Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Mouse Tale

The two mice crept out of the warehouse on a dark night, watching the eastern sky over the harbor.  In a few minutes, the moon would rise.  The larger of the two mice moved a little slower and though you couldn't see it in the dark, his whiskers were decidedly gray.  As they moved down to the piers, the pair of mice moved silently, but once they had reached the water's edge, the larger of the mice finally spoke to his companion.

"We must be very still while we wait; it is dangerous to be out in the open, even though it is still dark.  When the moon rises, we could be seen. "

"Then why are we here, grandfather?", asked the smaller mouse.

"I want you to SEE!  The life of a mouse is hard, but it is bearable as long as you know that you will be rewarded in the next life.  To truly believe, however, you must see for yourself."

"What will I see, grandfather?", asked the younger mouse.  "What is out here?"

The young mouse's grandfather forgot his own warning, and with a loud voice, answered, "We came to see proof of the next life, for there are signs.  Long after a day of hard work and when the moon is full, you can see angels flying--the angels of mice flying in the sky.  It is a message of hope for all mouse-kind!"

The younger mouse said nothing in return, for while he loved his grandfather, he certainly did not believe his wild stories of an afterlife, and of a heaven for mice.  He was here only for the chance to be outside of the warehouse.  The warehouse that before tonight had been his entire world and he would pretend to believe in anything for a chance to finally see life outside of that building.

Now as the moon slowly rose over the harbor, the two mice could make out the bay, see the waves on the water, the dark shapes of a few distant ships tied at piers.  The larger mouse motioned to his grandson to stay still, for now that the moon had begun to light up the harbor, it was too dangerous to even talk.  The younger mouse mouse occasionally looked sympathetically at his grandfather as the older mouse stared intently upward into the cold night sky, straining to see something in the inky blackness.

The younger mouse had just about decided that it was time to get his grandfather back in the warm warehouse where he would be safe--when suddenly his grandfather gave a soft shriek and stiffened.

"Look!", he whispered.  "Look!  There's the angel!"

The younger mouse stared up into the night and was shocked.  There was something in the sky.  It swooped and swirled, soaring up and down in the night sky.  Then suddenly, the moonlight broke through the clouds and clearly illuminated the dark object.  It was an angel, an angel in the shape of a mouse!  And it flew through the sky, gracefully turning and twisting in the air.  Then, the clouds moved, and as the moon disappeared behind them, the angel vanished in the night air.

For several long minutes, the two mice neither moved nor spoke, then the grandfather broke the stillness.

"Now you understand," the Grandfather said to his grandson.  "Now you can believe for yourself--you've seen the sign."

The smaller mouse was too shocked to even answer.  He didn't know what to think, but his whole world had changed in just a few minutes.   His grandfather's stories were true!

As the two mice quietly left the pier and made their way back to the safety of the warehouse, an old wise rat watched them from the top of a dock piling.  He had been watching them the whole evening, enjoying their religious vigil, had seen them watching the angel, and heard every word the pair had said.

"Stupid rodents!", he muttered.  "Only mice can see a bat and start worshiping angels."

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Heartless Decision

Thirty years ago, my father had a cherished belief in the efficacy of peppermint candy to cure a long list of ailments.  Heartburn, stomach aches, shortness of breath—you name it—a penny candy was the cure.  Of course, my father was just a poor dumb ol' country boy who left West Texas by way of the CCC and World War II.  

Even after he had a triple bypass in his fifties, he still believed in those little peppermints, saying, "while they couldn't hurt they might help."  There were several on his nightstand the night he suffered his fatal heart attack at age 70.

Now, for the last couple of weeks, his overly edjumacated son has had his own problem with heartburn.  For those of you who are familiar my diet, this probably comes as no surprise, and more than a few of my friends will find it hilarious.  Yes, I occasionally indulge in some "spicy" foods.  Yes, I use Tabasco Sauce as a salad dressing and just recently learned that paprika was more than a colorful garnish designed to make deviled eggs look good.

I would feel this weird pressure on the middle of my chest, but as soon as I ate one of those chewable antacids, the heartburn would miraculously lift.  I got better immediately.  I started carrying a few in my pocket and I kept a bag on my nightstand.  If this sounds familiar, I should point out that mine were flavored strawberry, not peppermint.

Which brings us to July 13 of this year.  New Mexico gets a lot of its tax money from the sale of oil and gas from public lands, and the receipts from this are dramatically down.  We also have a small problem with declining numbers of students graduating from high school.  Somehow, this came as a surprise to the university, which kept expanding programs, erecting new buildings and allowing administrators to multiply and consume resources like grain house rats.  Raises stagnated, enrollment dropped, standards fell, but somehow, we managed to pour millions and millions into a bloated athletic program.  The university was safe because the administration could count on the Board of Regents' annually voting in a tuition raise.

Until the Board of Regents didn't,  Suddenly, the university was facing millions in budget cuts, and the powers that be quickly decided that none of the cuts would come from Athletics.  Well, they did cut the Equestrian Team—despite having just built them a new indoor arena.  This will seem odd to most people who probably believe that riding horses is an outdoor event.  (I seem to remember a King of France and his son, who rode horses inside the Louvre:  perhaps this is the role model for our administration,)

During the televised announcement of the budget cuts, while I and most of the faculty and staff on campus were watching with dread, some very large woman wearing stilettos stood on my chest.  I began sweating profusely (and not just because the university had already begun cutting the air conditioning to my windowless office).  I scooped up those antacids and began chomping away.

But, there was no relief.  Somewhere about the seventh antacid, I began to realize I was in real trouble.  For some reason, I was confused, and I could feel my IQ dropping.  I wandered out in the hall, carefully locking my office door behind me and made my way outside into a scorching New Mexico heat.  I knew where I was going:  just across the street was the Health Center, where both students and employees could go for medical treatment and referral to specialists.  These people had been acting as my primary care physicians for years, and I liked and trusted them.

A lot of what happened then is now a little fuzzy, but I remember standing in the middle of a street for a while wondering if I shouldn't just get in my pickup and drive home to my wife, The Doc. Finally, I made it to the door of the clinic and discovered it was closed for an hour, while the clinic held its employee meeting.  The staff inside was learning, to their horror, that the university was closing the employee side of the clinic and might farm the student half of the operation out to some commercial Doc-in-the-Box company who would run the place for profit.

One of the nurses in the clinic saw me standing out in the heat and came over to the door to tell me the clinic was closed for an hour.  I have this sneaky feeling I looked like a homeless schizophrenic wandering around looking for food. 

I remember thinking how it would be so much easier to just sit on the porch and wait rather than trying to recross that street, but before I sat down, I turned to the young woman and spoke through the glass door.

"Chest pain." I said simply.

And that was all it took.  The people in that clinic saved my life.  Lots of people moved quickly, and I have a little trouble remembering everything.  My blood pressure was off the wall, they gave me oxygen, they put me on a gurney, they started an IV, they called an ambulance, and they put a tiny little nitroglycerin tablet under my tongue.

Nitroglycerin is the best drug in the world!  To my ignorant medical mind, I think we should all be carrying it.  It is WAY better than candy for a heart attack!  Within seconds of that nitro tablet dissolving under my tongue, the evil woman wearing a stiletto stepped off my chest.

Yes, I had a heart attack, and within 24 hours, I also had a quintuple coronary bypass.   The prognosis is excellent, and I should eventually recover and return to work.  But, when I do, the employee health clinic will no longer be there.  The people who stopped listening to the news of their being laid off long enough to save my life, might very well be gone. 

Even while I could barely think, I knew I could trust those people:  I knew they were my only hope.  I knew the doctors and nurses to be an invaluable asset the university should be proud of.  Their loss, if the move continues, would be a deep tragedy.

I have been writing this weekly blog for a little over seven years, and in that time, I have pretty much allowed the readership to grow—or not—on its own.  Today, the nonsense I write each week is read worldwide by between 45,000 to 60,000 people, depending on what I write about.  This week, do me a favor:  Mail this to someone...or even a couple of someones.  Complain a little bit, and suggest that the university reconsider shutting down such a valuable resource.  The Employee Health Clinic has already saved my life.  Maybe the next time they help someone, it will be someone useful.  You a coach?

The university can find the money and it can reverse this decision.  After all, while I was in the Cardiac Care Unit of the local hospital, the administration decided to keep the Equestrian Team.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Pure Blooded Spaniard

Just this last week, I ran across one of those anachronistic people from the northern end of New Mexico.  Way too many of these people still believe they are living in the late 1700’s.

“My family is not Mexican.  My family is from Spain.  We are pure-blooded Spanish.” said the moron.

A pure-blooded Spaniard.  What an interesting concept!  Let’s investigate so we can understand that better.

Much of the warfare that makes up the history of Spain is the result of its geography.  Spain is almost an island: where it is not surrounded by water, it is fairly effectively cut off from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees Mountains.  Then, it is separated from Africa by the Straits of Gibraltar--a narrow gap of only 10 miles.

The country itself is slightly smaller than New Mexico and Arizona combined, with a landscape dominated by mountains, so that the average altitude is higher than that of any other European country save Switzerland.  Because the country is crisscrossed by mountains and possesses few navigable rivers, communication and cultural integration across its area was almost impossible.
The archaeological and historical records of the Iberian Peninsula indicate that it has been a place of continuous migrations, movements, and displacement of human populations for a very long time.
Somewhere about 1,200,000 years ago, near the beginning of the Paleolithic Age, the first people arrived on the peninsula.  Most anthropologists call these people Homo Erectus or Homo Antecessor.  We know very little about them, except that they used stone tools, cooked with fire, and occasionally ate each other.  (Thus, meeting all the requirements to join the EU.)
About 200,000 years ago, the Neanderthal arrived.  (While it is very tempting to insert a reference here to the administration of Enema U—or at least to our football team—I’m going to pass.)
No one knows for certain what happened to Homo Erectus, but they vanished after the Neanderthal arrived.  Whether this was caused by attrition from competition for food or absorption by intermarriage, no one knows.  After attending faculty meetings for a few decades, I think the Neanderthal ate them.  But, I could be wrong--perhaps they are still alive and serving in Congress.
As Homo Sapiens spread across Europe, it is now generally agreed on  that the Neanderthal were driven into the Iberian Peninsula, with their last refuge being close to Gibraltar; current belief is that Homo Sapiens simply absorbed the Neanderthal through cross-breeding. 
An early group who left an enduring record of its presence there consisted of  ancient artists who decorated the famous cave of Altamira, in what is now Northern Spain. The images there--mostly of vaguely bull-shaped animals that are beautifully represented on a low stone ceiling--were painted at least 13,000 years ago and are still extraordinarily well-preserved.  It seems plausible that these artists, who "invented graffiti", may well have deliberately chosen this place as a gallery in order to pass their artistic legacy on to future generations. If so, their efforts have met with spectacular success, as many modern-day visitors to the site can confirm.
A later group--the Iberians--gave the region its name. It is believed that the Iberians began arriving in Spain some 5000 years ago, from Northern Africa and occupied mainly the southern area up to and including the Ebro valley.  They absorbed the previous, unnamed inhabitants of the area.
As John Crow points out in his book, Spain: The root and the Flower, "The name Ebro itself is from Iber, which is Iberian for "river." In the valley of the Ebro and near the Valencian coast, the Iberians achieved a flourishing culture. They lived in walled cities, and some of the megalithic stones used in their buildings still remain in place. The Iberians were a small, wiry, dark-complexioned race, who were great horseback riders, and were excessively clannish and tribalistic in their social organization. They created beautiful small bronze figures and they had a passion for representing bulls, other animals, and flowers."
The Phoenicians, a Semitic race of merchants who spoke a language related to Hebrew, traded regularly with the Iberians and established their trading posts, such as Cádiz and Málaga as early as 1100 BC.  The Phoenicians brought Jewish traders along with them at about the time of King Solomon.  Spain is actually mentioned in the Old Testament, where it is called Tarshish.  It was a long voyage in slow ships from one end of the Mediterranean to the other in those days, so many of the merchants established homes—at least temporarily—and took local women as wives.
The northern regions of Iberia (North of the Ebro valley) were occupied around 900 B.C. by the Celts, an Indo-European race that had spread across much of Europe. These two races--Phoenicians and Celts laid the foundations of a cultural bias in the south of Spain against the European north—and vice versa—a sociological and psychological dichotomy in Spain (and most other countries) that continues to the present day.  But in the central regions of the peninsula, these two groups intermingled and gave rise to the "Celtiberians," in a complex process of ethnic and cultural admixture. 
(Hell, even I have to admit that while I dislike Yankees, I have quite a few of them as friends.  The fact that it is so easy to hate people you haven’t even met is proof that we still carry some of that Neanderthal DNA.)
The Greeks arrived in Spain around 600 BC and, like the Phoenicians who preceded them, were traders.  They established their posts mainly along the Spanish Levant. Their culture fused with that of the Celtiberians--the finest surviving artistic example of which might be the "Dama de Elche," the magnificent stone bust found on a farm near Valencia in 1897.  The headdress and jewelry represented on the sculpture are Iberian adorning a female figure of somewhat oriental mien.  (Or it could be Princess Leia!).
The first in a series of violent invasions of Spain occurred in the third century B.C. under the leadership of Hamilcar Barca (after whom Barcelona is named), a Carthaginian, whose country had just suffered the loss of the First Punic War to its arch-enemy, Rome. From his newly-conquered Spanish territory Barca planned the invasion of Italy but died before he could launch it.  Barca was not killed by Romans, but by Celtiberians who attacked his army with wood-filled oxcarts.  When drawing close to the Carthagenian army, the wood was set on fire and the oxen ran wildly through the army, scattering it enough that the Celtiberians were able to penetrate the lines and kill Barca.
His son, Hannibal, picked up where his father had left off, and with the (questionable) aid of war elephants, crossed the Alps and invaded present day Italy, remaining there for fourteen years in what ultimately proved to be a fruitless effort, although he did inflict huge casualties on his Roman foes.
Meanwhile the Roman campaign against the Carthaginians in the Spanish Theatre of the Second Punic War met with early success, and in 206 B.C., the last of Hannibal's forces were driven out. Soon after that, the Roman province of Hispania was born.  The Roman general, Cato, effectively ended Celtiberian resistance when he ordered every town to pull down its walls--effectively making all those cities utterly defenseless to Roman attack and occupation. 
However, Spain thrived under Roman domination and soon became the richest province in the Empire, producing grain, mineral wealth, horses, olive oil, and fish products, as well as scholars, writers, and dancers. In addition to amphitheaters, the Romans built highways, bridges, and aqueducts (many of which are still in use today) that connected the growing cities together.  Roman law and religion (Christianity, after 329 AD) took firm root during the Roman Period and Vulgar Latin became the lingua franca of the country--the foundation of modern Spanish.
Rome, of course, had conquered the "known world", and had brought people from everywhere into its culture.  Numidians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians made their way to Spain, and of course, settled down to live.
It should be clear at this point that the Iberian Peninsula was, by the beginning of the first millennium AD, a multiethnic region with a long history of activity and occupation by a variety of disparate races and cultures.
As the Roman Empire fell, most of its former territory was conquered by barbarians.  "Barbarians" is universally translated as “those leaner and meaner assholes the other side of the border”.  In the case of Spain, it was first, the Vandals and then, the Visigoths. 

The last Visigoth monarch, King Roderick, was cruel, temperamental, and stupid—the hat trick of bad government.  There is fairly good evidence that some of his own people invited the Moors in Northern Africa to cross those ten miles of open water separating the two continents to come put an end to his misrule.  To them, the Moors would have been liberators, not conquerors.  The picture at right is Spain as seen from North Africa.

After the Moors conquered Catholic Spain in 711, Jews who were living in Spain were granted religious liberty. Muslims-Jews-Catholics lived side by side for a long time, before the Catholics began a long, long war to win back the peninsula completely.  Actually, the war took almost 800 years, culminating in the victory at Granada in 1492.
During the Moorish occupation, Spanish culture changed dramatically:  art, diet--almost anything of a cultural nature changed.  Even today, nearly 20% of the Spanish language has roots in Arabic.
Let’s stop here a minute and take stock.  Spain (not counting the early hominids who lived on the peninsula) was invaded, ruled, and peopled by:
o   Ancient Iberians
o   Phoenicians
o   Jews
o   Celts
o   Greeks
o   Carthaginians
o   Romans
o   Vandals
o   Visigoths
o   Moors
The point of all this is that if you go to the pound and adopt a scruffy brown mutt with one yellow eye and one green eye, it probably is more "pure-blooded" than the average "Spaniard".  (The same, of course, could be said of most Europeans.)
Note.  Remember the Northern New Mexican who steadfastly believed in his pure European bloodline?  A century ago, most wealthy Mexicans held the same beliefs, taking great pride in their European customs.  Then, during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1918), cultural identity became reversed and most Mexicans began taking pride in their indigenous roots, rejecting European fashions, art, and culture.  This cultural realignment--like the violent revolution--stopped at the border with the U.S.  Talking to my unconsciously racist friend from Northern New Mexico, then, is sort of like using a time machine to visit a long forgotten past--but in México, not España.

A Much Needed Correction

Halfway down the page, the paragraph beginning "The name Ebro itself is from Iber,.." should have been originally attributed to John Crow in his book, "Spain: The Root and the Flower", a book I greatly admire for the writing style of the author.  In the original blog entry, the quote was not properly attributed.  If you read the entry after today, it is properly attributed.

Many of the blogs published here had their start in lecture notes for various classes I have taught over the years at Enema U.  In all, I have taught more than 30 different courses in multiple departments.   Lecture notes are not intended for publication or distribution, so on more than one occasion in the interest of time, I am sure that while preparing them I was careless about citing sources for the material I presented.  That is certainly the case here.

Pictured at right is a photo of my original lecture notes.  Colored highlights indicate ideas I wanted to stress, the small photo is a reminder to the lecturer to advance the PowerPoint slide.  The red arrows are new and indicate the pertinent portions of notes.  Over the years, I have probably given this lecture more than twenty times.

I taught courses on the History of Spain several times over the years and did indeed use Crow's book many times.  While writing the original lecture this blog was based on, I used several sentences from Crow's book.  Later, when writing this blog, I inadvertently used the entire paragraph, not realizing I was using Crow's work.  For this, I sincerely apologize.

I can give you a similar case.  As a student, I benefitted from the wisdom of Professors Louis R. Sadler and Charles Harris, taking every course that either offered.  I still have, neatly typed, my notes from being a student in their classes.  I recently read over some of those pages and was amazed to find whole sections that matched almost exactly lecture notes I later wrote and delivered for my own classes.   I could have sworn that it was my original work.

Anything you read in this blog, if you find it pleasing or even articulate, rest assured that I am simply regurgitating the brilliance of others that I was lucky enough to study under or whose writing was so brilliant that it burned a spot in my mind.  I can quote verbatim whole passages of books by Twain, Heinlein, Asimov, Rostand, and countless others.  I studied with outstanding professors, whose words still echo in my mind, including not just Sadler and Harris, but Fred Plog, Edward Staski, Darliss Miller, Lois Stanford, Howard Rabinowitz, Wenda Trevathan, and many, many others.  I am certain that on far more occasions than I am aware of, I present ideas I learned from them.

Once again, I apologize for the omission.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Gettin’ Stuff

It is that time of year again:  every 4th of July, television shows countless reruns of Revolutionary War movies.  Mel Gibson has singlehandedly—or single-tomahawkedly—won the Battle of Cowpens a couple of dozen times in the last week.  In addition, I am puzzled as to why anyone  thought that the story of writing  Declaration of Independence would make a good musical; if it had been up to me, 1776 would never have been filmed. 

I don’t believe I have ever seen a movie—or even a good documentary—that actually addresses the real reason how a fledgling tiny nation managed to defeat the giant military power of Great Britain.  Certainly, the assistance of France and Spain was crucial, but there is a single, fundamental factor in that war that is almost never addressed.  Great Britain lost the war because of a giant failure in logistics.

Logistics?  Who the hell cares about logistics?  The answer is that anyone who wants to understand military history should be intensely interested in what Southern General Nathan Bedford Forrest called, “Gettin’ stuff".   Or as General Barrow said far more eloquently, "Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics."

When war erupted in the thirteen colonies, the British Army—despite being the European epitome of perfection—was caught completely off guard.  Compared to the difficulty in fighting a war 3,000 miles away, fighting in Europe was relatively easy.  The supply lines were short, the resupply points were well-known, and the continent was both well-populated and crisscrossed with good roads.

But sending and equipping a European army in the New World was to be the largest logistical effort, requiring more ships and men, than any conflict, anywhere in the world, for the next 150 years.  This was a task so monumental that it was not surpassed until the Allies invaded North Africa in the Second World War!  

England faced huge problems, the first of which was simple corruption.  Many English merchants saw the war not as an existential threat, but as a golden opportunity for profit.  Materials sent to the docks for shipment were officially allowed to be short by as much as 10%—Nor were there any requirements to deliver goods packaged to survive an ocean transit!  Barrels in particular were a problem:  early in the war, five ships left England for Boston, loaded with 7,000 barrels of flour (enough to feed 12,000 men for half a year).  When the ships arrived, 5,000 barrels were condemned, leaving only enough flour for 47 days.

It is sad to think that many of the lessons from our country’s first war went unlearned for far more than decades.  In the early days of World War Two, countless shiploads of canned food were shipped to the Pacific Islands, but lacking warehouses, the cases were simply stacked on the sandy beach just above the high tide mark.  As soon as it rained, both the cardboard cartons and the cans' paper labels disintegrated, leaving mountains of assorted anonymous canned food rusting away.

Even if the food arrived at the docks in perfect condition to be shipped abroad, there was no assurance it would survive the long ocean voyage.  In the fall of 1775, the British Army made a monumental effort to supply the Army with sufficient food to last the winter.    Thirty-six ships were loaded with “some 500 tons of potatoes, sixty of onions, fifty of parsnips, forty of carrots, and twenty of raisins, as well as 4,000 sheep and hogs and 468,750 gallons of porter.”  The food was packaged extremely well.  Several tons of fresh sauerkraut was shipped in barrels equipped with a spring-loaded gas pressure valve to keep the barrels from exploding during the fermentation process. 

Unfortunately, these careful preparations simply didn’t work.  A violent storm hit the convoy, causing most of the ships to either return to England or to be diverted to Antigua.  The few vessels that weathered the storm sailed up and down the American coast waiting for the storm to break so they could enter a harbor.  Most of the cargo of the 13 ships that finally made it to port was condemned.  Only 148 animals survived the trip:  the rest starved to death and their carcasses were thrown overboard.  (The sauerkraut survived, and so did some of the porter, the volume of the latter being somewhat diminished by thirsty sailors.)

Livestock routinely perished on the trip, in part because the British government frequently  loaded supply ships bound for the new world with enough hay and grain to feed the animals for only twenty-one days.  Unfortunately, the average crossing in good weather was forty days.

The trip no picnic for humans, either.  In 1781, 2,400 soldiers left Europe for New York, but by the time the contingent arrived, 410 were sick and 66 had already perished.  As one officer of the Guards testified, "There was continued destruction in the foretops, the pox above-board, the plague between decks, hell in the forecastle, the devil at the helm."

If soldiers couldn’t be supplied from England, they were expected to “live off the land”.  This is military-speak for stealing from the locals.  While this worked in some populated areas, in most locations there simply was not enough available food, particularly after the locals began hiding their resources. 

Foraging parties could be sent out, but those were prime targets for the colonial forces.  In order to protect these men, so many soldiers had to be added that the resulting large foraging parties consumed more food than they could gather.  Eventually, the British lost more men in combat while foraging than during the large pitched conventional battles.  While a few outposts were lucky (Redcoats on the South Carolina coast subsisted for months on alligators and oysters while drinking wine scavenged from a wrecked ship) the British campaign simply could not be sustained by living off the land.

Living off the land had other hazards.  It was damn near impossible to win the “hearts and minds” of the colonists while you requisitioned—more military-speak for theft—their food and livestock.  Even when the British army attempted to purchase provisions, the foraging parties frequently kept the money while simply stealing the food and livestock.  (While the Redcoats may have been bad about thieving for supplies, the Hessians were absolute locusts—turning even Tories into ardent rebels as they laid waste to the countryside, including killing the owners of the food and livestock.)

The lack of effective logistics crippled the effectiveness of the British Army.  English generals believed that armies needed at least six, but preferably twelve months of supply before they could initiate offensive operations.  This meant that during a war that lasted eight years, only twice did the British Army start a campaign season with enough reserves to launch an offensive movement
against the colonials.  Standard doctrine further dictated that if supplies fell below a two month level—something that was close to the norm—all offensive movements must stop while the generals planned for evacuation.  Evacuation meant using transportation for troop movement instead of carrying food, which made the problems worse.

It would not have been impossible for the British Army to win the war:  a very aggressive strategy of holding the important forts, combined with simultaneously seeking out the rebel army and destroying it in prolonged engagements, might have succeeded.  The lack of resources, however, forced the mighty British Army to fight a guerilla war—the only kind of war that the United States could possibly hope to win.

There is an old doggerel about "for want of a nail the battle was lost..."  As it turned out, the newborn  nation of the United States survived to become a new country for the simple reason that the most powerful nation on earth, a country that ruled the seas, simply could not ship enough food across an ocean to feed their army long enough to defeat us. 

Napoleon lost at Waterloo because he could not send a message fifteen miles.  Britain lost the Revolutionary War because—despite having the most powerful navy in the world—it could not ship enough flour across the Atlantic.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Generals' Duel

This is the 4th of July weekend, so it is fitting that this week, we visit a little Revolutionary War History.  So much familiar ground will be re-trampled by the herd of popular press, that I  thought I might use the occasion to journey down a less frequented path.

It was 1777, and not much was going well for the Continental Army.  General Washington had tried several times to dislodge General Howe and the British Army from Philadelphia (then the capitol of the new nation) but was repeatedly rebuffed.  Naturally, the Continental Congress had to abandon both its pride and the city as it beat a hasty retreat.

Meanwhile, the British General, John Burgoyne was moving his army south from Canada to cut off New England.  If you ever go on campaign, you want to go with Gentleman Johnny:  Besides his 7000 men, he brought along his mistress, thirty wagons of personal luggage, and a large supply of champagne.   Naturally, his army was moving slowly through the heavily wooded area.  (British Generals, used to fighting on a continent that had been deforested since the time of the Romans, frequently lamented that the New World was not a "civilized" place to fight a war.)

As Gentleman Johnny, pictured at left, approached Fort Ticonderoga, he was so confident of success he split his forces.  Fairly quickly, the part of the army he was with was surrounded at Saratoga by the American army of General Horatio Gates.  On October 17, 1777, Burgoyne was beautiful in his scarlet, gold, and white uniform when he surrendered his army to the rather plain, blue-coated General Gates.  Most of his 5700 soldiers spent the rest of the war imprisoned in Virginia while Burgoyne was allowed to go home to see the mad (in more than one sense) King George III.

Saratoga was a major turning point in the war.  Shortly afterward, France and Spain entered the war, merchants in England began pushing the government to resolve the conflict, and it triggered a small mutiny in the American Military.  The Inspector General of the army, General Thomas Conway—an Irish Soldier from France with twenty years’ experience in the French Army—began writing a series of letters to the Continental Congress, suggesting that George Washington should be replaced as Commander-In-Chief by General Gates.

This would have been a really bad idea, since General Gates was actually a poor general (he was eventually relieved of command and replaced by General Nathaniel Greene, the fighting Quaker).  The real credit for the Battle of Saratoga belongs to General Benedict Arnold, who was Gate’s subordinate.   The lack of respect and recognition for his contributions were among the motivations for Arnold's becoming a traitor and accepting the rank of general in the British Army.

Historians have never been certain just how seriously what came to be called the Conway Cabal was received by the Continental Congress.  What is certain is that portions of Conway’s letters were sent to George Washington, who shared them with his General Staff.  One of those generals, General John Cadwalader, was intensely loyal to Washington.

When the British finally pulled out of Philadelphia in June, 1778, General Cadwalader returned to discover that his home, which had been occupied by General Howe and his mistress, was need of serious remodeling.  I’m sure that this had a little something to do with the anger Cadwalader felt when he began proclaiming loudly and publicly that he wanted to challenge General Conway to a duel in order to “shut his lying mouth”.

General Conway, to uphold his honor, agreed to the duel.   The Code Duello, whose 25 rules governed such idiotic contests, had been published the previous year in Ireland, and was used by duelists in both Western Europe and America.  The seconds met, and Conway, as the challenged had the right of choosing weapons and the ground, in this case choosing pistols and the Wharton Estate outside Philadelphia.  Cadwalader, as the challenger. picked the distance between the two combatants.

Duels were common in America until the late 1830’s.  Several signatories of the Declaration of Independence fought duels, as did Sam Houston, Henry Clay, and Stephen Decatur.  While everyone knows that Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, it is less well known that the pistols used had also killed Hamilton’s son in an earlier duel.  (Today, the pistols are on display in a branch of the Chase Bank.)  Abraham Lincoln almost fought a duel but was spared when the seconds for the duel settled the grievance without violence.  Andrew Jackson participated in 103 duels, and claimed at one point to have kept 37 pairs of dueling pistols ready to use at a moment’s notice. 

July 4, 1778, the two duelists, along with their seconds, the physician, and many spectators—including several members of Congress—gathered before dawn.  The seconds loaded the pistols, the men stood paces apart, and proclaimed themselves ready.  The fight began at a word from Dr. Shippen, the physician.

Conway fired immediately, missing Cadwalader completely.  This was not surprising, as the guns of the period were so wildly inaccurate that they didn’t even have sights.

Cadwalader stood and waited.  Conway, required by the Code to stand his ground and wait, asked, “Why do you not fire, General Cadwalader?”
“Because,” replied the general, who had not yet even raised his pistol, “we came not here to trifle.  Let the gale pass and I shall act my part.”  He was referring to a gust of wind that had arisen just as the physician had given the word to fire.

“You shall have a fair chance of performing it well,” answered Conway.
As the wind died, Cadwalader raised his pistol, aimed carefully but quickly—taking too long to aim was discouraged by the code—and fired.  Conway’s head jerked backward, then the general fell forward, landing on his face—to all appearances dead, as blood pooled around his head.

Dr. Shippen ran to the man, turned him over to discover that the large caliber ball had struck Conway in the mouth, knocking out teeth, piercing the tongue, and exiting through the back of the man’s neck.  The doctor, as required by the code, made no prognosis or comment about the man’s condition.

General Cadwalader said, “I have stopped that damned rascal’s lying anyway.”  Satisfied that he had indeed silenced Conway, he left the field with his second and supporters.

Conway, believing that his wound was mortal, wrote a sincere letter to General Washington apologizing for his letters to the Continental Congress.  Among his heartfelt sentiments, he declared that Washington was “a great and good man”.  This is certainly a dramatic end to the Conway Cabal.

Astounding both Dr. Shippen and General Conway himself, he recovered from his wound.  Conway resigned his commission, left America and returned to France, where he fought with the royalist army in the French Revolution.  Captured, he called for his former enemy, the British army, to intercede in his behalf, and when released, he returned to his homeland, Ireland.  Not much more is known about him, but he appears to have died in poverty, alone and forgotten.

I wish I could say that it is my deep love of American history that reminded me of this story.  Actually, every Fourth of July, as I drive by fireworks stands, I am reminded of a strange duel I fought with a good friend a few decades ago.  I won’t go into details, but yes, alcohol was involved.  And if you ever fight a duel with Roman candles at twenty feet, you should definitely not wear a nylon shirt.  (And we are still good friends.)