In 2005, entrepreneurs on the island of Shikoku created an independent professional minor league designed to appeal to local baseball fans. Shikoku is not home to any of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) teams. The two main sponsors of the initiative were JR Shikoku and Shikoku's Coca-Cola Bottling Company. (Japanese railway companies public and private have long been major sponsors of professional baseball teams.) Among the strategies for building a local fan base are uniquely localized names and the hiring of Shikoku natives for fill-in roles like designated hitters, pinch hitters, and such. Like NPB's Pacific League, the Shikoku Island League employs DHs. The team names are just as quirky and unique as those of North American minor league teams like the Albuquerque Isotopes, Lansing Lugnuts, Montgomery Biscuits, or Savannah Sand Gnats. All the team names are written in katakana but abbreviated in roman capital letters. The Island League (IL) logo and mascot is a blue and white Manta Ray, for its baseball-diamond shape.
Tokushima IndigoSocks (IS) - Tokushima Prefecture is famous for its indigo, so it's not surprising that the team color is blue. The mascot is a spider, who wears four pairs of socks. The IndigoSocks won the 2019 league championship, but lost to the Tochigi Golden Braves in the interleague championship.
Kagawa Olive Guyners (OG) - Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture is the league headquarters, and the Olive Guyners have won the most league championships so far. Kagawa is famous in Japan for its olives and olive oils, home games are played in Olive Stadium, and the team color is green. Guyners is an anglicized rendering of the local Sanuki dialect word gaina 'strong'.
Kochi Fighting Dogs (FD) - Kochi Prefecture (once known as Tosa Domain) is famous for its Tosa fighting dogs, Japanese mastiffs, so its team name and mascot were easy to choose. The team color is black and their gray mascot wears a yokozuna belt like that of sumo champions. The FD won the first league championship in 2005, but haven't done so well since then. In 2017 they hired Manny Ramirez but he left in mid-August with a knee injury.
Ehime Mandarin Pirates (MP) - Ehime Prefecture is famous for its mandarin oranges (mikan) and its seafaring heritage. Their basketball team is the Ehime Orange Vikings. The team color is orange in both cases.
In 2007, the league expanded to include two teams on Kyushu and changed its name to the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League. But the Nagasaki Saints (named for the prefecture's long Roman Catholic heritage) and Fukuoka Red Warblers (named for the color of ume and the Japanese bush warbler) didn't last long. Nor did the Three Arrows team from Mie (三重 'three weights') Prefecture, on Honshu across the Kii Channel from Tokushima. So now the official name of the league is Shikoku Island League plus, presumably to allow for other expansion attempts.
In 2014, two independent baseball leagues, Shikoku Island League plus and Route Inn Baseball Challenge League, formed the Japan Independent Baseball League Organization. The champions of each league play each other at the end of each season. Shikoku Island League plus has also sent all-star teams to play all-stars from the independent Can-Am League in North America.
27 December 2019
24 December 2019
Reasons to End the War of 1812
From The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812, by C. S. Forester (Doubleday, 1952; eNet, 2012), Kindle Loc. 3497-3519:
The object of every war, or threat of war, is, in a final analysis, to bring about such a state of mind in the other party that he does not want to make war. The will of the enemy is the ultimate objective, as Hitler was never tired of preaching, and as Clausewitz understood in those moments when he was not engrossed in the means to the exclusion of the ends. By 1814 both England and America had reached that state of mind. Mr Madison’s conversion was the product of many factors: the failure of the invasion of Canada, the emptiness of the Treasury (resulting from the British blockade) and the fall of Bonaparte. It must be remembered that Mr Madison took the important step of waiving his demands regarding impressment in June 1814. Yet it would be hard to withstand the conclusion that the greatest factor was the presence of a British squadron in the Chesapeake; it was with those topsails almost in sight that Monroe sent off the crucial dispatch. Naval and military factors brought about the British change of heart, the defeat at Lake Champlain, and the repulse—almost bloodless though it was—at Baltimore, and the continued presence of American privateers in British home waters. Finally it was the threat of further military operations—the continuance of the blockade and the menace of Cochrane’s roving army—that kept the American commissioners amenable and facilitated the negotiations.
Once peace came to appear desirable every step was taken to hurry its coming. Debatable questions were ignored or postponed for future discussion. Two hundred written words, even with all the ‘whatsoevers’ and the legal redundancies, affirmed the peace; hardly more were necessary to settle the very difficult questions arising out of a definition of the war’s end in all parts of the world, and a hundred words decided the fate of the prisoners. By contrast it took some thousands of words to set up a future commission to clear up the debatable points left over from the Peace of Paris, now thirty years old. The question of the Indians was solved—or postponed—by specifically including them in the treaty of peace, in two brief paragraphs. One single article, of fifty words, made declaration of the intention of the United States to abolish the slave trade; its presence was an indication of the power and determination of the benevolent enthusiasts of Britain as compared with the more fitful influence of the war party.
The shelving of the debatable points was denounced by some intelligent people on both sides of the Atlantic, on the grounds that it would lead eventually to a renewal of the war. They were proved in the event to be wrong; the memory of the profitless damage done by the war persisted, and was as influential in the minds of those responsible for keeping the peace as the knowledge of it had been in the minds of those responsible for making the peace. The boundary questions were settled amicably, and from there it was an easy step to the neutralization of the American-Canadian border, an achievement in the cause of peace so beneficial, and so far ahead of its time, as almost to justify the bloodshed and misery of the tragic war.
Posted by Joel at 12/24/2019 02:56:00 PM No comments:
23 December 2019
Problems Pacifying the Chesapeake, 1813
From The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812, by C. S. Forester (Doubleday, 1952; eNet, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1971-2013:
Cockburn acted with considerable energy. He sent his boats where his ships could not penetrate. One of Warren’s reports (dated from ‘Annapolis, Chesapeake’!) told of sending the boats of the fleet fifteen miles up the Rappahannock, where they boarded and captured four armed schooners—a privateer and three letters of marque—manned by heavy crews totalling over two hundred officers and men, the British loss being only thirteen; undoubtedly the Americans flinched, and undoubtedly the demoralization resulting from the arrival of the British in the Chesapeake was considerable. Cockburn pushed on northwards into the farthest extremity of the Chesapeake, striking at the communications between Baltimore and Philadelphia; today the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal runs close to the scene of his operations. He had no troops with him at present, save for a small detachment of artillerymen, but he had a rocket-boat, and several craft of small draught, mostly prizes he had previously captured, and with his marines and a detachment of seamen he could scrape together a force of some four hundred men. He made a feint at Baltimore, occasioning considerable alarm, and then struck at the other side. There was militia to oppose him, but badly led and quite uninspired, even though Washington was only a day’s ride away. The tiny landing-parties met with almost no resistance, the militia abandoning their positions the moment an attack was launched; in one battery a hundred and thirty stand of small-arms were picked up after having been thrown away by the men supposed to use them. Cockburn reached all the objectives (‘foundries, stores, and public works’) assigned to him by Warren’s orders. He destroyed a foundry (‘the Cecil or Principio Foundery, one of the most valuable works of the kind in America’) on the outskirts of Havre-de-Grace, along with Government depots of provisions and military equipment; he burned a dozen sail of coasters, and vast stores of flour, sending one party far up the Susquehanna, all this at a cost of less than a dozen wounded.
He had been faced, from the moment of his arrival, with the problem of dealing with civilian opposition. It was not only militiamen, and certainly not only militiamen in uniform, who fired on his landing-parties. It was not in human nature, and certainly not in American human nature, to refrain from taking a shot at red-coated marines landed on a mission of destruction in a country whose constitution declared that ‘the right of the people to bear and carry arms shall not be infringed’. The laws of war had not yet been codified. It was understood, however, that a man who fought without a uniform was liable to death if caught, his house was liable to destruction, and even the village or town from which he came; but the invading regular troops, on the other hand, were bound to respect civilian life and property. Moreover, there was an occasionally accepted ruling—later incorporated in the Geneva Convention—that a people might be permitted to take up arms in a spontaneous uprising; a year or two before Wellington had maintained this point in correspondence with Massena regarding the status of the un-uniformed Portuguese militia. In essence, therefore, the ultimate policy was decided by the commanding officer of the invading force. Cockburn deplored the ‘useless rancour’ of the inhabitants in opposing him, and burned houses and towns where such opposition was offered him. He congratulated himself, and felicitated Warren, on having achieved his object, for Charlestown submitted to him without opposition and he was assured that ‘all the places in the upper part of the Chesapeake’ had adopted the resolution that neither guns nor militiamen should be suffered there. On the surface the policy of reprisals had succeeded, but it is doubtful whether it had conduced towards the ultimate end of the invasion, which was to prevail on the American people to agree to peace.
In the prevailing state of sullen resentment Cockburn had to decide on another question of policy, closely allied to the matter of reprisals. Like every naval officer of the time he was faced by the chronic problem of the supply of drinking-water, and by the nearly as urgent problem of the supply of fresh provisions. He could hardly be expected to detach ships to his base hundreds of miles away to fill up with water, nor could he expect his men to live on salt meat when they could see cattle browsing on shore and hear cocks crowing. Yet the parties he landed to fill up his water-casks were always liable to have shots fired at them; his efforts to buy fresh provisions were not very successful. He maintained that it was inhuman to deprive his men of drinking water, and he was quite sincere in his protestations that he was offering genuine value for livestock. He did not make allowance for the irresistible temptation his landing-parties offered to the local man with a rifle who had heard nothing about the resolution of the towns to make no resistance, and who would have cared nothing whatever he heard. And Cockburn tried to buy cattle with bills on the British Treasury; he was an able and active officer, but he displayed complete ignorance of the people he was fighting if he expected a Maryland farmer to part with his herd in exchange for bills redeemable in London at some vague future date. Wellington was dealing with the similar problem in Spain and France by paying handsomely in gold and silver—even taking care to have supplies ready of the actual currency of the country in which he found himself—but Cockburn had no gold or silver to spare, partly because Wellington had all the available supply. Refusal to sell, in Cockburn’s eyes, was a hostile act. He was justified then in seizing provisions without payment, and that, even in the chaotic state of the laws of war, justified armed resistance; resistance justified reprisals, and the vicious circle was started again at the moment when he thought the country was pacified.
Posted by Joel at 12/23/2019 05:43:00 PM No comments:
19 December 2019
Disadvantages of Privateers
From The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812, by C. S. Forester (Doubleday, 1952; eNet, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1237-1266:
American privateering had proved itself offensive beyond all expectation; it is possible that it might have been more offensive still. Certainly there were disadvantages regarding the system, of which the harassed British Government was not aware. It skimmed the cream of American seamen; Hull had no sooner taken up his new appointment in New York than he complained that such was the rush to enter into and to fit out privateers that he found it hard to find seamen for naval vessels or workmen for navy yards. It consumed stores and supplies of which the Navy felt the need. Competition between individual shipowners was liable to accentuate shortages and force up prices. But these serious disadvantages were only indicative of others, and any attempt to remedy all or any of them confronted the Administration with problems which it was peculiarly unfitted to solve.
Privateers sought profits; the national welfare was only incidental. Other privateers were business competitors, and only secondarily brothers-in-arms. It could easily happen that a successful owner would endeavour to preserve his trade secrets and to keep his knowledge of the enemy’s methods to himself. Undoubtedly he would seek prizes of commercial value; and the facile argument that the greater the commercial loss to the enemy the greater the effect on the war did not hold water. The capture of a homeward-bound East Indiaman would mean enormous prize money, and long faces in the City; but the capture of the coasting brig with Wellington’s twenty tons of shoes on board, although it would mean small prize money, would immobilize England’s one army in the moment of victory. There could be little doubt as to which capture would have the greater effect in inducing the British Government to consider peace on America’s terms; unfortunately there could be little doubt as to which capture a privateer captain would endeavour to make—unless he were both exceptionally patriotic and well informed, and prepared to ignore his owner’s demand for dividends and his crew’s clamour for prize money. Even in the Royal Navy there were continuous hints and complaints that captains and flag officers were tempted to neglect military duties in order to seek prizes, although the orders they received were backed by all the machinery of the Articles of War and with the death penalty looming in the background.
The question of discipline in privateers was always a serious one. The ship’s articles gave the captain considerable powers, and many captains were able to use those powers to the full, yet there were exceptions. Although there are accounts of desperate actions fought by privateers, there are plenty of accounts of only feeble resistance being offered, and sometimes none at all—more than one English captain reports coming alongside an American privateer to find the decks deserted, the whole crew having run below. The cynic may wonder at the strange quirks of human nature which lead men to give their lives for something as unsubstantial as the honour of their service while they are not prepared to risk them for solid cash, and yet, while wondering, the cynic must admit the existence and the power of those motives; the man who has struck a bargain to go privateering is likely, when faced by the imminent and unimagined danger of hard knocks, to plead misrepresentation and to regret and to go back on his purely commercial bargain.
The privateersman, even the veriest landsman, having entered in return for a share in the proceeds of a voyage, was likely to arrogate to himself the rights of a shareholder and to claim a voice in the management, especially with the tradition of the town meeting behind him; the tendency was almost inevitable and subversive of discipline, and it called for leadership on the part of the captain—and successes as well—to counteract it. The best of privateering captains had to make allowance for the possible restiveness of his crew in conditions of disillusioning hardship and disappointment.
Only the most radical measures on the part of the Administration could have minimized these disadvantages of the privateering system.
Posted by Joel at 12/19/2019 12:23:00 PM 1 comment:
17 December 2019
U.S. Private Trade with Britain, 1812-14
From The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812, by C. S. Forester (Doubleday, 1952; eNet, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1091-1131:
It became apparent that provisions from America were necessary to maintain the British effort in the Peninsula, despite Wellington’s search for other sources of supply in Canada and Egypt and the Barbary States.
This was [Admiral] Warren’s opportunity to kill two birds, or three birds, with one stone. From Halifax and Bermuda he began to issue licences to American ships, giving them immunity from capture while they were engaged on voyages to and from Lisbon. During the periods of Non-intercourse and Embargo a wide connection had been built up with those merchants who were willing or anxious to evade the regulations of the United States Government; it was easy enough to make the new system known to them. The cargoes could be sold to the Portuguese Government, or to private merchants in Lisbon. They might feed the Portuguese army or the Portuguese civilian population; in either case it was a burden lifted from the shoulders of the British Government, which would have had to undertake the task—and could well have found it impossible—if it had not been performed by American private enterprise.
There was more than a possibility that some of the supplies might find their way into British Government hands and might feed British soldiers; some of the flour might be baked into biscuits to feed British sailors who might fight American ships; that possibility did not check the trade that was carried on. We find Wellington writing as early as September 1812, ‘I am very glad that Mr Forster has given licences to American ships to import corn to Lisbon.’ Wellington was a man of the strongest common sense and of a clear insight into human nature. We find him writing at the same time pressing that Portuguese ships should be licensed in a similar way to trade with American ports. That would render him less dependent on American shipping; also he warned that there was every chance that American ships, crossing the Atlantic protected by their licences, would be tempted to turn aside towards the end of their voyage and run the blockade into French ports. It would be well to assume that a man guilty of one knavery could be capable of another.
By the issue of licences Warren could not only keep Wellington’s army fed; he could retain the goodwill of the American mercantile community. He was sowing the seeds of discord—if any more needed to be planted—between that community and the American Government if the latter could ever nerve itself to cut off this profitable business. American ships sailing from American ports carried with them American newspapers and American news; for Warren they constituted an invaluable source of information regarding American public opinion, regarding the movements of American ships-of-war, and also regarding any attempts to maintain American trade along lines that the British Government did not approve of. The New England states were profiting by this system of licences, while the Southern states were suffering from the interference with their necessary seaboard communications. Later a proclaimed blockade of the Southern seaboard hampered those communications even worse. There was at least the chance that the sectional favour he was conferring would lead to sectional jealousies and from there to sectional strife.
Warren’s astute handling of the situation did not lead to all the advantages that he expected, and it led to some unexpected difficulties, of which the principal one arose from the necessity for payment for the American supplies. Portugal, devastated by war and with much of her manpower conscripted into her army, had little enough to export in return. A little could be done by sending British manufactured goods to Lisbon for sale by Portuguese merchants to Americans, but that did not bridge the gap. All the large balance had to be paid for in cash, in gold and silver. The problem had been exercising Wellington’s mind (Wellington fought a series of successful campaigns while acting as his own paymaster-general and economic adviser as well as his own chief-of-staff and commissary-general) even before the war began during the period of the Embargo: ‘The exporters of specie, to the great distress of the Army and the ruin of the country, are the American merchants . . . these merchants cannot venture to take in payment bills upon England . . . they must continue therefore to export specie from Portugal.’ Again: ‘When the Americans sell their corn in Lisbon they must receive payment in money.’ In the midst of commanding England’s Army in a desperate war he was writing such lines as ‘The merchants of England will, of course, send Colonial goods and merchandise where they can sell it with advantage,’ but even he had to set limits on his activities—‘I cannot enter into the detail of sending Colonial goods or merchandise to pay for corn.’
The final result was a constant drain of gold and silver from England to America at a time when the British Government was at its wits’ end to find any supply of the precious metals. England had to endure the troubles resulting from a paper currency, inflation, and a rising cost of living, while Wellington, who needed hard cash to pay his army’s way during its constant movements in the Peninsula, had to devote many anxious hours as to how to proportion his limited supplies between paying his long-enduring troops and his Spanish muleteers and buying the vital stores from America. It is hardly necessary to add that the American merchants did not suffer. The troops fell into six months’ arrears of pay, the muleteers and the Portuguese middlemen into as much as a year, but the Yankee captains sailed home with the gold and silver which, by the end of the war, gorged the New England banks and was to play an important part in American expansion and in the later development of American industry.
Posted by Joel at 12/17/2019 02:42:00 PM No comments:
15 December 2019
Secessionist New England, 1812
From The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812, by C. S. Forester (Doubleday, 1952; eNet, 2012), Kindle Loc. 904-928:
OPINION in New England had been strongly against war. Just as during the days of Non-intercourse and Embargo some mercantile interests were prepared to evade the law and to continue commercial relations with Britain; at this very time the British forces in Canada were being fed on supplies sent up from America. There was intense dislike—hatred—of Mr Madison, his administration, and his principles. The political judgment of many in New England, shrewder in this case than Mr Madison’s, condemned Bonaparte for the unprincipled tyrant that he was; there were patriotic men who felt dismay at the prospect of aiding tyranny in a war against freedom. They knew a dilemma unknown to those who merely desired to make a profit; they were tempted to extricate themselves from it by secession from the Union. Political hatred, commercial interest, and distrust of Mr Madison’s judgment made a powerful combination; and this was in a country whose chief historical memory was one of successful rebellion against authority.
The beginning of the war had been gloomy. General Hull’s astonishing surrender at Detroit was a shattering blow to the hopes that had been entertained of an easy—even a bloodless—conquest of Canada. It was a moral disappointment as well as a military defeat, in that it proved that at least some elements in Canada were prepared to fight. It provided a further argument for those people who mistrusted Mr Madison’s judgment. The British Government, conducting a war for national existence, and aware of the existence of a potential separatist movement in New England, had no scruples in the matter. It was prepared to make use of any factor, a mere desire to make money or personal jealousy or local jealousy or actual treason, that would simplify its task. In the matter of blockade, in the matter of granting licences for American ships, and in the matter of trading with the enemy, its policy was not to rouse the antagonism of the mass of the people.
And the mass of the people might be swayed by an active and intelligent minority. There was a lack of the symbols and simplifications that could influence the unthinking; and the news from Detroit could implant the uneasy suspicion that they were on the losing side—and there was an absence of the inspiring leadership which could call forth the determination to see the matter through.
It was into this atmosphere that Hull returned with the news of his victory. He had two hundred prisoners to put ashore under guard. He had sent to the bottom of the sea the Guerrière, whose appearance, the cut of whose jib, had been familiar to so many in that seafaring community. He had in his power one of those lordly British captains whose bland—or not so bland—assumption of superiority had irked even an Anglophile society. He had scored a victory over the British Navy which had been victorious over every other nation on earth, and he had scored that victory by a bold and vigorous offensive in the face of peril. The news was exhilarating. There could hardly be a croaker to point out that this was no more than a pin-prick in the rhinoceros hide of British naval power. When even the well-informed could be carried away by enthusiasm the unlettered or unthinking masses were bound to be influenced yet more strongly. The quite serious danger of a pro-British (or anti-Washington) movement in New England began to decline from its peak, although it remained serious.
Posted by Joel at 12/15/2019 02:14:00 PM No comments:
14 December 2019
Invasion Plans for Japan, 1945
From The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A. J. Baime (HMH Books, 2017), Kindle pp. 248-250:
The brain trust of the American military gathered. Here sat General George Marshall, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Lieutenant General I. C. Eaker of the army air forces (representing General Arnold, recovering from a heart attack), and the chief of the president’s staff, Fleet Admiral Leahy. Secretary of War Stimson was in the room, as were Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy and Secretary of the Navy Forrestal. The president wanted to know from each an opinion on the most efficient means of forcing Japan to surrender unconditionally, and to bring the war to an end.
General Marshall spoke first, reiterating arguments he had already posed but now with more detail. The situation in Japan was “practically identical” to the situation in Europe before the Normandy invasion, Marshall said. He believed that “the only course to pursue” with respect to Japan was the course that had brought the Nazis to their knees: a ground invasion. He had chosen the island of Kyushu at the southern end of Japan’s mainland for the landing, and he set D-day at November 1—four and a half months’ time.
Marshall listed the reasons for the timing: “Our estimates are that our air action will have smashed practically every industrial target worth hitting in Japan as well as destroying huge areas in Jap cities,” he said. “The Japanese Navy, if any still exists, will be completely powerless. Our sea action and air power will have cut Jap reinforcement capabilities from the mainland to negligible proportions.” Any delay past November 1 could force a further delay of up to six months due to winter weather, he explained.
The general then discussed what could be expected in casualties. The United States had suffered roughly 20,000 casualties (killed, wounded, missing) in the invasion of Iwo Jima, against an estimated 25,000 Japanese (killed and taken prisoner, for there was no way to even guess how many were wounded). In Okinawa—the fiercest fought ground battle of the Far East war, and one in which the U.S. forces were on the brink of declaring victory—the Americans had suffered 34,000 army and 7,700 navy casualties, against 81,000 Japanese (the latter number being “not a complete count,” according to the military statisticians). U.S. casualties in the first thirty days of the Normandy invasion had been 42,000. There was no way to estimate the number of casualties expected in the invasion of mainland Japan, but Marshall did say this: “It is a grim fact that there is not an easy, bloodless way to victory in war and it is the thankless task of the leaders to maintain their firm outward front which holds the resolution of their subordinates.”
Marshall was convinced that “every individual moving to the Pacific should be indoctrinated with a firm determination to see [the invasion] through.” He put the number of troops required for the operation at 766,700. The invasion plan was as follows: (1) to have the Russians attack the Japanese occupying Manchuria in China; (2) to “vitalize the Chinese” with air support and supplies so they could handle the Japanese occupying other parts of their country; and (3) all of which would allow the Americans—with British aid—to go after mainland Japan.
Truman went around the room and heard not a single dissent.
Posted by Joel at 12/14/2019 09:37:00 AM No comments:
09 December 2019
Truman's First Press Conference
From The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A. J. Baime (HMH Books, 2017), Kindle pp. 140-142:
At 10:30 a.m., dozens filed into the Oval Office for Truman’s first press conference. Standing behind his desk, he greeted reporters as they pushed into the room, which quickly grew uncomfortably crowded. Regular presidential press conferences were a tradition going back to Woodrow Wilson, who on March 15, 1913, set a precedent of welcoming newspaper reporters into his office to answer questions. Roosevelt had held two a week and had elevated these meetings to high art. Wielding his cigarette holder as if conducting an orchestra, he would deliver soliloquies that would entrance his guests, while almost always failing on purpose to answer any question posed.
On April 17 the largest crowd ever assembled for a presidential press conference pushed into the Oval Office—348 men and women reporters—all aiming to size up the new chief executive. Some were forced to stand on the terrace outside the president’s office—lucky ones, because the room got exceedingly hot.
“Good morning,” Truman said, “good morning.”
“Good morning, Mr. President,” someone in the crowd said. “Will you take it sort of slow for us today, please, sir?”
“Surely, surely,” Truman said. “Anything I can do to accommodate you.”
No one in the room could help making comparisons to Roosevelt. For one thing, this president was standing up. “We all knew that Roosevelt had gone to Groton and then Harvard,” recalled White House correspondent Robert Nixon, who was getting his first crack at Truman that morning. “That [Roosevelt] came from a quite old, well-to-do family; that he moved in what is known as the best circles all of his life . . . Truman was a small town, Midwestern Missourian of farm origin . . . The contrast was in appearance, voice mannerisms, and even their attire. President Roosevelt, while a casual dresser, was very well tailored . . . Truman dressed like he had just come off of Main Street in Independence.”
The new president called for attention. “The first thing I want to do to you is to read the rules,” he said. After telling the reporters what they already knew—everything he said was background material, no direct quotes were allowed unless there was specific permission—he began by announcing that most of the Roosevelt staff would stay on, and that Matthew Connelly had been appointed his confidential secretary. Truman read a letter aloud from Mrs. Roosevelt, thanking everyone for their wishes, “which have brought great comfort and consolation to all of us.” Due to the wartime paper shortage, Mrs. Roosevelt would not be responding to all correspondence. Instead, she had asked Truman to read her thank-you letter to the press.
Truman then opened the floor. He answered questions about reciprocal trade, race relations, the wartime ban on horseracing, and the historic United Nations Conference set to open in eight days.
“Mr. President,” said one reporter in the crowd. “Will Mrs. Truman have a press conference?”
“I would rather not answer that question at this time.”
At numerous moments Truman delivered witticisms that sparked laughter in the room. The Missourian had a simple way of speaking that amused his counterparts in the press. He whittled his ideas down to the fewest words and handed them over. Unlike Roosevelt, Truman actually answered questions, and if he chose not to, he said just that.
“His first press conferences were wonderful,” noted press secretary Daniels. At the end of this first one, something happened that had never occurred in any of Roosevelt’s meetings with the press: the room erupted in spontaneous applause.
Posted by Joel at 12/09/2019 04:04:00 PM No comments:
Labels: democracy, education, publishing, U.S., war
04 December 2019
Truman's View of Politicians
From The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A. J. Baime (HMH Books, 2017), Kindle pp. 49-50:
For years, John Anderson Truman had taken his family to Jackson County town picnics to hear local politicians speak. “Politics is all he ever advises me to neglect the farm for,” Harry wrote Bess. Harry had studied the lives of all the American presidents. His hero was Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States (1829–1837) and the founder of the Democratic Party, for whom Jackson County, Missouri, was named. Jackson’s adventures in war and politics made his life story read like an adventure novel. “I have been tossed upon the waves of fortune,” Jackson famously said. He was the first American president to come from the common people—people like the Trumans. “If Andrew Jackson can be President, anybody can!” was a common quip of Jackson’s day.
In the fall of 1912 the presidential election was the talk of the Truman dinner table for weeks. Not in Truman’s lifetime had an election been so bitterly fought. A schism tore apart the Republican Party. The incumbent president, William Howard Taft, had won the nomination, leading a humiliated Republican opponent, Theodore Roosevelt, to strike out independently. With his newly created Bull Moose Party, his magnanimity, and his wild oratory style, Theodore Roosevelt riveted Americans. The Democrat Woodrow Wilson had only two years of political experience, and none in national politics. Less than a month before the election, a would-be assassin fired a gunshot into Theodore Roosevelt’s chest, the bullet passing through the pages of a speech he was about to give. With the bullet lodged less than an inch from his heart, he delivered the speech, then went to the hospital and survived. Two weeks later Vice President James Sherman died, leaving the Republican Taft with no running mate.
“Nobody talks anything but election,” Harry wrote Bess on November 6, the day after the contest, which Wilson won, becoming the twenty-eighth president of the United States. The brutality of this election made Truman philosophical about his future and politics itself, especially when his father threw his hat in the ring, running and winning the local office of road overseer.
“Politics sure is the ruination of many a good man,” Harry wrote Bess. “Between hot air and graft he usually loses not only his head but his money and friends as well. Still, if I were rich I’d just as soon spend my money buying votes and offices as yachts and autos. Success seems to me to be merely a point of view anyway . . .
“To succeed financially,” Harry concluded, “a man can’t have any heart. To succeed politically he must be an egotist or a fool or a ward boss tool.”
Posted by Joel at 12/04/2019 12:05:00 PM No comments:
Labels: democracy, philosophy, U.S.
02 December 2019
Truman Learns He's President
From The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A. J. Baime (HMH Books, 2017), Kindle pp. 25-26:
In the Capitol, Truman headed through the long hallways, past the eight-foot statue of Benjamin Franklin, and down a marble staircase to Rayburn’s office, which was affectionately nicknamed “the Board of Education.” Truman arrived at about 5:05 p.m. There the Speaker of the House, “Mr. Sam,” was chatting with a couple of other guests. Here in this office, congressmen gathered to “strike a blow for liberty”—to drink whiskey. When asked why the room was called the Board of Education, Rayburn liked to say: “I guess some fellahs have been educated down there.”
Rayburn handed Truman his drink of choice—bourbon and water—then told him that a call had just come in for him, from Steve Early in the White House. Truman picked up the phone and dialed.
“This is the VP,” he said.
In a strained voice, Early ordered Truman to come to the White House “as quickly and quietly” as possible, and to use the main Pennsylvania Avenue entrance. Rayburn was watching Truman at this moment. “He is kind of a pale fellow . . . and he got a little paler,” Rayburn recalled.
Truman hung up. “Jesus Christ and General Jackson!” he said. He turned to Sam Rayburn. “Steve Early wants me at the White House immediately,” he said. He made for the door, and with his hand on the knob, he turned and said, “Boys, this is in this room. Something must have happened.”
The vice president walked out the door, then broke into a run. The Capitol hallways were nearly empty by this time, and Truman’s footsteps on the marble floor echoed through the corridors. He made it to his office in the Senate building quickly and out of breath. He grabbed his hat. “[I] told my office force that I’d been summoned to the White House and to say nothing about it,” he later wrote.
Outside it had begun to rain again. Truman found his chauffeur, Tom Harty, and off they went in the Mercury state car with no secret service detail. They arrived at the White House “in almost nothing flat,” Truman recalled, motoring through the Northwest Gate. Ushers greeted the vice president at the door, bowing and taking his hat. They led him upstairs via an elevator to the First Lady’s private study, where Truman found Mrs. Roosevelt, her daughter and son-in-law Anna and John Boettiger, and Stephen Early, sitting quietly. The First Lady approached Truman and put her arm around his shoulder.
“Harry,” she said, “the president is dead.”
Four words raced through Truman’s mind: The lightning has struck! “I was fighting off tears,” he later recalled. “It was the only time in my life I think that I ever felt like I’d had a real shock. I had hurried to the White House to see the president and when I arrived I found I was the president. No one in the history of our country ever had it happen to him just that way.”
He gathered himself. “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked the First Lady.
“Is there anything we can do for you,” Eleanor Roosevelt answered. “For you are the one in trouble now.”
Posted by Joel at 12/02/2019 04:02:00 PM No comments:
01 December 2019
First Barbary Ambassador to U.S.
From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 8150ff:
When the American fleet was released from the patrol off Tripoli by Lear’s peace treaty, [Commodore] Rodgers showed his power to Bey Hamouda Pacha at Tunis.
He dispatched the Congress and the Vixen and followed with the Constitution, Constellation, Essex, John Adams, Siren, Nautilus, Franklin, Enterprise, Hornet, and part of the flotilla of gunboats which were now arriving from the United States; sixteen sail in all....
They made an imposing sight when they rounded Cape Bon and stood into Tunis Bay on August 1, 1805.
Then Rodgers wrote a letter asking the Bey if he wanted peace or war and giving him the generous time of thirty-six hours in which to reply....
The Bey now refused to receive Decatur, whom Rodgers sent ashore, and the Captain started back to the ship. The Bey told Davis that Rodgers’ letter amounted to a declaration of war. But Bey Hamouda Pacha had no appetite for the big guns of the frigates anchored off his city, and on quick reflection he sent a messenger to Rodgers in such hot haste that he reached the waterfront ahead of Decatur and got a conciliatory reply to the Commodore before Decatur could report how he had been snubbed.
Lear eventually went ashore to assist Davis in the negotiations, but he could not have put any indemnities or weasel clauses into this arrangement even had he desired because Rodgers was watching. To the Bey’s complaint that the entire American fleet had descended on him, Rodgers gave assurance it was not so, because a frigate, a brig, eight gunboats, and two mortar boats had not yet arrived.
Davis wrote to Rodgers suggesting a suspension of any hostilities until a communication could be had with the President of the United States.
That was not Rodgers’ way of doing business. He replied that unless Bey Hamouda gave a guarantee of the maintenance of peace and signed it in the presence of the British and French consuls, he would seal the port so tight that nothing could get in or out. Then Rodgers sent a copy of the wording he wanted in the guarantee. Lear and the Bey went into a round of letter-writing during which Rodgers’ patience was wearing thin. In a letter of August 15 he declared that the Bey must give a guarantee of peace and then he could send an ambassador to Washington to treat if he desired.
Then Rodgers let loose to Lear an opinion about this petty tyrant: “His prevaricating with you in particular, induces me to believe, that he is now more than ever the Scoundrel, I had thought him before, and I have only to repeat, that if he does not do all that is necessary, & proper, that even at the risk of my Conducts being disapproved by my Country, he shall feel the Vengeance of the Squadron now in his Bay.”
In the face of such force and persistency Bey Hamouda capitulated. He gave notice that the United States would be placed on a most-favored-nation basis and that he would send an ambassador to the United States to deal with any complaints. Rodgers answered cordially, said he had a frigate returning, and asked to have the ambassador make ready at once.
The ambassador was Sidi Suliman Mellimelli, who sailed with Decatur on the Congress, and was to become a startling figure, during the winter of 1805-1806, in the American capital where he lived luxuriously at the expense of the American government and pressed a claim for tribute and indemnity.
Decatur carried a letter from Rodgers to Secretary Smith, saying of the Bey of Tunis that if his late hostility should be overlooked, “I can with almost certainty say that he will never again attempt to behave in a similar manner.”
Mellimelli took four beautiful Arabian stud horses with him as a gift to President Jefferson, one having been a gift to the Bey from the Dey of Algiers. The scrupulous Jefferson would not accept them for himself but the Treasury sold them as part payment of Mellimelli’s expenses. But first they were kept in the President’s stables and the stud fees went to the collector of revenues.
The ambassador was accompanied by a suite of eleven, including an Italian band. He was short on women, for whom he had a ravenous appetite. The prim little Secretary of State Madison had to have concubines supplied at public expense, and wrote about it later, saying: “Appropriations to foreign intercourse are terms of great latitude and may be drawn on by very urgent and unforeseen occurrences.”
Madison never lacked the ability of choice expression. Mellimelli did not know the tightness of the American farmer-congressman. He was unable to exact a single coin from Congress or Secretary Gallatin, but the more freehanded Lear did make an adjustment with the Bey two years later by paying $10,000.
After much difficulty and some revolts among his followers, Mellimelli, whose main argument for tribute appeared to be that he would likely be killed if he returned without it, was packed off home in a ship from Boston. The United States continued its payments of tribute to Algiers through the years, but learned what other powers had long known, that it was best to be in arrears.
Posted by Joel at 12/01/2019 12:59:00 PM No comments:
Labels: Mediterranean, military, piracy, religion, U.S.
17 November 2019
Dolley and Decatur, Idols of Their Day
From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. 5043ff:
YEARS AFTER THE TRIPOLITAN War, Stephen Decatur, commander of the United States, would send the flag of the British frigate Macedonian to Dolley Madison by a young lieutenant, the son of Paul Anderson, Secretary of the Navy at the beginning of the War of 1812. When the lieutenant, arriving during the Naval Ball of the Christmas festivities of 1812, laid the trophy at her feet, the usually self-controlled Dolley, the center of warmth and witticisms, conceded that she blushed like a schoolgirl. The reason has never been well explained.
But one is privileged to believe it was because the enemy standard had been sent to her by one of the most intrepid and certainly the most handsome officer of the U.S. Navy, whose physical strength and virility were in such contrast, as the bewitchingly feminine Dolley must have observed, to the frail delicacy of her beloved but diminutive Jimmy Madison, the President. If Dolley was not stirred by Decatur’s magnetism she was different from virtually all other women who met him, and most men also, because few could be indifferent to this graceful, athletic officer whose broad shoulders, slim waist, curly brown hair and warm, dancing brown eyes, usually tender in conversation but alert and piercing under the excitement of action, made him distinguished physically in nearly any gathering.
His biographers—and quite a number have written of him in sympathetic and none in disparaging vein—seem to agree that he drew the notice of ladies wherever he appeared, and the allurement went much beyond the appeal of the resplendent naval uniform of the day; while the seamen and others who kept journals dealt with him in terms ranging from admiration to reverence.
Said Marine Private Ray: “The intrepid Decatur is as proverbial among sailors, for the good treatment of his men, as he is for his valour. Not a tar, who ever sailed with Decatur, but would almost sacrifice his life for him.”
There was something more mystical about Decatur than his vivid personality and the stimulating glow of his presence, for when he married Susan Wheeler, daughter of Luke Wheeler, wealthy merchant and Mayor of Norfolk, Virginia, his union was with a young lady who had fallen in love with him desperately before she had ever seen him, merely from looking at an Italian miniature of him.
And it was characteristic of his devotion to the United States and to its naval service that he told the beautiful girl, when he proposed, that he had already made vows to his flag which had precedence, because if not steadfast to it, he would not then be worthy of her. Somewhere along the line he had read Richard Lovelace.
Posted by Joel at 11/17/2019 01:09:00 PM No comments:
Labels: Britain, military, nationalism, publishing, U.S., war
10 November 2019
Impressions of Tripoli, 1804
From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. 4200ff:
Wild beasts roamed the Barbary shore during the era of the American war. The most common was the hyena, called the dubbah. There were panthers, wild boar, ostriches, and antelopes, while snakes and scorpions abounded.
Though the harbor was commodious, it was shallow and could not grant ingress to vessels drawing more than five or six fathoms, or from thirty to thirty-six feet.
The dominating structure of the harbor was the gray old Castle (now neatly restored) which, partly in ruins, loomed above the shore. It was a formidable stronghold in appearance, while inside it was composed of a series of splendid chambers, arched colonnades, and circling courts, brilliant with mosaics.
Beneath was a labyrinth of subterranean passages where captives were imprisoned and the condemned were executed.
In those days a wide, circular beach stretched in front of the town and toward the east, and much of the city was built in a crescent extending eastward from the tip of the peninsula, and westward for a distance facing the Mediterranean beyond the reef which formed the harbor.
In this city of flat-topped houses, sometimes built from and on heaps of ancient rubble; of mosques, narrow streets, of baths with their clustered cupolas; of fruit trees and date palms giving their scant shade, but with the soft afternoon breeze often coming pleasantly from the Mediterranean, lived a population of extremes in poverty and opulence. For the more consequential men the coffee bazaar was the place of assembly and, in the absence of newspapers, the forum where information was exchanged.
These bazaars were strictly for coffee and no other refreshments were served. Inside they were smoky kitchens, and Arabs of distinction never entered them, but sent their slaves, who brought the coffee in vessels to the arbor-covered marble benches outside.
These were in effect couches, richly draped with carpets and mats, on which the chief men would sit cross-legged—“bear-like,” as Eaton described the posture in Tunis—and sip their beverage leisurely. Sometimes the females of the castle might prefer their coffee flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves, but the men at the bazaar drank theirs black, thick, and straight.
As these patriarchs of wealth sipped, behind them stood their slaves, often three to one master. One held his pipe, a second his kerchief, and the third his coffee cup, thus releasing his hands while he conversed. Any distinguished Tripolitan Arab required both hands to emphasize and illustrate his words.
Often he would do this by jabbing or drawing designs with the finger of one hand on the palm of the other. On state occasions the chief officials and wealthy men appeared in flowing, gold-embroidered robes of satin and velvet, and, when seasonal, in rich furs.
They wore shawls of the finest texture, jewels, and long silver pendants that served as charms. At noon, which British Consul Richard Tulley’s sister observed to be “an hour when no Moor of distinction leaves his house,” the city napped. Beggars were common on the winding streets.
In sharp contrast with the ornate garb of the wealthy was the wretchedness of the poor and of even the ordinary-run citizen, who was covered with a piece of dark brown homespun cotton, no more than an age-ripened blanket. Blindness was common among the beggars.
The glaring sun of the summer months, taken with the sand particles which filled the air when the ghibli blew from the desert, induced an eye-soreness or ophthalmia, which became aggravated by the presence of numerous busy insects. Dr. Leyden, who studied social and moral conditions of North Africa, and noticed that games of chance were prohibited as strictly as was alcohol, found the time of the average man occupied with “eating, drinking, sleeping, women, horses and prayers.”
Apparently cock-fighting, which thrived, was not regarded a game of chance, or else no wagers were laid. Ostrich-racing was another sport. He reported too that the saints were venerated, but, “any extraordinary qualification—a remarkable crime, sometimes pure idiotism raised them to the rank of saint.”
The women of the harem, usually Georgian or Circassian slaves who had been brought to Tripoli when young and trained for court or harem life, went out but rarely, and only to the mosques to fulfill a vow or make an offering; and then the journey was made from eleven to twelve at night in a palanquin enclosed with linen.
They were accompanied by a large train of guards who showed lights and shouted their approach. This crying was a signal for all common people to clear the streets, for none could look on the females from the seraglio without grave risk to his neck. Such was the city and society the United States was fighting, by no choice of the Jefferson administration, in its first formal war under the Constitution.
Posted by Joel at 11/10/2019 09:06:00 AM No comments:
07 November 2019
Navy Gunners vs. Tripoli Pirates, 1801
From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. ~2750:
Captain Sterrett bore a British flag as he approached the Tripolitan ship, an expedient frequently practiced in the naval warfare of the day. He inquired of the Tripolitan the object of her cruise. The commander replied that he had come out to look for Americans but lamented that he had not yet found a single one. Sterrett promptly lowered the British and hoisted the U.S. colors and ordered a volley of musketry discharged across the Tripolitan’s decks.
The Tripoli replied with a partial broadside. It was 9:00 a.m. For three hours the ships lay alongside at pistol range and blazed away at each other with broadsides and small arms. Three times they came together and the Muslims tried to board. Each time they were beaten back with severe loss.
Fortunately the Enterprise had a small Marine Corps detachment, commanded by Lieutenant Enoch S. Lane, whose fire was particularly effective during the boarding efforts. An equal number of times the Tripolitans seemed to give up the contest and surrender. They struck their colors, but each time as the wary Lieutenant Sterrett drew close for boarding and as the American gun crews relaxed their efforts, came to the spardeck and cheered for their victory, the enemy ship hoisted her flag again, let loose a blast and renewed the battle. After the last deception Sterrett ordered the gunners to sink the craft, whose fire had grown steadily weaker under the unmerciful bombardment from the American guns. The seamen took up the cry of “Sink the villains.”
Finally the unhappy and treacherous Admiral Rais Mahomet Rous, who like his second in command was wounded, called out for mercy. He bent over the vessel’s waist in a supplicating position which appeared to be a genuine surrender.
Sterrett, not to be duped by further trickery, held his fire but told the commander to come aboard the Enterprise or send some of his officers. The Admiral replied that the Tripoli’s boat was so shattered it was unfit for use.
Sterrett then inquired what assurance he would have that his men would not be murdered if he sent a detail aboard the Tripoli. The Admiral threw his colors into the sea. After that and other supplications and assurances, the American commander decided to take the risk. When the boarding party headed by Lieutenant Porter reached the enemy deck it found a scene of death and desolation almost unparalleled in such small ship actions.
The ship was shot to pieces. Of her eighty men thirty were dead and thirty wounded, leaving but twenty to man the ship. The deck was covered with bodies, splinters, blood, and wreckage. The ship’s surgeon had been killed and there was no one on board to care for the wounded. With the two top officers wounded and the third officer dead, the distressed vessel was virtually out of control.
But the strange feature of this battle fought for three hours at close pistol range, with the two ships often lying alongside, was that when Captain Sterrett checked the American gunners, marines, and seamen, not an American had received a single scratch.
The reason can only be guessed at; partly chance, but mainly because the Barbary powers who were accustomed to boarding defenseless merchant vessels were not fitted by training or temperament for the fierce, desperate, pent-up fury of sea actions in the era of “iron men and wooden ships,” in which, for some reason, the Americans of that day seemed to excel.
Posted by Joel at 11/07/2019 10:46:00 AM No comments:
25 October 2019
Cost of Barbary Tribute, 1786
From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. ~1150ff:
When Jefferson went to London in company with John Adams to meet the ambassador of Tripoli, Abdurrahman, he found that this least powerful of the Barbary regencies wanted an aggregate of $160,000 from the United States.
The Ambassador thought Tunis would settle for the same tribute.
The cost for all four of the Barbary States probably would be a million dollars, a figure later considerably increased. The ineffectual Congress which operated under the Articles of Confederation had difficulty in raising any kind of money from the states and had no powers of direct taxation.
The request for a million dollars was fantastic. Jefferson was in no temper to pay it even if the money came easily. He rejected it forthwith. What the expected tribute amounted to may be understood better by a comparison with present-day expenditures.
The cost of the federal government for the first ten years under the Constitution, from 1789 to 1800, was roughly $5,775,000 a year. That was the average. The proposed tribute of one million dollars would have aggregated more than one-sixth of the entire federal expenditure.
It would have been tantamount proportionally to fifteen billion dollars of federal expenditures in 1963, at a time when money is much easier to procure by taxation than it was in 1786.
Posted by Joel at 10/25/2019 08:15:00 AM No comments:
22 October 2019
Battling Barbary Pirates in the 1600s
From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. ~980-1000:
England had her first naval brush with the Barbary Powers in 1655. When Oliver Cromwell became Protector, the Dutch ruled the waves and their Admiral Van Tromp moved with his fleet up and down the Channel with a broom fastened atop his mainmast, giving notice that he would sweep England from the seas. After he had been defeated by the English Admirals Blake, Dean, and Monk, and the Dutch Admiral De Ruyter likewise had learned that Blake’s broadsides swept cleaner than a broom, England became the leading sea power.
Admiral Robert Blake, sickly with dropsy [edema], scurvy, and other ailments on his voyages but awesome in battle, was in 1654 given secret orders by Cromwell to sail to Tuscany and collect reparations for injuries inflicted on British shipping. Cromwell would not mind if Blake picked up some of the Spanish treasure ships returning from the New World while he was cruising around Gibraltar. But one of his leading tasks was to chastise the Barbary powers and put an end to their raids on British and Irish seacoast towns.
Blake has generally been held to be the first admiral who dared to take wooden ships against stone fortresses. What he accomplished in this respect must have been in the mind of Captain Edward Preble of the U.S. Navy 150 years later. The question was whether mobility was superior to great stationary strength and he gave the odds to mobility.
Blake claimed forts were effective only for making noises and arousing fears. He sailed into the harbor of Tunis, gave the two fortresses such a pounding that he battered them down, and here and at Algiers and Tripoli he destroyed the pirate fleets and put a stop for a season to all Barbary depredations.
Clearly, Christendom could have used more Admiral Blakes along the Barbary Coast. He managed to pick up part of the Spanish plate fleet as he returned to England. But was that not technically war and in no manner piracy? England and Spain were ever at odds on the sea.
De Ruyter, whose sea greatness was by no means ended by Blake, took a Dutch fleet into the Mediterranean in 1661, dictated treaties with Tunis and Algiers, liberated Christian prisoners, and gave piracy another setback. These nations learned what the United States discerned later, that treaties with petty despots were not worth the paper they were written on.
Posted by Joel at 10/22/2019 09:47:00 AM No comments:
Labels: England, Mediterranean, military, Netherlands, piracy, religion, slavery, Spain
15 October 2019
Wordcatcher Tales: Dey vs. Bey
From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. ~630:
For nearly two hundred years the deys of Algiers had inclined toward greater independence from the Porte.
They were loosely united with the Ottoman Empire. Although the terms dey and bey are often used interchangeably, they are distinct, the dey being, after the revolt of 1710, the head officer of Algiers. The two words have different Osmanli stems, the dey coming from the Turkish dai, meaning at first a maternal uncle, but applied by the Janissaries to any well-thought-of elder.
When the Janissaries deposed the pasha and elected their own commander the head of the province, they gave him the friendly title of dey, which prevailed until the French conquest of 1830. The bey, originally beg, meant an Ottoman governor or prince, as begum meant a princess or queen. It was a more common term than dey.
Eventually beg came to be pronounced bey and moved over into the English language in that form, but its application broadened to include the ruler of a district, an appointive governor, or an individual of rank. While there were many beys among the Ottoman rulers, there was properly only one dey, the half-independent ruler of Algiers.) [sic; poorly edited] The cord with the empire was there, and at times it could be binding.
Posted by Joel at 10/15/2019 08:39:00 AM No comments:
Labels: Islam, language, Mediterranean, Turkey
15 September 2019
When Knights Avoided Battle
From A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, by Marc Morris (Pegasus, 2015), Kindle p. 60:
Siege and counter-siege, raid and counter-raid: such was the normal method of medieval warfare. Skilled commanders moved their troops like pieces on a chessboard, taking individual castles and knights as part of a developing strategy. Attrition and retaliation were the name of the game; direct confrontation was to be avoided at all costs. No matter how daring a general might be, he would almost never commit to battle because of the enormous risk involved. In the noise and confusion of a battle everything could be lost in a few short hours. As a consequence, they were rare events: in the spring of 1264, there had been no battle in England for almost half a century.
Montfort, a renowned warrior well into his mid-fifties, had never fought in one. And yet it was battle that Montfort now sought. In recent weeks his range of options had diminished rapidly. After his retreat to London they had never seemed so limited or so bleak. Dover Castle, his only other significant asset, was now threatened by the arrival in the south of the royal army; once it fell, Montfort would be trapped. In strategic terms it was almost checkmate, but the earl was not a man readily to concede defeat. On 6 May, like a cornered animal, he came out fighting, marching his forces out of London in search of his enemies.
Posted by Joel at 9/15/2019 02:37:00 PM No comments:
07 September 2019
Welsh Differences in 13th Century
From A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, by Marc Morris (Pegasus, 2015), Kindle pp. 26-28:
Geographically, of course, there were similarities between Wales and Scotland that a first-time visitor would have readily appreciated, and this meant that economically, too, they had certain similarities – Wales, like Scotland, was poor in comparison with England. Culturally, however, Wales was very different from both its near neighbours. Perhaps most obviously, the Welsh spoke Welsh, even at the highest social levels. This was a source of pride to the Welsh themselves, but to the French-speaking kings and nobles of England and Scotland it sounded like so much incomprehensible babble.
More perplexing still for English and Scottish onlookers, and far more problematic, were Welsh social attitudes, which stood in sharp opposition to their own. Take, for instance, the rules governing inheritance. In England and Scotland, and indeed almost everywhere else in western Europe, the rule was primogeniture: firstborn sons inherited estates in their entirety. This was hard on any younger brothers or sisters, but had the great advantage of keeping a family’s lands intact from one generation to the next. In Wales, by contrast, the rule was ‘partibility’: every male member of the family – not just sons and brothers, but uncles and nephews too – expected his portion of the spoils, and rules of precedence were only loosely defined. This meant that the death of a Welsh landowner was almost always followed by a violent, sometimes fratricidal struggle, as each male kinsman strove to claim the lion’s share.
The result of this idiosyncratic approach to inheritance was that Welsh politics were wont to be tumultuous. The fact that partibility applied at the highest levels was one of the main reasons why there was no single political authority in Wales as there was in England and Scotland. Welsh poets spoke of their country as if it were neatly divided into three kingdoms, but this was a broad simplification; the reality was a complex patchwork of petty lordships. Occasionally one ruler might, through force of arms, diplomacy or sheer good luck, contrive to establish something greater. But such constructs were always temporary. When a successful Welsh ruler died, his work was swiftly undone by the general carve-up that inevitably followed.
Such cultural and political differences meant that the English found it difficult to do business with the Welsh as they did with the Scots. Inherent instability meant that amicable relations were hard to sustain. The king of England could marry his daughter to the king of Scots, safe in the knowledge that her rights would be guaranteed; but he would not give her away to a Welsh ruler, no matter how great, for who knew how long his greatness might last?
And yet, if the English found the practice of partibility baffling, they were far more troubled when the Welsh showed any signs of abandoning it. From the start of the thirteenth century, up until the time of Edward’s birth, there had been a worrying (from the English point of view) movement in the direction of pan-Welsh political unity. Gwynedd, the most remote and traditional of Wales’s three ancient ‘kingdoms’, had extended its power from the mountains of Snowdonia to cover much of the rest of the country. When, therefore, the architect of this expansion, Llywelyn the Great, had died in 1240, Henry III had been quick to intervene and undo his work. In the years that followed, Gwynedd was torn down to size, and its pretensions to leadership were crushed. Llywelyn’s descendants were forcibly persuaded to follow traditional Welsh practice and share power among themselves. Lesser Welsh rulers who had formerly acknowledged Llywelyn’s mastery were disabused, and obliged to recognise that their proper overlord was, in actual fact, the king of England. Most contentiously, Henry confiscated and kept for himself a large and comparatively prosperous area of north Wales. Known as Perfeddwlad (middle country) to the Welsh, and as the Four Cantrefs to the English, this region between the rivers Dee and Conwy had been contested by both sides for hundreds of years, but Henry was determined that from that point on the English would retain it for good. The Four Cantrefs, he declared, were an inseparable part of the Crown of England, and to give force to this assertion he built two new royal castles there, one at Dyserth, the other at Deganwy. At the same time, lordship in the region was made more exacting. From their base at Chester, royal officials introduced English customs and practices, including more punitive financial demands. By 1254, when the Four Cantrefs (or ‘the king’s new conquest in Wales’, as they were now also being termed) were handed over to Edward as part of his endowment, the castles were complete, and the process of anglicisation well advanced. At the time of Edward’s visit two years later, his officials there were in a supremely confident mood. According to chronicle reports, his chief steward boasted openly before the king and queen that he had the Welsh in the palm of his hand.
Posted by Joel at 9/07/2019 04:39:00 PM No comments:
Labels: England, language, nationalism, Scotland, Wales
06 September 2019
Norman King Picks Saxon Name, 1239
From A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, by Marc Morris (Pegasus, 2015), Kindle pp. 3-4:
Henry, although king of England, was ancestrally and culturally French. He and his family were direct descendants of William the Conqueror, the Norman duke who had snatched England’s throne some 170 years earlier. Similarly, his leading subjects were all directly descended from the Conqueror’s Norman companions. When they talked to each other they spoke French (or at least a slightly anglicised, Norman version of it), and, when they came to christen their children, they gave them French names. William (Guillaume), for example, was still a popular name, for obvious reasons. So too was Richard (Ricard), because it evoked the memory of Henry’s famous uncle, Richard the Lionheart. And Henry (Henri) itself was perfectly respectable and commonplace. Henry III might have been rather limited in his abilities, but his two namesake predecessors had both been fearsome and successful warrior kings, worthy of commemoration and emulation.
All these options, however, Henry rejected. He had no desire to father conquerors, or for that matter crusaders. Thanks to his own father, the notorious King John, he had grown up surrounded by uncertainty and conflict. John had died in the midst of a self-inflicted civil war, bequeathing to his son a kingdom scarred and divided. What Henry craved above all for himself and his subjects was peace, harmony and stability. And it was a reflection of this ambition that he decided to call his son Edward.
Edward was a deeply unfashionable name in 1239 – no king or nobleman had been lumbered with it since the Norman Conquest, because it belonged to the side that had lost. Edward was an Old English name, and it sounded as odd and outlandish to Norman ears after 1066 as other Old English names – Egbert, Æthelred, Egfrith – still sound to us today. To call a boy such a name after the Conquest was to invite ridicule; he was bound to be mocked by the Williams, Richards and Henrys who were his peers.
But Henry III had good reason for foisting this unfashionable name on his firstborn son. After his father’s death, his mother had abandoned him – Isabella of Angouleme left England for her homeland in France, remarried and never returned. Effectively orphaned from the age of nine, the young king had found substitute father figures among the elderly men who had helped him govern his kingdom. But these men too, Henry ultimately decided, had failed him, and by 1234 he found himself alone once more. It was at this point, though, that the king discovered a new mentor, a man who would never, ever let him down – largely because he had already been dead for the best part of two centuries.
Henry’s new patron was Edward the Confessor, the penultimate king of Anglo-Saxon England. Like Henry himself, Edward had not been a very successful ruler: his death in January 1066 had sparked the succession crisis that led to the Norman Conquest nine months later. Posthumously, however, Edward had acquired a reputation as a man of great goodness – so much so that, a century after his death, he had been officially recognised as a saint. Thereafter his reign had acquired the retrospective glow of a golden age: men spoke with great reverence about his good and just laws (even though, in reality, he never made any). Of course, the fact that Edward was not a great warrior had made him an unlikely exemplar for the conquering dynasty of kings who came after him. But to a man like Henry III, who was entirely lacking in military skill, the Confessor seemed the perfect role model.
Posted by Joel at 9/06/2019 02:52:00 PM No comments:
01 September 2019
Explorer and Sheikh Finally Part
From A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, by Steve Kemper (W. W. Norton, 2012), Kindle pp. 302-303:
The packet [Heinrich Barth] gave al-Bakkay to send from Timbuktu included letters for the Foreign Office, the Royal Geographical Society, and many friends. It didn’t reach Europe until 1857, having spent more than two years in Ghadames.
The lull before parting was bittersweet. Barth and his friends from Timbuktu had grown fond of each other. In the mornings, as he took the air outside his tent, they gathered around him for conversation. One morning they asked him to read aloud from his European books, for the sound of the languages. He read the Bible in Greek and some passages in English, and recited a poem in German—the latter a big hit because “the full heavy words of that language” reminded them of their own. Another day they asked him to put on his European clothing, so he dug out his black suit. They admired the fine cloth and the trousers but found the frock coat comical. In Central Africa, wrote Barth, they were right.
As their time left together grew short, he and the sheikh continued their genial wide-ranging talks. They had been almost constant companions for nine-and-a-half months. Finally the day arrived when Barth was to cross the river and continue his journey home. His entry for July 9:
This was the day when I had to separate from the person whom, among all the people with whom I had come in contact in the course of my long journey, I esteemed the most highly, and whom, in all but his dilatory habits and phlegmatic indifference, I had found a most excellent and trustworthy man. I had lived with him for so long a time in daily intercourse, and in the most turbulent circumstances, sharing all his perplexities and anxieties, that I could not but feel the parting very severely.Barth esteemed al-Bakkay, but couldn’t resist pointing out his flaws. The explorer sometimes judged the sheikh a timid procrastinator, but that seems unfair, considering the violent forces he had to balance. He risked his life by defying Ahmadu Ahmadu. He outmaneuvered not only the emir, but enemies in Timbuktu, including scheming members of his own family, while also dealing with constant threats from bellicose Tuaregs. He was also kind, generous, loyal, open-minded, and invigorating company. Because of him, Barth survived Timbuktu.
When he reached the opposite bank of the Niger, Barth fired two shots in farewell, as al-Bakkay had requested. Then he turned and began jotting notes about the sandy downs of this new shore, and the paths that led away from the river toward the east.
Posted by Joel at 9/01/2019 08:38:00 AM No comments:
Quinine's Role in Exploring Africa
From A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, by Steve Kemper (W. W. Norton, 2012), Kindle pp. 310-311:
On October 29 [Heinrich Barth] heard that a British expedition had steamed up the Benue River. He had urged this mission on the government two years earlier but hadn’t heard a word about it since. He traced the rumor to a man in Kano who had seen the steamer on the Benue. Barth questioned him closely and was convinced that the rumor was true.
Barth wouldn’t know the details for many months. The mission had left Britain in early June 1854. When its commander died soon after the boat reached the island of Fernando Po in the Gulf of Guinea, Dr. William Balfour Baikie assumed command. Baikie, who later became Barth’s friend and supporter, took the 100-foot steamer Pleiad up the Niger for 700 miles. In early August the Pleiad entered the Benue and ascended it for 250 miles. At the end of September Baikie turned around, reaching the Niger on October 20, while Barth was in Kano. By February 1855 the Pleiad was home.
Every previous excursion on the Niger had proven deadly to Europeans, mostly because of fever. But the Pleiad’s entire crew—twelve Europeans and fifty-four Africans—survived because of an experimental therapy—prophylactic doses of quinine. This success altered the course of African exploration. The voyage also proved Barth’s conviction that the heart of Africa could be opened to commerce through navigation of the Niger’s watershed.
Posted by Joel at 9/01/2019 06:36:00 AM No comments:
31 August 2019
Explorer Barth and Reader Cooley
From A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, by Steve Kemper (W. W. Norton, 2012), Kindle pp. 211-213:
[Heinrich Barth] ... began replies to his recent correspondents. One of them was William Desborough Cooley, the British historian and geographer. His book of 1841, The Negroland of the Arabs Examined and Explained; or, An Inquiry into the Early History and Geography of Central Africa, attempted to re-create the history and geography of the western Sudan through rigorous engagement with old travelers’ accounts and Arabic sources such as Al-Idrisi and Al-Bakri. Cooley sifted these sources for verifiable facts and cross-checked them against modern European travel accounts. Comparing all these sources, he believed, would yield a strong facsimile of truth about Central Africa’s past as well as the location of historical places and landmarks.
He was able to demonstrate that the half-legendary empires of Mali, Ghana, and Songhai had been real, and he roughly positioned them geographically for the first time. From old and new sources he extracted a detailed, complex history of black Africa that contradicted hazy European assumptions about the continent’s savagery. Cooley also avoided most of the era’s racial and cultural biases. He reminded readers that bloody executions by African leaders weren’t so different from English laws that burned women at the stake for counterfeiting money or that hanged hundreds of people for minor crimes such as pilfering.
Cooley’s book was immediately influential among Europe’s Africanists, but met its greatest resistance in Britain. Barth admired it so much that he carried it to Africa and often consulted it. On April 1851, a few days after he first arrived in Kukawa, he wrote Cooley an introductory letter that began, “Sir, It is from a warm love of science that I quite a stranger to you take the liberty of addressing you the following lines.” He expressed his esteem for The Negroland of the Arabs, “sincere as it is without the least prejudice and going on with a firm step from point to point”—a perspective and method like Barth’s own. Rereading the book in Africa, he told Cooley, increased his appreciation. He thought Cooley would like to know that on-the-ground observations were confirming the accuracy of the old Arab historians and many of Cooley’s speculations. “I am able to put truth in the place of conjectures,” wrote Barth, “and to give life to vague accounts of former times.”
Cooley’s response, written in January 1852, reached Bagirmi with the packet of letters in July. His tiny handwriting in pale ink contrasted strongly with Barth’s bold dark penmanship. The letter was a peculiar mixture of praise, advice, querulousness, bruised egotism, and condescension. Cooley regretted not meeting Barth in London and welcomed Barth’s compliments about his book, “as it has been received here with discouraging coldness,” despite “the revolution effected by me in the comparative Geography of Africa.”
He swatted away several of Barth’s suggested corrections to his speculations. Barth was right, but Cooley’s reaction was typical of him. He ridiculed any new information by explorers that contradicted his armchair conjectures. For instance, he mocked all the eyewitness reports of snow on Mounts Kenya and Kilimanjaro because they clashed with his theory about possible temperatures at the equator. This habit eventually undermined his influence and earned him the nickname “the stormy petrel.”
Cooley praised Barth for sending back “a larger amount of valuable information, then [sic] has been as yet appended to the narrative of any African traveller, Burckhardt alone perhaps excepted; and doubtless you now possess much the loss of which would be deplorable.”
Posted by Joel at 8/31/2019 04:02:00 PM No comments:
Labels: Africa, Arabia, Britain, Europe, language, Mediterranean, migration, religion, scholarship, science, travel
26 August 2019
Bornu Slave Raid on Mandara, 1851
From A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, by Steve Kemper (W. W. Norton, 2012), Kindle pp. 175-177:
THE OFFICIAL REASON FOR THE MILITARY EXPEDITION WAS TO PUNISH the vassal state of Mandara for disobedience. The real reason was that the “coffers and slave-rooms of the great men” of Bornu were empty. The lawless Welad Sliman and the legitimate government of Bornu were both motivated by greed, but the mercenary Arabs didn’t bother to disguise or rationalize their conduct.
A Bornu military campaign moved with ponderous, gaudy pomp. The boom of a great drum signaled the break of camp. Twenty thousand men set off to the drum’s deep cadence, along with 10,000 horses and 10,000 beasts of burden. Barth described the scene:
. . . the heavy cavalry, clad in thick wadded clothing, others in their coats of mail, with their tin helmets glittering in the sun, and mounted on heavy chargers . . . the light Shuwa horsemen, clad only in a loose shirt and mounted upon their weak, unseemly nags; the self-conceited slaves, decked out gaudily in red bernuses or silken dresses of various colors; the Kanembu spearmen, almost naked, with their large wooden shields, their half-torn aprons round their loins, their barbarous head-dresses, and their bundles of spears; then, in the distance behind, the continuous train of camels and pack-oxen. . . .The pack animals were burdened with “tents, furniture, and provisions and mounted by the wives and concubines of the different chiefs, well dressed and veiled.” The vizier and the sheikh each brought “a moderate number” of concubines—eight for Haj Beshir, twelve for Umar, all dressed in white burnooses. Four fan-bearers in multicolored attire followed the sheikh, as did shrill musicians. Everyone, wrote Barth, was “full of spirits, and in the expectation of rich booty, pressing onward to the unknown regions toward the southeast.”
The army moved over the countryside like locusts. The courtiers brought their own provisions, but the soldiers were expected to supply themselves and their horses from the fields and livestock they passed. “To the ruin of the country,” noted Barth. Cornfields were stripped, livestock seized.
He and Overweg had neither provisions nor money to buy any, but the sheikh and the vizier kept them well fed, at first: rice boiled with milk, bread and honey, sheep and sorghum. The Germans spent most evenings in intellectual tête-à-tête with the vizier, whose curiosity matched theirs. Haj Beshir’s travels to Egypt and Mecca had enlarged his perspective and excited his interest in foreign matters. “Our conversation at some of these African soirées with the vizier,” wrote Barth, “became sometimes so learned that even Ptolemy with his ‘Mandros oros’ was quoted.” On another evening, “a disputation arose of so scientific a character that it might have silenced all those who scoff at the uncivilized state of the population of these regions.”
They often discussed slavery. Barth urged Haj Beshir to abolish it in favor of agriculture, industry, and trade. The vizier agreed that slave-hunting was a sordid business, but no other commodity paid as well, and Bornu needed the money for European firearms to protect itself against enemies—firearms that were also used, noted Barth, to hunt down and enslave or massacre yet more people. The high profits from slavery also led to a taste for luxuries that could only be sustained by capturing and selling more slaves. “Such is the history of civilization!” wrote Barth acerbically. He concluded that European nations were hypocritical for condemning the slave trade while profiting from the gun trade that fueled it. The vizier offered to end slave-trading in Bornu—though not domestic slavery—if the British government would send Bornu 1,000 muskets and four cannons.
Haj Beshir was one of the two great friends Barth made on his journey (the other was Sidi Ahmed al-Bakkay, the sheikh of Timbuktu). “I repeat that, altogether, he was a most excellent, kind, liberal, and just man,” wrote Barth of Haj Beshir, “and might have done much good to the country if he had been less selfish and more active.”
Posted by Joel at 8/26/2019 03:33:00 PM No comments:
Agadez, Port City on the Sahel
From A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, by Steve Kemper (W. W. Norton, 2012), Kindle pp. 92-94:
In the fourteenth century the restless Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta called Agadez “the largest, handsomest, and strongest of all the cities in Negroland.” In Battuta’s day 30,000 people lived there. It flourished as a caravan crossroads, where the Sahara met the Sahel, a band of semiarid land 300 to 600 miles wide that stretches for 2,600 miles along the Sahara’s southern edge and buffers the desert from green Africa. “Sahel” came from an Arabic word for shore or coastline. The sea was the Sahara. When travelers from the north reached the Sahel after crossing the desert, they felt the relief of stepping ashore after a long sea passage. Travelers heading north from the Sahel felt that they were casting off. Agadez, like Timbuktu, was a desert port town.
By the time Barth got there , the population had shrunk to about 7,000, but Agadez still fascinated him. The new sultan, who was about to be officially installed, received him hospitably. They conversed in Hausa, which Barth had learned during the traverse of Aïr. The sultan had never heard of the English nation, but was pleased to learn how the famous “English” gunpowder had gotten its name. That evening, he sent Barth a dish called finkaso, a thick pancake made of wheat flour, covered with butter. After the deprivations of Aïr, it tasted like “the greatest luxury in the world.” Thanks to the sultan, who sent Barth two meals every day, the explorer ate very well during his three-week stay—lamb, dates, melons, cucumbers, grains. The sultan sidestepped Barth’s invitation to sign a commercial treaty with Britain, but did write letters of passage for him to the governors of Kano and Katsina, “in rather incorrect Arabic,” sniffed the German pedant.
Barth saw slave caravans, and a salt caravan headed east to Bilma that was said to have 10,000 camels. The men of Agadez carried bows and arrows instead of spears, and rode horses instead of camels—signs of the Sahel. The busy market offered further signs: meat, millet, wheat, dates, wine, melons, and other vegetables. Women sold beads, necklaces, and finely-worked leather boxes for tobacco and perfume. Like most port towns, Agadez had a mongrel population that reflected all the peoples who passed through it, beginning with the Berber tribes that had founded it. There were Tuaregs, Hausas, Fulanis, Tebus, Kanuris, and Arabs. And also, Barth was puzzled to find, Songhais, a black ethnic group based 600 harsh miles to the west. All this diversity made Agadez a polyglot town where interpreters did good business.
But Agadez also had its own unique language, Emgedesi, spoken nowhere else in the region. To a linguist such as Barth, this was a mystery to pursue. He detected the influences of Hausa, Tamasheq, and Songhai in Emgedesi, but remained puzzled about the dialect’s origins and exclusivity to Agadez. Then came the clue that connected the dots: several Tuaregs who had been to Timbuktu told him that Emgedesi was also spoken there, 800 miles west. Barth was surprised, then thrilled as he realized the implications.
Songhai had been the most extensive empire in Central Africa’s history, greater than Mali or Ghana. It had covered portions of present-day Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal, and Niger. Songhai had conquered Timbuktu, another Sahelian port city of Tuaregs and Arabs. The language of the conquerors mixed with Timbuktu’s other tongues, creating a distinctive language unique to the town.
Then early in the sixteenth century, Askia, Songhai’s king, decided to extend his realm to the east, into central Sudan and Hausaland, and to curb the pesky Tuaregs to the north. He conquered Agadez in 1515 and left an occupying force there before proceeding on a haj through Egypt to Mecca, scattering legendary amounts of gold in his wake.
By the end of the sixteenth century the empire of Songhai had disintegrated. But in Agadez the descendants of the occupying army had melded with the local population. So had their language, and the resulting hybrid dialect evolved along similar linguistic lines as the hybrid language of Timbuktu, like related bird species on separate islands. This link, wrote Barth, “throws a new light over the history and ethnography of this part of the world,” and is “of the highest importance for the whole ethnography of North Africa.” It also gave him his first whiff of the fabled city of Timbuktu, a place he never expected to see.
Posted by Joel at 8/26/2019 07:31:00 AM No comments:
25 August 2019
Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, 1850
From A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, by Steve Kemper (W. W. Norton, 2012), Kindle pp. 22-24:
THE MEDITERRANEAN SPLASHES ONE SIDE OF TRIPOLI, THE SAHARA rubs the other. The Phoenicians, with their keen eye for commercial real estate, founded the town in the seventh century B.C. It quickly became a trade hub. By 1850 it had absorbed twenty-five centuries of war, commerce, political intrigue, and forced occupation. Greeks were followed by Romans, Carthaginians, various Muslim regimes, Spaniards, the Christian Knights of St. John, and, most recently, the Ottoman Turks, who took control in the sixteenth century.
When Barth and Overweg arrived, the city’s population of about 15,000 was a stew of Berbers, Moors, Arabs, Jews, Turks, Maltese, Italians, and black Africans from various kingdoms and tribes in the south. Tripoli was a swinging door that connected the Mediterranean countries with the interior of Africa. Merchandise from Europe entered through the city’s busy port. Goods from Africa’s interior—ivory, gold, indigo, cotton cloth, animal skins, ostrich feathers, leather goods, kola nuts—left the city for Europe and the Ottoman countries. But the main export moving through Tripoli was slaves.
The amount of human flesh that passed through the slave markets of Barbary was a trickle compared to the torrent from Africa’s west coast. That torrent, directed at the New World, was industrial in scope and purpose, and favored strong young males. In the trans-Saharan trade, the majority of slaves were females—the younger and prettier, the higher the value. Most of them were bound for domestic duties in the houses and seraglios of Barbary, Egypt, Anatolia, and the Levant. Slave raiders in the Sudan often killed males because they were less docile on the slog to market and less profitable once there.
Some of the captured slaves were retained by the nobles of Islamic kingdoms in the south, but most were sold to Arab traders who took them north to the big markets on the Mediterranean. Many European travelers commented that slaves in Islamic lands were treated relatively well compared to slaves in the West. They had certain rights and privileges. For instance, though the Qur’an permitted masters to enjoy their female slaves sexually, children from such unions were born free and their mothers could not be sold. Once a female slave married, her master lost sexual privileges. The Qur’an encouraged masters to marry their slaves and free them, and forbade the separation of slave mothers from their children before age seven. Some slaves became wealthy landowners and high government officials with slaves of their own. In a few cases the children of royal slaves became kings.
Slaves bound for the markets of Barbary first had to survive the horror of being torn from their villages and marched in coffles across the desert to the sea. Crossing the Sahara on foot, even in the best circumstances, was brutal—choking sandstorms, extreme temperatures, awful thirst. But these conditions were infinitely more taxing for youths recently wrenched from their homes, fettered together, and terrified about their unknown fate. They were often whipped and deprived of sufficient food and water. Those who couldn’t keep up were abandoned. The caravan route between Bornu and Fezzan, in what is now southwestern Libya, was littered with their skeletons. Mortality rates are inexact but historians estimate at least 20 percent and often much higher. In 1849 the British vice-consul in Murzuk, an oasis town on the route between Bornu and Tripoli, reported to the Foreign Office that 1,600 slaves traveling from Bornu had died of thirst after attempting to survive by killing camels to drink their blood and the putrid water in their stomachs. Five months later the vice-consul sent a similar report: en route from Bornu, 795 of 1,770 slaves had perished of thirst.
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