Archive for November, 2010

The first snow of the year has arrived.  It’s not accumulating at all, but I can see the flurries fall as the evening matures.  Our winter has started off much milder than last year’s version, but it’s just started, so there’s a long way to go.

I wanted to briefly mention the Philadelphia Convention this evening.  No, not that Convention, as we’ve discussed it quite a bit this year (and will visit it several more times in the future).  The convention I want to discuss is the one that took place after that one.

As you might recall from previous readings, the Pennsylvania legislature was meeting upstairs during the final weeks of the Constitutional Convention.  And while the discussions downstairs were held in secret, there is little doubt that a bundle of rumor, a boatload of speculation, and maybe even a fact or two made its way to the second floor of Independence Hall.

And the close proximity of the two gathering bodies meant that the Pennsylvania legislature would see the finished product first once ratification was complete.  Indeed, just two days after business was completed, the Pennsylvania Packet published as its only news item the entire Constitution, printed in four pages.  And the state legislature got its first exposure a day earlier, as Thomas Mifflin (a Convention delegate) took to the floor and read the Constitution aloud.

To say eyebrows were raised would be to grossly understate the reaction…and with good reason.  Pennsylvania’s own Constitution was altogether different, calling for a one-chamber legislature, elections every year, and a President chosen by the legislative body.  And since 1776, the system had been in place.  And since July of 1787, rumor had been swirling that drastic changes were coming.  In the eyes of many statesmen, Mifflin’s reading confirmed the worst.

The call by supporters of the “new” Constitution for a ratification convention was met with shock and dismay by supporters of the “old”.  For weeks, the arguments back and forth continued, both in the newspapers and in the courts of public opinion.  James Wilson, another the delegates and one of the unsung (and unknown) heroes of the Convention, worked tirelessly in support of innovation (there’s that word again), but met with heavy opposition.  Congress (the big one created under the Articles of Confederation) called for state conventions just eight days after the Constitutional Convention ended, giving rise to fears that things were simply moving too quickly.

It took a couple of weeks for the vote to take place, and the tactics used by each side were both alarming and somewhat comical (and have a place on next year’s schedule), but it finally passed…Pennsylvania’s legislature would meet to determine the new Constitution’s fate in their state.  And on November 30, 1787, the Philadelphia legislature gathered for its convention.  And while the body would meet for five weeks, it would require less than two of them to render a verdict on the Constitution.

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I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving holiday…I know we did.  There was too much food, all of it good.  There was no Black Friday shopping, which was awesome!!  Well actually, there was a bit of shopping on Friday and Saturday, but Friday’s was in the early afternoon, well after all the diehards were pretty much done and back home in bed.

So let’s see, what do we have for today?…Well, it’s my wife’s birthday, so “Happy Birthday!!” to her.  I’m not sure she knows it, but her presents are all ready to go, so we’ll keep that a secret.

Let me check the official Today’s History Lesson spreadsheet…

Here we go…

The Tripartite Pact was an economic, military, and political alliance that was originally set up between three countries (hence the “Tri” in Tripartite).  Germany, Italy, and Japan were the original signers in September of 1940, but the Pact wasn’t strictly limited to them.

As 1941 approached, the Russians were approached about joining the Pact.  It’s a bit unusual, given the natural opposition that Hitler’s National Socialism felt for Russia’s Communism.  But Adolf Hitler’s designs on Russia were not strictly military in scope.  Russia’s tremendous natural resources had as big a target on them as did her military forces.  And if they could be taken peaceably, so much the better.

So Vyacheslav Molotov was invited to Berlin in mid-November and given the Tripartite Pact sales pitch.  And there was some hope that Molotov would listen.  The Russians and Germans had already done business on the Polish issue a couple of years before.  And Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia were all within days of joining the Tripartite Pact.

But those hopes proved fleeting, as the meetings did more to highlight Russo-Germans disagreements than they did to create common ground.  Molotov left Berlin having refused Germany’s “peaceful” overtures, and from the German perspective, the die was cast.  Or maybe “the die was confirmed” is a better phrase, since regardless of the outcome, Hitler had decided years before that Russian soil would be invaded at some point.

On November 29, 1940, the German High Command offered up a proposal for the invasion of the Soviet Union.  The draft included three massive Army Groups, setting off along an 1,800-mile front.  Army Group North would make for Leningrad.  Army Group Centre would have the capital of Moscow as its goal.  And Army Group South was tasked with the capture of Kiev, to be followed with a push to Stalingrad via Kharkov.

Within three weeks, the draft would be polished, planned, and finalized as Directive No. 18…Operation Barbarossa.

If Hitler couldn’t get what he wanted the easy way, he would get what he wanted by any means possible…

Recommended Reading:  WorldWar-2.net – One of the best World War II timelines available anywhere.  A wee bit clunky to navigate, but loaded with information.

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As I type this morning, folks in New York City are preparing for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  And if it’s anything like previous spectacles, there will be floats and bands, convertibles with people waving to the crowds, and probably a celebrity or two.  It’s a big deal.  But Macy’s hasn’t been around forever.  Neither has Thanksgiving, for that matter.  And if you had been in New York City 227 years ago, it would have looked nothing like it will this morning on TV.

But there was a parade…of sorts.

The end of the American Revolution and American victory meant that the remaining British soldiers needed to get out of town.  And New York was one of the last major towns where pro-British sentiments were strong.  But things were changing.  As spring warmed to summer in 1783, those who considered themselves loyal to the British Crown began leaving.  Government personnel, businessmen, and families all headed to Canada or back across the Atlantic.  The loss of businesses was particularly hurtful, as lots of money and jobs were removed from New York’s economy.  By the thousands they pulled up stakes and left.

And what’s more, since the British military had taken control in 1776, New York had been under martial law and had been left in a terrible state of disrepair.  Much of the damage done by the fire in September of that year had never been cleaned up.  Fences and trees had been chopped up for firewood.  The skeletal remains of homes and businesses testified to a much better past, while the cattle roaming the streets and piles of garbage were the reality of the present.  Looking at the harbor, one visitor (probably holding his nose) said, “Noisome vapors arise from the mud left in the docks and slips at low water, and unwholesome smells are occasioned by such a number of people being crowded together in so small a compass, almost like herrings in a barrel, most of them very dirty and not a small number sick of some disease.”  It had become a shantytown.

But on November 25, 1783, there was a parade…a military parade.  Evacuation Day it was called.  The day the last of the British soldiers left town, and new ownership arrived.  The incoming group was led by General Henry Knox, whose first act was to raise the American flag on a brand new flag pole (British soldiers had taken down their flag and greased the pole on their way out).  He was followed by General Washington and Governor George Clinton and their guard.

The remaining citizens of New York were ecstatic.  Seven long years under the thumb of the British was more than long enough, and the day was one of celebration.  And now, the last British outpost was under the flag of freedom.  America was truly independent.  Ron Chernow summarizes by writing, “America had been purged of the last vestiges of British rule.  It had been a long and grueling experience – the eight years of fighting counted as the country’s longest conflict until Vietnam – and the cost had been exceedingly steep in blood and treasure.”  Indeed, it has been estimated that upwards of 25,000 soldiers had been killed in the Revolution.  This amounted to about 1% of the nation’s population, a ratio only surpassed by the Civil War.

Macy’s or no, a parade was most appropriate.

Have a wonderful, and safe, Thanksgiving.

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“The mistakes of the father are often visited upon the son.”

“The apple doesn’t far very far from the tree.”

“Like father, like son.”

These are phrases that you and I have probably said hundreds of times.  We watch children grow up and, whether they belong to us or not, we often notice that the path they follow in some ways resembles that of their parents.  And sometimes that’s good.  Some parents work really hard to set an excellent example for their children, and the kids pick up that example and run with it.  Of course, sometimes the opposite is true, and we watch a cycle of anguish and heartache begin to form.  And then we’ll shake our heads, turn back toward our front door, and mutter one of those phrases under our breath.

But sometimes the time-space continuum gets all contorted.  What was “up” becomes “down” and things start to get all wobbly.  When that happens, it’s the behavior of the children that ends up manifesting itself in the parents.  Yikes!!

Parents are supposed to be experienced…mature…capable of clear, sound thinking and good judgement.  Usually…

Well, time and space conspired to create just such a flip-flop in the Hamilton family.  Alexander Hamilton’s family.  Philip Hamilton was oldest of the children and he had every indication of following in his father’s footsteps.  He was intelligent, good looking, and a bit of a rake (in a youthful way).  He was a fine orator and writer.  The future was promising for young Philip, so much so that his father called him the “eldest and brightest hope” for the family.

But like his father, Philip had a strong sense of honor and, even in his youth, would protect that honor at all costs.  July 4, 1801 was a day of celebration.  The country was a quarter century old, and there was celebration and pomp throughout the country.  There was merriment and feasting.  And, of course, there was speech-making.  In New York, the people gathered for the reading of the Declaration of Independence.  When it was finished, George Eacker got up and addressed the crowd.  This young lawyer was a strong supporter of the Republican movement and President Jefferson.  And as we know, Jefferson was no friend of Alexander Hamilton.

Eacker praised Jefferson for saving the Constitution and the Republic from the likes of Hamilton, blaming Hamilton for the XYZ Affair and, once again, accusing Hamilton of favoring a return to monarchy.  Of course, the speech was published in the newspaper.  And Philip Hamilton read the papers.

Fast-forward to November when, by chance, young Hamilton ran into George Eacker at the Park Theater.  The encounter was heated, with strong words and loud voices that created a disturbance for others trying to watch a play.  Eacker muttered that Philip (and the man with him) were “rascals”.  Today, the word “rascal” means very little.  Maybe we think of Alfalfa or Buckwheat in black and white, but that’s about it.  In 1800, however, the word was loaded.  Calling someone a rascal was the codeword to a duel…and that’s exactly what happened.

Two days later, on November 22, Philip Hamilton and George Eacker exchanged gunfire.  Hamilton had already determined to let Eacker pull first before wasting his own shot in the air.  Unfortunately, Eacker did not throw his shot, which ripped through the former Treasury Secretary’s oldest son and dropped him to the ground.  Taken immediately to the doctor, Philip was soon joined by his father and mother, who was pregnant with their eighth child.

At 5:00am on November 23, 1801, Philip Hamilton died from his injuries, leaving grief-stricken parents, brothers, and sisters.  Eliza’s baby, born in June of the following year, would be named Philip in honor of the lost son.

And in a striking coincidence, the father did not learn from the mistake of the son.  As we well know, Alexander Hamilton would meet his end in exactly the same fashion:  a duel in which he had decided to spare his opponent…one Aaron Burr.

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I’ll keep it brief this evening…hopefully…

More than a year ago, we discussed the publication of the first of the Federalist Papers.  This collection of essays, which comprise what is quite likely the single greatest defense of any government charter anywhere in the world, was penned by three hands under one pseudonym.  Publius, the author in the papers, was actually the 3-headed brain of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

In the weeks following the Philadelphia Convention, James Madison (like Hamilton) looked around and saw newspapers churning out anti-Constitutional articles one after another.  Some of Madison’s comrades, from his very own state of Virginia, were pushing hard against ratification.  Men like George Mason and Patrick Henry, good men to be sure, saw the Constitution not as a natural fix to the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, but as a direct threat to the freedom of every American.

Opposition had really begun in New York, when Yates and Lansing left the Convention in Philadelphia early and returned home.  By the time October rolled into November, Madison found that many northern newspapers were filled “with vehement and violent calumniations of the proposed Government.”

Plans for a pro-government response had begun even before the Convention had adjourned in September, and Hamilton and Madison (as well as others) were besieged with requests to publish a readable defense of the Constitution.  And as we know, young Hamilton got the ball rolling, and would work in prolific manner to keep it rolling, publishing 51 of the 85 essays.  But the only-slightly-older Madison contributed as well, completing 29 essays…

…including the famous Number 10, Madison’s first, which was published in New York’s Daily Advertiser on November 22, 1787.  In his biography of the “Father of the Constitution”, Ralph Ketcham summarizes this most important of writings, in which Madison defended the concept of a “large republic”.  “Madison asked his readers to consider the likely result of extending the representative principle to a large territory.  He granted that this would result in great diversity of interests in the government, but then pointed out what other theorists had overlooked:  in a system which fairly represented the people, this would preserve freedom rather than threaten it, because no one interest would be able to control the government;  each interest – economic, religious, sectional, or whatever – would be a natural check on the domineering tendencies of others.  Thus Madison made a virtue of human diversity and neutralized the selfishness of mankind.”

There is some sense of irony in Madison’s masterful defense.  As a member of the Virginia delegation, he had argued strongly against equal representation in the Senate, only giving in to the Great Compromise when it was readily apparent that the Convention could go no further without it.  He had left Philadelphia (as had Hamilton and many other Constitutional “supporters”) with reservations about the final product.  But as we know, giving a greater voice to the minority helps offset one of the weaknesses of a pure democracy:  the tyranny of the majority.  And clearly Madison understood that danger, and Number 10 addresses it directly.

In one fell swoop, Madison turned the anti-Federalist argument of loss of freedom on its head.  A large republic, rather than restricting freedoms, was the most suitable protector of freedom.

We read The Federalist Papers now and are impressed with their thoroughness and scope.  But we overlook the fact that these three men rarely had time for editing and word-smithing.  Madison reported that the time crunch was such that the documents barely had time to be reread by the author himself, to say nothing of passing them between the men.


UPDATE:  Martin and Marcia over at What Would the Founders Think? have dissected Madison’s #10 in far more detail than my format allows.  It’s definitely worth a read.

Recommended Reading: James Madison

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In his book A Shattered Peace, David Andelman writes that President Woodrow Wilson went to Paris “with the intention of bringing a new era of moral responsibility to the management of international affairs and an end to global conflict…”  But unfortunately, many of the allied partners who met him there came with very different objectives, and it wasn’t long before the President “found himself mired in a swamp of intra-European intrigue and colonial profiteering.”  Wilson himself offered up his own frustrated summary of six months of Parisian negotiations: “The world will say that the Great Powers first parceled out the helpless parts of the world, and then formed the League of Nations.  The crude fact will be that each of these parts of the world had been assigned to one of the Great Powers.”

It’s no small thing to note that when Wilson arrived in Paris in January of 1919, he was in some sense entering enemy territory.  The President came with a very different agenda than the other victorious Allies.  What Wilson wanted was a lasting peace.  What the others wanted was retribution…retribution they believed they deserved.  France had been the main battle-front for much of the war.  Large sections were a moonscape of shattered trees, mud-filled slit trenches, one-walled homes, bomb craters, and shell casings.  An entire generation of Frenchmen, 1.5 million in total, had fallen on the dust of that landscape, never to rise again.  The French economy was in shambles.  The French wanted payback.

But in addition, the Great Powers came to the negotiating table with land holdings scattered all over the world – holdings they steadfastly refused to give up.  And what’s more, with Germany’s defeat, here was a chance to acquire more territory without the shedding of additional blood.

So the Treaty that was signed differed vastly from Wilson’s vision.  And then he had to return home to sell ratification and entrance into the League of Nations.  Again, he stepped onto hostile ground.  Opposition was led by Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.  An extremely intelligent man with a Harvard PhD on his wall, he viewed the President’s Fourteen Points as somewhat whimsical, mostly idealistic, and all-together out of touch with reality.  And the League of Nations was one of those entangling alliances that would simply eat away at American sovereignty.

In reality, Lodge may have been someone that could have really helped Wilson in Paris.  His strong personality, coupled with his keen knowledge, may have given Wilson more power at the table.  But the long-standing rivalry between the two men meant Lodge didn’t get an invitation.  And with elections but a year away and these two men in opposing parties, here was grist for the upcoming campaigns.

President Wilson did his best to push for ratification, embarking on a wide-ranging speaking tour.  But even that worked against him.  In late September, he collapsed while speaking in Colorado and a week later suffered a massive stroke which left him largely incapacitated and confined to bed.  So there was little he could do or say as the Senate, controlled by Lodge’s Republican party, rejected the Treaty of Versailles on November 19, 1919.

Henry Cabot Lodge may have saved the U.S. from ratifying a bad treaty (maybe the only peace treaty the U.S. has rejected).  He may have also kept the country he loved so dearly from joining a weak League (he would say, “I have loved but one flag and I can not share that devotion and give affection to the mongrel banner invented for a league.”).  But without the power of the United States behind it, the League of Nations was totally doomed to failure.

Recommended Reading: A Shattered Peace – Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today

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This “every third day” thing is getting to be something of a rut.  It’s not a goal to do that, but it’s the way things have gone for a bit here.  But I’ve got a couple things that might interest you history buffs on today’s list, so we’ll see if I can get both in.  First for this morning…

Today’s History Lesson has made no secret of the fact that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was a most capable tactician, one of Germany’s finest.  And rightly so…history has pretty well established it.  It’s no surprise that he was revered by the German people.  He had his detractors in the circle that was the German military, but most military authorities knew he was a gifted leader.  And it’s no shock that Allied leaders, all the way up the chain, respected both his conduct of war and his conduct in war.  He was tough but chivalrous…a brutal opponent on the battlefield and one who detested brutality when the battle was done.

But of course, in war, the opponent you respect the most is the guy on which you place the biggest target.

A year ago, we talked about Operation Crusader.  This British-led offensive had as its goal the relief of Tobruk.  Located in Libya (just west of the Egyptian border), it had been under siege by Rommel’s forces since April of 1941.  It was hoped that General Claude Auckinleck’s forces would come in and break the siege…just before Rommel could strike (what he thought would be) the victory blow.

So, if you’re going to attack Rommel’s forces, wouldn’t it be great if the head guy could be taken out of the picture?  The British thought so, and launched Operation Flipper.  It sounds all nice like that friendly dolphin that was on TV years ago with Annette Funicello or Gidget or whoever, but don’t kid yourself.  Operation Flipper had as its main objective the death or capture of Erwin Rommel.

The mission began on the evening of November 14th.  A pair of British subs arrived to drop off the assualt team, but  horrible weather conditions and strong surf meant that only about half of them made it to shore, the others remaining on-ship.  The target was Beda Littoria, roughly 20 miles from the drop-zone and more than 100 miles further west of Torbruk.  It was there that Rommel was reportedly headquartered and had a villa.  Over the next couple days, the commandos, led by Lt. Col. Geoffrey Keyes, made their way to Beda Littoria, fighting rains, cold, and lots of mud.  And if things were bad leading up to the raid, they only got worse when the bullets started flying.

The raid began just before midnight on November 17, 1941.  Keyes was shot and killed almost immediately, and things just went downhill.  Rommel wasn’t in the villa, and he wasn’t in the HQ.  In fact, he wasn’t anywhere on the African continent.  He was in Rome, and not due back until the following day.  The British had missed their opportunity by 24 hours.

It gets worse.  The surviving commandos were forced to make their way back to the beach.  When they arrived, the weather was still so bad that they couldn’t get to the subs.  And then they were discovered by the enemy and forced to scatter.  In the end, only 2 men reached safety of the 37 that made it to shore on the 14th.  The rest were killed or captured.

Operation Flipper was a major Flopper.

And Field Marshal Rommel, even as the main target, responded with the class and dignity many of his German peers sorely lacked.  He ordered that Lt. Col. Keyes be buried in a Catholic cemetery…with full military honors.

Recommended Reading:  The Story of the No. 11 Commandos – All of their exploits, with a detailed look at Operation Flipper.

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College football fans in Iowa are disappointed tonight.  Iowa State, still with a chance to make it to a bowl, played in Colorado yesterday against the winless Buffaloes…and were soundly trounced.  In addition, the Cyclones appear to have lost their starting quarterback for the final game.  Even if they do win the next game, an invitation to “post-season” play looks pretty suspect.  Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern (again!), which pretty much put paid to any shot at a conference title and placed their chances at a major bowl bid in jeopardy.  Losses at this time of the year are painful.

So whatever team you support, in whatever sport you like, if you’re disappointed this evening, I offer up a bit of perspective…

At 7:35pm tonight, the Memorial Fountain at Marshall University was shut off and will not be restarted until next year.  In and of itself, this really isn’t news.  It’s been happening every year since 1972, when the fountain was installed.  But the stopping of the fountain marks one of the most tragic stories in collegiate sports history.

At 7:35pm on November 14, 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed a mile short of the Tri-State Airport’s runway in Huntington, West Virginia.  The weather for flying was difficult, with rain and fog obscuring visibility, but the crew was experienced for these conditions.  There was no catastrophic failure, no structural issues, and no ice on the wings.  Later reports would speculate that moisture buildup in the plane’s altimiter could have caused it to give faulty readings to the pilot.  But it could have been as simple as weather conditions which caused the pilot to come in just a bit too low, clipping the trees on a small hill, rolling the plane and driving it into the ground.

All airplane crashes are particularly tragic.  While we are constantly reminded that air travel is the safest method of transportation, crashes still happen.  And when they do, there are usually very few (if any) survivors.  A lot of death and destruction is concentrated into a very small area.  A lot of loved ones are lost in one flaming moment.  A lot of lives are changed in an instant.

On this particular night, Flight 932 was a chartered flight.  The McDonnell-Douglas DC-9 was carrying 4 crew members and 71 passengers, all of whom were somehow involved with the Marshall football team, returning home from a loss to East Carolina.  It was a rarity for the team to charter a flight, as “away” games were generally close enough for a bus trip.  In fact, the charter was originally going to be cancelled, but plans changed.  Onboard were a couple dozen boosters, eight members of the coaching staff, and thirty-seven Thundering Herd players.  The crash left no survivors.

So when the sun rose that Sunday morning, Marshall University had lost far more than a football game, or a chance at a title.  It had lost most of its coaching staff and more than half its team.  A bunch of college kids had lost roommates and friends, faculty members had lost co-workers, parents had lost sons and daughters, and children had lost parents.

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Those of you that don’t live in the midwest United States can’t really relate to the phrase, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it’ll change.”  Many people from other parts of the country hear us say that and figure we’re just full of beans.  “The weather couldn’t possibly change in just a minute’s time”, they respond.  “When you say ‘a minute’, you mean it changes quickly, but not in a 60-second timeframe…right?”

No, we mean the weather sometimes changes in a matter of a 60-second minute.

Here in Iowa, we’re particularly vulnerable to this going into, and coming out of, the winter season.  We’ll occasionally see a day or two of moderate weather while off to the north, a strong ridge of high-pressure is setting up, its clockwise rotation pulling super-chilled air out of northern Canada.  Then it comes sweeping down out of the Rockies and overnight, and the temperatures plummet.  But still, that’s not really the whole “60-second” thing.

In recent memory, March 2, 2008 was one a day of drastic temperature change.  At noon, it was 60°F.  Shortly after nightfall, it was below 0.  That’s pretty sharp.  In the middle of December of that year, it did the same thing again.  And when that front came through, the wind direction changed, and the temperatures immediately began falling.  It was noticeably colder in just a minute or two.  Back in early 1888, the Children’s Blizzard struck much of the Midwest in true “60-second” fashion, catching thousands of people off guard and killing more than 500.

On November 11, 1911 (11/11/11 if that matters to you), the Great Blue Norther came ripping through.  Unseasonably warm temperatures were the order of the day as southerly air flows pulled warm, moist air far north.  Many cities set record highs that day, with the mercury above 70°F in numerous places.

And then that ridge of Arctic air came ripping through, bringing winds that blew a gale and dropping temperatures like a stone.  More than one town or city that recorded a record high had, within 8 hours, recorded a record low as temperatures fell more than 60 degrees.  The warm weather that produced severe weather and tornadoes one day was replaced by bitter winter conditions and blizzards the next.  That’s a pretty awful experience.

It’s dramatic to be sure, and it’s never pleasant, but that’s just the way weather on the plains sometimes is.

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In July of 1944, Count Claus von Stauffenberg came within an eyelash of assassinating German dictator Adolf Hitler.  His briefcase bomb was planted under the table around which Hitler and some of his military leaders were gathered, and it detonated just as planned.  But Hitler’s position at the table meant he was shielded from much of the blast.  Hitler was given another 9 months of life.  Stauffenberg?…another 9 hours or so before a firing squad ended his.

But of course, the plotters behind Stauffenberg weren’t the only ones who wanted the hated head of state gone.  Since 1921 (when Hitler’s ascendancy had barely begun), there had been plots and plans against him.  Some had stayed just plans.  Others had progressed further.  A handful were actually attempted.  And as we know, the attempt on July 20, 1944 gets the most face time because, of all the attempts, it came the closest to actually succeeding.  It also had the biggest fallout.

But other attempts nearly succeeded as well.  On November 8, 1939, Johann Georg Elser’s shot at Hitler came within minutes of success.  This young man was dismayed by the increasing influence the Nazi Party was having in daily life.  The restrictions placed on workers and businesses, the aggressive discrimination against Jewish people and others, and just the overall brutishness of the Party’s minions convinced Elser that the Nazi party was peopled largely by thugs.  He also believed that if they were capable of this kind of violence, it would take little more to drive the nation into a war with catastrophic results.

He decided to take matters into his own hands.

Hitler returned to Munich each November to commemorate the Beer Hall Putsch.  And each November Hitler gave a speech in the basement of the beer hall (the Bürgerbräukeller).  Elser’s plan was to plant a bomb in a pillar behind the rostrum where Hitler would be speaking.  For a month leading up to the celebration, Elser managed to sneak into the building and remained hidden until it closed.  He would then come out and work on hollowing out the pillar.  As the time for Hitler’s big speech neared, Elser planted the bomb in the pillar and set its timer for 9:20pm, when the Fuhrer would normally be at full rant.

But weather conditions would lay waste to all of Elser’s daring.  Hitler wanted to head straight back to Berlin that evening.  Normally he flew, but heavy fog caused him to take the train, which is much slower than an airplane.  He wrapped up his speech early and left promptly at 9:07pm.  At 9:20pm, Elser’s bomb went off exactly as planned, making a wreck of the place and causing eight deaths and dozens of injuries.  But the primary target had left the building.

Elser was arrested later that evening as he tried to cross the border into Switzerland, and pictures of the Beer Hall were found on his person.  He immediately fell under suspicion and eventually confessed to the Gestapo.  Elser was sent to prison and very nearly survived the war.  But with the Allies bearing down on Germany in 1945, the Nazis began tying up loose ends.  One of those loose ends was Johann Georg Elser, who was shot in early April.

Recommended Reading: Valkyrie: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler – Though this focuses mostly on the Stauffenberg plot, Elser’s story gets some discussion time as well.

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1943 had not been very kind to Hitler’s military.  His army, navy, and air force had, in the space of 11 months, suffered a series of crushing defeats.  In the east, Stalingrad had been lost in dramatic fashion early on.  Then the German armies were forced to call it quits in North Africa in May.  Then there was the expensive battles around Kursk coupled with Allied landings in Sicily and then Italy.  All in all, pretty bad.

And as the year drew to a close, a new threat was emerging…the Allied second front.  The Allies were desperately trying to keep any operations a secret, and the Germans badly wanted to know.  But most everyone guessed that this invasion would be opened on the northwest coast of France.

There is little doubt that the far-flung battles fought over Russia’s vast expanses had been the clear focus of Hitler for a couple of years, but with the turning of the tide in ’43, eyes began to turn elsewhere.  Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt had been pushing for more attention to be given to the western theater, where increased Allied activity was seen as a prelude to bigger operations.  He didn’t feel that current manpower and equipment levels were adequate to check a concerted effort by the enemy.

His report, submitted in late October, reached the Fuhrer’s hands.  Less than a week later, von Rundstedt got his response.  On November 3, Hitler issued Directive No. 51, which largely backed his Field Marshal’s assessments and recognized the need for an increased western presence.

In his book The Atlantic Wall, Alan Wilt records that Adolf Hitler recognized that some ground could be given in the east without sacrificing the Third Reich’s chances for survival.  He then recounts Hitler’s words concerning the west.  “Not so the West!  Here, if the enemy succeeds in breaching our defenses along a wide front, consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time.  All signs point to an offensive against the western front of Europe, at the latest in the spring, perhaps even earlier.  For that reason, I can no longer justify the further weakening of the West in favor of other theaters…”

And to emphasize the importance of Directive No. 51, the Fuhrer took another important step.  On this day in history (November 5, 1943), Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was ordered to begin inspecting “the defensive readiness of the German-occupied coasts.”

As we know, Rommel was one of Germany’s most capable field commanders.  Having gained fame (and the respect of his adversaries) in the deserts of North Africa, he had spent much of the first half of 1943 fighting illness.  But having convalesced, his service to his country was renewed.  And all up and down the coasts, from Denmark to Brittany, Rommel would inspect and call for improved defenses.

And in the succeeding months, he would work to build up the Atlantic Wall (a series of coastal fortifications) to greater strength, hoping to stop an expected Allied invasion.

Recommended Reading:  The Atlantic Wall – Written by a military history professor of mine…I really enjoyed the class.  And his book’s pretty good, too.

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For George Boone III, business wasn’t very good.  It had been decent, but times in early 18th century England were changing.  Demand for woolen products was decreasing.  Boone, a weaver, still had work in the village of Bradninch, but it wasn’t nearly as easy now.  Modern technologies, like a cheaper and lighter wool cloth, were causing demand for his materials to drop.  Hard times and unemployment were making purchasers more scarce.  Times were tough.  And George Boone III had mouths to feed…many mouths.

George and his wife Mary had 10 children and, even in the 1700s, they required shoes, clothes, and plenty of provender.  England was becoming a more difficult place to make ends meet, so Boone’s thoughts turned to emmigration…and America.  In 1713, three of George’s older children traveled to Pennsylvania.  George IV (23), Sarah (21), and Squire (17) made the arduous trip across the Atlantic, as much to seek opportunities for their father and the rest of the family as they did for themselves.

By 1717, the entire family had arrived in The New World, living briefly in the Quaker community of North Wales before settling in Oley.  It was here that Squire Boone became a trustee of the Oley Monthly Meeting, and where he would marry Sarah Morgan.  Robert Morgan writes, “The Boones were leaders of their community.  …George IV and his wife, Deborah, deeded land for the Quaker burial ground.  George III was a justice of the peace.  Several Boones served as delegates to the quarterly and annual meetings of the Friends.  They provided care to the sick or struggling.”  The Boones were good people.

Squire was a weaver like his father, but he also farmed, raised cattle, ran a gristmill, and was a blacksmith.  And like his father, he and wife Sarah Boone would have numerous children.  But it was Squire’s sixth child that is most familiar to us.  Daniel was born on November 2, 1734 (October 22 if you don’t account for the Gregorian Calendar).  Morgan continues, “From the very beginning the family sensed that Daniel was different from the other children.  Lively, apparently tireless, curious, when very young he helped out in the family trades of blacksmithing, milling, and farming.  But family lore has it that from the very first Daniel like to roam in the woods. … He was born to be an outdoorsman and hunter…”.

And as we know, young Daniel would grow up to become one of the most famous frontiersmen in American history.  Lauded as a hunter, outdoorsman, and explorer, the stories (and legends) of his life have served to make him one of America’s earliest folk heroes.  He’s been the subject of conversation before, and he will be again.

Recommended Reading:  Boone

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