred the fear and wrath of Spain and their authorities the world over.  His biographer, historian Wade Dudley, remarked upon the death of the infamous knight.  “Even as his mortal remains descended into the murky depths, the old pirate who had feared his God, sometimes obeyed his queen, and died while reaching for a final bit of plunder, ascended into the realm of English myth.”   Drake represented the military arm of a nation intending to gain as much as possible – pirates with a plan.  He became a state pirate who battled others just like him, with aims no different than any other pirate, official or otherwise.

Piracy has existed for a long time.  It still exists today and has usually been difficult to define, for the same reasons to which Dudley alluded.  In the Crimean War, British ships patrolled the Cyclades for pirates.  Professor Henry Ormerod regards the North African coast as still dangerous to sailing vessels and mentioned that a contemporary case of Turkish brigands in the Black Sea bordered on piracy.  His book, Piracy in the Ancient World, told of the nature of piracy at that time and how little it differed from its modern counterpart.  For Ormerod, piracy existed in the Mediterranean world as a norm for centuries.  Furthermore, he implied that it had always been part of human nature and reflected that nature in governmental structures, composed of human beings and their idiosyncrasies.   

Historian Cyrus H. Karraker agreed with Ormerod and considered piracy to be a normal “risk of commerce” in the ancient world.   Organized states with larger interests had a stronger desire for control of the sea routes and often suppressed unsanctioned piracy as a burden of informal competition.  Little has changed.  Piracy can be called a barometer of sea power for without a state structure, in a state vacuum, it flourishes.  Again, as two ends of the spectrum, states and individuals differ little when it came to piracy.  A better scale for that barometer might be from state sea power to pirate sea power, with “sea power” as analogous to “rule of force.”  Whoever has the force, rules.

Piracy often begins with indignation (often against state force) and ends with greed, arguably its “Achilles heel.”  Organized states often follow the same trends, from revolution to “death by decadency” to the next revolution, if one follows the dialectic to its Marxist conclusion.  Greed ultimately gets everyone.  As long as human beings measure value in terms of money, as long as countries struggle over the mere acquisition of wealth, piracy will remain a significant force on the open seas as well as the state boardroom.  

Daniel Defoe wrote his A General History of the Pyrates in 1724, just two years before British authorities “quieted” the turbulent Caribbean waters as modern historian, Marcus Rediker saw it.  Defoe’s view of the urge to eighteenth-century piracy for most men became vengeance.  He told of crewman Jones, who, after hearing of his friend’s death at the hands of Captain Roberts, attempted unsuccessfully to kill him.  Soon thereafter, Jones and several of the disgruntled crew of Robert’s ship, left on pretense and joined with a pirate ship.  Rediker showed that pirates routinely killed merchant captains when they captured them, but left others alone upon hearing that the captain had dealt justly with his crew.  Captain William Snellgrave’s account of his capture in 1719 by pirates almost resulted in his death until his crew saved him by vouching for his decency.  Not the brutes that tradition had painted them, pirates had reasons for becoming pirates and their society represented the most democratic ideal in that time.  Eighteenth-century society did not clearly understand the value of democracy yet.  At that time, democracy only existed at the bottom of the barometer, the state vacuum.

A state vacuum occurred again in Somalia on the east coast of Africa in 1991.  Ever since that time, Somalia’s “nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump [their] nuclear waste in [Somali] seas.”   For some, this became the reason for the recent pirate activity off the Somali coast that incurred significant reaction from powerful thallosacracies across the world.  Sea powers who may have been responsible for the Somali reaction in the first place, collectively forced order upon Somali pirates in 2009.  Significantly, this did not occur until the pirates made the transition from protecting their coast to collecting huge ransom payments, which made them rich.  Even more important, their depravations in the Gulf of Aden interrupted shipments of oil from Saudi Arabia to powerful countries (including the United States) that depended on them.  

Johann Hari with the Independent in London compared Somali pirates today with Aegean pirates during the time of Alexander the Great.  He told of one pirate captured and dragged before Alexander who asked him “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.”   The pirate smiled, knowing all too well that his acts were no different than those of the great emperor.  His response came with some sarcasm.  “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” 

Sometimes, pirates joined forces as mercenaries-for-hire with established states to accomplish their ends.  After Alexander’s death, his generals Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigonus, successfully divided the kingdom among themselves.  Rhodes formed strong commercial ties with the Ptolemies in Alexandria that controlled trade throughout the Aegean in the 3rd century BC.  The city developed into a maritime, commercial and cultural center that became the envy of the other former Alexandrian generals.  Antigonus’ son, Demetrius Poliorcetes (sieger of cities) developed weapons to siege the great city of Rhodes.  These included a great battering ram that required 1,000 men to operate and a huge siege tower called Helepolis.  Demetrius also relied upon 1,000 Aegean pirates to operate Helepolis.  Not being part of Demetrius’ state forces, however, these pirates realized early the futility of the effort and abandoned Demetrius’ main forces.  Demetrius lost.  The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the great wonders of the ancient world, commemorated this Rhodian triumph against Demetrius and his pirates. 

Johann Hari pulled his Alexander quote from any of a number of sources who repeated this famous conversation with the Aegean pirate.  Linguist and political activist, Noam Chomsky used the same quote in his book, Pirates & Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World and attributes it to St. Augustine.   Chomsky attempted to convey that people throughout time have viewed pirates and piracy as variously good and bad, depending on the point-of-view.  He regarded large states as committing the same acts, but with the support and approbation of a large number of people and the military might to enforce their will.  He made an offhand reference to Demetrius and Elizabethan England, to name two.

After the beginnings of capitalism and the modern view of property rights, governments began to regard piracy as an abominable thing, a distinct danger to the steady progression of finance and power.  It became a type of unacceptable competition, “akin to war,” and eliminated by force in 1726 in American waters.   The causes of piracy did not change – nations simply grew stronger.  Historian Marcus Rediker infers that “once this ‘inefficiency of production’ had been removed, the productivity of maritime labor increased dramatically.”  Rediker (who wrote with a decidedly Marxist flavor) and Chomsky would have agreed.  Still, a stronger state, expressed with a cat-o-nine-tails, encouraged another surge of piracy.  Piracy seemed to be a part of the human condition, a fact that Rediker made apparent when he stated that piracy “was deeply imbued with the collectivistic tendencies produced by life and labor at sea.”   

For the most part, the western world has developed along the lines of the capitalistic economic system since the seventeenth century.  Today, great nations ply the maritime routes for specific financial reasons and generally regard piracy as a thing to be destroyed.  It raises the net price of goods.  The right-wing reports of Brian Scudder, with African Business magazine, regard pirates of Somalia with the expected outrage.  However, Johann Hari, with The Independent viewed a completely different side of the story.  Like Rediker’s eighteenth-century “brotherhood of pirates,” Hari saw pirates today as “social bandits” who merely tried to prevent economic disaster and major health risks from nuclear waste being dumped on their shores.  Scudder states that “there has been no policing of Somali waters by any locally recognized authority.”   However, an independent Somalian WardheerNews, Hari contends, found 70 per cent of the country “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defense.”   Yet, the British Royal Navy – backed by a coalition force of more than two dozen nations, from the U.S. to China – sailed into Somalian waters to destroy these pirates.  According to Hari, more than two dozen nations had declared war on the non-existent country and their “Volunteer Coastguard,” as they call it.  

Hari’s opinion carried emotional appeal.  The tone of his article suggested that Somali pirates had every right to defend themselves against the undeserving onslaught and inconsideration of these many powerful nations.  To Hari, the Somali nation was obliterated after their civil war and since 1991, these nations had viewed the Somalian waters as a free-dumping zone and free fishery.  He states:

As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

These acts endangered more lives than the Somali.  News articles never mentioned possible health dangers from fish taken from an area infested by illegal nuclear waste.  If Hari was correct, these unauthorized fishing trawlers may have obtained tainted seafood from Somali waters to be consumed “in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome,” as he remarked.   They may have poisoned their own people for the profit.  Somali pirates seem mild by comparison.

Still, Hari mentioned that not all of the “Somali” pirates served the Somalian people.  While, he did not elaborate on these peripheral pirates, Thomas Land of New African magazine did.  In his article, titled “Somalia Pirates Beware,” he contends that Somalia “lacked a central government since 1991 when Mohamed Siad Barre's regime was toppled by warlords.”  Since that time (except for a brief period of control by Islamists until 2006), piracy increased 14% worldwide during the first nine months of 2007.  They affected major ports and coastal waters of Tanzania and Kenya as well as the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea area.  The primary area affected still centered upon Somalia, indicating not only the point of origin, but also that Somalis “stretched” the local appellation of the “Volunteer Coastguard” somewhat.  Their influence may also have inspired others to engage in illegal piracy for less noble reasons.   

Lee Shi-lan reported that “In war-ravaged, bitterly poor Somalia, there are many men living in palatial beachfront villas and driving luxury cars.”   Shi-lan contends that these men have turned Somalia into a “pirate’s paradise.”  Heavily armed men prey with impunity on shipping in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest sea routes.  “The ships - including oil tankers - are worth millions each.  Their cargoes are also worth millions.  But these are not what the pirates are after.  They hijack the ships and hold the crew hostage for something better - cold hard cash in [U.S.] currency.”   Josette Sheeran, the World Food Program executive director, Shi-lan said, commented that piracy had damaged and stopped food shipments intended to help the starving Somali people.  “Another disturbing factor is the funnelling of ransom money to Somali insurgents, who are mounting an increasing number of assaults in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.”  

"The pirates with money to burn appear to have become beacons of hope for many young men who are desperate for work in one of the planet's poorest countries," stated Shi-lan.  Each ransom payment made the lure of piracy difficult to resist for Somali youth.  These youths formerly worked as bodyguards or in the government militia.  They saw the lucrative rewards in piracy and decided to enlist in the pirate gangs without the nobler incentives of the earlier pirates.  A vicious cycle was born, not unlike Tripolitan pirates in the Mediterranean of the early nineteenth century.  A young United States paid ransom payments before 1801 to the Barbary pirates to prevent seizure of their vessels and ultimately went to war over it.  

British Broadcasting Company (BBC) news reporter, Robin Hunter, said that these Somali pirates now “live a lavish life” because of these payments.   They drive the best cars, marry the prettiest women, and local businessmen ask them for loans.  They remain heavily armed, supplied with rocket-propelled grenades from Yemen, across the gulf.   

The once noble intentions turned bad.  Eight attacks per year rose to twenty-six by 2007.  Fatal attacks increased off Tanzania, Kenya, and the Red Sea.  Pirates hijacked WFP food shipments more often.  Even more fatal, operations in the Red Sea threaten 20% of the oil shipments to mostly U.S. ports.  Colloquially phrased, they “kicked” a known imperialistic, “oil-gobbling” superpower in the “oil pan” while following the example of Muslim Barbary Pirates by charging too much for the insult.  They brought back bad memories of the Tripolitan affair and the recent Islamic fundamentalist attacks in New York.  Furthermore, they provided a humanitarian reason to subdue these pirates while keeping U.S. popularity in the press.  From that point, U.N. efforts (guided by the U.S.) culminated in the 2009 operation to eradicate pirates on Africa’s east coast.  The Somali pirates themselves, completed the political equation necessary for their own demise, much like Charles Vane, Benjamin Hornigold, and Edward Teach in eighteenth-century America.  As Hari said, “when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 per cent of the world's oil supply, we swiftly send in the gunboats.” 

This similar situation occurred in the Caribbean waters in 1718 with the British appointment of Governor Woodes Rogers to New Providence in the Bahamas.  A former governor of that island, Nicholas Trott (a later South Carolina judge) allowed pirate Henry Avery refuge after plundering in the Indian Ocean.  Trott not only allowed him “to water” and acquire provisions; he shared in the loot that Avery (alias “Bridgeman”) acquired.  Two of his crewmen also sailed to Bermuda to live on lands purchased from Trott.  The complicity of Trott and governors like him (for example, Charles Eden in northern Carolina) allowed piracy to grow unchecked in New Providence and most of America.  Piracy became commonplace in America by 1701.  Gov. James Moore, Goose Creek Indian slave trader, officially remarked in the House of Commons on the “proper” practice of piracy in Carolina.  “Mr. Painter [Peter Painter] having comitted Piracy & not having his majesties Pardon for ye Same.  It[‘]s resolved he is not fit for that trust.”   Like Somalia, piracy in early America appeared to be sanctioned by the people.  The Carolina naval forces compared with Somalia’s “Volunteer Coastguard.”  Still, after 1726, British authorities wanted pirates out of the way for profit’s sake and they made a concerted effort to accomplish this task.  

After the Act of Union in 1707 and with growing liberal, or Whig power in England, piracy faced greater pressures from a unified front.  Woodes Rogers spent three years, from 1718-1721 trying to arrest the growth of piracy and restore British commerce in the Bahamas.  While Rogers encountered some initial resistance, historian Michael Craton infers that most pirates welcomed the administration, however, having tired of the restless life.  The infamous pirates, Charles Vane and Benjamin Hornigold departed the islands upon Rogers’ arrival.  Craton believed that New Providence still contained a relatively lawless atmosphere, however, even after these efforts.   

Mohamed Ali Gedi, the Somali prime minister, stated that he would welcome a maritime naval police operation involving Kenyan and U.S. navies.  Yet, he has resisted giving them permission to operate in Somali waters.  Like New Providence, Somali peoples may yet welcome administration as well.  Gedi’s actions indicate that some of the pirates, like Vane and Hornigold, however, will most certainly not.  And the fact that piracy remains a difficult challenge for U.N. forces in Somalia reflects British efforts in the eighteenth-century Caribbean.  

Pirates across the ages share many similarities.  The weapons change, but the intent remains the same.  At first, these pirates begin their careers with a cause, a definite feeling of righteousness.  After living the lawless life for a time, they lose sight of the goal.  Still, most pirates do not have a chance nonetheless.  Larger and more powerful states better organized and with more resources, will be able to hold the military pressure on longer and eventually win.  Somali pirates began with a cause, to save their people from Western and European abuse and theft.  When they engaged in piracy for ransom, prevented food shipments to their own people, and threatened the U.S. oil supply, they signed their death warrant.  Like Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet, and Henry Avery, they all succumbed to the bigger pirates with better guns.  The best weapon these “sea powers” wielded perhaps was a well-thought-out plan.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

What is "Hegemony?"

Wikipedia says:

Noun: hegemony (plural hegemonies)

   1. (formal) Domination, influence, or authority over another, especially by one political group over a society or by one nation over others (e.g.: internationally among nation-states, and regionally over social classes, between languages or even culture).

          The two political parties battled viciously for hegemony.

   2. Dominance of one social group over another, such that the ruling group or hegemon acquires some degree of consent from the subordinate, as opposed to dominance purely by force

This cartoon was one of the first hits when I Googled "hegemony" on Yahoo.  The Black Commentator is a website devoted to issues of African Americans.  The first picture was a complicated diagram but, almost all of them involved similar ideas of "taking advantage" of one group over another.  Note that our "Sopranos" are the ones that actually comment on the US hegemony as destructive.  Still, I think the picture implies that universally.  Many today regard this as a primitive aspect of human behavior that is phasing out of a more enlightened world community.

Studying history, I've come to realize that a great deal of human history has been concerned with obtaining hegemony over another group.  Recently, we have had an article on Dutch Hegemony assigned to us. 
I'm sure it was assigned because it made us think.  They really like to see students think... :)  The Dutch have been regarded as the first truly capitalistic society in the world.  They were the first to develop a corporate economic system conducive to capitalism and even built ships called flutes, with no guns, whose purpose was to sail amongst the Baltic nations (the Dutch's primary trade partners) and transport goods.  They were ships built specifically to haul loads, called harringbuis, or just "buss."  I call them "trucks" because that is essentially what they were most comparable to today.  These trucks transported goods down the highways of the 17th century, or the Baltic straits and sea.  Wallerstein tells "As late as 1728, Daniel Defoe was still referring to the Dutch as 'the Carryers of the World, the middle Persons in Trade,
the Factors and Brokers of Europe.'"  It reminded me of an ad for a trucking company... lol.

In reading this article, I was struck by some amazing parallels.  Immanuel Wallerstein, himself notes these parallels in his own article:

... a mass of urban proletarians who were living in slums,
many of the workers employed being female and child labor.  
As Jeannin says so aptly, “the tensions and the conflicts have a modern
resonance." Of course they do, because we are in the presence of
industrial capitalism. In summary, it can be said that in the late
sixteenth century, the northern Netherlands was set firmly on the
path of a productive efficiency that enabled the United Provinces to
flower in about 1600 into the principal (though of course not the
only) production center of the European world-economy.

Does this sound like the United States?  As Wallerstein says, you can't stay on top forever... the very nature of reaching the top means to have stepped on others, who respond by gaining a foothold over you.
  In other words, you can never maintain top place.  This "battle scene" has something of a Malthusian (Thomas Malthus) quality to it.  I have put the definition for hegemony at the beginning of this entry because it is a word that many of us are not really familiar with.  I know that I wasn't.  It also gets little attention, maybe why we don't like to think about it that much.  It's a word whose emotional connotations are similar to the idea of "to capitalize" which I've shown before, has mainly two meanings (not including capitalizing letters) that relate to the understanding of ourselves. My argument is that Americans have altered their definition of "capitalize" not due to changing trends in society but, because we need to see it differently than what we know it to be.  We still think of it as "to take advantage."  Most of us, I think, still regard "to capitalize" as "to take advantage" in our heads.  That was my own first impression, anyway.  However, our dictionaries reveal a different definition, reflective of our national economic need.  Understand that these American dictionaries show this relationship whereas, British dictionaries still carry "to take advantage" as the primary definition:

Verb [UK]
to capitalise (third-person singular simple present capitalises, present participle capitalising, simple past and past participle capitalised)
    1. (followed by on) To seize, as an opportunity; to obtain a benefit.
The home team appeared to have the advantage throughout the game, and finally capitalised on their opponents' weakness with just two minutes remaining, scoring several points in quick succession.
    2. (writing, editing) to make use of capital letters (a.k.a. upper case).
In English, proper nouns should always be capitalised.
    3. (business) to have, contribute or acquire capital (money or other resources) for a business.
Some states require proof that a new venture is properly capitalised before the state will issue a certificate of incorporation.
    4. (finance) to convert into capital, ie to get cash or similar immediately fungible resources for some less fungible property or source of future income.
If we obtain a loan using the business as collateral, the effect will be to capitalise our next ten years of income, giving us cash today that we can use to buy out our competitor.
    5. (accounting, taxation) to treat as capital, not as an expense. (This has implications for when deductions may be taken, at least under US law.)
    6. (intransitive): To profit or to obtain an advantage.
The home team took several shots on goal but was unable to capitalise until late in the game.

and, now, our views:

Verb [US]
to capitalize (third-person singular simple present capitalizes, present participle capitalizing, simple past and past participle capitalized)
    1. (transitive) In writing or editing, to write in capital letters, in upper case, either the entire word or text, or just the initial letter(s) thereof.
In English, proper nouns should always be capitalized.
    2. (transitive, business, finance) To contribute or acquire capital (money or other resources) for.
Some states require proof that a new venture is properly capitalized before the state will issue a certificate of incorporation.
    3. (transitive, finance) To convert into capital, ie to get cash or similar immediately fungible resources for some less fungible property or source of future income.
If we obtain a loan using the business as collateral, the effect will be to capitalize our next ten years of income, giving us cash today that we can use to buy out our competitor.
    4. (transitive, accounting, taxation) To treat as capital, not as an expense.
    5. (intransitive) To profit or to obtain an advantage.
The home team took several shots on goal but was unable to capitalize until late in the game.
    6. (intransitive, followed by on) To seize, as an opportunity; to obtain a benefit.
The home team appeared to have the advantage throughout the game, and finally capitalized on their opponents' weakness with just two minutes remaining, scoring several points in quick succession.
These are definitions carried by everybody's favorite Wikipedia (by the way, Jimmy Wales, the founder is asking for donations to keep it running during these hard times... give if you can.  Information should be free to all.)  I was told to never cite Wikipedia in my work... because the entries can evolve and change and what you cited my have changed since.  That is not to imply that historans don't use Wikipedia... we love bibliographies and Wikipedia is one of the best sources for those!  It also provides good and easily available insights that get us started.

I've looked up "to capitalize" in American dictionaries and English dictionaries... that's what started me on this line of thought.  I found the same thing.  It would make sense if most of us agreed with the change from British (our mother country) to American but, I don't believe that's the case. Something other than mutual agreement likely changed those dictionary entries.

You may relate this national psychological relationship to the term "manifest destiny."  Philosophers called this a "reification," or a tendency to treat a set of ideas as a definite thing. A very real sense of "manifest destiny" has guided America to its position of hegemony over the world.  As Wallerstein intuits, this pinnicle of power is the final stage in capitalistic societies.  The Dutch were the perfect example, he states.  And Dutch hegemony did not last.  Still, the Dutch remain.

 This excerpt reminded me of John Perkins (Economic Hit Man) interview:

... to take advantage of this productive superiority, such a state must be strong enough to prevent or minimize the erection of internal and external political barriers to the free flow of the factors of production
The United States' corporations do this now... ignoring all domestic and foreign environmental and moral laws (internal and external barriers both) and beliefs to gain a profit in foreign countries that they know will destroy the economy of that country... in fact, they feed off of it...  Iceland was devastated most recently.  United States hegemony has reached its destructive capitalistic pinnacle.

This is history.  It is useful in avoiding past mistakes - not always a prediction for the future.  Admittedly, America faces a different future than what it has known in the past.  That is what's inevitable here.  Change can be a wonderful thing, though.  Certainly, a system based on "taking advantage" is not really the best one.  That's kind of like throwing a snickers bar into a crowd of hungry kids.  They could share that bar but, will they?  I've seen too many bruised faces in my youth to believe otherwise.  Well, we'd like to think that our own kids would... or would we?  

What about us?  Are we still behaving like kids in the schoolyard?  Have the dictionaries of America (and of course, the media) restructured/simplified/debased our thinking that much yet?  I ask myself, what have we learned ourselves?  History has not always been popular in schools.  Some say that's because of our boring and inaccurate textbooks.  I agree.  James Loewen agrees (check out books online).  Textbooks are the first things our kids see in regards to history and we're not inspiring them to find out about their past.  Are we ashamed of it that much?  Would our kids see us as the bullies that grabbed and horded that candy bar?  What are we teaching them?  

What do you think?  Do these impressions need changing?  Who promotes ideas like these?  Do political leaders help to promote or hinder these ideas?  Are they representative of what you want your kids to learn?
Click this link for the video:
What impressions did these girls learn?  Who did they learn it from?
Was the media fully to blame for this?  Or might we take some responsibility, too?

Friday, October 08, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

 Books reviewed:

Garrett Mattingly, The Armada (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959).
Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker, The Spanish Armada, rev. ed. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002).

Garrett Mattingly’s The Armada thoroughly covers many aspects of the events of 1587-1588 in which Phillip II of Spain, with papal support, invaded the heretic kingdom of Elizabeth I of England.  A greater appreciation for each historical character develops through the attractive words of Mattingly.  Like a Sunday afternoon conversation with a learned scholar, Mattingly’s comfortable and patient style gives greater ambiance to the romance of early European history than the mere facts.  For him, the soldiers, sailors, and monarchs of both Spain and England were human beings with human frailties.  These human frailties showed all too well in difficult times like war.  England played the part of the insecure bully while Spain, the part of the inflexible elder who simply and confidently reacted.  This happened occasionally to their displeasure.  England’s new “toys,” ships of greater fire power and maneuverability would signal a dramatic change in naval warfare while Spain’s overconfidence and rigidity would weaken their national momentum.  The Columbia professor knew his material and he crafted a remarkable and rich tale.

Complimenting Mattingly, Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker’s The Spanish Armada utilizes recent archaeological discoveries just prior to the fourth centenary of the epic battle in 1988.  Eight sites have been discovered since 1967.  The Irish site at Streedagh Strand had only just been found in 1985 and had not been worked beyond preliminary surveys.  Still, the authors were able to borrow from the unpublished studies for the first edition of this publication.  A similar source derives from the middle-range archaeological approach of reconstructed gun mountings to understand how they were used in 1588.  Notably enriched data since the first hastily-conceived version in 1988 gives this 1999 version much more clarity.  Charts and maps give it a modern, scientific quality.  While constructed in a scholarly fashion, it appears no more erudite than Mattingly’s version.  These two books have very different styles and are both enjoyable and informative.  The introduction of The Spanish Armada regards its subject as a “good yarn” that has “provided generations of historians with an abundance of fine material from which to spin it” (Martin and Parker, 2).  Martin and Parker obviously read Mattingly.  These authors step into modern light and attempt to dispel myths, both old and new, understanding that even good historians play a game or two.

Indeed, these books support each other and The Spanish Armada simply completes the tale as told by Mattingly who spent the first two hundred and fifty pages on the prelude to July 29, 1588 (new calendar) when the Armada first reached England.  Historical background interested Martin and Parker, but only about half as much.  Presumably, as archaeologists, they were eager to discuss the events that produced the wreckage.  Moreover, as scientist/historians, they provided excellent timelines, graphs, charts, and maps that help in understanding older events from a foreign land.  Regretfully, Mattingly did not.  Still, Mattingly, Martin, and Parker equally enjoyed the games in the English Channel in 1588.

Mattingly tells that English commanders worried about the menacing Spanish Armada, the threat that so large a power as Spain could muster and the religious fervor that propelled it.  He attributes the timely readiness of Elizabeth’s navy to the building efforts of John Hawkins.  Still, to England, the combined forces of France, Spain, and the “radical fanatics of the Holy League” had the authority of civilization and Pope Sixtus V, leader of the dominant religious faith of the western world (Mattingly, 148).  England’s paranoia (or Phillip’s intrigue) had already killed Mary, Queen of Scots (a Catholic and only reasonable heir to the English throne).  From Spain’s perspective, Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary’s accession to the English throne would have redeemed the protestant country in God’s eyes.  Now, the criminal heretics, Satan’s forces, had destroyed God’s plan.  The English were not unaware of Spain’s feelings in this regard.  They played a deadly game with an experienced Old World foe.  That Elizabeth lost any sleep may have been for a genuine fear of the Pope and his power rather than love for her dead cousin, regardless of her portrayal in popular films.  Martin and Parker assert that the English worried primarily due to Spain’s reputation and previous victories at sea. 

Regardless, England’s Protestants and Protestants of other nations took full advantage of this reputation after defeating the Armada.  Protestant propaganda inflated the Armada and, with it, Phillip’s apparent greed.  No doubt Phillip’s reputed greed stemmed from the well-known Catholic penchant for gold or wealth.  Protestant’s played on this avaricious reputation.  The size of Spanish galleons became more legendary than real.  In reality, many of these vessels were not built to fight, but to function as transports. These larger converted Spanish transports once carried war materiel in bulk and suddenly became bulky, clumsy fighters.  Spanish and English formulae for tonnage also varied, with Spanish calculations being higher in value than English.

Another ludicrous suggestion involved the high mounting of cannon on towering castles that fired over their intended targets.  This view of Spanish ships, while rejected late in the nineteenth century, still persists on occasion.  Martin and Parker’s appendix list Martin Frobisher’s Triumph at 1,100 tons, while the San Martin figures at 1,000 (probably an overestimation).  Mattingly suggests that Frobisher’s had higher castles, more bulk, and was less concerned about Spanish boarding parties.

Also, documents at Simanca show that the total effective firepower of the Spanish, once overestimated at one-third greater than the English counterpart, actually was more realistically half of that.  The result being that the English had the advantage.  An analysis of English cannon shows them to be more efficient and easier to reload than Spanish cannon of comparable caliber, with shorter barrels, smaller carriage wheels, and able to be reloaded while under cover from enemy fire.  All of these factors gave the illusion that the power of the Spanish Armada was invincible.  Spanish authorities may have fooled themselves into believing in their superiority at the outset of the 1588 battle or they simply hoped for England to back down in fear.  Their gambles had worked for them until 1588, at any rate.

Games played by a weakling nation like England in 1588 can be the most serious in consequence.  In many ways, Elizabeth I plays the role of mother to a nation that functions as her family, suggesting that English subjects behaved in a fashion rather like children.  Indeed, new ideas gave rise to the technology that defeated the Armada, ideas that are often born of impetuous material, nurtured in adversity.  Whether perceived as weakness or strength depends on the point of view.  Sir Francis Drake demonstrates his impetuosity superbly in his impulsive piratical behavior, not just in the West Indies and around the world, but most especially in his defense of his family closest to home.  His pre-invasion assault on Cadiz was viewed as a terrorist raid by an angry civilized Spain, steeped in Old World traditions of honor to which Drake had not been privy as a farmer’s son.  Spanish citizens, quietly performing their daily tasks, recoiled in horror to discover that the dread pirate, El Draque had arrived to lay waste to their world.  Mattingly, even in 1959, stresses the same apprehensions that Americans felt in 2001, when Al Quada intentionally crashed planes into skyscrapers in New York City.  Drake knew well his psychological effect and used it to his advantage.

At the same time, Mattingly takes the role of psychiatrist and delves into Drake’s puritan past to explain his strong repulsion to Catholicism.  Still, his actions appeared irresponsible to anyone of modern times while the reactions of Spain’s Phillip II seem relatively understandable.  Phillip II refuses breaches of honor such as his orders to Medina Sidonia not to invade England herself, but to proceed with the plan to siege London and attack the head of the government.  Phillip II displays noteworthy civilized behavior.  Further, three long years of preparations for the 1588 attack took patient administrative ability, as compared to England’s ad hoc, ill-prepared response.  Drake and his fellow “Sea Dogs” never seem to follow such rules, nor do they have the patience.  Phillip II suggests with his orders that Elizabeth I is the leader of a rogue nation, not capable of rational decision.  Whether this resulted from gender-specific sixteenth-century perceptions of Elizabeth I or her heretic Protestant religion remains a mystery.  Mattingly asserts both in a psycho-analytical approach.

Understandably, political nuances cannot be summed up easily.  Mattingly explains the events in such detail and with such superb source material that little question remains.  Martin and Parker take this cavalier English behavior a step further and state that a close parallel came in 1940 when Britain once again demonstrated an inability to resist invasion.  Somehow, they mustered the strength.  Interestingly, none of these authors expound on a geographical contribution to this psychological behavior.  After all, England sat isolated in the North Sea and, as Mattingly stated, English patriotism depended on zenophobia.

Mattingly, Martin, and Parker all explain the historical setup well.  By the time the narrative comes to the Armada making its way to the Isle of Wight in the English Channel, with the “Sea Dogs” tenaciously pursuing, the pedantically piratical actions of Drake became expected.  Most would regard snuffing the lantern after dark to chase treasure rather than guide your flotilla on its highly important mission as irresponsible.  Still, almost three hundred pages of Mattingly’s biographical setup had long revealed Drake’s character.  It took a complete day to regroup and reorganize the fleet after that cavalier maneuver.  Furthermore, a more experienced Lord Admiral Charles Howard of Effingham plundered a helpless Spanish vessel on the French coast, after eight fireships scattered the Armada anchorless to the mercy of the wind.  Bravado carried the day.  To be fair, in a later moment of desperation, Medina Sidonia acted in kind when civilization and God failed him.  

Piratical games were mostly an English characteristic, however.  The French governor of Calais, Monsieur Gourdan, claimed the San Lorenzo as his property, allowing the English to take the loot, understanding that they shared in the spoils.  Still, the English greedily attempted to take it all.  French guns persuaded them to take what they could and rejoin their Admiral, impatient to enter the battle, growing ever distant to leeward.  Mattingly, in a fatherly way, tries unconvincingly to understand their behavior in this incident as well.  He says that the San Lorenzo, being a large class, continued to represent a danger and needed to be broken completely to ensure that it could not return to bother them.  Mattingly already stated that she was rudderless and limping along the French shore until she grounded and leaned on her side.  M. Gourdan then claimed the vessel, taking the burden off of the English.  There was little reason to assume that San Lorenzo would return to annoy them.  Interestingly, Martin and Parker describe it with deference to English material desires and surprisingly admonish the French for their interference.

Tried and true tactics of the civilized “old way” severely limited Spanish possibilities while facing what the Pope viewed as an unconventional national bully.  Don Pedro de Valdés, commander of the Andalusian squadron, took a strong interest in his guns when he prepared for this mission.  Martin and Parker show that he attempted to match English firepower, swapping larger guns for more numerous smaller ones yet, he still adhered to the “close and board” school of battle, a trait then becoming obsolete.  Mattingly described a typical Spanish maneuver in which Medina Sidonia had allowed for Admiral Howard to board and fight hand to hand.  Instead, the cautious English admiral kept his distance while pouring a broadside into the Spanish vessel.  So did the next English ship in line, as the next and the next.  To other Spanish ships, helplessly downwind, the more maneuverable English ships swarmed the San Martin, battering her little by little.  An allusion to Gulliver’s Travels may have been in order.

For the English, a semblance of honorable behavior only materialized after the Spanish threat was nearly neutralized and the battle turned in their favor.  The Duke of Medina Sidonia, not being an experienced sailor, was still an honorable gentleman.  Twice, he used the San Martin, already battered and beaten herself, to defend a helpless Spanish vessel under attack.  One gallant Englishman offered a Spanish vessel terms after witnessing their heroism, only to be shot at by a musketeer.  They then pounded the vessel into the waves.  Righteous motivations may have prompted the Spanish musketeer to behave in this manner or he simply felt honor-bound to fight until the end.

Calais and Gravelines most certainly signaled the end for the forces of Phillip II.  They drifted northward, into the stormy cold.  Martin and Parker mentioned Medina Sidonia marveling at the Northern lights, which must have seemed rather surreal in the religious atmosphere of 1588 and immediately following the beating that he had taken.  Afterthoughts on these games in the English Channel grew melancholic.  Many men still alive at this point would not be in a few hours.  Movement through the bitter cold North Sea and around the ragged coast of Ireland finished off what remained of an already starving Armada.  Few washed-up survivors made it past the rocks.  Those that had not drowned after wrecking on the Irish coast had their heads clubbed as they lay helpless.

The English, regardless of their tactics, beat the Spanish because of technology, not simply piratical actions alone.  Martin and Parker describe the details of this technology.  They diagram and chart it well.  The Spanish Armada could be used as a training manual for gunners and shipbuilders.  Shot size, type of cannon, carriage, weights, and ranges provide excellent instruction.  An appendix contains charts with known ships, class, tonnage, and number of guns.  They used the archaeology reports on Spanish vessels and, with Spanish records more complete, their interests naturally focused on them.

The books each have distinct differences that allow for the other to compliment the first.  Footnoting Armada’s text may have required another four hundred pages and so, Mattingly provides curt bibliographical references instead.  Still, the detail in the narrative appears realistic and sensible.  The lack of illustrations in this edition disappoints while The Spanish Armada fulfills this desire well.  The appendices contain numerous data and a good comparison between English and Spanish guns.  With technology being a crucial factor in the outcome of the attack, the details enhance the narrative well.  For the narrative, few authors compare to Garrett Mattingly.

The events of 1588 offer a great opportunity to observe human behavior in action.  Spain, a great and powerful Old World nation with tremendous wealth inspired the envy of all nations.  England, the weak nation-state, the underdog, grew steadily annoyed by what they believed was arrogance and superiority.  They contented themselves with piracy until Spain grew annoyed as well.  Again, this was a deadly game in which arrogance battled arrogance.   Sir Francis Drake personified England’s required prescription and played the game for his Queen.  A perfect parallel and suggestion lay for every presumptive nation in this tale.  The powerful and arrogant Spain lost in 1588, only to be continually suppressed in their political and military affairs by the underdogs.

Mattingly with his fatherly approach and Martin and Parker with their historical scientific methods, reveal the blatant puerile behavior of the English and the clumsy, self-importance of the Spanish.  In both respects, they play games with each other and with their lives.  In the end, the greatest sea power ever known upon the earth was born.  These two books, The Armada and The Spanish Armada should always be paired on the bookshelf for one alone does not tell the tale by itself.  

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Snaphaunce Gunlock Found on Hatteras by Dr. Phelps in 1997/8

Permission of Phelps Archaeology Laboratory, East Carolina University
What do you do?

This past summer, I have worked with a really fine group of people who actually are friends with one another and do some damned fine research... together, as a group. They include REAL professionals, an Archaeology PhD candidate, an expert on Indian migration and DNA studies, a Maritime History MA candidate (myself), many specialists in many different fields, including a mayor from Bidford, England!  I'm new to graduate research and should be forgiven for the shock I expressed maybe.

During my own research, I have casually sought other experts to help me understand the significance of certain finds, namely a gunlock that may date to the late 16th century (which would be highly significant!) and the Kendall ring (an artifact that may relate to one member of the Roanoke voyages, can be viewed here: ).  These items were found by the late Dr. David S. Phelps, Professor Emeritus at East Carolina University.  An ECU report on this archaeological site is available at http:///  I have made the legitimate resources available to all for the sake of unbiased opinions.  

One point that I feel is necessary to make and that is that my research and my friends' research is in no way connected to ECU.  We all ask questions of experts, some of them happen to be at that university... but, still, this is a group project that makes no such claims to any eminent institution.

BTW: Shameless plug - WRAL TV interview with two of our guys Monday night, interviewed by Sloan Mason at 5:55 pm, if I remember correctly. If you miss it, you can catch it later on their website.

Not much has been done on this "Croatan" (spelled "Croatoan" by the Indians) archaeological site lately.  Part of it has been due to Dr. Phelps passing.  It may also be due to problems similar to one that I have encountered lately.  Someone has been "poisoning the well" so to speak.  

I wrote an email to a snaphaunce expert in England just for an opinion on the gunlock (open for view at ECU Special Collections)... I got the sudden response that he had already given his opinion on this artifact and he insinuated that I was "butting in" on another man's research!  Well, this was definitely unexpected and strange.  The guy was only defending someone else, I know.  But... geesh!  I mean, Phelps was no longer around but the site was still under the direction of ECU and they didn't seem to mind.  In fact, the Archaeology department has been very helpful as you might expect them to be.  If this artifact had already been analyzed, I would love to hear about the analysis.  I'd love to know who it was that did it.  He referred me to the "site director."  Well?  This English expert mentioned a name that has nothing to do with the archaeology department at ECU and he said that he was the "site director" of the "Lost Colony site."  Well, I would not have wanted to butt in on anyone's "territory," but this particular person was NOT the director of that site nor has he ever been!   I was astounded!  "What did I do to him?" was the question that went through my mind repeatedly.  For some reason, he believed that I was asking him his opinion to undermine someone else.  Who gave him that idea? 

Anyway, I directed him to the proper authorities and all is well.  Honest, forthright research means cooperation... everyone working together to accomplish the goal.  "Poisoning water" does not help.  If one wishes to make great discoveries, then one must be willing to cooperate on such multidisciplinary endeavors and share the credit, not spoiling the resources for everyone else.  I welcome any cooperative efforts to further this very important end.  Tell me, why do I feel like my Dad?

The link to FtDNA Lost Colony project is located at .  This is the legitimate site and you will NEVER be charged by anyone from the group... only by FtDNA, if you decide to have the test performed.  It would be great to know if you connect to the Native Americans involved here... especially to the Lost Colony!  But, that's why some illegitimate ruses work.  So, don't listen to us or any other website... go straight to FtDNA if you're interested.  In fact, don't use the link I gave you... Google it and get there that way.  With the internet, you have to be careful to drink from the right waterholes. Cooperation, folks!  That's how we get answers. 

Monday, September 06, 2010

Acts of the North Carolina General Assembly, 1749

I thought you folks might enjoy a few of our fine state's laws from 1749:  These are available online at

An Act for the Punishment of such as shall take away young women that be Inheritors being within the Age of Sixteen Years, or marry them without Consent of their Parents.

An Act for taking away Clergy from Offenders against a certain Statute, made in the Third Year of the reign of Henry 7, concerning the taking away Women against their Wills, unlawfully.

An Act that no Person, robbing any House in the Day Time, altho' no Person be therein, shall be admitted to have the Benefit of his Clergy.

An Act to take away the Benefit of Clergy from some Kind of Manslaughter.

An Act to restrain all Persons from Marriage, until their former Wives, and former Husbands, be dead.

An act to prevent the destroying and murdering Bastard Children.

An Act to prevent Malicious burning of Houses, stacks of Corn and Hay, and killing or Maiming of Cattle.

An Act for the preserving all Ships and Goods thereof, which shall happen to be forced on Shore, or stranded, upon the Coasts of this Kingdom, or any other of his Majesty's Dominions.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Starting off With Columbus

Well, it's fall again and that means that I'm back in classes and you folks get to share that experience with me once again!  To start off, as a student in Maritime History 1415-1815, we write essays based upon books that we read.  These essays are critical analyses of the book... how good it was, what were its strengths, weaknesses, etc.  We began with an awesome book that I would highly recommend to everyone... 

William D. Phillips Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1992).

William and Carla Phillips introduce readers to the Worlds of Christopher Columbus, unabashedly reviling past historiography.  America’s unfamiliarity with the European world that created Columbus had a great deal to do with this skewed representation as much as the historical worship of so great a figure in its history.  For much of the nineteenth century America tended to ignore the enslavement of Indians and Columbus’ direct violation of orders from his Spanish sponsors that resulted in his arrest.  These very human frailties only top the list.  America in this time, however, avoided these frailties for the sake of preserving national dignity.  

Washington Irving’s 1828 popular biography of Christopher Columbus set the tone for nearly a century of textbook depictions of the “hero” Columbus.  The fourth centenary of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World, held at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, began to erode that romantic vision.  Although sluggish immediately following the “Great Man” era of American history (an idea cultivated by Thomas Carlyle), men like Justin Winsor, set out to become Irving’s “great American debunker” and change modern views of Christopher Columbus (Phillips and Phillips, 6).  

It cannot be argued that Columbus was an important personality in the development of the New World since 1492.  Columbus was, indeed a hero to many Americans.  This also holds true for the rest of the world as the Columbian Exchange of ideas and material culture influenced the entirety of the globe.  This book did not dispute Christopher Columbus’ contribution to history.  Still, that Columbus was simply human and not a “hero,” per se, the Phillipses labored to be understood.  They endeavored to set the historical record straight, to encourage other historians to provide a body of Columbian scholarship that contained the known facts about the previously misconstrued Genoan adventurer.  They were even successful in portraying a much more complex and convoluted human being that students across America could easily identify with.

This book was as much about the events leading to exploration beyond the eastern Atlantic as it was about Columbus himself.  As such, it provides an excellent historical setting and whets the appetite for the discovery to follow.  The first third of the Phillipses’ work give an excellent review of the history of navigation, the building technological capability for farther exploration, Asian spice availability, and religious incentives.  This book argues that all of these facets of Christopher Columbus’ world need to be fully understood before taking on the daunting task of analyzing the man.  The intricacies of following the polestar to reckon latitude, Portuguese expansion before 1492, advances in astronomical and geographic knowledge through Ptolemy, Copernicus, Bacon, d’Ailly, et al., and the Muslim conquest and control of the routes to the east all contributed.  Martin Behaim’s 1492 cartographic depiction of the world reflected the remarkably accurate view held by fifteenth-century geographers – only the Americas were missing.  That Columbus, or anyone for that matter, would eventually find America was a foregone conclusion.  The final puzzle piece would be found.

Many of today’s readers would not understand these contributing factors.  At first, Columbus was worshipped and then denounced.  History glorified in his fame, then became blinded by Columbus’ all too human and potentially instructional frailty.  The Phillipses believe that a lack of understanding of these subtle nuances of history contributed to the early archetypal works that filled our modern history texts with their many apocryphal tales of the “great man.”  The new tales carry starkly opposing views, also just as exaggerated.  As the saying goes, the truth is often in the middle.  True tales of Columbus yet waited for works like this book.   

Once the Phillipses established the historical setting for Columbus’ iconic voyage, they carefully began to analyze his origins and physical appearance.  Again, there existed controversy in the historiography.  Seventy-one portraits appeared in the 1893 Chicago Exposition, few of which resembled the accepted Lorenzo Lotto 1512 painting, commissioned in Venice only six years after Columbus’ death.  Still, the discovery of this painting came perhaps not in time for the 400th anniversary celebration and had not even been pronounced “authentic” until 1956.  There seems to have been no rhyme or reason to the speculative fascination, however.  Columbus himself mentioned his Genoese birth.  Still, others, not believing Columbus, speculated that he was English, French, or Spanish.  Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, who wrote only thirty years after Columbus, declared him to be red-headed with freckles, a complexion difficult to find in native Spaniards.  The Phillipses demonstrate how simple it can be to lazily accept fact without considering context.  For Americans, intent upon hero worship of Christopher Columbus and unfamiliar with Italian culture, this would have resulted in the observed factual distortions.  

American historiography was not solely responsible for the misinformation on Columbus.  He, himself was quite adept at that business, as much as his father at weaving wool.  On an early voyage to the Mediterranean island of Chios, he misidentified many plants as mastic bushes eager to find the popular and expensive perfume base.  He later repeated these errors in his zeal to discover new “Asian” spices.  Also, Columbus supposedly entered into a chart-making business with his sons, Hernando and Bartolomeo.  The Phillipses make it clear from Hernando Colón’s presumed early passages in his father’s biography that historians have assumed more than the documentary evidence revealed.  No documentation ever backed this.  Besides, what documents remain available to historians are mostly those of Columbus, who had a penchant for exaggeration. 
The Phillipses explain every important aspect of Columbus’ life that led to his famous voyage while informing readers of the difficulties involved in the analysis. By no means was this simple.  Even though from Genoa, born of weaver-parents Domenico and Susanna Fontanarossa Colombo, leaving at fourteen with a rudimentary education, Columbus’ formative decade in Portugal, they declare, explains the most confusing detail in the documentation – that of his writing almost exclusively in Latin and Portuguese.  Even his fortuitous marriage to Felipa Moniz was misconstrued in the past.  Columbus, not so downtrodden as he has been presented, received a welcome dowry, but so did most eligible and successful men of his time.  Again, Columbus’ story reads somewhat differently in true light.  

Even in the face of blaring blunders such as twice trying to sail directly east from the Caribbean, the Phillipses would have us know that Columbus was not an idiot.  He knew at least the basics of navigation and geography even if he did not completely understand the nature of the trade winds.  His estimates of the earth’s circumference were small, but still acceptable to the learned men of his day.  Still, they argue that the impetus for his monumental voyage came from “fables and stories” (Phillips and Phillips, 101).  So, he was impressionable.  These impressions somehow sparked the idea that something lay to the west.  Strange pieces of carved wood, of hitherto unknown species of trees, and large cane plants, all contributed to this idea that eventually became a dream.  The human Columbus dreamed, but he was not alone.  The wonder of the unknown tantalized many an imagination, not just Columbus.  His voyage was no certain success, but a gamble on the unknown that could have cost many lives.  Furthermore, these tales delight the expectant reader, a much needed reprieve from the first few chapters of background that, while excellent, did tread wearily at times.  

Enthralling, however, were the elaborate and highly decorative stories appended to Columbus’ tale as early as 1534.  One included a trip to Iceland, but the documentation for this speculation remained invisible.  These European “enhancements” were undoubtedly in response to Columbus’ own exaggerations, but the majority of these tales have developed in America, the results of nineteenth-century romanticism.  After all, in contrast to America, Europeans usually regard 1492 as the year that Granada returned to Spain from the hands of the Moors.  There was a distinct difference in historiographical motivation on opposite sides of the Atlantic.  Like James Loewen before them, the Phillipses want readers to understand that this romanticism has strongly affected past history education in America.  A real disservice has been performed to history students, even if Columbus himself would have approved the tales.  Columbus’ greatest failing, perhaps, was pride. Vanity would reveal itself many times during his career.  

There are many intrigues and amorous devices that Columbus may have used to get approval from the Spanish court of Fernando and Isabel, after having been turned down by King João of Portugal.  The writers preserve Columbus’ early struggles and his battle to be understood and accepted.  Few of these facts gain as much attention as the voyages themselves, however.  Once permission was received, the reader virtually sails beside Columbus, taking in the salt spray and the swells of the sea.  The Phillipses best writing in this book captures the maritime adventure upon departing Palos for what would be a long and tenuous voyage.

Another example of Columbus’ vanity stealing the show was the 10,000 maravedis that would go to the first man to sight land.  This reward Columbus claimed for himself, as if the glory of being admiral, governor, and collecting ten percent of all the American wealth were not enough.  Despite the failings, say the Phillipses, Columbus, as any mariner, kept two sets of numbers in his journal for ease of communication in foreign ports, not so he could deceive his crew.  Besides, he would have had to somehow change the logbooks of the other two ships, a difficult trick with the ocean between them.  Bartolomé de Las Casas began this rumor out of his ignorance of navigation and paraphrasing Columbus’ logs rather than quoting them directly.  

On page 155, the Phillipses finally bring the reader ashore in America, though where, exactly remains a mystery.  And, of course, what Columbus finds was not what he expected to find.  These are familiar details to most Americans.  His disappointment at not finding the riches of Cipango and a desire to impress his sponsors encouraged him to inaugurate the European practice of slavery in America.  God rewarded his efforts by allowing Martín Alonzo Pinzón to abscond with the Pinta and also by sinking his flagship, the Santa Maria, to whom Columbus partly attributed his treacherous crew as well.  Eventually, the treacherous Pinzón returned (which shone some credit upon Columbus as a navigator) with the Pinta and so ended the first fateful voyage, literally on a wing and a prayer.  The Phillipses detail the politics and the fervor that Columbus caused with his green parrots, seven Tainos, and sales pitches.  But, they also tell of his trials during subsequent voyages, increased responsibilities, and arrest in great detail.  Where a missing account fails them, they replace it with several peripheral accounts to fill the gap.    

The latter three voyages allow the Phillipses the chance to really explore Columbus’ character, his questionable ability to command, his desperate desire to receive even posthumous recognition, his gift of elaboration and redirection, but also his ingenuity in the face of adversity.  Still, political machinery gained momentum after the great discovery and Columbus barely balanced on the wave that resulted.  It only worsened after the riches were finally found.  The writers tell that Columbus’ troubles were a result of his vocation as mariner, not an administrator.  Still, allowing colonists to make slaves of the natives was directly opposed to his patrons’ orders.  Vanity stepped in again and Columbus’ theatrics surprisingly gave him a fourth voyage.  

This book revives the thrill of the exploration and the eager anticipation that must have been felt by all on the first voyage to America.  Thankfully, the writers steered away from detailed descriptions of spoiled meat, hardtack, weevils, and long sea voyages without baths.  Still, the political intrigues and machinations of the European courts were delightfully present in this book, as were the cannibal Caribs and ribald tales of conquest.  The effects of the Columbian Exchange were also richly detailed.  

William and Carla Phillips explore every facet and in the end, they lift somewhat their mantle as “debunker” to reveal the actual Columbus with all of his faults, but also his talents.  In many ways, he seems an even more exciting character than recently believed.   As a human being, Columbus remained an extraordinary man.  The vaporous romanticism that once surrounded the Genoese adventurer and discoverer of America truly hid the real intricacies of the man himself.  The glory of what Columbus did and the tragic mistakes that he made while doing them provide a human tale, one from which all Americans can identify and learn.  For himself, Columbus never publically admitted that he did not find Asia, to which the Phillipses offer that his stubborn insistence affected Europeans for decades after his death.  That predisposition quickly faded, but the exchange of plants, culture, diseases, and ideas had profound implications forever.