Saturday, August 20, 2005

History of Pitcairn Island

History of Pitcairn Island. This is a history of Pitcairn Island in the Pacific Ocean. It is best known as destination of the mutineers of the HMS Bounty in the 18th Century.

Wikipedia notes, "The Pitcairn Islands are a group of five islands, of which only Pitcairn Island - the largest - is inhabited, in the southern Pacific Ocean, the only remaining British colony in the Pacific. The islands are best known for being the home of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and the Tahitians who accompanied them, an event retold in numerous books and films. This history is still apparent in the surnames of many of the islanders. With only about 50 inhabitants (from 9 families), Pitcairn is also famed for being the least populated country in the world (although it is not a sovereign nation)."

Pictairn Island has been in the news a lot lately as a large portion of the men on the island have been accused of sex crimes. A few have been convicted and others are awaiting trial. With such a small population to begin with, this has created hardships for both the social structure of the island community and for the local economy.

From the site:

Stone axes, remains of carved stone pillars similar to those of Easter Island, and skeletons with a pearl-mussel beneath the head have been found in the island, though it was uninhabited when discovered by Philip Carteret in 1767. Pitcairn was the name of the midshipman who first observed it.

The island was destined to become the scene of a curious social experiment. On the 28th of April 1789 a mutiny broke out on board the ship the Bounty, then employed by the British government in conveying young bread-fruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies. The commander Lieutenant William Bligh, was set adrift in the launch with part of the crew, but managed to make his way to Timor in the Malay Archipelago. The twenty-five mutineers at first all returned to Tahiti. Some remained, and six of these were ultimately court-martialled in England, three being executed in 1792. Meanwhile in 1790 a party consisting of Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny, eight Englishmen, six Polynesian men and twelve Polynesian women had taken possession of Pitcairn Island and burned the Bounty.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Alexander the Great History Project

Alexander the Great History Project - Site provides information about Alexander the Great, his life, his family, his conquests, and his battles, including links to various Alexander the Great sites and resources on the Web.

I was prompted to look for information on Alexander the Great after seeing the recent Oliver Stone film on Alexander. It was not to my liking. It was dry, slow moving, and ultimately boring. I really like historical movies that focus on generals so I was surprised not to like this one.

From the site:

This site was developed for our 1997 Wisconsin State History Day project. The theme was "Triumph or Tragedy." We thought that Alexander the Great was a great example of triumph since he conquered most of the known world at the time. Once we started studying him, we found a lot of tragedy too. His parents spent most of his life at war with each other, his father the king was assassinated (some said at his mother's bidding), he killed some of his best friends in drunken rages and he died at the peak of his power while still a young man. We have learned a lot about this man who had so much triumph and tragedy in his life, and we hope you enjoy sharing our discoveries on this site.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


GENERATION KILL: DEVIL DOGS, ICEMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE NEW FACE OF AMERICAN WAR. This is a review by Michael Lorenzen of the book by Evan Wright. The author of the review has given me permission to reproduce it here. Thanks!


My favorite war book of all time is Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. It is not a surprise then for me to discover that I really liked Generation Kill by Evan Wright. Both books tell the story of a military unit engaged in a large scale offensive. Ambrose wrote his book after interviewing members of Easy Company. However, Wright tells his story from a first-person perspective as he was an embedded reporter with the Marines of the First Recon unit.

The book begins before the start of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It then covers the progress of the war for the first month from the perspective of the First Recon Unit which led the vanguard of allied forces in Iraq. Its mission was to drive into small towns and draw fire to reveal enemy positions. As such, the small group (reporter included) repeatedly and deliberately drove into ambushes. The unit was successful and took surprisingly light causalities. It was one of the first units to enter Baghdad.

In the progress of the war, we learn a lot about the men. This includes information on their past lives, their annoying personal habits, and how they each deal with killing people including in many cases innocent civilians who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is powerful writing and it is easy to envision being amongst this group of hungry, foul-mouthed young men who are suffering from a lack of sleep, battle fatigue, and a lack of cleanliness.

The title of this book reflects the author’s belief that this generation of American soldiers is perhaps more predisposed to combat due to the violent popular culture they grew up in with violent video games, movies, television programs, and music. Further, Wright also thinks that the large number of single parent homes and neglectful adults has also made this group more homicidal. Fortunately, he does not push this idea much other than to justify the title. I think this would be hard to argue. For example, how can we say the current generation of soldiers is more violence prone than American soldiers in the early nineteenth century who grew up in a country were dueling was legal and common, slaves were kept in brutal conditions, and warfare with the indigenous population was a way of life?

Wright also does not seem to like officers very much. Of the officers he writes about, he only gives Lt. Fick good coverage. The higher ranking officers he does not even refer to by name but instead creates pseudonyms such as Captain America and Encino Man. The writing makes it appear as though the officers are out-of-touch with battle conditions, are using the men to promote their own careers, and give orders that make no sense. Although I am sure the officers were not perfect, I have trouble believing they are as bad as they are portrayed. The First Recon in little more than a month was spectacularly successful in invading Iraq and it took very few casualties. It is doubtful this would have been possible with incompetent officers in place.

The book has an excellent collection of photographs included. The pictures show the men in a variety of conditions as they slugged through Iraq. In particular, I enjoyed the picture of First Recon in front of a statue of Saddam Hussein after the fall of Baghdad. The men are numbered allowing the reader to match up faces with the people written about in the book.

This is a good book and I don’t doubt that it will be considered a classic. HBO is currently working on a miniseries based on this book which will certainly bring more attention to this work. There is no index which makes finding particular passages hard but the book is worth reading despite this. This is a solid piece of historical writing which will become part of the cannon of the literature on the Iraq War.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Meeting of Frontiers: Alaska

Meeting of Frontiers: Alaska - Offers timelines, pictures, and articles relating to Alaska as being a frontier where Russia and America met in the 18th and 19th centuries. The site is available in both English and Russian.

Article topics include the Russian colonization of Alaska, the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska, the Alaskan fur trade, and the American purchase of Alaska.

I wonder how different the Cold War would have been if Russia had not sold Alaska to the USA. How would an Alaskan Soviet Socialist Republic had impacted the security of Canada and the United States?

From the site:

The Russian and American frontiers met in Alaska. The Bering Strait had long been a link between Siberia and North America--many scholars believe the first Native Americans originally populated the American continents traveling from Siberia to Alaska. Russian servitors [government officials] reached the Pacific Coast by the mid-1600s, sighted Alaska in 1741, and established their first permanent settlement in North America by 1773, probably at Captain's Harbor on Unalaska Island. Kodiak became the capital of Russian America in 1792, only to be surpassed by New Archangel (Sitka) in 1808.

Russians came to North America for the same reason they penetrated Siberia, to find furs, in this case sea otters. Missionaries soon followed the traders, looking to convert souls to Christianity. Russia also established outposts on Hawaii and the California coast to facilitate the sea-otter trade. But in Alaska conditions were even more difficult for traders than in Siberia: food was scarce, the Russian supply centers far away, the climate cold and wet, the native Tlingits well-armed and often hostile to the Russians, and the competition of British and especially American traders for furs was stiff. By the mid-nineteenth century, Russian officials realized that they had overextended themselves; Russian America was abandoned with the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

History of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

History of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is a brief look at the history of the islands nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The emphasis is on more recent political events.

Wikipedia notes that, "Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is an independent sovereign state of the Caribbean, part of the Commonwealth of Nations."

From the site:

Carib Indians aggressively prevented European settlement on St. Vincent until the 18th century. African slaves--whether shipwrecked or escaped from St. Lucia and Grenada and seeking refuge in St. Vincent--intermarried with the Caribs and became known as "black Caribs." Beginning in 1719, French settlers cultivated coffee, tobacco, indigo, cotton, and sugar on plantations worked by African slaves. In 1763, St. Vincent was ceded to Britain. Restored to French rule in 1779, St. Vincent was regained by the British under the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. Conflict between the British and the black Caribs continued until 1796, when General Abercrombie crushed a revolt fomented by the French radical Victor Hugues. More than 5,000 black Caribs were eventually deported to Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras.

Slavery was abolished in 1834; the resulting labor shortages on the plantations attracted Portuguese immigrants in the 1840s and east Indians in the 1860s. Conditions remained harsh for both former slaves and immigrant agricultural workers, as depressed world sugar prices kept the economy stagnant until the turn of the century.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Africa: The Cradle of Civilization

Africa: The Cradle of Civilization - An interactive educational site that explores Africa's history from the dawn of mankind to modern day. The site includes two lesson plans for teachers, video and audio clips, and games.

This is one of many excellent history themed sites hosted by ThinkQuest. My big complaint with ThinkQuest is that they tend to drop sites with no notice.

From the site:

Welcome to Africa: The Cradle of Civilization. This is an educational website for the Thinkquest Contest that is directed at the worldwide community. Through this website people all over the world can learn about the beauty of Africa. We unveil the true essence of Africa from the beginnings of humanity to the rise and fall of its great civilizations. This site covers the issues, the events, and topics concerning Africa today and in the past. We invite you to journey to a side of Africa you have never seen before, Africa: The Cradle of Civilization.

The history of Africa and its peoples are covered in five informative sections. Africa, is the introduction to the early history of humanity and the continent. The earliest civilizations are fully explored in Ancient Civilizations, while Rise to Glory covers those empires of a later era. Freedom Lost, explains the demise of some of the greatest civilizations, and other controversial issues such as slavery. To conclude, the history of the countries,cultures, and peoples of Africa are profiled in our final section.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Siege of Herat

The Siege of Herat - Thesis by John Carl Nelson discussing the political situation in early 19th century Afghanistan and Mohammed Shah Kajars siege of Herat 1837-1838. It includes old maps and a bibliography.

From the site:

Mohammed Shah Kajar, ruler of Persia, was determined to possess the Afghan city of Herat; a city long known as the "Key to India." On June 23, 1837 he marched out of Tehran towards Herat, 650 miles to the east. After two earlier frustrated attempts to take the city, he did not intend to fail again.

Count Ivan Simonich, the Russian Minister to Persia, had encouraged the expedition from the beginning and had made promises of Russian aid. On the other hand, the British Minister to Persia, Sir John McNeill, had consistently pointed out the difficulties and had made clear the official British disapproval of the whole affair. At the last minute, the Shah had doubts of Russian support in case of real British opposition but Count Simonich was able to reassure him and he marched.

The events that unfolded during the next few years as a consequence of the Shah's decision determined the pattern of relations in this part of the world for the rest of the nineteenth century. The interests of Britain and Russia came into sharp conflict for the first time and limits were set to the power of each that were not to be exceeded. The affair also made clear that Persia, Afghanistan, and the other states of the area were no longer in control of their own destinies, but were becoming pawns in a power struggle between outside powers.