Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Paul Allen RIP

Paul Allen RIP

Paul Allen died yesterday at age 65 of complications from Hodgkin's lymphoma.  Tributes have been paid to him by Bill Gates and many others in the technology world.  Allen was a co-founder of Microsoft which revolutionized the computer world.  He made a vast fortune and was, by all accounts, enormously generous.

I regret that I never met Allen so I do not have any personal recollections to share about the man.  But he touched my life and lives of millions around the world and particularly those in the Northwest.

Superbowl 2013

Allen was a son of the Northwest who had a profound beneficial influence on his local community.  He owned the Portland Trailblazers and the Seattle Seahawks.  He seemed to derive real joy from his personal wealth -- he would have the Trailblazers practice at his home in Seattle.  A lover of music, he liked performing at Seahawks Christmas parties.  As owner of the Seahawks he guided them to three Superbowls, winning their first (and only thus far) in 2013 over the Denver Broncos (americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2014/02/super-bowl-xlviii.html).  Like so many Seahawk fans, I appreciate his wise stewardship of the Seahawks organization.

Allen's father was a World War II US Army veteran who served in the Normandy campaign.  Allen believed that it is important to preserve history for future generations.  He built the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum in Everett, Washington which has an amazing collection of flyable World War II aircraft.  In the summer months these incredible warbirds take to the air to recreate historic chapters such as the Battle of Britain.

I salute Paul Allen, not merely for his undoubted entrepreneurial skill, but for his generous devotion to History.

Here are my past blogs on Allen's FHCAM...




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Friday, October 12, 2018

Centennial of the End of WWI

Where will you be on November 11, 2018?  This day will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I.  In America it will be a very special Veteran's Day.  In Britain it will be a very special Remembrance Day.  The occasion will be observed around the world to remember a war that tore asunder the peace of the world beginning in August of 1914.

In 2016 I edited and published An Adventure in 1914 a memoir about my great-grandfather's eyewitness account of the start of World War I.  He was a New York lawyer who was traveling with his family in Europe in the summer of 1914.  They had been crossing the Atlantic on June 28, 1911 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo.  This horrific event proved to be the catalyst for the start of World War I.

In An Adventure in 1914's Epilogue I wrote, "It was the original catastrophe of the twentieth century that sowed the seeds for future tragedies. The war shattered the stability of much of the world and destroyed four empires: Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia would have bloody consequences for the remainder of the twentieth century. The bitter peace of Versailles would lay the groundwork for World War II. France’s Marshal Ferdinand Foch proved to be a modern Cassandra when he declared, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years."

After over four years of war on the Western Front and in battlefields around the world the guns finally fell silent on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  All was finally quiet on the Western Front.

Cenotaph, London

On November 11, 2018 people will gather around the world to commemorate the end of this momentous conflict that shaped our world.  They will gather at the Cenotaph in London which notes  The Glorious Dead" who perished in that fearsome war.  They will gather at Arlington cemetery, St. Mihiel in France and many other American cemeteries overseas to mark the solemn occasion.  They will gather in Yekaterinburg, Russia to remember the execution of the Romanov family one hundred years ago.

SS Canopic

I am honored and excited to announce that I will be on board the Azamara Pursuit crossing the Atlantic on November 11, 2018.  We will be following in the footsteps of Thomas Wells, my great-grandfather, who took his family from Naples, Italy to Boston on board the SS Canopic which was a ship in the White Star line.  On November 6, 2018 we will journey from Barcelona, Spain arriving in  Miami, Florida on November 20, 2018. The SS Canopic made a port call at Gibraltar in 1914 and we will do the same in 2018.  Unlike Wells and his fellow passengers in 1914, we will not fear that any ship on the horizon could prove to be an Imperial German Cruiser determined to sink us!

The Azamara Pursuit is a luxury liner that has been newly refurbished earlier this year.

I am excited to be giving a series of lectures on historical topics throughout the cruise...

Azamara Pursuit
Barcelona to Miami
11/6 /18– 11/20/18

I) Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World.  Why did the Romans call the Mediterranean Mare Nostrum – Our Sea?  How did Italian soldiers fight in Spain the 20th century?  Explore the Italian impact on our world.

II) An Adventure in 1914: In the summer of 1914 my great grandfather (Thomas Wells) journeyed from America to Europe (by ship of course!) with his family.    What ought to have been a dream vacation turned into a nightmare as he witnessed the start of World War I.  We in the Azamara Pursuit are traveling along some of the route taken by him 104 years ago (e.g. stopping in Gibraltar)!  Based on my most personal book…An Adventure in 1914.

III) The Peninsular War:  In 1808 Napoleon invaded his own Ally – the kingdom of Spain.  Over the next six years a war would erupt for control of Iberia.  The “Spanish Ulcer” weakened Napoleon and saw the rise of the Duke of Wellington.

IV) America Invades: In World War II the USA established bases in the Azores to combat the Nazi U-boat menace – they are still there today.  Today we will examine America’s surprising military role in throughout her history.

V) Christopher Columbus: Hero or Villain?  In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  Today some think that he brought genocide to the New World while others regard him as a hero.  What is the truth about Columbus?  What do cigars, hammocks and chocolate owe to Columbus?

VI) Real Pirates of the Caribbean!  The waters of the Caribbean have been visited by pirates such as Henry Morgan and Anne Bonny.  In the 20th century underwater pirates preyed on merchant shipping in two World War.

VII) Invading Florida: Has Florida ever been Invaded?  Many times.  By the Spanish who built St. Augustine – the oldest European citadel on the North American continent.  By the English.  By the Americans led by Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville).   German U-boats terrorized the Florida coast and even landed spies on Florida beaches in WW2.

You are hereby invited to join me as a cross the Atlantic in the footsteps of my ancestor to commemorate the end of the Great War.  For much more information click on this link...

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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Turn: Washington's Spies

George Washington Statue
Boston Common
George Washington said, "The necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further argued."  No serious student of military history would argue the proposition.  Accurate intelligence is critical to the business of waging war.  George Washington did try to create an effective intelligence service on the patriot side to counter the enormous advantages (financial, historical, etc. ) that were enjoyed by the British during the American Revolution.  Major Benjamin Tallmadge, who was Washington's chief of intelligence after 1778, did create a codebook to enable secret correspondence with agents in the Culper ring.

The TV mini-series Turn: Washington's Spies dramatically represents the activities of the Culper ring during the American Revolution.  Turn is, of course. not a documentary but rather a dramatization of historical events.  The Colonial period, while tremendously important, has been sadly neglected by popular culture.  The Founding Fathers are routinely represented in superhuman terms.  The huge success of Hamilton the musical has gone some way towards redressing the imbalance.  Turn shines the light onto the espionage activity which helped to win the war of the 13 colonies against the greatest empire in the world at the time.  The series is based upon a book by Alexander Rose and was developed by Craig Silverstein.

History often gets a bad wrap for being dry and tedious.  This drama amply demonstrates the power of History to entertain.  Over the course of four seasons (40 episodes) there are many twists and turns.  There is romance.  There is plenty of action.  An American family is forced to navigate through the treacherous times of the American Revolution.  We Americans often tend to view the American Revolution through rosy-hued spectacles and miss the conflict's brutality.   In many respects the American Revolution was a Civil War with all of the brutality that this implies.  This is depicted quite well in Turn where the British and those with Tory sympathies are not simply demonized but are given a more balanced portrayal.

Turn is very well done but is should not be confused with documentary film-making.  Many liberties are taken with historic veracity in order the enhance entertainment value.  The character of Robert Rogers, who founded the American Rangers, is portrayed very effectively by the Scottish actor Angus Macfadyen though Rogers was, in fact, of Irish descent.  There is no evidence to suggest that the real Anna Strong ever had an affair with the real Caleb Brewster who was ten years her junior.  And so on.

Another quibble is the inconsistency of the series.  With the execution of Major John AndrĂ© (the British spy is played brilliantly by JJ Feild) at the end of season three much of the air seems to go out of the balloon on the show which limps along until Yorktown.  Ian Kahn is superb as George Washington.  Ksenia Solo adds spice as a gorgeous and luminous Peggy Shippen.  Samuel Roukin plays an over the top psychotic version of John Graves Simcoe which is dramatically effective though not not historically persuasive -- Simcoe was later a founding father of Canada.

As with most espionage dramas, Turn tends to overemphasize the importance of spying in the conflict.  Washington was right that good intelligence is a necessity in war, but it forms only a part of military success that requires willing soldiers, finance, allies, sound strategy etc.  Benedict Arnold's actions at the Battles of Saratoga, for example, did more to win the Revolution for the Patriot side than all the activities of the Culper Ring.

These are, however, minor objections to a program that is stylishly produced, historically overlooked and vastly entertaining.

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