Monday, July 21, 2014

West Point Engineers Built America

William Kristof (NYT 7/3/14) neglects the important role American universities played in building America's infrastructure by supplying the country early on with trained engineers.  West Point is the birthplace of American engineering  where Sylvanus Thayer and Dennis Hart Mahan established a program that produced many engineers and eventually seeded universities across the country with texts and professors.  Mahan almost singlehanded transferred the engineering expertise of France to America.  It testament to America's ancient and better angels that WASP Puritan Thayer took Mahan, the child of Irish immigrants, as his protégé, although our tradition of Anglo-German Exceptionalism and Ivy League history departments rooted in the glory of our Puritan past makes that difficult to acknowledge today.   On the 151th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg and the 238th of our Independence, it is worth noting that Union Army Gettysburg commander George Gordon Meade's first job after graduating from West Point was surveying the route for the Long Island Railroad, and that he'd been born in Cadiz, Spain.

Mahan's son Alfred Thayer wrote America's second great chapter:  Sea Power, which inspired the creation of the modern U.S. Navy.   Following in the footsteps of Mahan's friend Teddy, Franklin Roosevelt embarked on a massive shipbuilding program that saved America and Western Civilization.  This shipbuilding program put thousands of Americans to work in the 1930s and built the Navy that was America's defense against fascism in the Pacific and Europe's lifeline to freedom in the Atlantic.  The hi-tech Yorktown aircraft carriers started in the 1930s defeated the Japanese at Midway in June of 1942 despite being outnumbered on paper.   In fact the Yorktown's carried as many aircraft as the Japanese fleet and the Yorktown's aircraft complement included squadrons of the hi-tech SBG dive bombers, which delivered the battle's decisive blows.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

No Such Army

A letter (7/19) in The Times Book Review commenting on the Clouds of Glory biography of Robert E. Lee attributes the following to C.S.A. Gen. Joe Johnson describing the Union force led by Gen. Sherman: there had been "no such army since the days of Julius Caesar."

No doubt Napoleon Bonaparte would object to Johnson's remark.  Bonaparte led an army ten times the size of Sherman's into Russia, fighting titanic battles that inspired Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Winston Churchill would be vexed, too.  His ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, marched an army about the same size as Sherman's with as many artillery guns from Brussels to the Danube, a distance greater than Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savanah.   For his great victory over France at Blenheim on the Danube, Marlborough was awarded the magnificent Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire,  Winston Churchill's birthplace, now a World Heritage Site.

Apparently national pride has a great deal to do with how we remember things, since neither Tolstoy, nor Tchaikovsky, nor Churchill were ever moved to remark on Sherman's campaigns, a slight compounded by the fact that Churchill and Sherman were cousins.  It's a safe bet, though, that Sherman knew about the Duke of Marlborough and Marlborough's great campaigns on behalf of England's Glorious Revolution, William III (aka William of Orange-Nassau) and Queen Anne.

Then there's the small matter of the armies Robert E. Lee and George Gordon Meade marched hundreds of miles across Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania in 1863.

It is fair to say that The Times, its readers and most American historians are quite parochial.