A Triumphant Defeat

It was on 17 June 1775 that the two-month old American Revolution first proved that it could more than match the might of the British Empire. It would be more than a year before independence was declared, but the hot war was in full play when British and American forces met on Breed’s Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston. For the Americans, there would be no turning back.

We have come to know the battle as “Bunker Hill,” that small rise being the more well-known landmark, but the fortified American position was atop the somewhat lower, nearby Breed’s Hill. The relatively small American force was well entrenched atop the hill, having spent the night of June 16/17 building barricades and digging in, but the British figured it would be a simple matter to dislodge them. The British had a more than five-to-one superiority over the Americans, and conventional military wisdom of that era held that a three-to-one superiority would be sufficient to take a fortified position. British pride, and their underestimation of the rebel troops, would not permit them to simply lay siege to the Colonials and starve them out. In hindsight, that might have been the more intelligent course of action.

The British – 5,000 Regular Army troops led by unusually skilled and experienced generals – were sure that they could handily defeat a “ragtag mob of Colonials.” They had not expected the American troops to be so disciplined, and they were not prepared for the excellent marksmanship. When the first British assault was launched at the American position, American General William Preston is famously said to have ordered “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” As the redcoats came closer and closer, they grew more and more confident that the rebels had lost their nerve. Finally, at nearly point-blank range, the Americans opened with a fusillade of musket fire that shattered the British line, forcing them to withdraw, leaving more than 110 soldiers dead. The Americans hardly lost a man in that first engagement.

The British mounted a second assault which was also repulsed, but by the time the third British assault was underway, the Americans were running low on powder and bullets. At last the British overwhelmed the American position in a vicious hand-to-hand fight, and the Yankees retreated from the battlefield, ceding the all-important high-ground to the redcoats. The Battle of Bunker Hill was thus a significant defeat for the American war effort. Yet it remains a much-celebrated battle to this day. By any standards the British won: they had gained a clear tactical victory, driving the rebels from the field; they had gained a crucial strategic advantage as well, being left in control of heights overlooking Boston from which they could control access to the city. But the British victory was certainly a Pyrrhic victory – a victory that costs more than it is worth – for they had lost over 1,100 men compared to the Americans’ loss of fewer than 400. This “victory” was among the deadliest, costliest battles the British fought in the entire Revolutionary War. “Another victory such as this and we are ruined.” But it was the Americans who actually gained the most from this battle, for they had shown themselves, and the British, and, indeed, the whole of the watching world, that American troops could take on the mighty British Army and give better than they got. They could fight the war, and they could win it.

It is odd to note that during the protracted and fierce struggle of the American Revolution, the Americans won very few major victories. There were Washington’s successes at Trenton and Princeton in 1776, the all-important victory at Saratoga in 1777, Cowpens in 1781, and, of course the final triumph over Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown. But on the whole, the forces of the United States tended to come off the losers in pitched battles. Yet they won the war, a fact for which I am deeply grateful.

The British had to gain a smashing victory if they were to emerge from the conflict as the winners, but the Americans merely had to keep from being utterly defeated. Washington was brilliantly successful in recognizing and taking advantage of this fact. So long as the Continental Army was in the field, Britain could not win. By the time Cornwallis capitulated at Yorktown, the British government had grown weary of a long, enormously expensive war of attrition, and so initiated negotiations. Thus a new nation was fully born, and it started not with a rousing victory, but an inspiring defeat.

In the 19th century, Bostonians raised a monument to the battle, a squat, rough-hewn stone obelisk that dominates the Charlestown skyline even today. A few years ago, a new highway bridge into the heart of Old Boston was opened. It is the latest word in modern design: a stunning cable-stay bridge of remarkable grace and lightness. In June of 2005 I had the opportunity to drive over it as I headed into Logan Airport at 5:30 in the morning. The dawn was already well underway, and the sunlight on that bridge made for a striking scene. And then I noticed something that I had not observed when I had crossed it late at night a few days earlier: the two towers of the bridge are capped with concrete obelisks which echo the lines of the Bunker Hill Monument. The old blends with the very newest, and a long-ago triumphant loss is still remembered and honored, just as it should be.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

I always say that, next to a battle lost,
the greatest misery is a battle gained.

— Wellington, “Recollections”

Rare Political Courage

It was on this day, 16 June 1858, that Illinois Senatorial Candidate Abraham Lincoln delivered one of his greatest speeches – indeed, one of the landmark speeches in American history. Known as the “House Divided” speech, Lincoln’s address to some 1,000 Republican delegates in Springfield, Illinois included the Biblical reference: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It aroused the most ardent Republicans at the convention with the extreme position that Lincoln adopted, expressed in such phrases as: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.” After this speech was published, Abraham Lincoln rocketed to the forefront of national public awareness, and he became a lightning rod for criticism for almost every quarter.

As history soon unfolded, Lincoln’s speech was nearly prophetic. The issue of slavery, which would admit no political compromise, in the end was decided by fire and sword in one of the most devastating and deadly wars of the 19th Century. The fame Lincoln had earned as a Senatorial candidate for a distant “Western” state ultimately secured for him the Republican Party’s 1860 presidential nomination. In a deeply divisive election, he became the 16th President of The United States of America, one who is continually ranked among the three greatest men to have ever served in that capacity.

It is worth noting, though, that Lincoln’s speech of 154 years ago, however much public attention it gained him, failed to win him a Senate seat. Lincoln lost to his famous opponent, Stephen Douglas. The voters of Illinois were not yet ready, in 1858, to send such a radical thinker to represent them in Washington. Two years later, the mood had shifted greatly. They say a week is a year in politics, so two years must be as centuries. By 1865, Lincoln’s “divided house” had nearly fallen in two, yet somehow survived. But slavery – that soul-searing, paramount issue – could not endure.

It is also worth noting that some key Illinois Republicans had advised Lincoln against making that speech. They were correct, politically: taking so firm a position cost him the Senate seat. But making that speech gained Lincoln the presidency, and it ultimately gained for America a new birth of freedom. The work is not even now complete, but Lincoln’s courage in saying what he had to say, rather than what was politically prudent to say, made a difference, and changed history.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

I will prepare and someday my chance will come. — Abraham Lincoln

Further Reading:

More books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other figure in American history except, perhaps, Benjamin Franklin. My own small collection of Lincoln books runs to 17 volumes, some fairly hefty. In 1992, Garry Wills published Lincoln At Gettysburg about Lincoln’s most famous speech. This treatment started something of a trend, and subsequently several historians have published books devoted to just a single one of Lincoln’s speeches or proclamtions. Herewith, my own sampling:

Lincoln At Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, Garry Wills; Simon & Schuster, 1992: ISBN: 0671769561

This is a detailed history of Lincoln’s speech and its impact. Wills includes analysis of the speech from the perspective of 19th Century oratorical standards, and he discusses the effect of Lincoln’s brief and concise style upon later oratorical trends. The other speeches delivered at Gettysburg that day are included in the extensive appendices.

Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural, Ronald C. White, Jr.; Simon & Schuster, 2002: ISBN: 0743212983

White examines Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and assesses its unique place among all of Lincoln’s speeches; it was, as Frederick Douglass observed, “more like a sermon than a state paper.” This relatively short book (about 200 pages) is by no means the last word on this important speech, but White provides an interesting and thought provoking contribution to the discussion of Lincoln’s speeches.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End Of Slevery In America, Allen G. Guelzo; Simon & Schuster, 2004: ISBN: 0743221826

Guelzo received the Lincoln Prize for his 2000 biography of Lincoln. This work, despite its rather glib subtitle, is by no means so simple as to assume that Lincoln’s proclamation actully itself ended slavery. Indeed, Guelzo looks carefully at the politics which influenced the proclamation, and the results, both political and social, which the proclamation produced.

Lincoln At Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President, Harold Holzer; Simon & Schuster, 2004: ISBN: 0743224663

Because Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union in February 1860 has faded from modern memory, Holzer felt it was time to give a book-length treatment of the speech which Lincoln and his contemporaries identified as the one that gained him his party’s nomination. The speech contains many well-known Lincoln quotations, but its overall importance is given its due in the entertaining and enlightening work. I like Holzer’s emphasis on Lincoln’s political courage in carrying his campaign platform into New York City and the heart of his rival William Seward’s strong home base. (I obviously admire Lincoln’s political courage.)

The Boar War?

It was on 15 June 1859 that Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a male pig belonging Charles Griffin on San Juan Island, and started a chain of events that nearly ignited a third war between the United States of America and Great Britain. The locals around San Juan Island, located in the waterway between what is now Washington State and British Columbia, know the event as “The Pig War.” Though it started off as a rather touchy and fraught situation, cool heads prevailed and war was avoided through diplomacy and negotiation.

Both the United States and Great Britains claimed sovereignty over San Juan Island in the wake of the 1846 Anglo-American treaty which settled most of the questions about the Oregon Territory (which included Oregon, Washington, and part of Idaho.) The Hudson’s Bay Company started to move in settlers in the early 1850’s. Considering the island to belong to the U.S., American pioneers began staking claims on the island about the same time. Tensions grew.

Charles Griffin, originally from Yorkshire, England, claimed land for sheep pasturage; Lyman Cutlar, who hailed from Kentucky, planted a potato patch there. When Griffith’s boar uprooted Cutlar’s potatoes, Cutlar killed the hapless swine with a single shot. But the incident caused festering resentments to flare into open dispute. Griffin called upon Hudson’s Bay Company officials to arrest Cutlar. The British officials did confront Cutlar, however they decided that to effect an arrest would be too provocative and left empty handed.

The matter might have ended in a stalemate then and there but for the fact that American General William Harney, commander of the U.S. Army’s Department of Oregon, shortly thereafter paid a courtesy call upon the British Territorial Governor and noted an American flag flying over San Juan Island. Upon investigating, he learned of the American settlers there, and of their grievances against the British. Griffin’s pig was prominently discussed. It is likely that most military men would have deferred the matter as an issue for courts of law, but Harney had an almost irrational hatred of the British. And he clearly enjoyed the prospect of a fight or even a war. The British Governor, it should be noted, was also pleased with the prospect of finally settling the matter of the disputed territory, even by force of arms.

Harney ordered Captain George Pickett — who would later have his name irrevocably linked with Lee’s disastrous charge on the third day of the battle of Gettysburg — to take a detachment of 66 troops from Fort Bellingham up to San Juan Island. Upon landing, Pickett issued a proclamation that the island was U.S. territory, which distressed the British residents, understandably. The British responded by sending a 21-gun warship to train its cannon on Pickett’s small encampment. By the end of August, there were nearly 500 U.S. troops on San Juan Island, and there were almost 2,000 British troops in a small flotilla of warships surrounding the Island. The Americans were outmanned and outgunned, but the British could not readily obtain more troops, while the Americans could draw several thousand from California if needed. Thus the situation remained a stalemate.

After several months of this tense and uncomfortable state of affairs, aging General Winfield Scott, hero of the War of 1812 and of the Mexican War, was sent to negotiate a resolution to the matter. Scott eventually agreed to a joint military occupation of the island with roughly 100 U.S. and 100 British troops remaining on the island. This was how things stayed for the next dozen years or so until at last, in 1872, Kaiser Wilhelm arbitrated the dispute, deciding in favor of the United States. The British quietly withdrew from San Juan Island, thus ending “The Pig War.”

It is nearly amazing, considering the men, the firepower, and the tensions at the start of the affair, that hot war never broke out. Negotiations were allowed to succeed, in part because the senior military men then involved – Scott for the United States and Admiral Baynes for Great Britain – both knew the horrors of battle first-hand, and were unwilling to enter into war lightly. And, unlike the fiery Pickett or the hostile Harney, General Winfield Scott did not feel willingness to negotiate to be a sign of weakness.

Today the United States National Park Service maintains the sites of the British and American camps on the island. The American camp was constructed and fortified by Liuetentant Henry Martyn Robert, later famous as the author of Robert’s Rules of Order. The rangers tell visitors of the amiable joint occupation years, when both British and American troops would jointly celebrate the holidays of their respective nations. And indeed, the rangers note, during that period, the greatest threat to peace and stability was whiskey! To this day the rangers hoist a period Stars and Stripes over the American Camp, and, unusually, these U.S. Government employees also hoist the flag of a foreign power every day when they raise the “Union Jack” over the British Camp.

So cooler heads prevailed, war with Great Britain was averted, Germany’s Kaiser — jealous of Great Britain’s Empire — gave The United States what it wanted after all, and no one died. (Except the pig.)

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

There was never a good war, or a bad peace. — Franklin

Further Reading:

Smithsonian Magazine, June 2005: “The Boar War” by Deborah Franklin.

The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay, Michael Vouri; Griffin Bay, 1999: ISBN: 0963456253

The Flag Of The United States of America at 240

Two Hundred forty years ago this day, June 14, 1777, the Congress of the United States of America took action to standardize and unify the multitude of flag designs that had been in use up to that time. In an admirably brief if unsuitably vague resolution, Congress decreed:

“RESOLVED, that the flag of the 13 United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: That the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

Before the Declaration of Independence had been adopted, the revolutionary forces in the various thirteen colonies had used flags of whatever design appealed to the local troops. All that mattered was that the participants in a particular engagement could recognize the flags of their own units. Thus, from the start of the revolution in April of 1775 until the adoption of the Flag Resolution, there were dozens of flags identified as United States flags.

The resolution of Congress limited the essentials of the flag’s design from June 14, 1777 until the present. Yet the resolution makes no specification as to how the stars are to be arranged nor whether red or white is to be the first color in the alternate stripes. As a result, variations persisted for the next century.

The “Star Spangled Banner” flag which flew during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore September 14, 1815 had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes to represent the enlarged United States. It was quickly realized that a growing Union would soon render the number of stripes unmanageable, so thereafter the stripes would remain at thirteen and only the number of stars would be increased to reflect the states.

During the Civil War, many U.S. flag designs were present at every major battle. All featured thirteen stripes, but the constellation of stars was often a uniquely local pattern. In the latter days of that great conflict, many flags were made with golden stars rather than the specified white stars. This was due to the fact that many military flags used silver thread to embroider the stars on their regimental colors; it turned out that the silver thread quickly tarnished black in the sulphur-laden gunpowder smoke of the battlefield.

It was not until 1912 that a full and formal specification of the U.S. flag — sizes, color shades, arrangement of the stars, and order of the stripes — was enacted by Congress. This was the familiar 48 star flag, until 2008 the longest lived of all the flag designs. The design of this flag was officially adopted on July 4, 1912, after the admission of Arizona, the last of the continental states, into the Union. This is the flag which flew over the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe 1917 – 1918, and over United States forces throughout the world from the attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 until the final surrender on September 2, 1945.

The current standard U.S. flag, of course, has fifty stars representing each state of the Union. The design of this flag was officially adopted July 4, 1960, following the admissions in 1958 of Alaska, and in 1959 of Hawaii. This has now been the official flag of the United States for almost fifty-two years. This is the flag which was raised on the surface of the moon July, 24 1969 and which has flown over United States military forces throughout the Vietnam War and the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. And this is the flag that flew on 11 September 2001:

11 September 2001

11 September 2001: When I arrived home that evening, my brother and I lowered my flag with proper ceremony, and then raised it again before taking it to half-mast.

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first nation-wide Flag Day in 1916, but there had been many observances by state and local entities for at least thirty years before. In 1949, Congress formally enacted the Federal Flag Day observance. Flag Day is a day not only for flying the flag, but to reflect on what it stands for and upon the history and the sacrifices it represents.

There have been many hymns, patriotic songs, stories, and poems written about the flag of the United States of America, and a very famous pledge. Especially popular with grade school children is George M. Cohan’s spirited song You’re A Grand Old Flag.

Francis Scott Key, inspired by the sight of the nation’s flag still flying above Baltimore’s Fort McHenry after a night of savage bombardment, started writing the poem which became The Star Spangled Banner while he was still aboard a British warship in Baltimore Harbor. Key’s poem was published in a Baltimore paper later that month. A music hall balladeer performed the poem as a song using the tune of a popular drinking song, To Anacreon in Heaven, and retitling it The Star Spangled Banner. This is the song that Congress officially declared the United States National Anthem in 1931.

Among the scores of poems that have been inspired by the U.S. flag, my personal favorite is Barbara Frietchie by John Greenleaf Whittier. Written in 1863, when the outcome of the Civil War was far from certain, this poem celebrates the legendary courage of Barbara Frietchie, a resident of Frederick, Maryland, in the face of Rebel troops. In September of 1862, Confederate forces invaded Maryland. One column approached the fateful meeting at Antietam Creek by marching through Frederick. The battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in U.S. history, resulted in a Confederate withdrawal.

Barbara Frietchie is an idealized retelling of an idealized event; it is not at all what one might call truly historical. Whittier always stated that he wrote the poem in good faith based upon the best information he could obtain, but shortly after the poem was published, its accuracy was called into question.

Old Barbara Frietchie really did exist. She was ninety-five years old in September of 1862 when the poem takes place. She was something of a local celebrity in Frederick, because when she was a young woman, her family had hosted George Washington when he visited the town. She apparently met with General Reno of the Union Army two days after the great battle of Antietam. Barbara possessed a small U.S. flag made of silk which she so treasured that she stored it inside her family Bible. That flag is preserved to this day, and though it is slightly torn, it is not rent “seam and gash.”

Apparently it is true that Old Barbara did wave her flag cheerfully as Union soldiers marched through Frederick after the battle of Antietam, and there were many Union Army veterans who in later years affirmed that they indeed recalled the ancient granny who cheered and waved her flag when they retook Frederick. While this was a fine and patriotic thing, no one clearly recalled “Dame Barbara” confronting Stonewall Jackson as the poem tells it.

What seems to have happened is a conflation of two separate events: when Jackson’s troops marched through the town on that September morning, another woman of Frederick, Mrs. Mary Quantrell (or Quantrill) did indeed fly her U.S. flag while the Confederate troops passed by. Because Old Barbara was already well-known in Frederick, and because she had warmly cheered the Union troops who gratefully received her support after the battle, the deeds of Mary Quantrell quickly became associated with Barbara. And while Stonewall Jackson cannot be conclusively proven to have been in Frederick at all during the march, it was natural for the story to include the most famous of the Confederates in that vicinity. And so, as commonly happens, a couple of good stories — Mary Quantrell’s stubborn loyalty to the Union and Barbara Frietchie’s warm welcome of the Union troops — folded into one, and were further embellished to make a right wonderful tale.

It was this rather embellished version that caught John Greenleaf Whittier’s attention in late 1863 as he was in Washington. Upon hearing the story from sources “respectable and trustworthy”, Whittier felt compelled to immortalize it in verse. He later acknowledged that his poem was possibly based upon “… a blending of the two incidents.” But he always asserted that it was valid nevertheless.

I must agree with the poet. It is immaterial if the poem tells a precise, historical, and documented event; the poem does tell a truth that is greater and more enduring than any single genuine event. In Barbara Frietchie we see that courage is not limited by age nor by gender, and we see that people of honor will respect courage, even if they do not agree with the cause.

Old Barbara Frietchie passed away in December of 1862 just days after reaching the age of 96. Stonewall Jackson died the following May after being wounded by his own troops at Chancellorsville. Jackson’s enduring fame was ensured well before the poem was published, but Barbara was truly immortalized by these 30 couplets. In 1866 a Nantucket schooner was christened Barbara Frietchie. Generations of Maryland school students were required to memorize the poem. My mom and dad told me about an unremarkable brand of candy that one could buy in Frederick in the 1930’s which was named after her.

Today, unfortunately, such “sappy” and “saccharine” poetry is out of fashion, and even its praise for patriotism is considered rather antiquated. And so fewer and fewer people recall the poem, its fairly fictionalized heroine, or the simple concepts of loyalty to a cause, and bravery in the face of overwhelming force. Yet, as I observed above, if the events of the poem are not literally true, nevertheless the poem tells us truth.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas


John Greenleaf Whittier

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,

The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple and peach tree fruited deep,

Fair as the garden of the Lord
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,

On that pleasant morn of early fall
When Lee marched over the mountain wall;

Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars
Forty flag with their crimson bars,

Flapped in the morning wind; the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;

In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.

“Halt!” – the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
“Fire!” – out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.

Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.

“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word;

“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet;

All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;

And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie’s work is o’er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.

Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall’s bier.

Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;

And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

A Royal Holiday In The United States


Bronze and gilt statue of Kamehameha I across from the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, 7 April 2010.

Today, 11 June, is celebrated as King Kamehameha Day in the state of Hawaii. It is one of two officially recognized holidays in honor a royal person in all of the United States of America (the other is Hawaii’s Prince Kuhio Day.) Indeed, when one travels in Hawaii, it is striking to see the great number of monuments, memorials, and statues which are dedictated to various kings, queens, princesses, and princes; nowhere else in the United States is there such homage to royalty. The reason for all of this homage to monarchs lies in Hawaii’s history.

When Captain Cook made the first European contact with Hawaii in 1778, the islands were each ruled by a hereditary nobility of chiefs and lords and each island had its own Ali, a high chief or king. There was occasional fierce and bloody warefare among the clans of each island, and even between the islands. There was no central, unifying authority. European contact changed the Hawaiian islands radically and immediately. Before Cook arrived, the Hawaiians had no metals; within ten years trade with Europeans had become essential. In return for European manufactured goods, Hawaiians traded precious sandalwood and sealskins. In addition to iron pots and steel tools, the European traders brought firearms to the islands.

On the big island of Hawaii, a local member of the chiefly class, Paiea (“crab”) who had been among the first Hawaiians to treat with Captain Cook, realized that a fragmented and fractious Hawaii could not endure in the face of European contact. He also knew that European technology would be a decisive advantage to a warrior king who might take advantage of it. By making favorable deals with European traders to secure tools and weapons and training for his troops, and by political alliance and by military conquest, Paiea, better known by the name “The Loner,” Kamehameha, began to consolidate the island of Hawaii under his single rule. By 1791, with the whole of the island of Hawaii under his rule, Kamehameha set his sights on uniting all of the islands.

Kamehameha contracted with European ship captains to transport his men and materials to Maui and Oahu, and in at least one case, hired ship’s cannon to provide artillery support for his troops. Through a series of successful, hard-fought campaigns, by 1795 Kamehameha became Ali’nui, or Great High King over Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Oahu. Only Kauai and tiny Niihau remained independent. In 1810, through successful diplomatic negotiations, the Ali of Kauai formally recognized Kamehameha as sole sovereign over all of the Hawaiian islands. Kamehameha at last ruled a unified Hawaiian nation.

As king, Kamehameha, styled “The Great,” was known as a firm and fair ruler. He promulgated uniform laws for all Hawaiians, and is most famous for his celebrated 1797 proclamation of Kanawai Mamalahoe, the “Law of the Splintered Paddle.” This law declared that non-combatants were to be protected during military action, and by extension that no one should be in fear of being attacked or molested. This law still exists as a part of Hawaii’s state constutution, and it has had a far-reaching impact upon the development of the theory of humanitarian laws of warfare.

As king of a united Hawaii, Kamehameha worked to promote trade with the outside world, but he also regulated and limited the influence that foreigners could have in Hawaii’s affairs. Kamehameha recognized that the traditional life in hawaii needed to be actively preserved in the face of Western culture.

Kamehameha ruled the kingdom of Hawaii until his death in 1819. He had made preparations to ensure that his achievements would be perpetuated, and he was succeeded by his sons Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III. The House of Kamehameha would last until 1872 with the death of Kamehameha V. The Hawaiian monarchy would continue until its overthrow 1893.

It is worth making especial note that Hawaii is one of the very few places which ever experienced the armed overthrow of a monarchy yet which still honors and respects its monarchical past. It would be odd in the extreme for France to have a King Louis XIV Day, or for the U.S. to have a King James I Day. Yet Hawaii enthusiastically embraces King Kamehameha Day and has done so since the day was first decreed by Kamehameha V in 1871. This holiday continued through the end of the monarchy and was revived in 1901 when Hawaii formally became a territory of the United States. When Hawaii was granted statheood in 1959, Kamehameha Day was among the first holidays established by the new state legislature. So why has this royal holiday persisted in Hawaii?

At the time that Sanford B. Dole’s “Committee of Safety” with the aid of United States Marines dispatched by U.S. Consul John L. Stevens, imprisoned Queen Liliuokalani and declared the monarchy abolished in 1893, the majority of Hawaiians had no desire to see the monarchy ended. In fact, majority sentiment favored a re-empowered monarchy, the possibility of which led to Dole’s coup.

In 1887, European-American Hawaiian business interests backed by the paramilitary Honolulu Rifles, had forced King David Kalakua to acceed to the “Bayonet Constitution,” which essentially stripped the king of all power and disenfranchised all but the wealthiest land owners. The rolls of eligible voters were reduced to a fraction of what they had been under the 1864 constitution. In 1893, Queen Liliuokalani determined that it was necessary to restore the 1864 constitution, a proposal which was, not surprisingly, met with approval among the majority of Hawaii’s people. It is also not surprising that the proposal was absolutely repugnant to the business interests who had forced the 1887 constitution to be adopted. The coup which imprisoned Queen Liliuokalani was not only not supported by the population, it was deeply unpopular.

Dole and his oligarchy hoped to have the United States annex Hawaii immediately after the overthrow, confident that expansionist president Benjamin Harrison would favor such a step. However, Harrison lost his bid for reelection and president Grover Cleveland would not even consider such an annexation. The U.S. House of Representatives issued a resolution deploring the use of U.S. troops to overthrow a legitimate government, and Congress would not take any steps toward taking control of Hawaii.

The Committee of Safety therefore declared the Republic of Hawaii on 4 July 1894 with Sanford B. Dole as president. (Hawaii is one of only four states to have been an independent republic.) The republic bided its time until the United States elections of 1896 returned the Republican Party to power, and after the inauguration of William McKinley in March 1897, Dole commenced negotiations for annexation. Hawaii was formally annexed in 1898 and became a U.S. territory in 1901. Dole served as the first territorial governor.

Because the monarchy had never been unpopular with the people of Hawaii, the kings, queens, princesses, and princes remained popular figures. Queen Liliuokalani remained especially popular, long after the overthrow, and her repeated efforts to receive justice from the United States government were widely supported in Hawaii. Prince Kuhio, mentioned above, eventually served in the United States Congress as a territorial representative, making him the only royal ever to have served in that body. In what may well have been intended as a bit of a show of defiance, Hawaii’s territorial legislature reestablished the observation of Kamehahmeha Day in 1901.

Thus it is we have a state in the Union which overthrew its monarchy, but which remains powerfully attached to it to this day.

Happy Kamehameha Day!!!

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Kanawai Mamalahoe E na kanaka,
E malama ‘oukou i ke akua
A e malama ho’i ke kanaka nui a me kanaka iki;
E hele ka ‘elemakule, ka luahine, a me ke kama
A moe i ke ala ‘A’ohe mea nana e ho’opilikia. Hewa no, make.

— Kamehameha The Great

(The Law Of The Splintered Paddle:
Oh, my people, honor your god;
respect equally men great and humble;
ensure that our elderly, our women, and our children
lie down to sleep by the roadside without fear of harm.
To disobey is to die.)

Salem’s “Witches”

Take an unseasonably long and cold winter after a poor harvest, a minor epidemic, (probably flu) and an unsuccessful military campaign against restive local tribes, then add a few unprovable accusations from unlikely sources, a populace wary and uneasy, fearing attacks by unseen foes, and authorities inclined to presume the worst, and you have a witches’ brew of explosive and lethal ingredients. In Salem, Massachsuetts, in 1692, such a mixture produced deadly results that resonate yet today. Three hundred twenty years ago, on 10 June 1692, Bridget Bishop, the first victim of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, was hanged.

The madness started four months earlier when two young girls became sick with “fits” which were diagnosed as the results of a bewitching. In the course of their seizures, these girls identified several local women as possible witches. The hunt was on.

Local authorities arrested one of the women whom the girls had identified, a maid who was a West Indies native. This woman, Tituba, had used some of her folk remedies to try to cure the girls, and such remedies were rather akin to spells and magic. The investigating officials offered to spare Tituba the worst penalties if she would name other witches. Not surprisingly, she did so quite readily. During her examination, Tituba expanded and embellished her descriptions with lurid accounts of conversations with the “Devill,” sightings of monstrous “hayry” beasts, and rides through the misty nights on wooden poles. Several of Salem’s townfolk were named in the course of her account. The hunt expanded.

By June, the Governor of Massachusetts empowered a special court to conduct trials of the accused witches. The judges included an ancestor of writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, one John Hathorne. The president of the court, William Stoughton, was a fanatical prosecutor of witches, and he vowed to “clear the land” of witches and sorcerers. Most of the judges were not trained in the law, and had no idea as to how to conduct a proper trial, especially in the matter of witchcraft. As a result, the judges relied heavily on the advice of local clergymen such as the famous Cotton Mather.

Mather suggested admitting testimony that was even then quite improper, such as accounts of dreams, and third-hand reports of rumored conversations. With no effective restrictions upon what might be testified in court, folks with old grudges to settle made wild accusations about their neighbors. Bridget Bishop was particularly unpopular: she was a woman of “low character” (she may have run a small-time brothel!) and she was well-known for failing to pay her bills. She had no friends in Salem, but plenty of enemies.

Those who protested the madness, or simply failed to enthusiastically support it were at risk of being accused. John Proctor, who figures as a key character in Arthur Miller’s allegorical play about the witch hunts, The Crucible, was an outspoken sceptic and critic of the trials. He soon found himself accused. Though Proctor demanded the trial be moved to Boston, and denounced the confessed witches as liars, he was nevertheless hanged.

After Bridget was hanged on 10 June, the pace of the trials began to pick up. Before the summer was over, more than 150 of the Salem area’s perhaps 8,000 residents were accused of witchcraft. Twenty-four “witches”, 16 women and 8 men, were executed – mainly by hanging – or died in prison before the Governor at last dissolved the local court in October and and established a Superior Court to hear the remaining cases. The new court adhered to more stringent rules of evidence and subsequently handed down no more convictions. The madness was running out of steam.

In the later 19th Century and early 20th, Salem’s terrifying episode was explained as “mass delusion,” the theory being that everyone in town fell under the spell of suggestibility, as if a mass hypnosis had taken hold. That has some appeal: it would explain the flying and the visions that so many attested. Notably lacking, however, was an agent which could explain how this mass delusion/hypnotism was effected.

In the 1970’s, professor Linnda Caporael published a paper, Ergotism: The Satan loosed in Salem? Ergot is a grain fungus which is especially prevalent on rye growing in damp ground, or during mild, rainy weather. Rye was a standard crop in New England, and one may fairly assume it was grown in and around Salem, especially in the more poorly drained fields around the village which are known to have been cultivated, but which would have been unsuitable for wheat or barley.

The effect of ergot fungus is variable: ingested in small quantities it can make a person ill; in large quantities it causes hallucinations and convulsions, the sensation of things crawling on the skin, and a sense of soaring through the air. These symptoms may sound like a “bad acid trip,” and that is hardly surprising. Ergot fungus produces a variety of alkaloid compounds, including “isoergine,” lysergic acid amide, a weaker cousin of “LSD,” lysergic acid diethylamide.

Though Caporael’s thesis is unproven, and ultimately unprovable, it does have the great advantage of potentially explaining the symptoms of the Salem “victims of witchcraft,” and being plausible as well. Ergotism is real, its symptoms do present in a manner akin to demonic possession, and rye was a staple in the region. So, while we cannot know whether or not ergotism is the true cause of the victim’s distress, it seems likely. And it is comforting to think that there may have been an actual, organic cause for the afflictions, rather than either mass hysteria or over-arching malice.

Other organic causes have been suggested as well, including various viral and genetic diseases, and the matter is still fiercely debated. As I say, it is almost certain that we will never be able to know for certain. But there must have been some actual cause, I believe. I am not yet ready to be convinced that the Devil himself dwelt for nine months among and within the villagers of Salem.

And what of those who never developed symptoms, yet perpetuated the prosecutions and the persecutions? One historian has sought to explain the astonishing culpability of the judges involved by noting that they may have been using the witch hysteria to deflect their own roles in the unsuccessful campaigns on the frontiers. The military adventures had been ill prepared, and the citizens of Massachusetts were unhappy with their leadership. A focus on a new, far more manageable threat may have been politically expedient: it was an easy way to show that the authorities were doing something to protect the colony.

Five years later, the judges – except Stoughton – issued a collective admission of error and guilt, and made a public apology; Massachusetts observed an annual day of prayer and fasting for forgiveness due for the sins of the trials, and even paid compensation to the survivors.

Salem’s experience has ever after stood as a reminder that in times of anxiety and stress, it is especially crucial to be careful and deliberate when identifying the source of our woes. And from Salem we have inherited the term “Witch hunt” to describe an energetic, often paranoid and self-satisfying quest to find enemies within.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

It were better that ten suspected witches should escape
than one innocent person should be condemned.

— Cotton Mather’s father, Increase Mather,
in his work Cases of Conscience about standards of evidence

Further reading:

The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry Into The Salem Witch Trials, Marion L. Starkey; Anchor Books, 1949 (reprint ed. 1969): ISBN: 0385035098

In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, Mary Beth Norton; Vintage, 2002: ISBN: 0375706909

Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum; Harvard University Press, 1976: ISBN: 0674785266

Seventy Years Ago Today: An Improbable Victory

It was on this day, 7 June 1942, a Sunday precisely six months to the day after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, that the most decisive naval battle of the 20th Century came to an end in the vastness of the Central Pacific Ocean. The Battle of Midway, which lasted from early on the morning of 4 June 1942 until mid-afternoon on 7 June, resulted in a decisive victory for the United States of America against the Imperial Japanese Navy. Japan withdrew from the battle with catastrophic losses: four of Japan’s largest aircraft carriers had been sunk against a single United States carrier. Moreover, the loss represented essentially irreplaceable damage to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s forces, while the United States of America would build more than two dozen large carriers in the next three years.

It seems hard to believe at this far remove in time, but heading into Midway, the United States Navy was the undoubted underdog. The U.S. had three fleet carriers compared to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s four, and only a third of the additional support vessels needed for such a Confrontation. The U.S. had a slightly greater number of aircraft, but almost all were outdated and inferior to the Japanese warplanes. The Japanese High Command could feel understandably confident of another smashing defeat of the U.S. Navy.

In complete reversal of the Pearl Harbor disaster, the victory at Midway was in large measure a triumph of Military Intelligence. The U.S. Navy had broken the Japanese Naval code, and was able to decode much of the radio traffic leading up to the Japanese attack on Midway. When there was uncertainty as to the target of the huge Japanese task force – referred to as “AF” in the Japanese communications – a clever ruse pinpointed the intended objective. The commander of the small American force on Midway was instructed by secure cable transmission to radio a message stating that Midway’s water distillation plant was out of order. Subsequent Japanese transmissions revealed that “AF” was low on fresh water. The U.S. Navy thereby knew that Midway was the objective of the attack, and could plan accordingly.

Intelligence Data alone, of course, cannot win battles. It takes determination, skill, commitment, and courage. These too were abundant at Midway. The famed sacrifice of the U.S. Naval fliers of Torpedo Squadron 8 stands out. Torpedo Squadron 8 made the first American attack of the battle on the Japanese carriers despite the fact Squadron 8’s planes had too little fuel for a return flight, and despite the fact that the Japanese fighters were far faster and far more maneuverable than the dated, cumbersome American torpedo bombers. Indeed, only one pilot from that group survived the battle: Ensign George Gay escaped his ruined plane and floated among the hellish carnage for three days before his rescue.

Gordon Prange, in his landmark 1983 account of the battle, Miracle at Midway, (McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070506728) asserted that the role of Torpedo Squadron 8 had been over-emphasized, especially in light of the fact that the squad’s attack completely failed to inflict any damage upon any Japanese ships. While I am in no way competent to challenge Professor Prange’s impeccable scholarship, I respectfully disagree with his interpretation of this attack. The mere fact that Torpedo Squadron 8 attacked greatly disrupted the Japanese plans, and ultimately left three Japanese carriers under-defended when they were struck by American dive bombers. The Japanese decks were covered with aircraft being re-armed and refueled, and the American divebombers were able to inflict an almost ideal tactical blow: the bombs struck amid fuel lines and piles of ammunition and explosives. This hugely multiplied the effect of the American ordinance, and proved fatal to the Japanese carriers.

The self-sacrifice of Torpedo Squadron 8 undeniably contributed to the U.S. victory, despite the fact that they did no direct damage. I have always been in awe of the commitment and courage of men who, knowing they had no hope of safe return, nevertheless pressed home their attack. Far from being futile, it bought the needed time and created the needed opportunity for a successful American attack, and for the ultimate victory. But for the unimaginable bravery of these men, the U.S. would have lost its element of surprise, and that alone could have changed the outcome of the battle.

The Battle of Midway was certainly the crucial turning point in the Pacific War, but it is equally true that the outcome of the battle did not determine the outcome of the war: it is generally agreed that the United States’ vastly greater industrial capacity and greater access to raw materials would, in any case, have led to ultimate defeat of Japan no matter how Midway had concluded. But it seems equally clear that the American victory at Midway greatly shortened the Pacific War. In the six months between Pearl Harbor and Midway, the Japanese Imperial Navy had almost unchallenged command of the Pacific, and the United States Navy was merely able to react to Japan’s initiative. After Midway, the U.S. Navy commanded the initiative. But victory would take a further three years: the Imperial Navy was in an underdog position following Midway, yet it was far from defeated.

Thus the Battle of Midway was not quite such a pivot point of history as the Greek victory over the Persian fleet at Salamis, nor the victory of Nelson’s British fleet over Napoleon’s forces at Trafalgar, for the ultimate fate of the war and the combatant nations was probably unchanged, however much the U.S. victory at Midway hastened the final conclusion. In any case, it was surely the most important naval action of the 20th century, and it definitely stands among the most important naval battles of history. Too, it represented an almost impossible achievement: a navy that had been largely destroyed merely six months before defeated a larger and better-armed force. Careful and accurate intelligence can offset numeric superiority; valor can neutralize tactical superiority and guide the course of history.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning.

— Winston Churchill

Remember Pearl Harbor! Seventy Years On

It was exactly seventy years ago this day that the United States was attacked by the Naval and Air Forces of Imperial Japan at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack caused more American Naval casualties than had been incurred in all of the First World War. The results were devastating: the bulk of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was destroyed or rendered useless. The day occasioned great heroism upon the part of U.S. forces defending Pearl Harbor, yet also raised the question: HOW? How had his enormity come to happen?

In hindsight, it was obvious: a daring, extremely risky exposure of the cream of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s forces far into the sphere of United States Navy control to permit hundreds of aircraft to attack unready and unprotected military targets on Oahu. So obvious, in fact, that for the previous decade such a scenario was taught in classes at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, and at least three major naval war games around the Hawaiian Islands in the 1930’s were based upon that premise.

With diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Japan unravelling in late 1941, and with Japan’s history of unannounced, preemptive attacks followed by a declaration of war (China, 1894; Russia, 1905) the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 certainly seems to have been a foregone conclusion. So why were the U.S. military forces caught off guard?

Over the years there has been a vociferous minority view that the whole thing was a setup by the U.S. government in order to get the United States into the “hot war” of World War II. In retrospect, there are many acts and events that do seem hard to understand, notably the failure to prepare the forces on Hawaii for the real possibility of an attack. But it is never quite explained how the Japanese were gulled into acting as American stooges for their own ultimate defeat. (Unexplained as well is how allowing the vast bulk of the U.S. Pacific fleet to be disabled or destroyed would confer an advantage upon the U.S. in waging a Pacific war.)

However in the past decade, we have a fresh example of how a devastating enormity can happen even in the face of self-evident intelligence data with clearly interpretable information as to an enemy’s intentions. No credible observer has seriously proposed that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were intentionally permitted to occur. It is not believable that the government of a free and open, democratic republic, would blithely allow such a spectacular horror to happen. Whatever the motives, no government would be likely to accept such losses, if only because such a scale of death and destruction would not be needed to justify whatever aims were allegedly being sought.

The notion that the astronomically vast amounts of intelligence data preceding either 9/11 or Pearl Harbor were “self-evident” or “clearly interpretable” can only come form that most well-focussed of lenses, hindsight. Once the inconceivable has happened, it’s obvious. And while both the attack on Pearl Harbor and the possibility of terrorist attacks using commercial aircraft were literally conceived of, the real debility in predicting either attack was simply this: whatever was imagined that our enemies could do was blunted by our expectation of what they would do. Just as very few analysts imagined that terrorists would be so reckless as to attack the Unites States within its borders, very few analysts in 1941 imagined that Imperial Japan would be so suicidal as to draw the United States into a hot war.

The lesson that should be learned from these two catastrophes is that it is insufficient to think about what one’s enemies are likely to do, it is necessary to examine and expect the worst they can do. Not so very pleasant a message for this season when Christians celebrate the birth of The Prince of Peace. But this is the lesson of history, if only we could learn from history.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas