Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book Review: Stubby the War Dog

Stubby the War Dog: the True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog, by: Ann Bausum, National Geographic Kids, Washington, D.C., 2014.
This is a very interesting story of a man and his canine friend.  Stubby adopted R. Robert Conroy while he was dong basic training as a volunteer for the Army in WWI.  They were training at the athletic grounds at Yale University.  Stubby began to hand around the army trainees, particularly the kitchen staff, hoping for a bone or something to eat.  He was a mutt, but mostly of Boston Terrier extraction.  He befriended Conroy and they became best friends.  The dog trained along with the men.  He actually could sit on his haunches and salute, and he march and present right or left with the men.
However eventually, the army moved out headed to the war.  The left Stubby behind, but Stubby would have none of it and followed the men.  He hopped aboard the rail car on his own, and no one stopped him.  However to take him aboard the ship headed to Europe would be breaking rules.  Conroy hatched a plan to have a sympathetic crew member sneak him aboard.  The plan was successful, and after they were well on their way the brought him out of hiding and no one seem to mind.  The commanding officer spotted the animal, but Stubby won him over with a salute.
Thus Stubby became a war dog.  War is not safe.  Conroy had to fit an air mask for him.  On one occasion Stubby was wounded by shrapnel, and was evacuated as the wounded men.  Stubby of course healed form his wound.
Stubby performed many jobs, including being the mascot for his unit.  He would lie by the men as the slept, he helped the medics locate wounded, and at times would stay by a wounded man until the medics arrived, or until the man passed away, giving them some comfort in their final moments.  At times he and Conroy would help with delivering messages. 
Stubby had a knack for being able to distinguish Germans from Americans.  He is credited with capturing a German officer, who was perhaps a spy.  He took an Iron Cross from this officer which Conroy placed on his jacket over his rear end.  Stubby had a special jacket, which eventually included many medals and honors.  I don’t think any dog from the war was as decorated. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Documentary Review: Cropsey: The Truth is Terrifying

Cropsey: The Truth is Terrifying, A film form Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman, Vicious Circle Films, 2009.
Staten Island is portrayed in this documentary as a place where historically, all the trash from New York ends.  This includes physical as well as human trash.  In its time there were many state institutions on Staten Island, including mentally ill hospitals as well as hospital for the profoundly developmentally delayed.  At one point this lead to investigation of the conditions in the hospital and a big scandal.
 There is a long tradition of Cropsey, a local bogey man legend.  It is said Cropsey is a former mental patient who preys on the unsuspecting when they wander into the woods. 
Then the movie goes into telling the story of Andre Rand.  Rand is a former employer at one of these hospitals that was closed.  He is also a convicted child kidnapper and murderer.  He has been convicted in the disappearance of two children on Staten Island.  He is suspected in the disappearance of many more children.  These children are generally those who are easy victims, developmentally delayed or challenged in some other way. 
Rand has never divulged the location of any of his victims.  One of them was found.  Because of the lack of evidence, there are still many lost children from Staten Island.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865

Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865, by: James Oakes, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2013. 
This is a fascinating book about the progression towards the liberation of the slaves.  The basic story we have is that Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after the Union achieved a victory of sorts at  Antietam, and then the slaves were free.  Lincoln went on to get the thirteenth amendment through congress, which was eventually accepted by the states.  Some of the former Confederate States accepted it as it was now the law of the land, or less than full hardy, but in the end, slavery was no more. 
However, the truth is that the emancipation of the slaves was a gradual process. Without the secession of the Southern States, it probably would have taken much longer, but the war gave the government, and Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party a reason to emancipate the slaves.  First, slaves escaped to the Union lines, and eventual the policy became, the army would not return slaves would could be conscripted to help the Southern cause, but would be employed to help the North.  Also of immediate import was the ending of the Fugitive Slave Act with regards to those states that had seceded.  The agreement was no longer binding with those states who were no longer under the Constitution. 
The policy as such lead to people to self emancipate, but running to the army, or by running to free states.  When the Union invaded Louisiana, this again lead to slaves running to Union lines. 
Federal policy progressed slowly.  Next is was slaves from seceded states who were no longer returned, rather than just those whose masters fought for the rebel cause or used the slaves for the rebel cause.  The emancipation proclamation was President Lincoln taking advantage of the powers given him by the war powers Act which basically asked for a proclamation. 
The Emancipation Proclamation did two things, emancipated those slaves in Union controlled territory from seceded states.  It also allowed for former slaves to fight for the army, which had not been done to this point, January 1, 1835. over 180,000 would fight for the Union.  At the end of the war the accounted for 20 percent of the soldiers in arms.
However, this proclamation wasn’t enough.  Slaves in border states still loyal to the Union were not freed.  It was hoped these states would abolish slavery on their own, but this was not happening and when it did happen, the process was slow.  Louisiana and West Virginia were progressing to abolish slavery, and other states were coming along like Missouri; however Kentucky and Delaware were having none of it. 
A broader approach was needed.  This was found in an amendment to the Constitution—which was rare to this point in time.  In fact, the first attempt failed in the congress.  However, after the election, but before the new congressmen came into office (the election had been a Republican success and passage was assured after the new congress was sworn in.)  However they wanted passage as soon as possible, and before the end of the war, which may change people’s ideas about the need for the amendment. 
The Democratic argument against emancipation was two-fold, the government should not interfere with property rights; property in men in this case.  The second was the racist argument, the freed slaves were inferior and would be a burden upon themselves and other people without masters to care for them.  On the other hand, the Republicans argued that there was no such thing as property in people, or shouldn’t be.  They also argued that free people would find a way to contribute to society. 
For everyone’s benefit, the Republicans prevailed and Freedom was the law, all across the land.  At this time, equal rights should have been the next step.  However, after Lincoln was killed, this step was not taken, and our nation still wallowed in racial segregation and lack of voting and other basic rights for many years.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review: Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War

Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War: How the North Used the Telegraph, railroads, Surveillance Balloons, Iron-Clads, High-Powered Weapons and More to Win the Civil War, by Thomas B. Allen and Roger MacBride Allen, National Geographic, Washington, D.C., 2009.
This book is more than just a talk of the weapons used in the war, although it does provide some of that information.  It is also a description of some of the action in the war.  For example, it has a very good description of the first armored naval battle, between the Monitor and the Merrimack or CSS Virginia.  The Virginia had her day against the Union wooden fleet the first day, but because she had a heavy draw, low-tide was her enemy and she had to withdraw.  The Captain and crew expected to return the next day and finish a job on the wood ships, after sinking one and damaging a couple more the previous day.  However, a new ship, a raft with a barrel on top, met them the next day, in defense of the wooden vessels.   This was the Monitor, with the first turreted gun in history.  The battle proved a draw, with both sides trying to ram the others, and causing some damage to the iron sheeting.  However, again the Virginia had to withdraw because of the tide, and nothing was resolved; except the Union fleet was now safe.  Neither of these vessels was very sea worthy, and their predecessors would be better vessels.  They did usher in a new age of sea warfare. 
Other chapters of interest; balloon reconnaissance should have been more successful than it was.  However, McClellan always but more faith in his detectives than the information from the balloons, and they soon fell out of favor. 
Advances in rifles gave the union a big advantage.  Breech loading weapons could shoot more rapidly with the same accuracy.  Rifling made traditional warfare obsolete, as generals discovered early in the war, with excessive casualties. 
Other technology includes advances in canon, use of rail and telegraph. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Celebrating Halloween

Celebrating Halloween by: Wendy Mass, Enslow Publishers Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, 2006.
This is a very complete book about the history of Halloween, in fact it may be a little too complete.  It does bring in a lot of different celebrations, similar to Halloween and making memorial of the deceased into the discussion.  It also talks about the period of vandalism which accompanied Halloween before Halloween turned more to a party and trick or treating like today.   Many different celebration have come to mark Halloween, including Druid influence, Roman influence, Catholic and Church of England influences.  The story of Jack who was abandoned between heaven and hell, the story of Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up parliament, the significance of bonfires and pumpkins.  This book talks about the part mischief making played, as well as the part of costumes.  This started as an attempt to make yourself look like a spirit so the spirits wouldn’t bother you.  It has also been influenced by masquerades, and more recently people have costumes of their favorite character.