Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Whoa! The History Channel is actually airing a history program this week. "The World Wars" is a three episode story that connects World War I and World War II through the lives of several key players, including Churchill, FDR, Hitler, MacArthur, Mussolini, Patton, and Stalin. There are, of course many key players like Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall, Harry Truman, and any other German, Briton, or Soviet not mentioned above, who were overlooked, but I guess that the show would have lost its focus if it included too many characters.  Overall the first episode of the series, which aired last night on Memorial Day, is entertaining. There were some amateurish mistakes (maybe because the History Channel is out of practice making history shows?), such as using World War II tanks in World War I and indiscriminate use of firearms (all sides used the the British Lee-Enfield .303). There is some cheesy overacting and strange cinematography. Patton rode the outside of his tank into combat without even a helmet on. In another strange scene Benito Mussolini snipes at three German soldiers. Wearing what appears to be a dress uniform (and, again, no helmet) loads the rounds individually like a big game hunter, as he fires at his quarry. One wonders why the Germans didn't drop into the tall grass and return fire. In another scene, I wondered if FDR was really alone with Woodrow Wilson when the president received a copy of the Zimmermann Telegram. And there was some misleading overemphasis to move the story along. For example, one might get the impression that George Patton was the only one who recognized the importance of the tank in warfare. In fact, he was a fairly minor player in developing the tactics to suit the new technology. British thinkers like Fuller and Hart had a greater impact on armored warfare, and, of course, we cannot ignore the German commanders who implemented the Blitzkrieg. In the United States Adna Chaffee had more influence on developing the armored branch.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chester A. Arthur's bed

File this in the category of "you never know where you will run into presidential history, even for Chester A. Arthur." This is his bed, which is displayed at the Ghost Town Museum in Colorado Springs. According to Carl Anthony the bed was passed down to Arthur's son and grandson, who both lived in Colorado Springs (by-the-way you can read about more presidential bed history at the list link).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

AHA Conference Review: Saturday January 4, 2014, the rest of the day

After our panel concluded on Saturday, I went to the book exhibition, visited the poster session (which I did not easily find), and finished the day by attending James McPherson's Society of Military History lecture, "The Rewards of Risk Taking: Two Civil War Admirals." Like many historians I could easily recognize McPherson. In addition to having read several of his books, I have seen him numerous times on television. His lecture focused on the subject of his most recent book, a naval history of the Civil War, which I admit I have not read. Not sure if I ever will, but that is a statement on my limited reading time, not on the value of McPherson's work. Craig Symonds's Civil War at Sea, which I have read, covered the subject masterfully. Symonds's was present in the audience and McPherson acknowledged him and his expertise. McPherson's lecture compared Union Admirals Samuel DuPont and David Farragut to  Generals George McClellan and Ulysses Grant. In this analogy DuPont and McClellan are the dilatory commanders who sought to mitigate risks, while Farragut and Grant were more gutsy commanders willing to take a gamble and double down in the next move. The main point being that in engagements that involved thousands of men on both sides, the outcome often depended on the personality and command traits of the leaders. I enjoyed the lecture, but I have some qualms with an approach that puts all the agency in the hands of the Union commanders. In my humble opinion chance and luck are underrated factors in historical events, especially in military history.

I then waited an hour for a shuttle back to the Hilton that never came. I missed the last one of the evening by a couple of minutes, but did not see the sign until later. It was a cold, dark walk across the bridge, but only a 20 minute walk.