Thursday, July 30, 2015

USS Indianapolis

USS Indianapolis, July 10, 1945

On July 30, 1945 while sailing in the Pacific between Guam and the Philippines the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-58 and quickly sank.  On July 26 the cruiser had delivered to the island of Tinian components of the atomic bomb that was to be dropped on Hiroshima on August 6.  Of the 1,196 sailors aboard the ship that night somewhere between 800 and 900 made it into the water.

Because of the shroud of secrecy around the sensitive mission of the Indianapolis the Navy did not realize the ship was missing until survivors were spotted by a plane three days later.  By the time rescue planes and ships arrived only 317 sailors were alive.  Most of the remainder had been killed by thousands of sharks which had surrounded and attacked the beleaguered sailors over the intervening days.

The horror of those days is known to most of us through the most memorable scene in the movie Jaws:

And here is one survivor's recollections:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Larry And THC's New Excellent Adventure

Union front line, mid-morning April 9, 1865 blocking Lee's retreat along the Lynchburg Road.  Downslope is the village of Appomattox Court House.  The main position of the Army of Northern Virginia lay about one mile beyond the village.  Soon bearer of flags of truce from the Confederate side would start up the slope and several hours later Lee and Grant would meet in the McLean House in the village at which time Lee would surrender.  It was the first rebel army to surrender.  The last on June 23, in what is now Oklahoma, was the Cherokee cavalry unit commanded by Stand Watie, the only native American to achieve the rank of Brigadier General on either side during the Civil War.

THC and his friend Larry (not The Other Larry) just completed their fourth annual Civil War tour. The first three were to Antietam, Chancellorsville and The Wilderness & Spotsylvania.  This tour was of the sprawling (in time and geography) siege of Petersburg and Richmond and the retreat to Appomattox which took place from mid-June of 1864 through early April of the following year (the events of the opening of the Petersburg siege can be found here and the last phase of the campaign is described in the Appomattox Campaign Series).

On Saturday we visited the Petersburg battlefields and the following day followed Lee and Grant's armies on the final week of the campaign, from Five Forks to Sailor's Creek and finally Appomattox Court House.  Friday we had a series of fascinating lectures and panel discussions on topics as varied as Grant's strategy, the reburial of Confederate war dead after the war, the role of U.S. Colored Troops, the history of the Confederate flags both during and since the war as well as a Saturday night presentation that was both funny and moving about Abraham Lincoln's impromptu visit with his 11-year old son to Richmond the day after its capture on April 3, 1865.

Some of the locations don't look like much today.  This is Five Forks the road junction captured by General Sheridan on April 1, the loss of which forced Lee to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond.

Our primary guides on Saturday were Dick Sommers, retired professor of military history at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA and noted author of several works of civil war history and Ed Bearss.  Ed Bearss is a National Treasure (here's his Wikipedia entry).  Now 92 years old, former Chief Historian of the National Parks Service (NPS), severely wounded and still disabled from his time as a Marine in the Solomon Islands during WWII and responsible for much of what we see today regarding NPS battlefield preservation, having Ed as your guide is a memorable experience.  As he led us in the 90 degree heat barking "no stragglers!" and giving us his vivid, pithy, detailed and occasionally profane descriptions the scenes around us sprang to life.  We particularly liked his warning as we neared The Crater at Petersburg where there was a button on a display that could be pushed to start an audio description that "anyone who pushes that button will be shot at sunrise!" (and we think he meant it).

We witnessed the deference and respect paid by every speaker and every Park Service employee to Ed Bearss.  Often during lectures or field tours someone would hesitate about a name or date and turn and ask "Ed, is that right?" or "Ed, do you remember the name/place?" and invariably Ed did.
                        (L, Dick Sommers; R, Ed Bearss (note his left arm frozen in place from war wound)
(Ed's shirt reads "I don't need an internet search engine, I know Ed Bearss")  Beyond Ed is Jimmy Blankenship who's spent more than 30 years with NPS at Petersburg; location is City Point, the Union supply hub during the siege of Petersburg and for nine months the busiest harbor in North America with more than 200 steamers, barges and sailing ships there at any one time.  The land on which the Union base was constructed in the summer of 1864 had been the property of the Epps family since 1635.  After the war the land was returned to the Epps who owned it until 1979 when they deeded it to the National Park Service.

The brief video below will give you a sense of Ed's distinctive (and loud) voice.  We are at The Crater and he's talking about the tunnel that was dug under the Confederate position, loaded with powder and then blown up.

THC feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to be on these tours with Ed.  For that matter we all owe great thanks to the National Park Service rangers who work at these battlefields.  It's a labor of love for them and it shows in the quality of the parks and the skill with which they tell the stories of the events that took place there.  THC was telling Jimmy Blankenship how much he appreciated what he'd done and he responded that it was what he had wanted to do since he was a kid and that if Kmart were running the parks he'd be happy to work for Kmart.

As mentioned previously, the presentations at the hotel were excellent.  Lt Colonel Ralph Peters, a retired army officer and current author and media commentator spoke about the campaign as the birth of modern warfare but THC was most struck by his emphasis on how poorly most of the commanders felt most of the time and how that may have impaired decision making.  He reminded us that even aspirin did not exist back then.

The panel on US Colored Troops was also fascinating and THC will be doing some additional research on that topic as well as the Reconstruction.  THC had some misconceptions about that history.  He knew that by WWII, the U.S. Navy was the most segregated of all our military services and assumed it had always been that way.  It turns out that from its start in the American Revolution into the early 20th century it had been the least segregated service with blacks serving as seamen and mates (though not as officers), while blacks were barred from service in the U.S. Army under the Militia Act of 1792 until that was rescinded in 1863.  It was President Woodrow Wilson who segregated the navy during the 1910s after which blacks could only serve as cooks or stewards, an action not overturned until President Truman's 1947 order desegregating the military.

Perhaps most interesting were two presentations from the Museum of the Confederacy.  Not having visited the Museum, THC was a bit wary about how things might be presented but both speakers were excellent.  Waite Rawls III, executive director of the museum, spoke of the Confederate war dead reburials.  After the end of the war, Congress appropriated funds to rebury the often hastily buried federal war dead in new national cemeteries but no provision was made for Confederate dead.  This prompted a number of Richmond women to form what ultimately became the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) who ultimately raised funds and arranged for the reburial of 72,000 rebel soldiers.  Rawls spoke of the struggle to control the memory of the Confederacy between the active women's groups and the military veterans.

The role of the UDC came up again in a talk by John Coski from the museum based upon his book The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem published in 2005 (and if you want to see how embattled just read the one star reviews at Amazon from those who both hate and love the flag).   Coski walked us through the difference between the battle flag (that's the one that the controversy in South Carolina was about) and the three different national flags of the Confederacy (1861, 1863 and 1865).  Until around the time of WWII, the flag was only used in memorial ceremonies (Coski finds the first record of KKK use in the late 1930s).  Things changed in the immediate aftermath of WWII.  Oddly one of the changes was that Southern universities increasingly played Northern schools in football and some Southern fraternities started the display of the flag during games and halftimes as a statement of regional pride.  In addition, commercial use in ads and other public venues increases and finally, in 1948 the flag was flown at the Dixiecrat Convention (the breakaway segment which walked out of the Democratic convention because of the civil rights platform it had adopted and then was later used by the Citizens Council formed after the Supreme Court decision desegregating schools in 1954 (Coski described the CC as the upscale version of the KKK).  The UDC objected to all uses of the flag in political and consumer contexts but lost that battle and in the 50s and 60s the battle flag became closely associated with resistance to integration.  At the end of his talk, Coski gave his view that the use of the flag should be restricted to historical purposes.  THC's views on the flag controversy can be found here.

The three national flags of the Confederacy (from teaching american history):

Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia:

Because of the recent controversy, THC kept an eye out for the flag in the National Parks we visited on the tour.  At Petersburg, there was a small display of flags for sale which included the American flag as well as the national flags of the Confederacy but not the battle flags.  While touring the park there was an artillery display at The Crater and the battle flag was flying.

At Five Forks we saw Confederate national and battle flags hanging from the ceiling along with American flags.  The first picture shows the Confederate flag of 1865 which includes the battle flag insignia in the corner.  The second is the battle flag of a Virginia regiment while on the right is the battle flag of one of Custer's Michigan regiments.

At Appomattox, the UDC has a small in-holding within the National Park, a cemetery where 18 unidentified Confederate and one Union soldier are buried.  An American flag flies over the cemetery, while the battle flag is place on each Confederate grave (which is no longer permitted in Park Service cemeteries) and an American flag on the Union grave.
Earlier in the 20th century the UDC had also placed a marker on Park Service property very near the cemetery.  We noticed that some of the engraved inscription had been chiseled away and when we asked the Park ranger about it he said it was because of historical accuracy.  Here's the marker which is an excellent example of The Lost Cause mythology dominant in much of late 19th and early 20th century America.
The part that was chiseled off referred to the Union having 180,000 soldiers at Appomattox.  The ranger told us Grant had about 65,000 men present.  He added that the reference to 9,000 men surrendering was incorrect; the actual total was somewhere between 28,000 and 33,000.

It was appropriate we started our tour at City Point, the headquarters of U.S Grant during the siege.  The unassuming Grant and his son (along with his wife for much of the time) lived in a log cabin which you can see below.
The Union Army's Quartermaster lived in the large house on the City Point property (photo below is from the area of the Grant cabin).  Quartermasters always get the best accommodations.
And it was appropriate we ended in the village of Appomattox Court House where Grant and Lee met at the McLean House.  Pictures below are of the McLean house and of the table at which Grant wrote the surrender terms.

In his remarkable Personal Memoirs (a classic of American literature), written on his deathbed twenty years later, U.S. Grant reflected upon the day:
I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. 
Years later Confederate General Edward Porter Alexander wrote:
For all time it will be a good thing for the whole United States, that of all the Federal generals it fell to Grant to receive the surrender of Lee.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ball And Chain

This was the performance that made Janis Joplin a star.  It's from the Monterrey Pop Festival in June 1967 and at the time she was the lead singer in Big Brother & The Holding Company, a San Francisco-based band.  It made for an interesting contrast - Janis was a phenomenal vocalist and Big Brother was a pretty bad band, with an awful lead guitarist whom you can hear in the opening (this YouTube version thankfully omits the guitar solo in the middle).

At 3:30 and 5:25 in the video you can watch the reaction of Cass Elliott of the Mamas & Papas, who at the time were a much bigger act than Big Brother.  At the end you can see Janis excitedly leaving the stage overjoyed with the reaction of the audience.  Sadly she'd die in September 1970 of a heroin overdose.

Ball And Chain was written by Big Mama Thornton in the early 1960s.  In the early 1950s, Thornton had recorded Hound Dog (which she did not compose) prior to Elvis Presley's massively successful cover version.  This is Big Mama's original.  You'll notice that Big Brother changed it from a major to a minor key.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Younger Party

THC remembers when the Republicans were considered the old party.  Checked elsewhere and it looks like these age differentials are the biggest we've seen in at least a century.

The trend is the same among those running (or thinking of running) for their Presidential nominations.  For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton is 67, Bernie Sanders 73, Joe Biden 72 and Elizabeth Warren 66 with Marty O'Malley a spry 52.

For the Republicans, Rick Perry is the oldster at 65, with Jeb Bush 62, Carly Fiorina 60, Chris Christie and Rand Paul at 52, Scott Walker 47 and Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal at 44.

Where, you may ask, is Donald Trump at 69?  For the answer see below the chart.

From Opportunitylives
Where does The Donald fit?  He's running as a Republican but has endorsed Hillary in the past and over his career donated more to Democrats than Republicans, a unique combo.  THC considers him a ReTrumpLiCrat - he's for himself.  For now though he's running as a nominally as a Republican which raises a question:

On one side we’ve got the Jeb Bush/McConnell/Boehner Axis of Ineffectiveness.

On the other we’ve got The Bambino of Bombast/ The Sultan of Swagger/The Colossus of Clownishness 

So my question is whether this is more like:
Clowns to the left of me
Jokers to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you
Trying to make some sense of it all, but I see it makes no sense at all
- Stealers Wheel
Or is it more like Pappy O’Daniel v Homer Stokes?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Berlin: July 1945

In Germany's End: April 1945, THC recounted the terrible last weeks of the European portion of World War II.  Here is some archival footage of Berlin taken in July 1945, about ten weeks after the end of the Battle of Berlin.  It's taken around the time of the Potsdam Conference, held in a Berlin suburb from July 17 to August 2.  At Potsdam the victorious allied leaders, Stalin, Truman and Churchill (replaced halfway through by Clement Atlee who defeated Churchill in the British election) decided on the details of the occupation of Germany and the strategy for ending the war with Japan.

About three minutes in you can watch a women calmly doing her laundry in a second floor apartment from which one of the walls is missing.  At about 4:50 is what appears to be a brief view of the pit in the courtyard of the Reichschancellory where the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were dosed in gasoline and incompletely burned.  The last minute is a stunning view of the destruction from a low level aerial flight.Berlin remained in a destitute state until after the Soviet blockade and attempt to get the Western Allies to abandon the city in 1948-9.

Friday, July 24, 2015


While planning your summer weekend BBQ you may want to consider this brilliant creation from Josh Bush of LaPorte, Texas (via Neatorama): hollowed out pineapple stuffed with ribs and wrapped in bacon!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Conquest's Three Laws

From the historian Robert Conquest:

Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.

Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing (see, for instance, Amnesty International).

The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies. 

And for more on that last law let's go to the corollaries on the Iron Law of Bureaucracy from science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle:

In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.
With a reformulation: any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself.  The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

In other words, any large bureaucratic organization eventually is run by those most focused on perpetuating and strengthening the organization regardless of its original intended purpose, indeed, even if it is detrimental to its original intended purpose.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kling's Three Laws

From Arnold Kling's askblog which you should be reading regularly: formulated by his father, Professor Merle King, the three iron laws of social science:

1. Sometimes it’s this way, and sometimes it’s that way.
2. The data are insufficient.
3. The methodology is flawed.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Forgotten Americans: Edmund De Smedt & Nathan B Abbott

We take it for granted but it revolutionized our world as much as the telephone, TV, and the internet.  Asphalt pavement (also known as blacktop, macadam and tarmac) converted road travel from dreadful prolonged misery on hot, dusty, rutted byways that could be quickly transformed by foul weather into muddy bogs to a solid, reliable all-weather surface that could stand up to heavy traffic, providing a stable and faster path for bicycles and motor vehicles.  Two Americans played an important role in its creation, Edmund De Smedt and Nathan B Abbott.

Unlike the previous people featured in the Forgotten American series there is not a lot of biographical information on either.  THC has not discovered any photos of De Smedt or Abbott, nor any personal details of their lives.  What he has discovered can be briefly summed:

Edmund De Smedt was a Belgian born chemist who emigrated to the United States in 1861 and became a Professor in the Engineering Department at Columbia University.  When he was born and died remains unknown to THC.

Nathan B Abbott was probably born in 1833 in Connecticut.  He may be the same Nathan B Abbott who enlisted during the Civil War and fought in the 20th Connecticut Infantry rising from corporal to first lieutenant during the course of the war.  It's possible he's the Nathan B Abbott shown in an 1868 directory as a resident of Brooklyn, NY with an occupation of roofer.

Before we come to Prof. De Smedt and Mr Abbott's accomplishments, let's go back a bit.

Asphalt or bitumen is a sticky, black and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum with properties recognized by humans for several thousand years being used for sealing, caulking and mortaring in the ancient Middle East, particularly in Babylonia though not in road-building.

In the ancient road the master road builders were the Romans who constructed a 50,000 mile network of well-engineered and drained, stoned paved roads across Europe, North Africa and the Near East.
With the end of the Western Roman Empire and the erosion of the Eastern Empire these roads went into decline and Medieval Europe returned to a primitive road network.  Road conditions were so bad that even as late as 1700, traveling from London to York in England took longer than it had fifteen centuries before.
(Roman Road)
Starting in the latter part of the 18th century three English and Scottish engineers developed the basic design of modern roads; John Metcalf (who was blind), Thomas Telford and John McAdam.  They came up with their own variants regarding grading, drainage and broken stone paving in a system called "macadam" (you can draw the connection) while McAdam developed a system of using broken stone mixed with hot tar for bonding called "tarmacadam" (first laid in Nottingham in 1848).

The first asphalt roads were actually built in France though depending on the source it was either in 1824 along the Champs Elysees or in 1835 at the Place de la Concorde or in 1854 somewhere in Paris and England began using it shortly thereafter. Macadam Rd)

In the United States new road building technique were only slowly adopted.  The first macadam style road was portions of the National Pike constructed across Maryland and Pennsylvania in the 1820s and 1830s.  During the Civil War (1861-65) Union and Confederate armies were dependent on the narrow, dirt roads and we read of the constant problems with moving troops, artillery, horses, and supplies with any wet weather slowing progress to a crawl.
Image: Workers level a road with tools as a supervisor looks on.(National Pike Construction)

It was Professor De Smedt who invented the first modern type of asphalt in the U.S filing his patent application for "Improvemnt in Laying Asphalt or Concrete Pavement or Roads" on May 31, 1870.  In an 1879 article in Paving and Municipal Engineering entitled "The Origins of American Asphalt Pavement" De Smedt wrote of his pioneering work:
In the year 1869-70 my attention was drawn to the subject of concrete pavements, and my efforts were directed toward finding a composition that should be equal to the natural rocks of the Val-de-Travers and Seysel [both in France] for paving purposes, and that should rival those materials, at least in cheapness.  In the course of my experiments I conceived of the combination of silicious sand or pulverized carbonate of lime, mixed or each separate, cemented together by Trinidad asphalt, or any other suitable asphalt, the latter being first tempered with heavy petroleum oils or the residuum of the distillation of those oils.  
De Smedt began laying down the first asphalt pavement in the United States in front of the City Hall in Newark, New Jersey on July 29, 1870.  The application, using bitumen from West Virgina, was not a success.  A second attempt in 1872 using a reformulation was successful on Battery Park and 5th Avenue in Manhattan.  Finally in 1876 De Smedt's company won the contract to pave Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC as part of the city's preparations for the nation's centennial.  This application, using high-grade bitumen from Trinidad, was a great success.
Image: Pennsylvania Ave., 1907 (Repairing Penn. Ave. 1907)

The significance of De Smedt's contribution was acknowledged in Water And Sewage Works, Volumes 38-39 (1910):
So many failures of coal tar pavements had been made that the successes were overlooked and the De Smedt successful experiments led to the adoption of his pavements by the authorities at Washington, and from Washington the asphalt pavement industry, as it has been known, spread all over the country.
We know less of Nathan B Abbott except that he filed the first patent applications for the manufacture of hot mix asphalt in 1871 while he resided in Brooklyn.  As best THC can understand it, the De Smedt patent describes the critical composition aspects for asphalt while the Abbott patent is more focused on the actual manufacturing process.  THC has been unable to find the original Abbott patent but has found some from later years here, here and here. desertconstruction)

The larger cities were the first to adopt the new pavement as it immediately reduced the chaos and dirt of city streets while simplifying maintenance.  Asphalt amazed travelers.  One such astonished traveler was Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie, who remembered traveling in a wagon with her parents as they passed through Topeka, Kansas in 1894.
"In the very midst of the city, the ground was covered by some dark stuff that silenced all the wheels and muffled the sound of hoofs.  It was like tar, but Papa was sure it was not tar, and it was something like rubber, but it could not be rubber because rubber cost too much.  We saw ladies all in silks and carrying ruffled parasols, walking with their escorts across the street.  Their heels dented the street, and while we watched, these dents slowly filled up and smoothed themselves out.  It was as if that stuff were alive.  It was like magic." from nstperfume)
A further boost to the use of asphalt in its early days was the explosion of interest in bicycling in the late 1800s which triggered the Good Roads Movement creating pressure for municipalities to improve road quality (for more see The Lincoln Highway).

Today 94% of America's roads are covered with asphalt pavement.

SOURCES (beyond those linked in post) :
History of Roads,
Asphalt, Wikipedia
Pavement History
Beyond Roads
History of Asphalt
Macadam Roads

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Mood Swings

From Elvis Costello and only available on The Big Lebowski soundtrack.
She was smitten from the first
By a curious fellow
She said I love the way you talk
And with a flounce she announced it
I love the way that you pronounced it

Well she liked to sing along
To her favourite song
From the year that she was born
See how mysterious her fate is
She had to get born in the eighties

So speak to me, just like you should
Then we can do those wicked things
And if you want, we'll make it good
Before my mood swings

Well he looked like one of those
Who would take off his clothes
Like you would peel a tangerine
No one's been known to decline this
Once he has found out what your sign is

So speak to me, just like you should
Then we can do those wicked things
And it you want, we'll make it good
Before my mood swings

Friday, July 17, 2015

Misremembering History: The Scopes Monkey Trial

An expanded and reedited version of a 2012 THC post

Rather than the often repeated adage that the victors write the history of an event, the story of anything is actually determined by the unswerving adoption of one version of it, and the telling of that version by a determined cadre of writers. In time, the version with the most persistent adherents becomes the “truth.” – David & Jeanne Heidler in Henry Clay: The Essential American (2010)
I still recall the family getting in the car for the drive to Hartford, Connecticut. It was the late 1950s, and my father was taking us to pick up a monkey. He had a small role as an Italian organ-grinder in a play put on by a local community theater group. The director wanted to use a prop monkey, but dad insisted on the real thing. We housed that monkey for the next week; I remember it as nasty and mean-tempered, but the audience loved it and my father in his bit part (he always had a knack for showmanship). The play was Inherit The Wind. Last week was the 90th anniversary of the start of the trial (July 10, 1925) on which the play was based, an event that became popularly known as the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Seeing the play and, later, the movie, I accepted its narrative of the forces of enlightenment, reason, heroism, and tolerance (represented by Spencer Tracey in the movie, playing a character based on Clarence Darrow) against the forces of narrow-mindedness, mean-spiritedness, repression, and unthinking old-fashioned religion (represented by Frederic March playing a character based on William Jennings Bryan); a morality play of liberal versus conservative. The play is still staged frequently by regional theaters (here’s a recent Wisconsin production), has gone through several Broadway revivals, most recently in 2007, with Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy. There was even a London production, in 2009, with Kevin Spacey. In most cases, it is widely accepted by audiences as historically accurate.

It was only years later, prompted by reading Edward Larson’s Summer For The Gods and doing related research that I appreciated how much more complex and interesting the real story was. American history is much more fascinating and instructive when you don’t try to neatly shoehorn it into boxes labeled “liberal,” “conservative,” “progressive,” and “reactionary” as Inherit The Wind did, aided by influential mid-2oth century historians and literary critics such as Richard Hofstadter. Throughout our history, you’ll see prominent people with a constellation of political views that are unrecognizable in today’s categories.  I'm in favor of the teaching of evolutionary theory but the full story behind the Scopes Trial is more interesting than the caricature of Inherit The Wind and, as I learned, the main character in this drama, William Jennings Bryan, would not neatly fit into any political classification in modern-day America.

The Background

Dayton in 1925

The early 20th century saw an explosion in the growth of public high schools. In 1890, there were fewer than 200,000 public high-school students nationwide; by 1920, there were more than two million. In Tennessee, where the trial took place there were fewer than 10,000 in 1910, but more than 50,000 by 1920. What were they to be taught?

At the same time, battles were heating up between Darwinists and some religious denominations over the teaching of evolution. State legislative fights over its inclusion in educational curriculum became common.

Legislative efforts barring the teaching of evolutionary theory were successful in a small number of states, including Tennessee, which passed its law in early 1925. It was part of a larger package of laws in a massive education reform bill that laid the foundation for state-supported public schools. It was signed into law by progressive Governor Peay. Violation of the ban on teaching evolution carried a $100 fine, but no jail. Bryan supported the bill, but unsuccessfully lobbied against having any fine attached to violating the evolution provision, though no one at the time expected any prosecutions under the statute.

John Scopes

Looking for a test case, the American Civil Liberties Union placed advertisements in Tennessee papers offering to defend anyone prosecuted under the Act. Leading citizens of the town of Dayton decided to take them up on it. While some were interested in challenging the law, many others just saw it as a good opportunity to create publicity and generate business for the town. Rather than showcasing a contentious, divided populace, as portrayed in the play, the actual trial took place in a festive atmosphere, according to reporters like H.L. Mencken. The key players in Dayton recruited John Scopes, a young, part-time schoolteacher, to be the defendant and agreed to pay any penalty imposed on him.

Dayton was a small town in East Tennessee, and part of the only Republican enclave in the state. Bryan won every southern state in each of his three presidential runs, but never carried Rhea County where Dayton was located. The town was also heavily Methodist in a state dominated by Baptists (the Baptist Convention, meeting in Memphis just before the trial, refused to add an anti-evolution plank to the denomination’s statement of faith).

Once the ACLU came into the case, Bryan — the country’s leading opponent of the teaching of evolution — agreed to become part of the prosecution’s team. And through some very complicated machinations, Clarence Darrow, the most famous criminal defense lawyer in America, joined the defense team. When this happened, the trial became the biggest story in the country, and was also followed heavily in Europe. A deluge of reporters descended on Dayton.

Why Evolution? Why Bryan?
In 1925, 65-year-old William Jennings Bryan was well known to every American, having run unsuccessfully three times as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate (1896, 1900, and 1908). A remarkable orator — his “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 convention secured him the nomination — he is considered to have been the first populist to run for President. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson appointed him Secretary of State, a post he resigned in 1915 when the pacifist Bryan became convinced Wilson was maneuvering the country into entering the First World War.

Bryan campaigned successfully in support of four constitutional amendments: direct election of senators, the Federal income tax, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition. He certainly doesn’t sound like a man who fits the image created by Inherit The Wind. So why, in the 1920s, did he undertake leadership of the crusade against the teaching of Darwinism, and why did he think it was consistent with his other views?

The first, and probably subsidiary reason, was Bryan’s belief in “popular sovereignty.” Bryan had always campaigned against big business and the banks and on behalf of the common people. When the Supreme Court overturned some of the early progressive labor laws, Bryan supported (unsuccessful) legislation to limit judicial review, and backed the Progressive use of popular referendums. He believed the people were entitled to what they wanted, and he saw the evolution issue in the same way. According to Bryan:
It is no infringement on their freedom of conscience or freedom of speech to say that, while as individuals they are at liberty to think as they please and say what they like, they have no right to demand pay for teaching that which parents and the taxpayer do not want taught.
The deeper reason was Bryan’s concerns about the implications of Darwinism. Bryan was a committed Christian, pacifist, and believer in the dignity of every human being. He rejected evolutionary theory as a matter of religious faith, but also believed Darwinism and its doctrine of “survival of the fittest” threatened the dignity and perhaps even the very existence of the weakest of the human flock. Bryan saw a direct connection between the excesses of capitalism and militarism — which he had denounced throughout his career — and Darwinism, which, as early as 1904, he had called “the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak.”

The concerns Bryan raised in 1904 were reinforced by recent events. The slaughter of WWI appalled Bryan. He saw German militarism as Darwinian selection in action; this was a common view at the time, as reflected in the words of Vernon Kellogg in his book Headquarters Nights: “Natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals.”

Bryan saw the modernist wing of the Progressives, led by Woodrow Wilson, as willing to go down this same road. It is striking to see how much Darwinism was in the air of politics at the time.
 Wilson’s key 1912 campaign speech, “What is Progress?” espoused a Darwinian approach to American government:
Now, it came to me, as this interesting man talked, that the Constitution of the United States had been made under the dominion of the Newtonian Theory. You have only to read the papers of the The Federalist to see that fact written on every page. They speak of the “checks and balances” of the Constitution, and use to express their idea the simile of the organization of the universe, and particularly of the solar system — how by the attraction of gravitation the various parts are held in their orbits; and then they proceed to represent Congress, the Judiciary, and the President as a sort of imitation of the solar system. …
Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop. All that progressives ask or desire is permission — in an era when “development” “evolution,” is the scientific word — to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine. [emphasis added]
The new science of eugenics troubled Bryan, as did WWI. The high school textbook used by John Scopes was A Civic Biology by George William Hunter, in which he defined eugenics as “the science of improving the human race by better heredity.” Hunter wrote,
If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading … Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibility of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race.
The prior edition of Hunter’s textbook had contained language specifically citing biological deficiencies of African races.

Eugenics had many scientist adherents in the United States and England who believed that the human race could be made better via selective breeding to create a better and more progressive world. One of those scientists, A.E. Wiggam, expressed the connection between the teaching of evolution and eugenics:
“until we can convince the common man of the fact of evolution … I fear we cannot convince him of the profound ethical and religious significance of the thing we call eugenics.”


During the 1920s and 30s, the eugenics movement gained momentum. By 1935, more than 30 states had laws mandating sexual segregation and sterilization of persons regarded as eugenically unfit. The most notorious expression of support for eugenics came in 1927 from the leading Social Darwinist on the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who in his opinion for the Court upholding Oklahoma’s sterilization law wrote, “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” The only dissenting vote was cast by Pierce Butler, the lone Catholic on the Court.

Within a few years, WWII and the revulsion against Nazi law and experimentation would put an end to the eugenics movement (though a revival of eugenics under another name is conceivable with modern advances in biology and genetics). The heyday of both the eugenics movement and the rise of anti-evolutionary forces led to the Dayton trial in 1925. Bryan expressed his pithy view of the whole matter when commenting on the latest discovery of purported early human remains: “Men who would not cross the street to save a soul have traveled across the world in search of skeletons.”

The Trial and its Aftermath
The ACLU and Darrow differed on trial strategy. The ACLU wanted to approach it as a free speech case, but that was not Darrow’s interest. As a militant atheist who did not believe in free will, he wanted to use the trial as an opportunity to directly assault Christianity and its beliefs about the creation of the universe and the human race. This discomfited many ACLU supporters, but — through a complicated series
of maneuvers — Darrow seized control of the defense strategy and was cleverly able to lure Bryan to the stand, where he cross-examined him viciously on Biblical inconsistencies. (Darrow might have been a terrible person, but you’d want him defending you if you were on trial). This prompted a Congregational Church official who supported the legal challenge to send a note to the ACLU: 
“May I express the earnest opinion that not five percent of the ministers in this liberal denomination have any sympathy with Mr Darrow’s conduct of the case.”
Edwin Mims of Vanderbilt University, another supporter of the ACLU, wrote:
 “When Clarence Darrow is put forth as the champion of the forces of enlightenment to fight the battle for scientific knowledge, one feels almost persuaded to become a Fundamentalist.”
The jury quickly returned a verdict finding Scopes guilty. Bryan offered to pay the $100 fine, and the local school board offered to renew his contract for another year, but Scopes decided to go to graduate school, attending the University of Chicago and becoming a petroleum engineer.

Five days after the end of the trial, William Jennings Bryan passed away while taking his afternoon nap.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Iran Deal: Who's The JV Team?

We all remember President Obama's massive miscalculation when he flippantly dismissed ISIS in 2014 as "the JV (junior varsity) team".  Watch this video in which CNN's Wolf Blitzer of all people schools National Security Advisor Susan Rice on the Iran deal, specifically about the enhanced ability of the "Death to America, Death to Israel" mullahs to fund terrorist organizations with the unfreezing of up to $150 billion in financial assets.

As you evaluate the worth of the Iran deal keep in mind the President's other huge miscalculations in the Mideast apart from ISIS:
  • Announcing in 2012 that Iraq was now a stable, secure democracy.
  • Backing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in its failed attempt to create a radical regime.
  • Calling Yemen "a model for counterinsurgency" just before the collapse of the government we supported and the emergence of competing Al Qaeda and Iranian backed Shiite factions triggering Saudi participation in the conflict.
  • Carelessly and publicly drawing a "red line" regarding chemical weapons use by the Assad regime in Syria and then doing nothing when that line was crossed.  And let's not forget his statement from May of this year regarding the use of chlorine by the Syrian regime that "chlorine was not historically a chemical weapon" which would come as a surprise to the thousands who died from exposure to chlorine in World War One and its inclusion as a banned chemical weapon (perhaps he didn't take that course in college, instead electing to hear from Edward Said about how the West was at fault for everything in the Middle East).
  • Telling us in 2012 that Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist President of Turkey, was one of the five world leaders with whom he maintains a close personal relationship.  This is the same President who had already stated "democracy was like a bus ride, once he gets to his stop he will get off"; now backs ISIS against the Kurds and stokes rising anti-Semitism in his country where his party's TV channel recently broadcast a sequel to The Protocols of the Elder Zion.
And let's not even get started on the Israeli-Palestinian thing.

On the other hand, as Hillary Clinton so eloquently pointed out "at this point, what difference does it make?"

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Napoleon Asks For Asylum lautresaintehelene)

Two hundred years ago today on the morning of July 15, 1815 the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte boarded the HMS Bellerophon and surrendered himself to Captain Frederick Maitland announcing "I am come to throw myself on the protection of your Prince and your laws".  The Bellerophon was part of the British naval squadron blockading the French port of Rochefort on the Atlantic Coast.  Having participated in the three great French naval defeats of the Napoleonic Wars; The Glorious First of June (1794), The Battle of the Nile (1798) and Trafalgar (1805) the 74-gun Bellerophon, launched in 1786, was an appropriate site for the deposed emperor's surrender.
Half-length oval portrait engraving of a man in a gold buttoned coat and epaulettes, with tousled hair and sideburns.(Captain Maitland)

It was only twenty seven days since Napoleon's army had been shattered in the late afternoon and early evening at Waterloo.   On June 21 the Emperor had returned to Paris but finding the political situation hopeless he abdicated the next day in favor of his son, the three year old King of Rome and became a loosely held prisoner of the provisional government at his mansion Malmaison.  As the allied armies (British, Prussian, Austrian and Russian) neared Paris the Bourbon regime was reinstalled under King Louis XVIII and a formal armistice arranged with the provisional government on July 4.

In the meantime, Napoleon, fearing for his fate, requested the provisional government provide him with a frigate on which he could sail to America.  Unable to get this he decided to proceed to Rochefort, where he arrived on July 3,  hoping to find a ship to take him away from France.  His fears were well founded.  There is no doubt that Louis XVIII would order his summary execution if captured as would the Prussians and Austrians.
Oil painting of a three-masted sailing ship seen from side against a background of cliffs, with many small boats filled with people in the foreground.(Bellerophon)

Rochefort was blockaded and Napoleon realized he would not make it to the United States (and if he had made it there it would have precipitated quite a diplomatic crisis for the new nation).  Evaluating his options Napoleon convinced himself that surrendering to the British was his best option and thought they would agree to give him asylum and let him live in a country house in the English countryside!

On July 10, he sent two emissaries to the Bellerophon who met with Captain Maitland.  Maitland was noncommittal regarding England's response other than to assure the emissaries that if Napoleon surrendered he would not be turned over to Louis XVIII.  Based on this conversation, Napoleon decided to send a personal request for asylum to the Prince Regent (George III was having his last great fit of madness) which was delivered to Maitland on July 13:

Your Royal Highness

Exposed to the factions which distract my country, and to the enmity of the greatest powers of Europe, I have ended my political career, and I come, like Themistocles, to throw myself on the hospitality of the British people; I put myself under the protection of their laws, which I claim from Your Royal Highness, as the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies.

Rochefort, 13 July 1815
Maitland accepted the letter (which did not reach the Prince Regent until late July) and announced his willingness for Napoleon to board the ship which would then sail to England, though he would not commit to any specific actions beyond that.  Contributing to Napoleon's haste was news that on the night of July 14-15 a letter from Louis XVIII ordering the former emperor's arrest had reached authorities in Rochefort.
(Napoleon on the Bellerophon, sketched in 1815 while in Plymouth Harbor from Art and Architecture)

On July 24 Bellerophon anchored at Brixham on the Devon coast and Maitland received orders not to allow anyone to board the ship.  He soon received orders to proceed to Plymouth, the English navy's main based on the Channel.  Once again, no one was allowed aboard the ship and Napoleon was forbidden to disembark.  However, news of his presence quickly spread and crowds flocked to the harbor to catch a glimpse of their long-time foe.  Napoleon, ever the showman, would promenade on the deck each evening at 6pm waving to the crowds.
(Sightseerers view Napoleon in Plymouth Harbor from Art and Architecture)

A local Plymouth paper reported disapprovingly (as quoted in Art and Architecture):

"On Sunday, we regret to say, a large proportion of spectators, not only took off their hats, but cheered him; apparently with a view of soothing his fallen fortunes, and treating him with respect and consideration. His linen sent ashore to be washed, has been held in much esteem, that many individuals have temporarily put on his shirts, waistcoats and neckcloths. Blind infatuation! Our correspondent, who was alongside the Bellerophon on Sunday last, says that the sympathy in his favour was astonishing, that he heard no cheering, but that the hats of the men, and the handkerchiefs of the ladies, were waving in every direction".
The reception probably hastened the inevitable decision of the British government not to allow Napoleon to land in England.  The British knew that the prior attempt to corral Napoleon in exile within Europe on the island of Elba had been a miserable failure; their allies wanted Bonaparte far away if not executed (which remained their preference) and the government did not want him working his charm on the English populace.  Instead, the lonely island of St Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic was to be Napoleon's final home.

On August 7, Napoleon left Bellerophon, transferring at sea to HMS Northumberland to begin the long voyage south, reaching St Helena on October 15 where he was to die in 1821.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Marina Piccolo

On the isle of Capri.  19th century painting by Albert Bierstadt from this website.  The island is much more developed today.  The main town is located on the plateau to the right of the large mountain in the center of the picture.,%20Capri%20Albert%20Bierstadt.jpg

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Disco Demolition NIght

"Disco Demolition 2" Asks Fans to Torch Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus CDs(from gawker)
"The worst promotion in the history of baseball"
- White Sox broadcaster Jimmy Piersall

"Like Woodstock on 35th Street"
- Steve Dahl, DJ

"Center field was on fire"
- White Sox groundskeeper 
July 12, 1979.  Comiskey Park in Chicago.  Baseball, music, fire, chaos and explosions.  One of the most notorious nights in baseball history.

Disco seemed to be taking over popular music, a dismal period indeed for many of us.  The Chicago White Sox, under their eccentric marketing genius owner Bill Veeck, the man who installed the first exploding scoreboard in baseball, hired little person Eddie Gaedel (who walked in his only at bat) and along the way integrated the American League when he owned the Cleveland Indians in 1947, were also pretty dismal.  Severely under financed when he returned to baseball in 1975 by purchasing the White Sox, Veeck could not put a competitive team on the field and was constantly searching for new promotions to bring more fans in. Then came disco.

Disco became big on the music scene in 1977 and its reign extended into 1980.  THC could not stand it.  In Chicago, a 22 year old DJ, Steve Dahl, had been fired when his station converted to disco.   Hired as the morning music man at rock music station WLUP-FM, Dahl started a crusade against disco.  He went to Bill Veeck's son Mike with the idea for Disco Demolition Night and Mike got his father to agree with the expectation that an extra 5,000 fans might show up for the event which was planned to take place before the first and second games of a double header against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday night, July 12.

The plan was to offer 98 cent admission to any fan who brought a disco record with them to the park that night.  The records would be collected and then after the first game ended a large container with all the records would be brought onto the field and blown up with Dahl leading the crowd in a rally.  What could possibly go wrong?

To start with WLUP frenetically promoted the event.  And a lot of people really hated disco.

The double header on July 12 would be the 5th and 6th games on the home stand of the 5th place Sox who had a record of 40-46.  The prior four games had averaged 20,000 attendees and the Sox's four previous Thursday home games only averaged 8,000.  The official attendance on July 12 was 47,795 but everyone agrees the number exceeded 50,000 and possibly by a substantial amount.  In addition, thousands of fans were left outside in the streets unable to get into the park.

It was chaos from the start as it turned out many fans had extra records and started sailing them out onto the field narrowly missing several players during the first game, won by the Tigers.  Then it got worse.  Dahl fired up the crowd, the records were blown up and then, as crews began to clean up the debris, fans began to swarm onto the field.  For the next 35-40 minutes the fans controlled the field until the police showed up.  The field was wrecked, in part because of the bonfire built in center field and the umpires ordered the second game forfeited by the Sox to the Tigers.

You can watch the chaos and learn more about the story below.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Terminator Genisys: Old Not Obsolete

Terminator Genisys is the 5th Terminator film.  The first two, Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) both directed by James Cameron, are classics.  THC prefers the original but that's probably because he saw it first so it had the most impact since everything was unexpected.  Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) was not very good and THC did not bother to see Terminator Salvation (2009) which by most accounts was pretty bad but thought he'd give Genisys a try particularly since Arnold Schwarzenegger was returning after missing the last film.

THC's expectations were dampened a bit by seeing a couple of lukewarm reviews but he was pleasantly surprised.  While not achieving the heights of T1 or T2, Genisys is a very enjoyable movie and definitely superior to T3, plus you get to see Schwarzenegger's Terminator try to smile which is one of the scariest things you'll ever see.  Here's the trailer though THC suggests you not watch it if you are still planning to see the movie.

The film looked great apart from some clumsy CGI during a San Francisco chase scene late in the movie.  It's one of the best 3D films THC has seen; the imagery was seamless and never felt awkward or gimmicky.

With one exception the cast ranged from good to excellent.  Schwarzenegger's back in form doing a terrific job playing the T-800 at various ages and, as he says, he's "old, not obsolete" which is how THC likes to think of himself.  Sarah Connor's played by Emilia Clarke (from Game of Thrones) who looks somewhat like the original Sarah (Linda Hamilton) and does a good job., T1 (L), T2 (R)), Genisys)

Jason Clarke is appropriately creepy as John Connor, leader of the rebellion against the machines and JK Simmons wonderful as Detective O'Brien who first encountered the Terminator crew in the original 1984 film and meets up with them again in 2017.

The one dud among the lead actors is Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, Connor's right hand man who is sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor.   He doesn't have the charisma and presence to overcome his lack of acting chops leaving a hole in the center of the story.  Michael Biehn, who played Reese in T1 as well as Sigourney Weaver's love interest in Aliens, another Cameron film, was much better.

The plot is very convoluted; my head was hurting by the end of the film, though it was not as convoluted as the excellent Memento which would have caused my head to explode if it lasted five minutes longer.  It involves multiple intertwined alternative timelines which means it can take awhile in some scenes to get your bearings.  Think of the movie screenplay as a giant Mobius Strip that occasionally intersects with the timelines of T1 and T2.  THC sort of understood it as he was watching but if you ask him to explain it right now he can't.

THC looked for a plot diagram like those that can be found for the film Inception here and here but was unable to locate any.  The best he could do was to find this interview with the screenwriters.

Bottom line - if they make a 6th Terminator and Arnold comes back THC will go see it.

And, by the way, this Internet of Things business - let's think twice about it.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ten Years After: 1519-1529 (Part 1)

During a ten year period in the early 16th century six events occurred that greatly impacted the future  of Europe and the Americas.  THC was inspired to do this series after rereading Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico by Hugh Thomas. It seemed like a lot was happening during those years which prompted some research which resulted in these posts.  The point is not that these years were a special turning point; THC views history as a stream of interlinked events and looking back everything in history is "blow back" but rather that there were a lot of interesting events in these years that interacted together in sometimes unexpected ways.

November 8, 1519: Hernan Cortes enters Tenochtilan century Spanish drawing of the meeting between Moctezuma and Cortes.  The woman next to Cortes is Marina, a Mayan interpreter who played a pivotal role as the main conduit for negotiations and conversation between the Spanish and Mexica.  She later bore Cortes a son. From xenohistorian)

"Columbus sailed the ocean blue" in 1492, but for more than two decades the New World (once it was accepted that the lands were not Asia) was an afterthought for Spain.  Great riches had not been found and what precious metals that had been discovered were disappearing, along with the native population that worked for the conquerors.  The major Spanish (or more properly Castilian, the part of the newly united Spain from which most settlers came) presence was limited to the islands of Hispaniola (current day Dominican Republic & Haiti), Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica along with a small, struggling settlement on the mainland in Panama.

The governors of the Spanish islands were constantly on the look out for opportunities to seize new lands and find new wealth.  In 1517 and then again in 1518 the Governor of Cuba, Diego Valazquez, sent small expeditions to the mainland to explore the coast north of Panama, in part to see if there might be a passage to Asia.  The first expedition ran into disaster in the Yucatan with more than 50 Spaniards being killed.  The second expedition though found evidence that north of the Yucatan there was a culture of more sophistication and wealth than the Spanish had found on the Caribbean islands.

What they saw was the outlying districts of a culture based in central Mexico that was the most complex, prosperous and heavily populated area (between 8 and 10 million) of North America centered on the central valley that today houses Mexico City.  Only a century earlier a tribe that had emigrated from somewhere to the north and settled in the valley was able to seize control and begin a period of rapidly expansion, creating a tribute empire running from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific and south towards the modern southern border of Mexico.  The tribe were the Mexica, often less accurately referred to as the Aztecs.
(from mrgrayhistory)
Sending back word of their discovery, Governor Valazquez began putting together a large expedition to learn more about this country and find trading opportunities but without an authorization to establish settlements.  This was not, in Valazquez's view, an expedition of conquest.  To lead it, he named Hernan Cortes.  Cortes, born in Castille in 1484, emigrated to Hispaniola in 1506.  There he caught the eye of Valazquez, then an aide to the governor of the island.  In 1511 when Valazquez received permission to lead an expedition to conquer Cuba he named Cortes as an aide.  After the conquest Cortes received further promotions.

Cortes was a remarkable man.  He could be brutal but he was also a great leader capable of inspiring loyalty and elan among others.  He never appears to have lost his self-confidence, at least outwardly, even in the worst of moments and thus was able to keep men following him when they might have otherwise panicked.  Throughout his career Cortes also exhibited a good deal of subtlety in his approach, using indirect means when better suited, avoiding confrontations when unnecessary and able to psychologically dominate many of his opponents.

Hugh Thomas summed it up in his assessment:
The word which best expresses Cortes actions is 'audacity': it contains a hint of imagination, impertinence, a capacity to perform the unexpected  . . . Cortes was also decisive, flexible, and had few scruples.
All of which proved useful in Mexico.

Cortes organized the expedition with his usual energy and thoroughness and its scale exceeded Valazquez's expectations, consisting of eleven ships and 530 men (a substantial portion of the male Castilian population of Cuba).  All of which prompted second thoughts by his mentor who became worried that Cortes might exceed his orders and steal the glory of any new discovery for himself.  Although the Governor made half-hearted attempts to stop him, Cortes ignored them and left Santiago, Cuba in November 1518, arriving in the Yucatan in February 1519 and finally in the area near modern Veracruz, Mexico in April.

In his first week in Mexico Cortes observed two things. First, he received emissaries from the Mexico emperor, Moctezuma.  The emissaries alternately welcomed and threatened him but they also came with presents showing the astonishing wealth of the Mexica.  He also heard from several of the local tribes how much they felt oppressed by the Mexica.  With his characteristic decisiveness Cortes decided to seize the opportunity and march, with Indian allies, from the lowlands to the elevated Valley of Mexico and meet Moctezuma.  Before leaving the coast he established a formal settlement (Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz), in violation of his orders from Valazquez, asserted autonomy from the Governor and scuttled his ships sending a message to his men that the only outcomes for them were success or death.  Cortes kept asking the Mexica emissaries when he could visit Moctezuma but they kept putting him off, claiming the emperor was busy.

In the Mexica capital, Tenochtilan, the arrival of the strangers provoked much discussion and hesitation about what to do.  Moctezuma seems to have been a vacillating character, uncertain of himself and others.  While some of his counselors urged an attack on Cortes and warned of the danger he posed Moctezuma would not approve such action.

Having no response from the emperor, Cortes set off with his men in August 1519.  Their route took them through the land of the Tlaxcalans, a tribe unsubdued by the Mexica who were also hostile initially to Cortes.  After a series of battles in which the Spaniards defeated the Tlaxcalans, they decided to ally themselves with Cortes against their hated enemy the Mexica.

(Route of Cortes from Wikipedia)

On November 8, Cortes entered Tenochtitlan without opposition and with greetings from the Mexica nobles as well as the emperor.  The Castilians were astonished at the city and indeed the entire Valley of Mexico.  Tenochtilan had an estimated 200,000 and the only Christian European cities of the time which might have been as populous was Naples, a city only a couple of the conquistadors had seen.  The biggest city most of them had seen was Seville, which may have had 30,000 people.  But it was not just the size of the city.  Tenochtitlan was orderly, clean, filled with beautiful gardens, large buildings and pyramids and looked unlike any European city.  Set in the middle of a large lake it was connected to a network of smaller cities on the mainland by causeways.  and a network of smaller cities that were also clean and well organized.  The Mexica had also tamed the lake putting in dikes and creating artificial floating islands on which they grew crops.
(Lake of Mexico with Tenochtitlan in center) of Temple District of Tenochtitlan from caryndilioro)

The next six months were remarkable, though having read several accounts it is still unfathomable to THC how Cortes did it.  Immediately, Cortes seems to have personally cast some type of spell over Moctezuma who revealed the vast wealth of the Mexica and allowed Cortes to dominate he and his court; by all accounts Moctezuma seemed to genuinely like Cortes, who was studiously polite and engaging in return.  On November 14, Cortes effectively kidnapped Moctezuma and his entourage moving them from the royal palace to the luxurious accommodations Cortes had been given.  Moctezuma would issue orders to provide the Spanish with food, jewels and gold and his subjects complied.   For his part, Cortes considered Moctezuma still the rightful ruler of the Mexica and someone who had submitted to the greater jurisdiction of the King of Spain.  The Castilian had achieved a peaceful submission of a vast and wealthy state.

There were two areas of contention.  The first was the Castilians dislike of the Mexica gods and their efforts to get them to accept Christianity.  The second was their horror over human sacrifice, a practice they saw abundant evidence of; the Mexica having on occasion ritually slain thousands of captives and keeping and displaying the skulls.  The Spanish made efforts to curb both practices but under Cortes were relatively restrained.  Both the Spanish and the Mexica could be brutal and both were expansionist empires.  Mexico was not as idyllic as pictured in a Neil Young song though it is a great tune anyways; here's an amazing cover version you should listen to.

Although their was grumbling among some of the Mexica noblemen this state of affairs continued until startling news arrived in April 1520.

That month another conquistador, Panfilo de Narvaez, landed at Veracruz with 1300 men with orders from Governor Valazquez to find the renegade Cortes and hang him.  Cortes actually learned of Narvaez arrival from Moctezuma who learned it from the Mexica's excellent information network.  The Mexica saw this as a chance to regain control of their destiny and even Moctezuma became more assertive especially as he and Narvaez established direct communication.

What followed is another example of the personal strengths of Cortes.  He quickly decided to take a good portion of his much smaller force and march back to the coast leaving a small garrison under a trusted lieutenant, Pedro Alvorado, to maintain control in Tenochtitlan.

Returning to the coast with 400 men, Cortes began sending emissaries to seduce many of Narvaez's captain liberally using the gold he'd obtained from the Mexica.  When the two armies camped near each other, Cortes even entertained some of these captains and deployed his personal charm.  Many were receptive since they were more interested in acquiring wealth themselves than in a police action against a renegade conquistador doing much the same as they would in the same position.

Having weakened by subversion the position of the overconfident Narvaez, on May 28 Cortes launched a night assault on his camp.  With many of Narvaez's men defecting the fight was sharp and short with Cortes capturing the wounded Narvaez, who (no surprise) eventually became an admirer of Cortes.

Incorporating Narvaez's men into his force, Cortes returned to Tenochtitlan with 1,000 men.  But the city he returned to on June 24 was much different than the city he'd left two months earlier under the command of Alvorado and his two hundred men.  Alvorado had none of the subtlety of Cortes.  When Cortes left, the Mexica in the capital thought it was the last they would see of him.  Tensions grew in the city and Alvorado heard rumors of a plan for an uprising and massacre of his garrison.

On May 16, in the midst of an important Mexica festival celebration that attracted many of the leading nobles, Alvorado blocked the exits to the square and launched a slaughter, killing thousands, including senior lords of the Mexica.  This ignited a violent reaction from the Mexica who launched an attack on Alvorado and his men that might have succeeded but for Moctezuma, under threat from Alvorado, pleading for the attackers to stop.  They did, but from that moment on respect was gone for Moctezuma.  When Cortes arrived, Alvorado had been besieged within the city for a month.  Cortes made one last attempt to use Moctezuma to restore peace but the emperor was stoned and killed by his own people.  Cortes knew he had to leave the city or be trapped and die within it.  What must he have thoughts about the lost opportunity - a wealth kingdom that he had peaceably conquered now a potential deathtrap.

On the night of June 30 the Spaniards and their Indian allied attempted to escape.  In an event that became known as La Noche Triste (The Night of Sadness) several hundred Spaniards, thousands of Indian allies and most of their treasure was lost on the causeways.  Cortes narrowly escaped death and after a harrowing journey, in which his leadership keep his men together while under constant attack, they reached Tlaxcala, where the natives decided to keep their pact with the Castilians which is fortunate since by that time the 400 remaining conquistadors were all wounded and exhausted. Noche Triste from calstatela)

And now starts another remarkable chapter in the conquest.  Cortes and his men began gathering their strength.  The Tlaxcalans and other Indian allies began to congregate and hundreds of more Spanish conquistadors from the Caribbean arrived, attracted by the tales of the wealth found by Cortes.

In the meantime it turned out the something else had arrived with the Narvaez expedition.

April 1520:  Smallpox arrives on the American mainland.

Early 1519 saw the first large-scale outbreak of smallpox in the New World.  Reaching Hispaniola via ship from Spain it quickly exploded on an island where the natives had no resistance to the disease.  By the end of the year they were almost all dead.  In November it reached Cuba where the native population collapsed.  By the time, Narvaez left on his expedition the following February some of the men with him carried the infection.  They stopped briefly in the Yucatan touching off an epidemic that killed the royal family.  In Veracruz, the tribal allies on the coast were affected and decimated.

And then, in September, smallpox reached the Valley of Mexico where it raged into November causing a massive number of deaths including that of the Mexica emperor who succeeded Moctezuma.  The harvest in the valley was ruined because maize was not collected because of a shortage of hands.  The nobility was largely destroyed.  Cortes position became enhanced because the natives saw the Spaniards were mostly immune to the disease. As positions became open among the nobility in allied towns and even some under the nominal rule of the Mexica, who were much weakened by the epidemic, Cortes was asked to name the successors further strenghtening his hold over those not directly ruled by the Mexica.

It is impossible to know the complete toll but surviving writings of the Mexica refer to the devastation the epidemic caused. 
(Spanish & Mexica combat from History of Tlaxcala; source Wikipedia)

At the end of 1520, Cortes with his rejuvenated conquistadors along with tens of thousands of Indian allies re-entered the Valley of Mexico, seizing the shore towns of the Mexica allies, laying siege to Tenochtitlan and then, in mid-June beginning a direct assault across the causeways to the city.  Desperate to preserve the city and its wealth, Cortes tried several times to negotiate with the Mexica but all attempts were refused.  With a decimated leadership and population, starving and surrounded by their Spanish and Indian enemies the Mexica fought bravery and incredible determination against overwhelming odds and it was not until August 13, 1521 that it was all over leaving Cortes in possession of a ruined city. Cuauhtemoc surrenders to Cortes from brittanica)

In the aftermath, many of the surviving Mexica nobility intermarried with the Castilians, many of whom were rewarded with large landholdings and laborers tied to that land.  Some of the Mexica, such as one of Moctezuma's daughters became a very large landholder in her own right and many of the other surviving children of the rulers in the Valley of Mexico did well with one branch becoming the Counts of Moctezuma and surviving for many generations in Spain.  But for most of the populace it was trading one master for another along with the disruption of their cultures and traditions.

Cortes named his son with his Mayan interpreter Marina, Martin in honor of his father.  Marina later married one of the conquistadors.  Martin, along with the other bastard children of Cortes, was legitimised by Pope Clement VII.  After many years in Mexico, Cortes returned to Spain in the 1540s dying there in 1547.  Martin Cortes inherited part of his large estate.

What was the significance of all this?

From a demographic perspective it was devastating for the inhabitants of Mexico.  The initial smallpox epidemic was followed by measles and other diseases to which the natives had no resistance.  The first census of Mexico was conducted in the 1560s, almost half a century after the conquest, and counted 2.6 million inhabitants.  The scholarship around the population of Mexico pre-conquest is still hotly argued and widely varying estimates but most are within the range of 8-10 million so we see a 75% reduction over those first few decades.  These, and other epidemics, fatally weakened the ability of the Indians of the Western Hemisphere, including the Incas of Peru who were ravaged by the disease prior to Pizarro's arrival, to resist European conquerors and settlers.  As one example, further north disease brought by English and French fishermen to the coasts of New England at the beginning of the 17th century may have killed up to 90% of the local population leaving much open land and few natives when the Pilgrims and then Puritans landed a couple of decades later.

At first Cortes attempted to rebuild Tenochtitlan but eventually the lake on which it stood was drained and Mexico City rose atop the lake bed and ruined city, the result a city particularly susceptible to earthquakes because of its unsteady footing on the filled lake.  The Spanish also began importing African slaves, some of whom may have been part of the original conquest, further changing the demographic landscape [the first large importation of African slaves into the Americas falls just outside this ten year time frame but will be touched on in Part 3 of this series].

The wealth and sophistication of Mexico was eye opening for the Castilians.  The amounts were  staggering.  In twelve years, from 1509 through 1521, the conqueror and ruler of Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon, was able to extract 22,000 pesos from the island.  In his first three months in Tenochtilan, Cortes assembled a personal fortune worth officially 160,000 pesos and unofficially perhaps as much as 700,000 pesos.

But what that wealth inspired was even more important for the long term than the actual value of the conquest of the Mexica.  The tales of wealth and the glory of Cortes conquest attracted even more adventurers from Spain to the New World.  Most immediately further conquests followed to the south in the Yucatan and Central America and conquistadors constantly searched for another Mexico.  A decade later began an expedition led by Francisco Pizarro, a distant relative of Cortes, that would bring treasure in an amount dwarfing that of Mexico - the conquest of the Inca Empire and most importantly of all, the discovery during the 1540s of the Silver Mountain in Potosi in what is now Bolivia.  In the later part of the 16th century, Potosi (elevation 13,420 feet) was the largest city in the Western Hemisphere with over 100,000 inhabitants.  Its silver flowed across the Atlantic to fill the coffers of the Spanish Hapsburgs as they engaged in war across Europe, funding the Armada against England in 1588, triggering massive inflation across the continent and ultimately leading to the decline of an overextended Spain. silver mountain from indianau)

The conquest of Mexico also made New Spain a center for global trade.  On September 20, 1519 as Cortes was entering Tlaxcala, Ferdinand Magellan set forth from Spain with five ships in an attempt to sail around the world.  In April 1521 as Cortes was fighting his way back to Tenochtitlan, Magellan was killed in an encounter with natives in the Philippines.  Finally on September 6, 1522 one ship with eighteen starving and ragged crewman (of an original 237) staggered into a Spanish harbor.

Subsequent Spanish voyagers discovered trade routes from the Pacific Coast of Mexico to Manila in the Philippines and from there opened up trade with China in which annually ships with silver from America would sail to Manila and be exchanged for silk, porcelain and other valuable Chinese goods.  After offloading at Acapulco, the Chinese goods would be transshipped to the Gulf coast and then sent on to Spain and the rest of Europe.

Along with goods, the route also became used by people leading Charles C Mann, in his book 1493, to call the Mexico City of the late 16th century and 17th century the first true global city.  Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asians ended up in Mexico and Mann claims the first Chinatown in the Americas was in Mexico City, centered around an Asian marketplace built upon atop the old city center of Tenochtitlan.  Samurai protected the trade caravans as they moved from Acapulco to Mexico City.  The ceramics industry started in Puebla, Mexico and probably employed immigrant Chinese workers who brought their designs along with them.

The standard 17th century text on China for Europeans, published in editions in many languages, was a History of the Most Notable Things, Rituals and Customs of the Great Kingdom of China composed by Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza, a Dominican in Mexico City and a 17th century traveler described an Ester Parade in the city:
"a company of soldiers . . . on horseback, and was preceded by mournful horn-players.  When the procession came to the royal palace, the Chinese and the [Franciscans] fought to be at the head of the line; they beat each other over the shoulders with clubs, and with their Crosses; and many were wounded."
We'll close with these words from 1493:
. . . Mexico City's multitude of poorly defined ethnic groups from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas made it the world's first truly global city . . . it was the place where East met West under an African and Indian gaze.  Its inhabitants were ashamed of the genetic mix even as they were proud of their cosmopolitan culture, perhaps none more so than the poet Bernard de Balbuena, whose Grandeza Mexicana is a two hundred page love letter to his adopted home. "In thee," he wrote addressing Mexico City,

Spain is joined with China
Italy with Japan, and finally
an entire world in trade and order.
In thee, enjoy the best of the treasures
of the West; in thee, the cream
of all luster created in the East.

Coming Soon - Part 2 in which Martin & Anne cause havoc in Europe.