Thursday, March 27, 2008

For the Wacky Neighbor and all the baseball fans...

Play Ball!

In the Library of Congress!

And no, we don't mean literally! It's a library!

No, not even with Nerf balls and bats!

I think I figured it out...

I think I figured out why I wasn't nearly as drained reading about the Civil War as I was while reading "To Conquer Hell."

In to "Conquer Hell" the World War One American division, corps and army commanders really don't see what's going on at the front. The Corps Commanders (commanders of two or more army divisions operating as a single unit) are well behind the lines and are totally clueless about the situation on their front lines in WW1. There's one, a real piece of work named Bulloch who just makes you mad when you read his orders and comments. Mean, Stubborn and Inflexible is no way to command thousands of soldiers, especially if one is far behind the lines in a nice chateau far from the guns.

During the Civil War, corps and division commanders were much closer to the front lines. Much of this was due to the smaller size of Civil War Divisions vs World War One divisions and the lack of effective communication systems outside of couriers. So you had to stay close to your subordinate commanders. As a consequence many of these men were under enemy fire. They also accepted the value of having a general around his men during a tight situation. Many Civil War battles had division commanders and corps commanders under fire and many were wounded or killed. (Winfield Hancock at Gettysburg, Joshua Chamberlain outside of Petersburg, Cleburne at Franklin, Edwin Sumner at Antietam, Joe Hooker at Antietam, Phil Kearney at Chantilly, Reynolds at Gettysburg, Hood at Gettysburg, Longstreet at Wildnerness, the list goes on.)

As a consequence of this I think the generals tended to be more aware of the state of their commands and in most cases lived or died by the consequences of the attacks and defenses they planned and in a great many cases led.

I think there's something that should be learned from this, and George Patton appeared to have it down pretty well, "Lead from the Front." (Patton used a noodle on a plate as a teaching tool for his subordinates to learn this principle. He'd try to push the noodle forward and it wouldn't work, but if you pull the noodle...well then you're in business.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I finished "To Conquer Hell" at 12:15 this morning. It was probably the most emotionally draining history book I've ever read.

Now this is no small statement. I've been reading history books, particularly ones about war, for almost 20 years now. Most of them have been books about the American Civil War and many of them had soldiers' recollections just like this book had. But they were not as raw and the circumstances not nearly as horrific, or they pulled their punches when writing their letters home and memoirs.

Also, those soldiers aren't as forgotten as the American World War One soldiers are.

Seriously, think about it, how many WW1 memorials and monuments can you say you've seen?

How many Civil War memorials and monuments have you seen?

Notice how your first number is much smaller than your second number.

Did you know that there is NO national World War One Memorial? The only WW1 Memorial in DC is one to the soldiers of the District of Columbia who fought in the war.

I guess this lack of recognition of their service is one of the reason's I'm drained about this. We forgot these guys. I feel bad about that. Everybody from Vietnam to WW2 has a memorial. The Spanish American War has a Memorial, the Mexican War, the Marines, the Air Force the Navy, the War of 1812, the Civil and Revolutionary Wars have a whole pile of parks chock full of monuments. But the Doughboys are absent.

If you happen to read this book you'll probably come away with two questions:
1.) Why didn't they get their memorial?
2.) Why did we forget them so quickly?

I don't know the answer, perhaps because it was so awful and so short that nobody, including the soldiers, wanted to think about it anymore...and then WW2 came along and it became obvious that the job wasn't done and the Doughboys had to send their sons and daughters overseas to finally finish off what they had thought would be the War to End All Wars.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Harry S Truman...

(Truman Presidential Library)

Harry Truman is one tough guy. I'm reading "To Conquer Hell" and I have to say it is a very tough book to read. Not that it's written poorly, but rather it is written so well. It's very easy to get into the story and quite frankly the story is about as tough as one can get. The Americans are getting massacred and much of it is due to the incompetence of their own superiors. However, one of the bright spots is this plucky captain from Missouri who's breaking the rules (shelling a battery of German guns that are outside of his area of responsability but right out in the open) and telling off superiors (telling his colonel who called to yell at him for shelling said German guns to "go ahead" and court martial him because he'd do that anytime he saw a bunch of targets out in the open like that) and apparently being a stand up guy as the Germans are preparing to mount a counter attack, Truman's battery levels their guns to shoot using their sights while a French battery leaves. (The Germans didn't attack but one of Truman's artillerymen got to punch a French captain for telling them to leave.)

So Mr. Truman, my opinion about you went from you being an okay president to...(drumroll please)... A PRESIDENT WHO DESERVES TO HAVE A CARRIER NAMED AFTER HIM.

Yes Harry, you join the ranks of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, your predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt and your successor Dwight D. Eisenhower.

One may notice that I have not listed all the presidents who happen to have carriers named after them. My criteria and that of the Navy differ in that I adhere the following criteria:

1. Has the person been dead for 30 years.
2. How has their presidency been evaluated by now?
3. Did they do something special (fight in a war, help save France, Berlin Airlift, etc.)?

If 1 is yes and 2 is "They are regarded as one of the greatest presidents in our nation's history." and 3 is "yeah they did something extraordinary." Then in my opinion you deserve a carrier named after you. 1 can be overridden if they died in office.

Oh and Harry, nice motto you left for the men of your ship:

"The buck stops here!"

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hello trusted friend...

Have you ever had one of those moments where you're cleaning up your room or in my case...library that I also happen to sleep in...and come across a book you really liked but hadn't thought about in a while?

You pick it up and you're like, "HEY! I remember this! This is a great book!" And you think about how much fun you had reading it and start reading it again and wind up staying up until 2am to finish it in one sitting.

I did that recently with "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card. I guess it's triggered a 29 year crisis for me because I'm rallying hard back to the Civil War and a lot of books that I've missed because I started doing railroad history stuff.

I was also recommended "To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918" by my great uncle. My great great uncle served in the 79th Division during this campaign. I've started reading it and found it to be quite good so far.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke...

Has passed away at age 90. He wrote one of my favorite book series, the 2001 quartet.
Of the three, 2010 is my favorite as it deals with guilt, loss, duty, and the need to explore. The movie wasn't too bad either.

Godspeed sir.

Also, if you want to see a LEGO version of the spaceship USS Discovery seen above, click HERE.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Worthy Charity for St. Patrick's Day...

If you want to get your tax deductible donations in early...

Check out this organization that is very appropriate for St. Patrick's Day.

Happy St. Patrick's Day...

(nps photo)

Bless ye brave sons of Erin.

Sorry about the charge at Fredericksburg.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

How about that!

My alma mater ('00 BA History and '05 MA Historical Studies (19th C. US and Public History)) is going to the NCAA Tournament!!!

Way to go UMBC!


Go to Vegas right now and bet everything on UMBC to win...

at chess.

Yep, we will Rook you up!

This day in American History...

"Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country."
-George Washington

Today, Washington delivered the Newburgh Address. Ostensibly this was to help defuse a coup d'etat that was being planned among the officers of the newly victorious but not paid Continental Army. While his words were strong in the speech, it was the opening line above that really showed his officers how much their commander had sacrificed to protect the fledging nation.

Washington had sacrificed almost 20 years of his life leading them and in turn had lost the last vestiges of his youth. The humanity shown in that opening caused many of the officers to reevaluate their positions and eventually abandon the conspiracy.

As for George Washington, the country was not yet finished with him, but that is a story for another day...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Under the radar...

I am disappointed this hasn't gotten as much play as it really ought to, but the 250th Anniversary of the French and Indian War is underway.

Why should you care?

Well, the French and Indian War was the impetus for many of the Taxes and "Intolerable Acts" of the British Crown that led to...

wait for it...

wait for it...


I love it when a confederation of free and independent states comes together!

Happy Pi Day

It's 3/14...

Pi is 3.14....

Get it?

So in celebration of Pi Day, I think I know my dessert of choice for this evening.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

John Adams...

So, HBO is bringing David McCullough's John Adams to life on the small screen as a mini series.

Given the previews I've seen, I'm impressed. Casting looks pretty good, but Paul Giamatti will have to work hard to beat my favorite John Adams:

Mr. William (the voice of KITT) Daniels.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The unstated perils of being a historian...

Okay, kids, parents, teachers, advisers, counselors, professors.

Please do this to anyone that you think may even be remotely interested in studying history at the college and/or graduate level:

Have them lift a 14 gallon Rubbermaid container full of hardcover books.

Tell them they will need to do this many times whenever they move.

I don't want to discourage people, just let them know what they're in for.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What I've been reading...

With this trip happening, I was able to indulge in some reading.

Here's what I've gotten through since Valentine's Day:

I would recommend all of them. They're all great books, very readable and very interesting.

March 4, 1865 Washington, DC....

Fellow Countrymen

At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the enerergies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil-war. All dreaded it -- all sought to avert it. While the inaugeral address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war -- seeking to dissole the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern half part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said f[our] three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether"

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to achieve and cherish a lasting peace among ourselves and with the world. to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with the world. all nations.

[Endorsed by Lincoln:]

Original manuscript of second Inaugeral presented to Major John Hay.

A. Lincoln

April 10, 1865

More info can be found HERE

Monday, March 03, 2008

Another Great NASA Photo...

From the good folks at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA:

This is a photo from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of an avalanche on Mars. Great stuff!

You can see more HERE

Favorite photo of the trip...

I'm a sucker for the shuttle. So here it is:

This is STS-123 on Launch Pad 39B. STS stands for Shuttle Transportation System, this is the official term to describe "the stack" of the solid rocket boosters, external tank and orbiter.

Pad 39B and Pad 39A will both be modified to handle the ARES rockets over the next ten years.

This shot was about a mile and a half away from the pad. The closest anyone could get without having to talk to a guard with a submachine gun. On launch day you can't get closer than 5 miles if you aren't taking a ride on that bad boy or helping the astronauts get in.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Kennedy Space Center...

Well, the work trip is pretty much over. The photo above is a shot of the Astronaut's Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Center. It has been a busy trip, but a good one. Now I'm flying back home from Orlando tomorrow. I have to say it's tough to leave. It's warm and sunny here and I'm seeing cool stuff. It is going to be really hard to leave that.