Review of Lost Hero of Cape Cod

The Lost Hero of Cape Cod by Vincent Miles revolves around the life of Asa Eldridge and, to a lesser extent, his bothers John and Oliver. The story takes place in that magic period when the age of sail is ending and the age of steam is beginning. The book is written in a narrative style is that really easy to read and understand. Yes, it includes dates, just as any historical book would contain, but the dates often come with relevant back stories that make them seem a lot easier to remember (or at least more interesting to learn about).

Unlike a lot of non-fiction books on history, this one is packed with all sorts of interesting graphics. You do find lots of pictures of ships, which goes without saying. However, the author thoughtfully includes all sorts of other graphics, such as newspaper clippings, pictures of the various characters, pictures of towns,  and even a series of log entries. The result is one of seeing as well as hearing the history the history that took place.

This is a book of fact, not trumped up fiction adorning itself as fact. The list of notes, bibliography, and illustration credits attest to the author’s diligence in learning as much as is possible about events at the time. Even so, the author makes it clear when the sources used are a bit dubious or incomplete. The facts, however, aren’t dry—they’re quite interesting. For example, I had never realized that anyone in their right mind would try shipping ice to India, yet it happened and this book tells you all about it. The manner in which the facts are presented provide a certain intrigue and excitement. You can actually feel the various groups vying for supremacy of the Atlantic and sneering at those who fail.

Most of the material revolves around the Atlantic and focuses on the established route between New York or Boston and Liverpool. However, you’re also treated to the round the world tour made by Cornelius Vanderbilt and his family (captained by Asa Eldridge, no less). Lost Hero of Cape Cod makes ample use of relatively long quotes to let the characters tell you what happened in their own words. Unfortunately, the quoted sections use a slightly smaller and lighter type that can make them a bit harder to read. Even so, you’ll want to read each quote because they’re all important.

About the only complaint that one could make about this outstanding book is that the author tends toward some repetition, especially near the end of the book. Part of the reason for repetition is that the book is topical, rather than chronological in nature. The repetition is easy to forgive, however, because the book is otherwise expertly written.

I’ve purposely left out some important facts that the book presents because I truly don’t want to ruin your reading experience. Let’s just say that Asa Eldridge is far more important as a historical character than you might initially think, yet he’s all but forgotten from the history books. Vincent Miles wants to overcome that oversight with this detailed account of Asa’s life that you’ll find completely immersive. If, like me, you like nautical history, then you really must get this book.

 

Proclaiming Thanksgiving!

This is Thanksgiving Week. As such it seems appropriate to restate the facts that surround Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is celebrated in only 3 countries around the world: The United States, Canada and The Philippines.

The original Europeans who came to America were searching for religious freedom from an oppressive government, not freedom from religion itself. Those hardy folks came over in small boats carrying very few resources with them. They survived because they were able to depend on God, adapt to a new environment, and create a self-sufficient society.

America was founded on this ideal and the willingness to adapt, learn and create are still very evident in our modern times.

In 1789 George Washington signed the following proclamation to establish the holiday of Thanksgiving in America.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789. Signed by George Washington.

No matter where in the world we live, it is important to remember and learn from history.

If you have comments, I would love to hear from you. Please leave the comments here or email John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Bletchley Park Reborn and a Social Issue Revisited

You may not have ever heard about Bletchley Park. In fact, the place was one of the best kept secrets of World War II (WWII) until just recently. Of course, like many secret places, this one fell into disuse after the war and nearly ended up in the scrap heap, but a restoration effort has been under way for quite some time now. As a computer scientist, the entire Bletchley Park project interests me because it was the first time that many computer principles were put into play. The project relied on cutting edge technology to reduce the length of the war and saved thousands of lives. A lot of other people must feel as I do because the park recently had its 100,000 visitor.

This particular historical place is receiving a lot of notice as of late. For example, there is a PBS television show called The Bletchley Circle that talks about what happened to some of the ladies who worked there after the war. The show makes good viewing and the feelings and situations presented are realistic to a point. I doubt very much that any of the people who actually worked there ended up as amateur sleuths, but it’s fun to think about anyway. The show does have the full cooperation of the restoration group and is even filmed there.

The computer systems used at Bletchley Park were immense and even the lowliest smartphone today probably has more processing power. However, WWII was the first war where computer systems played a major role and reading about their history gives insight into the directions that the technology may take in the future. The most important factor for me has been that the group working at Bletchley Park was made up of the finest minds available, regardless of gender, sex orientation, religion, age, or any other factor you can imagine. The only thing that mattered was whether you had a good mind. It’s how things should be today, could be today, but aren’t. It’s not hard to imagine the impact on the problem of global warming if we had such a group now.

All good things must apparently come to an end. At the end of the war, the group that performed so many amazing tasks was broken up, rather than being retained to work on other problems, such as reconstruction. The sheer waste of not keeping these minds working together on other problems staggers me, but it has happened more than a few times throughout history, and all over the world. No country in the world is exempt from such terrible waste. The women in the group ended up going home to be housewives and pretend that nothing ever happened. It’s the reason that The Bletchley Circle strikes such a chord with me. The show presents a kind of “what if” scenario.

If the world is to survive, it’s important that we think about the incredible waste of not using all the resources at hand for solving problems (and there are more than a few problems to solve). If this group serves as nothing else, it’s a reminder of how a few extremely talented people were able to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem. They should serve as an example today for all those who think the world’s problems can’t be solved—they resonate as a beacon of hope. Let me know your thoughts about Bletchley Park and The Bletchley Circle at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Today is a special day—it’s the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that caused the United States to enter World War II (WWII). The attack began at just before 8:00 am Hawaiian time. The Japanese aircraft did everything they could to destroy our fleet. They almost succeeded. I say almost because the most important ships, the aircraft carriers, happened to be somewhere else that day. The Japanese also somehow managed to miss the dry docks that would be used to repair many of the ships they damaged, along with oil depots, repair shops, and submarine pens.  We lost 2,341 Navy, Marine, and Army personnel that day, along with 49 civilians. The destruction of ships, aircraft, buildings, and other war materials was equally impressive. As terrible as this day was though, the loss would be just the tip of a much larger mountain of people who would be killed during WWII. You’ve probably heard all of this before. If not, you’ll likely hear it today.

One of the more interesting facts about the start of WWII is that Japan was actually an American ally during WWI. I’ve always found this interesting because the start of the tragedy that was WWII was sown during the completion of WWI. You can’t really understand how WWII started without first studying WWI. For example, most people don’t realize that there was outright discrimination against the Japanese in the League of Nations. America was one of the countries that voted against the Japanese proposed “racial equality clause” that would have reduced discrimination against Japan on the world stage. Of course, none of this excuses the Japanese attack and I’m not trying to defend them in any wayI’m simply interested in trying to figure out what series of events eventually caused the outbreak of WWII. The causes are not nearly so one sided as many would have you believe and the results, terrible as they were, were not simply the delusional efforts of madmen that came to power in these countries. We all have a seat at the table of conspirators for that warone that could have been avoided.

Causes aside, reading the stories of the veterans of Pearl Harbor tells a fuller story. These men had no political ambitions and most of them weren’t even aware of the Japanese grievances. Remember, America was xenophobic at the timewe didn’t concern ourselves in the affairs of other countries. They were there to do a joba really hard job. Having been in the Navy myself for ten years, I can attest to the difficult conditions, long work hours, and excessively low pay anyone in the service has to live with. The world is an imperfect place and it’ll always be imperfect because it’s staffed by equally imperfect humans. If Japan truly had a gripe against America, it should have resolved these grievances in the right way. Instead, Japan killed thousands of service personnel who weren’t even able to arm themselves in time. The attack was a complete surprise.

I’ve stood at the Arizona Memorial several times when my ship visited Hawaii and tried to imagine the terrible conflagration that broke out on that day. It would have been incomprehensible. I’ve read the first hand reports of burn victims whose skin simply peeled off when touched. Yet, our service personnel distinguished themselves by trying to defend our country against the Japanese attack. It boggles the mind. I’d like to think I would have had the inner strength to join in and do my duty during such an event. Thankfully, I was never tested in quite that way.

A recent article in The American Legion magazine talks of that day and the ways in which we have remembered it. Unfortunately, most Americans won’t have an opportunity to see the Arizona Memorial or fully understand the horrifying nature of that event. Still, as the actors in that war continue to pass on and fade from memory, we must never forget that day or we’ll be doomed to relive it. Americans owe part of their freedom today to the blood shed on that day. If we’re to honor those combatants and their ultimate sacrifice, we must consider today the ramifications of the events surrounding that war. Remembering the causes, the effects, and the loss of innocent lives is the best way to honor our war dead.