United States of America

An Indian finds himself on the Emerald Isle

Very interesting article on the connection between Ireland and the Choctaw Indians, by way of the famine:

White Deer has just spent two days traipsing around the city with a filmmaker from Dublin, working on a documentary about the Choctaw-Irish connection. Among other places, they have visited the Irish hunger memorial garden in lower Manhattan, a quarter-acre grassy hill with the remnants of a famine-era stone cottage imported from Mayo. Etched into the stone base is a reference to the generous donation by “the Children of the Forest, our Red Brethern of the Choctaw nation.”

via An Indian finds himself on the Emerald Isle.

A Video Review – The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman and Davis In The Mexican War 1846-1848

A short video review of The Training Ground: Grant. Lee, Sherman and Davis In The Mexican War, 1846-48 by Martin Dugard (ISBN: 978-0-316-16625-6).

I mention that I enjoyed the writing style but felt the short chapter structure was an annoying feature.
I also mention my bigger issue which was the absence of proper detail on the military aspects of the campaign and the fact that the Mexican side of the story is mostly ignored except for a very cursory analysis.

I encourage people to read the book however as is an enjoyable read despite its problems.

Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy on Colonial New York

Eoin Purcell

Great books deserve better reviewers than I
So I was recently sent a review copy of Thomas M. Truxes’, Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York which was published by Yale University Press in 2008. Needless to say I completely failed in my mission to read the book and write a review in any kind of decent timeframe.

But I did read it and it is wonderful. The book covers a fascinating period in Colonial history when the British Empire was fighting a war with the French Empire and American merchants were intent to benefit from the trading opportunities despite the heavy presence of British soldiers and the fact that in name at least they were engaged in treason.

A book that creates and sustains a brilliant portrait of 18th Century New York and brings to life the intriguing political and mercantile world of that city under British rule. Well worth reading, 7 out of 10.
For some more detailed review on the book, try here, here, here or here.
I also decided to try something I have been toying with for a while, a video review. It is my my first such effort and is decidedly patchy, but here, in honour of along delayed review it is.

I hope someone enjoyed that!
Eoin

John Quincy Adams Lives … (Vicariously Through Twitter)

Eoin Purcell

What a very cool project by the Massachusets Historical Society to reproduce a line a day from the diary of John Quincy Adams on Twitter: beginning with his journey to Russia on 5 August 1809. They also have a site dedicated to the journals. Today’s line:

8/12/1809: Calm morning, and stiff head breeze all the rest of the day. Lat: 43-52. Read lives of Lycurgus and of Numa.

I have, by the by, inserted links to the text referred to, Plutarch’s famous work commonly called Parallel Lives. You can download it, free, from GBS! How much fun is the internet? Loving it,
Eoin

The Death of Robert McNamara

Eoin Purcell

Some years ago now a friend lent me his copy of Fog Of War, which was at once a brilliant and yet incredibly intriguing documentary featuring Robert McNamara. I had always wondered about The Vietnam War, feeling that it was deeply misunderstood at a public level and that although the underlying policy that motivated it (containment) was valid, the way the policy was being pursued (through warfare) was undermining the policy and the reputation of the United States.

Fog Of War only offered more questions and made the story even more complex. Errol Morris, the director of that movie has a thoughtful piece on McNamara over on the New York Time’s website. One section that struck me was this:

His refusal to come out against the Vietnam War, particularly as it continued after he left the Defense Department, has angered many. There’s ample evidence that he felt the war was wrong. Why did he remain silent until the 1990s, when “In Retrospect” was published? That is something that people will probably never forgive him for. But he had an implacable sense of rectitude about what was permissible and what was not. In his mind, he probably remained secretary of defense until the day he died.

I think what I like about it us the sense that there is no black & white in cases like this.

For more thoughts and coverage of McNamara, read this or this or this.

In Dublin, taking it easy,
Eoin

Quick Links for the day

Eoin Purcell

There is a great history timeline on BBC History site. It is well worth visiting and spending some time on. The internal links are excellent and the extra material is smashing!

Coming Anarchy has a fascinating post about the strange borders that make up the modern Malaysia. The comments offer some interesting bits too.

For those of us, slightly obsessed with the US Civil War, I offer A Civil War Blog and this fine example of the authors posts, a list of his top ten Civil War Blogs.

The Revenege of Geography

Eoin Purcell

Robert Kaplan Strikes Again
Kaplan writes an elegant and persuasive article about how Geography affects the world! In many ways it is a plea for a realist view of the world:

Realism means recognizing that international relations are ruled by a sadder, more limited reality than the one governing domestic affairs. It means valuing order above freedom, for the latter becomes important only after the former has been established. It means focusing on what divides humanity rather than on what unites it, as the high priests of globalization would have it. In short, realism is about recognizing and embracing those forces beyond our control that constrain human action—culture, tradition, history, the bleaker tides of passion that lie just beneath the veneer of civilization. This poses what, for realists, is the central question in foreign affairs: Who can do what to whom? And of all the unsavory truths in which realism is rooted, the bluntest, most uncomfortable, and most deterministic of all is geography.

What I like about the piece is threefold
Firstly I enjoy his references to philosophers and historians. The philosophers are Isaiah Berlin and Thomas Hobbes, both with interesting and illuminating things to offer reader. And Google Books has plenty items in Full View for both though frustratingly in the case of Hobbes, not a Leviathan available for extract so instead you get a rather nice but non-downloadable Forgotten books edition! Which seems crazy when the base text is well out of copyright!

His historical references are numerous but Mahan and Braudel stand out! One eye opener was Nicholas Spykman (for more on his truly intriguing views here is a very nice overview) of whom I had never heard but of whom Kaplan say:

Similarly, the Dutch-American strategist Nicholas Spykman saw the seaboards of the Indian and Pacific oceans as the keys to dominance in Eurasia and the natural means to check the land power of Russia. Before he died in 1943, while the United States was fighting Japan, Spykman predicted the rise of China and the consequent need for the United States to defend Japan. And even as the United States was fighting to liberate Europe, Spykman warned that the postwar emergence of an integrated European power would eventually become inconvenient for the United States. Such is the foresight of geographical determinism.

For another thing
Secondly I like his concept of:

geography in the most old-fashioned sense. In the 18th and 19th centuries, before the arrival of political science as an academic specialty, geography was an honored, if not always formalized, discipline in which politics, culture, and economics were often conceived of in reference to the relief map. Thus, in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, mountains and the men who grow out of them were the first order of reality; ideas, however uplifting, were only the second.

And maybe I feel that way because I wish to justify my recent (and fabulously cheap) purchase of Keith Johnston’s A Sketch of Historical Geography which is a truly excellent text worth owning and you can read in the lovely Open Library edition here, but I think there is something to what Kaplan says. Something that informs the rest of the piece.

And finally
I like his closing exhorting for us all to:

learn to think like Victorians. That is what must guide and inform our newly rediscovered realism. Geographical determinists must be seated at the same honored table as liberal humanists, thereby merging the analogies of Vietnam and Munich. Embracing the dictates and limitations of geography will be especially hard for Americans, who like to think that no constraint, natural or otherwise, applies to them. But denying the facts of geography only invites disasters that, in turn, make us victims of geography.

I very much enjoy Kaplan but sometimes I’m left with as many questions as answers with him, not that that is a bad thing!
Eoin