I finally got my grubby mitts on Jeff Shaara’s new book, To Wake The Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor and it has been such a pleasure to read.
This novel covers the roughly 12 months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, or simply known as Pearl Harbor in the American lexicon. Because we’re taught in school that Japan bombed Hawaii, bringing the US into World War 2, but what is omitted is the year leading up to it which was full of silly and amateurish mistakes on the part of the different agencies and departments in both Washington, D.C. and Hawaii. Japan caught us with our pants down because we were so laughably unprepared. If you read this book, you’ll come to appreciate exactly how underprepared we were.
Of all of Shaara’s books I have read (which are only a few), I can easily rank this as the best one. It’s one of those books where you wish you could repeatedly experience it reading it for the first time.
Greetings, Dear Reader(s)! I hope you’re all surviving and thriving during this quarantine lockdown thing. It’s certainly a strange time we find ourselves in.
On the positive side, one thing I’ve enjoyed about this sudden existential upheaval is the amount of content suddenly available online.
Some organizations have made that shift more successfully than others. One of my personal favorite groups is the American Battlefield Trust. Since their target audience is nationwide, they already had a robust online presence for their different levels of donors, but I’ve been quite impressed by the additional content they suddenly have available. Nearly every day is a new short video or virtual roundtable spanning just about any conceivable topic, from George Washington’s presidency to an NFL style draft of Civil War commanders to The Best History Books.
I know who, like, three of these people are.
There was one segment recently, called Zoom Goes the History, featuring an interview with noted author Jeff Shaara. Jeff’s father Michael was the award-winning author of Killer Angels, on which the Gettysburg movie was based. From my limited knowledge, it seems like the movie was at the forefront of a resurgence in interest in the Civil War, spanning at least the 1990’s into the 2000’s. Or maybe that was just the trajectory of my own personal experience with the Civil War.
Well, Dear Reader(s), things are certainly interesting now. I hope you’re all keeping journals of this time. One day, they’ll become first-account sources used by scholars that haven’t been born yet. Have you always wanted to make history? Now is your chance!
What have I been doing during quarantine? For me, it’s been an opportunity to catch up on different projects, maybe work through that stack of library books that aren’t collecting late fees right now (yay!), and trying to avail myself of all the culture that is suddenly online and accessible to all. Artists, JSTOR, even the Metropolitan Opera are putting their content online, free of charge. (Last week, I did sixteen hours of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle from the Met in four days … oofdah.) Historic entities like Mount Vernon and The Battlefield Trust are putting their tours and workshops online. If you can, I highly encourage making a schedule of enrichment and not feeling guilty for any of it. Times like these are unprecedented – yes, for all the scary, unknown, how-am-I-going-to-pay-rent ways, but also for the amount of cultural content suddenly available to folks who normally can’t pay for anything. Like me.
This post is my Lockdown Link Dump, with cultural links and random history things I thought was interesting. Grab a drink and peruse to your heart’s content.
Today, February 19, is called the Day of Remembrance in Japanese American communities and remembers the day that FDR signed E)9066, authorizing the WW2 camps.
They Called Us the Enemy is George Takei’s first person account of the Japanese Incarceration camps during World War II and you ought to drop everything and find yourself a copy right now.
Not only is it a wonderfully illustrated autobiography of a pop culture icon (“Oh myyyy“), it’s a moving narrative that captures both the emotion and the history surrounding the camps. The book presents everything in a very accessible and entertaining format. It makes some interesting and uncomfortable parallels between then and today, but only when those parallels are present. That is, I didn’t find it preachy or trying to force any correlations which may not be present, for which I am grateful.
Recently Winterthur, the estate outside of Wilmington, DE that belonged once to the duPont family, had an exhibit featuring many of the costumes worn by key characters in the Netflix series The Crown.
The golden cape is embroidered with floral representations of all the Commonwealth nations, like the thistle for Scotland and the shamrock for (Northern) Ireland.
You know how many of my adventures begin at the library, Dear Reader(s)? Here’s another one. On the shelf of New Arrivals, there was a book with a very colorful cover that caught my eye, and then I saw it was dedicated to traditional and endangered crafts. Without a second thought, the book came home with me.
- Almost Lost Arts: Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive, by Emily Freidenrich
I find the title of this book, Almost Lost Arts, to be quite sad. Once these arts are completely gone, we’ll have lost the culture, the history, and the stories behind them that enrich the world in ways that cannot be defined. A theme that I noticed throughout was the wide set of skills employed by each artisan that really aren’t taught in schools any more. They can take basic knowledge and stretch the meaning of its definition and applications, and it’s these skills that are passed down through centuries of skilled craftsfolk.
More than anything, this book repeatedly shows ways in which these artisans mix trade skills and artistry to bring unquantifiable value to their local communities and we are left to wonder what will be lost when these skills disappear.
Every year on Christmas Day, there’s a big reenactment at Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, of, well, the original Washington’s Crossing. At this event, a General Washington impersonator speaks words of encouragement to the troops and gives orders to the different officers present. Then a lot of reenactors pile into boats and row across the Delaware River to New Jersey. The especially dedicated reenactors then march the nine miles to Trenton through the night to arrive at the Old Barracks in the morning. (The purpose of the march, I suspect, is for bragging rights.)
Several weeks before the Christmas event is a dress rehearsal of sorts, where many reenactors pile into boats and row across the river, with speeches and huzzahs upon safe arrival. Of note are fewer participant numbers and no march of death to Trenton.
I’m always out of town over Christmas Day, and the dress rehearsal has been cancelled the past couple of years because of poor river conditions. But this year of our Lord 2019 was my year to witness history as Washington crossed the Delaware again. Practice makes perfect, I guess.
The troops, lined up and ready.
There’s a museum in Philadelphia dedicated to weird and strange old timey medical mysteries and oddities, and it’s called the Mütter Museum. It’s usually on a list of must-see attractions for visitors and if you have the time, you should definitely check it out. As long as you’re not squeamish.
For the Mütter is not just any museum. It is also home to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, one of the oldest medical organizations in the country, and claims to be America’s finest collection of medical history. From the website:
The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia began as a donation from American surgeon Thomas Dent Mütter, MD (1811-1859), who was determined to improve and reform medical education. Dr. Mütter stipulated that by accepting his donation of 1,700 objects and $30,000, the College must hire a curator, maintain and expand the collection, fund annual lectures, and erect a fireproof building to house the collection.
I am not throwing away my shot // I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country // I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot
-Hamilton, “My Shot”
I SAW HAMILTON
The show was in Philadelphia from August to November 17. On the spur of the moment, late on the 16th, I randomly looked up ticket prices. On the last show of the last day, there was a *single* seat left in the entire theater, and it would cost less than half a paycheck to purchase. I got the last seat in Philadelphia, yo. So I didn’t throw away my shot and I seized the chance to rise up and be in the room where it happened.